An Examination of the Claims of the Sacred Name Movement

An Examination of the Claims of the Sacred Name Movement (Concluded)

The Names of the Deity in the New Testament

DON NEUFELD, Research Book Editor, Review and Herald

We come now to the New Testament. By what names or titles did the New Testament writers refer to the Deity?

More than 600 times they call the Deity Kurios, a term condemned, by the followers of the Sacred Name Movement. Here, as previously indicated, is what they say:

The Greek word KURIOS (Lord) is not the equivalent of the Hebrew "YHWH," but of the Egyptian "HORUS," of the Phoenician "Adonai," the Babylonian "Tammuz," and the Persian "Ku­ros," and it was variously applied to the "Sun-God." —The Memorial Name YAHWEH the Only Name, p. 8

Yes, He shall call His servants by another name, and not the name of an idol—be that idol Lord, God, Pan, Bog, Christos, Kurios, Adonai, Herr, or another. It is time that we discard the names of the Baalim and learn the true.—Why Worship in the Names of Pagan Deities? p. 11.

The sacred writers of the New Testa­ment go directly contrary to the above warnings and repeatedly call the Deity Kurios. They knew of no such rules as the Sacred Namites have concocted. Nor need we pay any heed to them. The Bible writ­ers are on our side.

This the Sacred Namites will counter by saying that the New Testament was origi­nally written in Aramaic, and that the translators into Greek inserted the pagan name kurios. In this they were wrong, with the following possible exception: Papias, who flourished in Phrygia about A.D. 130­140, did say that "Matthew composed the oracles in the Hebrew language, but every­one interpreted them as he was able."— Iraneus, Against Heresies, iii. 1. 2. Origen (in Eusebius, Church History, vi. 25. 4), Eusebius (Church History, iii. 24. 6), and Jerome (Commentary on Matthew) also made similar statements, but they were probably dependent on Papias for their tradition.

Some scholars are willing to allow an Aramaic original of Matthew, and of the other gospels, but they are definitely in the minority. Metzger says,

There was a tradition in the early church that Matthew wrote his Gospel in "Hebrew" (Aramaic). In modern times several scholars have argued that one or more of the four Gospels were written originally in Aramaic and translated into Greek. None of the hypothetical Aramaic Gospels is extant. Most New Testament scholars believe that the in­ternal evidence of all four Gospels indicates that they were composed in Greek, but embody Ara­maic source material, some of which was oral and some of which perhaps was written.—BRUCE METZ­GER, in The Interpreter's Bible, vol. 7, p. 50.

Perry lists seven objections to the theory advanced by Charles C. Torrey (The Four Gospels, 1933; Our Translated Gospels, 1936) that each of the four Gospels was originally composed in Aramaic and later translated into Greek.

  1. The proposed "mistranslations" are hardly numerous enough to support the theory.
  2. The scholars who accept the theory cannot agree where mistranslation exists, so that the line of argument appears very insecure.
  3. Many of the passages, alleged to be obscure because "mistranslated," contain no real difficulty, or the difficulty can be better explained in other ways.
  4. Aramaic idiom in the Gospels can be attributed to use of the common non­literary Greek idiom, to the influence of the Biblical Greek of the Septuagint, to the idiom of authors who thought more or less in a Semitic tongue, and to the undeniable fact that the tradition, and possibly some of the source—not the complete Gospels—originated in Aramaic.
  5. In order to account for the obvious Greek affinities of the Synoptics, Torrey has to resort to a very complicated theory of interrelated Aramaic gospels translated by interdependent workers who compared their work diligently with the Gospels al­ready translated. Luke, for instance, would follow closely the Matthew version of say­ings, but immediately turn to Mark for narratives; yet at the same time he could continue to introduce mistranslations. Not only is the theory unnatural, but it involves considerable conflict with the most as­sured results of Synoptic study.
  6. Archeological evidence, as well as Acts 6:1 and 9:29, reveals the presence of Greek-speaking Jews in Jerusalem; and it is quite as likely that the traditions were first written by some of them in the more literary language, Greek. Written records would be needed more for the missionary extension of the church, and it was pri­marily from these Hellenists that the Chris­tian mission originated (cf. Acts 8:5; 11: 19, 20).
  7. When gospels in the tongue of Palestine or Syria were later required, they were translated from our four (ibid., pp. 67, 68).

Notice the argument advanced as proof that the New Testament was written origi­nally in the Aramaic:

An honest reading of "Our Translated Gospels," by Dr. Charles Cutler Torrey, and of "The Aramaic Originals of the Fourth Gospel," by C. F. Burney, will be sufficient to convince any honest heart, of the truth of the Hebrew and Aramaic origin of the New Testament, because it was written primarily for the dispersed Hebrews throughout Judea, Sa­maria, and the uttermost parts of the world.—The Memorial Name YAHWEH the Only Name, p. 13.

What proof is this? Torrey argues that the four Gospels were written originally in the Aramaic, and Burney that the fourth Gospel had an Aramaic original, therefore the entire New Testament was written originally in the Aramaic! This is absurd­ity! We have already shown that only a few agree with Torrey in his thesis regarding the origin of the Gospels. And Burney argues principally for the fourth Gospel.

But granted, for the sake of argument, that one or more of the Gospels were orig­inally written in Aramaic, the translation into Greek may still have been made by the authors themselves. Manuscripts of portions of the fourth Gospel in Greek go back to the second century. No early Ara­maic manuscripts of the Gospels are ex­tant.

But whatever may have been the status of the original.Gospels, surely no one could honestly contend that Paul, writing letters to the Greek churches in Thessalonica and Corinth, where the congregation was com­posed of Hellenized Jews and Greeks, would write in Aramaic; or to the believ­ers in Galatia, where the majority of the congregation was Gentile. This would be preposterous.

And in these letters what did Paul call the Deity? Yahweh? No! Generally theos and kurios. What did he call our Saviour? Very frequently lesous. But the Sacred Namites condemn both kurios and Iesous as being pagan names. Hence Paul stands condemned.

What are the facts about the name Jesus? The English form is a transliteration through the Latin of the Greek Fesous. This Greek in turn is a transliteration of the Hebrew (also Aramaic) Yeshild, of which the longer form is Yehoshilae. These He­brew names mean "Yahweh is salva­tion." The Greeks simply reproduced in their alphabet the Hebrew letters, but put a masculine ending on the name. This is roughly the same process as when we reproduce the Hebrew divine name mm in English letters as Yahweh. The Greeks had as much right to write the He­brew name in their alphabet as we do to write the Hebrew name in our alphabet. Yet what do the Sacred Namites say?

The word IESOUS, OR JESUS, IS A NAME OF A PAGAN DEITY, that was worshipped long be­fore the time of our Saviour Yahshua. Our Sav­iour said that those that came before him were thieves and robbers. St. John 10:8. "Jesus" was known among the pagan Greeks as their Saviour long before the birth of our Messiah. So, you see, people turned from the worship of the true Saviour to worship the name of the Greek idol Ie­Sous, or le-Zeus. People have been fooled by Satan. —Why Worship in the Names of Pagan Deities? pp. 12, 13.

This is ridiculous. Not one shred of evi­dence is given that Jesus is the name of a pagan deity. Not one classical evidence is given. It is true that the Greeks had a god named Zeus. But Zeus is not "Sous." A remote similarity of sound is no evidence whatever of identity. The name of our Saviour in the Greek New Testament is sim­ply the Hebrew name meaning "Yahweh is salvation" written with Greek instead of Hebrew letters, the only difference being that a masculine ending has been given the name, a characteristic of the Greek language.

Similar shoddy supposed evidence is set forth as to why we should not use the term "God":

The word GOD, the Hebrew of which is GD, pronounced GAWD, is the actual name of the Assyrian deity of Good-luck, same as the Latin Fortuna. The Prophet Ezekiel tells us that "Aho­lah," who is Samaria, or the Northern Kingdom of Israel, played the harlot from Yahweh, and went Assyrian, with the result that they took on the worship of GOD (Hebrew GD) and turned away from Yahweh.—The Memorial Name YAHWEH the Only Name, pp. 13, 14.

A god Gad is mentioned once in the He­brew Bible (Isa. 65:11). The Hebrew term is translated "that troop" in the K.J.V. and "Fortune" in the R.S.V. The god is attested in inscriptions of southern Arabia and Palmyra. Gad is also the name of one of the tribes of Israel.

However, our English term "God" is not derived from the Hebrew gad, but comes from the Old English. It is most unlikely that those who first coined the term "god" knew anything about a god mentioned once in the Hebrew Bible. Translations into both the Greek and Latin did not transliterate the term, so it was probably quite unknown. The Septuagint renders gad, daimon, and the Vulgate, Fortuna.

Furthermore, we do not know pre­cisely how the name of this god was pronounced in ancient Hebrew. It is repre­sented by the consonants gd. To these con­sonants the Masoretic scholars gave the vowel a, giving the transliteration gad, probably pronounced as giith, with the th sounded as in "the." But this is not identi­cal with our pronunciation of "God." So their argument that "God" is the name of a pagan deity, is found to be based on the flimsiest of evidence, in fact, no evidence at all.

We could go on exposing the fantastic assertions of the Sacred Namites, assertions that completely collapse in the face of facts. If it were not for the flourish of Hebrew and Greek terms appearing throughout the pamphlets, the average reader easily would be able to detect the total lack of a basis for their claims. And it requires only a lim­ited knowledge of these languages and of linguistics to see the absurdity of the claims.

We should mention also one other point. The Sacred Namites speak much of honoring the divine Name. There is an over-literalism in the use of the word "name" running through these pamphlets, as though it signified simply the physical let­ters making up the name when it is writ­ten, or the sound made by the vocal or­gans when the name is spoken. It does mean these but it has also a much wider significance, and often stands for person or essential nature. Thus to honor the name of Yahweh means to honor the per­son of Yahweh. To do something "in the name of" means more than simply utter­ing the name in a formula; it means to do something by the efficacy of or the au­thority of. (See Appendix for a discussion of this wider meaning of the term "name.")

If you ignore the fantastic claims of these Sacred Namites, you are in safe company, for you stand with the writers of the Bible, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament writers interchangeably called the deity Yahweh, 'Elohim, and 'Adonai and many other terms. The New Testament writers used the translated forms of these words, and for Yahweh the Septuagint term Kurios. If the New Testament writers felt it proper to use translated forms, we too can use the trans­lated forms of these names in our language. If Yahweh is not in your vocabulary, you need not worry, for it is not in the New Testament vocabulary except in transliter­ated forms of Hebrew names containing the divine name, such as 'Elias, "Elijah," from the Hebrew 'Eliyahit, meaning, "My God is Yahweh," or in the word allelouia, "Al­lelulia," from the Hebrew halel12-yah, mean­ing, "praise ye Yahweh." But directly the New Testament writers never use the name.

Examined, then, in the light of the Scrip­tures, the contentions of The Sacred Name Movement completely collapse. Their pamphlets must be relegated to the ever-increasing pile of literary produc­tions of men who have a zeal, but not ac­cording to knowledge.


O.S. Rankin, "Name," in Alan Richardson, ed., A Theological Word Book of the Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1960), pp. 157, 158.


In the thought of the ancient world a name does not merely distinguish a person from other persons, but is closely related to the nature of its bearer. Particularly in the case of such powerful persons as deities, the name is regarded as part of the being of the divinity so named and of his char­acter and powers. The name therefore is conceived of as possessing an infinitely greater degree of real­ity and substantiality than has a mere sign of identification. The Hebrews shared in this estima­tion of the name common to the thought of the peoples among whom they lived. The OT exhibits various aspects of this appreciation of the divine name. In the OT the sanctuary where the deity is worshipped may be spoken of as the place where God has recorded his name or made his name to be remembered (Exod. 20.24), but it is also described as the place which God has chosen "to cause his name to dwell there" (Dent. 12.11). The name here is a sort of double of the deity. The priestly blessing as described in Numbers is not only a pe­tition to God on behalf of Israel, but is the means of conveying a power to the people or an influence upon them. For when the priests say the blessing "they put my name upon the children of Israel" (Num. 6.27). The name of Jahweh is often used as a mere circumlocution to indicate Jahweh him­self, e.g. "Let them that love thy name be joyful in thee" (Ps. 5.11; cf. Ps. 7.17, 9.2, 10, 18.49, etc.). But in other places it reaches independent or hypostatic character, e.g. it is said of the angel which Jahweh sends before the Israelites to guide them, "Take ye heed of him and harken unto his voice . . . for my name is in him" (Exod. 23.21). The name here signifies the presence of God. In the late Hellenistic period "The Name" (ha-shem) par excellence be­comes one of the popular substitutes for the special name Jahweh when the latter is forbidden to gen­eral use (v. GOD III).

The ideas concerning the name of the deity which have their root in primitive conceptions and are prevalent in the OT make their appearance also at later stages of religious thought. In the NT in such phrases as "hallowed be thy name" (Matt. 6.9), "blaspheme his name" (Rev. 13.6), "hope" in his name (Matt. 12.21), "call on the name" (Acts 2.21), "sing unto the name" (Rom. 15.9), the name has little more than pronominal value and has hardly an independent character. But in John 17.6: "I manifested thy name unto the men whom thou gayest me" (cf. vs. 26), the name implies God's na­ture and will, while "a chosen vessel to bear my name" (Acts 9.15) must mean to represent God's mind and purpose. To believe in the name of someone signifies to believe that the person to whom reference is made is worthy of trust or, more specifically, that he bears his name appropriately or rightly and can perform that which his name or title implies (cf. John 1.12, 2.23). Thus St. John says of Jesus as Son of God: "He that believeth on him is not judged; he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God" (3.18). Christian prayer must always be prayer in the name of Jesus, i.e. in the character, spirit and attitude of Jesus; it is this kind of prayer which will be an­swered (cf. John 14.13f., 15.16, 16.23f., 26). In many cases in the NT the expression "in the name of God" (or Jesus) is associated with the idea of calling upon God to act or of invoking divine help, e.g. Mark 9.38: "We saw one casting out devils in thy name." In the sentence (Matt. 18.20), "Where two or three are gathered together in my name," the force of the last three words is equivalent to "be­cause of me," "on my account" or "thinking upon me" (v. Heb. 6.10). The significance of "baptized into the name of" (I Cor. 1.13, 15) is probably that the baptized person is thought of as the property of, or under the protection of, the bearer of the name. Cf. Isa. 63.17, where "as they that were not called by thy name" is parallel to "as they over whom thou never bearest rule." Israel, as a people who are called by Jahweb's name, are for that reason under Jahweh's rule and protection. In Phil. 2.9-11 "the name" which is "above every name" and which is given to Jesus, is signified in vs. 11 as being "Lord" (Gk. Kurios). It is applied to God himself, and it is also applied to Jesus Christ in the Christian confession of his divinity (cf. I Cor. 12.3). (V. also names of God, under GOD III.)—Used by permission

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DON NEUFELD, Research Book Editor, Review and Herald

November 1962

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