Cult of Leadership | The Voice 12.27: July 03, 2022

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The Voice

The Cult of Leadership

It seems to be everywhere you look: “leadership.”

Western society in late capitalism, having mostly shorn itself of the pretenses of inherited nobility, has become obsessed with the cult of leadership. Previous generations were led to believe leaders were bred that way: certain people, on the basis of their ancestry, should be given authority, power, and responsibility. The vast majority of the people, proving more deficient in their pedigree, were only fit to be subjects, to serve, and to support their leaders. Belief in nobility based on pedigree persists in certain parts of the world and in certain archaic institutions; most of us, however, no longer believe a person will be a good leader because of their ancestry.

Most people today believe leaders become such because they have developed abilities and skills in leadership. Such is consistent with our confidence in “meritocracy,” which maintains confidence those who have reached positions of authority, influence, and power have done so on the basis of what they have been able to accomplish and achieve. Therefore, according to this perspective, leaders are made, not born; theoretically anyone could thus become a leader if they sufficiently cultivated leadership skills.

We have good reason to question the legitimacy of the meritocratic premise; many of those who maintain great authority, power, and influence descend from those who had such power in previous times, and no matter how charismatic and skillful a person might be, without sufficient resources, they remain unlikely to become leaders.

But the premise of meritocracy remains potent and salient in society. People want to believe they can advance in life and society by cultivating appropriate abilities and skills. Thus we can understand the appeal of the cult of leadership: anyone and everyone should develop and grow in their leadership skills. There remains no lack of books, podcasts, and videos from those who would consider themselves motivational speakers, thought leaders, and leadership guides and gurus which promise to help you unlock your leadership potential. Everybody wants to be seen as a leader: job titles which reflect executive and management experience abound; you can even find resources about how to lead when you are not in charge, otherwise known as using leadership skills while not actually having authority.

We can understand why Western society today would be so enraptured with the cult of leadership; its enthusiastic embrace by many who would claim to follow Jesus proves more troublesome. Many have made a name for themselves by incorporating American corporate leadership premises into church environments as part of the general trend of treating churches like religious businesses. There is no end of “Christian leadership” books which attempt to provide a religious veneer on these corporate business trends. Biblical characters are mined to provide real life (and presumably divinely approved) examples of various aspects of leadership. Above all, they elevate the concept of “servant leadership” which they claim is embodied by Jesus. To this end many parts of modern day “Christian” belief and practice remain firmly in the grip of the cult of leadership.

Based upon what one might find spoken and written in many conservative Christian/Evangelical spaces, one would expect the New Testament to have much to say about leadership. And yet when we turn to the pages of Scripture we do not find leadership emphasized or spoken about much. We do not see continual exhortation for Christians to cultivate leadership skills. One searches the New Testament in vain for the phrase “servant leadership.”

Instead, Jesus bore witness in Matthew 20:25-28:

But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Through the lens of the cult of leadership Jesus would exhort people to lead by serving, but Jesus did not actually say any such thing. Jesus instead casts aspersion on the entire endeavor of desiring to obtain a position of leadership. If one is a servant, by definition, one is not great; and certainly “the first slave” is a contradiction in terms! Jesus expected the Gentiles to seek power to rule over others and leverage that authority for their own purposes, and then He explicitly told His followers not to do the same (Matthew 20:25).

In Christ we must be skeptical of anyone who would seek positions of authority, influence, and power. As creatures made in God’s image, humans can desire authority, influence, and power in order to serve as good stewards of God’s creation and their fellow man; yet in their corruption, anxieties, and fears, humans leverage authority, influence, and power to benefit themselves and their associates to the harm of the creation and/or of other people. No matter how altruistic and principled a person might sound in their quest for leadership, in practice he or she will invariably fall prey to the powers and principalities over this present darkness and leverage their authority to benefit their own.

And yet is there not authority, influence, and power among the people of God? Certainly; and Jesus remains its ultimate embodiment and expression. He lived as a servant; He did all things by the authority of His Father (Matthew 20:28). God exalted Him after He humbled Himself; He did not exalt Himself (Philippians 2:5-11). His Apostles also reflected His purposes regarding authority, influence, and power. While Jesus lived His disciples viewed authority, influence, and power according to the ways of the world; Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 20:25-28 was precipitated by the disciples jockeying for positions of prominence in Matthew 20:20-24. Yet in the book of Acts and afterward we see how the Apostles received authority, influence, and power by the power of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, and they leveraged that authority, influence, and power according to God’s purposes in the Spirit, not for their own aggrandization or benefit. Throughout his letters Paul testified to his apostleship through God’s calling and his influence based on his sufferings and weakness (e.g. 2 Corinthians 10:1-12:21).

Thus, in Christ, positions of authority, influence, and leadership are not based on birth or ancestry, nor can they be gained through a course or program of developing leadership skills. Instead, Christians should live to glorify and honor God in Christ in all things, and through the trials of discipleship God qualifies them to manage and uphold authority, influence, and leadership to glorify Him and advance His purposes. Faithful Christians model themselves in the various positions and roles in which they find themselves in life according to the ways of the Suffering Servant (e.g. Ephesians 5:21-6:9). They do not strive to be greatest or first; instead, they encourage, model, and serve.

Wherever people seek to gain leadership and prominence we will find the demonic ways of worldly wisdom, striving to obtain benefit for oneself and/or one’s associates. Those seeking righteousness will encourage and serve in humility, love, grace, peace, and patience, thus manifesting the wisdom from above, and demonstrating how God has qualified them for authority, influence, and power. May God’s faithful servants in Christ resist the siren song of the modern American capitalist cult of leadership, and seek to model life in faith according to Jesus and His Apostles in order to obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Cult of Leadership | The Voice 12.27: July 03, 2022

Collaborative Leadership | The Voice 12.23: June 05, 2022

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The Voice

Collaborative Leadership

In our time much has been written about “leadership,” particularly about the different qualities of leadership and various leadership styles. Such interest is a hallmark of our meritocratic and democratic age: former conceptions of hierarchy and nobility carry little weight, and therefore leadership is a trait to be cultivated and leveraged in order to obtain greater influence, power, and thus wealth in our society. A charismatic person who exudes charm and strength will be able to gain many followers and grow in stature and influence, whether for secular or spiritual purposes. We can therefore understand the great anxiety which compels many to pursue a greater understanding of how to be an effective leader; who among us wants to be known or seen as the follower?

Christians do well to enter into such discussions with concern and trepidation; “leadership,” especially as emphasized in modern discourse, is not a major emphasis in the pages of the New Testament. It is not as if Jesus or the Apostles did not prove to be leaders, yet they proved very skeptical about the motivations of those who would become leaders and greatly valued humility and service above self-assertion and aggression (Matthew 20:25-28, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, James 4:7-10, 1 Peter 5:1-5). Conversations about leadership almost invariably prove tainted by the demonic wisdom of this world, seeking self-advancement and the maintenance of self-interest (cf. James 3:1-16). For Christians to be great in Jesus’ Kingdom, they must become servants, even slaves (Matthew 20:25-28): only those who seek to serve others fully are worthy of shepherding others.

And yet even in Christ there are those in whom authority is vested, and who ought to serve as stewards of that authority to glorify God (Romans 13:1-2, 1 Peter 4:10-11). All of us have some level of authority as citizens, Christians, parents, husbands, or if nothing else, over ourselves. Therefore, we do need to consider different qualities of leadership and leadership styles, but must always do so while fully rooted and established in Jesus Christ the Lord (Colossians 2:1-10).

Sometimes one will hear about a leadership style known as “collaborative leadership.” As the word itself suggests, “collaboration” focuses on laboring together to accomplish a common goal of some form or another. The nature of the “collaboration” will likely depend on its particular context; in general, however, “collaborative” leadership strives to be less hierarchical and more egalitarian, seeking to find ways to jointly participate and accomplish tasks and responsibilities as equals or at least without a heavy-handed, top-down approach.

Many Christians prove immediately skeptical of any concept or strategy which might work toward “egalitarian” and away from “hierarchy”; nevertheless, when the evidence from the New Testament is properly considered, we discover Jesus and the Apostles themselves practiced a type of collaborative leadership, and expected Christians to practice something similar as well.

Throughout His life and ministry Jesus did not deny or doubt His Lordship or authority (John 13:13); at no point were the disciples or anyone on earth His equal in power or standing before the Father. If anyone would have been able to exercise dominion and power in a “top heavy” way, it would be Jesus of Nazareth. And yet He invited the disciples to jointly work in and with Him to accomplish God’s purposes. He promised they would sit on thrones and rule over the Israel of God (Matthew 19:28). He went out of His way to encourage them to go out on their own and proclaim the coming Kingdom of God so they would be able to accomplish the purposes for which God had called them in Christ (e.g. Matthew 10:1-42). Not for nothing did Luke declare the Gospel he wrote as the “beginning” of all Jesus accomplished (Acts 1:1): if one has ears to hear, one can perceive how Jesus continued to work through His Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and advance His Kingdom in the book of Acts and through His people until this day (cf. Ephesians 3:10-11). Jesus is Lord, and the Apostles and all Christians are not; He is the Vine, we are the branches, and apart from Him they or we can do nothing (John 15:1-10, Acts 2:36). But Christians are the branches, and are empowered by Jesus to bear fruit in joint participation in and as His body to accomplish His purposes (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, Ephesians 4:11-16).

The image of the church as the body of Christ underscores the importance of collaboration in Jesus: no believer, be they apostles, prophets, evangelists, elders, or “just members,” are Jesus individually. Christians can only truly embody Jesus collectively. Christians have their individual work they should accomplish in the Lord Jesus, but also work together in interdependent ways to build one another up and thus strengthen the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). Peter expected Christians to use whatever gifts God gave them to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10-11), and we do well to emphasize his choice of verb: to serve. Service, as Jesus made clear in Matthew 20:25-28, is humble work.

This expectation of collaboration can also be found in every context in which we find some placed in authority over others. Governments have power, but are to be ministers, or servants, for good (Romans 13:1-7). Peter wrote to elders as fellow elders and exhorted them to shepherd the flock by example and not domination (1 Peter 5:1-4); he did expect the younger to be subject to them, but also exhorted all to demonstrate humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5). Wives may be called upon to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, but Paul expected husbands to sacrificially love their wives and treat them as their own flesh (Ephesians 5:21-33). Ephesians 5:21 is not entirely divorced from that context: the Christian conception of the marriage relationship can only work when both husband and wife prove willing to submit to one another for Jesus’ sake. Thus it also goes with parents and children, employers and employees (Ephesians 6:1-9): all Christians must prove subject to the Lord Jesus, and each will stand or fall before Him, and thus there remains a radical equality of each and every person before God (cf. Romans 14:10-12, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).

Consider how the Apostles worked with fellow Christians. At times they might bring up the authority they received from God in Christ; at other times they would consider themselves as the servants of their fellow Christians for the Lord’s sake. Consider how Paul would speak to fellow Christians in his greetings at the conclusion of his letters; he valued them as collaborators in the work of God in Christ, effulgently praising them and their efforts. He prayed for all the Christians with whom he had worked, and many with whom he had yet to work, so that God might work through them and be glorified, and they built up and strengthened in Him.

Positions of authority do not inherently demand an authoritarian posture; collaboration does not inherently demand complete equality among fellow laborers. Throughout the New Testament we continually see examples of those whom God has placed in positions of authority relating to those under their authority in ways which emphasize joint participation, value, and growth. Jesus does not need to continually remind us how much greater He is than we are; His goal for all of us is for us to become more like Him, and to share in life with Him (Romans 8:29). The Apostles did not pull rank as an immediate impulse but as a final desperate measure; in general they wished to work together with fellow Christians based on trust, and above all, on the basis of their examples of the suffering Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-15). If those in authority in Christ must continually refer to said authority, it is already a defeat for them; not one Christian can presume to be greater or more valuable in the sight of God than any other, and all must in humility seek to serve one another and build one another up in their joint participation, or collaboration, in Christ. Christ our Sovereign humbly served us and invites us to jointly participate in the life and work of God and His people (cf. John 17:20-23); thus, we do well to strive toward a more collaborative and a less authoritarian style of leadership in all of our relationships as we live and work. May we humbly serve others as Jesus has served us, and may we all share in the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Collaborative Leadership | The Voice 12.23: June 05, 2022

Authoritarian Leadership | The Voice 12.18: May 01, 2022

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The Voice

Authoritarian Leadership

In our time much has been written about “leadership,” particularly about the different qualities of leadership and various leadership styles. Such interest is a hallmark of our meritocratic and democratic age: former conceptions of hierarchy and nobility carry little weight, and therefore leadership is a trait to be cultivated and leveraged in order to obtain greater influence, power, and thus wealth in our society. A charismatic person who exudes charm and strength will be able to gain many followers and grow in stature and influence, whether for secular or spiritual purposes. We can therefore understand the great anxiety which compels many to pursue a greater understanding of how to be an effective leader; who among us wants to be known or seen as the follower?

Christians do well to enter into such discussions with concern and trepidation; “leadership,” especially as emphasized in modern discourse, is not a major emphasis in the pages of the New Testament. It is not as if Jesus or the Apostles did not prove to be leaders, yet they proved very skeptical about the motivations of those who would become leaders and greatly valued humility and service above self-assertion and aggression (Matthew 20:25-28, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, James 4:7-10, 1 Peter 5:1-5). Conversations about leadership almost invariably prove tainted by the demonic wisdom of this world, seeking self-advancement and the maintenance of self-interest (cf. James 3:1-16). For Christians to be great in Jesus’ Kingdom, they must become servants, even slaves (Matthew 20:25-28): only those who seek to serve others fully are worthy of shepherding others.

And yet even in Christ there are those in whom authority is vested, and who ought to serve as stewards of that authority to glorify God (Romans 13:1-2, 1 Peter 4:10-11). All of us have some level of authority as citizens, Christians, parents, husbands, or if nothing else, over ourselves. Therefore, we do need to consider different qualities of leadership and leadership styles, but must always do so while fully rooted and established in Jesus Christ the Lord (Colossians 2:1-10).

One form of leadership frequently seen in society can be called “authoritarian leadership.” In an authoritarian leadership matrix, there is one who has the authority to make decisions, and it is for those under that authority to comply with those decisions. We can see authoritarian leadership fully embodied in the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his injured slave in Matthew 8:9:

“For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

The Roman centurion can be seen as the “middle manager” of the Roman army: he was in charge of a group of between 80 and 100 soldiers, and himself would take direction from the leader of the cohort who himself would be directed by the head of the legion, all of whom were subject to the general leading the military expedition. The Roman army proved more successful than not in the ancient world precisely because of its discipline: desertion or disobedience would lead to execution of many soldiers. The Philippian jailor was preparing to kill himself in Acts 16:27 because the consequence for losing control of the prisoners under his charge was death, and it was seen as more honorable and noble for him to do the deed himself.

The Roman army is the embodiment of the style of authoritarian leadership. To this day most militaries still operate with an authoritarian style of leadership in which it is expected that the soldiers directly and fully obey whatever commands they are given by their superior officers. Some countries still attempt to operate as authoritarian societies in which the citizens may have relative freedom in a few domains but are expected to fully comply with the particular concerns and dictates imposed by the tyrant, oligarchy, or junta ruling over the nation. Some companies and individuals also operate under a similarly authoritarian style of leadership; to many people, authoritarian leadership is precisely and only what comes to mind when “leadership” is mentioned.

There are certain contexts, times, and places in which an authoritarian style of leadership may be required. In an emergency setting, the most qualified and trained individual should be in charge, and everyone else should listen to that person and follow the instructions they provide so many lives might be preserved. We can understand why the military would operate under a generally authoritarian model: it would be very difficult to accomplish a military objective if everyone’s opinion had to be heard and decisions made more collaboratively. In many situations, the people who live under authority do not have enough knowledge, insight, or wisdom to be able to participate in a fully collaborative environment, and may do well to be expected to obey rather than question.

Jesus commended the Roman centurion for his faith in Matthew 8:10, but we should not assume Jesus was also commending the authoritarian system in which the Roman centurion lived. Jesus would go on to warn His disciples how the Gentiles lorded their power over others, and that it should not be so among them (Matthew 20:25-26)! Instead Jesus offered Himself as the model for leadership: the greatest among them would be their servant, just as Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:26-28).

The Scriptures do not explicitly speak of “authoritarian leadership” for good or ill; nevertheless, many have gone beyond what is written and justified ungodly attitudes, practices, and wisdom by commending or justifying authoritarian forms of leadership in ways which run contrary to what has been explicitly revealed about various relationships we maintain in Christ. Children should obey their parents in the Lord, as Paul decreed in Ephesians 6:1; yet parents should not exasperate and provoke their children, but should raise them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, the same Lord who commanded Christians to live humbly as servants (Ephesians 6:2-4; cf. Matthew 20:26-28). Wives should submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22), but husbands must also submit to their wives as to all others in reverence to Christ in Ephesians 5:21, and to love sacrificially, not abusing but cherishing their wives as their own flesh, as the Lord does for His body the church (Ephesians 5:25-30). Workers should follow the guidelines of their employers (Ephesians 6:5-8), but employers should treat their employees well since they all serve the same Lord in heaven (Ephesians 6:9). Elders in the church should be obeyed and their work should be made enjoyable (Hebrews 13:7, 13), yet elders have no right to lord dominion over the flock, but are called to shepherd by example (1 Peter 5:1-4). Older men should be honored like fathers, older women like mothers, younger men as brothers and younger women as sisters in all purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2), yet all should clothe themselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5). There is very little room to commend or justify an authoritarian posture in any of these relationships!

If anyone had the right to expect blind obedience and to establish Himself as an authoritarian despot, it would be Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Acts 2:36, Revelation 19:15-16). Certainly Christians should obey Jesus as Lord (Romans 1:5, 6:14-21, 1 Peter 1:22); yet Jesus rules as the Chief Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep, continues to intercede for them, and welcomes them to jointly participate with Him in His Kingdom, and even will ultimately share His reign with them (John 10:1-18, 15:1-9, Romans 8:30-35, 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 6:3, 12:12-28, 1 Peter 5:4, Revelation 2:26-28, 3:21). Yes, Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, and we are to submit to His authority; but He has not used that authority to demand uncritical or unthinking obedience, but welcomes those who would follow Him to participate in His life and work to glorify Him.

In the world we should expect to find many despots and tyrants seeking to impose authoritarian rule on others; among the people of God in Christ this should not be so. Jesus our Lord, who had every right to impose authoritarian rule on the creation, nevertheless loves us and invites our joint participation in His life and work; we love and serve Him because He loved and served us and gave His life to ransom us. None of us has sufficient authority and standing before God to act as authoritarian despots in any domain of our lives; we will all be held accountable for how we have loved and served others, and rare is the occasion in which an authoritarian style of leadership will provide effective love and service. May we all seek to use the authority God has given us in ways that display the love and service of Jesus to His glory and honor!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Authoritarian Leadership | The Voice 12.18: May 01, 2022

Understanding the Tetragrammaton | The Voice 12.17: April 24, 2022

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The Voice

Understanding the Tetragrammaton

In the religious world there is much confusion about the Tetragrammaton (a Greek term meaning “the four letters”), referring to the name of God in the Old Testament, designated with the consonants YHWH. There are some religious organizations that place great emphasis on this name, and there is also generally much confusion over how it is to be pronounced.

Understanding the Problem

It would be good to first examine the source of the problem: why is there confusion over how to pronounce YHWH? The Hebrew language in its original form was written without vowel pointings; after all, one wrote down what one heard and he could fill in the vowels when speaking. This is true of all western written languages before the Greeks developed an alphabet that included vowels. The entire Old Testament text, therefore, was originally not vocalized. As time progressed, naturally, there were difficulties maintaining proper pronunciation: to solve the problem at first, three consonants were given a new role as vowel letters to indicate vowel types (called matres lectiones, “mothers of reading”), and in the latter half of the first millennium CE, when Hebrew waned in Jewish culture, the group of Jews responsible for maintaining and handing down the text of the Hebrew Old Testament, the Masoretes, developed a system of vowel pointings used even today. Generally, the Masoretic pointing is accurate; it has been confirmed by transliterated names of people and places and also in other ancient documents. We must remember, however, that at the time of Christ the vowel letters were used haphazardly but otherwise vowels had to be supplied by the reader.

This difficulty is compounded by the Jewish traditions regarding the Tetragrammaton. Early in Israelite history few if any had difficulties in saying the name of God– YHWH– as evidenced in direct speech in narratives (cf. Ruth 2:4). As time wore on, however, traditions developed regarding the third commandment– to not take the name of YHWH in vain (Exodus 20:8)– that meant that no one at any time save the High Priest on the Day of Atonement should utter the Tetragrammaton. As long as the Temple stood there were some who would utter the Tetragrammaton on occasion, and even after its demise there is evidence that some Jews did remember the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. In all of our Hebrew texts with vowel pointings, however, there are none that in any way retain the true vocalization of the Tetragrammaton; therefore, all evidence regarding how YHWH is to be pronounced must come from other sources. Let us now look at the evidence for its pronunciation.

YHWH as Yahweh: The Evidence

As we shall see, the evidence we have points to the pronunciation of YHWH as “Yahweh.”

Derivation of “YHWH”

It is important to first understand how YHWH is derived. Its first attested use is by God in His speaking with Moses in Exodus 3:14:

And God said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM”:
and he said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, “I AM hath sent me unto you.'”

In Hebrew, God calls Himself ‘ehyeh asher ‘ehyeh, and charges Moses to tell Israel that ‘ehyeh sent him to them. If we analyze ‘ehyeh, we see that it is a first person common singular imperfect form of the verb hayah, to be.

This form was turned from a first person to a third person (from “I am” to “he is”), and we have a change of glides: w/y are often interchanged in Hebrew, and the form we see later is YHWH, which, if translated, would be closest to “He is,” or “He will be.” A non-altered third person masculine singular form of hayah would be yihyeh.

The Divine Particle in Names and Translation

The first half of the Tetragrammaton– YH– was often used in names and even as shorthand for the name of God. Its shorthand form is used in Exodus 15:2 and it is “Yah” there, and this very form was transliterated into the Syriac Peshitta of Exodus 15:2. We also find this same phenomenon in names– Elijah (Eliyahu; the “u” ending provides more credence that the final half is pronounced “weh”), Jeremiah (Yirmeyahu), and Hezekiah (Hizikiyahu or Hizikiyah, and corresponding evidence from Assyrian cuneiform). Since Hebrew tends to accent words on their ultimate or penultimate syllables, these examples with the divine particle at the end of the names gives us the best evidence to show that the first half of the Tetragrammaton was pronounced “Yah.”

Early Christian Witnesses

We have three accounts from the “church fathers” of the first few centuries of Christianity regarding the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. Clement of Alexandria, around 180 CE, relates the following:

Further, the mystic name of the four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the adytum was accessible, is called “Iaoue,” which is interpreted, “Who is and shall be.” The name of God, too, among the Greeks contains four letters [Greek theos, where “th” is represented with theta– ed.], (Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, V. 6).

Theodoret and Epiphanius, both later, establish that they heard the name as “Iabe.” From this information we confirm that the Tetragrammaton was pronounced “Yahweh,” since we must recognize the phonological differences between Greek and Hebrew: Greek has no consonantal “y” and recognizes the letter as the vowel “i” (as “Yeshua” becomes “Iesous”); Greek has no “h” save rough breathings at the beginnings of some words and does not account for the letter; Greek has neither “w” nor “v,” and it is very likely that a Greek listener (as were Theodoret and Epiphanius) would hear a “b” when a Jew said “v” (since in Hebrew b and v are separated by spirantization of the former only), and hearing “w” would sound like “ou.”

From this evidence, therefore, we can conclude that the Tetragrammaton was most probably pronounced as “Yahweh.”

What About “Jehovah”?

It will be asked by many, however, regarding the word “Jehovah,” the common translation (and supposed transliteration) of the Tetragrammaton in English Bibles. This form can be traced back to about 1489, and introduced popularly in 1520 by one Galatinus, a “confessor” of Pope Leo X (cf. Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, p. 218). Its derivation is explainable as the mistake of a Christian reader of the Hebrew Bible who did not understand its pointing. Let us explain a bit about the pointing of the Hebrew Bible.

When the Masoretes pointed the Hebrew text of the Old Testament in the latter half of the first millennium, they recognized that there were many probable errors in the text. Since they held the text in high esteem, however, they would never alter any of the text itself, but instead favored a system called the ketib/qere system (ketib, meaning “written,” and qere, meaning “said”). When there was a word of some difficulty in the text, the consonants would remain unaltered, but there would be a note in the margin in Aramaic explaining what word should be read in synagogue. The vowel pointing in the text itself, however, would be the vocalization of what should be read (the qere) and not what was written (the ketib). A knowledgeable Hebrew reader would look at the word and recognize that the vowel pointing was not consistent with the written word and would therefore look for the qere in the margin to read.

This is precisely what happened with the Tetragrammaton, but as opposed to having a marginal note with the proper consonants listed it was considered a “perpetual ketib/qere,” meaning that whenever one saw the consonants YHWH as the Tetragrammaton one would recognize that it was a ketib and that the qere should be one of the various other designations for God– Elohim, Adonai, Ha-Shem (“the name”), etc. Depending on the text, YHWH would appear with the vowel pointings for one of the other designations. Our medieval friends came to one such Hebrew manuscript and simply transliterated what he saw: the consonants YHWH with the vocalization for Adonai: a o a, and we have “Yahoah.” Adapt the term to fit German reckoning, and we have “Jehovah.”

“Jehovah,” then, is a medieval misunderstanding of the Hebrew text and should not be understood as the proper pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton. Its constant use in Bible versions (starting with one use in the KJV and becoming the translation of choice for YHWH in the ASV) secures its place in the English language and it will probably always be used to describe the LORD, the God of Heaven. While it is inaccurate it is not a “sinful” designation, but as those who strive to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), we ought to recognize and understand that YHWH was never pronounced as Jehovah but more likely as Yahweh.

Its Importance: The Unique Name of God

The student of the Bible will understand that YHWH as the name of God is important because it is the unique, personal name of God. The Lord said as much to Moses in Exodus 3:15, and demonstrated to Moses that He did not reveal Himself before as YHWH in Exodus 6:2-3:

And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, YHWH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.

And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am YHWH: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name YHWH I was not known to them.”

When we read the Scriptures, we see that the name YHWH is the only name that is unique to the true God. The other terms used are also used in other contexts: Elohim is used also to describe any other form of god(s), including the idols of the Canaanites (cf. 2 Kings 17:7); El, the singular form of Elohim sometimes used to refer to God, is also the name of the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon; Adonai also is used to refer to earthly masters; and while Shaddai is not used of anyone save the Lord, it is most often used in addition with other names for God, and is most properly seen as a description (most often translated “Almighty”). YHWH is important, therefore, in the sense that it is the only name of God not used to describe other gods or persons; Lord and God are terms that may be used to describe others, but YHWH is definitely the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

YHWH, Translation, and Transliteration

Having seen the importance of YHWH as the name of God, let us now examine the claims of many, particularly those of the so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” that “Jehovah,” or “Yahweh,” as the name of God, has singular importance and that Christians must call upon the Lord by the name “YHWH.” Truth or error to such persons is partly determined by how much value is placed upon YHWH as the name of God. Let us examine this claim first by analyzing an important issue: if YHWH as the name of God is important for Christians to express, there would be evidence of this in the Bible in its original and earliest translated languages. Let us examine this evidence.

We must first recognize that the Jews of the time of Jesus’ day– and also a little earlier and down to the present day– consider the name of God as extremely holy and do not consider it proper to express it by voice. We have seen in our last edition that when the Scriptures were read in the synagogues, the Jews would replace the Tetragrammaton with another name of God– Adonai, Elohim, or ha-shem, “the Name.” Persons within the “Jehovah’s Witness” movement would consider this superstitious and false, and while we agree that the Jews did go too far, much farther than had originally been intended, it is evidence that the YHWH as the name of God, while holy and without blemish, need not be expressed by God’s people to make them holy.

Regardless, if early Christians considered YHWH as the name of God as extremely important and necessary for Christians to use, we would expect them to transliterate YHWH in their writings and/or translations, and not translate the name. For those who perhaps do not know, transliteration is the process by which a word in one language is expressed in the characters of another language without translation (i.e. “baptism” in English is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo), while translation is the expression of an idea conveyed in one language is converted to another language (i.e. Greek baptizo is translated into English as “to immerse”). Therefore, in texts like the Greek New Testament or even the Greek Septuagint, we would expect to see “YHWH” if the authors/translators considered the specific name of God as important to convey. Transliteration does occur from Aramaic into Greek, as even in English at Matthew 27:46:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”
that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

We can see that Matthew has considered the exact words of Jesus as expressed in Aramaic to be of such importance that he both transliterates the Aramaic and provides (in the Greek text) a Greek translation. Surely if YHWH as the name of God was deemed important for Christians to say he would have done the same with it.

The evidence, however, demonstrates that the early Christians translated YHWH as the name of God, and did not transliterate it. God is referred to in the Greek Septuagint (LXX; the Greek translation of the Old Testament and the Apocrypha; approx. 3rd-2nd centuries BCE) and the New Testament (1st century CE) with the Greek word Kurios, “Lord,” or the Greek word Theos, “God.”. In fact, the only transliteration of any term referring to God is in Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15, and Galatians 4:6, where Jesus and Paul both refer to God by the Aramaic word Abba, which is the term of most intimate endearment in reference to a father! Similarly in the Latin Vulgate (4th century CE) God is referred to as Dominus, “Lord” or Deus, “God,” and in the Syriac Peshitta (approx. 2nd-5th centuries CE) as marya’, “Lord,” and Alaha, “God.” The only instance of transliteration I have found is in the Syriac Peshitta of Exodus 15:2, where the translator transliterates the divine particle yah but he also translates it with marya’. We can see, therefore, that YHWH as the name of God was not transliterated, as we would expect if it were deemed important for Christians to say, but was always translated with the general terms used for God.

Understanding Authority in a Name

The other difficulty with any idea that YHWH as the name of God is singularly important for Christians to use is a general lack of understanding of authority in a name. It is certainly true that in the ancient Near East many cultures considered the utterance of the name as expressing authority: from Egypt we have a myth regarding their gods that Isis, a fertility mother-goddess, was able to deceive Ra, the great sun god, to tell her his secret personal name; Isis therefore was able to gain power over Ra and be supreme since she knew his secret, personal name. This idea of authority in a name, however, is not expressed in the Bible. The power of a name in the Bible derives from the power inherent in the God behind the name. Let us use a human example to help us understand.

Most of us have checking accounts and write checks all the time, but have you ever stopped to think about the nature of the check and what makes it work? A check is a dated piece of paper authorizing a bank to take money out of one’s account and to give it to the payee. The check has the payee listed with the precise amount to give– and is authorized by a signature. The check is not good and cannot be authorized unless it is authorized with the written, signed name of the account holder. Is there any power inherent in your name? By no means! Your name on the check, however, is the authority that the bank needs to give out the money.

We can see the many truths about the name of God in the Scriptures in the same light. Let us read some of these Scriptures from Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:21, and Colossians 3:17:

And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying,
“All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

“And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Is God expressing to us that there is inherent authority in the word “Father,” or “Son,” or “Holy Spirit?” Or in “Lord?” By no means! The “name” here is like your name on the check: it is the appeal to the authority. The power in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and the name of the Lord, is in the divine authority of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We can call Him Jehovah, Yahweh, Lord, God, Kurios, Theos, Marya’, Alaha, Dominus, Deus, Dieu, Gott, etc., and the authority does not change. We all are still calling upon the name of the Lord!

We have seen, therefore, that the Tetragrammaton YHWH is best pronounced Yahweh, and we recognize that while YHWH is important because it is the unique personal name of God, it is not required for Christians to use in order to be pleasing to Him. We see this from the evidence in the authorship and translations of the Bible, for in Greek, Latin, and Syriac we have no evidence for the transliteration of the Tetragrammaton and in all places it is translated. We have also seen that such an idea– that the name YHWH has inherent authority– is not an idea expressed in the Scriptures, since the idea of “the name of” is an appeal to the authority of the one named, not some inherent power in the name itself. Let us remember these things when we speak with those who have been perhaps confused about the Tetragrammaton.

Ethan R. Longhenry

Understanding the Tetragrammaton | The Voice 12.17: April 24, 2022

It Shall Not Be So Among You | The Voice 12.10: March 06, 2022

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The Voice

It Shall Not Be So Among You

There were many things Jesus taught that the disciples did not fully understand until all things had been accomplished. Most of the time Jesus humored them; He understood from whence they had come, what they were expecting, and how things were not going to work out as they were expecting, and knew they would come to a better understanding when they would see everything play out and the Spirit came upon them. But when it came to their jockeying for position in His Kingdom, He refused to humor them.

The Evangelists narrate the event in Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 10:35-45; Luke records a similar conversation in Luke 22:24-30. In Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts, James and John–or their mother on their behalf–asked Jesus to stand at His left and right hand when He entered into His Kingdom; the other ten were indignant at them for making such a request (Matthew 20:20-24, Mark 10:35-41). According to Luke, at Jesus’ final supper before He was betrayed, the disciples again disputed among themselves regarding who was the greatest (Luke 22:24).

Jesus rebuked them very sharply: they knew that the rulers of the Gentiles lorded their power over others. He definitively affirmed that it shall not be so among them (Matthew 20:25-26, Mark 10:42-43, Luke 22:25-26). Instead, the one who would be great among them must be their servant; the one who would be first among them must become their slave (Matthew 20:26-27, Mark 10:43-44, Luke 22:26). He appealed to His own example: He, the Son of Man, came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, Luke 22:27).

Jesus presented us with a paradox, not a quest. He powerfully rebuked the very impulse which drove the disciples, and by extension, all sorts of people in their lives and efforts: the desire to be first and greatest, or at least among the great. In the Western world we delude ourselves into thinking that we do not make as much about social hierarchies and standing, and pretend we believe that everyone is equal; to this end, some might want to suggest something less: did not Jesus say that we must serve or become a slave to become great or the first? All of those who have ever lived under clear social hierarchies know better. What does it mean to serve? What does it demand to become a slave? Slaves cannot be the “greatest” by definition; to serve is to take on what is generally deemed a socially inferior position for the benefit of one who generally has a socially superior position. Such is why the disciples found Jesus washing their feet so scandalous: they confessed Him as Lord and Christ, and yet He was “denigrating” Himself by providing the service which should be done by the most socially inferior person present (John 13:1-15). Sociologically, to become as a servant or slave is to abandon all pretense of social uplift and increase; it represents a voluntary humiliation and debasement in terms of social standing and structure.

Therefore Christians do well to sit in the paradox of “servant leadership,” which has become the great fad in the cult of leadership which pervades the Western world but rarely produces the fruit Jesus would have it bear. Jesus is Lord, Christ, and Master, and yet He lived as a Servant to all. The New Testament does not make much of “leadership,” and for good reason: not that there should not be forms of leadership maintained among the people of God, but because any focus on leadership will invariably lead to the kind of power games and manipulation which abounds in the world. Elders are exhorted to live as shepherds, always remembering how they serve the Good Shepherd, not lording their power over others, and demonstrating the life in faith by example (1 Peter 5:1-5). Consider how Paul, in his work of ministry, would exhort and declare all forms of persuasive rhetoric in attempts to encourage Christians to live faithfully according to the Gospel; and yet when he would speak of himself he would boast in his weakness and in the power of Christ (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:1-11). Those who would be considered “great” among God’s people, Paul, Peter, and James, wrote letters in which they identified themselves as slaves of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1, James 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1): in a world saturated with slavery, in which no one wanted to become a slave and all who were slaves greatly desired to be free, who would say such a thing?

We do well to return to Jesus’ temptation of the devil in the wilderness. The devil offered Him dominion over all the nations of the earth if He would bow down and worship him (Luke 4:5-7). Jesus never suggested he did not have the power to do so; instead He declared that only God should be worshipped (Luke 4:8). John vividly described the power of the Roman emperors and Roman religion as coming from Satan (Revelation 13:1-15); thus it was then, so it is to this day. We do not glorify God in Christ if we slide into Satan’s direct messages and ask if his offer is still on the table; we cannot imagine that we can serve Jesus according to the power dynamics which advance Satan’s purposes.

Jesus did not deny the existence of power dynamics among people; in truth, wherever there are people, there are power dynamics, however consciously or unconsciously maintained. All authority comes from God, and God gives authority to the powers and principalities, the rulers of this world, elders over churches, husbands and fathers in the home, parents over children, and each individual person in terms of their autonomy and individual choices (cf. Romans 13:1).

The question, in the end, is whether we will exercise the authority God has given us according to the ways of the world by lording it over people, manipulating them into doing what we desire, rooted in our anxieties and fears, in ways that lead to the self-aggrandizement of some and the suffering and deprivation of many; or whether we in humility will seek to serve others as Jesus has served us, and leverage our power to the advantage of others. Will the rulers of the world use their power to benefit themselves or to establish justice and righteousness in the land? Will elders lord their power over the flock in order to protect the institution and their power base, or will they uphold what is right and good, serving others, and seeking to protect the weak and afflicted? Will husbands and fathers love as Jesus loves the church, proving willing to humble themselves and subject themselves to the needs of their families, sacrificing as Jesus sacrificed, or will they seek to dominate their families and coerce and compel obedience in their anxieties and fear? Will parents seek to raise their children in Jesus’ love and discipline and prove willing to cultivate the people their children are, or will they demand compliance to the form of child the parent expects to have? Will we choose to use whatever authority, influence, and power we have to benefit ourselves at the expense of others, to maintain or obtain lest we find ourselves diminished, or will we use the authority, influence, and power we have to benefit others and to share in the blessings of life God has given to all of us?

Do we, as Christians, truly recognize how radical, countercultural, and definitive Jesus’ instruction regarding power dynamics among His people proves to be? Or would we rather maintain the warped, perverted power dynamics of the world in a futile attempt to wield power and control in ways which do not honor and glorify God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ? The way power is used in the world must not be so among the people of God. Let us confess and lament where we have fallen short, and may we exercise the authority given us in humble service as the Lord has commanded us to His honor and glory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

It Shall Not Be So Among You | The Voice 12.10: March 06, 2022

Power in the World | The Voice 12.06: February 06, 2022

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The Voice

Power in the World

[Jesus] said to [His disciples], “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘benefactors’ (Luke 22:25).

There were many aspects of Jesus’ teaching and ministry which the disciples did not fully understand while He remained with them. Jesus proved patient with them, recognizing how all things would be fully revealed in time and through the Spirit. But when the disciples sought to jockey among themselves for position, Jesus worked immediately to nip their attitudes in the bud.

We can easily understand why the disciples were acting the way they were. They had come to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God: and to them, that meant Jesus was going to inaugurate a great Kingdom, one that would overcome the might of Rome. As Jesus’ closest associates they stood to gain positions of great influence, prominence, and above all, power. But who would stand to gain the most and have the greatest power among them? Even though James and John already enjoyed great intimacy in their standing before Jesus, they did not want to risk anything. They asked their mother to speak to Jesus and to ask for them to stand at His right and left hand, to have the two highest positions of power beneath Jesus, when He entered into His Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23, Mark 10:35-40). Jesus knew they did not really understand what they were asking to receive; He humored them, yet let them know that it was for the Father to decide who would stand at Jesus’ right and left hand. The other ten disciples proved indignant at James and John: not because in their greater piety or spirituality they understood how foolish the request was, but more likely because they themselves had not made the request first, and were concerned that they would have inferior positions of power when Jesus entered His Kingdom (Matthew 20:24, Mark 10:41, Luke 22:24)!

Jesus was well aware of what His disciples had assumed regarding how His Kingdom would work: as if it was just another power in the world. The ruler had great power over others which he would use to aggrandize himself and his associates (Matthew 20:25). He would act as if his rule provided all kinds of benefits to his subjects (Luke 22:25). Competitors might try to unseat him so they could enjoy the resources that would come from maintaining such power.

Such is the way of power in the world. The means by which rulers obtain power may differ over time and place; some may be elected, while others inherit their position or overthrow previous rulers. Once in power, though, we tend to see a similar story play out: the ruler uses power to benefit himself and his associates, however broadly defined. Sure, the ruler will likely make grandiose proclamations about all the ways that his rule has benefitted all the people. There might be some infrastructure projects built, and you will definitely be able to tell who was responsible for building them. The world is littered with statues and other forms of art commissioned by said rulers to memorialize, glorify, and highlight all of their achievements; as propaganda they seek to justify the rule in the sight of those subjected to him.

For those who receive the benefits and advantages of that ruler’s power, everything seems well and good. They share, to some degree, in economic benefits. They have reasonable confidence they will be heard and their concerns taken seriously. They have reason to feel loyal to the ruler and to support and reinforce his regime.

Yet, almost invariably, there will be many other groups and people who will not share in such advantages. In fact, they will suffer disadvantage on account of the way the ruler exercises his power. They will be made to suffer in various ways. They may have to pay undue taxes and suffer the loss of property. They may even be harassed, persecuted, or even killed. Even in less severe circumstances they are made to understand that the rulers that be have no desire to support or benefit them in many meaningful ways. They have no confidence they will be heard or that their concerns would be taken seriously. They suffer under the oppression of the regime and feel no loyalty towards them.

What will the oppressed groups do? Sometimes oppressed groups rise up in revolt and overthrow the current regime. When this happens, a ruler comes out of the oppressed group, and very often will simply reverse the situation. Now those once oppressed become the oppressors and gain great advantage; those who once oppressed now suffer the disadvantages once experienced by others.

At other times oppressed groups find ways to make their voice heard, and their oppressors repent to some degree. We do not find that groups with power and privilege welcome others to share in that power or privilege without such provocation. Even so, those who had enjoyed the advantage and privilege of authority are always concerned that it will be done to them as they did, however consciously or unconsciously, to others. Truly indeed, to those used to inequality, greater equality feels like loss and oppression.

The Scriptures attest to such an understanding of power in the world from beginning to end. Pharaoh oppresses the Israelites; only after a series of plagues and the demonstration of the power of YHWH would he relent and let them go (cf. Exodus 1-15). In the days of the Judges we find local nation after local nation oppressing the Israelites, and God providing deliverance through the judges, who become continually more corrupt over time (cf. Judges, 1 Samuel 1-8). David and Solomon rule over all Israel and a large empire; the nations of the empire would have experienced this as oppression, and even the Israelites themselves found maintaining a king oppressive in and of itself (cf. 2 Samuel 1-1 Kings 11). Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Macedon, and Rome develop empires, oppress others, and are defeated and become part of the empires of others in turn.

For the two thousand years since Jesus lived, died, and was raised in power, this story of the use of power has continued unabated. Power provides advantages and benefits to some but not to all. The desire to exercise said power is always tied up with the desire to obtain and/or enjoy such benefits, even if it comes at the harm of others. And perhaps worse are those who have so much power and advantage that they cannot see it, for everything works for them the way they think things ought to work, and in their blissful ignorance they presume it should likewise work for others for whom the rulers and systems have not provided such advantages. Many times we do not recognize how much we have come to love and appreciate power until we are faced with the prospect of losing it.

Such is the way power works in the world; such is the way power will continue to work in the world until the Lord Jesus returns. Yet, as Jesus wanted to make abundantly clear to His disciples, it should not be so among the people of God (Matthew 20:26, Mark 10:43, Luke 22:26). The people of God instead consider Jesus their example of how power ought to be used: to serve and to suffer on behalf of others (Matthew 20:26-28, Mark 10:43-45, Luke 22:26-27). May we not prove blind or naïve regarding how power works in the world, and may we diligently strive instead to exercise power according to the way of Jesus the Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Power in the World | The Voice 12.06: February 06, 2022