Names Mean Things
I closed our last discussion by stating that I wanted to address the words 'elohiym and God/god after reading some of the email I knew I would get concerning this subject. Just as I anticipated, I received the usual responses. After 26 years of teaching Hebrew and the dynamics of language in general, I still get emails directing me on how to properly articulate the tetragrammaton and educate me on what the word 'god' means in the old, middle, or modern English, or what it meant to the Norsemen, Druids or Vikings. So I say to myself, "geee, I never heard THAT before!" I knew that no matter what I wrote, I would be chastised by one group because I used the pagan word God instead of 'Elohiym. I would be hammered by another bunch because I DID use the word 'Elohiym instead of God. And even though I made it clear that YHVH is a proper noun and should be transliterated and not translated as Lord, I was reminded by another group, referring me to a half dozen web sites, that YHVH is a pagan word. You know some people actually think that the information they find on web sites, including this one, is proof that something is true. Lastly, I received two responses informing me that the only name in which anyone can be saved is the name 'Jesus', and that His name has nothing to do with Yeshua, Yahshua, Yahashua, Yahushua or even the Hebrew language, for that matter. I am forever given CDs, articles and videos showing me that if I do not conform or believe that the 'name' is pronounced as this or that, then I am calling on and worshiping a false god. It seems to me that many years ago I left traditional Christianity because it was based not upon doing what the God of Israel said, but rather based upon a particular belief system. It seems that I am, once again, being dragged back into another simple Simon belief system.
I have chosen to begin addressing the subject of God/god/ 'elohiym/'Elohiym/El/Eloah ad nauseam infinitum, by singling out the word Father/father, which was used quite often by those who are convicted that using the word God is calling on or addressing pagan deities. Several times they used the word Father. But before we do, a short reminder of the rules of grammar. Yes! Grammar has rules in almost every written language. We cannot just make them up as we go. One remark was that God is not a translation of the Hebrew word 'elohiym, but it is the name of various pagan deities. Please do not think that I am being condescending, but let's once again go back to Introductory Grammar 101. People, places and things are nouns. These nouns are initially divided into common nouns and proper nouns. When translators set out to convert (translate) the established set of symbols (alphabet) from one language to a different set of symbols in another language, they must translate common nouns and transliterate proper nouns. Proper nouns are words that identify and separate out a particular person, place or thing. Common nouns are words that address people, places and things that are common in virtually every culture and society. That is why they are called common. Common nouns are translated because they are words that refer to common things in each culture and if they were transliterated they would be undecipherable. Common words are translated. Once again, translating a word is finding the closest word in MEANING in the receiving set of symbols. Transliteration of proper nouns is finding the closest SOUNDS available in the receiving set of symbols. When the available set of sounds and symbols in the language you are translating from are different than the available set of sounds and symbols in the language you are translating to, a trained linguist follows these rules. We are not talking about the phonetic or SPOKEN transfer of words, syllabaries or sounds, we are talking about preserving WRITTEN texts.
The Hebrew word 'av, father, is a common noun. Every culture has an 'av. Because this Hebrew word is a common noun, it is then translated into other languages. Because it is a common word in Hebrew it would not be understood in other languages. So translators chose the closest word/words in MEANING in the receiving language. Therefore, we get pater in Greek and Latin, padre in Spanish and Italian, vater in German, father in English, but ate in Dakota, tat in Yucatec and ataataq in Greenlandic. These are the closest words in MEANING. As a sidebar, it should be noted that the p, pa, va and fa sounds in English, German, Greek and Latin are actually reversals of the aleph and bet letters for father in Hebrew. This is where we shorten pater and father to get papa, pappy and pa. So our English word father ultimately comes from manipulating or reversing the aleph and the bet of Hebrew. I happened to notice in some of the emails I received that they did not have a problem with calling 'Elohiym Father. So when translating the Hebrew text into other languages, if the common nouns were transliterated instead of translated, then you might as well leave everything in Hebrew, because no one would understand what they are reading. This is what translators have to deal with when working with written languages. When standing in your presence I am perfectly capable of phonemically (by sound) transferring a language to you, but I am not capable of doing this when it has to be written down for future generations.
'Elohiym is a Hebrew common noun. It is not a proper noun. If you look up this word and some of its cognates, you will find that the meaning common in every Hebrew lexicon will be supreme being, highest deity, strength, power, ruler, judge, or simply God/god/gods. This word comes from the pictographic expression of someone leading by power or strength, The pictographic aleph was a powerful ox and one of it's closest cognates (family words) was 'ayil, or the ram. It is a common noun because all cultures have a supreme being, a deity, a god/gods, or someone powerful that leads them. When you look up God/god in our American dictionaries you will find that the MEANING is someone or something that is a supreme being, a deity, or ruler. The Greek common noun theos, the Latin common noun deus or the Spanish common noun dios all have similar meanings. "Why?" you may ask. Because they are all COMMON NOUNS. So when we translate we choose the closest word that is similar in meaning. The word is NOT a name that designates a particular person. It can mean or refer to YHVH the one Creator of all that is, or it can mean any god/gods or deity. Since this is a common noun that can refer to any god or gods, then I believe this is why we are commissioned by our Messiah to go forth into all nations and TEACH them who the supreme deity is that created them and all there is, and what His name (proper noun) is. Melek in Hebrew is a common noun. It means a king. Since many cultures have a king we therefore translate this word into the closest word in meaning in their language. We must then teach them that while the Creator of the universe is also a king, we must diffentiate through context the King of the Universe from King Tut, the King of England, Burger King or the king of the hill. The nature of language is that proper nouns lose all their meaning when made common, but also common nouns lose some of the meaning when they are translated into different alphabetic systems and syllabaries.
You can find the background and history of the common noun god/God in a multitude of places. Over the years I have received hundreds of emails and web sites educating me on the Old English/Teutonic meaning of this word. The reason the root meaning of god is so easily researched is because, like most of our English words, it is a common noun. So that means you will find similar meanings in thousands of languages. I do not assume that because an individual uses the word God that he/she are referring to the one God of Israel. I also do not assume that because a person uses the word 'Elohiym or YHVH that he/she is worshiping the God of Israel, either. One might wonder that if the all knowing Creator of the universe foreknew that YHVH, a proper noun, referred specifically to Him, then why associate the word 'Elohiym with Him at all? Why not just use YHVH? Why cause the confusion? Because 'Elohiym is a word that has a purpose and a function.
The reason I called this series of teaching Names Mean Things is because virtually all proper and common Hebrew nouns come from verbal roots and these roots have a meaning. The Hebrew langauge and thought is functional. The thinking process of western cultures is primarily in form, i.e., what does something look like or how does it appear. The conceptual thought process of Hebrew focuses dominantly on the purpose, design or function of someone or something. It is action oriented. Hebrew is more interested in what a watch does, than what a watch looks like. The Greek, Roman, Celtic, Norse, Teutonic and Egyptian cultures, for example, were form cultures with respect to their gods. They gave specific names to each god and they believed that by calling out those particular names they would receive favor and blessings commensurate with the names of the gods. If they called on the wrong god or improperly articulated his/her name then ...
Many of the emails I receive gently remind me of all the verses that state in one way or another that YHVH is His name and that we are not to even mention the names of other gods. There are two aspects of this I would like to discuss. Many of these treatises on the 'right' way to articulate the tetragrammaton do an impressive stringing of pearls to show that this or that is the way to properly address Him. Some, I speak without sarcasm, very carefully walk you through why His name must be used through its Hebrew articulation rather than English or Greek. For the most part I agree with this and have already covered the meaning of YHVH. However, while doing a great job of breaking down the Hebrew letters of The Name, they gloss right over the Hebrew meaning of name. They just assume the most oft used meaning of the word in our culture. I do address in somewhat more detail the meaning of this word in our Word of the Week section. I would take a look at that before reading on: name. Etymolgically, this word means to follow something back to it's beginning or source. This is seen in the meaning of the shin and mem, where the waters are pressed, i. e., the source of the waters. This is one reason behind the use of these two letters in the word shamayim, translated as heaven or heavens. It is also another word for breath as in neshamah (B'reshiyt/Genesis 2:7). Either way, the word is birthed in origin or source.
When YHVH tells us that this is His name, He is saying that HE is the Creator of all that is, and that HE is our authority or source of life and we are not to acknowledge or call upon the authority of other gods (many times the same word 'elohiym). Our life and blessings come from Him and not other deities, and to separate Himself from those other 'elohiyms. He has a personal name, YHVH, a proper noun. The word shem in Hebrew is a common noun. So that means that this word is to be translated into other languages. In the same way that father is used to denote the paternal parent of a child, the word father in Hebrew does not mean the paternal parent of a child. The Hebrew word 'av, similar to shem, also means the origin or source of something. When Hebrew and English use the expressions the 'father of tents' or the 'father of electricity', it does not mean that their wives conceived and brought forth pup tents and light bulbs. So it is with the word name. Our Creator is saying "I am YHVH, your only true King, Father and source of authority for your life in this world, and my children are to have no other source of their life, prosperity, longevity and blessings from anyone other than Me."
Two more things. I must address the verse in Sh'mot that is often quoted.
"And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention (zakar) of the name (shem) of other gods, neither let it be heard out of your mouth."
After giving the Ten Commandments to the people from the mount, the God of Israel now begins this verse proclaiming to His children to be watchful (circumspect) of the commands He just gave them. The context is His commandments and His authority and design for the lives of His children. He tells us to make no mention of the name of other gods. The word mention is a translation of the Hebrew word zakar. We have covered this word many times. The verbal, etymological meaning of this word is to speak or act in behalf of some one or some thing. In English, it means to recall or recollect something. In the context immdiately following the instructions of our Creator, He commands us not to speak or act in behalf of the authority of any other gods. In other words, "Listen to Me, I am your Father, I am your Creator, I am the Dad, so you do what I say." It is the God of Israel's way of saying, "because I said so". Have you or your children ever heard that before?
One last thing. I do not want to close this subject by saying anything confusing, but I feel that we must present a just weight (Mishlei 11:1). As it appears to be with every other doctrinal issue in the scriptures, there are extremes. There are good points to be made by those who insist that using translated common nouns is analogous to calling on pagan deities. I cannot help but notice that most cultures, organizations, denominations and institutions that use the words God, Lord, or Jesus, also live and teach a theology that Jesus died to free us from the Torah, or have rendered the Torah as a back seat driver to the Talmud or other Rabbinical writings. I believe that one of the reasons why we are sent out to teach the nations, is to help make clear what is many times lost in translation. I believe that the God of Israel is smarter than we are, and that He already knew that the good news would be watered down through translation into the scattered languages of the world. I believe that the translations and transliterations of The Word of 'Elohiym is all part of the plan and design of our Creator. I believe this is why He is, at just such a time as this, restoring the pure language. Over the past ten years in particular, I have used the common noun God in every conference, every seminar, every article and every message to hundreds of congregations and thousands of people. I have witnessed countless hearts pricked by the message of the purpose and beauty of the Torah and the awesome treasures found embedded in the ancient Hebrew tongue. I have seen and heard from more than I can count, those who now call out and use His given Hebrew names. Let me reiterate that because someone uses a properly translated word to refer to YHVH, I do not know if that person is in the kingdom or not. Conversely, if someone uses 'Elohiym, Yeshua, Yahshua or YHVH, I do not assume that person is in the kingdom, either. I believe that YHVH, the God of Israel is the ultimate sower and that I am responsible as His child to produce fruit. My conclusion of the matter is that if you are convicted that you will use all Hebrew names to address the one God of Israel, then by all means do so and help us to teach the nations what these names mean in the language that created all things. I mean, how can I argue with that. My whole ministry from the beginning has been dedicated to restoring the pure language. But, please, let us temper our rhetoric with the rules of grammar, patience, love, a just weight and a remembrance of where we all were not too long ago.