Should We Address God?
by Frank Holbrook*
Some people today argue that Christians
profane the name of the Deity when they employ the terms
Lord; God; and Jesus in prayer and speech. They assert
that we should use only the Hebrew terms: Yahweh (to
designate God the Father) and Yashua (for Jesus). How
unfortunate that such distortions of the facts should
become an issue in any Christian congregation! Is there
any validity to the claim?
If it is wrong to refer to the Saviour as
Jesus, then all the apostolic writers of the New
Testament stand indicted. None of them ever use YeshDa'
(or YahshDa' as some choose to spell the name). On the
contrary, they preached and wrote in the name of the
Lord Jesus (Kurios Iesousi or some variation of that
expression (see Acts 16:31; 1 Thess.1:1 ;Phil. 3:8).
In regard to use of the name Yahweh, times
change. While some now insist on using this name
exclusively, in the past Jews refused to pronounce it
lest they should thus profane the sacred name: The
ancient Hebrew Bible contained only consonants; the
reader supplied the correct vowels. It became customary
to substitute another word, usually 'Adonai ("Lord"),
whenever the reader came to the name YHWH for the Deity.
Since the name ceased to be expressed audibly, its
correct pronunciation was eventually forgotten.
In the seventh or eighth centuries A.D.,
when Hebrew appeared to be dying out as a spoken
language, Jewish scholars (Masoretes) invented a system
of written vowels that they inscribed with the
consonantal text. They preserved this curious custom of
not pronouncing YHWH by adding to its four consonants
the vowels from the word 'Adonai. This improper
combination alerted Jewish readers to say 'Adonai at
those points. However, it confused English translators
from the twelfth century A.D. onward, who "invented"
from this arrangement the name Jehovah, which continues
to be printed in our common Bibles to this day.
Modern scholars conjecture that the name
should be pronounced Yahweh, but conclusive documentary
evidence is still lacking. Is a Christian, therefore,
profaning the name of God if he does not at all times
use a term for which not only the pronunciation was
forgotten but the current vocalization is still an
unconfined assumption, although fairly certain? The
answer seems obvious.
The term Yahweh appears to have been
derived from the Hebrew verb to be, describing God as
"the Eternal One," "the Self-existing One," "the One who
lives eternally," or possibly "the Self-sufficient One."
Is this the only name Christians should use for God? In
the Bible the Deity has many names and titles, each one
describing a different aspect of His character. No one
term can encompass the incomprehensible One.
Furthermore, these names and titles are often used
interchangeably in Scripture.
Although Yahweh is
one of the more commonly used names in the Old Testament
(appearing more than 6,800 times), even the Deity refers
to Himself by other names: for example, 'EI Shaddai
("Almighty God," Gen. 17:1), or simply 'Elor 'Elohim
("God," chap. 31:13; Isa. 46:9; Ps. 46:10). The Jewish
translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek (the
Septuagint version, third to second centuries B.C.)
rendered these terms with the Greek word Theos, and the
four-letter name YHWH with Kurios, terms they viewed as
suitable equivalents in that language. English
translators use the name God for 'Elohim and its related
forms, and Lord for YHWH.
Variety of names
The Israelites used a variety of names for
God in their prayers without any fear of divine
condemnation. For example, in Psalm 59 David addresses
the Deity as 'Elonlm ("God," verses 1, 5, 9, 10, 13,
17), as Yahweh ("Lord," verses 3, 8), and as Yahweh 'Elonim
("Lord God," verse 5). In the New Testament the apostles
follow the custom adopted by the Jewish translators of
the Septuagint and use Kurios as the equivalent of
Yahweh. They make no attempt to "correct" the Septuaqint
by substituting Yahweh for the translator's Kurios. For
example, when Paul cites Psalm 117: 1 ("0 praise the
Lord [YHWH], all ye nations") for his Christian friends
in Rome, he writes, "Praise the Lord [Kurios], all ye
Gentiles" (Rom.15: 11), Jesus, our example, did not
think it inappropriate to address the Deity by names
other than Yahweh. His cry on the cross, "Eloi, Floi,
lama sabachthani? ... My God, my God, why hast thou
forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34), was in Aramaic. Eloi is a
Greek transliteration of the Aramaic 'Elahi, the
equivalent of the Hebrew Eli of Psalm 22:1, which His
despairing words reflected. The Saviour could have
cried, "Yahweh, Yahweh "-but He did
Jesus commonly referred to God as His
Father. For this designation He apparently used the
Aramaic word Abba ("Father," Mark 14:36). In addition to
His own reverent practice, Christ taught His followers
for all time how to address God: "After this manner
therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed by thy name" (Matt. 6:9).
On one occasion Jesus cited the prophet
Isaiah: "this people draweth nigh unto me with their
mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart
is far from me" (chap. 15:8). Evidently when we approach
God, the specific syllable on our lips is not nearly as
important as the humble, teachable attitude of our heart
(*Frank Holbrook is not and was never affiliated with
Guthrie Memorial Chapel.)
© 2005 Guthrie Memorial