Downgrading God’s Name
THE Bible is the Word of God, the Creator. Logically it reveals to man not only the qualities and works of the Creator but also his name. This it does especially in the original Hebrew, where God’s name appears some 6,900 times in the form of a tetragrammaton or four-letter word, corresponding to YHWH in English. The most popular English translation of the tetragrammaton is “Jehovah.”
But modern Bible translators appear to go out of their way to downgrade that honorable, majestic and sacred name. Thus some ten years ago the committee that revised the American Standard Version, bringing out the Revised Standard Version, entirely eliminated Jehovah’s name. Thereby they inferred that the eminent Bible scholars who had produced the American Standard Version and who had strongly argued for restoring God’s name to its rightful place and who consistently used it wherever the Hebrew tetragrammaton appeared were complete fools.
Now comes another Bible translation that also downgrades God’s name. Made by a committee of leading Jewish Bible scholars in the English-speaking world, it was featured on the front page of the New York Times, October 12, 1962. The way this committee betrays its inclination to downgrade God’s name can be seen from its attitude toward the third of the Ten Commandments. By means of this commandment Jehovah God indicated the importance of his name and how seriously he viewed any desecration of it. According to the New World Translation it reads: “You must not take up the name of Jehovah your God in a worthless way, for Jehovah will not leave the one unpunished who takes up his name in a worthless way.”—Ex. 20:7.
Not so, say the Jewish scholars who just produced this new translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. According to them, “the [third] commandment could not be interpreted as an injunction against profanity, because in that sense, it lacked both sufficient importance to be in the position it occupied as well as intent. A more accurate reading of the Hebrew,” they contend, “reveals the commandment to be concerned instead with perjury.” These have therefore rendered the Third Commandment: “You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God; for the Lord will not clear one who swears falsely by His name.” They do not name Jehovah here.
The Hebrew literally has the thought of not taking up God’s name for “vanity” or “falsehood,” and so it does indeed forbid the use of God’s name for false oaths, even as noted by such Jewish Bible scholars as J. H. Hertz, editor of the Soncino edition. But it was by no means to be limited just to that. How can we be certain?
By the way the Ninth Commandment reads: “You must not testify falsely as a witness against your fellow man.” (Ex. 20:16) Since the Israelites were accustomed to swearing by God’s name, whether in court or on some other occasion, it follows that this commandment also forbade the false use of God’s name. (1 Ki. 1:30; Matt. 26:63) If the Third Commandment were directed solely against swearing falsely by God’s name, why repeat it in the Ninth Commandment?
That Jehovah God meant not merely for the Jews not to perjure themselves by his name but also that they were not to use it in any vile, profane or disrespectful way, and that he considered it of such importance as to make it one of the Ten Commandments and to list it after the first two, which forbade the worship of any other gods, is clear from an incident recorded by Moses at Leviticus 24:10-16, 23. In brief, it tells about the son of an Egyptian and an Israelitess who abused “the Name,” calling down evil upon it or cursing it, while engaged in a struggle with an Israelite. Note that it was simply known as the Name. It was considered that important. Not only that, but those who heard this blasphemy were so horrified that they at once brought him to Moses to be dealt with. Apparently this was the first time anyone had presumed to do this, for Moses was obliged to inquire of Jehovah himself. And what was Jehovah’s verdict? That this was nothing serious? Far from it! It was a capital offense! The record goes on to say:
“Jehovah proceeded to speak to Moses, saying: ‘Bring forth the one who called down evil to the outside of the camp; and all those who heard him must lay their hands upon his head, and the entire assembly must pelt him with stones. And you should speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “In case any man calls down evil upon his God, he must then answer for his sin. So the abuser of Jehovah’s name should be put to death without fail. The entire assembly should without fail pelt him with stones. The alien resident the same as the native should be put to death for his abusing the Name.”’”
Could anything be more explicit as to how seriously Jehovah viewed the abusing of his Name? No question that such a serious offense should be forbidden in the Ten Commandments. The record shows that the sons of Israel carried out Jehovah’s command.
No, the Third Commandment cannot be limited to forbidding perjury. It also applied to or forbade any use of God’s name in a profane way. This helps us to appreciate how serious a matter is the taking of Jehovah’s name upon oneself in a worthless way, by being called one of his people, as were the Israelites of old and as are the modern witnesses of Jehovah, and then not living up to what one claims to be, one of Jehovah’s witnesses.
While Christians are not bound by the Decalogue itself, they are bound by its principles. Certainly if the names of worldly rulers, religious or political, are to be treated with respect, then the name of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe should be still more so. For Christians the Ten Commandments are summed up in the two great commandments regarding love of God and love of neighbor. All who love Jehovah God with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength will give his name the respect and reverence due it and will not take it up in any worthless way.—Mark 12:29-31.