What’s in a name

Some years back I was given a lovely leather bound Jerusalem bible.  It was a study bible with footnotes and cross-references and has been very useful to me over the years.  The language is beautiful and really flows when you read it.  There are times though when I look something up and the wording can be very different from another translation, so for study it is useful to use it alongside another translation. One of its quirks is that in the Old Testament it often uses the Hebrew names of God such as El Shaddai and Yahweh.  This took some getting used to, particularly when it was read in Church, as it was new to the ear.  Then recently on a Catholic study course we were told that we weren’t to use Yahweh but to substitute Lord or God, out of respect for the Jews.  This was given in a document of 2001 called Liturgiam Authenticam and then in 2008 in a Letter to the Bishop’s conferences on the “Name of God” 

Click to access name-of-god.pdf

I can recall a Rabbi telling a group of us that they did not call God Yahweh.  He related an incident when he was a schoolboy.  As a Jew he was excused from RE lessons in high school. One day he decided to sit in on one and see what it was like.  The teacher, during the lesson, said “The Jews call God, Yahweh.”  He put up his hand and said, “We don’t, sir!”  The teacher said, “Be quiet, you’re not in this lesson.”

He explained that the name given to Moses when God gives His name as  “I am who I am” is regarded as so Holy that it is not said so as to run no risk of blasphemy even by accident, or to allow gentiles to know the Name and also blaspheme – perhaps not by accident.  This Name is given by four letters which in English are represented by YHVH.  As Hebrew has no vowels, vowel points were later added but because the Name was never said it was uncertain that the vowels chosen were correct.  Hence the attempt to pronounce the Name as Yahweh is probably incorrect and not done by the Jews anyway.  Instead the Jews substitute Adonai (Lord) or Hashem  (The Name).  This led to me substituting Lord when I read my Jerusalem bible out of respect for The Name and for the Jews.

There is a revamped Jerusalem bible now available with the word Yahweh replaced with an appropriate substitution (probably Lord, I haven’t had a chance to check yet).  This matches what is being read in churches in the Liturgy and is available through CTS (Catholic Truth Society) and you will find it in Amazon.


There is also a NRSV Catholic Bible available which is regarded as a very good and up to date translation.

I still, however, like to use my old Jerusalem Bible as when I come across the Hebrew names it reminds me of which name is being used in the text, whether it is God’s special revealed name or another name such as El Shaddai (Amighty God) or El Roi (The God Who sees me).  These, perhaps, give me a glimpse into the mindset of the people of those times and their relationship with the Lord and the reverence they had and still have for His name.   Also that the Lord is not a God of adjectives who can be pinned down or contained but is always more than we can think of or imagine, and yet he reveals Himself to us in His word, in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

Youtube clip to finish,