Jesus spoke Greek.
Have you ever wondered why?
Was He not born to a Hebrew mother? Yes. Did He not grow up in a Hebrew home? Yes. Was He not a descendent of Abraham with Hebrew lineage through King David? Yes. Nevertheless, He spoke Greek, taught and preached in Greek, and inspired the entire New Testament to be written in Greek. Why?
The answer is in your history books. About three hundred years before Christ was born, King Philip of Macedonia, a country north of Greece, conquered Greece and added it to his empire. His son, Alexander, not content with this, conquered all the lands east of Greece as far as the Indus River in India, and south as far as and including Egypt. He strongly promoted Greek language and culture in the conquered countries. Those who came after him in power continued this promotion so effectively that even in our own country, Greek was once taught in our schools. It was considered a cultural necessity.
Thus, the people of Israel learned Greek, as did the people of all the other conquered lands. They learned it so well and used it so freely that Hebrew scholars became concerned that the knowledge of Hebrew would be lost, and the ability to read the Hebrew scriptures (what we call the Old Testament) would be lost with it. They therefore, in the third century before Christ, prepared a translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek for the benefit of the Greek speaking Jews. Their work was called the Septuagint, and is still available today.
How Did Jesus Pronounce the sacred name of God?
So, in Christ’s time, everyone understood Greek, regardless of what their mother tongue might have been, and Christ kindly spoke to them in the language that they all understood. Which brings us again to the question at the beginning of this article: when Jesus was speaking to the people in Greek, how did He pronounce the name of God, the sacred YHWH?
He always used either the Greek word Theos or the Greek word Kurios. He never used the Hebrew YHWH.
What are the Missing Vowels?
We pause to explain that the four letters in the term YHWH are an example of the way the Hebrews wrote all of their words. They did not write any vowels (such as a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.) They wrote only the consonants. They used the letter “Y” only as a consonant, never as a vowel. The reader was expected to know what vowels to use and when to use them. If he did not know, somebody had to tell him. This style of writing made word pronunciation rather uncertain.
Another fact makes the pronunciation of YHWH even more uncertain. At some time in the centuries before Christ, the Hebrew scholars decided that the name of God, the YHWH, was so sacred that it should never be spoken at all. This tradition has continued even to our time. Some Jewish people today will not speak the name of God. When they want to refer to the Deity, they say, “Ha Shem,” which means “The Name.” Some people today pronounce the name of God as YAHWEH, but this is only guesswork. Nobody knows for sure how it was pronounced in Bible times.
Examine the Scriptures
As we have seen, when Jesus was speaking to the people in Greek, He used the Greek words Theos and Kurios to refer to God, not the Hebrew YHWH. This can be seen by examining any Greek New Testament. And what is of much greater significance, He did the same thing even when He was quoting passages from the Old Testament, which contained the term YHWH. He translated the YHWH into the Greek, Theos or Kurios, even in His quotations. Please observe His translations in the verses in the box below:
The testimony of Jesus is clear and consistent. He did not use the Hebrew YHWH when referring to the Deity, even when He was quoting Old Testament passages that contained that term. He uniformly translated it into the more familiar Greek words, Theos and Kurios.
The testimony of the Apostle Paul is not less impressive than the testimony of Jesus. He quoted from the Old Testament like Jesus did, and he translated the YHWH into Greek words like Jesus did. I do not want this article to be tedious, but I do want it to contain all of the evidence, because I know that there are some people in our churches who need it. So here are Paul’s translations:
To this may be added the testimony of the Apostle Peter:
Perhaps you are wondering how to recognize the Hebrew YHWH in an English Bible. It is easy. In the King James Bible, when you see the word Lord or the word God spelled in all capital letters like this: LORD, or GOD, that tells you it was translated from the Hebrew word YHWH. Do not go by the size of the letters. Sometimes the first letter is larger than the other letters, but they are all capital letters. Then words would look like this: Lord. The capital letters are the key, regardless of their size.
Let us now summarize the evidence that we have seen:
Jesus Translated YHWH into Greek.
Jesus taught and preached in Greek. In His teaching and preaching He used the Greek words for God, Theos, Kurios. He did this even when He was quoting Old Testament verses which contained the Hebrew word YHWH. He translated the YHWH into the Greek words, Theos and Kurios. The Apostles Paul and Peter did the same thing. The inspired New Testament writers used the word Theos 816 times and the word Kurios 344 times in referring to the Deity. The inspired writers of the New Testament never used the word YHWH in referring to the Deity. That word is not found in the New Testament. Jesus did use an Old Testament word for God while He was on the cross, in His cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” But this word was not the Hebrew YHWH. It was El, another Hebrew word for God.
Man-made Tests of Faith
So how can it be argued, as is now being done by some people, that God wants us to refer to Him only by the name YHWH? Some are even insisting that we risk incurring His disfavor if we fail to do this. If this were true, surely Jesus, Paul, Peter, and all of the other New Testament writers would be equally disapproved by God. It would seem that we are being reigned up to a test which is altogether man-made. This is something about which the messenger of the Lord has issued extensive warnings.
“God will send us direct and practical tests to teach us, if we will be taught, the benefits of faith. He has no use for man-made tests. The tests that He has given are sufficient.” Pacific Union Recorder. October 20, 1904.
“The commandment of God that has been almost universally made void, is the testing truth for this time…The time is coming when all those who worship God will be distinguished by this sign. They will be known as the servants of God, by this mark of their allegiance to Heaven. But all man-made tests will divert the mind from the great and important doctrines that constitute the present truth.” Evangelism, 212.
“The devisings of men’s minds will invent tests that are no tests at all, that when the true test shall be made prominent, it shall be considered on a par with the man-made tests that have been of no value.” Selected Messages, vol. 2, 14.
“But there will be brought in a vast amount of man-made tests that have not the least bearing upon the work given us of God to prepare a people to stand with the whole equipment of the heavenly armor on, without leaving off one piece.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 7, 91.
“The Lord has said that the Sabbath was a sign between Him and His people forever. The time is coming when all those who worship God will be distinguished by this sign. They will be known as the servants of God, by this mark of their allegiance to Heaven. But all man-made tests will divert the mind from the great and important doctrines that constitute the present truth.” Review and Herald, May 29, 1888.
Time to Eliminate this Concept
Surely it is time to eliminate this “sacred name” concept from our list of concerns. If there are those who want to use the term YHWH (while guessing at its pronunciation) that is their privilege. But when they try to urge it upon others as a religious duty, they are going much too far. The Scriptural evidence cannot support any such endeavor.
The spreading of our marvelous message throughout the world calls for our time, our energies, and our dedication. Let us press resolutely forward in the fulfillment of our task, and firmly reject all man-made tests that will divide and weaken us. May the Lord bless us to this end.