By Norman S. Edwards
From SVM – Winter 2016 – 2
March 2, 2016
Over 20 years ago many of us who were members of the Worldwide Church of God began to see our spiritual world fall apart and crumble. In many ways it was as if our spiritual ship had wrecked and we were desperately searching for a life raft or even anything to grab hold of—anything to keep us from sinking and going under spiritually.
It was during that period that you began publishing Servants’ News. To this day I thank you, and I thank the Creator of the heavens and the earth that you were there to set forth factual information concerning “the government of God.” Your article on church government opened the doors for me to start my own studies not only on a church government, but a genuine search to find the only true Elohim and the One whom He sent and to come to know Him.
Therefore I shall forever be grateful to you and the light that you shed during those very difficult times. This is why you remain the only Christian ministry that I contribute any funds to whatsoever. You might find this somewhat hard to understand after having been so thoroughly indoctrinated in paying ten percent, 20 percent or even 30% of our income to “the church of God” for the purpose of accomplishing “the work of God.” Norman, in spite of our zeal and dedication to this cause, our ignorance was great! I do not say this to shame us or to condemn us. We had a zeal for the Creator, but not according to knowledge!
Having said this, in recent years it seems evident that you do not place too much credence on the fact that the Creator of the heavens and the earth has a Name or that we should search to come to know His Name. Neither do you seem to place any great significance on calling upon His Name or fearing His Name. And your argument to support this position is that none of us can emphatically say that we know exactly how His Name is pronounced.
I agree with you that none of us know exactly how to pronounce His Name, but we do know that He does have a Name and that Name is truly the Name whereby all Fatherhood in heaven and earth is named! We also know that the Son has the fullness of the Father’s Name exactly as your sons automatically inherit your name of Edwards. They have their own personal identities—personal names—but they inherit the fullness of the family name which you inherited from your father.
Therefore it is firmly my belief and conviction that anyone who genuinely wants to come to know the only true Elohim and the One whom He sent—and we are told, “This is everlasting life”—has a responsibility to begin learning His Name, calling upon His Name and fearing His Name. And, Norman, His Name is not Zeus or Je-Zeus!
Having said the above, I will share with you some Words of the Creator to consider on these matters, from the translation The Scriptures:
The third of the Ten Commandments: “You do not bring the Name of YHVH [to the best of my understanding the Name is transliterated YAHUYAH] your Elohim to naught, for YHVH [YAHUAH) does not leave the one unpunished who brings His Name to naught” (Ex. 20:).
A warning to ancient Israel as well as to modern-day Israel: “If you do not guard to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, to fear this esteemed and awesome Name, YHVH [YAHUAH] your Elohim, then YHVH [YAHUAH] shall bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues, great and lasting plagues, and grievous and lasting sicknesses” (Deut. 28:58).
Through His prophet, YHVH [YA-HUAH] has an indictment against the teachers who make light of His Name: “Till when shall it be in the heart of the prophets”—the prophets of falsehood and prophets of deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My Name by their dreams which everyone relates to his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My Name for Ba’al” [the origin of the word/name Ba’al is lord or the Lord] (Jer. 23:26-27).
Then we have the Words of the Savior, the Son of the Most High Elohim, when He taught all of us how to pray: “Our Father who is in the heavens, let Your Name be set apart” (Matt 6:9).
Finally the last of the living emissaries of the Master recorded the Words of the heavenly Messenger: “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead to be judged, and to give the reward to Your servants the prophets and to the set-apart ones, and to those who fear Your Name small and great” (Rev. 11:18).
The above Scriptures merely scratch the surface concerning the Name of YHVH [YAHUAH]! Even the promise of deliverance is not given in or through any other name: “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the Name of YHVH [YAHUAH] shall be delivered” (Joel 2:32). The exact words of Yo’el (Joel) were quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost and also quoted later by Paul in Romans 10.
YAHUAH (YHVH) spoke through His prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah), “I am YHVH (YAHUAH), that is My Name, and My esteem I do not give to another, nor My praise to idols” (Isa. 42:8).
And a final thought for all those who claim to be His people: “And now, what have I here, declares YHVH [YAHUAH], which My people are taken away for naught? Those who rule over them make them wail, declares YHVH [YAHUAH], and My Name is despised all day continually. Therefore My people shall know My Name, in that day, for I am the One who is speaking. See, it is I” (Isa 52:5).
Thank you very much for your encouragement. Learning that we can come directly to the Eternal for His direction and Spiritual gifts is a huge blessing. When believers are convinced that they must follow the teachings of some man or organization, then they become limited by the doctrine and gifts of that group—and are rarely allowed to develop anything more. I am as grateful for that understanding as you are grateful to the Eternal for stirring me up to make the study.
Please realize that I was studying the issue of the Name of our Heavenly Father at that time as well. That is why the paper you referred to is titled “How does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?” I did not use the word “God” because I wanted to reach people who chose to use Hebrew names instead of “God”. I was well aware that our Father’s name, YHVH in Hebrew, should not have been translated “Lord”, as it is in the King James Version and many other Bibles. “Lord” does not convey the meaning (translation) nor the sound (transliteration) of the Hebrew YHVH. Since the pronunciation of the name is in dispute, transliterating it is difficult. The translator would either have to pick one or include lots of pronunciations every time the name occurs—this makes the Bible very difficult to read for any other purpose than studying His Name. I consider “the Eternal” as the best translation, as it tells what His Name means and is very readable in Scripture. This was used in Moffat Translation, the Holy Scriptures Version and some others.
When I wrote the previously mentioned Government paper, I made my first detailed study of the five biblical passages explaining spiritual gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 28-31; Ephesians 4:11-15; 1 Peter 4:8-11). Over the past 20 years, I have seen these gifts operating in our Father’s Church, but never all of them in one place. The gift of knowledge was certainly more common in the “Church of God” groups. On the other hand, the gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, miracles, and other gifts were less common. Should we consider a person an unbeliever if they have one of these gifts, but not our gift of knowledge? Paul explains this:
For in fact the body is not one member but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary (1 Corinthians 12:14).
Simply because a person does not have our knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek behind the English New Testament does not mean that God has not given them other gifts. Other errors common among the “Church of God” groups were “my church has all the truth” and “if I find one doctrinal error held by an individual or a church group; I cannot fellowship with them”. I have just finished an entire read through of the New Testament, taking notes on errors taught and practiced by believers. There are around 700 such errors, yet only a few dozen cases where people are clearly considered unbelievers because of their teachings and practices. The Church is not a doctrinally perfect Church, but one growing in grace and knowledge. Those of us gifted with knowledge should share it with others, as they are willing to accept it.
Now, in regard to knowledge, the Hebrew shem, the word translated “name” in many of the verses you quoted does not refer just to the sound of the name, but to reputation and character of the person as well. When David was about to die, his servants said: “May God make the name of Solomon better than your name, and may He make his throne greater than your throne” (1 Kings 1:47). They did not mean that “Solomon” has a better sound than “David”, but hoped his character and reputation would be better. The Scriptures you cited in your letter are not strictly about not using or pronouncing the Name of the Elohim (God) of Scripture, but about forgetting His character and teachings.
Today, the people who read the Bible are trying to learn about and pray to the Creator of the universe and the author of the Scripture. They frequently use “the Lord”, which is not a good translation of the Hebrew. Sometimes, they get other teachings and practices wrong. But they are not trying to worship some other deity, as is the case with those condemned in Scripture. When Elijah opposed the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, this was not any question of a different pronunciation of the name of the same deity, but it was two separate religions, with separate temples, priests and practices, each condemning the other as false. The false religion mentioned in the Old Testament frequently allowed fornication, and engaged in mutilation and child sacrifice. When the Israelites were sent into captivity, it was not for using the wrong name, but for violence, immorality, oppressing the poor, Sabbath breaking, etc.
If we want to know how to handle the issue of teaching the truths of the Old Testament in a different language, all we need do is look at the New Testament, which was written in Greek. Many New Testament readers did not read or understand Hebrew at all. When they referred to “God”, did they use Greek letters to transliterate the Old Testament Elohim, as you do in your letter? No. They used the Greek word Theos, the standard Greek word for “God”. Paul even found a Greek statue dedicated to the “unknown God”—certainly Theos, since it was written by Greeks—and said it was the God whom he was declaring to them (Acts 17:23). He did not explain that Theos was the erroneous Greek name for God and that they must use the Hebrew Elohim or YHVH to properly reach God.
About 40 words in the Greek New Testament are transliterations; Greek letters are used not to convey the meaning, but to make the sound of Hebrew/Aramaic words. One example is Mark 5:41: “Then He [Christ] took the child by the hand, and said to her, ‘Talitha, cumi,’ which is translated, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’” Mark was inspired to capture the exact sound of the Hebrew words used in this healing, and then gives their meaning in Greek as well. But there is no New Testament verse that makes any effort to transliterate the Hebrew YHVH, Elohim or any other name for the Eternal into Greek.
Even common names like Johanan in Hebrew (1 Chronicles 6:9, etc.) have their Greek equivalent used in the New Testament: Ioannes. The New Testament Greek writers could have used a trailing “n” to match the Hebrew, but they used the common Greek “s” instead. Is it not reasonable for an English Bible to use the common English equivalent, “John”? The same principle can be applied to numerous other names. The Bible itself gives an example: “And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon” (Revelation 9:11).
I realize that some people claim that the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew/Aramaic and that this important doctrine was lost when it was translated to Greek. But that is impossible to prove as there are Hebrew/Aramaic manuscripts for a very few New Testament Books. We must agree that the Eternal preserved the Greek New Testament for us today. Proposing that there are vital doctrines which have been edited out of the New Testament is very dangerous. If that is true, can we trust it at all? Is every believer to be left at the mercy of what some scholar thinks the New Testament should say?
In our ministry, we constantly teach new believers that the complexity of creation proves there is a Creator (Rom 1:20-21). So then we ask, “Could not the One who created the universe and every living thing also make sure His teaching got out to the world?” Of course the answer is, “Yes.”. And there are more copies of the Bible than any other book—about six billion—and it is translated into more languages than any other. Wycliffe Bible Translators plan to have the Bible in every language on the planet by 2050—if there is an island or a mountain valley somewhere with a few hundred people who speak a unique language, they are on Wycliffe’s list to produce a Bible. If we teach that the New Testament is massively wrong in how it deals with Old Testament names, especially the names of the Eternal, how can we say that He has given mankind His Word, which we so desperately need?
I am not opposed to brethren who use Hebrew names in their prayers or writings—their efforts show a willingness to be considered unusual in an effort to please their Creator. But I do not believe it is necessary or significantly beneficial for doing His work. The Hebrew word for name, shem, means not just the sound, but the character of the one involved (Exodus 34:5-7; Eccl 7:1)
Ultimately, the apostle Paul says: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power…” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). I have often asked other believers if they have ever noticed a great increase in answered prayer, spiritual gifts or ministry effectiveness when an individual or a congregation began to use Hebrew names. To my knowledge, nobody has ever observed this. Our Savior often used the word “Father in Heaven” in his prayers. The Gospels make no mention of His use of a Hebrew name. It worked for Him. It is working for me. It has and is working for many other believers. May we all accept His working in the lives of our brethren.