Fr. Paul A. F. Castellano
What's in a Name?
Imagine, if you will, you show up to attend a seminar on journalism given by a famous social advocate and internet personality. The introductions are made and then, suddenly, rather than an excurses on free speech, journalistic integrity, two-source confirmation, and the like, the speaker launches into an obscenity laden diatribe against Christianity for a few minutes.
As he progresses in his slander of Christianity and the Bible he says, we can learn to ignore the “b.s.” (and he didn’t use the letters) about homosexuality in the Bible as we have learned to ignore the “b.s.” in the Bible about slavery, the prohibition against eating shellfish, mixing clothing fabrics, the dietary laws overall, etc.
The speaker, homosexual activist Dan Savage, then went on to quote one of the “new breed” of atheists – Sam Harris – and his book, “A Letter to a Christian Nation.” Savage approvingly quotes Harris’ statement, “The easiest moral question humanity ever faced – the question of slavery – the Bible got wrong!” To which he then turned to the audience and asked the rhetorical question, “So, what do you think the odds are that the Bible got wrong such a complicated issue as human sexuality? 100%.”
What any of this has to do with a seminar on journalism, I have no idea, but this actually took place almost 10 years ago.
I don’t know about you, but when I hear men such as Savage, or Harris, or Dawkins, or Dennett, or (the late) Hitchens, and others, make such egregiously inaccurate caricatures of the Bible, as a young Christian, I used to get offended and angry. As I matured, got a bit older, went to college and then graduate school and realized how logically fallacious and philosophically unsophisticated these comments were, I ignored them. I became almost apathetic. I didn’t care. I ignored them. But now, as one who has been in the pastorate for many years, who has virtually spent their life studying Scripture and interacting, through the Bible, with the person of the triune Godhead, I’m frightened for these people. Allow me to elucidate.
Outside the ignorance of these people – and by ignorance, I’m not calling them stupid, I’m using the term in its pure lexical form, “lack of information or knowledge;” they don’t have a clue as to what they are talking about. Savage (and by extension Harris), by their comments, demonstrate(s) such a lack of understanding of the Biblical context of what slavery was, Biblical typology, the holiness code in the Bible, the Ancient Near Eastern culture, proper hermeneutics, ancient languages, and so forth, that it would take hours to just teach them what they don’t know about these topics in order to teach them where they’re incorrect. No, these people merely create a straw man and launch into this petulant, fist-raising, chest puffing opposition against that of which they have no knowledge.
Now Savages’ attack was directed against the Bible. This is not new; so, why is this such a big deal? Why be afraid for them? The reason is multifaceted, but primarily it reduces to one of the core characteristics of the Bible. The Bible as a revelation of God’s redemptive work and activity in human history to save His people, is nothing less than an expression, an exposition, an exegesis of the nature, person, and character of God! The Bible is God’s communication, revelation to us explaining to us WHO HE IS!
And one of the ways in which God shares with us, in His revelation to us, who He is is in a type of shorthand. The 613 precepts of the Law are expressions of God’s perfect, Holy Character; the distillation of the Law into the 10 commandments, is a shorthand version of the Law and God’s Holy character; and still further God distills for us His Holy character in His name. So, if you follow the logic, by attacking the Bible they are attacking God’s character and attacking Him. Even more succinctly, by taking God’s name in vain, they are defaming and attacking God. This is why I fear for these people.
But it is not limited to the militant; the taking of the Lord’s name in vain seems to be a virtual cottage industry without the financial remuneration. The elimination of God from public discourse is a one result from the prohibition of mentioning “God” in essentially all areas of public life. Businesses, schools, etc., all bar any affirmative, prolonged pronouncement of “God” unless it is in a very brief, circumscribed manner. There is no mystery or wonder here why almost everyone believes the abuse of the name of God is “no big deal.” What’s even more sad and distressing is how Muslim’s are more passionate and get more agitated at the blasphemy performed against their sacral individuals than Christians – and they are defending a false god.
You might ask, “Ok, you’ve mentioned you’re concern, but why? Why do you get so exercised about blasphemy?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Allow me to cite just some of what Scripture says about the name of God.
100 years ago the great Princeton Seminary professor, B.B. Warfield, wrote a magnificent treatment of the below passage in his work, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.
In this magisterial work, Warfield points out that our colloquial understanding of “inspiration” is flawed in understanding the Greek word, “theopneustos,” in this verse. When the Apostle Paul states in II Tim 3:16, All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, the Apostle is NOT invoking our current understanding of inspiration as some emotive, lighting bolt from the sky, flash of conceptual epiphany out of nowhere. No, what he is asserting and what Warfield explains to us is – theopneustos – means, “God breathed out;” God expired or even better, exhaled His Word.
God’s word then, when we take II Tim 3 into account, means that the Word of God, the Bible, comes from the very fount of God’s being. And it is in this exhalation, if you’ll allow me license, where He is giving us the explanation of His character.
In the birth narrative of Matthew’s Gospel we read, Matthew 1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
The meaning of Jesus' name is - "Yahweh saves." In other words, when one is blaspheming, when they are deriding, maligning, slandering God’s name in, at best a frivolous and at worse profane usage, one is degrading the expression of the very means of their salvation.
Profaning the Name is more, however, than just besmirching Yahweh's reputation. The name itself is a sacred object, to be revered:
Psalm 111:9 He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.
Ezekiel 36:22 "Therefore say to the house of Israel,`Thus says the Lord GOD: "I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went.
Matthew 6:9 After this manner, therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed (HOLY) be thy name.
The Holy character of God is ascribed to the very Name of God. When one blasphemes God’s Name – HIS HOLY NAME – they are also blaspheming His Holiness, His Holy nature and person. It’s as if one is saying, “God, you are not anywhere near holy.”
But God’s name isn’t limited to simply His Holiness. His name, as a summation or shorthand for His character contains or expresses all of His qualities, characteristics, and attributes.
In Jeremiah 16:21 we read, Therefore, behold, I will this once cause them to know, I will cause them to know mine hand and my might; and they shall know that my name is The LORD. His name is powerful.
When Jacob wrestled with God in Gen 32, he asked for His Name! God refused to give Jacob His name; God guards His name; God's name is Holy; God is jealous of His name because His name is self-revelatory - it reveals the very character and nature of God.
Yahweh - is the name of God's self-revelation.
1 Chronicles 29:13 Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name.
God's "glorious" name is to be:
Blessed, Praised, Exalted, Magnified, Glorified, Rejoiced, and Exulted IN!
It is to be:
Hallowed, Thanked, Feared, Loved, Remembered, Proclaimed, Declared, Waited on, Walked in, Desired and, Sought after!
When we use the expression, "Call on God," what is really meant is "Call on God by NAME."
Malachi 1:14 But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful (feared, cursed) among the heathen.
Deuteronomy 28:58 If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD;
Malachi 2:5 My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name.
Two of the concepts connected with misuse or abuse of God's Name center around the resultant effect of an offense against what is sacred - in other words - to misuse or abuse God's Name is the same as if one is to violently attack, or literally "Puncture" God.
Exodus 34:14 for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God,
God’s name, so intimately and clearly expressing His character, place upon His people, is fiercely guarded by God such that, He is Jealous of His Name! And Jealous of anyone upon whom He gives it.
We’ve all heard the stories of the Jews being so cautious in the use of the name of God (Yahweh), so serious being the offenses that, eventually, a custom developed of avoiding even inadvertent misuse by not saying "Yahweh" AT ALL - even going such lengths as to NOT WRITING IT AT ALL. If they had to, in English it would appear, G – D.
My friends, don’t overlook this concern. Don’t pass it off as someone crying, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling,” for God doesn’t view the blasphemy of His name in such a cavalier manner.
Exodus 20:7 "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.
To know God's Name is to be in harmonious relationship with God's character and purposes - to defame His Name, misuse His Name, abuse His Name, to blaspheme His Name is to be at WAR WITH GOD (See Romans 8).
Numbers 6: 24-27 The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:
25 The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:
26 The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.
27 And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them.
Deuteronomy 7:10 And repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face.
Be careful. You have been forewarned.