This is a reprint of the presentation by Ray St. Michael Williams, which was the winner of the Herbert W. Armstrong speaking competition at the 2019 Feast of Tabernacles in Runaway Bay, Jamaica.
The Sacred Name Movement is the belief there is an intrinsic holiness in the four- letter Tetragrammaton, YHWH, which many believe to be pronounced YAHWEH. Proponents of the sacred name doctrine believe it is the only true name of God, and that it is incorporated into the name of the Messiah, Yahshua.
The doctrine advances that it is obligatory for any believer to use these names when referring to them. In other words, to be saved you and I must know, use and call upon the personal Hebrew names of God and The Messiah.
- YAHWEH instead of the Lord
- Yahshua instead of Jesus
- You must not translate or substitute any of the Hebrew names
- You must also know the correct pronunciation.
The Sacred Name Movement began in the 1930’s among the Church of G-d (COG), 7th Day members who pondered the questions of Proverbs 30:4, “Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know!” They concluded the answer to be Yahweh and Yahshua; if you don’t know these names you cannot be saved. The evidence to support this position is lacking significantly and, therefore, the burden of proof is on the sacred name movement to show how we are lost by not using the sacred name.
The sacred name doctrine makes it case on 5 main pillars that we will examine:
- Pillar 1: The Hebrew language is God’s pure language
- Pillar 2: The Creator wants us to call Him by his personal Hebrew sacred name
- Pillar 3: The pronunciation of the Hebrew sacred name is important
- Pillar 4: The New Testament was written and inspired in Hebrew, not Greek
- Pillar 5: translating or substituting the names violates the commandments
Pillar 1: The Hebrew language is God’s pure language
The movement’s arguments rest primarily on the assumption the Hebrew language is some sort of sacred language to exclusion of all other languages. C.J. Koster’s book, Come Out of Her My People, (2004), is representative of sacred name’s position when he writes, “Hebrew was the only heavenly language, spoken from Sinai, and all of Israel heard and understood it.” He also states “Yahushua spoke to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus in the Hebrew language, Acts 26:14. On the other hand, Greek, like all the languages of the nations, was a pagan language.” Hebrew being the language that God used at Sinai, Koster concludes that it is the language spoken in heaven.
This line of reasoning has no basis in Scripture. I submit that God uses the languages of men to communicate with those who dwell on Earth.
- God used Hebrew to deliver His laws at Sinai because that was the language of the children of Israel.
- Hebrew was not the only language of men that God used.
For Example: Daniel 5:25 ‘This is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, parsin ‘ The writing on the wall was written in Chaldee, Scholarship notes. It was during the Babylonian captivity the Jews adopted the Aramaic language of Babylon. Sections of the Bible were also written in Aramaic or Chaldean as it is sometimes called:
- Sections from Daniel 2–7; Sections from Ezra 4-6; Daniel and Ezra translated the Hebrew names of God into the Aramaic word Elah! In 78 different places, in these 9 chapters the Aramaic word Elah is used to translate these Hebrew words. This would not only make Daniel and Ezra false prophets, but it means God allowed his holy writ to be corrupted with a pagan language.
Furthermore, if Hebrew were divine and pure, why would God have inspired sections of the Old Testament to be written in Aramaic? In the face of these facts, some sacred name believers defy the evidence of scholars, making 1of 2 absurd unsupported claims:
- The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and then translated later to Aramaic. The implications are that God was not able to preserve his word in the Old or the New Testament and we have no sure word of God.
- They try to steal Aramaic from the Babylonians and claim it is a dialect of Hebrew and it acceptable for this language to be used.
Even if we were to accept these claims, we see in Act 2 where the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostles to speak to the Jews in various languages including Greek. Also, Paul an inspired man through the Holy Spirit, majority writer of the New Testament, speaks in Greek (Acts 21: 37). What we do have as biblical evidence is God himself introducing other languages, with the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 7). God created several languages, not just Hebrew, “Come let us go down and confuse their language.”
The movement asserts we will return to a pure language in the future, therefore, there must have been a pure language before, and obviously, that’s Hebrew. ‘For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent. ‘ Zephaniah 3:9 (KJV).
I submit to the movement they misunderstand Zephaniah 3:9. A better rendering and understanding of Zephaniah 3:9 is demonstrated in the NIV translation. ‘Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder. ‘ Zephaniah 3:9 (NIV).
The Hebrew word – saphah — can also mean lips or speech. Zephaniah 3:13 gives the context for verse 9: ’They will do no wrong; they will tell no lies. A deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths. The words of the prophet Isaiah clearly express the meaning of the Hebrew word sãh- phãh: “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips [Hebrew sãh-phãh], and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts‘ ” (Isa. 6:5) (emphasis mine).
Isaiah clearly didn’t mean he was speaking in another language. The expression “a pure language” does not refer to Hebrew or any other language. Rather it refers to thespeech and character fit for the worship of YAHWEH which the Messiah will establish. Therefore, Pillar 1 Falls: The Hebrew language was never intended to be a pure or heavenly language and there is no biblical evidence to support this position.
Pillar 2: The creator wants us to call him by his personal Hebrew sacred name
- Clover (The Sacred Name, 2018) asserts, “Sources will confirm that the sacred name YAHWEH is preserved to us nearly 7,000 times in the Holy Writ.” He states the name YAHWEH has been replaced by the word Adonai and subsequently “Lord” as a result of the ineffable name doctrine. He states this is the reason we don’t see it appearing in our bibles today.
The Ineffable name doctrine was established around 6th century BC, at the time of the Hellenization of the Jews. The Jews believed the name was too sacred to be called and only reserved for the High priest or the most pious of Jews. The Jews concluded the name should never be written or spoken in fear of violation of the 3rd commandment taking the Lord’s name in vain; the name was not pronounced or written and, therefore, substituted. Any person caught using the name outside of the stipulated conditions would be put to death.
The first century Jewish writer Philo, confirms this in his works between 35–45 C.E.. He tells us, “But if anyone, I will not say blasphemes the lord of deities and men, but even ventures to utter his name unseasonably, let him suffer the penalty of death.” Again, Philo writes “a name which only those whose ears and tongues are purified may hear or speak in the holy place (Temple), and no other person, nor in any other place at all.”
Clover states, we should know the original proper name YAHWEH, not generic names or substitutions. The personal name is demonstrated in several texts including the following: Psalms 86:8, “Among elohyim, there is none like unto thee Yahweh.” Alternative translation in NIV – ‘Among the gods there is none like you, Lord.’ Other examples: Psalms 85:8 | 2 Samuel 5:10 | Psalms 96:4 (emphasis mine).
Clover says there is a distinction between generic name and personal name where the generic names describe his genus or his kind. The following are described as generic: El, eloah or Elohim as well as theos, Deus and God. These are generic terms for members of the class “deity”. (Reference: Harper’s Bible Dictionary and The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia).
Sacred name adherents cite Exodus 3:13 as YAHWEH introducing himself with his personal Name (The Sacred Name 2018, R. Clover): ‘Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name? Then what shall I tell them?”
They say the answer comes in Ex 3:15 “Say to the Israelites, ‘YAHWEH, the elohiym of your fathers—the elohiym of Abraham, the elohiym of Isaac and the elohiym of Jacob has sent me to you. This is my name (Hebrew: shem) forever, the name (Hebrew: shem) you shall call me from generation to generation, ‘ (emphasis mine).They further assert the name is important as indicated by many texts including the following texts: Proverbs 30:4 – What is his name? and what is his son’s name? surely you must know! Isaiah 52:6 – “Therefore my people will know my name ” Other references: Proverbs 18:10 | Isa 42:8 | Jeremiah 16:21 | Psalms 86:9 | Psalms 91:14 | Psalm 22:22.
By adding Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be Saved,” (emphasis mine). They conclude the shem or name of God is YAHWEH and you must phonetically call upon it to be saved. Exodus 6:3 is a popular response to the sacred name movement, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name YAHWEH I did not make myself fully known to them,” (emphasis mine).
The explanation is that Abraham didn’t know the name, and if Abraham was considered righteous, it means the name is not that important. I don’t think that is a strong point. The sacred name movement counters this assertion by saying it was a rhetorical question rather than a statement, “By my name YAHWEH, did I not make myself known to them?”. They use supporting evidence from Genesis 22:14 that records Abraham named the place of sacrifice, Yahweh Yireh or Jehovah Jireh meaning God will provide, indicating that the name was known by Abraham. I can accept their position on Abraham knowing the name. Whether Abraham knew it or not is descriptive and not enough to become dogma.
Showing the correct understanding the Hebrew word for name shem is the key and critical to understanding what God was trying to communicate what he wanted. The Hebrew word for shem, commonly translated as name does not always mean phonetic sound. Strong’s defines Hebrew word Shem (H8034): 1. Name; 2. reputation, fame, glory. 3. the Name (as designation of God). 4. memorial, monument. An appellation, as a mark or memorial of individuality; by implication honour, authority, character.
There is more to a name than the phonetic sound! Numbers 16:2, “They rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known (shem) community leaders who had been appointed members of the council” (emphasis mine). Psalm 9:5 – ‘You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever. ‘Proverbs 22:1 – ‘A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.‘ Isa 56:5 – ‘To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever.’ Shem clearly doesn’t mean just phonetic.
The late G. T. Manley of Christ’s College in Cambridge writes: ”A study of the word “name” (q.v.) in the Old Testament reveals how much it means in Hebrew. The name is no mere label, but is significant of the real personality of him to whom it belongs” (New Bible Dictionary (P,478)). Rabbi H. Freedman similarly states: ”In general, the name of God was regarded more than a mere designation, but represented His nature or character and His relation to His people.” (Freedman, Kidd., p. 362, n. 8.).
Name (shem) can convey the authority of the person even when absent. 1 Samuel 17:45 – ‘David said to the Philistine, “I come against you in the name (shem) of the Yahweh the Almighty.” Similarly, they also casted out demons in Jesus’ name (Luke 9:49), which means in his authority Other References : 1 Sam. 25:9; Acts 4:7: It can even mean reputation as shown in the following text: ‘For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations ’ Malachi 1:11-13 (emphasis mine). Clearly name here means reputation. Rehab the prostitute, in the conquest of Joshua, heard of the shem (the reputation) of the God of Israel.
‘Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. ‘ Joshua 2:8-11.
The sacred name movement misses a very important point with the response to Moses in Exodus 3:13. The answer to “what is your is shem” starts in Exodus 3:14, when he starts to define his Shem “I Am Who I am” or “I will be who I will be”, in Hebrew hayah hayah. His Shem starts there, and it is not limited to the phonetic sound Yahweh. The term I Am relating to God appears over 300 times in the Bible, first in the book of Genesis (15:1) and last in Revelation (22:16). This has led to the Biblical God sometimes being referred to as “the great ‘I am’” (Gullett, Kenneth (2017), A Firm Foundation). In fact, when Jesus used this term “I Am”, they picked up stones to stone him because the Jews understood him to be using and equating himself to the shem of the Elohim. We see it in John 8:5-6 ‘ “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!. At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.” John 8:5-6. (emphasis mine).
Further in Exodus 3:15 when God says the name (shem) you shall call me from generation to generation, The Hebrew word for call is zeker. Strong’s definition of zeker means “memorial” nothing to do with phonetic sound. God wants us to memorialize and understand who and what he is. He wants us to understand his authority and take on his righteous character while spreading his reputation, his shem, his name. Not call the phonetic personal Hebrew name. Pillar 2 falls: The shem of YAHWEH is not only phonetic and is not limited to YAHWEH.
Pillar 3: The pronunciation of the Hebrew Sacred Name is important
As stated earlier, the ineffable name doctrine was responsible for the non-pronunciation for the sacred name. The introduction to The New English Bible argues that, because the sacred name was “considered too sacred to be uttered,” in the “course of time” the true pronunciation “passed into oblivion.”
The Sacred Name movement, asserts that the pronunciation is important and should remain intact while pronunciations such as Jehovah are not correct. They claim the “J” sound is a modern introduction by Tyndale and was not a part of the Hebrew Language. Therefore, both Jehovah and Jesus are bother disqualified. Carl D. Franklin, Debunking the Myths of Sacred Names, points out that the same disqualification for Jehovah would also be used for YAHWEH, because the w, a and h sounds were also later additions and even came after the J.
Early pioneers of the sacred name persuasion; John Briggs, Paul Penn, Clarence O. Dodd, L.D. Snow, and others, found that the Hebrew Tetragrammaton’s four letters were transliterated and pronounced in various ways. Yahweh (YHWH), Yahveh (YHVH), Yahueh (IAUE) , Yahvah, Jehovah (JHVH), Jahahveh (JHWH), and Jahweh. Scholarship had not yet agreed at that early time that the proper English transliteration is YAHWEH.
Clover, indicates that there are still viable options of what the name could be. Clover explains that in recovering the correct pronunciation, one would have to go through several steps of piecing together human sources and several historical references. This is still not a revelation by YAHWEH. We are left with educated guesses. The question is, can anyone prove, beyond a doubt, what is the correct spelling and pronunciations of the tetragrammaton? The answer simple answer is … no. Pillar 3 falls.
Pillar 4: The New Testament was written and inspired in Hebrew, not Greek
If it was ever admitted by the sacred name movement that the New Testament was written in Greek, it would mean God can inspire in Greek and Hebrew is not a pure language. Therefore, the name being Hebrew is not as important. It would also mean that the Greek substituted names for God ‘theos’ and ‘kyrios’ could be used and was inspired by God himself in the New Testament. This would be damaging to the Sacred Name Movement.
J.K. Elliott, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds, in his Journal Manuscripts, the Codex and the Canon (1996), gives evidence of the earliest manuscripts for the New Testament being in Greek and very close to the time that Jesus lived. Most scholars agree and confirm that there are over 5000 copies of the Greek New Testament Manuscripts. More than half of the New Testament was written to audiences in Roman cities where Greek was the common vernacular.
Jacob Meyer, one adherent of the sacred name, claims the New Testament was INSPIRED in Hebrew and Aramaic, and subsequently translated by uninspired men into Greek and then into English as well as many other languages. He states “there are no original manuscripts of any book or portion of a book of the New Testament extant today. All have been lost, hidden, or destroyed.” (Jacob Myer (1973) – Exploding the Inspired Greek New Testament Myth. This means they have never seen a Hebrew copy, nor know what the original looks like, nor can they verify that it was written in Hebrew. He admits that “Paul and Luke may have been equally capable of writing in Greek as well. But this does not mean they chose to do so.”
Mr. Meyer overlooked the evidence the work of Luke provides. Luke records in Acts 9:36: ‘Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha (Hebrew), which in Greek means Dorcas.’ The Greek reader is given a translation to help them understand the meaning of Tabitha. Once again in Acts 4:36, ‘And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus. ‘The meaning of Barnabas once again being explained to the Greek reader
The Bible gives us more internal evidence. Examine the following: Rev 16:16 ‘Then they gathered them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.’
- John 9:7 – saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (Hebrew)” (which means, sent). So, he went and washed and came back seeing. ‘
- Mark 15:34 – ‘ And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Elo-i, Elo-i, lama sabach-thani?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Let us not forget that Paul spoke Greek and wrote letters to be read in the following Greek speaking Roman areas: Galatia, Colossae, Philippi, Rome, Thessalonica, Ephesus. John’s apocalyptic work of Revelation was also written to the seven churches in Greek speaking areas: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea.
Pillar 4 Falls: The evidence shows that at a minimum God Inspired parts of the New Testament to been written in Greek. The inspired New Testament also uses translations for God from the inspired men of the bible.
Pillar 5: translating or substituting the names violates the commandments
The Sacred Movement claims that translating or substituting will violate the first and third commandment. By substituting the name, you take it in vain and make it worthless. Clover states “Simply put, we are not to lift up or carry the name YAHWEH to a condition of being WORTHLESS, thereby DESTROYING it. Yet every time someone makes the statement that the name YAHWEH has no real value that person has in fact reduced the name to a state of being useless and worthless; he has broken the Third Commandment!” R. Clover, The Sacred Name.
He advances further, “not only are you to avoid destroying or making the sacred name worthless but you are ordered never to use the name of any pagan deity in prayer, worship, or in swearing an oath.”
‘And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth.’ Exodus 23:13 ‘“And in that day, says the Lord , you will call me, ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more.” Hosea 2:16-17.
I suggest to the Sacred Namers, that they have also misunderstood the third commandment. Hebrew word for vain is “shav” which can mean “worthless (in conduct),” not value. The way you profane God’s name or make it vain is by your action.
Malachi 1:11- 13 gives you more about what a name means by showing how it is profaned “But you profane it when you say that the Lord ‘s table is polluted”. Later down God in the same chapter says: “You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord .’” Also, Jeremiah 34:15 -16 – ‘You even made a covenant before me in the house that bears my Name. 16 But now you have turned around and profaned my name; each of you has taken back the male and female slaves you had set free to go where they wished. You have forced them to become your slaves again, ‘ (emphasis mine).
How was the shem profaned? Not by phonetic sound, but by the character that is displayed which is not in line with God’s shem, God’s Character and reputation.
Some sacred name adherents claim by using God (coming from Gad), Jesus (coming from Zeus) and Adonai (coming from Adonis) we sin, because these are pagan names. Specifically, we violate the first commandment by having other gods before YAHWEH (Ex.20:3). But Scholars disagree that these names originate from Pagan gods. In the case of Jesus: The name Jesus is derived from the Hebrew name Yeshua, which is based on the Semitic root y-š-ʕ (Hebrew: עשי), meaning “to deliver; to rescue.’ (Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon p. 824)). Other scholars note derivatives such as Yahshua which means “Yah saves”, where Yah is the shortened form of YAHWEH. Jesus Anglicized form of the Greek name Iesous which is taken from the Hebrew, ‘Yeshua,’ ‘Yehoshua’, not Zeus.
In the Case of Adonai: R. S. P. Beekes, a Dutch linguist and professor of Comparative Indo-European Linguistics at Leiden University, along with Walter Burkert, writing in the Harvard University Press (1985) a paper on Greek Religion,both confirm along with many other scholars that the Greek name Ádōnis is derived from the Canaanite word ʼadōn, meaning “lord”. This word is related to Adonai (Hebrew: ינדא), one of the titles used to refer to the God of the Hebrew Bible and still used in Judaism to the present day. Adonis was derived from Adonai and Adon, not the other way around!
The ineffable name doctrine ensured that the title Adonai or sometimes Elohim was used in scripture instead of YAHWEH and kyrios along with theos for God in Greek. All sides of the argument agree on this point, that any person caught using the sacred name especially in the time of Jesus would be put to death. The ineffable name doctrine is a double-edged sword for the sacred name movement as it is the greatest evidence against the Sacred Name Movement.
In Luke 4, Jesus reads from the Jewish scriptures in which the names were changed usually with Adonai. It would be wrong for him to use the sacred name by Jewish law. Yet in Luke 4, we see the Messiah using titles instead of the sacred name.
‘there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord [or Adonai (not Yahweh)] is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,’ Luke 4:16-19. Later one he reads again “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord Adonai (not YAHWEH).”
Let’s examine Luke 4:20 -22 – ‘And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (emphasis mine).
They would not have spoken well of the messiah if he used the sacred name. The Jewish authorities would have had him killed. They were later filled wrath because he included Gentiles, not because of the use of the sacred name. Jesus did not use the sacred name or he would have been killed! Jesus used the title instead of the Hebrew sacred name in line with the Jewish law at the time! If the Sacred Name Movement is correct, Jesus would have committed sin and could not have been used as our perfect sacrifice.
In John 20:28 – Thomas followed in Jesus’ footsteps using the titles when he said, “My Lord and My God.” We see titles being demanded and used extensively:
- Revelation 19:16 – ‘ On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.
- Revelation 17:14 – ‘ they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” ‘
- Romans 10:9 (in Greek) – ‘ because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. ‘
- Acts 2:34 – ‘ For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” ‘
- Acts 28:30-31 – ‘And he lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered.‘
- 2 Corinthians 4:5 – ‘For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. ‘
- Ephesians 4:4-6 – ‘There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. ‘
- Philippians 2:10-11 – ‘that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ‘
- Hosea 2:16-17 – No more Baal, Call me Ishi.
Pillar 5 falls. It is clear from the scriptures. Be resolved: That Believers don’t have to use the Personal Hebrew names for God and the Messiah and using their titles is acceptable.
In Conclusion, God will restore his righteous character in the last days. His reputation will be spread among all the nations. Whosoever repents of their sin and calls on the glory and authority of the most high will be saved. We shall receive a glory as Yahshua did! That is the shem we must proclaim!