Friday, September 12, 2008

Banning Yahweh

This kind of stuff is maddening to me. The Vatican bans the use of the personal, covenantal name that God himself revealed to his people as his "memorial" name. What? God gave the name Yahweh to his people to use in memorial prayer and sacrifice. They were supposed to speak it to remind God of his covenantal promises. The superstitious avoidance of the name Yahweh by intertestimental Jews was shameful and evidence of their departure from the biblical faith. Substituting LORD or some other title for the name Yahweh renders unintelligible so many key texts in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here's the first part of the Christianity Today essay and the link to the rest:
Observant Jews have traditionally not used the name Yahweh, refusing to pronounce the so-called proper name of God out of respect, or to be sure they do not misuse it. Now neither will Roman Catholics, at least in their worship services."In recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," said a June letter from the Vatican. "As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: Adonai, which means 'Lord.'" In August, U.S. bishops were directed to remove Yahweh from songs and prayers.

Protestants should be following their lead, said Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. "It's always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name," she said. "Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God."

Read the rest of the article here.
I have dealt with this issue at length. Perhaps I should serialize that essay on my blog. I'll do just that and begin another post in few minutes.

At the end of the CT essay Witvliet has some crazy comment: "Some people said using Yahweh emphasized for them the transcendence of God, which you might say is precisely the goal of not saying the term." Whatever people think, Yahweh is not a "term." Yahweh is a name! Yahweh is not "an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God." It's a memorial NAME! It makes no difference what people feel like it's emphasizing "for them." It's about being faithful to the Word of God as revealed to us.

8 comments:

Josh S said...

To think that in the Reformation, consulting Jewish sources was considered "Judaizing" and strenuously opposed by the Scholastics.

These days, the Vatican finds its sources of dogma and practice in medieval legends, Greek philosophy, modernist ideals, and social trends...everything but Scripture itself.

Jim said...

I'll need to doublecheck this, but I "think" the first Bible I every owned that habitually used "Yahweh" instead of "Lord" was the Jerusalem Bible, i.e., a Roman Catholic translation.

I'll have to dig it out again and see if I'm remembering correctly.

pduggie said...

Do we now not say "Jesus" out of "respect" for Jesus?

Jeff Meyers said...

I'm not sure what you are asking, Paul.

distingué traces said...

I'm completely bewildered.

I went to Catholic school for part of junior high, and one of the few little nuggets of Biblical knowledge I've carried with me down through the years since is that "Yahweh/Jehovah" isn't a proper personal name -- that by answering "What's your name?" with "I am what I am" God the father was expressing that he was unnameable -- or at least, unnameable by Moses.

Was my seventh-grade catechism teacher a heretic? Have I been misremembering all these years?

Jeff Meyers said...

The "I am" statements in Exodus 3:1-14 are different. "I am who I am" is NOT God's name. You are correct. Your 7th-grade teacher was correct.

But the passage goes on to say, "God ALSO said to Moses, 'Say this to the people of Israel, "Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you." This is my name forever, and thus I am to be memorialized throughout all generations'" (Exod. 3:15).

God gives Moses his NAME. It is YHWH.

distingué traces said...

So ... but isn't that name exactly the same as the "I am what I am" sentence that God just used in the previous verse?

I'm looking at those verses, but unfortunately it's one of the Standard Versions you dislike, and it translates the first instance as "I AM" in all caps and the second instance as "LORD" in all caps. Which I agree is not helpful.

Are the two the same thing in Hebrew?

Jeff Meyers said...

Oh, I see the problem. The I AM in all caps in verse 14 is NOT the same in Hebrew as the LORD in verse. 15.

Verse 14 in Hebrew is "I am who I am." The Hebrew verb HYH is used twice, separated by the particle 'asher.

Verse 15 in Hebrew is "YHWH." God says that his name is YHWH and NOT "I am that I am."

This is why this all caps stuff is so confusing. "I am who I am" is a self-description. YHWH is God's revealed name.