Why Jesus Avoided God's Name (part one)

by metatron 8 Replies latest jw friends

  • metatron

    The Watchtower has often asserted that Jesus openly proclaimed
    God's name (Jehovah/Yahweh) to his listeners.

    All the available evidence indicates this is utterly false.

    To show why this is so, we must first answer the question:
    What was the attitude of Jews in the first century towards speaking
    the name of God aloud?

    The Greek Septuagint at Leviticus 24:15,16 is unequivocal:
    "Then speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them,
    Be the man who shall curse a god, he shall contract guilt; but let
    him who nameth the name of the Lord be put to death" (Thomson version)

    Thus, the Septuagint, almost three hundred years before Christ
    put forward the idea of executing anyone who pronounced the Name.
    (Remember also that it is the Septuagint that the Watchtower relies
    on for proof of the usuage of 'Jehovah' in the first century)

    If there is any doubt what was meant, the Jewish philosopher Philo
    is said to have wondered that to name God was worse than to curse
    him! (De Vita Mosis II, 203-206)He was nearly contemporaneous with
    Jesus. Talmudic tradition agrees with this strictness as well
    (Sanhedrin 7:5). Josephus - who lived in the first century -
    also attested to this strict view of pronouncing the name, when
    he wrote about Moses and the burning bush: "Then God revealed
    to him His name, which ere then had not come to men's ears, and of which I am forbidden to speak" (Jewish Antiquities II 276 xii 4) - a
    comment the Watchtower cites but simply ignores (Insight vol.2 pg. 6)

    The Dead Sea Scrolls, in describing the rules of their community
    wrote: " If a man in, speaking about anything, mention that Name
    which is honored above all ... he is to be put out and never return
    to formal membership in the community." (The Dead Sea Scriptures

    Actually, from after the Babylonian destruction of the Temple,
    the Name began disappearing. Jews used the Tetragram among themselves
    but not in speaking to non-Jews. Daniel used the Tetragram (Dn.1:2,
    9:2-20) but used substitutes to Gentiles : God in the heavens,
    Revealer of secrets, God of heaven, the Most High, and the heavens
    (in Dn.4:26). Ezra and Nehemiah were similar, using the Name with
    Jews but substitutes with non-Jews : God, the great God, God of the
    heavens, and God of the heavens and earth. In Esther (and Eccesiastes)
    the Name is missing entirely - Malachi was written for Jews so
    the Name is used.

    After this, in the Apocrypha, the Name is "incommunicable" (Wisdom
    14:21). It was strictly reserved for use in the Temple (Eccesiasticus
    50:22) as the Talmud says (Sotah 7:6).

    While Jesus faced many charges, we do not read about "profanation
    of the name" being among them. His audience in Nazareth was pleased
    with his reading initially, so he must have used a popular substitute
    for the Name in his reading of Isaiah - or they would have tried to
    stone him immediately.

    Jesus avoided the Name when teaching his followers to pray
    ("Our Father," not 'Jehovah', hallowed be thy name). There is nothing
    unusual about this, he spoke as most Jews would, honoring the Name
    but not speaking it. He avoided the name while dying: "Father,
    forgive them" and "Father, into your hands, I entrust my spirit"
    (Luke 23:34,46). He avoided it in John 17:6: "I have made your name
    manifest" (not I have made your name, Jehovah, manifest)

    Even in his final moments, he avoided a powerful opportunity
    to PERMANENTLY TRANSLITERATE the Name into every Bible translation
    to come by chosing to recite a scripture that does not say 'Jehovah'.
    - namely the 22nd Psalm "My God, My God - 'Eli, Eli lama sabach thani'

    There's nothing wrong with using the Name - and prayers will be
    answered whether one uses the Name or avoids it, as Jesus did in
    the Lord's prayer. There is much more to say about why the name
    vanished - and why Christians avoided it, too.

    that comes in Part Two.


  • dsgal

    You have shed some light on a subject I have often wondered about but the witnesses avoid.Never did Jesus one time in the christian Greek scriptures mention the name"Jehovah" and I never heard them address this.Thanks for a good post!

  • Satanus

    The evidence would indicate that the ot was written by jews for jews. Christians who have made it part of their holy writings are really breaking a divine copywrite, tresspassing, stealing, if you will, something that doesn't belong or apply to them, was never meant for them.

    Secondly, if there was anything to Leviticus 24:15,16, then the wt, by pronouncing the name more than any other religion, has a lot of curses stored up for itself.


    Edited by - saintsatan on 28 August 2002 20:27:10

  • hillary_step

    A powerful piece of research for which I thank you Metatron.

    Though Leviticus 24:15,16 originally applied to the sin of 'blasphemy', not by use of the Name, but misuse, there is no doubt about it that by the C1st the use of the 'Name' was a punishable offence, not an allowable capital offence under Roman law, but certainly enough to have a person thrown out of the synagogue, which basically was death by disfellowshipping.

    The WTS has a similar punishment for those refusing not to use their definition of the name of God!

    A very interesting read, looking foward to part II.


    Edited by - hillary_step on 28 August 2002 20:45:9

  • termite 35
    termite 35

    Thankyou for this-i'm really going to look forward to reading it all;I used to ask the woman I studied with why Jesus did'nt use the name Jehovah, she used to reply that he said to pray this way-' let your name be sanctified...'.

    '.and how can we keep his name holy if we don't use it??!'

    I think this will be one i'll have to post through her door...!

  • Big Tex
    Big Tex

    Fascinating read. Growing up, I naturally accepted the Society's assertion that Jesus used God's name, but I never bothered to check it out. But really, I think it makes more sense that he did not. As Metatron accurately points out people listening to Jesus reading were not offended, but instead pleased indicating he did not commit what would have been considered an egregious sin. If Jesus had insisted on using the name of God, it would have detracted from his message. He would have been threatened consistently with stoning, this time by the common people the very people his message was aimed at. It would have been more logical for him to work within the confines of acceptable behaviour of Jewish society so that his message could get out.

  • pomegranate

    Jehovah and Yahweh are both wrong.

    This is right:

    I can't pronouce it (neither can anyone else), but man do I get visuals in my head!! Like a fast forwarding of Genesis thru Malachi in 5 seconds.

    Now THAT'S a "NAME"

    nite nite

  • RunningMan

    "All I said was, 'This fish was good enough for Je-ho-vah'" - Spoken by a Jew just before getting stoned, from Monty Python's Life of Brian

  • Earnest


    My apologies for this late reply to your first salvo.

    When we are not even sure what was written two thousand years ago it is difficult to be certain what was or was not spoken. We can only go by what is written and in this respect the WTS claims that when Jesus quoted from the Prophets and the Torah he would have used God's name where it is written. You provide a number of references to support your assertion that such an idea is "utterly false" but the evidence is not quite as strong as you suggest.

    Your first reference is to the Greek Septuagint at Leviticus 24:15,16 which reads:

    "Then speak to the sons of Israel, and thou shalt say to them, Whosoever shall curse a god, he shall contract guilt; but let him who nameth the name of the Lord [onomazon de to onoma kyriou] be put to death: let all the congregation of Israel stone him with stones; whether he be a stranger or a native, let him die for naming the name of the Lord [onomasai auton to onoma kyriou]."

    You say: "Thus, the Septuagint, almost three hundred years before Christ put forward the idea of executing anyone who pronounced the Name." But, as hillary_step pointed out, this scripture applied to the sin of 'blasphemy', not by use of the Name, but misuse of the Name. It was given as a result of the son of an Israelite woman who "began to abuse the Name and to call down evil upon it".

    You say that "if there is any doubt what was meant, the Jewish philosopher Philo is said to have wondered that to name God was worse than to curse him! (De Vita Mosis II, 203-206)" This passage from Philo is very instructive because he is actually discussing this scripture in the Septuagint. He explains that where it says "whosoever shall curse a god" it is not referring to the Primal God but to the false gods of different cities. He then says:

    "But if anyone, I will not say blasphemes the Lord of gods and men, but even ventures to utter His Name unseasonably, let him suffer the penalty of death." (De Vita Mosis II, 206)
    What does Philo mean by "utter His Name unseasonably"? Two lines later he says:
    "After this, can we still think worthy of pardon those, who, with a reckless tongue, make unseasonable use of the most holy name of the Deity and treat it as a mere expletive?" ("Philo / with an English translation" by F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker, Loeb Classical Library, Vol. VI, De Vita Mosis II, 208)

    So, far from substantiating the idea that Leviticus 24:15,16 referred to pronouncing God's name, Philo shows clearly that it dealt with using the Name as an expletive and thereby implies there is no such sanction against using the Name respectfully.

    You also say that "Josephus - who lived in the first century - also attested to this strict view of pronouncing the name, when he wrote about Moses and the burning bush: 'Then God revealed to him His name, which ere then had not come to men's ears, and of which I am forbidden to speak' (Jewish Antiquities II 276 xii 4)"

    In the translation of "The Works of Josephus" by William Whiston he added a footnote to this passage:

    "This superstitious fear of discovering the name with four letters, which of late we have been used falsely to pronounce Jehovah, but seems to have been originally pronounced Jahoh or Jao, is never, I think, heard of till this passage of Josephus; and this superstition, in not pronouncing that name, has continued among the Rabbinical Jews to this day (though whether the Samaritans and Caraites observed it so early, does not appear). Josephus also durst not set down the very words of the ten commandents, as we shall see hereafter, Antiq. book iii. ch. v. sect. 4 [which reads: 'And they all heard a voice that came to all of them from above, insomuch that no one of these words escaped them, which Moses wrote on two tables; which it is not lawful for us to set down directly, but their import we will declare']; which superstitious silence, I think, has yet not been continued even by the Rabbins. It is however no doubt but both these cautious concealments were taught Josephus by the Pharisees; a body of men at once very wicked and very superstitious."

    This footnote is pertinent on three points:

    1: that this superstitious fear of pronouncing God's name is first heard of in this passage of Josephus;

    2: that this concealment was taught Josephus by the Pharisees;

    3: that there were other superstitions such as not setting down the ten commandments, of which we know nothing today, and which superstition was certainly not observed by Jesus or the early Christians. (Matthew 19:18,19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20; Romans 13:9; James 2:11)

    When we read that Josephus was forbidden to speak His name it is relevant to know just who Josephus was and what he believed. He says, at the beginning of his "Life of Flavius Josephus", that "the family from which I am derived hath descended all along from the priests...So when I had [investigated several sects] I began to conduct myself according to the rules of the sect of the Pharisees". Josephus was heavily influenced by the traditions of both the Pharisees and the priests and so the fact that he feels forbidden to speak God's name or write the words of the ten commandments does not mean that everyone felt bound by such traditions. (Mark 7:1-13)

    Unfortunately, the history of the Jews in the first century resulted in the oral tradition being largely limited to the traditions of the Pharisees. Try to imagine the cultural and spiritual shock for all Jews when both Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and more than a million died. Think of the cultural shock of September 11 and then change the magnitude to a million dead. It is amazing that they recovered as a people at all. For various reasons the Pharisees became the driving force in the Yavneh community where Palestinian Judaism survived and has become the rabbinic Judaism of today. We simply have no record of how the average Jew in Jesus' time viewed God's name. Even the Bible record only highlights the beliefs of those with whom the Christians clashed. It is most unlikely that the average Jew would have felt themselves as bound to tradition as Josephus was.

    And even that tradition is not totally clear regarding the use of God's name. Consider the two passages you cited - Sanhedrin 7:5 and Sota 7:6.

    You referred to the execution of anyone pronouncing the Name and said "Talmudic tradition agrees with this strictness as well (Sanhedrin 7:5)".

    Sanhedrin 7:5 says: "He who blasphemes is liable [for death by stoning] only when he will have fully pronounced the divine Name." Does this refer to any use of the divine Name or particularly when it is used as an expletive?

    Sanhedrin 7:8 says: "He who curses his father and his mother is liable [for death by stoning] only when he will have cursed them by the divine name." Also, Sota 7:6 (which you cited) refers to the blessing of the priests and says: "In the sanctuary one says the Name as it is written but in the provinces, with a euphemism." This does suggest limited use of the Name by the priests even when the temple existed but it is not clear that respectful use the Name was a capital crime.

    Your reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls is also applying the traditions of a conservative minority to the majority. The passage you refer to is from the "Manual of Discipline" where it discusses false, impudent and blasphemous speech. It says:

    "If a man, in speaking about anything, mention that Name which is honoured above all [names], or if, in a moment of sudden stress or for some other personal reason, he curse the [deacon], he is to be put out and never to return to formal membership in the community."

    These are the rather strict rules of an eschatological sect. But it is still worth noting that the rules do not require stoning to death but equate it in seriousness with cursing the deacon i.e. the one leading worship. I also found a later rule "Of defection" which seemed remarkably reminiscent:

    "If a man has been a formal member of the community for a full ten years, but then, through a spiritual relapse, betray the principles of the community and quit the general body in order to walk in the stubbornness of his own heart, he is never to return to formal membership in the community. No member of the community is to associate with him either by recognizing him as of the same state of purity or by sharing property with him. Any of the members who does so shall be liable to the same sentence: he too shall be expelled."

    I suppose I should not be surprised as both JWs and the Dead Sea sect consider membership to be part of the key to salvation. However, it is startlingly similar to the August KM. I divert...back to the theme.

    Of course all Jews had a great respect for God's name and would not want any disrespect shown it. I believe your observations that Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah used substitutes with non-Jews reflect the fact they would not want gentiles to use the Name disrepectfully. But I dont think you can rightly conclude from that that the Name began disappearing. As you say, even in Malachi the Name is still used because it was written for the Jews.

    Your reference to Wisdom 14:21 to suggest that the Apocrypha teaches the Name is incommunicable is a bit misleading. The verse in question reads:

    "And this became a hidden trap for humankind, because people, in bondage to misfortune or to royal authority, bestowed on objects of stone or wood the name that ought not to be shared."

    This is clearly talking about giving false gods the same respect as the true God and not about the general use of God's name. Also, I could not find reference to God's name in Ecclesiasticus 50:22 which reads:

    "And now bless the God of all, who everywhere works great wonders, who fosters our growth from birth, and deals with us according to his mercy."

    I do agree with you that it seems that both Jesus and the early Christians used God's name far less than JWs do, both in worship and in everyday conversation. There is also much to be said for Jesus' use of the term "Father" which has more warmth to it than using the Name, and signified a new relationship that was now becoming possible for worshippers of God. But most of his listeners were still part of Israel and I am not convinced he did not use God's name, especially when reading from, or referring to, scripture.

    I will comment on parts II and III in due course but hope the information provided here is of interest.


    Edited by - Earnest on 1 September 2002 22:51:5

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