Do Christians Worship God’s Name?

BibleToday in church we sang to God, “I worship your holy name.” What! I thought we Christians worship God, not his name. Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Matthew 4.10 NRSV).

But the Bible has many exhortations about how Christians are to treat God’s name. For instance, the Third of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name” (Exodus 20.7; Deuteronomy 5.11).

So, how do people misuse God’s name? That has been a big debate among especially Jews and to a lesser degree, Christians. Many Christians think it is uttering the word “God” vainly–“thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.” Not quite. In a strictly Christian context, maybe. But people around the world believe in all kinds of gods, and many of them have names for their gods.

That brings me to my main question. What’s is the name of the Judeo-Christian God? Most Christians answer “Father.” No! And that shows how Christians generally are not taught very well about their religion. But some of it is not their fault but that of–well, I’d rather not expressly say. “Father” is an enduring title for the Judeo-Christian God, and it has much meaning. But technically, “Father” is not God’s name but a title.

You see, Jews started thinking a long time ago, about in the third century B.C., that they should never utter or write the name of their God. Why? They were afraid that in doing so, they might blaspheme God or at least take his name in vain. That is, they might say God’s name without sincerity, kind of like people say flippantly, “my God.” So, Jews decided the best way to avoid all of that was to just not ever say or write God’s name. IMHO, I hope, I think that wasn’t the best decision.

However, when Jews of antiquity worshipped in the temple at Jerusalem, when the High Priest or another priest officiating a ritual or reading scripture uttered God’s name, the worshippers would bow down to the ground demonstrating their reverence for God and his name. That is how I think we are supposed to relate to God’s name–revere it. So, worship God and revere his name.

But, again, what is God’s name? God’s name should appear about 7,000 times in the Old Testament of our Bibles, but it doesn’t. In the Hebrew Bible, God’s name is YHWH or yhwh. (Ancient languages didn’t have vowels, only consonants.) But due to the Jewish practice of not saying God’s name, Jews replaced it with what is called a “circumlocution.” They usually replace it with their Hebrew word adonai, meaning “lord.” That is how the word “lord” got into our English Bibles for God’s name. Yes, whenever we read the word LORD in small capitals in our English Bibles, that is the traditional substitution for YHWH, which is written and pronounced Yahweh or Yehvah.

It is interesting to me that Jesus never objected, as far as we know, to his Jewish people not uttering God’s name. I think Jesus, perhaps sometime prior to his ministry, thought about this subject and just decided that he would refer to his God often as “Father.” It shows that some things are not worth fighting about, like whether or not to utter God’s name when we worship him corporately.

Yet I think we Christians should at least be informed of what God’s name actually is and that if we do utter his name, we should not do it in vain but in reverence. As for our worship, direct that to our holy and loving God. And we Christians and Jews should always remember and try to do the Jewish creed: “The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6.4-5).

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