Around the Internet you often see people spell God as G-d. I believe this is done as sign of respect based upon the Jewish practice of refusing to speak the name of God.

As most are aware, in the Hebrew Bible God gives his name in Exodus 3.13-14a:

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM."
The name given in verse 14 is יהוה‎ in the Hebrew and is rendered in English as YHWH. YHWH is sometimes called the Sacred Tetragrammaton (a tetragrammaton being a word with four letters).

In the Hebrew Bible YHWH is the proper name of God. And as a sign of respect for the name observant Jews will refrain from pronouncing it aloud though, from what I understand, they may write the name.

Which brings me to G-d.

The word God is generally used to translate the Hebrew words El and Elohim. Elohim is not the proper name of God. In its plural form Elohim is translated as "gods" and, thus, is used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to both YHWH and to Canaanite deities.

This raises two questions I have about G-d. First, Elohim isn't the proper name of God as is YHWH. So why not spell God in full? Why G-d? Second, as I understand it, the show of reverence for YHWH is not speaking the name aloud. Writing it is permitted. So why say God aloud but not spell God? Seems backward.

But these are quibbles. If someone wants to show respect to God by spelling G-d then kudos to them.

For this post I'd like to push on and talk a bit about another way of spelling God, the difference between God and god.

The general convention is to spell God with a capital G. This signals that we are talking about the God of the Universe. God, capital G, has monotheistic overtones--we are talking about the one, true and only God. Conversely, little g is used--god--to refer to false deities or polytheistic deities. When you spell God as god you are showing that you don't think the god you are writing about is real. This is why Christopher Hitchens chose to use a lower-case g for his book title "god is Not Great." Hitchens was signalling that he didn't think God was God.

Now, in many of my recent posts I've been resorting to the spelling god. I do this, for example, when I'm talking about idolatrous conceptions of God. In my last post interacting Peter Rollin's book Insurrection I talk about his argument that for many Christians god is a deus ex machina. And in that post I extensively used god to indicate that this view of God--god as deus ex machina--isn't really God. I'm using the spelling to make a visual discrimination between true views of God and false views of God. God versus god.

But here's what I'm wondering. Who has a true view of God? No doubt I think my views of God are more truthful than those expressing deus ex machina views of God, but what does "more truthful" mean here? Aren't my views just as false, idolatrous and self-serving?

Here we run up against the difference between positive and negative theology, cataphatic and apophatic theology. Positive theology speaks to what can be properly said about God. This is what we tend to think of when we think about theology. It's the theology of church, this blog, and the seminary. It's a theology of words.

Negative theology is the theology of the mystics, the theology about that which cannot be said of God. It takes its cue from statements such as this from St. Augustine: "If you understand it, it's not God." It's the theology of the ineffible and inexpressible. A theology of silence and the failure of words.

One of the contentions of negative theology is that in a very important sense every spoken claim about God is a lie, a falsehood. To illustrate this, consider the following statements:
God is a father.
God is love.
God exists.
These are examples of positive theology, linguistic attempts to say something truthful about God. But are they true? Well, sort of. There is truth in each statement, but in important ways each sentence is also false.

It's easiest to see this with the first sentence. Is God a father? Well, yes, in a certain sense. Given our understandings of "fatherhood" God is like some of those things. But we also know that this is just a metaphor, that God isn't really a male. For example, we find ample maternal images of God in the Bible as well. So we know God is genderless. God is a father. But God is also a mother. And at the end of the day God isn't really either.

So let's make it more difficult. Is God love? Yes. But then again human love is a dim window on divine love. There are aspects of God's love that we don't understand. Paul speaks to this in his ode to love in 1 Corinthians 13: "Now we see in a glass darkly but then we will see face to face."

Now let's get really abstract. Does God exist? Yes. But then again not the way we understand existence. In our minds things that exist are objects. If unicorns exist this means that we can locate an object in the world somewhere that fits the description of a unicorn. But if we can't find this object then the unicorn doesn't exist.

Okay, if God exists is God an object? Here's a way to get at that question: Are there two things in the cosmos, God and the universe?

Does God + Universe = 2?

No. God isn't an object that can be counted alongside other objects. So in a key sense God doesn't exist. Not in the way we understand existence.

In short, you can't say anything about God--God is father, God is love, God exists--without speaking a falsehood. God foils all attempts at verbal description.

Which is why many consider silence to be more truthful about God. That negative theology is superior to positive theology.

I tend to agree. Which brings me back to god.

According to negative theology every time I speak of God I am really speaking of god. The word God is more false than true. And if that's the case should I not signal that I'm telling a lie? For example, I'm more than willing to use god to describe the deities of others but what makes me think I can use God to describe my understanding? Isn't spelling God in reference to my own deity the utmost in hubris?

What I'm basically saying is this, shouldn't every spelling of God be god? Not to say you aren't trying to point to the one true God, but spelling god is a sign--to yourself and others---that anything you say about God is inherently limited, fallible, contaminated, self-interested and idolatrous.

Shouldn't we all opt for god over God and G-d?

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

46 thoughts on “god”

  1. Very provocative, Richard (in a good way). I hear your point, but will stick with God because I believe that relational knowing is more key to this discussion than propositional truth. 

    I like Barth's tact in this discussion where he describes all theology as comedy (with God laughing at us in a fatherly sort of way). I especially love his summary line about various denominations and theological schools where he emphasizes that the last thing the world needs is people calling themselves "Barthians". 

  2. It always mystifies me when people write G-d. What, exactly, is sacred about English vowels? 

    (I also wonder, when such people write in French, do they call God "D---"?)

  3. Alternatively, all conceptions of "god" could be written with a capital 'G' to reflect the significance of the deity in relationship to the individual; or, all we who claim to know God (and/or his will as is perfectly communicated through our words and deeds) should begin our own names with a little letter?  The existence of God requires an act of faith (or a series of many!) to believe; apprehending the truth of who God is requires a quantifiable humility, a willingness to admit, "I know imperfectly; I am *not* God."  The most tangible expression of that humility, it seems to me, is in loving others in the way that we *think* that God loves us.

    Oh, Dr. Beck, if that -- in my most current analysis -- is not at the root of our collective failure to live mercifully, justly, and humbly.  We do not believe *enough* in the unfailing love of God toward, in, and through us.  I feel a little beaten down today.  Slaying my own "dragons" and engaging with a few fire-breathers lately.  I don't know how you fearless bloggers do it, day in and day out.  I know that you must have haters as a result of what you believe and publish.  I, for one, am so very grateful for your courageous voice for a truth that is freeing and healing.  ~susan

  4. In response to: "Second, as I understand it, the show of reverence for YHWH is not speaking the name aloud. Writing it is permitted. So why say God aloud but not spell God? Seems backward."

    1) Even though Hebrew scribes wrote the letters YHWH, they did not include the vowels that would have told the reader how to pronounce these letters correctly. Or if there are vowels, they are the vowels for the word Adonai, which is what any orthodox (or semi-orthodox) Jew would say instead of YHWH. Thus, not writing the -o- is patterned after omitting the vowels in Hebrew.

    2) Presumably, anyone who actually knows why they are writing G-d would not pronounce this word either. This is why there are so many epithets and other 'names' of God, particularly in Judaism (the name, or ha-shem, the light, etc...).

  5. One reason to continue
    to write God rather than god, is that we believe God has revealed
    himself to us. So, while we recognize that our language about God is
    analogical, we are speaking of God. Our knowledge of God is not merely
    mythical. Theologians would say: “the economic trinity is the immanent trinity.”
    However, one aspect of God’s self-disclosure is his hiddenness. So, maybe after
    all, we should write G-d to indicate that we do not know God exhaustively.

  6. For what it's worth, Susan, your love has reached across the blogosphere and touched my soul in a profound and personal way.  My heart is grateful to you, and to your God.

    Language has been both my vocation and avocation since I can remember.  What strikes me about Dr. Beck's post today is how closely it mirrors current scientific thought on the nature of reality and awareness.  There are profound implications here about relativity and how each person's individual perception creates their own Reality, moment-to-moment.  However, it cannot be observed directly.  At this level, language indeed fails.

    What we are left with, then, as you suggest, is the palette upon which we paint our lives.  And I want you to know that your thoughts, as expressed here, have helped shape my Reality.  Thank you.

  7. I'm not so sure about this. I believe that God chooses to express Himself with words. While I agree that our words can never perfectly represent Him, He Himself is described as the Word. We are cleansed by the washing of the water of the word. The word of God is quick and powerful . . . discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. And while He is all in all and encompasses all, He is not the universe.  He speaks of Himself in personal (and sometimes plural) terms, describing emotions, decisions, intent. God is a person, a community, the word. It seems to me that He has chosen to express Himself in the lives of people -- specifically in the community of His ekklesia, and specifically through His Son living in and through the lives of those who are learning to follow Him.

  8. I've taken to this same motif in my own writing Richard, and I would point out, in adding to those mystic observations, that the god who can point to why they exist can't be god because they would only be pointing to another ground.....

    I'm very engaged in science culture and its ensuing mind; I point out there, that when it comes to explaining existence itself, the symbol of Machine isn't any more powerful than the symbol of God: both are equally anemic. So to pat the heads of ancient thinkers because thinking within the symbol of Machine REALLY explains existence, is to engage in the same kind of illusory  means which Machine-heads criticize the God-heads for.

    There's a way beyond both God and Machine, and I think this notion of god is on the right track.....

  9.  Thank you, Sam, for these words of friendship.  I needed that today!  In this other-oriented expression of the God whom you have apprehended, you have blessed me.  And done so at other times here in this blog community, as well.  Even as we share our struggles, failures, and fears -- essentially, our "humanness" -- we honor the true nature of God "with us", the one who enters into our suffering and offers His healing presence.  The parts of you that you have shared in friendship here, Sam, make me a believer in the capital 'G' God who loves and is with us.  We prove our own faith by working it out with others, in loving fellowship.  Don't you just love this blog community?  It's something special, and if a blog can have an "atmosphere" the one here is positively heavenly.  :-)  Blessings of peace to you, Sam...

  10. I'm quite content to claim a God that far surpasses my understanding of existence, love, understanding, mercy, grace, and all my capabilities of expression.  You can keep your god.

  11. I like the relational angle too. Buber makes a HUGE distinction between God - language that we only use in the third person, and God - language that we use in the second person. I think he might say that we should use the lower-case (god) when referring to god, but that when we address god, we say, "Our God." What we at least intend in this address is not a member of a class, and is not subsumable into what we think we know; it is something revealed and real beyond our own power to grasp or convey the reality. I like the audacious aspect of not giving up that claim.

  12. [with apologies to qb]
    Dan G is confused. He perceives that quite possibly someone has missed the point of the post. Perhaps Dan G is especially dense today... Please enlighten him.

  13. I'm hopped up on cold medicine so pretty much the only takeaway I'm getting from this is an image of God doodling on a school notebook the words "God + Universe" inside a heart. 

  14.  If the point is that "every spoken claim about God is a lie, a falsehood" then I would disagree.  I understand the examples Dr. Beck cited (e.g. God is love; God exists).  Those "positive theology" claims can be inferred to place limits based on human conceptions.  But what if we openly admit that human conceptions are inadequate?  Does this still prohibit speaking in positive statements and force on to use the "little g" when speaking of the ____ [that which shall not be named]?  Must it follow that to claim that God surpasses all of my understanding is also a lie?  How is it hubris, or even a falsehood, to reach for a God that I readily admit cannot be described by human words? 

  15. Here's a food for thought question.  How does the incarnation impact negative theology?

  16. Interesting points... Here's something else to consider: why use the word God/god at all?  The word comes from German and probably originally referred to a pagan deity (or several).  If we are worshiping the same god that revealed himself to Moses, why don't we use his real name?  And, no, I'm not a Jehovah's witness, and, no, I don't typically do this myself.  Just wondering...

  17. It is unique in my experience as a place almost devoid of "flaming".  Some who are attracted to this space, it seems to me, are those who are willing above all to both admit and examine their assumptions, as well as their own doubt.  This begins, of course, with Dr. Beck.  (I love it when he does that.)  And I cannot help but notice that they are the ones who might be shunned in a more formal setting, not for who they are, but because of that doubt.  The questions take on greater significance, then, than the answers.

    I don't know that even in heaven all questions will be answered.  But I do know that I am scratching at the painted window here, trying to look through, and I gain hope and a feeling of connectedness in seeing others wrestle with the very same issues.

  18. http://judaism.about.com/od/judaismbasics/a/Why-Do-Some-Jews-Spell-God-G-D.htm

    The custom of substituting the word "God" with G-d in English is
    based on the traditional practice in Jewish law of giving God's Hebrew
    name a high degree of respect and reverence. When written or printed,
    God's Hebrew name (and many of the stand in names used to refer to God)
    cannot be erased or destroyed. (See below)

    There is no prohibition in Jewish law against writing out or erasing
    the word "God" in English. However, many Jews have afforded the word
    "God" with the same level of respect as the Hebrew equivalents. Because
    of this, many Jews substitute "God with G-d so that they can erase or
    dispose of the writing without showing disrespect to God. Some Jews also
    use G!d in the same way, utilizing the exclamation point to convey
    their enthusiasm for Judaism and God.

  19. Perhaps part of the problem here is the limitation of words other than God/god.
    Many languages, for instances, have more than one word for knowing.
    From my paltry 'knowledge' of languages, the distinction made by these alternative words would often seem to be that between knowing a proposition truth and relating to someone through shared meaning or experience.
    When Paul expresses his longing to "know" God, is he thirsting after more propositional truths as a deer for water in the desert?
    If there's one thing I've come to appreciate evn more here, Richard, it's that relational knowing is a necesssarily imperfect, messy, a hopeless endeavour, a unicorn, if you like...
    And yet....it is the truest thing we know.  As Becker says, humans are the only mediators of meaning.  Only in relation to the otherness of others can we know ourselves; only in relationship with the otherness of infinitude and eternity (forgive my imperfect words) can we be brought to a true knowledge of ourselves and others and God.
    It is the work of a lifetime.  It's what I mean by the word salvation.
    One day we will know, even as we are fully known.

  20. What we know about God is far exceeded by what we do not know. In a brief summary:

       Scriptures, theologians and many religious leaders tell us what the divine is by listing grandiose attributes. Most mystics worship personal aspects of the divine, but they also speak of what it is not. Many of them said that the divine essence is nothing, i.e. no thing, that it is immanent in all things, yet it is transcendent to everything. Mystics consider this seeming paradox to be a positive negation.
      Avidya, non-knowledge in Sanskrit, is used in Buddhism for our “spiritual ignorance” of the true nature of Reality. Bila kaif, without knowing how in Arabic, is Islam’s term for “without comparison” to describe Allah. Ein Sof, without end in Hebrew, is the “infinite beyond description” in the Kabbalah. Neti, neti, not this, not this in Sanskrit, refers to “unreality of appearances” to define Brahman. In via negativa, the way of negation in Latin, God is “not open to observation or description.”   Mysticism emphasizes spiritual knowing, which is not rational and is independent of reason, logic or images. Da`at is Hebrew for “the secret sphere of knowledge on the cosmic tree.” Gnosis is Greek for the “intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths.” Jnana is Sanskrit for “knowledge of the way” to approach Brahman. Ma`rifa in Arabic is “knowledge of the inner truth.” Panna in Pali is “direct awareness”; perfect wisdom. These modes of suprarational knowing, perhaps described as complete intuitive insight, are not divine oneness; they are actualizing our inherent abilities to come closer to the goal.(quoted from "the greatest achievement in life," my free ebook on comparative mysticism)http://www.peacenext.org/profile/RonKrumpos

  21. Blowing....my....mind. I love this blog. The dialogue about existence vs. non-existence is amazing to me, how true it is that language simply cannot capture these ideas and realities (and non-realities?). How quickly it blends into the ideas of quantam physics, or at least what very little I know of it. Seems like our problem is that we've assigned our god with the unoriginal name of..."God" which causes great confusion. Wouldn't it be confusing if your dad's real name was also "Dad"? Maybe I'm being overly simplistic but it seems like a simple problem. The Incan sun god "Inti" was a personal name, as is "Vishnu" and "Quetzacoatl". When we call him Jehovah, or if atheists describe Jehovah, they probably capitalize it.

  22. The feminist theologian Elisabeth Fiorenza uses 'G*d' and 'the*logy' in her writing, taking out the 'o's to reflect the "brokenness and inadequacy" of language to express the whole. She doesn't use G-d because for her it represents "the conservative malestream".
    It's a visual reminder of the point, but it does make texts very hard to read and, I might say, overestimates the power of the letter 'o'  (except if you're Ella Minnow Pea).

  23. As said below, leaving out vowels is a very, very ancient Jewish convention which simply means, "Don't read this word aloud." I don't, actually, know what such groups DO read aloud in place of that word--but that's what writing "G-d" is meant to communicate.

  24. Yeah. I think that the incarnation gives us a particularity that simply isn't there with a "god who might be there but not in any way I feel adequate expressing"--it gives us a concrete person, something we can "look at and our hands touch" (1 John), which reveals the invisible and unknown.

    This reminds me--negative theology has weaknesses. I think it's C. S. Lewis who says that negative theology (God doesn't have arms, doesn't have legs, doesn't have feet, doesn't have hands) may all be true but ends up with an image of God as a colorless odorless gas (or a charged plasma-cloud of potential love-electricity!).

    And the incarnation doesn't just give us concrete, knowable access to Jesus-who-expresses-God; it also gives us a concrete knowable access to Jesus-who-talks-to-God. The image of God as Father, for example, is NOT about deciding by ourselves that God is best called male--it is about watching to see what Jesus says when Jesus prays. I'm thinking of Ephesians, which does not tend to evoke "God" or "the Father" (as though these were known entities which we can describe) but "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

    It's as though Ephesians is saying:  "What Jesus meant by these words, that's what we mean by these words." He had lungs like ours, a brain like ours, and he said certain words in a language like ours. This (to some degree) authorizes us to use our lungs and brains to use some of these same words, too. If Jesus (without being a chauvinist sexist) could call on the Father, so can we. If Jesus (without drowning in the epistemic quandary) could talk about God's existence/ love/ etc., so can we. But only humbly, and derivatively, and cautiously.

  25. Thanks for your thoughts, jlh.  I've been thinking about this more as the day has gone by, and I've been wrestling with apophatic and cataphatic theology as a mechanic for knowing God to begin with.  To over simplify, apo/cataphatic theology is what comes about when Christianity encounters Greek philosophy and has to learn a new vocabulary.  It seems to me that Christianity, and the Judaism it springs from, is a religion of revelation.  If God hadn't chosen to reveal himself (so here, Moses and the burning bush is a great example), humanity would know nothing of God.  Since God is a god who reveals himself, even the aspects of God that we view in the negative (apophatic) are only negative in light of what has been revealed.  Anyhow, I'm really struggling with the relationship between "incarnation" and "apophatic."

  26. That's a really good point. For my part I tend to rest into Jesus's claim "Those who have seen me have seen the Father." But when I think of that I'm thinking less of theology than a pattern life. I see eating with tax collectors and sinners. Loving enemies. Father forgive them. Things like that.

    Is that cataphatic theology? Nothing is being "said" per se. But it is a concrete revelation.

    Maybe that's the point. Just shut up and live like Jesus.

  27. I like the quote of St. Bernard: “Who is God? I can think of no better answer than, He is who is. Nothing is more appropriate to the eternity which God is. If you call God good, or great, or blessed, or wise, or anything else of this sort, it is included in these words, namely, He is.”

    In my ebook I usually use the word divine. God - in English - usually connotes the Christian God (Theos is Greek). Divine may include Allah, Brahman, ha-Shem, Sambhogakaya, or names used by followers of other faiths and religions.

  28. Hi Richard, great post again. I always feel I come late to the conversation as I live on the other side of the globe and most of your commenters have already responded and moved on by the time I get to your posts.

    I would note (apart from my comments regarding Jesus I made re. a previous post which apply here also), Rollins states in 'How (Not) to Speak of God', "That which we cannot speak of is the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking". This is his attempt to live in the tension as it were and highlights the difficult we find ourselves in.

    Language is always fraught, and yet, it is all we have to order and make meaning of the word. Yes we can embody or incarnate our faith in love towards others. But, we will also be making sense of our actions with language. There is a necessary 'theological step' if you like. Or in other words, our Christian action is either preceded by or closely followed by a faithful confession. Hence, we can claim that what is required is for people to believe in Christ Jesus even though what we really mean is that people should live their lives in Christ Jesus. They are one and the same thing, and language is the medium by which we make sense of it all.

    Because of this, I wonder whether your analysis takes seriously enough our dependence on language and the paradoxical position we find ourselves in. We can't speak adequately of God, but we must also always be deepening our God language, rejecting impostor gods and submitting to the Spirit's refinement in relation to our arrogant assumptions about God. We can do no other.

  29. I think this is right to a degree, and resonates with Wouter above. Jesus provides the Christian with a solution to the paradox. (Of course, this then begs the question, "Which Jesus?" or "Whose Jesus?")

  30. Hi Cindy, I think I understand your reticence.

    Karl Barth draws out a distinction between the 'words' and the 'Word' - or if you like, the message and the medium. He uses this analogy: imagine you are looking out a second-story window down into the street and see someone in the street pointing at something above you which you cannot see because it is obscured from view. What they are pointing to is true and real but you can only see their pointing. Hence, the 'words' witness to the 'Word' but are not in and of themselves the 'Word'. In this way, the 'words' of the Bible or any of our words, are only the "word' in a provisional sense. I think Barth is on to something with this line of thinking. It prioritises the primacy of the untamed Spirit of Christ over the often limiting interpretation of words. It is not clean or always very concrete, but I believe it is faithful.

  31. Reminds me of a little you tube clip by Peter Rollins, I stumbled across the other day...  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNtfw22bb_w&feature=related   - the production is a little distracting, but what he's saying is very much along the same lines... I found it quite profound.

     As for whether or not to use capitals, I'm happy to stick with God - simply on the grounds of grammar.  Proper noun vs. common.  Shiva has a capital, as does Buddha - for the same reason.  :)

  32. I really love Peter Rollins - and I know he tends to paint off of the palate of negative theology a lot -  but I really do struggle with

  33. This strikes me as ironic and paradoxical. "Shut up and live like the person who spent most of his (recorded) life talking." Of course, Jesus did more than talk--but most of the actual actions were pretty hard to reproduce (walking on water, turning water into wine . . .). And when he was talking he did a fair amount of talking about God, making some pretty definitive statements! How can I be like him while simultaneously shutting up?

    I'm not trying to bash your sentence--merely pointing out that anyone's way of articulating what it means to "live like Jesus" can be problematic.

  34. Sadly, thanks to our culture, I cannot see G-d with out thinking "goddamn."  The act of leaving out vowels in this society feels more akin to bleeping curse words on the radio than respect. I realize that MOST or ALL of the people who read this blog would not immediately jump to that conclusion when encountering this contraction, but I wonder if it is as effective a convention in this day and age as it once was.

  35. Great post. And it helped me understand apophatic theology more than I had before...  Who are key current writers and thinkers in that genre?

    Also: i think I understand all the examples given for statements that are true-ish, but also false-ish about God except the one about "God Exists."  I THINK what you are saying is that God's existence is technically unlike anything else we say exists in the Universe. An uncaused first Being, saying he is an existant thing is somewhat of a misnomer, as if he were an object inside Creation. Rather than the Cause of all creation itself. Is that close?

    Lastly, this may be well read to you all, but just in case. I do love this poem from C.S. Lewis that covers much the same ground as this post:

         Footnote to All Prayers

          He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow      When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,      And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart      Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
          Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme      Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,      And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address      The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
          Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert      Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
          And all men are idolators, crying unheard      To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.

          Take not, O Lord, our literal sense.  Lord, in thy great      Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

  36. I love that you think about it that hard. Isn't that what is the most fun about God, (G-d or whatever letters we string together to try and represent Him) that I in this body will never be able to comprehend much more than a smidge of grace and love? He is always surprising.

  37. If I wanted to give a sign to myself and others that anything I say about God is inherently limited, fallible, contaminated, self-interested and idolatrous . . . I would spell god as God.  By capitalizing it . . . that to me speaks more loudly about how out of reach my understanding of God really is.  I can more easily grasp a god than I can God.  I can wrap my mind around a god . . . but around God???? . . . no can do.  God is a whole lot bigger than me.  But a god can be forged with my hands.  God speaks and creates from nothing.  But the gods don't even breath. 

  38. Dr. Beck, your post reminds me of a passage towards the end of HaZohar which says, "G-D is only a temple for _____".

  39. It is partly to do with Vowels, as others have said. Biblical Hebrew never did include vowels at the time of its writing. It was assumed that anyone literate enough to pronounce the words, as the language was in use still, so the text functioned more as a kind of short hand to make sure the story wasn't lost, rather than the language. So no words in the Hebrew Bible have vowels. 

    By the time we get to the Masoretic Text version of the Hebrew Bible - the version on which all modern versions of the Hebrew Bible (and Christian Old Testament) are based, little marks had been inserted by the copiers (a Jewish group known as Masoretes) to show which vowel sounds were meant to go with the words. These began to be included because Hebrew had fallen into being a scholarly and liturgical language and no longer a vernacular. The earliest Masoretic Text fragments only date to the 9th Century CE. 

    When the Masoretes were adding their vowel codes to the text, they did not do so to the Tetragrammaton for the reasons already given - to stop its being pronounced aloud. 

    Modern Christian pronunciations of the Tetragrammaton (which is normally translated as LORD in English Bibles) take the vowel sounds loosely from the Hebrew Addonnai, meaning 'Lord'. This is how we wind up with 'Jehovah' (which entered English via German) and the more recent 'Yahweh'. 

    The letters of the Tetragrammaton are also an ancient play on words, being the same letters used in the Hebrew verb 'to be', from which comes 'I am that I am'. 

    My contention would be that those wishing to show respect ought to use LORD instead of any pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, following both Hebrew and English precedent. God/ god/gods, as you say, most accurately corresponds with 'El' and 'Elohim,' which are borrowed from Canaanite religion (The biblical 'El Shaddai' is normally translated 'God Almighty', but comes from the name of the Canaanite high-god, and may originally have meant  'El of the Mountain'.)

  40. There are many so-called gods, but only one, true being that is God. He has a personal name; Yehovah:


  41. There are many gods, but only one Supreme being that is called God. His personal name is Yehovah:


Leave a Reply