The Name of God

There has been a mystery that has surrounded the name of God for almost 2,000 years.

If you are reading this as either a ‘Christian’ or a ‘Messianic’ believer you will probably be of the mindset that God’s name is something not to be written down, understood, or even spoken. Years of teaching in churches will have taught you that only the Hebrews are worthy to write or speak God’s unique and singular name, and that it is so very holy that they never actually do it.

If you are a Hebrew, depending on your upbringing, you will have been told of several reasons why God’s name should never be spoken or written.

The truth is, whoever you are, the chances are what you believe about God’s name is probably wrong. I really don’t mean to say that in the sense of ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’, but just based upon fact. There is a very good chance that what you have been taught about the name of God is wrong.

It would appear that God has been raising up people across the globe to remove the mystery surrounding His name and reveal it once more for Hebrews and Christians alike. In fact, when you get down to it, He wants the world to know His name.

About a year or so ago I felt that God wanted me to consider the gospels and the other writings in the collection we call the New Testament from a Hebrew perspective. As I started to look through the prism of a Hebrew perspective, light shone onto the page and revealed more than I could imagine was there. So much is lost in translation that it is easy to forget that the Hebrews were, and still are, God’s chosen people; that the entire bible is really the story of the nation of Isra’el and God’s plan to bring salvation to the entire world through the Hebrew race. Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of that particular journey and the revelations that have followed. After you have read this article, I suspect you will want to know more of how I have reached this particular part of the journey, so I will direct you to the articles page. Best start at the beginning, but I will leave that up to you.

During this journey I have found myself desperately wanting to know more about, not only the Hebrew culture of the first century AD, but of the language and of exactly what Y’shua, or Yeshua (that is Jesus’ Hebrew name) was referring to when He spoke of the Scriptures. As a result, I am currently teaching myself to read and speak Hebrew. As an insight into the gospels, it has proved fascinating. So much of what we have been taught about Y’shua and His ministry is wrapped very carefully in shrouds of tradition. But once you start to peel away the grave clothes, you find a very different Y’shua from the one we are taught about.

Recently, I have learnt of the existence of what is referred to as Shem Tov’s Hebrew Matthew. This is a manuscript dated from the 14th century which has the entire gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew. I must add that it wasn’t me who discovered this manuscript. I am simply learning from a very brave Hebrew man who was prepared to share his findings. You might be asking why this is such a big deal. Well, it turns out that as a result of careful scholarly textual examination and research into other independent historical sources of the first century, that the gospel of Matthew was, in fact, originally written in Hebrew. Not Greek. Not Aramaic. Hebrew. You might seem surprised. You shouldn’t really. Matthew was a Hebrew. His first language, both spoken and written, would have been Hebrew. Y’shua lived on this earth as a Hebrew. He spoke Hebrew and immersed Himself in all aspects of first century Hebraic culture.

Of course, becoming aware of something such as the Hebrew Matthew throws a spanner in the works of every charismatic and modern church preacher – they will suddenly realise that they have wasted most of their lives trying to grasp the Greek language in order to squeeze the context and meaning from every verse, when it wasn’t the Greek culture we needed to understand – it was the Hebrew.

Why do I describe this Hebrew man as being very brave? Because he is a Karaite Hebrew who doesn’t (yet) accept that Y’shua is the Mashiyach (Messiah). As a result, he has been ostracized by his own people. But, he is a highly renowned scholar of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic and part of the Dead Sea Scrolls Study Team. It is his research into a particular anomaly that appears in Matthew chapter 23 that caused him to write a book on his astonishing findings (‘The Hebrew Yeshua Versus The Greek Jesus’ by Nehemia Gordon). His discovery, however, was only the tip of the iceberg. And, it is an iceberg, because the moment that it hits the church for real, it will tear a whole in the entire boat.

Perhaps I will write more on that subject later. First, we must deal with the truth behind the name of God.

I hope that if I asked you what God’s actual name is you would at least be able to come up with something. To be fair, most of the terms which we use to speak of the name of God are little more than ‘workarounds’ designed not to tear apart years of tradition. For example, you might say Jehovah, or Yahweh. You might say El Shaddai or Elohim or Adonai. Maybe, you will be aware of the four letter name – YHVH. Perhaps you will just say Lord. In a way, it doesn’t matter what you say. It isn’t your fault. You have be taught by your pastors not only that the name shouldn’t be spoken, but also to always trust what your pastor is saying. And the trouble is, the bible you have on your bookcase or on your desk only serves to strengthen your pastor’s position. Let me give you an interesting fact to explain what I mean.

The Old Testament parts of most modern bibles are translated from a set of manuscripts known as the Leningrad Codex. In all of the Leningrad manuscripts (so called because that’s where they happen to be stored), the true name of God is recorded as shown in the picture below. YHVH. The four consonants of Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey. No vowels, just consonants. The four letter name. The Tetragrammaton (which is Greek for ‘four letter name’). However, if you check the Leningrad Codex against your Bible, where the scribe records YHVH in Hebrew, your bible will usually translate that as LORD.

yhvh-no-vowels

The Leningrad Codex records YHVH a total of 6828 times. The King James Version only manages to personalise that name into a word which can be pronounced on six occasions. The other 6822 occasions it settles for a word that is little more than a title, that of LORD. It certainly isn’t a unique and personal name. In other words, what we read in our bibles strengthens the idea that the name of God shouldn’t be either written or spoken.

Now, a very quick lesson in basic Hebrew. The picture shows four characters (from right to left – Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey). These are consonants. The Hebrew alphabet (or Aleph-Bet in Hebrew) doesn’t have separate letters as vowels. It uses a series of punctuation marks to give a consonant a vowel sound when pronounced. Because what you see in the picture has no vowel marks, it renders the word unpronounceable. Without the vowel marks, the name can never be vocalised. What I can reveal to you is that this wasn’t God’s intention. He wanted His name to be spoken. He still does. Nowhere in the entire bible will you find a verse where God warns people not to speak out or use His name. In fact, you will find lots of occasions when He encourages His name to be spoken.

So, how did it get to be this way?

Well, it hasn’t always been this way. It appears that it started sometime in the second century BC, during the Maccabean revolt under the Greeks. When the revolt had been suppressed, the ruling Greeks ordered that the name of God should not be spoken; that circumcision should not be performed, and that the worship of God and following Torah were also outlawed. So, the Hebrews did what they always do – they found a workaround. When you study what Y’shua said in the Sermon on the Mount, you will get a good sense of this. Every time He says ‘you have heard it said‘, He was referring to the Oral Torah – the additional rules and workarounds that the Rabbis had added to the Torah. Torah simply means ‘instruction‘, by the way. But the point is, God gave Moses the instruction and that should have been the end of it. However, the teachers of Torah manipulated it to make it fit with their own purposes. It’s a lot like what is happening in the church today really. Pastors take a single line from one of Paul’s letters and bend it into the shape they need it to be.

By the time of Y’shua, the Rabbinical workaround had been rendered unnecessary and, under Roman occupation, the Hebrews were allowed to both speak the name and follow Torah as they liked. However, following the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in AD70, the persecution of the Hebrews intensified under Emperor Hadrian. He ordered that the name of God should not be spoken, presumably because the Hebrews insisted that both He and His name were way above the Roman pagan gods. There are accounts of Rabbis being wrapped in Torah scrolls and burnt at the stake for using God’s name.

At that point the Rabbis re-introduced the pratice of the second century BC and stated that God’s name couldn’t be spoken or even written for fear of persecution. Over the years of dispersion that followed, this practical solution designed as a workaround, gradually became common practice and finally part of the Oral traditions. Today, it might as well be as if God gave the command to Moses himself. Today, in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) you will only find the four Hebrew letters of Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey. But, when a Hebrew reads it, they will say HaShem (The Name) or Adonai (Lord). They will never try to pronounce it.

And, that tradition has also been adopted into Christianity and Messianic tradition too. We have been taught that His name is not to be spoken, or if we speak it we add our own twist on what should be said.

Well, thank God for men like Nehemia (pronounced Nay-Hem-Me-Ah) Gordon and Keith Johnson (author of ‘His Hallowed Name Revealed Again’) who have gone in search of the truth. They have discovered that embedded into the Leningrad Codex, on 50 occasions of 6828 total uses of YHVH, the scribes decided to add the vowel marks so that the true pronunciation of His singular name would be preserved! Presumably we have God to thank for the inspiration to defy the Rabbinical law. I suspect that the pronunciation was preserved for such a time as this.

But, before I reveal that correct pronunciation of His glorious name, I thought I had better get to what the bible actually says about His name. And when I say the bible, I am referring to the Old Testament, or Tanakh. That is what Y’shua would have read growing up and if it was good enough for Y’shua, it is good enough for me!

The first time God reveals His name to one of His people is the encounter He has with Moses at the burning bush. Here’s what my New King James Version says:

“Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”

And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘ I AM has sent me to you.’ “

Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’ ” [Exodus 3:13-15]

Let’s start with the I AM. In Hebrew, this reads ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh‘, which means ‘I will be what I will be‘. Its true meaning, however, is ‘I AM He who was, who is, and who is to come‘. Whilst this is a description of God which the Hebrews would have recognised from the traditions of their fathers, it is not God’s unique and personal name. That name is revealed in the text where the translators have inserted ‘LORD‘ in capital letters. The Hebrew has the unpronounceable four letter name YHVH. So, this is where God tells Moses His personal name and declares it to be His name forever and a memorial to all generations. Note He doesn’t say ‘but you mustn’t speak it or write it‘. In fact God tells Moses to tell the children of Isra’el that it is His name forever. And, you can be sure that what God said was pronounceable – how else would it have been spoken? It is only because of man-made tradition that the vowels weren’t added to the name.

So, why does God need a unique name?

Well, to put it simply, whilst there is only one true and living God, there are still many gods to whom people will worship and call out to.

Does this matter what we say or if we differentiate between them?

Yes, it does. And it certainly did to Abraham. Although the conversation between God and Moses at the burning bush was the first time we find God telling what his name is, it is clear if you read carefully the following passage that Abraham knew God’s unique and personal name, and it is equally clear that in some cases, it is vitally important to be specific who we are talking about when we speak of God. Take a look at this passage:

“Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth…” ” [Genesis 14:18-22 NKJV]

What we have here is the account of Abram meeting with Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High. The phrase ‘God Most High‘ is from the Hebrew word ‘elyon. Melchizedek blesses both Abram and God Himself using this name. Then the king of Sodom turns up for the spoils of the battle, but because the king of Sodom had his own god, (other than Abram’s and Melchizedek’s), Abram then explained that he had sworn an oath to the ‘LORD, God Most High‘. In the Hebrew scrolls it reads ‘YHVH ‘elyon’ – In other words, in order to make sure that the king of Sodom knew that Abram didn’t follow his god, Abram used God’s personal and unique name. He clearly knew ‘of’ that name before God told it to Moses, even though He wasn’t known ‘by’ that name as explained in Exodus 6:3

Another good example of the name of God not only being known to the Hebrews but was common in everyday use, can be found in the book of Ruth:

“Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered him, “The LORD bless you!” ” [Ruth 2:4 NKJV]

Once again, the text of the scrolls states ‘YHVH’ and once again the translation injects ‘LORD’.

Now take a look at this picture:

yhvh-with-vowels

This is what the Hebrew text looks like when it appears in any one of the 50 occasions in the Leningrad Codex, with the vowels and, therefore, the pronunciation intact.

My little knowledge of the Hebrew language has taught me this much about what you can see in the picture. Without the vowel marks, it is an unpronounceable word that is made up of the letters ‘Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey’. With the vowel marks, the first three letters make the following sounds: Ye-Ho-Vah. The fourth letter remains silent because there is no vowel mark. Ye-Ho-Vah. Say it out loud now, slowly. Ye-Ho-Vah. You will, of course, be familiar with it because of the word Jehovah. But, there is no letter J or any J sound in Hebrew. Neither is there any W sound, which makes Yahweh incorrect too.

Let me offer the correct translations of the verses I have already mentioned:

“Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘YeHoVah, God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’ ” [Exodus 3:15]

” But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to YeHoVah, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth…” ” [Genesis 14:22 NKJV]

“Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, “May YeHoVah be with you!” And they answered him, “May YeHoVah bless you!” ” [Ruth 2:4 NKJV]

Starts to make much more interesting reading doesn’t it?

And just so we are clear that it has been tradition and not God that has forced us not to know, speak, or write the name of YeHoVah, each of these examples where the word ‘LORD’ is substituted for the name of YeHoVah, according to the Strong’s Concordance, is the Hebrew word H3068. Take a look at this picture of the definition of H3068.

strongs-entry-h3068

You will notice that this book includes the vowels and therefore the pronunciation of YeHoVah. James Strong published his concordance in 1890. All the subsequent translations of the bible would have known that the name of God is YeHoVah, and yet, all of them insert the word LORD instead.

Please, don’t take my word for this. Seek God today. Call upon the name of YeHoVah for discernment. I am sure He will show you The Way.

I will leave you with the blessing that is found in Numbers chapter 6.

“May YeHoVah bless you and keep you.
May YeHoVah make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
May YeHoVah lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

This is how they shall put My Name, YeHoVah, on the children of Isra’el, and I will bless them.”

Shalom

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