Taking God’s Name


Every once in a while I read someone’s post, and they use the Tetragrammaton, the letters that spell out God’s Name.  As someone raised in a religious Jewish environment, I find it at best insensitive, and at worse, offensive.  It goes against Jewish values.

Proponents of referring to God by the Tetragrammaton, do so thinking they are being more precise, and are somehow “making God’s Name known.”  The problem with doing this, is that they are now making it common, instead of treating it as holy.  Jewish practice, for at least the last 2500 years, has been to prevent the profanation of His Name.  When we read the Torah, and see yud-kay-vav-kay, we say “Adonai,(Lord)” instead of pronouncing the Name.  We refer to God as HaShem, literally, “The Name,” rather than saying His Name.  By not using His Name, we protect it from misuse, and treat it as something special.

Proponents of using God’s Name are mostly not Jewish, or have not been raised Jewish, and don’t seem to care about respect for His Name.  They are more interested in being “Biblically precise,” regardless of how it might offend others.  They try to tell themselves this is a later rabbinic stricture that “Biblical believers” don’t have to follow.

The fact is, even the Besorah, the New Covenant scriptures, uses circumlocution to avoid direct reference to the Almighty.  In the Gospel of Matthew, it refers to the Kingdom of Heaven, instead of the Kingdom of God.

Those who think they are being more precise or correct have a fatal flaw to their reasoning.  First, using God’s Name marks them as non-Jews.  It is Jewish practice to NOT use it.  Secondly, using God’s Name is imprecise practice.  If a person truly believes God is their father, they should refer to him as Father and not by his first name.  In the culture I grew up in, a child never calls his or her father by his first name.  He calls him Father or Dad.  Even the Prince of Wales doesn’t refer to his mother as Elizabeth, but as “Mother” or Her Majesty.

One of my nieces once called me “Michael.”  I stopped her mid sentence and asked her what she called me.  She apologized and called me Uncle Michael.  It was not her place to refer to me as Michael.  When I am teaching a class which people pay high tuition for, they don’t call me by my first name.  They call me Dr. Schiffman, because it is right and proper.  How much more, when we talk to God or refer to Him, should we not speak to Him and of Him respectfully.  It is for this reason the commandment states, “You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain.  For he will not hold guiltless him who take the Lord’s Name in vain.”

Using the Tetragrammaton is too familiar.  It makes me wonder who they think they are.  Believing in Yeshua does not make someone “God’s buddy.”  It’s like bringing God down to your level.  That is not honoring and respecting Him. God is worthy of our respect, and acting like you are on a first name basis with HaShem may make you feel better about yourself, but it is a slap in the face to all that is holy.

A person disagreeing with my perspective may be content to brush it off saying its just my opinion, but its the opinion of 2500 years of Jewish people, and most Christians as well.  Its time we stop acting like petulant children who are doing something wrong and acting like it’s a mitzvah.   If you don’t agree with me, I don’t give a damn.  And saying damn, isn’t as bad as taking God’s Name in vain.


14 thoughts on “Taking God’s Name

  1. I agree. It was always my thought too that a person doesn’t call their father by their first name, or people with titles of respect. I’d read comments about that all the time-people defending why they should (and they think all true believers should) call God by His first name, I disagree with those comments.

  2. dear dr.Schiffman,
    What if the Almighty himself asks all followers of Yeshua to call him “El Shaddai” by name?
    Would appreciate if you could blog on messianic jews. Yeshua has welcomed some of them with open heart.
    Bye and take care,

    script writer for Unavec- srt

      • Sir,
        What if is too speculative and because you as a Rabbi would not agree to what I as a “born again” have been “told” I put it that way.
        In fact, God the Father of all mankind wants people who follow J.C. to call him ” El Shaddai.”
        My blog anthonyrpereira.blogspot,com should help clarify what I have said
        If you really want to get to know El Shaddai, keep in touch with our Blog.
        Bye and take care.


  3. I’m curious to know what you think about the fact that godly people in the Hebrew Scriptures did in fact often pronounce God’s name. Many places it is written “And so-and-so said…” and included in the speakers’ words is the Tetragrammaton. When people said “HaShem” or “Adonai,” it is written that way. But many, many times when the speakers’ words are recorded, they said the Name. As can be seen in Ruth, the Tetragrammaton was even spoken in statements as mundane as greeting one another (when Boaz and his reapers greeted one another using the Tetragrammaton).

    • Thanks for your question Daniel. The question for me, is not about people being godly. They can be godly whether or not the use the Divine Name. There are lots of things that were done in biblical times that we don’t do today. When Abraham had Eliezer take a vow, he had him place his hand “under his thigh…..” It wasn’t his thigh, and we don’t do that anymore. We don’t marry our brother’s widows as a matter of course, so we don’t practice the kinsman redeemer law. We don’t practice polygamy, permitted in the Torah. Just because something was done in ancient times, doesn’t mean its something intended for all time. If a person’s goal is simply to be “biblical,” I understand why they would use it. Being biblical, is part of Jewish history, but not the goal. I see the goal as living out the principles of Scripture, but within the modern world. Otherwise we are not much more than a Society for Creative Anachronisms. You are free to do as you wish, but that’s my view.

      • Hello Dr. Schiffman. When I read your article, I had the same question that Daniel had. I would add to the examples he provided the vast majority of the psalms of King David. David directly addressed God by the tetragrammaton. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures believers are instructed to call upon His name, by name (the tetragrammaton). In Zechariah 13:9 we read that “I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.'” But because of man’s tradition, we don’t even know how to pronounce God’s name accurately. That is tragic!

        May God bless you.

      • Bev, reading your post reminds me of the idea that just because King David did it, doesn’t mean you can do it. You are not King David. By the time of Yeshua, there are NO clear biblical examples of people using the tetragrammaton outside the Temple priesthood, and even then in extremely limited usage. Yeshua NEVER corrected that, perhaps because he never saw the restriction as wrong. You claim to be arguing against “man’s” tradition, but what you seem to be doing is arguing for doing whatever you want. The goal of biblical religion was not to properly pronounce God’s name. It was to worship and obey Him. There is a difference. if you don’t agree, thats your business, but suffice it to say, I don’t see it your way.

        be well

  4. I agree completely Dr. Shiffman, I’ve even taught and debated on this topic many times. It is truly sad when a group would rather be a stumbling block and insulting than being blessings and servants.

    I appreciate your comments and opinion. יישר כוח

  5. Mr. Pereira, I think you may not understand whom you are trying to correct. Rabbi Dr. Schiffman is one of the most intelligent and learned men in the Rabbi business, and I suggest you are ignorant and arrogant in your comments. If you think HaShem wants us all to call him “El Shaddai,” I suggest you either quote the reference in scrippture.

  6. Maybe I need to retake some spelling classes. My last sentence should read: “If you think HaShem wants us all to call him ‘El Shaddai,’ I suggest you quote the scripture reference that supports your statement.”

  7. “A Society for Creative Anachronisms…”

    The above is a wonderful phrase that is going to stick with me for a very long time! 🙂

    Your former student and friend, who once lived in Connecticut and now spends much of his life at a certain MJ congregation in Clearwater, FL.

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