- Scott Stephens on being Christian, government funding and chaplaincy in schools.
- When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?
- J. Scott Jackson reviews David Haddorff’s Christian Ethics as Witness: Barth’s Ethics for a World at Risk.
- What Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart owes to his big sister, Maria Anna Mozart.
- Michael Jensen on ‘Is God a bloke?’, or on why ‘a Christianity that refuses to call God “Father” is something other than Christianity’.
- The future, according to Google search results.
- John Pilger on Anzac Day and Australia’s role as ‘deputy sheriff’.
- Scott Hamilton on New Zealand’s ‘endangered life form’ – the literary critic – and reviews on Private Bestiary.
- Garry Deverell posts on Holy Week and the Great Three Days of Easter – an introduction for the uninitiated.
- Halden Doerge details a Call for Papers for an AAR session on Jacob Taubes and Christian Theology.
- An excerpt from Žižek’s Living in the End Times.
- An Easter Message from Ricky Gervais.
Long-time readers of Per Crucem ad Lucem will know of my abiding interest in discussions about naming God; which reminds me, my friend Rick Floyd has two fantastic posts here and here on this topic. Anyway, inspired by Robert Jenson, Stanley Hauerwas has written a stimulating piece on this same topic. Here’s a few snippets:
‘… it should not be surprising that in a culture which inscribes its money with “In God We Trust,” atheists might be led to think it is interesting – and perhaps even useful – to deny god exists. It does not seem to occur to atheists, however, that the vague god which some seem to confuse with trust in our money cannot be the same God who raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt’.
‘… We, like the people of Israel, would like to think we get to name God. By naming God we hope to get the kind of God we need, that is, a god after our own likeness. We can make the “more” that must have started it all after our own image. But God refuses to let the people of Israel – or us – assume that we can name the One who will raise Israel from Egypt. Only God can name God. That, moreover, is what God does’.
‘… The God we worship is not a vague “more” that exists to make our lives meaningful. The God we worship is not “the biggest thing around.” The God we worship is not “something had to start it all.” The God we worship is not a God that insures that we will somehow get out of life alive. The God we worship is not a God whose ways correspond to our presumptions about how God should be God.
That God has come near to us in Christ does not mean that God is less than God. God is God and we are not.
Yet we believe that the God we worship has made his name known. We believe we have been given the happy task of making his name known. We believe we can make his name known because the God we worship is nearer to us than we are to ourselves – a frightening reality that gives us life. We believe that in the Eucharist, in the meal of bread and wine, just as Jesus is fully God and fully man, this bread and this wine will, through the work of the Spirit, become for us the body and blood of Christ.
To come to this meal in which bread and wine become for us the body and blood of Christ is to stand before the burning bush. But we are not told to come no closer. Rather we are invited to eat this body and drink this blood and by so doing we are consumed by what we consume becoming for the world God’s burning bush.
By being consumed by the Divine Life we are made God’s witnesses so that the world may know the fire, the name, Jesus Christ’.
‘God is not only a Father, He is the Father, whose restored love is to be the joy of the child’s heart …The Father includes in His Fatherhood and its manifestations, all that is needful to satisfy every need, instinct, sympathy, judgment, conviction, of the child’s nature; while He must equally reconcile Himself, in the wholeness of His nature, to the child. It is no casual yearning of a Father’s spirit, which may find a passing expression; it is the complete Fatherly nature, in the justice, righteousness, holiness, sacredness, of its love, which has to manifest itself to the world. Therefore it is by the Atonement that it declares itself’. – James Baldwin Brown, The Divine Life in Man (London: Ward & Co., 1859), 50.
While it is most usually true that in the Scriptures the object of mocking profanation and blasphemy is God’s name, rather than God’s self, the two cannot be separated. To blaspheme God’s name is to blaspheme God (Isa 37:23; Ezek 13:19; 22:26; Rom. 2:24 [quoting Isa 52:5; 1 Tim 6: Rev. 13:6; 16:9). Twice in Nehemiah 9, the Levites remind the returned exiles of their blasphemous past. The God who had ‘made a name for himself’ in the liberation of an enslaved people from an arrogant Egypt (9:10), had to in turn deal with an ‘arrogant’ people who refused to listen and obey. The epitome of their rebellion is illustrated ‘when they had made for themselves a golden calf’ and attributed to it their rescue (9:18). This and other ‘great blasphemies’ were met by God’s forgiveness, grace, compassion and mercy which refused to ‘abandon them in the desert’ (9:17-19). Later on during this same time of the worship, the eight Levites recalled how Israel ‘captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance’ eating their fill, becoming fat and delighting in God’s goodness (9:25). Yet they were disobedient and rebelled against God, casting God’s law behind their backs and killing the prophets who had warned them with a view to turning them back to God. And, the Levites said ‘they committed great blasphemies (9:26b). This time their ‘great blasphemies were met by divine judgement expressed via the giving up of Israel ‘into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer’ (9:27a), out of which they cried out again to the Lord who heard them, had compassion on them and, again rescued them from their enemies’ hand (9:27b). It would seem that it is not without significance that the Levites begin their praise in v. 5 with the words, ‘Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise’ (9:5b). Furthermore, because God has attached his name to Israel, to mock Israel is to blaspheme God’s name. ‘”Their rulers wail,” declares the LORD, “and continually all the day my name is despised” (Isa 52:5; cf. Mal 1:11-14). The LXX adds the phrase εν τοις εθνεσιν, an addition that Paul adopts in Romans 2:24, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles (εν τοις εθνεσιν) because of you’ (cf. Rom 1:5). Clearly, there is a link between God’s name and God’s self-witness to the nations. Blank notes, ‘Divorced from its context, the assertion that God’s name suffers profanation because of his people can mean either of two things, either a) that God is defamed by the shameful conduct of his people, or b) that God is disgraced because of the shameful condition of his people’. Sheldon H. Blank, ‘Isaiah 52:5 and the Profanation of the Name’, HUCA 25 (1954), 6. Blank contends that the context of Isaiah 52:2 ‘proves’ that the author intended the latter meaning, whereas Paul misquotes the text in order to critique the Jews’ behaviour.
It seems to me that both readings are not only possible, but intricately related and implied in both texts. However, even if Blank is correct, the significant thing is that God’s has so attached his name to his people that God is shamed by Israel’s conduct and so sends them into exile. But their being in exile also defames God’s name among the nations for in their defeat, the nations see the defeat of their God whose reputation, fame, prestige and recognition is concerned. As Blank asserts, ‘To profane the name of God is to do damage to God’s reputation, to defame him, to lessen his prestige, to retard the process by which he receives recognition, to put off the day on which it shall be known that he is God’. Blank, ‘Profanation’, 8. Likewise in Romans 2, Israel is again in exile (not only is Paul’s audience presumably in Rome, but even those Jews in Palestine strive under foreign occupation which is a sign of their being under judgement) and called in exile to be ‘a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness’ (2:19), that is to the nations, a calling that is apparently being undermined by their breaking of God’s law and so of dishonoring God’s name (as in Lev 18:21; 19:12; 20:3; 21:6; 22:2, 32; Jer 34:16; Ezek 20:39; Amos 2:7; Mal 1:12; cf. Ezek 13:19, 22:26).
[Image: Emil Nolde, ‘Dance Around the Golden Calf’, 1910. Oil on canvas. 88 x 105.5 cm. Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst, Munich]
Revelation 13:1–8 describes a beast ‘rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads’ who is given power and authority from the great dragon of the previous chapter, a dragon intent on destroying the women and her offspring. The whole earth worships both the dragon and the beast not unlike Israel worshipped the golden calf, saying, ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?’ (13:4). John goes on:
And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. (13:6–8)
In light of this reality that John describes – a current reality for both God and for God’s people – Forsyth’s words are worth chewing on long and hard. Forsyth reminds us that the righteousness of God is not in a requirement, system, book, or Church, but in a Person, and sin is defined by relation to him. He came to reveal not only God but sin. The essence of sin is exposed by the touchstone of his presence, by our attitude to him. He makes explicit what the sinfulness of sin is; he even aggravates it. He rouses the worst as well as the best of human nature. There is nothing that human nature hates like a holy God. All the world’s sin receives its sharpest expression when in contact with Christ; when, in face of his moral beauty, goodness, power, and claim, he is first ignored, then discarded, denounced, called the agent of Beelzebub, and hustled out of the world in the name of God. The great sin against God was done in the name of God by genuine believers, by a Church. The sin against the Holy Ghost is real enough; but it is the sin of an age, rather than of an individual; and it is the sin of an age’s religion; not of its indifference or paganism, but its religion, its Church. It is the sin of those who believe in Satan enough to call satanic the very action of God. It is the sin of a religion. It is the sin of certain Churches in their treatment of others today. And it is preparing for certain Churches a great shock and awakening. The power of the Spirit acts by confounding and humbling the world (especially that part of it in the Church) with this discovery, that there is but one sin, the sin of touching the Son of God in his spiritual effects, and yet practically calling him the child of the devil, as the pre-Christian Church did. The Spirit’s judgement is not on the intellectual sceptic; that person is not a dangerous character in the Bible. It is the moral sceptic that is to be confounded, the Church worldling, the religious Pharisee, the breed of those who tried Christ the Trier of the reins, the living Conscience, and found him wanting. They knew the law as he did not, but they knew no better than to judge their Judge.
Whilst it may begin as indifference, the effect of sin upon God is so severe that it threatens God’s sovereignty, God’s righteousness, even his very being. ‘Sin is the death of God. Die sin must or God’, writes Forsyth. But this does not mean God’s annihilation, but ‘an encroachment upon his harmony’. ‘Sin … cost Godhead not Its existence but Its bliss. It cost the Son of God not His soul but all that makes life a conscious fullness and joy. It cost Him the Cross, and all that that meant for such a life as His.’ Forsyth insists that humanity’s sin has not destroyed or ‘in the least weakened’ God’s power and God’s resources to deal with humanity’s revolt. ‘It has only refused it’; but in refusing it, it has changed God’s mode of action on humanity. God is no less King because of humanity’s sin but that kingship takes another shape.
Forsyth goes on in another place to note how there are churches that seem to live in an atmosphere of affable bustle, where all is heart and nothing is soul, where people decay and worship dies. There is an activity which is an index of more vigour than faith, more haste than speed, more work than power. It is sometimes more inspired by the business passion of efficiency than the Christian passion of fidelity or adoration. Its aim is to make the concern go rather than to compass the Righteousness of God. We want to advance faster than faith can, faster than is compatible with the moral genius of the Cross, and the law of its permanent progress. We occupy more than we can hold. If we take in new ground we have to resort to such devices to accomplish it that the tone of religion suffers and the love or care for Christian truth. And the preacher, as he or she is often the chief of sinners in this respect, is also the chief of sufferers. And so we may lose more in spiritual quality than we gain in Church extension. In God’s name we may thwart God’s will. Faith, ceasing to be communion, becomes mere occupation, and the Church a scene of beneficent bustle, from which the Spirit flees. Religious progress outruns moral, and thus it ceases to be spiritual in the Christian sense, in any but a vague pious sense. Before long the going power flags, the petrol gives out on a desert.
A note: After 19 posts in this series on the Name (and with few more to come) I plan to take a break from this series for a bit. Still to come in the series includes posts on: God as witness, YHWH and Jesus, the hallowing of the Name, God’s name is ‘Father’. I will return to these in a wee while. For my next series of posts, I want to invite readers to develop a theological reading list with me. Until the next post …
Another note: Brevard Childs died at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Until his retirement in 1999, Childs was Sterling Professor of Divinity and Fellow of Davenport College, The Divinity School, Yale University, and author of Biblical Theology in Crisis, and great commentaries on The Book of Exodus and Isaiah (OTL). My friend here at St Andrews, Daniel Driver (not related to S R or G R Driver) is doing research on Childs and maintans a Child’s-related website here. Kevin has also posted an In Memorium here. (HT’s: Jim and Ben).
Also, Jim is currently revising and updating his fine book, Evangelical Spirituality: From the Wesleys to John Stott, and is considering adding a new chapter. As it stands the final chapter compares Martyn Lloyd Jones and John Stott. He asks, ‘If I were to write a further chapter, comparing and contrasting two contemporary leading Evangelicals, who should they be?’ A tough question. Jim is keen to hear suggestions. Got any? You can read (and respond to) his full post here.
Also, for those who haven’t seen it, there’s a video of Bill Hybels interviewing Bono on YouTube, beginning here.
The Scriptures regularly identify God’s name with the cultus – God’s name was both blessed and blasphemed in cultic activity, depending on whether the worship took place according to the divinely given pattern or not. Not only do various psalms (7:17; 8:1, 9; 9:10; 18:49; 20:1, 5, 7; 29:2; 30:4; 34:3; 54:6; 68:4; 86:9, 11-12; 92:1; 96:2, 8; 97:12; 99:6; 102:21; 103:1; 105:1, 3; 106:47; 113:1-3; 115:1; 116:4, 13, 17; 118:26; 122:4; 124:8; 129:8; 135:1, 3, 13; 145:21; 148:5, 13) testify that worship happens in the name of the Lord, but Malachi 1:6–8, Ezekiel 20:27–28, and 22:26 reveal how Israel blasphemed God’s name when they abused the cultus. Although far less frequent, the NT (Rom 15:9 [quoting 2 Sam 22:50 and Ps 18:49]; Heb 2:12 [quoting Ps 22:22] and Heb 13:15) also identifies positively worship with God’s name. The NT episode of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 was fundamentally one of blasphemy, as was possibly the disgrace of the wife who prayed or prophesied with her head uncovered (1 Cor 11). Jesus also warned his disciples against those who would put them out of the synagogues under the ironic understanding that they were ‘offering service to God’ (John 16:2).
Blasphemy is taken with the utmost seriousness in the NT. Indeed, and ironically, part of Saul’s blasphemous tirade against the early church was with a view to trying to get Christians to blaspheme God’s name (Acts 26:11; 1 Tim 1:13). Paul tells Timothy that via the rejection of faith and a good conscience, Hymenaeus and Alexander shipwrecked their faith and were subsequently ‘handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme’ (1 Tim 1:20). James teaches that the dishonoring of the poor is to ‘blaspheme (NIV: ‘slander’) the honorable name by which you were called?’ (Jas 2:6–7).
Jude speaks of ungodly people have crept in into the Christian community unnoticed and who ‘pervert the grace of our God into sensuality’ and deny Jesus Christ. They rely on dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and ‘blaspheme the glorious ones’ and ‘all that they do not understand’ (Jude 1:4–10). It seems that blasphemy is shunned so severely by the apostolic band for three related reasons: (i) their love of God, and so of his name; (ii) their concern that God’s name not be ‘blasphemed among the Gentiles’ because of their lawbreaking and immoral behaviour (Rom 2:24, citing Isa 52:5); and (iii) their love for God’s truth (2 Pet 2:2; cf. 2:11–12).
Jesus’ claim to forgive sins (a claim made manifest in his proclamation but hidden in the heart of the Father) led to the charge of blasphemy, and rightly so if he were not God (Matt 9:3; Mark 2:7; Luke 5:21; cf. Matt 26:65; Mark 14:64). But that he is God is precisely the point. Indeed, ‘unless Christ is God, his word of forgiveness is empty of any divine substance’. Brueggemann notes, following Hannah Arendt, that forgiveness was Jesus’ ‘most endangering action because if a society does not have the apparatus for forgiveness, then its members are fated to live forever with the consequences of any violation’.
Jesus’ response to the Jewish leaders’ charge of blasphemy in John 10:33 (a charge that if true he should rightly have been stoned to death for, according to Leviticus 24:10–16) is noted in John 10:35–38: ‘If he called them gods to whom the word of God came … do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father’.
Because God’s has attached his name to Israel, to mock Israel is to blaspheme God’s name. ‘“Their rulers wail,” declares the LORD, “and continually all the day my name is despised” (Isa 52:5; cf. Mal 1:11–14). The LXX adds the phrase evn toi/j e;qnesin, an addition that Paul adopts in Romans 2:24, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles (evn toi/j e;qnesin) because of you.’ Clearly, as we shall see in further posts, there is a link between God’s name and his self-witness to the nations.
Blank notes that divorced from its context, the assertion that God’s name suffers profanation because of his people can mean either of two things: either a) that God is defamed by the shameful conduct of his people, or b) that God is disgraced because of the shameful condition of his people. He contends that the context of Isaiah 52:2 ‘proves’ that the author intended the latter meaning, whereas Paul misquotes the text in order to critique the Jews’ behaviour.
It seems clear to me that both readings are not only possible, but intricately related and implied in both texts. However, even if Blank is correct, the significant thing is that God has so attached his name to Israel that he is both shamed by Israel’s conduct and so sends them into exile. But their being in exile also defames his name among the nations for in their defeat, the nations see the defeat of their God whose reputation, fame, prestige and recognition is concerned. As Blank asserts, ‘To profane the name of God is to do damage to God’s reputation, to defame him, to lessen his prestige, to retard the process by which he receives recognition, to put off the day on which it shall be known that he is God.’ Likewise in Romans 2, Israel is again in exile (not only is Paul’s audience presumably in Rome, but even those Jews in Palestine strive under foreign occupation which is sign of their being under judgement) and called in exile to be ‘a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness’ (2:19), that is to the nations, a calling that is apparently being undermined by their breaking of God’s law and so of dishonoring his name.
‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain’. (Exod 20:7). With this post we return back to our series on the Name, the next few posts of which will focus on the issue of blasphemy.
Of course God need not protect himself, but he does protect His name, and so seriously that he adds to this simple commandment a special threat. This is done because within the name that which bears the name is present.
So writes Paul Tillich. Whilst it is true that in the Scriptures the object of mocking profanation and blasphemy is God’s name, rather than God himself, the two cannot be separated. To blaspheme God’s name is to blaspheme God (Isa 37:23; Ezek 13:19; 22:26; Rom. 2:24 [quoting Isa 52:5; 1 Tim 6: Rev. 13:6; 16:9). And as Leviticus 24:10–16 shows, blasphemy was not treated lightly. The offender, whether sojourner or native, was brought out of the camp and justly accused by those who heard him before being stoned to death by ‘all the congregation’. The nation itself was to take responsibility for blasphemy in their midst for their own integrity and glory depended upon God’s name being holy.
Twice in Nehemiah 9, the Levites remind the returned exiles of their blasphemous past. The God who had ‘made a name for himself’ in the liberation of an enslaved people from an arrogant Egypt (9:10), himself had to in turn deal with an ‘arrogant’ people who refused to listen and obey him. The epitome of their rebellion is illustrated ‘when they had made for themselves a golden calf’ and attributed to it their rescue (9:18). This and other ‘great blasphemies’ were met by God’s forgiveness, grace, compassion and mercy which refused to ‘abandon them in the desert’ (9:17–19). Later on during this same time of the worship, the eight Levites recalled how Israel ‘captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance’ eating their fill, becoming fat and delighting in God’s goodness (9:25). Yet they were disobedient and rebelled against God, casting his law behind their backs and killing the prophets who had warned them with a view to turning them back to God. And, the Levites said ‘they committed great blasphemies (9:26b). This time their ‘great blasphemies were met by God’s act of judgement expressed via the giving of them ‘into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer’ (9:27a), out of which they cried out again to the Lord who heard them, had compassion on them and, again rescued them from their enemies’ hand (9:27b). It would seem that it is not without significance that the Levites begin their praise in v. 5 with the words, ‘Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise’ (9:5b).
PS. There’s at least 2 articles in the latest edition of Time that are worth reading: This one on The Psychology of Fatherhood and this one on Rowan Williams (who features on the front cover of the Aussie edition) (HT: Aaron). From the Williams article:
Anglicanism matters, and not just because it is one of the largest Protestant denominations. It matters because, like Roman Catholicism, it is global, uniting varied ethnicities, economic levels and social attitudes in an overarching understanding of faith. But Anglicans have foregone Catholicism’s useful authoritarianism, staking their unity on a seemingly more attractive continual conversation, based on mutual respect. The sharp debate over homosexuality threatens that unity, and crystallizes a challenge facing everyone in an uneasy, newly wired world: can the North — rich and imbued with an ethos of individual rights — and the poorer South find a constructive interdependence?
Vriezen has noted that ‘God can only be denoted as the Real One according to the functional character of His Being, not in His Being itself.’ If Abba is correct that the basic idea behind the name in the context of Exodus 3 and 4 is ‘presence’ (rather than metaphysics) revealed in what Delitzsch calls ‘the active manifestation of existence’, then God is present in history revealing himself (his character) to humanity through his actions. Is this not why the Bible is more concerned with speaking of the ‘name’ rather than the ‘concept’ or ‘idea’ of God! This personal God will not be confused or subsumed with an idea, Hegelian or otherwise. This does not mean that we are not given to know God as he is in himself, only that we must neither divorce nor confuse ontology and soteriology.
God’s name identifies his nature, so that a request for his ‘name’ is equivalent to asking about his character (Exo 3:13; Hos 12:5). As Coffin notes, ‘The [divine] name is taken as the expression of His nature and character; and His revealed name is associated with His people Israel and with His sanctuary in their midst. Their meeting with Him is more than a meeting with a tribal god, and the basis of their joy is the knowledge of Himself as revealed in His name.’ But it is more than this. Behind Moses’ request is the whole question about how Israel were to understand and define their own future. If Israel were to leave ‘secure nonexistence’ (Robert Jenson) in Egypt and speculate on the promises of their fathers’ God, then they first needed to know what sort of future this God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is. The answer comes in the guise of the name itself: YHWH. In 6:2-8, YHWH moves to define himself as not only the covenant making God of their father’s, but now as the one who has heard the groaning of this slave people Israel in Egypt, and who has remembered his covenant promise, and is therefore determined to redeem these slaves out from under the burdens of the Egyptians with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment that they might be his people, and he their God, and that they might know that YHWH is their God.
The point is that God’s action in history is not primarily with a view to revealing something about himself so much as it is to reveal himself. In this God’s freedom is such that he becomes something that he has never been that his people might know him and become something in him that they could not become apart from his becoming human for our sakes. This revelation of God as being for us in covenant love and faithfulness means that he can be trusted.
It seems to me that attempts to understand the divine name (YHWH) have proved unsatisfactory because scholars have sought to interpret it in isolation from its context. When we do consider the Exodus 3 narrative in its context we discover that the revelation given to Moses at the burning bush was not the revelation of a new and hitherto unknown name, as some have argued, so much as it is the disclosure of the real significance of a name long known. The giving of the name ‘Yahweh’ was the framework of revelation in the religious foundation of Moses and pointed back implicitly to this historical confrontation of God and humanity and all that resulted there-from. What matters is God’s continued, active presence and relationship, and not some abstract existential concept of being.
These posts on the Name have been concerned to affirm (among other things) that YHWH (unlike the gods) is not an impersonal cosmic force but rather One who enters into a personal and immutable (covenant) relationship with his people on the basis of his love and grace (Exod 33:19; 34:6). This forms the basis of his mongamous jealousy (Exod 20:5; 34:14; Deut 4:24; 5:9), a jealousy which leaves him vulnerable to suffer not only with (Exod 3:7-8) but also because of (Gen. 6:5-8) those he has made (Gen 6:6; 18:20; Exod 20:7; Deut 5:11). As Wolterstorff has reminded us, ‘God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer … The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love … The tears of God are the meaning of history.’
The desire to know and be known is grounded in the covenant nature of God. Soulen notes,
[We] perhaps do not go too far astray of the biblical witness if we say that God’s covenant with Israel is the outworking of God’s desire to be known by name. For the sake of this name, God fashions a people out of the barren womb of Sarah and out of the chaos of bondage, so that by works of steadfast love and faithfulness, God might be glorified by name not only in the heavens but also by men and women on the earth. The biblical sense of the Tetragrammaton is thus finally also eschatological in orientation. Under the pressure of God’s great promise, “I will sanctify my great name” (Ezek 26:23), the Tetragrammaton points irresistibly forward to the consummation of God’s universal rule, when there will be an end to the state in which `all day long my name is despised,’ and God’s incomparable uniqueness will be fittingly honored by Israel, the nations and all creation.
Motyer reminds us that Israel’s personal knowledge of God (and his name) was closely linked to their experience of him. He notes, ‘… it was the claim of El Shaddai to be powerful where man was weakest, and He exerts this claim supremely by promising to an obscure and numerically tiny family that they should one day possess and populate a land which, in their day, was inhabited and owned by people immeasurably their superiors in number and power.’ Motyer goes on to point out three ways in which this is substantiated: (1) God took over human incapacity in the lives of the patriarchs in order to raise up a great nation; (2) God changed the name of Abram and Jacob to symbolise their transformed human nature; (3) God promised boundless posterity to them in the land of promise. In these acts, the patriarchs came to know God by experience.
John Calvin, commenting on Exodus 34:6f. notes that to know God is inextricably related to experiencing God. ‘Thereupon his powers are mentioned, by which he is shown to us not as he is in himself, but as he is toward us: so that this recognition of him consists more in living experience than in vain and highflown speculation’.
Posts to come:
* The name and action of God
* The name and blasphemy of God
* The name and mission: God as witness to his own name
* ‘YHWH’ and ‘Jesus’
* Hallowing the name of God
To be given to know God’s name is to be given life. In ‘God’s name’, revelation comes to us, prayers are offered, pastoral ministry of encouragement, teaching, rebuke and calling folk to repentance occurs, God’s word is preached, baptised children are made ‘real’ members of the Church, bread is broken and wine consummed. Most importantly, it was in God’s name, and for the sake of God’s name, that Jesus Christ fulfilled his ministry as Son of God and Son of Man.
Christ did not come in the first instance to satisfy the needs and instincts of our diviner self, but to honour the claim of a holy God upon us, crush our guilt into repentant faith, and create us anew in the act. He did not come in the first instance to consecrate human nature, but to hallow God’s name in it. (Forsyth)
Whenever Jesus spoke, he ‘spoke in God’s name’, and insofar as he did this, he ‘really stood in God’s place’. It is true that he loves humanity, but that love is primarily served as he gives himself ever to God in loving obedience. His pity for humanity flows from his love, and that love is directly primarily at God and is fixed upon God’s holiness. For Christ, Forsyth contends, ‘the hallowing of God’s name always came first’.
Some other news …
Related to names, China is facing a surname crisis. Read here.
Related to mission in the name, some of the readers of this blog may be interested to know that India Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) in the Kottayam District of Kerala is seeking a teacher to teach a short module in historical theology. More information here.
On another news, Richard Rorty has passed away. You can read his obituary here.
We ought to honour, use and hallow God’s name precisely because it is the source and means of our life in Christ. Katherine Sonderegger has reminded us that we call God Father not because we and all our ancestors grew up in a patriarchal culture, nor because the Roman father was the model and local authority of the Empire, but because Jesus of Nazareth called upon Israel’s God by that name. Indeed, only the enfleshed revelation of God could disclose a new name for YHWH and justify such a shocking and revolutionary renaming of ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer contended that it is an act of Christian boldness to call God Father, because by that name we refer immediately and without fear to the very God that the Son knew. In that spiritual calling upon the Father’s name, as Sonderegger asserts, ‘we stand where Christ stood: as adopted heirs, as the beloved’. When we call upon the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit we embrace both an epistemological and metaphysical truth: We both name God truly, and we stand in that divine judgement, grace, and presence that Christ knew, obeyed, and suffered, for our sake. From in that place, we pray. From that place, we stand in the One who prays for us. From that place we know our place in the world, and in God. That is the promise and surety of grace.
Against Clement, who did not believe that the ineffable God had a proper name, I contend that not only is God’s name given in embryonic form to Israel in the form of YHWH (a name defined by God’s action), the final answer to Moses’ question comes only in Jesus Christ, where God reveals his ‘name’ (to. o;noma, sing. Matt 28:19), his ‘real name’, his ‘Christian name’ (Barth) – i.e. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Importantly, there is a correlation between the God who liberated Israel and the God who raised Jesus from the dead. He is the one God, now revealing his proper name in Jesus Christ. This is, for God, to show a vulnerability commensurate with the Incarnation itself. And in the person of Jesus Christ, through the ministry of the Spirit, we come to know not only God’s name, but God more fully. Not only has the one who has seen Jesus seen the Father, but it is only in Christ that we can address God by name in prayer.
The distinctive Christian name for God is in fact ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ and he is called Father, not so much when we are speaking about him, as when we are speaking to him. When Peter and Paul in their letters are doing their theological thinking, they speak about God, but when, as often happens, their thought takes wings and turns into praise and doxology, it is then that they address the Father (ie. 2 Corinthians 1:3, Ephesians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3). The source of such prayer to the Father is of course Jesus himself, all of whose recorded prayers – with one exception on the cross – begin with ‘Father,’ and who, when asked for a prayer that would be distinctive to his disciples, said, ‘when you pray, say Father’ (Luke 11:12). However, when we worship God as Father, we must also relate both to his Son, and his Spirit. This is what Paul is saying in Galatians 4:6, ‘God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out: Abba, Father.’ We pray our prayers to the Father ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord,’ because it is through his Son made man as Jesus of Nazareth that God has shown himself to us. In the words and deeds, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we know what God’s attitude towards us is and that he is prepared to reclaim and remake us for himself. That is why Christians worship God not as a remote and distant mystery shrouded in the glory of his deity, but as the one who in his love has come to us, lived among us, died for us and triumphed over our enemies. We call Jesus Lord, because we recognize in him God’s being and God’s presence, so that our whole relationship with God is based upon and shaped by what he is and has done. As John reports him as saying, ‘No one can come to the Father except through me’ (14:16) and, putting the same thing positively, ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (14:9). (The Forgotten Trinity, pp. 5-6)
God’s name brings both his identity and his uncircumscribable mystery into our very midst. Indeed, the truly mysterious God is not the nameless One, but the One who has a name and makes it known. ‘When you pray, say “Father”’. Everything said after that is supplementary.
It seems to me that to know God’s name is to carry (at least) a two-pronged fork. One prong brings a sense of security, responsibility and identity for God’s people. The other demarcates God’s people from those who don’t yet know his name, or who regard it differently (or indifferently).
What is significant in the OT is that to know the name of a deity is to wield power over that deity and indeed means that one can summon him/her to one’s aid against one’s enemies. This means (in an ANE kind of way) that for God to reveal his name is for God to make himself vulnerable. But as Exodus 33 shows, it is a vulnerability that it intractably tied up with God’s sovereign freedom. In verse 18, Moses asks God, ‘Please show me your glory.’ To which God replies, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The LORD” (YHWH). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy’ (v. 19). Zimmerli comments here: ‘In this figure of speech resounds the sovereign freedom of Yahweh, who, even at the moment he reveals his name, refuses simply to put himself at the disposal of humanity or to allow humanity to comprehend him … According to the statement of Exodus 3:14, at the very point where Yahweh reveals his true name so that people can call him by it, he remains free, and can be properly understood only in the freedom with which he introduces himself.’
Again, as Thielicke has reminded us, ‘When God indicates his name, he shows that he is not to be located in a nexus of being, as though there were something all-embracing in which he could be integrated or something higher and general under which he could not be subsumed.’
The Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod has written, ‘The God of Israel has a proper name. There is no fact in Jewish theology more significant than this’. The ongoing significance, however, for the people of Israel of God’s revealing his proper name through his action is aptly summed up by Janzen:
From now on, the issue of the faithfulness of God is posed both in terms of his faithfulness to the actual situation and its historical claims upon him, and in terms of his faithfulness to the intrinsic mystery of the divine life as pure unbounded intention. Complementarily, from now on the issue of the faithfulness of Israel is posed in terms of its loyalty to the name Yahweh: in the implications of that name for who Yahweh is and for who Israel is. Like Yahweh … Israel is called to be faithful to its past. Like Moses, Israel may never again allow itself merely to come to terms with the actual situation – for this is idolatry and death. The secret, the burden, the vocation of Israel lies in the divine name entrusted to it in the Book of Exodus.
While wrestling, Jacob asks for God’s name and is met with God’s refusal: ‘“Please tell me your name.” But God said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.’ Not by his name, but by his blessing, is YHWH known. So Exodus 34:5–7,
The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
The Exodus 3 account invites a plethora of unanswered – perhaps unanswerable – questions. Scholars have long debated the historical origins of the name, its pronunciation, its etymology, and its relationship to the other names that God spoke to Moses at the bush. But as Soulen notes, these questions are not the real mystery of the name. At most they are signs that point to the mystery, just as in the Gospel narratives the sign of the empty tomb points to the mystery of the resurrection. The genuine mystery of the Tetragrammaton is at once extremely simple and inexhaustibly deep: the Tetragrammaton is a proper name, a personal proper name, like Moses, or Jeremiah, or Mary Magdalene.
Continuing the series of posts on the divine name, we find ourselves (again) in that place where the bush burns but is unconsumed. Technically, God does not answer Moses’ request for a name. Instead, what YHWH gives is a promise that he will be faithful to himself, and that he will reveal his identity through his actions, not least his promise to be with a doubting and unconfident Moses who is called to confront Pharaoh in ‘the name’ (Exod 5:23) of this now-named God and bring the slaves to the mount of disclosure that the one who spoke from within the bush might be worshipped (Exod 3:11–12). Everything is left open and awaiting filling. ‘I will be who I will be’ is really no name at all, but rather the self-reserving of God to make himself known by his (impossible) action. In so doing, God refuses to satisfy not only human curiosity, but also to lend himself out to creatures who would seek to put him at their disposal. He refuses to reduce his transcendence to a name. Furthermore, he refuses to align himself in the pantheon of the gods. One OT scholar notes that historians of primitive people’s have found that ‘the possession of a name is regarded as the medium through which good or bad influences may be exerted. This is not viewed as mere symbolism, but is thought of as a real process; for the name is considered to be a real part of the being for which it stands’. The divine name is ‘the manward side of the Divine Being, the medium of access to the divine presence, and the source of blessing to the worshipper’. Given this, because magical power is attained in name learning, it is no surprise that God refuses to compromise his sovereign freedom and so withholds his name. Coffin offers an example of ‘the primitive peoples of India’ (he is writing in 1900, well before the time of PCness!) when seeking to ‘appease the wrath of some malicious power, which has been the cause of affliction, misfortune, or sickness, the first step is to determine the name of the god or spirit that requires to be appeased’. In other words, God is affirming that in his essential character he will not be the product of human thought or manipulation, unlike the Egyptian deities with which the children of Israel would have been eminently familiar.
There are some exceptions to this. One recalls Elijah’s battle on Mount Carmel where each group called upon ‘the name’ of their god (1 Kgs 18:20–40). The narrative as we have it suggests that this was with a view to the worshippers of Baal and Asherah knowing that Israel’s God ‘YHWH’ is God. This indeed is precisely what happened (18:36–39). Eichrodt notes that the basic conviction of the Elohist was his almost exclusive use of elohim for YHWH. ‘Yahweh’, he writes, ‘is not just one individual ‘el, but ‘elohim, the sum of all the gods, i.e. Godhead pure and simple, and as such, for Israel at any rate, he rules out all the other deities’.
BTW: Byron has recently posted a helpful (and lengthy) review of Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine here.
Motyer notes, arguing on the basis of Judges 13:17, Genesis 32:27 and Proverbs 30:4, ‘The question “What is thy name?” is, therefore, the same as “What sort of person are you?”’. In this it is as much metonymous as it is anything else. What was not known about YHWH was not his name, but his character. The name ‘YHWH’ was not unfamiliar to this slave people of Goshen. What they didn’t know was what this name meant. Who is this YHWH? Etymology leaves us wanting, as does any investigation via a history-of-religions track (a track that rarely bares fruit). The divine word spoken in Exodus 3 only makes sense in the context of Israel’s plight in Egypt and in the broader Exodus narrative in which YHWH makes himself known in the form of the plagues (7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:14, 29, 30; 10:2; 11:7) and deliverance itself (6:7; 14:4, 18; 16:6, 12). Indeed, YHWH is Israel’s verb around which their whole sentence (history) is structured.
Brueggemann is correct when he writes, ‘it is plausible that the entire Exodus narrative is an exposition of the name of Exod 3:14, requiring all of its powerful verbs for an adequate exposition’. Only after these experiences could it then be said that the people knew YHWH (cf. Exod 18:11; 29:46; Deut 4:35, 39; 7:9; 29:2–6) – not merely his name but his character. Out of what Egypt had become, a place where Israel understandably envisaged her future as certain death, YHWH takes Moses into the wilderness, into the nothingness, into the ‘realm of the suspension of the actual’. It is there that he tells Moses his name, a name that will take the rest of the exodus narrative, and the incarnation of the Immanuel to flesh out. But even by Exodus 19, YHWH had revealed his nature to Israel as one who had borne them on eagles’ wings and brought them to himself that they might obey his voice and keep his covenant and be his treasured possession among all peoples, although all the earth is his (Exod 19:4–5).
Israel’s entire creatio-soterio-historical narrative provides an explication of what the name YHWH means. But is it more than this? The name itself shapes Israel’s creatio-soterio-historical narrative. In other words, not merely does Israel’s history reveal something about the divine name, but the divine name also reveals something about how that history itself is to be interpreted.
The sanctuary was a place where God’s name was ‘remembered’ (Exod 20:24) and where God caused his name to dwell (Deut 12:11), although Psalm 119:55 seems to suggests that to remember God’s name is no more than to keep his law and Psalms 45:16-17; 83:4 and Isaiah 26:8 may indicate a connection between remembering and posterity (survival), that is to forget the name is to, as it were, cause existence to cease. So Absalom complained, ‘I have no son to keep my name in remembrance’ and so had to name a pillar after himself (2 Sam 18:18; cf. Isa 66:1; Acts 7:45; 17:24-25; 2 Cor 6:16).
The name the Israelites were to remember ‘throughout all generations’ was ‘YHWH (LXX = ku,rioj) the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ (Exod 3:15). But although this was the ‘remembered’ name, what did it actually mean to the ancient to know that Abraham’s and Isaac’s and Jacob’s God had a name? And did that name actually reveal anything?
It is my contention that the revelation of the name ‘YHWH’ in Exodus 3 ties God down neither in his nature or conduct. Rather, the response to Moses’ question maintains the freedom, independence and ‘self-determining existence’ of the Answerer to be who he chooses to be in the future. Everything is left ‘open’. I’ve appreciated Thielicke words here (as elsewhere):
[God] himself will make it plain in the future who he is and will be. I will be – but it is still to be revealed who I will be. There is thus expressed here the freedom of this self-revealing God for the future self-disclosing and self-imparting which will take place in history. If the name were meant as a concept embracing the nature of God, we should have definitive information with this self-declaration. Instead, the name simply denotes the one with whom we have to do or who is under discussion. It leaves it for him to disclose himself. It leaves it for him to interpret his name by what he makes known by word and work in his self-disclosure. The only definitive thing that this name Yahweh lays down is that this self-disclosure and self-impartation will follow, so that Yahweh had at his command an incalculable multiplicity of ways of acting and working … The being in the name of Yahweh is to be construed, not as being in itself, but as being for.
What stands out to me is that the name given in Exodus 3 in the seemingly evasive divine response is perhaps not so much as revealing God’s name (for they already knew his name) as it is a revelation of divine character. As an OT scholar notes:
The term itself, as the J source affirms, is doubtless pre-Mosaic … What emerge as distinctively Mosaic in the name formulas are the qualities and attributes of the Creator God of the Fathers revealed in the unique historical setting of the Sinai covenant, between the past event of the Exodus, and the future prospect of the Conquest. These are grace and mercy, patience, great kindness and devotion, all of which mark the action by which he delivers his afflicted people, creates a new community, – and not least the passionate zeal by which he binds Israel to himself in an exclusive relationship of privilege and obligation, of promise and threat, of judgment and mercy.
Until the next post …
BTW: Jim Gordon has an exciting and encouraging (not least because he is the principal of the Scottish Baptist College) post here on what it means to do theology as community. And Jim West, in typical tongue-in-check style, has posted here on the evils facing America today.
Although the text of the Hebrew Bible reveals that Israel’s God is referred to by a number of epithets, names and titles, OT scholars are quick to assert that this is an indication of the development in Israelite religion. So just as there was a move to use the divine name (YHWH) at one time in Israel’s history to distinguish YHWH from the other gods, there also came a time when this move was reversed. Rose notes that ‘the loss of this obviousness of a living relationship with God is compensated by an explicit confession of faith’, of which he cites as an example Deuteronomy 6–16. There seems to be two reasons for this: (i) the name as a distinguishing mark was no longer necessary; and (ii) the later Jewish custom of not pronouncing the name at all for fear of violating the Third Commandment. This is evident especially in the postexilic texts (for example, Esther, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes do not use the name ‘YHWH’ at all.) Although YHWH was still considered the only God, the use of ‘Elohim’ became synonymous with, and often replaced, ‘YHWH’.
Furthermore, Baumgarten notes that ‘Among the Essenes the awe surrounding the divine name was apparently extreme. It appears also to have carried over to other sacrosanct names, such as those of the angels and that of the lawgiver, “any blasphemer of whom is punished with death” (Josephus, War 2.142 and 145). This tendency was not, however, confined to the Essenes, as is evidenced by the complaint of a “Galilean heretic” against the Pharisees for permitting the names of pagan rulers to be written in the same document with the name of Moses (mYad 4.8).’
Coffin notes that in the post-exilic prophets and in the later historical books the holiness of the divine nature continues to be emphasised and the sin of profanity to be condemned. Any word or deed that seems to detract from the glory due to God or to manifest a disposition to deprive him of the honor rightly belonging to him, is deprecated. Since Israel is his people, any act that tends to minimise his exalted character as their God is profanity. This was made evident in the growing sanctity of the divine name and the increasing tendency to drop the use of it altogether and replace it with Elohim.
This raises the question, as we shall see, of how Jesus understood the divine name, and whether or not he reinvented it, as did Qumran, to serve Israel’s use and his divine mission. The answer to this question awaits a future post …
The Painting: William Blake’s ‘Elohim Creating Adam’ (1795/circa 1805). For Blake the OT God was a false god. He believed the Fall took place not in the Garden of Eden, but at the time of creation shown here, when Adam was dragged from the spiritual realm and made material.
There has been no shortage of attempts by biblical scholars to ascertain the etymological roots of the divine name (YHWH). Beitzel notes that ‘The Exodus discourse between Moses and his God bristles with a number of virtually insoluble philological and theological problems, and one is not surprised at the inability to forge a common scholarly concensus regarding the linguistic and theological meaning of the ineffable tetragrammaton’.
G. R. Driver, and others, relying heavily on Greek analogies have posited the opinion that the divine name did not originally have a readily intelligible form, but was rather ‘an emotional cultic outburst, such as dervishes might cry out ecstatically.’ Unsurprisingly, this view has not gone without critique.
It seems to me that it is not without significance that there was very little interest in the etymology of the divine name in Israel, nor in the ontology of her God. Jenson is right here: ‘What the word “Yahweh” may once have meant we do not know. Since historical Israel did not know either, the loss is not theologically great.’ More important is the truth that Israel’s interest in her God’s name lay in the actions of power which he performed on their behalf. Few have stated it better than von Rad. Commenting on Exodus 3:14, he accuses scholars of seeking to reduce the divine name to ‘a final axiomatic formula’. He continues:
… nothing is farther from what is envisaged in this etymology of the name of Jahweh than a defintion of his nature in the sense of philosophical statement about his being (LXX evgw, eivmi o` w;n) – a suggestion, for example, of his absolute aseity, etc. Such a thing would be altogether out of keeping with the Old Testament. The whole narrative context leads right away to the expectation that Jahweh intends to impart something – but this is not what he is, but what he will show himself to be to Israel.