(Hebrew Characters) This is the Hebrew word usually transliterated as “Jehovah.” Did you know that nobody in the world today knows how to pronounce the word–- (Hebrew Characters) Some people think that you should learn to say it, but in the ancient Hebrew language there were no vowels. The vowels were added by the Masoretes in the tenth century, about a thousand years after Christ. As we will soon see, because the Jews did not speak this word, nobody today knows for sure how it was anciently pronounced.
Ellen White says that when angels speak the name of God they veil their faces. We do have a lot to learn about reverence. We have a lot to learn and we need to pray very humbly that the Lord will help us to become reverent the way we should be and not treat God's name in a careless, flippant or light way. We should know what the third commandment says.
The Jews did understand one thing. I believe that the ancient Jews had more reverence than God's people do today. When they were reading the Bible and they came to the name— (Hebrew Characters)
—they would never say it. That is why we do not know how it is pronounced. Nobody knows how it is pronounced because the Jews never, ever read this name out loud. This went on for hundreds and thousands of years. They wrote it, but they never spoke it; they never took this name on their lips because they considered this name holy. It is an interesting thing that today people want to say the very name that the Jews would never, under any condition, say.
In ancient times the people did not all have a Bible, so when they gathered together, one person who would read from the Scriptures would be up front. When he came to this word—
(Hebrew Characters) —what would he say? He would have to say something so the people would know who he was talking about, but he would never say the word transliterated “Jehovah” because they considered it a holy name. They never once took it upon their lips. When they came to this word they said the word Adonai.
Adonai means Lord. The word transliterated “Jehovah” means “I AM.” Remember, Jesus once said to the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” When Jesus said this, the Jews immediately picked up stones to throw at Him. They understood that Jesus was saying that He was Jehovah. I do not know whether or not Jesus pronounced the word, all I know is that in the New Testament it is written in Greek— ego eimi. “I AM” in Greek does not mean anything; it is not a name for anyone. Because the Jews immediately picked up stones to throw at Jesus when He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” you know, for sure, that He was referring to Himself with the expression ego eimi and that they understood it to refer to the fact that He was God, the God delineated by the words that meant “I AM,” from which we get the transliterated word “Jehovah.”
Let us look at this word two thousand years later when they put in the vowels. We are still trying to figure out how this word should be pronounced. The Hebrew word transliterated “Jehovah” had to have vowel- points put in like the rest of the words so that the Hebrew script could become more readable. (Would you like to read English if all the vowels were removed from the words?) The Masoretes put the vowel- pointing for the word Adonai into the Hebrew word from which we get the word Jehovah.
Let us study the word that the Hebrew word transliterated “Jehovah” comes from. Take this letter: (Hebrew Characters) , which is not an apostrophe. It is the Hebrew letter yod, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. It has the sound of Y or a short I. In English, my name is John, but if I would say my name in Spanish, I would say “Juan.” So the Y sound in many other languages becomes the J sound in English. My name in German is “Johan” (pronounced with a Y sound). If you study languages, you will find that many words that begin with a Y sound in other languages, have a J sound in English.
(Hebrew Characters) This is the first letter in the word we call “Jehovah.” Remember, in the Hebrew language you pronounce the word from right to left. The first letter has a Y sound, or a J sound in English.
(Hebrew Characters) The second letter for the word we call “Jehovah” is the consonant for what we call the H sound. Between a J and an H you need a vowel. Nobody knows for sure what this vowel should be. Some people think it should be a short A and others a short E, but nobody knows for sure because there were no vowels in the ancient Hebrew language. We have no tape recordings from Moses' time, so nobody knows for sure what the ancient vowel sound was.
(Hebrew Characters) This is a very interesting letter. It is a consonant, but sometimes, even though they only had consonants, they used some of their consonants as semi- vowels. Scholars have a difference of opinion as to what the sound of this letter is. It is not too hard to understand how they might have a difference of opinion. Have you ever heard someone whose native language is German try to speak English and they get their V's and W's all mixed up? World is pronounced “velt,” and the W sound and the V sound are different. That is the way this letter is. Some scholars say this letter should be W and some say it should be V.
The last of the four letters is the same as the second, so you have an H letter again. Because there is an H at the end, you need to supply [page 1] another vowel. Nobody knows for sure what it would be, but many people think it should be a short A. If you put all the English letters together and pronounce it the way the Germans, Spanish, or Italians pronounce their words and transliterate it (which is what we do with all names, by the way), you would have the word Yahweh. But if you made it into English, you would have either “Jahweh,” “Jehovah” or something of that nature.
To transliterate is to take the sounds of the letters of a word in one language and put them into another language. There is nothing to say that the vowels could not be different from the ones we chose. Nobody knows for sure how to pronounce this word, but some scholars prefer the pronunciation “Yahweh.” Others say, “No, we are English speaking people so we say ‘Jehovah.” ' You do not say “Da- wid” ' do you? No, you say “Da'- vid.” And you do not say “Yosafe,” you say “Joseph.” You do not say “Ben- ya- mean,” you say Benjamin. We take all the letters and put English sounds into them. We do that with all the proper names in the Bible.
Some people say, “The angel didn’t speak Greek to Mary.” That is not the point. The point is that Matthew wrote his book of the New Testament in Greek. It does not matter in what language the words of the Bible were spoken. We have to depend on the language the Bible was written in to know exactly what it says, so we have to depend on the Greek in the New Testament just the same as we have to depend on the Hebrew in the Old Testament. Does that make sense? Nearly all scholars in the world acknowledge that the New Testament was originally written in Greek, and if you are an historic Seventh- day Adventist, it might be mentioned that Ellen White also acknowledges this fact in the Great Controversy, page 245.
Let me ask you this question. Suppose that you and I were Chinese. We are talking together in Chinese and we get into an argument over what a certain sentence in the Great Controversy means. I say “I think it means this,” and you say, “No, I think it means this.” We have a difference of opinion as to what this sentence in the Great Controversy means, so what Great Controversy do you think we ought to go to in order to see exactly what Ellen White wrote? Do you think we need to go to a German, French or English Great Controversy? We should go to an English copy because that is what Ellen White wrote it in. You have to do the same thing with the Bible. If you ask, “What does this really mean?” and you have a difference of opinion, then the question becomes: What did the person actually write? The only way to tell exactly what was written is to go to the original language. In the New Testament you have to go to Greek, and in the Old Testament you have to go to Hebrew (or Aramaic). We repeat that the evidence is very strong that the New Testament was written in Greek and Ellen White confirms that it was written in Greek. In the Greek New Testament, not once do the apostles ever use the word or name “Jehovah,” or its equivalent in Greek letters. The apostles always used the names for God that some people would like to forbid you to use because they have pagan origins— but, the apostles were speaking and writing in a language that had pagan origins and they always used the pagan .words that meant “Lord,” or “God.” They used the pagan words to refer to the true God. In Acts 17 and in the letters to the Corinthians and other places, Paul, in the same sentence or paragraph, refers to false gods and then the true God with the very same Greek word. The point is that they were interested in clearly communicating— not in artificial forms of address. To us, a word from a foreign language that we do not understand, used to address God, is an artificial form of address and the apostles never, ever did this, to our knowledge— they always did just the opposite. They always addressed God with words that the people could understand.
The name “Jehovah” can be applied to both the Father and the Son. There is another name that many are agitated about. This is the name that is transliterated “Joshua” in English. Unfortunately, people want to fight over the pronunciation of this word also, but the apostles never once used it in reference to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. If your religion is based on a direct “Thus saith the Lord,” you will not even be using this word unless you are speaking Hebrew or speaking to a Hebrew audience. This was a common word that could be said at any time. It was a man's name. The name for Jesus comes from a very common name among the Jews at the time of Christ. So when someone was named, “Jesus,” nobody thought anything about it; there were thousands with that name. The name “Jesus” in the Hebrew language is transliterated “Joshua.” Joshua was one of the Jewish leaders. He would be like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington to us. So this was a common name for a boy in Jesus' day.
What does this word mean? Friends, this is one of the most wonderful words. It means a deliverer or a Saviour. When the apostles used this most wonderful of names they never wrote it in Hebrew in the New Testament. They always used the Greek (pagan) word Iasous. When Ellen White wrote concerning this most wonderful name, she never used the Greek or the Hebrew word because she was writing to an English speaking audience, so she used the most wonderful word in English— Jesus. When anybody knows more about how to refer to God the Father or the Son than an inspired prophet or apostle, watch out!— you are dealing with fanaticism of the most dangerous kind. One of the principle elements of fanaticism in all ages is the idea that a man knows something about religion beyond what the prophets knew. Study about Munzer in the time of Martin Luther. Study about the charismatics today who will disobey the Bible if taught to do so by a spirit manifestation. Study what Isaiah and Jesus said about the fanaticism of the Pharisees (Isaiah 29 Matthew 15).
The Hebrew language was used by the Hebrew people for hundreds of years, but then came a time when, as a result of the conquest of Alexander the Great, Greek became the universally spoken language of the world. Ellen White says divine providence arranged things so that all over the world one language was widely spoken when Jesus came (DA 33). If the Lord should give you a vision or dream tonight, he would not communicate to you in Hebrew because you would not understand it. If the Lord was going to communicate something to you He would communicate it in English or in your native language. I have learned this from studying Christian history. God knows your mother tongue, and when He wants to communicate something to you He does not speak to you in Greek, Syriac, Russian or Chinese. You would not understand. He speaks to you in the language you understand best.
How did Jesus communicate to the people when He came? He communicated in the language they could understand. The apostles did the same thing. In Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, the apostles were preaching to different people from different countries. The people asked How can this be? We are all hearing in our mother tongue? Remember this: The apostate church put the message in a language nobody could understand— Latin— but at Pentecost, the people said they were all hearing in their mother tongue.
When the apostles wrote the New Testament, they wrote it in Greek. But there was long time when scholars studied the New Testament and they asked, “What language is this? This is Greek, but it is not like any other Greek writing that we can find in that period. What is this?” For a time scholars could not figure out what it was. We call it “Koine Greek.” We now know it was the common language that everybody spoke and understood. Paul could speak and write Hebrew, but he wrote in Greek because that was what the people he was writing to could understand. If Paul would have written to the Galatians in Hebrew, they would have had to find a translator to translate for them. The evidence we have is that the New Testament is written in Greek. By the time of the apostles even the Hebrew people could not speak Hebrew very well. They did not use Hebrew at all unless they were talking to the Sanhedrin or [page 2] someone who was educated. If you were talking to the common people in the time of the apostles and spoke Hebrew, a large part of the audience would not understand you.
We have 5,000 ancient Greek manuscripts in the New Testament, some of them within 100 years of the time the apostles wrote. We find in them that, without exception, when the apostles wrote the New Testament, they never once used the word, “Jehovah” or “Jehoshua.” By the way, do you suppose if it was important for people of all languages to use this word that Peter or Paul would have known about it? But they never used it once. What word did they use? They used the Greek word, not the Hebrew word. The Greek word is that pagan word that some people call Iasous. That is the word that appears thousands of times in the New Testament. It is the Greek word that means the same as this word “Jehoshua,” but it is completely different in pronunciation, Iasous. It is not good enough for us, because we are not Greek. If you are speaking to a Greek audience, Iasous is perfectly appropriate; that is the name you would use. But most of us are English and when you transliterate a proper name, you take the word Iasous or “Joshua,” either one, and you get the word Jesus. That is the English word. I believe that Ellen White was a prophet. I am not asking you to believe this, you will have to study the evidence for yourself; but I believe it because I have studied the evidence very carefully. I am not telling you this because I did a peripheral study— I did a study of this for many months when I was in the seminary to find out for sure if Ellen White was a prophet. Did she have the gift of prophecy? I came to the conclusion that she did, and I know why I believe that she is a prophet. In her writings, Ellen White was not writing in Hebrew and she was not writing in Greek; she was writing in English. So when she refers to this wonderful person who has come to be our Saviour from sin, she uses the word Jesus, because she was writing to English people. Now if she had been writing in German, she would not have used that word. If she had been writing in French, Italian or Spanish, she would have used their word, but she used the word that we can understand. Now always remember this, friend, if you are trying to explain the gospel to someone, talk to them in the language that they can understand; you do not need to use the word “Adonai,” “Jah,” “Jahweh,” “Jehovah” or all these different Hebrew words. All the words of the names of the prophets in the Old Testament have Hebrew pronunciations. You can use those, but if the people you are trying to communicate with are not educated in foreign languages they would never guess what you are talking about. The example we have in sacred history, both in the time of the New Testament and in the writings of Ellen White, is that if you want to communicate to someone, use the language that they can understand. That is what Jesus did. When Jesus came to this world, He came down to where you and I could speak and hear and understand, and Ellen White says He used the most simple language. He did not use difficult Hebrew words that nobody could understand. In fact, Jesus did not even speak in Hebrew to the people. We are very sure of this because the common people in Jesus' time could not understand Hebrew and the Bible says that the common people heard Him gladly. Jesus used either the Aramaic or Greek language. These are the two languages people could understand. Some of the people who came to listen to Him were Romans and they could not understand Semitic languages, so it is very possible that much of Jesus' instruction was given in Greek, although we know that many of His private conversations with Semitic peoples were in Aramaic.
The educated people could speak Greek. We are almost sure that Jesus spoke Greek because He communicated with Pilate as well as many other Romans. That Jesus could speak Greek is not questionable. He probably spoke Greek and Aramaic, depending upon the audience that was listening to Him.
The plain teaching of the New Testament in I Corinthians 14 is to speak in a language that the listeners can understand. (See I Corinthians 14 and remember, every time the word tongue is used in English, Paul is referring to a language, and usually, in this chapter, to a foreign language: “In the church I will speak five words with my mind [rather than] a myriad of words in a language” I Corinthians 14: 19).
Questions and Answers:
Question #1: Why did the people not speak in their own language?
Answer: Suppose you went to live in Mexico and then your children lived in Mexico and then their children lived in Mexico and their children, on down. Do you suppose that after a few generations that the time would ever come when your descendants could speak Spanish better than they could speak English? That is what happened to the Jews. They were in the midst of nations that spoke Aramaic. Over a period of time they slowly lost the Hebrew language. When a Jew went to the rabbinical school and became educated, he had to learn Hebrew, just like if you were living in Zurich, Switzerland, when you went to school you would have to learn high German because that is how everyone can communicate with each other. But that is not what you would speak at home. You would speak “Swiss” at home. It is almost like learning a foreign language when a Swiss child has to learn high German, yet that is what they have to learn in school, but that is not what they speak at home. That is not their mother tongue. It was a very similar situation in Palestine. If you went to a rabbinical school and studied, you had to learn Hebrew; but that was not your mother tongue, you spoke Aramaic. Aramaic and Hebrew are related languages; they are both Semitic languages just like Spanish, German and English are all related languages, but they are not the same.
Question #2: Do we gain more wisdom from studying the Bible than from studying the Spirit of Prophecy?
Answer: I would rather not try to answer that question and I will tell you why. Suppose we lived in New Testament times and I said, “The writings of Moses have been around for a long time and I think you will benefit more from his writings than from the writings of Paul because Paul's writings are current and do not have the same credibility. Not everybody accepts him in the Christian church and his writings are not thought of in the same light as the writings of Moses.” This was all true; the people tested Paul by the writings of Moses. So I could say to you, “Well, I think you will learn more and be blessed more by God if you spend more of your time studying the writings of Moses.” Let us try to think that through. Is that really true or not? I do not know how to answer a question like that. Is one prophet more inspired than another? Will you be more blessed if you study the writings of Paul than if you study the writings of John? If you are inspired, you are inspired; if you are not inspired, you are not inspired. I do not know how to try to differentiate between two different prophets. If you do not believe a person is a prophet, that is a completely different question, but I am talking about a person who believes that both of these two individuals are prophets.
Question #3: What about Revelation 19 where it says that nobody really knows God's real name?
Answer: In the Bible, your name denotes your character (see Exodus 34: 5- 7). There are many aspects of God's character that we either do not understand at all or understand very imperfectly. It will take eternity for us to learn about His wonderful name. His name is “Wonderful”— that is one of the names of God. He is the Chiefest of ten thousand, the One altogether lovely. Friend, you must be saved so that you can learn more about the Wonderful One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.
Question #4: The main concern about the sacred name subject is how you pronounce it, isn’t it?
Answer: This seems to be a large part of it. People are concentrating on how to pronounce a name that the Jews would never pronounce. If [page 3] that is the name we should always use, why would the Jews never speak that name? They would write it, but never speak it. How can you teach that it is important how you pronounce a certain name when the pronunciation is uncertain? It is like the argument that God wants us to keep the Sabbath, but we cannot tell which day it is— God never makes a requirement and then fails to give us the needed information to fulfill the requirement.
Question #5: How could we possibly know that this is important for our salvation if we do not even know how to say it?
Answer: Let me tell you, if this is important for your salvation, you are in big trouble. There is nobody in the world who knows for sure how to pronounce this name.
Question #6: The most basic question which should be answered is this: What must be the ultimate or deciding authority for the Christian? This is the most fundamental question and must be answered first.
Answer: “The multitudes do not want Bible truth, because it interferes with the desires of the sinful, world- loving heart; and Satan supplies the deceptions which they love.
“But God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms. The opinions of learned men, the deductions of science, the creeds or decisions of ecclesiastical councils, as numerous and discordant as are the churches which they represent, the voice of the majority— not one nor all of these should be regarded as evidence for or against any point of religious faith. Before accepting any doctrine or precept, we should demand a plain ‘Thus saith the Lord' in its support” GC 595.
Question #7: Is there any quotation in inspired writings which indicates that only the name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” should be used to address or talk about our heavenly Father or that only the name “Yashua” should be used for the Son of God?
Answer 1: There is no “Thus saith the Lord” for either of the above positions. Since New Testament Christianity requires a “Thus saith the Lord,” as we saw in the answer to question six, for any doctrine or precept, the teaching of the use of these so- called sacred names cannot be accepted by any Protestant Christian basing his religion on inspired writings only. A conclusion based on inference is never good enough for any point of doctrine. There must be an explicit statement, a “Thus saith the Lord,” in support of any doctrine or teaching that a Protestant Christian accepts.
If you do not take this position, there are only two other basic positions available for you, either one of which will exclude you from the kingdom of heaven. The first position is to make your own mind or reason the ultimate authority. This is the position that liberal Protestantism has taken. The other position is to make the church or some other party the ultimate authority. This is the basic Roman Catholic position. Jesus discussed the fallacy of both of these positions in Matthew 15— according to Jesus, any religion that is based on the commandments of men is in vain or worthless.
Answer 2: Although answer 1 answers the question sufficiently, it is also true that the Scriptures explicitly teach us that God has more than one name and that He may be addressed by several different names in any language. The bottom line of the sacred name theology is that God may only be addressed by one name, and that one name must be a Hebrew name and it must be pronounced as a Hebrew word. Nobody in the world today can verify how that Hebrew word should be pronounced or was pronounced in the time of Moses, as has already been explained. If Hebrew is your language of communication, God may be addressed by the word Ab, which is “Father” in Hebrew. God may be addressed by the word Abba, which is the word “Father” in Aramaic, or He may be addressed by the word Elohim (God) or the word Adonai (Lord) in the Hebrew language. But when the apostles addressed the Father in prayer, they addressed Him in the Scripture as pater, which is “Father” in Greek, because that was the language they were using. When Ellen White prayed, she never used Greek and Hebrew words because she was communicating in English; she used the words Lord, Father, Jesus, etc., in prayer.
Question #8: I have heard that it is blasphemous to use European names for God because these have been derived from pagan deities, etc.
Answer: The answer is always the same— is your religion based on an explicit “Thus saith the Lord” or on the commandments of men? The explicit teaching of the Bible is that you use the name of God or Father in the language you are using, whether Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek. The explicit teaching of Ellen White is that you use the name of God in the language you are using, which for English is “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” “God,” “Father,” etc. When heathen religions or apostate religions pervert the meaning of words, that does not mean that the true Christian cannot use those words in their true setting and meaning. An example of this is the Hebrew word Baal or Baalim. This word in Hebrew has the meaning of Lord and would have been the word that Jesus applied to Himself in John 13: 13 if he had been speaking Hebrew. This word was applied to “Jehovah” in the Old Testament. If He had been speaking in Greek, the word would have been Kurios, a word also applied to heathen sun gods. In either case, He would have been using a word that had been applied to heathen gods. We know that it is all right to use the word Kurios to refer to Jesus because the apostles did this in the New Testament. Paul took the words of a heathen poet as applied to heathen gods and put the words into a true setting and applied them to the real God; so we know that it is not improper to correctly use words or names that have been perverted and applied to false gods in referring to the true God. To claim that there is a moral issue involved in which language one uses to address the heavenly Father is to, first of all issue a man- made commandment and, second, to go directly contrary to the example of the Lord, the prophets and the apostles.
Question #9: Can you cite any example from the life of the Saviour to substantiate what we have studied?
Answer: Yes. Not only do we have Jesus’ teaching in the Lord's prayer on how to address the Father in heaven given in the Greek language in the New Testament, but we also have His own example in prayer in John 17, Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 22 where He is recorded as using the form of address of “Father” in Greek. Also, when on the cross, Jesus prayed to His Father in a Semitic language. We do not know for sure what words He used on this occasion when He said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” We do know that He did not use any form of the “sacred name” “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.”
Whether He spoke in Hebrew or Aramaic or a mixture of the two we do not know— the gospel writers do not record it the same— they record a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic words so that we do not even know for sure the manner of address that Jesus used to His Father (that is, we do not know the actual words used.) We know exactly what was said or communicated— the prayer accurately and literally translated above into English; but we do not know the actual words Jesus used. Do you think God might want us to learn something from the fact that we do not know, for the most part, the actual words Jesus used communicating to His disciples? Is there a reason God has hidden this information? Does God know much more than we do about our tendency to make idols out of everything, even the words used to address the deity? Will we be saved if we make an idol out of such things and try to compel everyone to use the same Hebrew words to address God when it is directly contrary to the example of Jesus, the prophets and apostles? Be careful, friend. “The very beginning of the great apostasy was in seeking to supplement the authority of God by that of the church” GC 289, 290. Whenever you add anything more to your religion than God has specified to you in the inspired writings, the Word of the Lord to you is, “Do not add to His words lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar” Proverbs 30: 6. [page 4]
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