Names for God

Names for God
We have received a number of emails asking why we use various names for God and for Christ. Different translations of the Bible also vary in their use of names. I suspect God is more concerned about how we follow His instructions for living than which of the respectful names for God we use.

David Thurman wrote an excellent article on this subject in his column in Gospel Minutes for March 23, 2018:

“God said to Moses, ”I AM WHO I AM’; and he said, thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14). The name of God is “I Am.” The Jews used the letters YHWH to spell this name. In ancient Hebrew, there were no vowels, so when reading Hebrew in ancient times, the reader had to provide the vowels. Over time, the Jews would not pronounce the name of God, afraid that in doing so they would be taking His name in vain. So, they substituted another word, Adonai (meaning Lord) when they spoke Yhwh out loud. Most scholars today believe Yahweh is the closest we can come to “I AM” from the ancient texts. It was later, in the 6th century that scholars of that time inserted the vowels from Adonai into Yhwh. That resulted in an Aramaic version that was later translated into Latin and then English as “Jehovah.” To this day the original vowels are still unknown. All we know for certain is that God’s personal name was Yhwh. Some insert vowels to make it Yahweh, others, Jehovah, depending on which version of the Bible you use. Either is acceptable as long as we use it with honor and reverence to the Lord.”

“Yeshua” is simply the Hebrew word we translate into English as Joshua. It means “salvation is of the Lord.” The Greek (and English) form of this word is “Jesus.” That is why God told Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus received His name because He was Savior. If you use “Yeshua” to refer to Jesus, you are simply using the Hebrew form of His name. If you call Him “Jesus” you are simply using the Greek and English form of His name. Both are right and apply equally to Lord Jesus.

The Bible in its various translations used various names for God and for God in the flesh. The important thing is that we always use God’s name in a respectful way.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 2)

Anatomical Bible Words
Yesterday we began to examine anatomical Bible words. We talked about what it means to take the Bible “literally.” We said that taking it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it. We looked at the Hebrew word for “kidneys” which is kelayot.

Another anatomical Bible words example is the word leb, which occurs 853 times in the Old Testament. It means “heart,” and that is the way it is translated even though it doesn’t refer to the physical organ. We all know that the heart is the organ that pumps blood through our body, but the word leb is seldom used in that way. First Samuel 25:37-38 says that Nabal’s “heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.” The word “heart” is used in many different ways in the Bible. Psalms 27:14 tells us that God may strengthen one’s heart–meaning to give courage. Proverbs 23:17 tells us that mood or temperament arise in one’s heart. First Samuel 27:1 and Genesis 17:17 tell us that the heart is a place for thinking and inner reflection.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek term for heart is kardia. That word is used in the New Testament to refer to various intellectual activities. (See Romans 1:21, 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 4:5, 2 Corinthians 3:15 and 9:7.) Jesus uses “heart” in the same way in Matthew 15:18-19 and Mark 11:23. In Luke 5:22 Jesus accuses the Pharisees of “thinking these things in your hearts.”

Also in the New Testament the Greek word splagchnon, translated “bowels” is used to refer to the intestines in Acts 1:18 and to the seat of emotions in many other passages. (See Colossians 3:12; Philemon 7, 12, 20; Philippians 1:8, 2:7). It is translated “bowels” in the King James Version but usually heart, mercies, or emotions in newer translations.

These biblical passages were written to common people in an ancient time, not to cardiologists or other medical doctors living in the twenty-first century. But let me ask you a question. Have you ever referred to someone having a “broken heart?” Have you talked about sadness as “heartache?” Did you ever refer to having a “gut feeling?” I am sure that you know these emotions do not come from those organs of the body. Did you and those who heard you understand what you were saying? How can we criticize the Bible authors for using language that people in ancient times could understand when we use the same expressions today?

Robert Branson in an excellent article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 68 Number 4, December 2016, page 229-236) says it this way:

“…God accommodates His message of salvation to the ability of humans to understand. Cultural factors such as language, view of the physical world, and political practices are not overridden or corrected.”

The Bible is the perfect guide for how to live and how to have a restored relationship with God. We have to spend some energy making sure we understand its message, and we have many tools to help us do that. In today’s world, it is easier than ever to read and understand the Bible. There is no need for us to get hung up on anatomical Bible words. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) involves “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and that means understanding the intent of the passage.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Meaning of Words

Meaning of Words
One of the problems both skeptics and believers have to deal with is the meaning of words. Words have different meanings depending on where you live and when you live. The phrase “he is gay” has a whole different meaning today than when I was in high school in 1955.

The July issue of Reader’s Digest carried an article about the differences in English word usage and meanings in today’s America. The magazine gave examples of words that mean different things in different geographic locations.

There are also different words used for the same thing in different parts of the country. While in some areas the phrase is “you all” in the south it is more commonly “y’all, ” and in Pennsylvania, it’s “yinz.” In the west, it’s called a drinking fountain, while easterners tend to call it a water fountain, and in Wisconsin, it’s a bubbler. In the west, they are fireflies while in the east and south they are lightning bugs. While in other areas of the country they may be traffic circles or roundabouts, in Massachusetts they are rotaries. In some areas it’s soda, and in others it’s pop. There are many other differences, but you get the idea.

Can you imagine the trouble we have in trying to understanding the full meaning of the Hebrew or Greek words of the Bible texts? It reminds us that when we are dealing with Scripture, we need to consider some important things. We must keep in mind who wrote it, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of that time and place would have understood it. Failing to consider those things has caused many misunderstandings.

Here is one final thing to consider. Not only does the meaning of words and the words we use vary, but also the way we pronounce them can be different. How many syllables do you think there are in the word caramel?
–John N. Clayton © 2017