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The Divine Name

by Keith Sharp

If you consider what the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McViegh, the family at Ruby Ridge, the Abilene, Texas dooms-day leader Yisryal Hawkins, and the branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas, have in common, you will arrive at a surprising answer. They all know the creator's true and original names (Warren).

The Scriptures is the name of a purported translation of the Bible put out by the Institute for Scripture Research, which is headquartered in South Africa. A search of their website, http://www.messianic.co.za, and of a printed copy of this "translation" did not turn up even a clue as to who the translators were or what their qualifications are to translate from the original biblical languages into English. In this, they are parallel to the Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse to disclose who translated the so-called New World Translation. A study of the claims of the ISR will demonstrate that, further like the Watchtower Society of the Jehovah's Witnesses, they have simply put their theology into a book and called it the Bible, thus bringing upon themselves and their followers the curse of Revelation 22:18-19:

"For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18-19).

I fully realize this seems to be a harsh judgment. Let's see if it is justified.

Divine Name

The stated purpose for this supposed translation is to restore "the Name of the Almighty to its rightful place in the text" (xi). It claims to do so "by the use of Hebraic forms of certain words and titles." The authors continue, "'The Scriptures' differs radically from most other translations in that it does not continue in the tradition of substituting the Name of the Father and of the Son with names ascribed to gentile (pagan) deities" (Ibid).

After acknowledging that no one knows for sure how the Hebrew for the Old Testament name of God is pronounced (Exodus 3:15-16), the writers declare, "we decided to avoid controversy over the precise pronunciation and to render it in Hebrew characters ...." (xii). Likewise they claim to have "decided to print the Name of the Messiah ... in Hebrew characters...." (Ibid).

And why should English speaking people believe it is essential to learn Hebrew characters and how to pronounce them? "... to obey the scriptural injunctions to call on the Name..., to make it known..., and not to forget it... (Ibid).

Immediate Question

Before we examine the claims of the ISR, an immediate question comes to mind. If even they admit that no one knows for sure how to pronounce the Hebrew word translated "LORD" in the Old Testament, and they do, how can the ability to pronounce this word be necessary to obedience? "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:3). Hebrew is a Semitic language, a family of languages totally different from the family to which English belongs. Any English speaking person who has ever attempted to learn Hebrew, which has a completely different alphabet, which reads right to left, and which has pronunciations sometimes almost impossible for our tongues, can attest this is a "burdensome" requirement.

Obedience to God is essential to our salvation (Matthew 7:21; Hebrews 5:9). The righteousness of the gospel is something readily available to all who come to Christ in faith (Romans 10:6-10). But if we must learn to pronounce Hebrew names which not even Hebrew scholars know for sure how to pronounce, our salvation is hopeless.

Calling on the Name of the Lord

Calling on the name of the Lord does not mean to pronounce with the mouth a certain word or even to request with the mouth salvation from that being (Matthew 7:21). The sinner outside Christ calls on the Lord by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:13-17), believing in Christ (Romans 10:8-13), repenting of His sins (Acts 2:21,38), confessing His faith in Christ (Romans 10:8-13), and being baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:21,38; 22:16). When one is baptized for the remission of sins, he is appealing to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21, NASB).

Name of God Manifested

The Lord made His name known to Israel through Moses (Exodus 3:15-16), a name the ISR believes we should use in its Hebrew form today. But almost 1500 years later Jesus prayed to His Father, "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world" (John 17:6). The term "manifested" means "to bring to light, to set in a clear light; to manifest, display," and in this passage means "to declare, make known" (Mounce. 1302). The same term is translated "revealed" in both the New King James Version and New American Standard Bible in Mark 4:22. If Moses revealed the one divine name that all people must use for all time, how is it that Christ revealed the name of God to His apostles, who were all Jews?

The fact is the word "name" is used, not just of the appellation by which one is called, but "for all that a name implies, of authority, character, rank, majesty, power, excellence, etc., of everything that the name covers" (Vine. 3:100). "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold" (Proverbs 22:1; cf. Ecclesiastes 7:1). Is Solomon commending a name that sounds good or a good reputation? We must "do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17). Must we go about saying "Lord Jesus" or do all by His authority? God is not concerned whether or not we pronounce a word correctly. In fact, no one, including the ISR, knows for certain how to pronounce the tetragrammaton (Hebrew word translated "LORD").

The ISR and other "sacred name" devotees have a misunderstanding of the significance of names parallel to that of the sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16). They thought the name "Jesus" was a magical talisman that, if pronounced, would accomplish wonders. This is a superstition that nearly got them killed.

Our Father

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He did not teach them to use the Hebrew appellation for the one, true and living God, but to address God as "our Father" (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2). When the apostle Paul blessed those to whom he wrote, he did not use the Old Covenant name but used "Father" (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; II Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 1:1; II Thessalonians 1:2; I Timothy 1:2; Philemon 1:3).

The Old Testament taught Israel the unique, uncreated, eternal existence of God (Exodus 3:13-16). The term "Father" expresses the closeness and the love God has for His people (Galatians 4:6-7). It is not sinful to address God by names which He taught Old Testament Israel to call Him. He still has the nature those names express. It is sinful to bind the use of Hebrew words, and it is superstition to think the proper pronunciation of those terms is associated with salvation. I decline to give up the blessed privilege of addressing God as "Father" to employ a Hebrew word used by Old Testament Israelites which I can't even pronounce properly. Why return to "the weak and beggarly elements" (Galatians 4:9)?

Translation?

The ISR claims there is evidence the New Testament books were originally written in Hebrew, but they decline to give us the evidence. "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). F.F. Bruce was the "Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis in the University of Manchester, England." He wrote, "The New Testament books were written in Greek within the first century after the death and resurrection of Christ" (Books. 176). How can the ISR claim The Scriptures is a translation from the original tongue of the New Testament into English, when they put Hebrew words into New Testament books that were originally written in Greek?

Unbelievers

The ISR casts the same doubts on the accuracy of the existing Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that unbelievers do, twisting the facts to destroy faith in the Bible. The Mormons and Muslims do the same thing for the same reason - to pave the way for acceptance of their purported revelations. Those who put out The Scriptures claim they were "explicitly called" by the Holy Spirit to this work, and that their work and that of others like them "has led to the increase of knowledge" ("Preface." xi).

The ISR asserts, "There are close to 28,000 Greek manuscripts or fragments. ... The alarming fact is "everyone one of these handwritten copies differ from every other one" ("Preface." xv). The Truth is:

The number of extant manuscripts of all or part of the Greek New Testament runs
to about 5000. If the very number of manuscripts increases the total of scribal
corruptions, it supplies at the same time the means of checking them.... (Books.
181)

Our century (20th - KS) has seen no greater authority in this field of New
Testament textual criticism than Sir Frederic Kenyon, ... and we may take his
words to heart with confidence... 'the last foundation for any doubt that the
Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been
removed' (Books. 189-190).

God Approves Translating

It is certainly true that most, although not all, of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. But, as we have seen, the New Testament was given by the Holy Spirit in Greek. And, when the New Testament writers quoted from the Old Testament, not only did they quote it in Greek, they characteristically quoted from a Greek translation of the Old Testament called the "Septuagint." This includes passages which in the Old Testament contain the Hebrew name of the Lord, but in the New Testament that name has been translated into Greek ("kurios" - "Lord") or is referred by the New Testament writer to Jesus, whose name is given in the Greek ("Iesous") (e.g., Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4; 4:14; John 1:23; Acts 2:21,38; 4:26; Acts 15:17; Romans 2:24; 9:28; and Hebrews 13:6).

Pagan Names

Those caught up in the "Sacred Name" movement claim the English name "Jesus" is derived from the Greek name "Zeus," the head of the pagan pantheon of gods. there is no connection of any kind between the Greek name I–esous (or the English name Jesus) and the name Zeus. Absolutely none! You might as well argue that Tiger Woods is the name of a tiger-infested jungle in India as try to connect the name Jesus to the pagan god Zeus. It is that absurd, and it is based on serious linguistic ignorance (Brown).

There is no evidence whatsoever that the names for the Father and the Son found in the Greek New Testament or in the English translations of the Bible were names taken from pagan deities. The ISR simply asserts this without proof.

Conclusion

Most of those involved in the "Sacred Names" movement espouse other serious errors, such as the necessity of keeping Old Testament laws (cf. Galatians 5:1-4), the belief national Israel is still God's chosen people (cf. Matthew 21:33-46; I Peter 2:4-9), and belief in a future, one thousand year, material kingdom of Christ on earth (cf. John 18:36; Romans 14:17; Revelation 1:9).

It is not necessary to know one word of Hebrew or even to know most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew to be saved.

At that time Jesus answered and said, 'I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight (Matthew 11:25-26).

Those in the "Sacred Names" movement are parallel to the Gnostics of old, who claimed to have secret knowledge hidden from the uninitiated.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life (I John 5:20).

If you are in Jesus Christ, and you know nothing about Hebrew or Greek, then you know God, you understand His will for you, and you have the true God and eternal life.

(Thanks to Ron Halbrook for a wealth of very valuable information. Also thanks to Daniel H. King, Michael Marlowe, Leon Mauldin, and Mark Roberts for help.)

Works Cited

Bible

  • New American Standard Bible
  • New King James Version

Other

  • Brown, Dr Michael (Ph.D. in Semitic languages), http://askdrbrown.org/ask-dr-brown/35-ask-drbrown/79-what-is-the-original-hebrew-name-for-jesus-and-is-it-true-that-the-name-jesusgreek-isssous-is-really-a-pagan-corruption-of-the-name-zeus.
  • Bruce, F.F., The Books and the Parchments.
  • Mounce, William D., Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
  • Vine, W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
  • Warren, Lee, B.A., D.D. and Penny Warren B.A., M.A., D.D., "Sacred Name Movement in America" (Plim Report. 7:3).