Naming God

Hi, all, I thought I’d post an interesting email exchange from another site – one in which Jews and Christians interact. The Jews, as is their normal practice, don’t write out the word “God” in full, out of respect. The Christians have no such qualms, so they have to get along together. However, here comes a protest from someone new: Here is a point that everyone should know. The word “God” is not the name of our LORD. Those who spell the word “God” as “G-d” have no idea what they are doing. They should not be allowed to cross the street without their mother. Some people commented on the rudeness of this, but I wanted to reply on the linguistic point he was making: Does it matter how we name God? I’ve posted this, and further exchanges.

So here was my original reply:
– – – So would you be similarly pedantic about the spelling of “God” in other languages?

What about languages where the spellings are not so fixed as English?

What about languages which use other alphabets, Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese?

What about languages which use sounds, such as the South African Bushman “click” which isn’t even represented by a letter, being written “!”.

In any case, our English word “God” is itself derived from many previous forms. Abraham Moses, Jesus certainly didn’t say it like that or spell it like that.

Just because you speak English doesn’t mean that it is somehow blasphemous for the rest of humanity to spell words – even the name of God, differently from you. The “-” stands for the letter “o” for them, and seeing as any letter is only a symbol which stands for a sound, what could be wrong with that?

I don’t spell the word “G-d” but I understand the motives of those who do, and if I want to receive their communications (which I do), t is incumbent on me to respect that, leaving them to the decision as to whether they stay the same, or change.

Then someone else wrote in – I think crossing with my post above:
But Gary’s point is that it is not even a title found anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures referencing Elohim (to which it is not an equivalent title in translation).

Gad (pronounced ‘g-o-d in the Hebrew) is another matter but that is prohibited, no. Except for the pagan German deity and/or Gad in the ‘OT’ from where does the term g-o-d originate? Are you able to say? If you are, many will be interested in learning of its origin on this list.

That sparked off more thoughts:
If you type “God” and “Etymology” into a search engine, you’ll come up with a stack of information, but only the most recent is certain. It is certain that some cultures used the same original word root to describe, not only our Deity, but also their own pagan deities (the word deity also comes from the same root)

This does not mean that the use of the word is invalid. Nearly all forms of God’s name, including some He uses of Himself, are SYMBOLS representing the Person concerned.

The earliest Bible word for God was Elohim. Whether you think this was the original, or whether you think it was derived, in either case, the root of the word is El, probably meaning the strong one, which was also used by the Canaanites to signify their own pagan deities.

I suppose, theoretically, if we want to avoid sullying God’s name with associations with Pagan words, we would have to use the Tetragrammaton, YHVH, for him at all times. However, as we don’t know for sure how this was originally pronounced, we are in difficulties.

The difficulty is, are you going to ban all other names than this true one? If you are, you’ve got problems.

If you are not, you’ll just have to accept a fairly common linguistic principle, that what people MEAN is more significant than the words they use to convey what they mean.

Just one last point – did you have problems with the way I have described God in this email? I have used several words as symbols, God, Deity, Person, Elohim, He, Him, (and only an unpronounceable one (either for linguistic or religious reasons) as a true name).

G-d is, likewise a symbol, neither more so or less so. What is important is what it stands for to the speaker and the hearer (in the communication conventions which we always adopt when we interact). Do we both understand the same concept. Yes? Then let’s stop “disputes about words” and discuss the realities behind them.

elated Q & A