The Divine Name That Will Endure
The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever
"Hallowed Be Your Name"—What Name?
ARE you a religious person? Then doubtless, like many others, you believe in a Supreme Being. And likely you have great respect for the well-known prayer to that Being, taught by Jesus to his followers and known as the Lord's Prayer, or the Our Father. The prayer begins like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name."—Matthew 6:9, New International Version.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus put the 'hallowing,' or sanctifying, of God's name first in this prayer? Afterward, he mentioned other things such as the coming of God's Kingdom, God's will being done on earth and our sins being forgiven. The fulfillment of these other requests will ultimately mean lasting peace on earth and everlasting life for mankind. Can you think of anything more important than that? Nevertheless, Jesus told us to pray first of all for the sanctification of God's name.
It was not merely by chance that Jesus taught his followers to put God's name first in their prayers. That name was clearly of crucial importance to him, since he mentioned it repeatedly in his own prayers. On one occasion when he was praying publicly to God, he was heard to say: "Father, glorify your name!" And God himself answered: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."—John 12:28, The Jerusalem Bible.
The evening before Jesus died, he was praying to God in the hearing of his disciples, and once again they heard him highlight the importance of God's name. He said: "I have made your name known to the men you took from the world to give me." Later, he repeated: "I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known."—John 17:6, 26, JB.
Why was God's name so important to Jesus? Why did he show that it is important for us, too, by telling us to pray for its sanctification? To understand this, we need to realize how names were viewed in Bible times.
Names in Bible Times
Jehovah God evidently put in man a desire to name things. The first human had a name, Adam. In the story of creation, one of the first things Adam is reported as doing is naming the animals. When God gave Adam a wife, immediately Adam called her "Woman" (’Ish·shah', in Hebrew). Later, he gave her the name Eve, meaning "Living One," because "she had to become the mother of everyone living." (Genesis 2:19, 23; 3:20) Even today we follow the custom of giving names to people. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how we could manage without names.
In Israelite times, however, names were not mere labels. They meant something. For example, the name of Isaac, "Laughter," recalled the laughter of his aged parents when they first heard that they were to have a child. (Genesis 17:17, 19; 18:12) Esau's name meant "Hairy," describing a physical characteristic. His other name, Edom, "Red," or "Ruddy," was a reminder that he sold his birthright for a dish of red stew. (Genesis 25:25, 30-34; 27:11; 36:1) Jacob, although he was only slightly younger than his twin brother, Esau, bought the birthright from Esau and received the firstborn's blessing from his father. From birth, the meaning of Jacob's name was "Taking Hold of the Heel" or "Supplanter." (Genesis 27:36) Similarly the name of Solomon, during whose reign Israel enjoyed peace and prosperity, meant "Peaceable."—1 Chronicles 22:9.
Angels, people, animals, as well as stars and other inanimate things, have names. Would it be consistent for the Creator of all these things to be nameless?
Thus, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Volume 1, page 572) states the following: "A study of the word 'name' in the O[ld] T[estament] reveals how much it means in Hebrew. The name is no mere label, but is significant of the real personality of him to whom it belongs."
The fact that God views names as important is seen in that, through an angel, he instructed the future parents of John the Baptist and Jesus as to what their sons' names should be. (Luke 1:13, 31) And at times he changed names, or he gave people additional names, to show the place they were to have in his purpose. For example, when God foretold that his servant Abram ("Father of Exaltation") would become father to many nations He changed his name to Abraham ("Father of a Multitude"). And he changed the name of Abraham's wife, Sarai ("Contentious"), to Sarah ("Princess"), since she would be the mother of Abraham's seed.—Genesis 17:5, 15, 16; compare Genesis 32:28; 2 Samuel 12:24, 25.
Jesus, too, recognized the importance of names and he referred to Peter's name in giving him a privilege of service. (Matthew 16:16-19) Even spirit creatures have names. Two mentioned in the Bible are Gabriel and Michael. (Luke 1:26; Jude 9) And when man gives names to inanimate things such as stars, planets, towns, mountains and rivers, he is merely imitating his Creator. For example, the Bible tells us that God calls all the stars by name.—Isaiah 40:26.
Yes, names are important in God's eyes, and he put in man the desire to identify people and things by means of names. Thus angels, people, animals, as well as stars and other inanimate things, have names. Would it be consistent for the Creator of all these things to leave himself nameless? Of course not, especially in view of the psalmist's words: "Let all flesh bless [God's] holy name to time indefinite, even forever."—Psalm 145:21.
The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Volume 2, page 649) says: "One of the most fundamental and essential features of the biblical revelation is the fact that God is not without a name: he has a personal name, by which he can, and is to be, invoked." Jesus certainly had that name in mind when he taught his followers to pray: "Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified."—Matthew 6:9.
In view of all of this, it is evidently important for us to know what God's name is. Do you know God's personal name?
What Is God's Name?
Surprisingly, the majority of the hundreds of millions of members of the churches of Christendom would probably find it difficult to answer that question. Some would say that God's name is Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus was praying to someone else when he said: "I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world." (John 17:6) He was praying to God in heaven, as a son speaking to his father. (John 17:1) It was his heavenly Father's name that had to be "hallowed," or "sanctified."
Yet many modern Bibles do not contain the name, and it is rarely used in the churches. Hence, far from being "hallowed," it has been lost to millions of Bible readers. As an example of the way Bible translators have treated God's name, consider just one verse where it appears: Psalm 83:18. Here is how this scripture is rendered in four different Bibles:
"Let them know that thou alone, whose name is the LORD, art the Most High over all the earth." (Revised Standard Version of 1952)
"To teach them that thou, O Eternal, thou art God Most High o'er all the world." (A New Translation of the Bible, by James Moffatt, of 1922)
"Let them know this: you alone bear the name Yahweh, Most High over the whole world." (Catholic Jerusalem Bible of 1966)
"That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth." (Authorized, or King James, Version of 1611)
Why does God's name look so different in these versions? Is his name LORD, the Eternal, Yahweh or Jehovah? Or are these all acceptable?
To answer this, we have to remember that the Bible was not originally written in English. The Bible writers were Hebrews, and they mostly wrote in the Hebrew and Greek languages of their day. Most of us do not speak those ancient languages. But the Bible has been translated into numerous modern tongues, and we can use these translations when we want to read God's Word.
Christians have a deep respect for the Bible and rightly believe that "all Scripture is inspired of God." (2 Timothy 3:16) Hence, translating the Bible is a weighty responsibility. If someone deliberately changes or omits part of the contents of the Bible, he is tampering with the inspired Word. To such a one the Scriptural warning would apply: "If anyone makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll; and if anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take his portion away from the trees of life."—Revelation 22:18, 19; see also Deuteronomy 4:2.
God's name was clearly of crucial importance to Jesus, since he mentioned it repeatedly in his prayers
Most Bible translators doubtless respect the Bible and sincerely want to make it understandable in this modern age. But translators are not inspired. Most of them have strong opinions, too, on religious matters and may be influenced by personal ideas and preferences. They can also make human errors or mistakes in judgment.
Hence, we have the right to ask some important questions: What is God's real name? And why do different Bible translations have different names for God? Having established the answer to these questions, we can return to our original problem: Why is the sanctification of God's name so important?
Picture: Bourges Cathedral, France