Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tag-teaming with Phil Johnson on futile, Jew-tile silliness about God's name(s)

I am so delighted to see the irascible Phil Johnson tear into this ostentatious practice of writing "G-d" instead of "God."

For the uninitiated, this is an affectation often adopted by both Jews and Gentile Christians who are trying to get all cool and "Messianic" and Jewishistic, indulging in a Goyed-up version of that Pharisaical obscuring of "Yahweh" which has cursed Christian translations with the "Lord / LORD / LORD God / Lord GOD" absurdity for centuries. (Not that I have strong feelings about that issue, mind you.) It is done, we're told, out of supposed reverence for God's name and care for Jewish sentiments. So these poor souls write "G-d," elliding the "o." Sometimes they even efface other Divine titles the same way. (Phil's correspondent even ellides the vowels to "Creator," thus birthing the deformed "Cr--t-r" -- I kid you not.)

Phil has excellent responses, as one would expect, some of which I'd not considered before. I now make bold to add some of my own.

  1. If these folks were to be consistent about their practice, shouldn't my name be written "Dani-l," instead of "Daniel," to omit the offensive theophoric element? Similarly, shouldn't Isaiah be "Isai-h," and Zechariah "Zechari-h," and Israel "Isra-l"? Shouldn't Joel be J--l? Shouldn't Timothy be "Timoth-"? And since they'd not want to name pagan deities, shouldn't Saturday be "S-t-rday," and Wednesday "W-dn-sday"?
  2. How does it honor God to substitute a well-known American-language blasphemy for His name? Ask any man on the street what "Geedee" (G-d) signifies. I guarantee he won't reply, "Oh, that's a reverential way of avoiding making God's name common, in violation of the third commandment!" No, he'll tell you it's an abbreviation for a common blasphemy. And this is more God-honoring than simply writing God's name?
  3. As far as we know, none of the NT writers— NONE! — observed this practice. Paul (apostle to the Gentiles) did not write th--s instead of theos, nor did Peter (apostle to the Jews) write k-r--s instead of kurios. Certainly he did not write any church instructing that this be done. Of course, the Hebrew OT contains "Yahweh" nearly 7000 times, not counting the names with theophoric elements. The practice is without Biblical precedent.
  4. Not only is it without Biblical precedent, it is against explicit Biblical commands and precedent. Biblical writers used God's name constantly; the sacrosanct Yahweh appears some 6,823 times in the OT. Esther is remarkable in being the only book our of 66 not explicity to use one of God's names. Moreover, how can one call on God's name, swear by God's name, glory in God's name, or do any of these other worshipful, Biblical practices, if one plays games with God's name?
  5. The argument collapses in silliness. It is argued that ink (or bits and bytes) are too ephemeral to contain God's name, or that written copies may be thrown into the trash, thus defiling it. But what is more ephemeral than breath? And into what horrid places might breath be blown? Yet are we further to disobey Scripture, by not even saying God's names? Are we to grunt out "Guh-duh," or worse, "Gee-dee," instead of simply saying "God"?
  6. If we are to write "G-d" so as not to offend the Jews, why is it OK to write "Y'shua"? If we believe that Christ is God, shouldn't we write "Y-sh-"? But wait -- that will offend the unbelieving Jews, too, since they deny Christ's Deity! If our summum bonum in life is to order our practices by the strictures of those who have rejected their Messiah, mustn't we do the same? Quite the dilemma... for the sacro-silly, anyway.
  7. And while I'm on that, I'm sure these poor souls feel themselves to be special and hardcore and all for writing "Y'shua" and "Sha'ul," instead of Jesus and Paul. But our Lord is never once in the Bible called "Y'shua." Ever. Nor is Paul ever called "Sha'ul." Why not? Because those are Hebrew (mis-)transliterations, and the New Testament is entirely in Greek. If this is their idea of being hardcore, shouldn't they write Iesous, and Paulos? Of course, then, they'll have to explain to everybody what the heck -- pardon me, what the Gehenna -- they're talking about. Which leads me finally to this:
  8. It really isn't about God anyway, is it? It's about the person. It's about being different and special. It's all about "Hey! Hey, look at me! I'm so different and extra-cool! Look at me, me me!" As I recall, C. S. Lewis referred to this sort of thing as "trying to be holier than God." Since God Himself, in moving the writers to inscripturate His Word, felt no such compunction and issued no such commands, that is indeed all this is. It is "improving" on His Word. It is "helping" God, filling in all those nasty blanks He inadvertently left, but would have filled in Himself had He our foresight and insight. (I speak as a fool.) And if this is not the heart and soul of Christ-killing traditionalism, what is?

    By contrast, it's my observation that the sort of "different-ness" that glorifies God is believing and obeying His word as sufficient, and thus not needing our helpful supplements. That in itself makes us just as "different" as God wants us to be.

    And isn't that really what being a Christian is supposed to be all about?
Then there is the problem that some of these "Jew-tiles" head off for the heresy of modalism. (Though adumbrations of the truth of the Trinity appear literally all over the OT from Genesis to Malachi [pardon the Gentile canon-order], the concept is offensive and confusing to unbelieving Jews, so... out it goes!)

But perhaps more on that, another day.


Matt said...

we Messianic Jews have our share of problems. Indeed, many who call themselves Messianic Jews are in fact Gentiles (and should call themselves Messianic Gentiles, or something).

Many of your points are solid. The practice of hyphenating can also be alienating anyway. I must urge the point that none of these things matter in themselves, and they become doctrines of demons when made the criterion for something. I don't think we are in disagreement on that point.

Calling Him Yeshua is an act of reclaimation of His Jewish humanity. It is not necessarily hipsterism and it certainly need not be construed as Galatianism. Its about who He is.

Scot said...

It's already hard enough for someone to believe that they're actually dead in their sins, not mostly dead. It's already hard enough to convince someone that Christ is the only way to God, not some vague paths up indefinite mountain faces.

Ariel, wouldn't a better way to reclaim Jesus' Jewishness be to proper exposit the whole of Scripture, explaining where he came from and God's plan of redemption. He hasn't lost his Jewishness, we've just flattened God's plan to a self-help program.

It would be amusing to hear someone talk of Chr-stmas or L-b-r Day or F-st-v-s. Also, I wonder if Hanukkah must follow the same rules?