traditions regarding tetragrammaton?

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Mon Aug 27 10:58:57 EDT 2001

Dear Charles,

Thank you for your interesting post. In a cafe in Jerusalem I once 
asked a young man to read aloud from my Hebrew NT, and it was not 
easy for him to realize that YHWH was written in the text. So your 
words below are correct. I agree that to pronounce God's name in a 
certain way is not what is important, but how we live our lifes 
certainly are important.

The question about the tetragrammaton can be approached from two 
different angles (at least), from a theological and from a 
linguistic/philological one. While linguistics is a study of the 
language per se, philology is, by the help of all kinds of evidence 
to establish the original text. Theology can be one such tool, and 
that was the reason why I appealed to the OT view of the 
tetragrammaton.  The quotes from Jesus in the NT indicates that he 
held the scriptures (the law, the prophets, and the Psalms, Luke 
24:44,45) in high esteem while he was opposed to traditions (Matthew 
15:1-9). So, to establish the origin of the view that the 
tetragrammaton should not be pronounced is a philological question.

The word $EM can refer to different things, and we cannot by the use 
of it alone know whether pronunciation was implied. However, if I 
should state the case in the negative, I would say: There is no 
indication in the OT that the tetragrammaton should not be pronounced 
or that it was the custom to say )A:DONFY instead of the 
tetragrammaton. The later custom of not pronouncing it is neither 
implied by any book in the OT. The nearest we come is that 
Ezra/Nehemiah did not use the tetragrammaton in their communication 
with foreign officials.

If there was a general custom in the days of Jesus to use a 
substitute for the tetragrammaton, this is an argument in favor of 
KURIOS  being original in the NT. But it is not a conclusive 
argument, because of Jesus' standpoint regarding tradition. If it 
cannot be established that the commeon Jew used a substitute, this is 
an argument in favor of KURIOS not being original in the NT. My 
research has taught me that there is much hearsay in connection with 
this subject and often little substance.

The theological importance of the question relates to the 
relationship between the father and the son. A proper name used for 
God in addition to the proper name Jesus would suggest that there are 
two different individuals and that the two are no part of a trinity. 
The use of KURIOS for both is convenient for those who believe in the 
trinity doctrine.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Dear Rolf,
>I have enjoyed the exchanges about the Tetragrammaton.  But are you not
>taking at least a short leap to conclude from Exod 3:15 and Mal 3:16 that
>YHWH should be USED in the sense of PRONOUNCED?  There was never any doubt
>among the rabbis, even of a later period when the pronunciation of the name
>was no longer in vogue, that YHWH was in fact THE name.  The issue is
>whether it ought to be pronounced or "taken up" in a particular way or in a
>general context, or whether it should be reserved for one specific context.
>Specifically in Malachi, the reference is to those who should "respect
>YHWH", but who have in fact spoken improperly of Him, non?  Could this not
>be taken as a reflection of the custom already of caution urged in
>PRONOUNCING the name in an inappropriate context?
>Perhaps my lack of understanding of the needs of Christian theology shuts me
>out here, but I fail to see the importance of the distinction you are
>attempting to draw.  Is there some reason why a Christian should feel
>compelled to PRONOUNCE the name in contradistinction to the Jewish practice
>of substituting 'Adonai as a sign of respect?  In other words, would a Jew
>who PRONOUNCED the name thereby identify himself as a Christian?  Is there
>some theological significance here that I am missing?
>Trying to follow your argument, I sense that a simpler explanation is at
>hand.  If the PRONUNCIATION of the name, as opposed to the continued WRITING
>of it consonantally, had been curtailed by the time of the NT, would it not
>follow that their use of kyrios merely reflected the majority usage current
>among Jews of the day? In a private note to Dan, I pointed out that since
>the four letters are not PRONOUNCED in Jewish liturgy or daily life, young
>children studying for their b'nei mitzvah simply never hear it.  They would
>have NO IDEA of how to vocalize these consonants because when their eyes see
>Yud He Vav He, the signal sent automatically to the brain is "pronounced
>'Adonai."  If you were to ask a twelve year old Jewish child to identify
>Yahweh, I am sure you would get a blank look in return.  Similarly, even in
>the siddurim, often Yud Yud will be written for the Yud He Vav He, and again
>the child learns to PRONOUNCE `Adonai automatically.  I believe even many
>adults in a typical shul would be hard pressed to tell you, if they heard
>you PRONOUNCE "Yahweh," what it meant.  You would have to explain, something
>like "this is how Yud-He-Vav-He is vocalized," in order for them to make the
>connection--"Oh yeah, he means 'Adonai." [I'm referring to Moshe six-pack
>here, of course, not those who may have spent time studying Bible in an
>academic context.]  Again, I do not believe anything needs to be read into
>this fact on the ground.  One's respect for God, it seems to me, is
>reflected in the way one lives rather than in the way a particular name is
>or is not pronounced in the custom of a worshipping community.  Without
>stepping on toes, I would say that I find no reason to be impressed when a
>Christian uses "Jesus" in a particular way.  While anyone can easily SAY
>"Jeeeezus," living or DOING Jesus like acts is a different matter.  So too
>in Malachi 3, it might have been easy for a bored priest to SAY "Yahweh,"
>but to paraphrase Malachi, "his actions in dealing with sacred things spoke
>so loudly God could not hear what he was SAYING."
>There is one exception, however, that may be of some interest.  In the
>reading aloud of a biblical passage [as in the chanting of a Torah parashah
>or even a prophetic haftarah], when the consonants Alef-Dalet-Nun-Yud occur
>followed by YHWH, the traditional pronunciation is "'Adonai 'Elohim."
>Again, I doubt that my young students even think about this after only a
>short while.  It too becomes automatic.
>Charles David Isbell

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