Church of God, New World Ministries

The Unknown God

The ancient Greeks labeled the Almighty God: “The Unknown God” (Acts 17:23).They forgot Who He is, because they had lost the meaning of His name! That name is important, what is it? What does it mean?

How important is a name? Does it make any difference what name you use to designate the Creator? Does it matter in whose name you pray?

A person’s name is certainly important. But what in reality does the word “name” mean? When one acts in another’s name, one acts in his stead, by his authority. The name designates the source of the authority; it designates who the person is for whom one acts. To pray in someone’s name is to take the authority of that name.

A person’s “name” is also his reputation. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Prov. 22:1). His name represents his entire character.

It does make a difference what name you use for the Great God, and in whose name you pray. “There is only one name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).What is this name which is necessary to be saved? Is it a certain set of sounds? Or here too, does name mean the reputation, personality, character, authority and power of the Savior?

We know that the Son came in His Father’s name. What is His Father’s name? Unless you, too, bear your heavenly Father’s name, you are not His son and heir! Without His name you will never see His Kingdom?

Some claim that the Father’s name is Yahweh or perhaps Yahvah.  They claim that when we speak of or pray to the heavenly Father and/or the Son, we should use only the Hebrew names of Deity. They insist that it is a sin to use the words “God,”  “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Word,” and “Christian.” They claim that it is a sin to pray “in the name of Jesus” and improper to be called “Christian.”

The same people believe that it is wrong to translate the names of God into English! Wrong to do more than to transliterate the same Hebrew sounds of the names into any other language. They contend that it is the sound of the name, not its meaning that is important.

Yet the Apostle Paul was inspired to write in I Cor. 14:9: “Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken?” In verse 19 Paul, continued, “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.”  To the Greeks, Hebrew was an “unknown” or foreign tongue.

In the Bible, names have meaning. Names are given for a purpose. Abram’s name in Hebrew was changed to Abraham because the promise was made to Abraham that he should become “a father of many nations” (Gen. 17:5). Abraham, means “a father of many nations.”

Jacob’s name in Hebrew was changed to Israel. The word Jacob in Hebrew means “supplanter,” but the word Israel means “prevailer with God.” Jacob prevailed with God and obtained His blessing.

All these biblical names convey meaning. Notice that these names are usually not greatly changed in any foreign tongue because their meanings are already given in the Bible. They do not have to be translated.

But other important Hebrew biblical names mentioned in the New Testament are translated from Hebrew into Greek. Notice Acts 9:36, “Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas” – in Greek. In other words, the disciples in Joppa were speaking Greek and had translated her name and called her Dorcas. Her name means “Doe” in English.

Again in Acts 13:8, the Aramaic name “Elymas” is translated as Magos in the inspired Greek New Testament – “sorcerer” in English. From these examples we see that personal names are often translated in the Bible. The names of the Great God also have great meaning.

In the Old Testament the English word “God” is used for the equivalent Hebrew word Elohim. It is a uniplural word allowing for more than one member of the One Divine Family. Sometimes the English word “God” represents another word, El. Often the word El is combined with still another Hebrew word to give new names to the Creator. Thus El Shaddai means the “Almighty God” (Gen. 17:1).

    In Exodus 3:13-14 is another surprising name of the Almighty.  “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, the God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, what is His name? What shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I Am that I Am: and He said, thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.”

Here is one of the many names of the Creator – “I Am that I Am.” There is real meaning to this name! It could also be translated from the Hebrew as “I will be what I will be.” This name – I Am –means that the One who appeared to Moses is above all creation. His name means the One Who Is, the Self-Existent One, the Eternal.

In this context the Creator then introduced to Moses His name YHWH (v. 15) derived from the same Hebrew verb and having approximately the same meaning as I Am.

But what about the word Jehovah which a well-known religious group uses exclusively? Notice what the Jewish Encyclopedia has to say about the origin of this word:

“’Jehovah’ is generally held to have been the invention of Pope Leo X’s  confessor, Peter Galatin, who was followed in the use of this hybrid form by Fagius. But it seems that even before Galatin, the name ‘Jehovah’ has been in common use. It is found in Raymond Martin’s ‘Pugio Fidei,’ written in 1270” (Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. VII, p. 88, article “Jehovah”).

The word “Jehovah” has come down to the modern world through the Catholic Church! Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” in the preface to their translation of the Bible, state:  “While inclining to view the pronunciation ‘Yahweh’ as the more correct way, we have retained the form ‘Jehovah’ because of people’s familiarity with it since the 14th century” (page 25).

If “Jehovah” is not the proper pronunciation of the Hebrew word YHWH what then is the proper pronunciation? Some “Hebrew Name” groups say Yahvah other say Yahweh, still others believe it should be Yehweh, etc.

Why this confusion? The answer is, the real pronunciation of the Hebrew word YHWH was lost! Here is how is happened.

The Hebrew Bible originally used only consonants and semi-consonants, not vowels. Moses was inspired to write this name for the Creator with the four Hebrew letters YHWH. This Hebrew word, which the Israelites originally knew how to pronounce, comes from another Hebrew word HWH, an old form of the root HYH, which means “to be,” or “to become.”

In the centuries following Jeremiah’s day, certain Jews became superstitious and made an idol out of this name! They treated it with such superstitious reverence that they decided never to pronounce it! Instead, whenever they found this word in the Old Testament, they read Adonai in its place. Or, in places where Adonai was already combined with YHWH they read it Elohim to avoid redundancy.

Adonai is a Hebrew word meaning “Lord” or “Master.” It is not a pagan word. Both Adon (Lord) and Adonai (originally a plural form meaning “my Lords”) are used frequently in the inspired Old Testament. The pagan Greeks adopted the name of their Adonis from the Hebrew, not the other way around.

 When the Jewish textual scholars, known as Masoretes, added the vowels to the written Hebrew text about the 7th century A.D., they wrote the vowel points of Adonai or Elohim with the word YHWH to tell the oral Jewish reader to pronounce the word which was thus indicated. Non-Jews, ignorant of this purpose, read and pronounced a nonexistent hybrid word Yehovah, which was written “Jehovah” in English but not pronounced with our modern “J” sound until much later. But the proper pronunciation of YHWH had long before become lost! And no one today knows for certain exactly how it should be pronounced.

Here is what Rotherham says about this name in his Emphasized Bible, page 25: “The true pronunciation seems to have been Yahwe`. The accent should be on the final syllable.” The Jewish Encyclopedia says of this name: “The original pronunciation must have been Yahweh or Yahaweh” (article “Names of God,” vol. IX, p. 161).

Most modern Hebrew scholars feel “Yahweh” (pronounced Ya-hewh, with the second syllable like the whe in where and accented) is a close approximation.

However, the important meaning of the name is not so uncertain. Lacking the original vowels, we cannot be positive about the exact grammatical form, but scholars generally agree that YHWH is from the verb “to be.” Some suggest the name was the original form which meant “he causes to be,” others “he exists,” etc. And no better interpretation of the overall meaning can be found than that given by inspiration in Revelation 1:8, referring to Jesus Christ: “I am the Alpha and the Omega (in English we would say the A and the Z), says the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” English equivalents would be the “Eternal,” the Everlasting, the Eternal “Lord.”

If we believe the Creator really is all-powerful, and since only the meaning has been preserved today, this should tell us what He considers important. The meaning of the Almighty’s names is infinitely more important than its mere sound in Hebrew.

Now notice definite scriptural proof that it is proper to translate even the names of God so that we may understand what they mean in whatever language we speak today!

Some claim we should never translate the Hebrew names of Deity. But notice the Bible evidence! In the Old Testament the English word “God” is often a rendering of the Hebrew words El, Eloah, and Elohim. Remember that these words are as much God’s names as is YHWH (Ps. 69:30; Isa. 9:6). Were these Hebrew names ever translated into other tongues in the original inspired Old and New Testaments?

 The answer is a resounding yes! When Babylon conquered the Kingdom of Judah (604-585), Hebrew gradually ceased to be the language of the common speech of the Jews. Hebrew was replaced by Aramaic, spoken throughout the Babylonian Empire. Daniel wrote five whole chapters of his prophetic book in Aramaic – chapters 2-6. And Ezra wrote four chapters of his work in Aramaic, chapters 4-7 (especially 4:8-6: 18 and 7:12-26).

When Daniel and Ezra referred to the Creator in these chapters, did they use the old Hebrew words, or their Aramaic translations?

The surprising answer is that Daniel and Ezra translated the Hebrew names for God in to the Aramaic word Elah! In 78 different places, in 4 chapters, the Aramaic word Elah is used to translate these Hebrew words.

    If anyone says that Aramaic was really just a dialect of the earliest Hebrew and that Elah is a virtual transliteration of Hebrew El, Eloah or Elohim, they should know that the divergence between these two different languages was far greater than mere dialectical difference. And the change from the Hebrew names to Aramaic Elah was as great as the transliteration of Hebrew Yehoshua (Joshua) to Yeshus (Neh. 8:17) to Greek ‘Inoov`us’ Jesus.

If the Almighty intended that His names should be pronounced only in Hebrew, then Daniel and Ezra were false prophets! But Daniel and Ezra were not false prophets! They were inspired men! They were inspired to translate the Hebrew names for God into the Aramaic world ELAH. Every word, every letter which Ezra and Daniel were inspired to write has been preserved for us today! Not one jot or tittle (the least letter or mark of the alphabet) of the Old Testament has passed away that God’s people should not obey all His will (Matt. 5:18; Luke 16:17).

Since the Creator inspired His prophets to translate the Hebrew names for God into the Aramaic ELAH, then it is fitting and proper that the Hebrew word Elohim should be translated into English in English translations of the Old Testament.

The words of your Savior are given to us in the New Testament. Some claim they were originally written in Hebrew and only translated – wrongly by some later hand into Greek -- thus deleting the name YHWH. But before He ascended to heaven, He promised His disciples, “heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). I think all will agree, that heaven and earth have not passed away! Then neither have the words of the Savior! For He ever lives to prevent such a thing from occurring. His words are found inspired in the New Testament today! How were the names of Deity rendered in the New Testament for the Greek-speaking converts? Notice!

Paul was sent to the Gentiles – particularly the Greek-speaking Gentiles. His ministry covered the whole Greek-speaking world. The Greeks did not know Hebrew or Aramaic. They knew Greek. How did Paul explain to these Greek converts who the Father and who the Son were? What names did he use for the Greeks when referring to the Creator?

The answer is – he used the Greek words for “God,” Lord,” “Christ,” the “Word,” and “Jesus.” God inspired him to translate the Hebrew word El, meaning “God,” into the Greek word Theos. God inspired Paul in the New Testament to translate the Hebrew word YHWH into the Greek word Kurios meaning “Lord.” In 665 different places in the New Testament the apostles were inspired to translate the Hebrew word YHWH into the Greek word Kurios, meaning the eternal “Lord.” And 1,345 times the apostles were inspired to translate the Hebrew word for God into the Greek word Theos  –  which means “God” in the Greek language! These two Greek words -  Kurios and Theos – meaning “Lord” and “God” in Greek, are found hundreds of times in the gospels, and in the directly quoted word of Jesus Himself! And Jesus said His word would not pass away – Matt. 24:35.

Either we have the inspired words of Jesus, or He lied, and if He lied, you have no Savior! He did not lie. These are His words, He inspired His apostles to translate the names of God from the Hebrew into the Greek when writing to the Greek converts, and he has seen to it that not one word has perished or been lost!

There is not one New Testament manuscript with the names of Deity written in Hebrew! There is not one New Testament manuscript which supports the idea that the apostles exclusively used Hebrew names for God when speaking to the Greek people.

Those who believe that God can only be correctly addressed or referred to in Hebrew must deny what the inspired New Testament says, and deny it was originally written in Greek. They assume Jewish Christians could not understand Greek and would also have us believe Paul wrote to the Greek converts in Greece, Asia Minor and Rome in Aramaic instead of Greek. This is not true!

Greek was the one universal language which united the common people in the Roman Empire in New Testament times. The Jewish historian Josephus testified to Greek as the language in the New Testament days! Not only did the Jews who lived in the Greek world speak Greek, but even the Jews who lived in Palestine, he declares, were well acquainted with Greek!

Greek speaking Jews – who could not speak Hebrew, not even Aramaic, were so prevalent in Palestine that synagogues for them had to be built (Acts 6:9). Jewish law for Palestine permitted that the Scriptures “may be read in a foreign tongue to them that speak a foreign tongue” (Megillah 2, article 1). And it was further permitted “that the Books (of the Bible) may be written in any language,” but that at the time of Christ the Books were “only permitted to be written in Greek” (Megillah 1, article 8, The Mishnab, Herbert Danby, Oxford University Press).

Though the native-born Jews in Palestine in the early days of the apostles generally used Aramaic (or perhaps even Hebrew in certain areas) as their common spoken language, yet Greek was the next in importance even to them.

Josephus tells us why he, a Jewish priest, when he had decided after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. to become a writer, had to make a special study of Greek:

“I had also taken a great deal of pain to obtain the learning of the Greeks, and understand the elements of the Greek language, although I have so long accustomed myself to speak our own tongue, that I cannot pronounce Greek with such an exactness” – Josephus spoke Greek with a Semitic accent – “for our nation does not encourage those who learn the language of other nations, and so adorn their discourses with the smoothness of their periods; because they look upon this sort of accomplishment (imitating the supposedly ‘great’ men of the Greeks) as common, not only to all sorts of freemen, but to as many of the servants as pleased to learn them. But they give him the testimony of being a wise man who is fully acquainted with our laws, and is able to interpret their meaning” (Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. XX, chapter XI, Section 2).

Nearly everyone in Palestine in those days knew at least a moderate amount of Greek.

Now let us notice the testimony of history as to the language in which the books of the New Testament were inspired. Only two books out of a total of twenty-seven in the New Testament were ever asserted even by ecclesiastical tradition to have been written in Hebrew. The Catholic historian Eusebius did relate, based in part on an earlier tradition of Papias – “the Epistle to the Hebrews is the work of Paul, and it was written to the Hebrews in the Hebrew language; but Luke translated it carefully and published it for the Greeks, and hence the same style of expression is found in this epistle and in the Acts.”

    If Eusebius account – written two and a half centuries later be true -- then the letter to the Hebrews was inspired to be translated by Luke and published in the Greek language. It is Luke’s inspired translation of God intended to be preserved for us.

Eusebius also wrote, and Jerome repeated, that Matthew wrote “the reports,” which he took to mean Matthew’s gospel in Hebrew for Jewish Christians. But we need not think that someone other than Matthew wrote the inspired Greek gospel. It is likely Matthew made such changes and additions as God inspired him to make, and wrote his final account in Greek for the whole Church. It is Matthew’s inspired Greek gospel, whether there was a Hebrew precursor or not, which God has preserved.

None of the other twenty-five books of the New Testament were ever said to have been written in Hebrew. The Aramaic versions of the New Testament which we have today are admittedly translations from the Greek despite what some mistakenly claim. (See The Books and the Parchments by F.F. Bruce, p. 189).

Open your Bible to Mark 15:34. The English rendering of this verse reads: “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which is, being interpreted, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Notice this! The last half of verse 34 proves that Mark was writing his gospel account, including these final words of Christ, in a language different from the one in which Jesus spoke! Jesus’ own words are quoted in Aramaic, but translated into Greek.

Now consider the Aramaic version, which some have claimed to be the original version of the New Testament. If Aramaic were the original language of the New Testament, there would have been no reason to insert in the Aramaic version the words “which is, being interpreted, ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ “

There are at least a dozen places in the New Testament where Aramaic words are quoted and are translated into the Greek for the Greek speaking people and in most cases the Aramaic New Testament retranslates the original Greek word for word!

Another example is John 1:41: “He (Andrew) first findeth his own brother Simon, and said unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.” The Messias is a Greek spelling of the Hebrew word Mehiach, which means “the Anointed.” But the Greek-speaking people were not generally acquainted with the meaning of the word Messias; hence John translates it for them into the Greek word Christos which means “the Anointed One.?

Hebrew people claim we should use only the word “Messiah” and never the word “Christ.” Their assumption is that the word “Christ” comes from the name of the Hindu god Krishna! “Christ” does not come from the name of the Hindu god Krishna! Christos is a common Greek word which means “anointed,” exactly the same as Messiah means in Hebrew.

The New Testament was inspired to read that Jesus is “the Christ.” Even the enemies of the early true Church called the disciples “Christians” (Acts 11:26). The disciples would not have been called Christians in the city of Antioch if they had not been followers of Christ! They would have been called the “Messians”!

Now turn to I Peter 4:14: “If ye be reproached for the name of Christ (Christos in Greek), happy are ye.” The scripture does not use some unknown Hebrew name; it uses the “name of Christ.” And now verse 16 – “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” The disciples in the New Testament Church could not have suffered as “Christians” unless they were the followers of Christ!

 Notice Jesus’ startling prophecy in Matthew 24:4-5: “And Jesus answered and said unto them, take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name (using His name), saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” In whose name are the many coming? Are they coming in some “Hebrew name”? Are they coming in the name of “Christ” – in the name of Jesus?” And Jesus said these would be using His name.

Now turn to Acts 4:10. What is the only name given among men whereby we may be saved? “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole” – the man who had just been healed. Verse 12: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” According to the inspired Greek New Testament, there is no other name given whereby we must be saved than the name of Jesus Christ.

The English word “Jesus” is an anglicized spelling of the Greek word Iesous. The Greek word for “Jesus” is but the common Greek name used to translate the Hebrew name Yehoshua (Joshua). The meaning of the Hebrew word for “Joshua” is “the Eternal is the Savior.” Over 910 places in the New Testament God inspired the New Testament writers to use the Greek word Iesous as a personal name for Christ, the Messiah! Either you will have to accept the name of JESUS as your Savior or you will have to thrown away the entire New Testament!

But – reason “Hebrew Name” believers – doesn’t the Greek word Iesous come from the pagan Greek god Zeus? This is absolutely untrue! Any Greek scholar would tell you that the two words have no relation to each other. Zeus is a native Greek word while Jesus is a Hellenized Semitic form. Any resemblance is purely accidental

The name “Jesus” is actually derived from YHWH! It is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Yeshua (English, Jeshua – see II Chron. 31:15 and dozens of other places in the Old Testament), a shortened form of Yehoshua meaning “Yah is Savior.” For grammatical reasons the Greeks ended it with an “s,” which is less of a change than the shortening from Yehoshua to Joshua or Jeshua

Now let us consider the English word “God.” Just as they contend that use of Theos and Kurios was wrong and could not have been in the original inspired New Testament, some “Hebrew Name” teachers contend that it is a sin to use the English word “God.” They reason that because the word “God” was used by our ancestors to refer to their idols, just as Kurios and Theos were by the Greek, it is improper to use it to refer to the Creator. “But notice what the Bible reveals about this very question in Rom. 1:21:

“When they (the Gentiles nations) knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” And notice verse 28, “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

The nations once knew God, but they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into images, idols! They attached the name of their Creator to their idols. Notice the astounding proof of this in the Old Testament!

In the inspired Hebrew of the Old Testament the Hebrew word ELOHIM – which means “the God Kingdom,” or “the God Family” – is used 240 times to refer to pagan, heathen  “Gods”! In two places this word is also translated “goddess” in the Old Testament.

Again, the Hebrew word El is once translated “idol” and 15 times translated “god” and refers to the heathen gods. The Hebrew word Eloah is five times used in the Old Testament to refer to heathen “gods.” In 16 different places Ezra and Nehemiah were inspired to use the Aramaic word Elah to refer to the heathen “gods” of the Aramaic-speaking people!

Thus if it is a sin to use the English word “God” to refer to the Creator merely because our pagan ancestors used it to refer to their idols, then it is a sin to use the Hebrew words Elohim, Eloah, El or the Aramaic Elah to refer to the Creator because these words were also used by our pagan ancestors to refer to their pagan idols in Old Testament times!

God inspired His prophets to use in the Old Testament Scriptures the very same Hebrew words for both pagan idols and the true Creator! It is just as right and proper for us today to use the English word “God” when referring to the Creator! “God” is simply the English word for the Supreme Deity. Like the Hebrew Elohim, it also refers to idols which men have falsely worshipped.

Now carefully read Ps. 83:18: “that men may know that thou, whose name alone is YHWH, art the most high over all the earth.” This verse does not say, as some assume, that the Creator has only one name, it plainly declares that the Creating Family alone of all which men worship is YHWH or eternal.

But did you know that the name of the Father in heaven is also a Family Name? In Eph. 3:14-15 we read: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Jesus Christ is the Father’s Son. Every son bears his father’s last name. We bear our human father’s name and we shall, like Jesus, bear our heavenly Father’s name!

Notice John 10:36: “Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God (Greek Theos)?” Jesus claimed to be God’s Son. We, too, may be called God’s Sons (I John 3:1). The supreme, divine, all-ruling family is the God Family! It is the Family or Kingdom of God! Jesus’ gospel, His entire message was about the Kingdom or Family of God and how you may be born into it! His whole message was about the Divine Name – Theos in Greek, “God” in English.

Just before Jesus was put to death, He prayed that His Church would be kept “in the Father’s name” (John 17:11-12).What is the Father’s name in which the New Testament Church is to be kept? The name of “God”! In 12 passages in the New Testament, the name of the Church is called “the Church of God.” Paul wrote, “Unto the church of God, which is at Corinth” (I Cor. 1:2). Paul wrote to the Gentile Thessalonian converts: “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus” (I Thess. 2:14).

Either your entire New Testament is a fraud and must be rejected, or the true Church is rightly named “the Church of God”! God is the Family Name of the divine creative Kingdom.

The Hebrew name YHWH, the Greek Kurios, the “Eternal” or “Lord” in English (remember, God inspired the name to be translated from Hebrew), is but one of God the Father’s numerous given personal names. It is also one of the personal names of the Son, because both are eternal. But the whole message of Jesus Christ; the Gospel was the message about the Family Name, the God Family. Jesus Christ came in the name of God -- His Father. He called Himself the Son of God numerous times, never the son of Yahweh.

The Church today which “has not denied” the Savior’s name (Rev. 3:8) is not one which clings to a Hebrew sounding word, but a Church which is preaching His gospel, His message, to all the world; and which is believing and making known the power, authority, personality, character, fame and reputation of the Almighty, Everliving, Eternal God. God’s Church today is named the Church of God!

 
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