the LORD makes me crazy

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

(Psalm 16:1-2, NRSV)

Three reasons:

  1. It replaces a proper name with a title.
  2. It requires a definite article.
  3. It is virtually indistinguishable from “Lord.”

Since I’ve started studying Hebrew, I notice that people use Hashem in order to avoid pronouncing the tetragrammaton. Literally “the name” it still sounds like a name to me and so I can imagine God’s name being Hashem.

I’m all for respecting tradition and but I also have a high regard for Scripture and isn’t it in fact God himself who is quoted as saying, Tell them I am called …”

The Message uses the transliteration of the tetragrammaton. Here in Mozambique, God is regularly referred to as Jeovah. Ironically, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Mozambique call their kingdom halls, “Nyumba ya Ufumu wa Yehova.” Didn’t the JWs fight rather hard to establish that this name must begin with J?

The archaic “Lord” has to cover a lot of uses. My culture is so egalitarian that it’s hard to think of a word that carried the respect that this word implied 400 years ago. But no one in my country has called anyone “Lord.” since the War of Independence. What would that word be in American English. “Master” has negative connotations. “Boss” is too informal. “Leader” gets close since it signifies respect and submission.

Back to that LORD business. The gods of the nations surrounding Israel had their own names. Molech. Asheroth. Baal.

I come from a country where we regularly call our President by his first name (not to his face) and even use a diminutive at that: Jimmy, Bill. Is it disrespectful to refer to God by a title when he’s given you his name?

28 thoughts on “the LORD makes me crazy

  1. SimonPotamos says:

    Amen to that. The Tetragrammaton is God’s covenant name, the name by which He reveals Himself. We are missing out big time!

  2. Chaka says:

    I was trying to convey “Jesus is Lord” in a sermon last Sunday. I used “Master” and “Boss,” but they have the exact problems you point out. As for “Leader” implying respect and submission, Bob Dylan comes to mind: “Don’t follow leaders; watch the parking meters.”

    You could try to translate the concept conveyed by YHWH. Doesn’t the (original French) Jerusalem Bible translate YHWH as “l’Eternal” or something? You could go with “The One Who Is”, or more science-fictionally, “the Being.”

  3. dgoepfrich says:

    Am I right in my assumption that since the Masoretes (sp?) didn’t include the vowel pointing for YHVH, we really no longer know what the actual NAME is? Aren’t we just guessing with “Jehovah” and the like?


  4. Theophrastus says:

    It’s your soul; if you want to risk it along the slippery slope of violating the Decalogue by taking God’s name in vain — may God have mercy on your soul.

    The more serious problem is that we don’t know how to pronounce the Tetragrammaton — so it is like calling the President “Barry” or calling you “Dovey”. I think mispronouncing God’s name is just rude.

    One thing I am sure of is that His name is not pronounced “Jehovah”.

  5. Doug Chaplin says:

    I might say more in a post, but presumably part of this tradition that needs wrestling with (particularly in response to SimonPotamus) is that the most likely historical probability is that Jesus, when reading or quoting scripture, would have said Adonai for YHWH. LXX’s use of kyrios suggests this before the time of Jesus, and NT usage (particularly Phil 2:6-11) for the early church. It is highly unlikely Jesus did anything different.

    While I don’t think Jesus’ usage is determinative for every subsequent generation, I do think it suggests a respectful honorific and a close personal relationship are not a binary opposition.

  6. ElShaddai Edwards says:

    I suppose I’ll have to take the 5th on this one, lest I violate “the Decalogue by taking God’s name in vain”. Mataiologia and all that…

    But as for titles, don’t forget about “sir” – it has martial and civilian connotations.

  7. David Ker says:

    Disclaimer: I’m not a Hebrew expert.

    The problem you mention is in essence true for any name in the Bible, or word for that matter. So yes we are guessing. Except for those who are sure they’re right. 😉

  8. David Ker says:

    I hope God has mercy on my soul.

    As a world traveler I’ve heard my name pronounced in so many ways that it doesn’t bother me in the least. But if someone knows my name I’m happy.

    In many of the African cultures where I live names are spiritually powerful and are avoided. You would never do the American thing, “Hi, my name is… what’s your name?” That’s like saying, “Hi, now you can curse me. Tell me your name so I can curse you.”

  9. Theophrastus says:

    No, that’s not true — the Masoretes included vowel pointing for other words in the Hebrew Bible — the name of God however, to avoid accidental pronunciation, included pointing from the Hebrew word for “lord”.

  10. John Hobbins says:

    The Jewish Publication Society’s Contemporary Torah prints יהוה in English translation without vowels whenever the Tetragrammaton occurs in the Hebrew text. In some ancient Greek manuscripts, a similar practice is attested.

    That allows people to substitute the honoric of their choice, “Lord,” the “Eternal,” “the Name,” etc. At the same time, it reminds the leader that the personal name of the God of Israel is in the text. Finally, it avoids weird stuff on the page such as “The Lord said to my Lord.”

    We don’t know exactly how the Tetragrammaton was pronounced in antiquity, but we have a very good idea, based on a convergence of traditions and considerations. It must be kept in mind, however, that the pronunciation of the name probably changed a little bit from the time of David to the time of Jesus when the name was pronounced only by the high priest on Yom Kippur.

  11. Peter Kirk says:

    David, you called me a lord, an English one, although admittedly you weren’t in your country when you did so! 😉

    Basically I agree with you. I don’t think it is taking the Lord’s name in vain when we use it properly to refer to him, especially in a Bible translation. But we do need to respect those who consider it wrong to use the name.

  12. David Ker says:

    As a Christian, I consider Jesus to be the name above all names. I’d be satisfied with a solution like Eternal One if it allowed, in reading and listening, for people to distinguish between this name and the title Adonai.

  13. EricW says:

    Since I’ve started studying Hebrew, I notice that people use Hashem in order to avoid pronouncing the tetragrammaton. Literally “the name” it still sounds like a name to me and so I can imagine God’s name being Hashem.

    Since the word Shem uses a tsere and not a seghol, I think it’s a “shame” to use HaShem. 🙂

  14. J. K. Gayle says:

    Doug Chaplin,
    I very much appreciate your comment on looking to what Jesus (and his predecessors) used in speaking and / or reading (aloud even in Greek translation): “Adonai for YHWH. LXX’s use of kyrios.”

    Mark’s Jesus also used “αββα ὁ πατήρ.” Which more often sounded like אבא / ‘abbā. It’s presumptuous, audacious, and, as history tells us, deadly. But I like it!

  15. EricW says:

    Some thoughts:

    Since we’re quite comfortable with mispronouncing Iêsous as “GEE-zuzz,” and the NT authors seemed to be quite comfortable with writing His name as Iêsous (and presumably pronouncing it that way) instead of a more-correct Iêssouah, I think one can perhaps get too picky about whether or not YWHW is or is not pronounced properly. Interestingly, Philo or Josephus mentioned that the four letters on the High Priest’s headgear(?) were “four vowels,” IIRC. Thus, “Yahweh” could be a mispronunciation. Don’t some ancient Greek documents transliterate its pronunciation something like I-Ah-Oh?

    Jesus in John 17 talks about giving His disciples God’s name and manifesting it to them: 17:6,11,12. Unfortunately, the Gospel author never spells or pronounces this “name” that Jesus may have used. Is “Father” that name, i.e., Patêr or Abba?

    I have always felt that it’s wrong to replace YHWH with a title or euphemism like “HaShem” or even “Adonai.” If God wanted to be known by His name (Exodus 3:15) and have His name put upon His people (Numbers 6:27), I think we are remiss not to do so. God never said that He’d tell His people to stop pronouncing His name, AFAIK.

  16. Davis says:

    In fact, not using His name could be seen as just as profane as using it in vain.

    Also historically, there seems to be evidence that the Tetragammaton was pronounced with its vowels at least until around 586 B.C. and that replacement of the name took place with Jews in Egypt that were syncretistic with various pagan idolatrous concepts. So it seems dangerous to adopt the practices of Jews in Egypt with such pagan influences.

  17. Dru says:

    I have to admit that I feel emotionally uncomfortable reading translations, such as the Jerusalem Bible which use some form of rendering of the tetragrammaton. This may sound to some people like superstition, but if I am am reading aloud from such a translation, I convert it to the LORD as being both the usual convention and the conventional translation into English of adonai. I also favour the spelling LORD in capitals to indicate where it is a translation of the tetragrammaton.

    So I think I agree with Doug Chaplin in this. I also agree, David, with your point that in many of the African cultures names are spiritually powerful and are avoided. I like your suggestion that, “Hi, my name is… what’s your name?” is like saying, “Hi, now you can curse me. Tell me your name so I can curse you.”

    I have heard that there are some places where people have a ‘real’ name that they keep quiet about, and a public name that they can use, so that if people get hold of it and use it to curse them, it is not their real name and the curse will not work.

    I don’t think we are as far from all this as we think we are. Do you not feel a certain discomfort sometimes addressing somebody by name, and a preference for avoiding doing so? And don’t you feel uncomfortable when someone you don’t know very well addresses you by your Christian name. Much human politeness is designed to avoid us all jarring on each others’ sensitive egos and self respect. Even so, I think there is more to it than that.

    I’m intrigued by the use of HaShem. I’ve not encountered that. But see how frequently the psalms refer in different constructions to ‘the name of the LORD’ as representing him. I can’t help thinking, though, that if one were to adopt that convention, one should translate it into English and refer to God where his name is used as ‘the Name’.

  18. EricW says:

    It seems to me that we use the word “God” for God’s name. The New Testament seems to do so, too, e.g., John 3:16: “For (name of deity) so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son….”

    Question: “Who so loved the world?”

    Answer: “God.”

    And when we pray, where we would say “Jesus” when addressing the Son, we say “God” when addressing the Father – which is the word (i.e., theos) that Paul most often used for Jesus’s father, it seems. I.e., the New Testament “name” for God is … “God.”

    Translating all instances of YHWH as “God” creates the problem of how to translate Elohim or El, assuming one wants to make a distinction. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan chose to translate YHWH Elohim as “God,” the same word he used for Elohim alone.

  19. Theophrastus says:

    Using the term “Hashem” has a distinguished pedigree — you’ll first find it used in Lev 24:11.

    This raises an interesting translation question how to translate that verse. In most translations “השם” in this verse be translated as “the Name” — although the implication is that the Israelite woman’s son cursed God. Contemporary translations retaining “the Name” include ESV, Fox, HCSB, KJV, the Message, NET, NIV, NAB, NASB, NJB, NJPS, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV, and TNIV — while those translating it as “God” include the GNT, NCV, and the NIrV. While I prefer formal translations in most cases, in this case the text is using a euphemism, and I think the GNT, NCV, and NIrV have the better translation of “השם”.

  20. J. K. Gayle says:

    “…we’re quite comfortable with mispronouncing Iêsous as “GEE-zuzz,” and the NT authors seemed to be quite comfortable with writing His name as Iêsous (and presumably pronouncing it that way) instead of a more-correct Iêssouah,…”

    No one is less comfortable with the Christian transliteration “Jesus” than Jewish classics scholar / translator Willis Barnstone. In both The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice and his translation of the four gospels, Barnstone gets at the implications of making this name not Jewish – more than intimating that it’s an anti-Semitic robbing this Jews (and all Jews) of his Jewishness. What if Socrates were rendered as not Greek and his trial and death (in translation) made “the Greeks” responsible for the demise of this universal (non-Greek) figure, Barnstone asks by analogy.

  21. J. K. Gayle says:

    “…mispronouncing Iêsous as ‘GEE-zuzz’…”

    There’s another huge thing lost in our translations (besides what Barnstone laments, as noted in my other comment); the huge thing lost is this:

    IF the Tetragrammaton is un-pronounced, THEN the word play of Moses (AND by extension the inspired word play of God himself) is lost when Moses re-names and speaks the name Joshua.

    In Numbers 13:16, readers reading aloud and silently hear and see this:

    Hosea (ben-Nun) לְהוֹשֵׁעַ

    (by Moses) is called

    Joshua יְהוֹשֻׁעַ

    AND in Numbers 13:1 and 13:3,

    God is written (by Moses) as יְהוָה.

    Here there is lexical, literal, figural, phonological, and theological wordplay. Moses gets to speak a new name for this young protege of his; and Moses gets to have this new name spoken (and written) as plays both on the lad’s old name and on the (un-speakable but) certainly visual name of God.

    Kind of makes you want to say “GEE-z – what have we done with our translations of יְהוֹ-שֻׁעַ and יְהוָה?!”

  22. Theophrastus says:

    Davis, your statement is just absurd. The guidelines for this blog are over in the corner — they do not include asking the question “which religion had more pagan influences, Christianity or Judaism?” Furthermore, your inflammatory assertions contain no references at all.

  23. Michael Nicholls says:

    I’ve thought about this for quite some time. It feels like something has been lost by substituting ‘the LORD’, a title, for God’s name, YHWH, or whatever it is.

    But like others said, it wasn’t something that Jesus or the NT writers felt the need to correct. They had plenty of opportunities to write the name of God rather than use ‘kurios’ and follow the LXX, which was following Jewish custom. But they didn’t.

    A while back I bought a ‘New Jerusalem Bible’ since it uses ‘Yahweh’ in place of ‘the LORD’, and I quite enjoy it. There’s definitely something more personal (and appropriate) in reading:

    Alleluia! Praise the name of Yahweh, you who serve Yahweh, praise him, (Ps 135:1)

    From the rising of the sun to its setting, praised be the name of Yahweh! (Ps 113:3)

    Yahweh is a warrior; Yahweh is his name. (Ex 15:3)

    I just find it so strange to read “the LORD is his name” when we all know that it’s not really.

    As for what the vowels should really be, and what the ‘true’ pronunciation is, my personal opinion is it’s not a big deal (God’s not put out by different accents and muddled phonemes). What I like is addressing God by a ‘name’, and not a ‘title’. And I think he wanted it that way.

    But that’s just me, and I wouldn’t demand it of someone else. But I highly recommending having a read of the New Jerusalem Bible version just to get a feel for it (although I’m not Catholic).

  24. Dewayne Dulaney says:

    Definitely we should use Yahweh in the OT to honor the statement in Ex. 3:15, not to mention all the thousands of times it’s used elsewhere in the original text. Clearly the great men and women of faith in the OT used it in speaking to God, including in prayer (see the Psalms for numerous examples). In the book of Ruth we even see it in conversation as the equivalent of “God bless you” (Ruth 2:4–“Lord” in the Heb. text there is YHWH.).

    I have always thought it strange that Bible translations have no problem mentioning the names of pagan gods (Baal, Chemosh, Molech, etc.; NT examples include Hermes, Zeus, and Artemis (Diana), and Ares (Athens’ Areopagus/Mars’ Hill) but refuse to mention the name of the true and living God! As for how it’s pronounced, it is not correct to say we don’t know. Both the Hebrew and Greek evidence is pretty clear. See the online Jewish Encyclopedia article on “Tetragrammaton”.

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