Profanity
John D. Telgren


Many are aware of the fact that Hebrew scribes took honoring the name of Yahweh very, very seriously. As a matter in fact, later scribes who copied the text went so far as to go and wash themselves every time they came to the name of Yahweh in the text.

In many of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the name of Yahweh is preserved in Paleo-Hebrew script rather than the Aramaic (square) script that was used from about the 5th century B.C. until the present time. It seems that when the scribes switched from the old script to the newer script, they did not want to change the name of Yahweh in any way, so they left it in the older script. There are even some Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament that preserve the Paleo-Hebrew characters of the divine name instead of rendering them into Greek characters. The Greek translations that don't use the old Hebrew characters simply use the word, "Kurios (Lord)" for Yahweh.

Why does the Greek translation render the divine name as "Kurios" (Lord)?" We know that Jews from medieval times up till now do not pronounce "Yahweh" when they read the text aloud. Instead, they say, "Adonai (Lord)." I used to think it was the medieval scribes that originated using the word, "Lord" for "Yahweh," but the Greek translation of the Old Testament shows that this practice goes back as far as the mid second century B.C, when it was translated. The Dead Sea Scrolls' special treatment of the divine name may indicate the practice is even more ancient, perhaps extending back into the Babylonian captivity. It is interesting that our English translations have also inherited this practice by rendering the name of Yahweh as "LORD."

Why did the Hebrews do all this? God had commanded not to take his name in vain. In order to honor the name, they didn't want to use it as a common, everyday word. So they didn't pronounce it when they read aloud. That kept them from the possibility of profaning the name of the Lord, or so they thought.

What is interesting as I look over the history of the Monarchy is that the problem of profaning the name of the Lord seemed to have little to do with how they pronounced his name. Here are some examples:

" be careful with the holy gifts of the sons of Israel, which they dedicate to Me, so as not to profane My holy name; I am the Lord (Lev 2:22)."

"But the children rebelled against Me; they did not walk in My statutes, nor were they careful to observe My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live I withdrew My hand and acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned (Ezek 20:21-22)."

" a man and his father resort to the same girl In order to profane My holy name (Amos 2:7)."

Profanity is not just about bad language. That is only a small part of it. When we disobey God and act wickedly, we profane his name. That is profanity. On the other hand, when we act uprightly and just, then we glorify his name as we were meant to do.