Izzy here. In the forty lessons of Hebrew Quest I read God's name as "Yahweh" when working through texts. This is a relatively common practice in academic circles - for instance, in the Society of Biblical Literature. It was also an expression of my personal love for God's name. Since then my position on the public use of God's holy name has changed, and I've started following the Jewish tradition of saying "Adonai" instead, and encourage our students to do likewise.
Before I explain why, let me explain three terms. "Adonai" means "my Master" - or, as it's often written in Christian Bibles, "the LORD". The "Tetragrammaton" is the technical term for the four-letter name of God. And "circumlocuting" is a fancy word for using a different word in place of God's name.
I explained in the fourth lesson of Hebrew Quest why I don't believe the act of pronouncing God's name in appropriate contexts is blasphemy, or a violation of the commandment to not take God's name in vain. I acknowledged at the same time that there's no evidence that Yeshua or his disciples ever publicly pronounced the divine name, and that as far as we know they followed the Jewish tradition of circumlocuting. I also urged my students who chose to use God's name to be careful to never use it around observant Jews, to respect Jewish prayers and not mess with them, and to be extremely careful to only use God's name reverently and in holy contexts such as prayer and Torah study.
In hindsight, I think this approach was both inconsistent and unrealistic. Inconsistent, in that I was telling my students to not pronounce God's name around Jewish people, while at the same time putting videos of me pronouncing the Name on YouTube. As if there were only Gentiles on YouTube, and all the Jews were over on...JewTube? I was also expecting both Gentiles and messianic Jews to work through these lessons, and...you see the inconsistency. It was unrealistic of me to expect someone who's just learning Hebrew to remember in the moment whether or not to circumlocute depending on who's in the room. Most of us just aren't mental gymnasts.
In addition to this, considerable water has flowed under the bridge since I first released Hebrew Quest in 2011. I've seen the fruit of certain teachings and attitudes, and some of it is rotten. Specifically, I'm seeing how traditional Judaism is becoming increasingly misunderstood in the Hebrew Roots movement, and often delegitimized and even demonized as "rabbinic". This misunderstanding has spawned mass confusion, often separating local fellowships as each individual tries to reinvent the wheel and make up his own personal Torah pure from the 'traditions of men'. This attitude has also severely damaged the testimony that this movement could have with the Jewish community, with a general lack of respect towards Jewish tradition, causing newbies and oldies alike to mishandle Jewish sancta and offend Jewish sensitivities unnecessarily. I honestly don't think the apostle Paul would be happy.
I understand that many of these people are well-meaning, and that God is wonderfully moving in their lives and restoring them to the ancient paths. At the same time, I also believe that this prejudice against traditional Judaism is going to completely derail the Hebrew roots movement unless it's repented of. And I believe that repentance must start with those of us who are teachers.
Just to be clear, I say this as someone who is "in but not of" the Hebrew roots movement. I'm a messianic Jew and a member of a Conservative synagogue, and the Jewish world is my home. At the same time though, as I said, I believe this is part of a restorative move of God, and I have many students and friends in Hebrew roots circles. So I care.
You've gotta pick your fights and decide which hill you want to die on. Is it worth publicly pronouncing the Name when there's no evidence our Master did? When it'll unnecessarily offend the Jewish community and damage that precious relationship? When it will unavoidably contribute to Sacred Name psychosis and open a Pandora's box of debates about the 'correct pronunciation' of YoHeHoSHUheHAHA? I don't think it's worth it.
Don't get me wrong, I still deeply love God's holy name, and I'm not saying I don't use it privately in my personal times of prayer. I'm also not suggesting that everything in the Jewish religion is right, nor am I encouraging Christians to follow it all. My main point is that it's all about attitude and relationships. Are we teaching basic respect for the Jewish people and their traditions, or are we allowing mild forms of antisemitism to creep in? Are we doing everything we can to cultivate a healthy relationship with the Jewish community, or are we off doing our own thing?
As a ministry and movement, we're all about following Yeshua in a Hebrew way. That's a path of love and honour. Let's continue to walk it together!
August 1, 2016