God: The Sacred-Name Question

Some people claim that God must be addressed by the Hebrew name YHWH, and that unless we call him Yahweh we are not properly honoring his name. The claim is also sometimes made that we should never use the words Jesus and Christ. Exodus 3:15, Isaiah 42:8 and Psalms 83:18, and similar statements, are cited to “prove” that Yahweh is God’s personal name. The major flaws in the “sacred name” theory are discussed below.

Hebrew names not in the New Testament

First, Hebrew names or titles for God are not found in the New Testament. It is therefore supposed by teachers of the “sacred name” that there must have been a different original, a non-Greek version.

Thus, the first erroneous premise necessary for the “sacred name” doctrine is that God allowed important parts of his Word to become lost. Adherents of the “sacred name” theory believe that the Greek New Testament is corrupt and, to be understood, it must be interpreted by the Old Testament. This is opposite to what both the Old and New Testaments teach! The New Testament explains the Old Testament.

The New Testament uses the Greek Kyrios 665 times and Theos 1,345 times! There is no New Testament manuscript in which Hebrew names for God are used instead of these Greek words.

Disciples were followers of “Christ”

The New Testament was inspired to state that Jesus is “the Christ.” Enemies of the early church called the disciples “Christians” (Acts 11:26). The disciples would not have been called “Christians” had they not been followers of someone they called Christ.

1 Peter 4:14 states, “If you are reproached for the name of Christ [Christos in Greek], blessed are you.” The Scriptures occasionally use the Greek form of the Hebrew word Messiah, but most commonly they use the Greek Christos, which has the same meaning. Verse 16 speaks of suffering as a Christian, which could not be if the disciples were not using the Greek word for Christ.

God inspired the Greek word Iesous as the name of Christ in more than 910 places in the New Testament. Acts 4:10-12 says that salvation is available only through the name of Jesus Christ.

Jesus prayed that the church would be kept in the name of the Father. In 12 New Testament passages the church is called the church of God (GreekTheos). In Ephesians 3:14-15 we read that the whole family in heaven and earth is named after the Father’s name (John 5:43), and Jesus stated that he is the Son of God (John 10:36). We, too, are children of God (1 John 3:1-2).

Is “God” a pagan term?

Some argue that God is a word that is used by pagans to refer to idols. That is true. Pagans who used the Hebrew or Aramaic language also called their idols by Hebrew names — such as Elohim, El, Eloah and Elah — but Yahweh, or the Lord, inspired his prophets to apply the same names to him. This shows that it is not wrong to refer to the true God by the same words that the pagans misused in reference to their idols.

God has many names

Another argument is that God’s only personal name is Yahweh, often based on a faulty reading of Psalm 83:18. The true meaning of the verse is that only God is eternal (the meaning of Yahweh). “Yahweh” appears about 7,000 times in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. It describes attributes of eternal existence and power.

We find many names for God in the Bible, in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, and translated from one language to another.

Meaning of “name”

Much stress is laid on the word name by those who adhere to this teaching. The truth is that God’s name is more than a set of vocal sounds. Names convey meaning. A person’s name summarizes one’s authority, power, reputation and character. God has many names to signify and describe his many offices and attributes.

Even in current usage, one may speak or act in the name of an authority without actually pronouncing the name of the authority. An officer of the law may arrest a criminal “in the name of the crown” or “in the name of the law.” It means he acted by authority of a higher power, the government.

In the same way, when we are told in Scripture to seek protection in the name of God or to glorify the name of God or to call on the name of God, it does not mean we are to select a particular set of sounds — it means that we are to come before God for our needs, to serve and please him, to honor him by loving others (Matthew 5:14-16), to praise him for the awesome and wonderful plan and purpose he is working out in us and for the salvation he is granting.

God does not require knowledge of a secret password or set of vocal sounds. Salvation comes by grace, through faith in our Savior. Christianity and spiritual growth depend on doctrines of much greater significance than pronunciation.

In Revelation 3:8 the faithful church is commended for not denying Christ’s or the Father’s name as found in the Bible. Yet, those who teach the “sacred name” doctrine reject the Greek New Testament, including the words of Christ, as unreliable.

Those who endorse the sacred-name teaching have failed to recognize a simple idiom of language. The doctrine is proposed as a serious biblical teaching because its exponents do not realize that to honor God’s name means to honor God — not to utter a particular name.

Author: D.G. Hunsberger


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