What's in a Name?
Febuary 20, 2015


During my time at theological college one of the subjects we studied was Old Testament Hebrew. At the end of the three year course each student was sufficiently proficient in his grasp of the Hebrew language that he was able to read (fairly) fluently from the Hebrew scriptures.  Our professor insisted that when we came across the name of God in the text (the Hebrew word YHWH), rather then read out this word we instead  had to say the word ‘Adonai’  (Lord). The reason for this was because this was how the Jews read their scriptures.  They regarded the Divine name of God to be too sacred to be spoken by human beings.  To them it was blasphemy to even speak the name of God.  This is still the case within more orthodox Jewish circles today.

The fourth commandment states “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

In this commandment God does not forbid the actual speaking of his name. In this respect the Jews then, and orthodox Jews today, go beyond what the Law of God requires.  What this command forbids is the irreverent, disrespectful, thoughtless use of any of God’s names. Sadly, this is something that has become all too prevalent in society today.

Sometimes when I am with friends or family who are not Christians, they will apologize to me if they use swear words. However it doesn’t seem to cost them a thought when they use the name of God, or Jesus flippantly.  To be honest, whilst I do not like the use of common swear words, I am more distressed when I hear people blaspheming the name of God or speaking the name of ‘Jesus’ in a flippant, disrespectful and irreverent manner.  They would never think of saying “Oh my Buddah” or “ for Mohammed’s sake”  but they will regularly use God’s name and Jesus’ name in this way. Many people today  thoughtlessly pepper their sentences with either the word “God” or “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ”, using them merely as filler words in their sentences.

Even among many church going, otherwise quite religious people, there appears to be very little true reverence and respect when it comes to using the name of God or of Jesus Christ.  It is a sad state of affairs when even the clergy in some ecclesiastical traditions use the name of God and Jesus irreverently.

Devotees of Islam would never dream of using the name of Mohammed or of Allah in a disrespectful or irreverent way and yet many people who claim to be Christians totally ignore the fourth commandment and trample the name of God and of His beloved Son Jesus into the dust by using it irreverently.

As you go about your business this week listen and take note of how many times you hear the name of God  or Jesus being used in a flippant, disrespectful, irreverent way.

I don’t expect this article will bring about any significant change in the blasphemous way non-Christians use God’s name . However if it makes some of us who profess to be Christians think again about how we use the names(s) of God in our conversation, it will have achieved something. 

 

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