Jesus and the Oral Torah: The Unutterable Name of God

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To avoid the risk of employing the divine name irreverently, the sages ruled that one should not utter it at all.

This article is one of a six-part series by David Bivin entitled Jesus and the Oral Torah.
Revised: 28-Oct-2016

Another example of Jesus’ observance of the Oral Torah was his adherence to the rabbinic prohibition against using the Unutterable Name of God.

The original understanding of the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exod. 20:7), was that one must keep one’s vows when swearing by God’s name. Israel’s ancient sages eventually came to interpret this commandment to mean using the LORD’s name lightly or frivolously. To avoid the risk of employing the divine name irreverently, the sages ruled that one should not utter it at all.

The Tetragrammaton, יהוה, YHVH, could be pronounced only in the Temple (Sifre Numbers §39), in the daily priestly blessing (m.Sotah 7:6), and in the confession of the high priest on the Day of Atonement (m.Yoma 6:2). When reading or reciting Scripture, one was not to pronounce the Unutterable Name, but rather, was to substitute אֲדֹנָי (a⋅do⋅NĀI, “Lord,” literally, “my lords”).

This avoidance of the Tetragrammaton began very early. Although there was no hesitation about pronouncing the Sacred Name in daily life during the First Temple period, by the third century B.C., a⋅do⋅NĀI was being substituted for YHVH.[1]

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To read the next article in this series, click here.
This article originally appeared in issue 5 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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