The Name of God – A Jewish Perspective

I am a huge fan of “The Great Courses” presented by “The Teaching Company.” The Teaching Company offers college level courses, taught by superb professors that cover an array of courses, from Botany to Biblical History, from Quilting to Physics and Quarks. Each course includes anywhere from 12 or less to 30 or more lectures, available as CDs, DVDs and video/audio download. It’s an inexpensive way for the perpetual student to audit numerous college courses.

Guilty as charged.

I want to share something I learned today in “The History of Christian Theology” taught by Professor Phillip Cary of Eastern University. Carey is one of my favorite contributing professors. He describes himself as an “ecumenical Protestant,” seeing beauty and grace in all denominations making up Christ’s Ecclesia (great congregation).

Reading the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s letters, and the four Gospels shows us that the first Christ-followers were Jews. Because the authors of the New Testament were Jewish, some words used in their writings have great significance we gentiles can miss because we are not conversant with Jewish tradition. (Some say Dr. Luke was the only gentile writer in the New Testament.  Here is an interesting reference that makes the case for Luke being just as Jewish as Matthew, Mark and John:

Getting back to Dr. Carey’s lecture. We know that in Jewish tradition, the name of God was considered so holy it was not spoken aloud. They used initials without vowels, YWHW. Even today I sometimes see “g..d” instead of “God” in print as if his name is too holy to be spelled out as well.

Professor Carey said Jews find saying this particular name for God, with the vowels added so it can be pronounced, highly offensive, even in the 21st century. He added he personally believes gentiles should not pronounce that name, either. Yet, how could those early Jewish writers write about G…d without using that name?  Solution: call him “Lord” or “Adoni.”

This then becomes highly significant when we read the New Testament, written by devout Jews who believed Jesus was divine, the Son of God. When they refer to Jesus as “Lord” (Adoni) they are testifying to his very divinity. They are calling on the name of God, without pronouncing the unpronounceable. “Lord” was not simply an honorific, like “Your Excellency” for them. Instead, it was the definitive declaration of the nature of Jesus. Calling Jesus “Lord”, calling Jeshua “Adoni” was proclaiming the unique, almost unbelievable, crux of the universal Christian faith. It is the breathtaking assertion that this anointed (“Christos”) Jesus is God in the flesh.

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