“Yahweh” banned from Catholic Church

Following a letter issued by the Vatican, last month U.S. bishops were instructed to remove the name Yahweh from songs and prayers. Citing a longstanding tradition within the Jewish community to never speak that name, the Catholic Church felt the need to restore a sense of reverence to the “proper name” of God.

Now, I don’t use the term Yahweh very often. It has less to do with any sort of holy reverence than it does the fact that I’m a 32-year-old American dude living in the 21st century. But it does bring up questions of whether the names we use to refer to God really matter to his ears.

I’ve been in conversations recently with people who are offended by those who interpret the term Abba to mean “daddy.” I know missionaries in Muslim countries who have wondered if it’s ok to translate the words “God” and “jesus” as Allah and Isa when communicating with indigenous people.

In our home and with our children, only the term “Oh my God” is really forbidden – along with its bastard half-brother “Oh my gosh.” But then again, I’ve always kind of interpreted God’s command not to take his name in vain a little differently than most.

Do you think God really cares what names we use to identify him by? Or was this post just an elaborate excuse to play one of my favorite U2 songs?

U2 – Yahweh


31 thoughts on ““Yahweh” banned from Catholic Church

  1. U2 – Yahweh

    Take these shoes, click clacking down some dead end street
    Take these shoes, and make them fit
    Take this shirt, polyester white trash made in nowhere
    Take this shirt, and make it clean, clean
    Take this soul, stranded in some skin and bones
    Take this soul, and make it sing

    Yahweh, Yahweh
    Always pain before a child is born
    Yahweh, Yahweh
    Still I’m waiting for the dawn

    Take these hands, teach them what to carry
    Take these hands, don’t make a fist no
    Take this mouth, so quick to criticise
    Take this mouth, give it a kiss

    Yahweh, Yahweh
    Always pain before a child is born
    Yahweh, Yahweh
    Still I’m waiting for the dawn

    Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up, the sun is coming up on the ocean
    His love is like a drop in the ocean, His love is like a drop in the ocean

    Yahweh, Yahweh
    Always pain before a child is born
    Yahweh, tell me now
    Why the dark before the dawn?

    Take this city, a city should be shining on a hill
    Take this city, if it be your will
    What no man can own, no man can take
    Take this heart, Take this heart
    Take this heart, And make it pray

  2. Had a professor in seminary say once that he didn’t like the use of Hebrew names for God because for many it was a pretenious holier than thou type thing. In fact he stressed the importance of only using Greek and Hebrew when necessary and not just to sound smart.

    I understand not using Yhwh or writing G_D instead of God. It really doesn’t bother me.

    Wycliff Joanne Shelter wrote in your book when translating the Bible for a group in New Guinea that the Lamb of God was changed to Pig because the people had no understanding of a Lamb. Pigs were there most important animal. That one seemed a little strange to me.

  3. to me the issue is not so much with what name we refer to God, but how we use it so flippantly. i mean, i just mentioned my creator like He’s just some guy at my work.
    that type of talk has always bothered me and seemed irreverent and strange. so whether you refer to God as Yahweh, Jesus, Daddy, whatever, it’s the attitude behind it that startles me sometimes…most times.

  4. well, first of all, the 4 hebrew letters of YHVH, not YHWH, so it can’t be “yahweh”. secondly, it’s an unpronouncable name b/c they don’t know what the vowels are. biblical hebrew uses vowel pointings on each consenant, and that was the only word that wasn’t repeated, so orally was not passed down. they simply don’t know what the word is. “jehovah” (another one that is wrong b/c it’s a Y not a J) was created by using the YHVH (LORD) and plugging in the vowels from Adonai (Lord), so blow a jehovah’s witness’ mind with that the next time they give a knock. it’s a made up word.

  5. oh and as far as taking it in vain, my ma, the kind hearted fundamentalist she is, makes me laugh b/c she will yell our lord’s name and then when i say “what was that?” she says “I WAS PRAYING!!!” i noticed that old people in maine say a lot of variations of swears that involve God & jesus. interesting.

  6. Timothy,

    Your are incorrect about YHVH as opposed to YHWH. The letter can be either Vah or Wah. While the vowels were added much later the reason YHWH wasn’t pronounced had more to not taking the LORD’s name in vain rather than not knowing the vowels.


  7. i’m no zionist! and i blame prof. latoungi (i forgot how to spell his name). i did my one year of biblical hebrew under him :/ but, the only person who knew the name was the high priest, and he said it only once, in the temple on yom kippur. so, it is technically an unpronounable name b/c when they added the vowel pointings, they had no vowels to interject. either way…we come up with names like yahweh or jehovah to fill in a gap, but i think we should just use what the translation is b/c i think it’s incredibly powerful – “I AM”. what an answer to give moses.
    moses: “who are you?!?!”
    God: “I AM”
    moses: “what?!?!”

  8. What about the name of Jesus? It was originally written in Hebrew also. What makes you so sure that we are pronouncing his name correctly? In bible times the name Jesus may have been pronounced Yeshua or Yehoshua, no one can say for certain. People the world over use different froms of the name Jesus, pronouncing it in the way that is common in their language. Therefore, not knowing the original pronunciation of God’s name does not mean that we should stop using it. If it appears in the orgianl text nearly 7000 times then He obviously wants us to know it and use it in our worship. Would you not agree?

  9. That all depends on perspective.

    The traditional Jewish few is that even writing out G_D’s name could be taking His name in vain. God is holy and his name should be not be mentioned by humans.

    Another teaching on the use of Hebrew names of God is what is your motive for using Hebrew. Is it because you are choosing to emphasis a particular attribute of God such as provider or healer. Or is it to appear more holy or learned that you use Hebrew.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with the use of YHWH just spelling it.

  10. Um… pardon me, but isn’t this nothing more than a debate about the utterance of certain syllables from the throat and mouth? (Can you tell I’m an atheist?) I’ve blogged about this very topic myself, and I can’t help but think that all of this wondering about how to refer to the invisible man is absurd. If you believe in god, and you believe that this god is omnipotent and omniscient, yada yada, do you think that this god would care how he/she/it is called? The fact that the devout are all arguing and debating this clearly illustrates that this whole issue is of human origin, not divine.

  11. With all due respect, mindserased, you’re being illogical. I know that you don’t believe, but doesn’t it stand to reason that the people debating this topic DO believe, and that’s why they think it’s important? You expect believers to be as flippant about God as you are, but that would be absurd. What you really want is for them to become unbelievers and think like you. And that’s fine, if you’re honest about it.

    But regarding the point of the thread and your objection to it, is it not logical that people who believe something profoundly will sweat the details and want to discuss and debate them?

  12. OK… y’all are debating about a word, 2 syllables, and *I* am the one being illogical? I suppose it’s logical for someone to want to “get something right”, but – once again – I have to point out that you are debating something that is of HUMAN origin, which is language. Speech. Linguistics. Making sounds with the throat and mouth. That’s the point I was trying to make. Some book (in this case, the Judeo-Christian bible) apparently has put down rules about what to utter or what not to utter in reference to god – rules which, of course, were put down by human mammals who were purportedly divinely inspired to do so (which is, of course, another matter of debate). Language is one thing; belief in a god is another. Yes, my flippant unbelief showed through, and although I wasn’t intending to offend anyone, I certainly don’t mind stirring things up a bit.

  13. If you’re looking for a consensus to agree that it probably makes little difference what words we actually use, and that the debate over the use of certain vowels from ancient dialects has little relevance in the grand scheme of things – you’ll probably find yourself in good company here. I think even atheists and theists can agree that God (if he were to exist) is probably bigger than that.

    I don’t think anyone here was seriously debating whether or not we should say the name YHWH. The overwhelming consensus here was that the words themselves don’t matter much.

    I can certainly understand that for someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of God such matters would seem trivial. And to a point I even agree with you.

    But I guess I’d also have to ask you to understand that for people who do believe in the existence of God, the discussion concerning how we might relate to that being – including the possibility that our actions, attitudes or words have the capacity to offend Him – would be paramount. It’s not a matter of fear so much as it is a desire to give proper reverence.

  14. I think mindserased (ironic name?) has a point. Any word representative of God should be equivalent to any other word so representative because after all, these are merely words, and God him(it,her)self is ineffable. Anything ineffable will never be reached by a mere word, only by a deep prayer, I would think, or by theological theorizing. See Alvin Plantinga? BTW: I wonder how he feels about this issue?

    I myself am probably an atheist, but when I say “probably” that doesn’t mean that I could believe in God. The idea is far beyond my ability to comprehend it, and the universe itself is too unfathomably mysterious for me to even get out of the batter’s box, let alone to first base. 😉

  15. @Marde: Hey, at least you’re willing to step up to the plate. It’s good to have you in the game!

    And you do touch on something. That true communication with God happens in the heart. Jesus even touched on this when he said that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Words in and of themselves can be irrelevant as they’re just a static combination of letters and symbols. But where words do have meaning is that they tend to be an expression of our hearts.

    I think you’ll find that fundamentally we’re kind of all trying to work our hearts into proper understanding, respect, and admiration for the – to borrow a great phrase from you – “unfathomable mysteriousness” of our Creator. We’re not going to get it completely right, and often times we’re going to find ourselves on some silly rabbit trail (to which God no doubt bangs his head against the wall). But ultimately our desire is the reconciliation of our hearts with God’s. To whatever capacity we can even begin to understand that.

  16. A two syllable word could break the heart of a young child, or enrage a madman, or start a war. The fact that it’s just a word and that it’s only two syllables doesn’t exclude it from serious discussion. You think it’s unimportant, I understand. And to be frank, this particular issue is not of much consequence to me personally either. But to criticize people for talking about something they feel deeply about just because you don’t doesn’t seem constructive.

    Mardé, I appreciate your candor and your point of view!

  17. Well, thanks, guys, but I think I just struck out! I can’t play the game if I’m going to be worried whether God is going to be offended or not. That’s much too anthropomorphic for me. But I’ll certainly concede your point that criticizing people about something they feel deeply about may not be constructive.

    Still, some of the most ferocious “religious” people who feel deeply may wish for our destruction. But that’s going off on another tangent.

  18. Wait!! No!!! TYPO.

    That sentence should have read:

    Well, if it makes you feel any better, neither we – nor God as we understand him – wish for your destruction.

    Egads what a gaffe! 😆

  19. YAH! That was a serious gaffe! Shows ya the limitations of the medium! Ah well, it’s fun anyway!

    I still think mindserased had a point: words are just words! Didn’t Ludwig Wittgenstein make the same point?

  20. Whoa whoa, let’s all settle down here. Look at how any topic in the context of a religious discussion brings out the emotion rather than the intellect. My original point – once again – is about LANGUAGE. I was trying to look at this particular topic objectively, without the emotional attachment of a belief in god. But obviously my point has gotten swallowed up and now a debate about words has spawned a thousand more. It may not be constructive to criticize people about something they feel deeply about, as Marde pointed out, but – once again, how many times can I say this? – my original point was and is about speech and language, and because I happen to not be religious, it came off as a personal attack.

    JoshWay: I know what you’re saying about how words can do harm, but the point you’re arguing there is about context and intention, not language. Tell a beloved pet in sweet and loving tones: “Oh, you are so stupid, yes you’re a stupid dog” and he’ll still come wag his tail. Or, put more crudely, George Carlin said, “Don’t worry so much about the word ‘nigger’ – worry about the racist who’s using it.”

    Marde: I’m right with you, friend. There’s no sense having a logical debate with the devout – it always ends up in an emotional “no-MY-book-is-correct” kind of mess.

  21. There’s no sense having a logical debate with the devout – it always ends up in an emotional “no-MY-book-is-correct” kind of mess.

    Which, ironically, hasn’t happened here. I think it’s actually been a fairly lighthearted chat. My only use of Scripture was in support of a point made by Marde.

    But I do have to admit I’m having trouble understanding where you’re coming from. We agree with you about words and their meaninglessness – as we have stated. And the tone hasn’t really been harsh or overly emotional.

    I’m pretty sure we’re all getting along pretty well here. That’s how I’m reading it anyway.

  22. let the record show that this post is in no way trying to be defensive in its tone. i simply want to raise a point. Jesus told me to love all, and i do. so here goes.
    if, right from the get go, people of any faith are deemed illogical, emotional, and presumed to be unintelligent, then yes, there is no sense having any conversation.

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