March 27, 2015

YHWH is a transliteration from Hebrew into English of God’s personal name. It is sometimes called the tetragrammeton, which comes from Greek and means “four letters.”

Y stands for yod — י
H stands for hey — ה
W stands for waw or vav — ו
H stands for hey — ה

It looks like this in Hebrew, but remember that Hebrew is read right to left.


In English translation, it is usually transliterated by Jehovah or Yahweh. Transliteration is the giving of the letters of one language in the letters of another. One of the problems of transliterating YHWH is the question of what vowels go with these letters. Hebrew is written without vowels except when dealing with the Masoretic text. The Masoretes were Jewish scribes from about A.D. 500 to 1000, who provided vowel points (vowel indicators) to aid with correct pronunciation. However, YHWH was not pronounced out of reverence for God, and the correct pronunciation can only be guessed at now. When a reader reached this point in the text they would say either adonai (my Lord) or elohim (God) — the latter being said when YHWH appeared with the word “lord” already. The Masoretes put the vowels for adonai or elohim on YHWH in the text since the reader was actually going to say adonai or elohim.

Jehovah as a transliteration goes back to ecclesiastical Latin in the 16th century A.D. or possibly even as far back as 1100 A.D. However, the transliteration was made with the vowels of adonai (my Lord). Yahweh is the attempt of modern scholarship to determine the correct vowels for YHWH and indicate that in the transliteration.

YHWH occurs over 6000 times in the Old Testament. The King James Version only renders 4 of those occurrences as Jehovah. The ASV is more consistent and has Jehovah 6779 times. Other translations use LORD or GOD in all capital letters to indicate YHWH following the later Jewish practice of saying either adonai (my Lord) or elohim (God) when encountering the divine name.

As a Bible reader, I like to know this background so that I’m aware of God’s personal name and be able to identify when it occurs, because certain passages make more sense that way.

So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there… (Genesis 26:25, ESV) — Lord is a title. YHWH, however, is a name. When you understand that LORD is standing for YHWH, the passage makes more sense.

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2, ESV) — Pharaoh is saying he doesn’t know YHWH as opposed to the gods of Egypt whose names he did know.

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:2, ESV) The preface to the Ten Commandments names YHWH as the one who has delivered them. They lived in a polytheistic setting. This identification is important.

The above passages are examples. In many places, knowing that you are dealing with the divine name helps make the passage clearer. The preface to most modern Bible translations are going to tell you how the translators have chosen to handle the divine name.

A Second Wind

March 20, 2015

When I was in college, I ran for exercise. I was not fast, and I was no competitive runner, but I ran. Anyone who has run for any distance has probably experienced this sensation. You start to hurt, you feel like you can’t go on, and you want to quit. But as you press on, you catch a second wind, and you finish the course that you set out to cover.

The definition of second wind is “a person’s ability to breathe freely during exercise, after having been out of breath.” We then use it metaphorically as “a new strength or energy to continue something that is an effort.”1

Christian living is compared to a race, and for most of us that race is a marathon (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Philippians 2:16, Hebrews 12:1-2). We must go the distance and not give up. This athletic imagery is also found in the use of victor’s crown or victor’s wreath. The Greek word is stephanos (from which we get the name Stephen). It is distinguished from the diadem, which is the royal crown. This is the imagery when Paul says:

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8, ESV — See also 1 Cor. 9:25, Jam. 1:12, 1 Pet. 5:4, Rev. 2:10, 3:11.)

Just like my night runs in college, running the Christian race gets difficult. We may feel the need for a second wind as we face difficulties, sorrows, and temptations. Here’s a couple of my favorite “second wind” passages.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30–31, ESV)

Are you struggling? I believe God is faithful to those who love him — just hold out for a second wind.

1New Oxford American Dictionary

The Confusing Binding and Loosing Passages

March 6, 2015

We are blessed to have English translations of the Bible, but on a few occasions our English translation may make it impossible to arrive at the correct sense out of a passage. One such case is the binding and loosing of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18. The ESV, unfortunately, gives the typical translation.

… and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, ESV)

You find a similar reading in the KJV, ASV, NKJV, NIV, NRSV, and NLT, although the NKJV, NIV, and ESV give the correct reading in their footnotes.

The name of grammatical feature in the passage is given in the footnote of the NASB. It is a future perfect passive form. William Douglas Chamberlain comments on this in his grammar.

This is wrongly translated “shall be bound” and “shall be loosed,” seeming to make Jesus teach that the apostles’ acts will determine the policies of heaven. They should be translated “shall have been bound” and “shall have been loosed.” This makes the apostles’ acts a matter of inspiration or heavenly guidance. Cf. Matthew 18:18. This incorrect translation has given expositors and theologians a great deal of trouble.1

The NASB translates it correctly.

…and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on

earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, NASB)

If reading several future perfect passives in a row makes your head spin, the HCSB provides the clear sense of the passage, although not a literal translation of it.

…and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, HCSB)

The sense of these passages, whether we are talking about Peter in Matthew 16:19 or the disciplining church in 18:18, is that the action and decision first occurs in heaven and then is followed on earth. Peter and the church are following heaven’s authority not dictating heaven’s policy. I simply make a note in the margin of my Bible so that I have the correction translation. The correct translation makes a world of difference and takes the confusion away.

1William Douglas Chamberlain, An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 80.

Fifty Shades of Grey

February 27, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey was the number one rated movie in the U.S in its opening weekend. In its first week, it grossed over $300 million counting domestic and foreign box office sales. According to reviewers, it has 20 minutes of sex scenes and a great deal of nudity. Clearly large numbers of people are seeing this movie.

I’ve mentioned this movie to raise a question. Do Christians draw a line at not seeing certain kinds of entertainment? Seventy-three percent of the US population identify themselves as Christian. So if I combine demographic information with box office sales, I would have to say a large number of Christians draw no lines and have no qualms about viewing any of this.

But should we? I think what is at stake is our purity of heart and our clarity of thought — Christian thought.

Sexual immorality, adultery, murder, and warfare are a part of many narratives including the Bible. The question becomes one of how are they portrayed. My concern is not just with sex but with violence and profanity as well. How are these things handled, and what do they do to our hearts and minds?

I do not want my entertainment to make me a voyeur. The definition of voyeur is “a person who gains sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity.” I do not want entertainment with simulated (or real) sex or nudity. How can I watch something like this and not be turned into a voyeur? Jesus warns about the danger of lust (Matthew 5:27-30) and the danger of having sexual immorality and adultery in our hearts (Mark 7:21-23). How can this kind of entertainment be consistent with following Jesus?

I do not want my entertainment to harden me to violence and suffering. I don’t know how I can keep that from happening, if I am shown every kind of violent act graphically. I realize that violence is plot point to much drama, but I’m concerned about how it is portrayed. I’m concerned about how much of it I consume.

I do not want my entertainment to shape my worldview. I want my worldview to be shaped by the Bible. That means even in the things that I watch, I need to evaluate the message of the film. All kinds of non-Christian messages are present and must be evaluated critically. We must be active viewers. I’m not wanting to withdraw from culture but to engage it.

I have found some tools helpful in making informed choices. The Internet Movie Database (IMdb.com) web site has a Parental Guide which allows you to see content advisory information. It is helpful to parents, but it is helpful to anyone trying to make good decisions. Dove.org provides movie reviews. Their main concern is to help people find family friendly films, but their reviews also give detailed information on sex, language, violence, drugs, nudity, and a category they label as other — lead characters that exhibit disrespect for authority, lying, cheating, stealing, illegal activity, witchcraft or sorcery and whether there are any consequences to this behavior.

What I am suggesting is that we need to be a lot more black and white in our moral view towards entertainment and a lot less fifty shades of grey.

Prayer for the Persecutors

February 20, 2015

The image is arresting. Men in orange jumpsuits kneeling on a beach in front of their captors. The captors are dressed in black and have swords. The headline reads: “21 Coptic Christians Beheaded by ISIS.”

As a Christian living in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century, I’ve read about persecution in history. Now I’ve witnessed it in the 24 hour news cycle.1 Whatever prejudices we may have encountered as Christians in our country seem ever so slight in comparison.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a blessing to those who are persecuted (Matthew 5:11-12). Jesus says that such people should rejoice because their reward in heaven is great. Later in the same sermon, he instructs: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44–45, ESV).

What would that look like? Beshir, the brother of two men who were beheaded on that beach, was interviewed on television. His comments are thought provoking.

ISIS gave us more than they asked when they didn’t edit out the part where [the martyrs] declared their faith and called Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith. . . . I thank ISIS because they didn’t cut the audio when they screamed, declaring their faith.”

Believe me when I tell you that the people here are happy and congratulating one another. They are not in a state of grief but congratulating one another for having so many from our village die as martyrs. We are proud of them!

Beshir was asked about the airstrikes against ISIS.

Since the Roman times, we as Christians have been targeted to be martyred. This only helps us to endure such crisis because the Bible tells us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us. However, the air strikes were a good response by the government.

Today I was having a chat with my mother …. I asked her, “What would you do if you see ISIS members walking down the street, and I told you that was the man who slayed your son?” She said, “I will ask for God to open his eyes and ask him into our house because he helped us enter the kingdom of God!”

On air, Beshir prayed this prayer: “Dear God, please open their eyes to be saved and to quit their ignorance and the wrong teachings they were taught.”2

1This is certainly not the first case of persecution in the news. For more information about persecution, see http://www.persecution.org.

2Anika Smith, “Brother of Egyptian Martyrs Prays for ISIS,”

Truth and Credibility

February 13, 2015

Bryan Williams, the anchor for NBC Nightly News, has been placed on a six month suspension without pay. The problem is that he has told a story about his reporting during the Iraq war where the helicopter he was on came under RPG and AK47 fire. Military witnesses claim that was true of another helicopter that day, but not the one Williams was on. The story raises questions about his credibility.

Williams has received some severe criticism in the media. This incident has raised questions about other reports he has made. Questions are being raised about some of his first person reporting during Katrina, and did he really rescue puppies from a fire?

What I find intriguing about the media is that they are the same ones who have given us reports through the years that suggest lying is normal. “Everyone lies,” they report. One expert said, “Lying has long been a part of everyday life. We couldn’t get through the day without being deceptive.” In the course of a week, people deceive 30% of the face to face contacts they have. Society, we have been told, often rewards and encourages lying. Lying is presented as a social lubricant that prevents us from hurting people’s feelings. One article ended with the reflection that “perhaps our social lives would collapse under the weight of relentless honesty.”1

This kind of theme has been in news reports off and on for the past twenty years. Humanity may have trouble telling the truth, but I’ve never bought the premise that it isn’t a big deal. In my mind the wisdom of scripture confronts us. Lying is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 6:17). “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19, ESV). “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9–10 ESV). Being honest matters; lying has consequences.

So which is it for the media? Is lying a serious matter than undermines credibility or is lying something everybody does and is really no big deal. History would seem to suggest that it depends on the slant of a particular news story.

In life, however, I’ve known some habitual liars. My approach around such a person is to be extremely guarded. You can’t trust them. You can easily be hurt by them. In the real world, there seems to be a connection between telling the truth and credibility.


What Is Biblical Meditation?

February 9, 2015

In popular culture meditation is a relaxation technique. You usually close your eyes and attempt to slow down your breathing and breathe more deeply. Then you may imagine the parts of your body relaxing one by one starting with your feet and going up to your head. Such methods do help a person to relax, although I would provide two cautions. Our minds are not meant to be empty for long. The old adage — idle hands are the devil’s workshop — is applicable to our thoughts as well. Further, relaxation doesn’t dispense with our need to pray and so “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, ESV).This relaxation technique may at times be helpful, but it is not biblical meditation.

Biblical meditation is a reflection or contemplation on something and not an emptying of our minds of thoughts. The noun or verb occurs 30 times in the New King James Version. Other translations may have fewer occurrences but may use synonyms like muse, ponder, and think.

The righteous meditate on the law day and night (Psalm 1:2). Psalm 4:4 instructs: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psalms 4:4, NKJV). Although the psalm is not explicit, it would seem that we are to ponder our relationships and how we will handle them in the light of God’s will. Meditation may be on God’s character (Psalm 63:6) or his dealings with his people. Paul instructs us to meditate on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, or are of good report (Philippians 4:8).

Meditation in Eastern religions has to do with their world-views. In Hinduism, the world is an illusion. Buddhism views desire as the problem to be extinguished. The following chart provides a helpful comparison.

Biblical Meditation Eastern Meditation
The goal is to fill the mind with good things. The goal is to empty the mind.
The goal is personal responsibility before God. The goal is the loss of the individual self (which is viewed as an illusion in Hinduism) or the loss of desire (Buddhism).
The goal is to draw near to the personal God. The goal is merging with impersonal cosmic oneness (Hinduism) or the extinction of desire (reach Nirvana in Buddhism).
The goal is withdrawal for reflection so that we might act properly in life. The goal is detachment from life.

Biblical meditation is closely related to prayer and scripture reading. It is the filling of our minds with thoughts on God and his will for us.


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