4 comments Written on September 17th, 2008     
Filed under: Articles, Bible, Liturgy, Theology
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According to this article on the Christianity Today website the Vatican
has ruled that the word “Yahweh” should no longer be used in worship in
Roman Catholic churches.  The reason for this ruling is the longstanding
Jewish practice of not pronouncing this name of God–known in its Hebrew
form as the “Tetragrammaton.”  The original word contains no vowels,
making it unpronounceable, and even transliterations of the word like
“Yahweh” and “Jehovah” are not spoken by Jews (and now Catholics) out of
respect for the holiness of God.

The article goes on to report various evangelical responses to this
practice.  Some assert that Protestants should follow suit in removing
these words from their songs, translations, and prayers.  Others point
out that nowhere in scripture is speaking this name forbidden.  A
representative from a large Christian publisher even talks about the
preferences of their “customers” regarding this issue.

I’m curious what you all think.  In the Covenant worship community we
have already had significant discussions about the language of our
worship, most notably affecting the wording of songs in our current
hymnal.  We’ve changed lyrics of our songs to reflect our diversity, to
more carefully express our theology, to “freshen” “tired” language, and
to remove archaic and irrelevant words.  Is this yet one more change we
should consider?  Should Hymn #408 in our hymnal now be changed to
“Guide Me, O You Great Redeemer”?  Should we ban the Vineyard songs
“Yahweh” and “He Is Yahweh” from our worship?

Looking forward to reading your thoughts!  God bless!

Randall Wilkens
Associate Pastor of Worship and the Arts
Bethany Covenant Church
Mount Vernon, Washington

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4 comments “Yahweh?”

For what it’s worth…
Wasn’t/isn’t the accepted practice to replace YHWH with “Lord” whenever the proper name is given? And in many English translations YHWH is replaced with all caps “Lord.” So if this practice of not pronouncing the name is adopted then we would leave YHWH intact and “simply” say/sing “Lord.” Thus hymn #408 would remain “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” (vocalized, “Lord” by convention).

Certainly “YHWH” wasn’t banned form the Hebrew Scriptures as the practice of not pronouncing the name was adopted. Why then would we ban this name form our songs or ban songs that use the name? We’d simply adopt the practice of vocalizing, “Lord” adjusting (awkwardly?) for the lost syllable as necessary.

Still, I question whether the practice of not pronouncing the name is a biblical prohibition or is it a matter of “fence building?” on our part and adopting the “ban” would be a matter of respecting the proprieties of our Jewish friends.

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The Jews and now Cathoics don’t pronounce the name “Rabbinic Jews always thought of God as ‘the Holy One, blessed be He,’ th at being the commonest of all names ascribed to Him.”
(Everyman’ Talmud, pg 22)

I ask, is this, the name non-pronunciation, washing the outside of the cup but…well, you know the rest.

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I have never been entirely happy with Peterson’s use of Yahweh in his earlier additions of The Message, principally because I suppose, the NSRV use of LORD was less awkward, though done for the same reason.

In the hymnal production process we felt freedom to make changes where they seemed natural, largely with newer generations in mind for whom the older language seemed strange. One of my favorite instances in which it really worked was “If You Will Only Let God Guide You,” in place of “If “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee.” At the same time we backed away at the last moments from some earlier revisions, largely because we thought being faithful to texts in the memory banks of the mind should be honored for the times and places in which they were written. Though we may well have made some mistakes, And, in perspective of time I think we made a mistake, e.g., in “A Mighty Fortress” where references to “him” are gender specific to Jesus, and are less useful as the word “One, which we used (” Were not the right One on our side”). “.I would defend both our willingness (in keeping with Covenant Publications standards for the freedom to make changes. And I would also praise the cautions that kept us from wholesale changes that could look like slavery to schools of thought that pursue wholesale change.

If change is made for change sake, without due consideration for the whole of Christian tradition, so rich in imagery and meaning, I think that wrong. Part of our responsibility as leaders is to warm the hearts of the unlearned and unaware of all the richness that is there. Yet to oppose any change is a denial of the freedom God and the Covenant have given us to exercise good judgment, or at least try to.

Our role as leaders is to remain sensitive both ways, not only in making and not making changes, and then telling why.

Thanks for the inquiry.

Jim Hawkinson

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Jim, thank you for your comments about the hymnal, and I very much appreciate your perspective as someone who was so deeply involved in that process. It’s hard to know where to draw the line on these things, and no matter where you draw it there will be those who say it should have been drawn differently! It was an impossible task you and the Hymnal Commission were assigned!

I applaud the changes in our hymnal that made the language of hymns less gender-exclusive. Although in some cases these changes also made the language more awkward, the attempt reflects the important core value of our denomination’s commitment to diversity. On the other hand, when I encounter most efforts to update archaic language in the blue hymnal I find myself reverting to the red hymnal version. Even as a “younger” person it seems to me that “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee” is poetically and aesthetically more pleasing than “If You Will Only Let God Guide You.” I realize the older words are not as easy to understand, and that is certainly a problem that should be addressed in some way. But language updates may not always clarify the meaning of the text as well as we think. Consider the hymn “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” Doesn’t the blue hymnal’s “spring forever in my heart” say something significantly different from the red hymnal’s “spring thou up within my heart”? Charles Wesley was not, after all, referring to a non-ending post-winter season, but to the Lord’s immediate, willing action within our hearts.

Maybe clarity of language is our best consideration with this whole “Yahweh” question too. Do those in our congregations even understand the word “Yahweh”? For that matter, do they understand the word LORD? Whatever our choice of language, we should seek to instill the same reverence for God that Jews and Catholics have sought in the practice they have adopted.

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