The Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name Movement
First, allow me to immediately explain the title of this material. By "The Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name Movement," I do not mean to say that these two movements are identically the same. However, there are many within the Hebrew Roots Movement who also advocate tenets and the cause of the Sacred Name Movement. My aim in this treatment of these movements is to briefly present to you some of the very basic errors of these movements. One area of concern shall be must we know and correctly pronounce "the name of God." I shall focus on such claimed matters as the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew, from a Hebrew perspective. We shall also examine the claim that the New Testament is dependant on the interpretation of the Law of Moses and so called Hebrew experts. To begin on a simple and explanatory way, I shall quote one who became involved and then left the Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name Movement:
"...Sadly to say we drifted more and more from the New Testament, the new covenant and the cross of Christ. That is the danger of the Hebrew Roots movement… The leader began planting seeds such as ‘the new testament was not totally flawless since it had been written in Greek there were many different texts and some may not be accurate’. He began to pick and choose and before we ended up leaving he had pretty much thrown out Galatians and John because it did not reconcile to his theology! He taught that the Virgin birth was just a doctored up Catholic version of the Word. He taught that Jesus was Joseph and Mary's natural born son even though he could not prove this scripturally that is why he brought into question the accuracy of the translations....He began to teach that we became righteous through the law and that was why Yeshua came to show us how to keep the law. He actually began to teach that we needed to keep as much of the Law of Moses that we could and it was lawlessness not to do so. In essence you basically had to convert to Judaism even though we literally did not...."
The Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name Movement(s) are increasing in numbers and influence and should not be lightly viewed. Based on my experiences, many of the proponents continue to also meet and be a part of various traditional churches, apparently working from within these organizations. Just recently (the time of this writing), I attended two different groups in my area of central Louisiana. They may be described as militant, zealous, and convinced that they are right (such is good if they are doctrinally sound). Here is what another said of these movements:
"I believe the Hebrew Roots organizations have become the modern equivalent of the Judaisers who followed the Apostle Paul from city to city, spying on the NT believers' liberty in Christ and striving to pervert the Gospel and cause confusion among the Early Christians. When these Judaisers sought to draw the Christians of the Galatian church back under the Judaic Religious System, Paul warned the Galatian church to not give credence to their arguments for they were perverting the Gospel of Christ."
In dealing with such movements as these, it should be obvious that we are faced with a challenge: The evolution of language, custom, and linguistic nuance, to mention a few. Paul wrote about those who would advocate keeping the Law of Moses for salvation (Hebrew scriptures), especially those who wanted to select what part to keep for salvation the following:
"3: For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. 4: Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Gal. 5).
The Law of Moses is what we call a theocratic system, requiring the accompanying government shell for its execution. Without the associated government, many of the laws and practices found in the Hebrew scriptures cannot be fully observed (Ex. 21: 12ff.).
While I do not purport to be an expert in the Hebrew language, I do know that it is an ongoing language as opposed to the frozen language of the Greek used to write the New Testament (I shall address this more later). Hence, there are matters concerning which we do not know for sure. The Hebrew language consists of an alphabet of twenty-two consonants and no vowels (the present and "restored" Hebrew language). Regarding one of the biggest claims of these people, the "tetragrammaton" (name of God), we know that it consists of four consonants, YHWH. To avoid taking God’s name in vain, the Jews in about 300 B.C. decided not to pronounce the Hebrew word, but spoke the Hebrew adonai (Lord). It is a fact that the actual pronunciation of YHWH is not known with certainty. Some works and translations use the term "Yahweh." Upon the creation of a vowel system, since the Hebrews had forgotten how to pronounce YHWH, they inserted and substituted the vowels for adonai, making "Jehovah" (see the Pictorial Bible Dictionary, p. 905, 408, see addendum 1 regarding YHWH).
One entity that currently teaches Hebrew wrote:
"Hebrew has no W, J or X. The Hebrew letters can be approximated by English sounds, but the pronunciation of vowels, and of ‘r’, and 'h’ (het) are often problematic for English speakers" (Encyclopedia of the Middle East Hebrew Website).
There is much to do among the Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name people over the letter "J" in "Jehovah" and then "Jesus." They contend that the letter "J" is proof of pagan influence and corruption in our English translations. "J" was not introduced to corrupt, but was intended to help with the pronunciation. Hence, "J" is more a matter of phonetics. The shortened form of Jehovah, JAH, is observed in Hallelujah, meaning praise Jehovah, and in a compound name such as Elijah (see addendum 2).
They claim that the Greek New Testament is wrong, insisting that the New Testament must be produced from Hebrew. In fact, such a position is a must since the New Testament as we know it does not support these movements or their understanding of various Hebrew scriptures (addendum 3). The original New Testament letters were undoubtedly written on papyrus sheets, which were not durable. Hence, more substantial copies began to be made shortly following the original writings. One highly respected scholar wrote:
"…the different New Testament letters had been received with the authority of heaven behind them, which prompted early Christians to make many copies of these precious apostolic messages. These copies of the New Testament in Greek are know simply as manuscripts…Thus a New Testament manuscript is a Greek manuscript" (How We got Bible, by Neil Lightfoot, p. 27).
We have about 4, 500 Greek New Testament manuscripts in all, including the older called "uncial" (ca. 300, dating from the second century to the fourth). I find it interesting that we know of not one ancient Hebrew manuscript for the New Testament, they are all in Greek. Greek unlike Hebrew was a cosmopolitan ("universal") language of beautiful precision and potential and the Greek of the New Testament became a frozen language (Hebrew even today continues to undergo changes, see addendum 4).
Notwithstanding the fact that Jesus was a Jew, it is evident that he also conversed in the common Greek. Jesus conversed with a Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7: 26, she is said to have been Greek), Jesus taught in the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon and the Greek Decapolis (Mark 7: 31-37), a Roman (commonly spoke Greek) sought help of Jesus for his servant (Matt. 8: 5-13, many Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name people cannot imagine Jesus or Yeshua, as they refer to him, speaking "the pagan language of Greek"). One remarked:
"Even Mark, whose Greek is heavily influenced by his Semitic substratum, seems to presuppose a non-Hebrew audience. Thus, he explains Jewish customs (e.g. Mark 7:3-4), and he translates Aramaic phrases into the Greek (Mark 7:34: ephphatha)."
One work comments on the Greek:
"Greek was the most ideally adapted linguistic medium for the world-wide communication of the Gospel in the entire region of the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and the Near East. Accurate in expression, beautiful in sound, and capable of great rhetorical force, it furnished an ideal vehicle for the proclamation of God's message to man, transcending Semitic barriers and reaching out to all the Gentile races. It is highly significant that the 'fulness of times,' the first advent of Christ, was deferred until such time as Greek opened up channels of communication to all the Gentile nations east of Italy and Libya on a level not previously possible under the multilingual situation that previously prevailed" (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, III, p. 870).
It would appear that the Hebrew Roots Movement and Sacred Name people have not stopped to consider the nature of the writing of the New Testament books, not just in terms of manuscripts, etc. For instance, most of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written to Greeks and we know based on various documentation that most of the "common Greeks" did not speak or read Hebrew (addendum 5).
Much of the Hebrew Roots Movement is based on profitless "vain jangling." Paul wrote thus to Timothy:
"3: As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4: Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. 5: Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: 6: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; 7: Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm" (I Tim. 1, see also Titus 3: 9-11).
Paul was able to make a statement that I suppose all Hebrew Roots people would die to be able to make: Paul was "a Hebrew of the Hebrews" and had greatly excelled in the Hebrew religion (Phili. 3: 2-6). Yet, notwithstanding all of this prestigious Hebrew background Paul said he "…counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…" (Phili. 3: 8, some of the Hebrew Roots members have denied the apostleship of Paul).
The thrust and direction of the Hebrew Roots people is misdirected. The Law of Moses was a tutor to bring the Jew to Christ and his covenant (Gal. 3: 23-24, cp. chapter 4, vs. 21-31). They have the direction being: Hebrew, "to Christ," and back to the Hebrew covenant. It is apparent in the New Testament that such Hebrew perspectives as calling teachers "rabbi" is absent (Paul was referred to as "Rabbi Paul" by one group with whom I met).
Most of the Hebrew Roots people while doctrinally diversified may be generally summarized as follows: They claim to be Sabbatarian, keep the law of Moses or the parts they desire, "observe" at least one annual Jewish feast, most "celebrate" the Passover, a few practice animal sacrifice, some observe the Passover lamb, at least one group, perhaps more, are polygamists, and to my knowledge, all the groups are highly Premillennial and, as such, look for a restoration of the Jewish Nation and the setting up of a world Jewish government.
I shall close by quoting the words of an unknown author who aptly comments about the Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name Movement (see addendum 6):
"We (as Gentile believers) were not grafted into the Law and Judaism but into the faith of Abraham which preceded the Law and Jewish customs (Romans 4, Romans 11:17-24, Galatians 3:15-18). Jesus fulfilled all of the requirements of the law (Matthew 5:17-20) for all time (John 19:30, Romans 5:12-21). We were ‘made to die to the Law through the body of Christ’ so that we might be joined to Him (Romans 7:1-6, Galatians 2:19, 21) because Christ is ‘the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4). You mature in Christ and please Him by the same means by which you were saved by faith, not by following the Law."
Addendum 1: One has written: "God's name, given to Moses at the burning bush, is written with four Hebrew letters - hwhy, in the most ancient Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts and inscriptions. At that time and for many centuries afterward the Hebrew alphabet was made up only of consonants. Therefore, these four letters are consonants. This word is called "the tetragrammaton" (word of four letters) by language scholars. Depending on which scholar you consult, it is transliterated into English either as YHWH or as YHVH. This divergence of transliteration is only the beginning of the confusion and inconsistencies for sacred name teachers. That confusion is exacerbated by the fact that the pronunciation of the Name was lost in antiquity."
Addendum 2: Regarding "the name," there are multitudinous views. Consider some of the ways the "Name of God" is spelled and pronounced within the Sacred Name Movement, keep in mind these are people who insist the spelling and pronunciation must be correct: Yahwah, Yahweh, YHWH, Yah, Veh, Yah, Yahway, Yaohu, Ul, Yahvah, Yahuwah, Iahueh, YHVH, and Yahuah. In the two groups that I attended, they admitted different pronunciations and spellings and said that they did not for sure know which is right; yet, they said it must be correctly spelled and pronounced! Neither Hebrew nor Greek has a "J" in their alphabet, I concede. Also, they do not have the sound of the English letter "J." Hebrew words that are spelled with "J" in English often begin with "Y" in Hebrew. Something else to consider is Greek cannot represent an initial "Y" sound in a word. One wrote:
Addendum 3: A simple case in point is one of the groups I attended made a big deal out of Hebrews 8: 8. His Hebrew translation of Hebrews 8: 8 contained "a renewed covenant" instead of "new covenant" (Hebrews 8: 8-12 is a quotation from Jeremiah 31: 31-34). The Greek word "new" (kainen) does not mean "renewed," but points to substance that while in some ways the same, it is changed significantly enough to be distinguished from the comparative substance (called "old" in Hebrews 8: 13) and may be placed in contrast or contradistinction (we read of "new garment" in Luke 5: 36 compared to the "old garment"). The word "old" (Greek, palaioo) mentioned in this comparison situation means substantially worn out compared to the "new" (Heb. 8: 13 see also 1: 11). The "new covenant" is not just a refurbished arrangement, but it is so different that it is described as "new."
Addendum 4: It is admitted that Jesus probably frequently spoke Aramaic (a form of Hebrew). In fact, there are parts of the Hebrew scriptures in Aramaic and instances of Aramaic in the gospels (cp. Mark 7: 34). It is understood that a message that was to be declared to the then world would be in the language most commonly spoken by the majority, Koine Greek (Mark 16: 15, 16).
Addendum 5: Consider that Paul who spoke Hebrew was sent to the Gentile people (Acts 22: 2, 26: 14-18) and that Corinth (First and Second Corinthians), Ephesus (Ephesians), Colosse (Colossians), Thessalonica (First and Second Thessalonians), etc. were made up of Gentiles who spoke Greek. It is totally unimaginable to think, then, of the New Testament being originally written in Hebrew from the Hebrew perspective. Please do not forget that the Septuagint translation was rendered a couple centuries before Christ. It was from the Hebrew to the Greek and was quoted by Jesus and the apostles (Greek was already becoming the universal language).
Addendum 6: Lest I am understood as deprecating the Hebrew scriptures and unimportantly viewing their place in the life of the Christian, I shall offer a few comments. First, the Hebrew scriptures have great utility today (cp. Rom. 15: 4, I Cor. 10: 6, 11). The Hebrew scriptures constitute the foundation for the New Testament and contain many moral enunciations (cp. Matt. 22: 36-41). Nine of the original ten commandments are found in the New Testament, in modified and accented form, placed in the setting of the New Covenant (Ex. 20, Rom. 13: 8-10, Jas. 2: 11). It will be observed that the Sabbath Law is absent and that the emphasis is on "…the first day of the week" (Acts 20: 7, I Cor. 16: 1, 2). In fact, the Christian is warned not to allow others to judge him by Sabbath laws (Col. 2: 12-17).