Baruch HaShem: The Name of God
This post is specifically about replacing the name, “Yahweh,” (baruch HaShem) with “Adonai,” or in English, “Lord.” I had mentioned in an earlier post, from my previous blog, that the name you use for God is almost unimportant, so long as you seek the Divine. This fact still remains, but when honoring God in a Hebrew or Christian setting, He has been clear as to the power of that Name. Replacing it and refusing to use it in sacred settings is to our great detriment.
I’ll start out by saying that, yes, I know I’m disagreeing with a Pope, and I’m Catholic. We actually are free to disagree with the Pope and the Magisterium, though we have to follow their edicts. Specifically, I am disagreeing with Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI who declared that the Holy Name of God was no longer to be spoken or sung in Catholic churches, and it was removed from our hymnals in the songs which included it. 1 All respect to His Holiness, but I strongly disagree with that decision, and I think it reflects a problem which has been present in Judaism and both Protestant and Catholic Christianity. I am not familiar enough with the practices of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches which aren’t in unity with Rome, so I cannot comment on their practices.
That said, this post is not specifically about the Catholic church, as the problem didn’t begin with Benedict, it began with the translation of the Bible. The edict by Benedict, which reinforced an earlier edict from a few years before, is just the latest symptom of a greater movement to stop us from using what is perhaps the most powerful name humans are able to utter!
The fear of saying the Name of God begins with the Ten Commandments. Number two on the list says to not take the Name in vain. When talking about the Name, it specifically refers to the Tetragrammaton Name of God, which we commonly render as either Yahweh or Jehovah in English. (Baruch HaShem) In Hebrew, it is Yod Heh Vav Heh, the equivalent of English YHVH (though the Y can be a J and the V can be a U or W, hence different transliterations and pronunciations.) However, what does it mean to take the name in vain? The tradition of never saying the Name at all, came from a fear of saying it in vain, but is it an extreme reaction which robs us of a powerful gift from our Creator?
In the ancient world, oaths and curses were commonplace, and often invoked the name of a deity as part of the formula. The second commandment is essentially about this practice, and tells us that anything done in that Name must be carried through, and should never be done for evil. Breaking an oath made in God’s Holy Name, or using it for selfish and evil purposes, is blasphemy, and it is what is meant by taking His name in Vain.
Of course, Yeshua taught us to not swear by any name nor anything on Earth or in Heaven, so does that mean the commandment doesn’t apply to us? No, it absolutely doesn’t mean that it doesn’t apply. We utter curses, and use the name “Jesus” or the word “God” as part of expressions of exasperation, frustration, or even anger. We may not mean the same thing by it, but if we were to use the Name in such a way, it would be an extra level of wrong.
The Name is sacred, and powerful, and it should be treated as such. We should not use it in run of the mill conversation, even when talking about God. I use it in this blog post, sparingly, because it is necessary to the subject. Even then, you’ll note I try to follow it with the Hebrew phrase, “Baruch HaShem,” which means, “Blessed (is) The Name.” It is not a name or word to be uttered lightly, because in the Name is the Light of God and the Hope of Salvation.
The Name is particularly relevant to Christians, because it is in the name of our savior. In English and Spanish we render his name, “Jesus.” However, “Jesus” is based on the Greek version of his name, “Iesus” (Ιησυς) which in turn is based on his actual name in Hebrew and Aramaic (sister languages) which is, “Yeshua.” Yeshua, which he was called by his mother and all who knew him, means, “YHVH Saves.” (Baruch HaShem.) It is through that very Name of Power which we are granted our salvation; which the Word of God was named in life. As a side note, the actual English equivalent name of Yeshua is Joshua, and in Old Testament names “Yeshua” is almost always rendered as “Joshua” in English translations.
Let’s look at what the Bible itself says about, “The Name.” Here are just a few examples, but there are literally thousands; over 6,000 times the Name is used in the Bible. (quotes taken from Name of God Bible 2)
Leviticus 18:2 Tell the Israelites: I am Yahweh, your Elohim. 18:4 Follow my rules, and live by my standards. I am Yahweh your Elohim.
1 Samuel 1:11 She made this vow, “Yahweh Tsebaoth, if you will look at my misery, remember me, and give me a boy, then I will give him to you for as long as he lives. A razor will never be used on his head.”
Jeremiah 2:8 The priests didn’t ask, “Where is Yahweh?” Those who deal with my teachings didn’t know me. The rulers rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied in the name of Baal and followed statues that couldn’t help them.
So, how did we get to using “Lord” in place of the Name? The history isn’t entirely clear, but we can deduce a rough timeline of how it went.
Before the captivity in Babylon, we don’t know the traditions for uttering the Name. However, since it appears in many Psalms 3, which were meant to be sung or recited regularly in celebration of God, we can presume that it was used in appropriate settings, such as during praise and worship. There is no note in the Psalms which says we are to replace the Name with Adonai, Lord, when we recite them.
In the Diaspora following the captivity in Babylon, the Jewish people had forgotten how to read and write the Hebrew language, but had learned Aramaic while in captivity. As mentioned earlier, Aramaic is a sister language to Hebrew, having similar ancient roots in proto-Sinaitic ultimately; however, they are distant enough that it is akin to Spanish and Italian, or Italian and French. It is during this vast period where the Talmud begins to develop, and Judaism undergoes drastic changes.
Without covering the entire history of Judaism between the 3rd century B.C. and the 4th century A.D., we can suffice it to say that by the time of Yeshua (1st century A.D., of course) Judaism bore little resemblance to the practices of David and Solomon. The Temple had become a political tool, different factions of extremists had arisen and taken control of religious politics, and the people had been conquered by the Greeks and the Romans. Many Jews, though not those in Palestine/Israel, spoke only Greek (which is part of a possible future blog post on the Septuagint.)
Over time, partly because they had forgotten how to pronounce the Name, and partly because of fear of breaking the second commandment, it became taboo to ever utter the Name. This taboo seems to have especially taken root after the fall of the second temple around 70 A.D., as an old Hebrew scholar once told me they would not utter the Name again until they were back in Israel and the Temple was rebuilt. (He was a Zionist, and I don’t know if his beliefs are common or not.)
Eventually, the tradition morphed into a fear of saying anything which even represents the Name, such as the word, “God,” when used to refer to Him. Modern Jews will often write G-d, for fear of ever accidentally defiling something which has the Name written on it, or ever having to erase it. At least, that’s how many modern Jews view it. Others do so just because they feel it’s disrespectful at all to write the Name or anything which represents it.
The only argument for “God” being His name which holds water, is that it is a translation of the Hebrew name, “El,” which is part of many titles of God such as El Elyon (God Most High) El Shaddai (God Almighty) and others. In addition, the first name God is called in the Bible is a form of El, as the plural “Elohim.” (the plurality and singularity of God is yet another possible future blog post.) We see it in names such as Michael, which means “who is like God,” and even my name, Daniel, which means “God is judge” (or God’s Judge, Judge of God.) However, in all of these cases, including in Genesis 1:1 where it says “Elohim” created the Heavens and the Earth, these are descriptive titles. Powerful titles yes, but the Name God gives us is the Tetragrammaton Yod He Vav He (Baruch HaShem.) You’ll note, I still capitalize “God,” when referring to Him, as it is part of His power titles. A side note to this point is that the Arabic word, “Allah,” comes from the same linguistic root as “El.” However, I digress.
When the Bible was copied in Hebrew, not a jot or tittle was changed. It had to be copied exactly, word for word, character for character. In the Diaspora, following Babylon and again following Rome, they didn’t know how to write the Name in the languages (Greek, then Latin) in which they were writing or copying the Bible, and by the time the New Testament books were written, it was already common practice to replace everywhere the Hebrew texts had the Name with “Lord,” or the linguistic equivalent; e.g., Deus in Latin.
When the Bible was translated into English, many diverse linguistic versions of the original texts existed, and Christians had never adopted a tradition of uttering God’s Holy Name. Thus, the Bible was translated into English replacing HaShem everywhere it appeared with the capitalized word, “Lord.”
Do a search using your electronic Bible application, or using an online search engine, and find out how many times the word, “Lord,” capitalized, appears in your text. Each and every one of those instances of the word “Lord,” replaced the Holy Name of God, striking it from our holy books. How dare we remove the Holiest Name of Almighty God from our Bibles!
What is the problem with using Lord instead of The Name?
The main problem is that it is not His name. When we say “Blessed is the Name of the Lord,” the Bible said, “Blessed is the name of Yahweh!” How can we bless His Name if we refuse to acknowledge and proclaim His Name! He gave us His Holy Name to use properly in worship and adoration of Him. It should be proclaimed in our prayers, and sung and proclaimed in church along with the name of His Son Yeshua, even if we call him Jesus.
Some would say, and I would agree, that the bigger problem is that Lord IS the name of a god, but it is not the name of our God. Lord is the translation of the name, “Ba’al” which was the god of the enemies of Israel and Judea. Later, Ba’al would come to refer to the Devil himself, in the name, “Ba’al Zevuv,” which means, “Lord of the Flies.” You probably know that name better in the way Yeshua says it in the Gospels, “Beelzebub.” Do you really want to call our Holy God by the name of the Devil? Note Jeremiah 2:8 which I shared above, and take it to heart!
Now, that’s not to say we can’t call God, especially Yeshua, “Our Lord.” He is our Adonai, Lord, but we should not use “Lord” to replace his name. He is Our Lord Yahweh (Baruch Hashem.) He is Our Lord Yeshua HaMoshiach, or Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is Our Lord three in one Father, Son and Holy Spirit. However, He is not just “The Lord.”
I leave you with the Aaronic Blessing:
Yeverechecha Yahweh veyishmerecha,
Ya’er Yahweh panav eleycha vi’chunecha
Yissa Yahweh panav eleycha viyaseym leycha shalom!
May Yahweh bless you and keep you.
May Yahweh make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
May Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Amen! (Numbers 6:22-27)
3 When searching, I could not find a single Psalm which did not invoke the Name at least once. The Psalms are all about crying out to God and/or praising and worshiping God. Look at the link above in footnote 2, and read the Psalms with the Name of God restored. You’ll be astounded at how many times it was removed from praises and cries written to His Holy Name.