Names Mean Things
YHVH -Part 1
Once again I find myself compelled to address a subject that I would just as soon stay away from. I know, I ended a sentence with a preposition. But then, I just ended another sentence with a 'preposition'. One of the great divisive issues in the 'Hebrew roots movement' is the question of how to address our Creator, and how do we articulate His name. I do not mean to trivialize the issue, for to many it is a most serious matter and to some it is indeed a salvational issue. I would like to address the subject focusing on the meaning of words. Names do mean things, and the words attached to or standing next to those names mean things as well. As we address this subject I wish to remain grounded in one of my favorite scriptures in Mishlei (Proverbs) 11:1:
"A false balance is an abomination to YHVH: but a just weight is His delight."
Did you notice that I changed LORD to YHVH? Why? Because that is His name. But what does that mean? There are a lot of names and words that are revealed about the Creator but let us be honest. The name that creates the controversy is what we affectionately call the tetragrammaton. First of all, what does 'tetragrammaton' mean? Well it comes from two Greek words, tetrameaning 'four', and gramma meaning letters. So it means four letters. This word is not in the scriptures, it is just our quaint little way of referring to this revelation of ’Elohiym that most people either insist you say the correct way, or insist that you do not attempt any pronunciation at all. Either way, according to these two scales, you are doomed. But our attempt is to present a just weight. For you see, many times we find ourselves standing between the two extremes. Between those who present a scenario that condemns those who do not pronounce His name a certain way and those who treat it in a a very cavalier way, to those who are absolutely convinced that the writers of scripture called the Creator LORD and the Messiah, Jesus. Here is but one example I pulled off a web site called 'The Church in the Wilderness'.
"If we believe the King James Bible, the name of God the Son, the second person of the Godhead, is no mystery: "His name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb" (Luke 2:21). To Joseph, the angel spoke: "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). "Sacred name" groups and churches challenge the validity of the name of Jesus. They reject God's pure revelation in the King James Bible in their preference usually for a Hebrew name, such as "Yashua," or "Yeshua," which they have found in a Hebrew Lexicon. They search outside the English language and revelation of the King James Bible for a name fit for the Savior. But the Word of God reproves these "sacred name" groups who depend on Lexicons and extra Biblical information to spell and pronounce the name of God the Son. Clearly, His name is Jesus."
As you can see, we are faced with a plethora of opinions that run the gamut from very scholarly detailed approaches to the inept organization that penned this last quote. Let me be frank with you. This teaching will obviously be my opinion on this issue based upon my understanding of the source tongue of all languages, what we today call Hebrew. From the onset, I will not attempt to convince you how Moses would have articulated this Name of the God of Israel. Until someone produces a tape recording of Moses or even Aaron for that matter, we will not actually KNOW how to accurately pronounce His name. Let's start with this reality. Historically, there have been, and still are, many different dialects of Hebrew. The individual letters have remained consistent in their meanings, but the shapes and sizes have varied greatly throughout the generations since the time of Mosheh.The way we articulate the consonants today, may be reasonably close to how they were pronounced four thousand years ago. Someone who has poured over half their life into this language could only truthfully use the word 'reasonably'. In other words, those who are well educated in linguistics, the study of language, are reasonably certain that the 22 consonants of this mother tongue are pronounced the way they were articulated by Mosheh or the ancient fathers. Now the vowels are another whole story. Because the vowel sounds of virtually all languages are 'breathed' out without the tongue touching the palate, lips or teeth, the way they would have sounded long ago could be greatly varied. Today, most linguists attempt to recreate the sounds by the way the Hebrew letters were transliterated into other languages.
The main difference between translation and transliteration is the difference between a comparison of meaning to a comparison of sound. Generally speaking, most words going from one language to another are translated. Translation keeps the terminology familiar and more relative to the receiving language. Translation occurs when a word is chosen from the receiving language that most accurately represents the meaning of the word in the initial language. The key words here are 'most accurately'. All linguists know that any time you translate a word from one language to another you lose some, to a lessor or greater degree, of the dynamics of the word. Generally, an aggressive word becomes less aggressive, a passionate word looses some of it's passion, or a very happy word looses some of it's steam. A very high word is lowered just a bit, and a low word gets raised up a little. This is what occurs in just translating from one language to another. You can imagine what happens when a word goes through several languages. Now these are the facts concerning the transfer of language. It is the nature of going from one language to another. It is not a world wide plot.
Another rule concerning language is that you do not translate proper nouns. I realize that perhaps some of us fell asleep in English class when this was being taught, or perhaps it was just too long ago to remember. Proper nouns are people, places and things that do not require a definite article in front of them. Words like, Robert, McDonalds, or Philadelphia. YHVH definitely falls into this category. See, I did not need a definite article! YHVH is a proper noun and should have been transliterated or transferred to a receiving language by sound and not by a comparable meaning. The King James translators had no business expressing these four letters as LORD in the text of the Tanakh (Old Testament). As opposed to Adonay or 'elohiym, which we will discuss later, YHVH should have been written in Hebrew just the way the four consonants appear, or expressed through the closest sound alike letters of the receiving language. The reason why it was translated into the Greek word kurios, and the English word LORD, is because the King James translators (dedicated, scholarly men, but all pasty-faced white Europeans) were committed to maintain the Rabbinical edict not to write or pronounce the ineffable Name (YHVH). As a matter of fact the second rule governing the translators stated "The names of the Prophets, and the Holy Writers, with the other Names of the Text, to be retained, as nigh as may be, accordingly as they were vulgarly used." Vulgarly used! Just a strange way of saying the way the general population used and defined words. I think that is another way of stating that Biblical names were understood and pronounced democratically. You know, the rule of the people.
So, the bottom line is that millions upon millions of ostensibly good, well motivated followers of Jesus Christ, the only name they knew, were calling out and worshipping a LORD that bears no linguistic connection to the Creator of the universe whatsoever. So did all the sincere ones, for we know there are always the 'professors', all die and go straight to hell? If I write or say the word Lord, am I calling on a pagan god? Is the Creator of the universe incessantly crouched at the bottom of a genie bottle perpetually crying out "you didn't say Simon says!" Is this what YHVH means when He says "I am YHVH, that is my name, or do not even mention the names of other gods." I pray that in the next few teachings on this subject that I can present a just weight to you. A balance that recognizes the power behind His name combined with some common sense and the phonological reality of how language works. Because the sad truth is that any one can put together a cerebral looking web site and proceed to string pearls in such a manner as to convince anyone of anything. Obviously I have chosen to begin this series of teaching by focusing on the tetragrammaton (remember, this is an academically sly way of avoiding the YHVH). Next time we will begin researching this word and how it should accurately be articulated (just kidding). Before reading the next article, I would suggest taking a quick perusal of the internet in search of how this name should be accurately pronounced.