Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Tetragrammaton: Should Christians use God’s OT ‘personal’ name?

This morning, while do some research on a non-related topic, I came across an interesting article posted last week on the Christianity Today website concerning the recent ban of the use of “Yahweh”, by the Vatican, in all liturgical uses (CT article HERE; Vatican ruling HERE).

When the Vatican release (English translation), via Zenit, originally appeared on 08-19-08, it precipitated a considerable amount of cyberspace discussion (GO HERE for some examples).

Now, as a former 4th generation Jehovah’s Witness, I think one could expect that yours truly has experienced a bit of consternation over this Vatican ruling; as such, I would like to ask a couple questions:

Do you agree or disagree with the Vatican’s ruling?

Do you believe that Jesus and/or His apostles pronounced the Tetragrammaton when it appeared in the passages they cited from the OT?



Grace and peace,

David

4 comments:

Chris said...

These are interesting questions, David. I personally think the ruling is unnecessary, but in reply to your second question my guess would be that they did not. Then again, my knowledge of the subject is iffy at best. How do you answer these questions for yourself? Particularly the second one? (I presume you have reflected on this more thoughtfully than I have.)

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for responding; you posted:

>>These are interesting questions, David. I personally think the ruling is unnecessary, but in reply to your second question my guess would be that they did not. Then again, my knowledge of the subject is iffy at best. How do you answer these questions for yourself? Particularly the second one? (I presume you have reflected on this more thoughtfully than I have.)>>

Me: Part of the process of my exodus out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses concerned the issue of the Tetragrammation; as such, I spent a considerable amount to time and study on it (have numerous books and files on the subject).

Truth be known, I did not leave the JWs due to some refutation of their teaching on the Tetragrammation; in fact, that issue has remained a “thorn in my side”. I have continued to lean in the direction that Jesus and the apostles used/pronounced the Tetragrammation when quoting OT passages that contained it. As such, I am a bit troubled by the Vatican’s ruling.

One of the most compelling arguments supporting the claim that Jesus used/pronounced the Tetragrammation was presented by Robert Gundry—note the following excerpt:


>>Sharpening the question is that in Mark 14:62 Jesus’ “I am” accepts the high priest’s reverential substitute, “the Blessed One”; and Jesus goes on to use another reverential substitute, “the Power.” Whether or not the text of Mark accurately represents Jesus’ answer to the high priest’s question, how can Jesus be said to have spoken blasphemy? The answer may be seen as denigrating God so as to fall under the category of blasphemy. But capital blasphemy? As quoted, the answer does not contain the tetragrammaton or a Greek equivalent thereof. So again, why does this blasphemy lead to a capital charge when the former one in ch. 2 did not?

The question has received three main answers. I will offer a fourth. According to the first answer the requirement that capital blasphemy include a pronunciation of the tetragrammaton did not exist I Jesus’ time. Either the Mishnaic passage represents a later idealization of Sanhedric jurisprudence, or the obliteration of the Sadducean sect in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70 led to a jurisprudence that better protected the rights of accused people by making capital convictions more difficult. So long as the Sadducess ruled the roost, says this view, capital blasphemy did not require a pronunciation of the tetragrammaton, as Jesus’ case gives evidenence.

According the second answer a Christian fabrication of the dialogue between the high priest and Jesus and perhaps the whole Sanhedric trial of Jesus makes the Mishnaic passage irrelevant. What would a Christian know or even care about a Sanhedric requirement that capital blasphemy include pronunciation of the tetragrammaton even though such a requirement was in force? The point would be to satisfy the requirement of a Christian confession, not that of Sanhedric jurisprudence.

According to the third answer Mark describes only a preliminary hearing designed “to determine if Jesus was as dangerous as the [Jewish] leadership sensed and whether he could be credibly sent to Rome [i.e. Roman authority in the personage of Pontius Pilate]” (cf. Mark 12:12-16) rather than given a formal trial governed by the rule requiring a pronunciation of the tetragrammaton in capital blasphemy.[8] But what may have started as such a hearing ended with a formal condemnation (“And they all condemned [katekrinan] him to be subject to [enoxov] to death” – Mark 14:64), which condemnation, however, the leadership could not carry out because of the Romans’ overlordship.[9] (Robert H. Gundry, “Jesus’ Blasphemy according to Mark 14:61b-64 and the Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:5”, The Old Is Better – New Testament Essays in Support of Traditional Interpretations, p. 102.)

[8] Bock, Blasphemy and Exaltation, 191; see pp. 190-195.

[9] At first Bock draws a fine distinction between enoxos and aitios, as though the former is less formal or technical than the latter (but see Mark 3:29; Matt. 5:21-22). Finally, though, he admits that Mark’s language could “apply to a formal judgment” in “a legal procedure” (Blasphemy and Exaltation, 191-92). Bock does not explain why he thinks that “the rules for examination might differ” according to the presence or absence of authority to carry out a capital condemnation. After all, the strict ruels in m. Sanh. 7:5 exist in the absence of such authority whereas Bock’s argument requires leniency in that absence.

Here again is our question: How can we explain why the Sanhedrin is said to have condemned Jesus under a charge of capital blasphemy despite the Mishnaic requirement that capital blasphemy include a pronunciation of the tetragrammaton on the one hand and despite the absence of the tetragrammaton, or a Greek equivalent of it, from the quoted version of Jesus’ blasphemy on the other hand? The fourth answer to this question (my own answer) is best approached by asking another question: In view of the Mishnaic regulation that witnesses to capital blasphemy use a substitute for the tetragrammaton so long as an audience of non-jurists are present (not till all but the judges, witnesses, and accused are dismissed is the tetragrammaton itself to be pronounced in a quotation of the alleged blasphemy), how would we expect Jesus’ blasphemy – if it did include or was thought to included a pronunciation of the tetragrammation – to be quoted by witnesses, in his case by the judges themselves, to other people? Why, of course, with a substitute for the tetragrammaton just as Mark’s text. Thus Jesus did pronounce the tetragrammaton. It is the right hand of Yahweh concerning which Ps 110:1 speaks (“Yahweh said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand’”). So Jesus said or was thought to have said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Yahweh…”; and the Sanhedrists who later reported to non-jurists what Jesus had said used “the Power” as a substitute for Jesus’ “Yahweh.”[10] (Robert H. Gundry, “Jesus’ Blasphemy according to Mark 14:61b-64 and the Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:5”, The Old Is Better – New Testament Essays in Support of Traditional Interpretations, p. 103.)

[10] C.A. Evans notes that pronunciation of the tetragrammaton in reverential citation of Scripture would not necessarily count as blasphemous (Jesus and his Contemporaries [AGJU 25; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995], 413). But such pronunciation does make capital the blasphemy of citing Scripture in a fashion that dishonors God. See Bock, Blasphemy and Exaltation, 113-83, for Jesus’ supposedly dishonoring God in the citation of Ps. 110:1 and Dan. 7:13.>>


Grace and peace,

David

Chris said...

Fascinating, David. Thanks for the reply.

Bob Jones said...

Hi David,

I'm looking at this one because of your invitation below, not that I have strong opinions. It is clear that a number of times people were willing to pick up stones to kill Jesus because they understood his claim to deity, whether it included the personal name or not.

"Before Abraham was I am" is a case where it was likely used, or at least a form of it that made the same point.

There is a principle that is taught in the literal scriptures, and even more succinctly in the sensus plenior, that God judges based on the heart.

It becomes ludicrous to believe, for instance, that one who has loved God would be condemned by Him if in his sleep someone tattooed a 666 on his hand or forehead. So the mythology surrounding the personal name of God, invented by the Jews as a hedge around the law in order to prevent accidentally breaking the law, is the very type of 'law' that Jesus liked to break, to demonstrate that by adding to the letter of the law, they had killed the spirit. So on that basis, I would bet that he used the name.

It is downright pagan to attribute mystical, magical, or supernatural effects or consequences in the mere verbalizing of a name.

Now what is really interesting about blasphemy, is that because Christ fulfilled all the law without becoming culpable of the law, he also fulfilled the law of blasphemy.

The essence of the law is in making the name of God common. In the sensus plenior, there is a way to make God's name common without breaking the law.

Heb 8:11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

Jesus makes the name of God common without defiling it and as such, fulfills it in the same way that he does the law of the leper, the Nazarite, the Leverate and all the rest.