Knowledge of the Holy One Part 2: Jesus – The Holy One Denied

Fun house mirrors are amusing for a short time. Like caricatures they emphasize some features while diminishing others – or making them completely disappear. But the reason they’re enjoyable is because you know what the true image looks like, and you’re only seeing the distortion for a short time for amusement. And everyone looking at the distortion knows it’s a distortion. That’s why you stand before the distorting mirrors in the first place – to be amused by how the mirror will distort your features.

 But how would you feel if all that people knew about you was the distorted image? What if they never saw the real you, the undistorted you? What if all your life you had to deal with people thinking that you were in fact the distortion they saw?

Contents

And what if that distortion was perceived as part of your very essence – distorting what people believed about everything about you: what you thought, how you felt, how you acted, how you treated people. What if all people ever knew or thought about you was an unrealistic, distorted caricature?

God’s fight against an eternal enemy

This is the problem ever before God. God is forever dealing with false concepts about Him – distortions. The “eternal, immortal, invisible” God (1 Tim 1.17) cannot be represented by any material thing. That is one of the reasons why he outlawed any representation of Himself in the second commandment:

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
Ex 20:4

The true God cannot be depicted by anything in heaven or on earth. And any attempt to do so will inevitably lead you to believe the true God is somehow like your depiction – your distortion – which is wrong. It’s false. So God has strongly and consistently forbidden it.

But what happens when the invisible God chooses to make himself visible, make himself known by “being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man”? (Php 2.7-8) Are depictions still forbidden? Of the invisible God, yes of course. And of the one made in human likeness? Though scripture is silent on that matter as one can tell from all the paintings, movies and depictions of Christ, such depictions have been approved by Christendom – both informally and formally for centuries.[1] The issue with regards to distortions of Christ is not the depictions of his image, but rather the descriptions of his very being, the essence of who he is.

The Orthodox View of Christ

Scripture has made clear that in Christ, the second person of the Trinity – God the Son – has clothed himself in human flesh in what is called the incarnation. Scripture is quite clear: Jesus, the Son of God, is both:

  • Fully God (John 1.1, John 20.28, Acts 20.28, Tit 2.13, Rev 1.8) and
  • Fully man (John 1.14, 1 Tim 2.5, Luke 24.39-41, Heb 2.14,17)

In fact, it may not sound like it to modern ears, but the phrase “the Son of God” is itself an appellation that denotes deity. As one theologian put it: “…this title [υιος τον θεου the Son of God] describes the unique relationship of Christ to God. Christ comes from the depths of God himself; he is God.[2] (emphasis mine) But you don’t have to take it from a theologian. Take it from the Jews of Jesus’ day. What was one of the reasons that the Jewish leaders of his day wanted to kill Jesus? Because they understood that his claims of being “the Son of God” meant he was making himself equal to God. Equal to God – who has no equal – thus essentially making himself to be God:

“For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
(John 5:18)

So as we saw in the previous article – the messiah would be both a human, born of a woman (Gen 3.15); and the divine “Son of Man” to whom all honor and glory was given. (Dan 7.13-14) And now that the messiah has been revealed, that’s precisely what we see – a Man in whom “the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col 2.9) So in Christ we have one person with two natures: a human nature and a divine nature.

Thus the errors we see concerning Jesus, the Messiah or Christ are distortions concerning the balance and completeness of these natures. These errors, taken far enough, are considered heresies. They focus on extremes, emphasizing one nature to the detriment of the other. Thus on one side you have errors that emphasize Jesus’ human nature and deny his divine nature. On the other hand you have errors that emphasize his divine nature and deny his full humanity.  Finally you have errors similar to the first century error of Gnosticism with its pagan concept of the nature of God. For them there is not one God, but many. And thus Jesus is also a god – but he is a “lesser” god, not fully God.[3] Which of course means he is not the biblical God. For the biblical God stands alone, totally unique. He is the creator God and there is none other – above or below him. (Is 45.18, 46.9). Thus to claim Jesus is somehow not fully God, is to claim he is not God at all.

Since the majority of errors you’ll encounter deals with the errors at the extremes; and since dealing with the errors of Gnosticism would require its own separate excursus, we’ll restrict our examination to the errors of the extremes, dealing with Gnosticism only in passing as necessary. So let’s take a brief look at these two errors and the biblical response to them.

Idolatrous Views of Christ Type 1: Denial of Deity
Arianism and the like

The denial that Jesus is fully God – fully eternal; fully as powerful, fully as glorious, and being of the same eternal essence or substance (the theological term is ΄ομοουσιον – homoousion) as the Father, is by far the most common error encountered concerning teachings about Jesus. It is seen in many cults and even mainstream religions (like Islam). Many flavors of it are represented by the term “Arianism” after the fourth century presbyter Arius of Alexandria, rector of the church of Baucalis. He claimed, as one historian put it, that “the Father is the Creator, eternally existing, before all time; The Son is created – there was a time (if we may use the word ‘time’ of conditions so infinitely remote) – there was a time when He was not.”[4] Thus like many cults and the Gnostics, for Arius – Jesus was not the Creator of all things as John 1.3 states, but rather he was himself a created being.

Response to Type 1: The Nicene Creed

This teaching of course caused an uproar among church leaders with some supporting him, and many opposing him. A synod of Bishops had already been planned to be held in the spring of 325 at Ankara.[5] Constantine, fresh from his victory over Licinius in 324 and now the undisputed ruler, desiring to unite east and west in one unified Christian empire redirected the council to Nicea and put the Arian controversy at the top of the agenda. The rest, as they say, is history. Out of the council of Nicea, we have the affirmation of what the Bible already clearly teachers: That Jesus, the Son of God, is indeed fully God. It was codified for easy memorization in the creed of Nicea, more commonly known as the Nicene creed, from which we get the affirmations still proclaimed in churches today. The portion in the Nicene creed regarding Jesus:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
the only-begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from True God,
begotten, not made,
of one substance [
homoousion] with the Father,
Through Him all things in heaven and in earth were made.

This, along with the condemnation of the teaching that Christ is created and not eternal (as Arius taught) put the matter to rest. There can be no doubt then: those who do not believe in the fully divine Jesus, do not believe in the Jesus of the Bible – the orthodox belief – but rather in some idol of their own making.

Idolatrous views of Christ Type 2: Denial of Humanity

Thus in Jesus we have a man who is fully God, yet also fully human. This teaching of Christ with two natures – one human, one divine – led predictably to debates on how the natures were expressed. In this we run into the mystery of the nature of God – how the Son of God can be both fully God and fully Man. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 recognized the difficulty and sought to set up guidelines within which you find an orthodox expression of the mystery. They put it this way, called the definition of Chalcedon:

Response to Type 2: The Definition of Chalcedon

We confess…one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged of two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no wise done away because of the union, but rather the characteristic property of each nature being preserved, and concurring into one Person…[6] (emphasis mine)

Thus in an effort to put up a demarcation of where lies heresy; and where lies orthodoxy, “the fathers, so to speak, put up four fences (without confusion, without change without division, without separation) and said: The mystery lies within this area. At the same time they were deeply convinced that, despite the inadequacies of the formulation, the decision expressed the truth about Jesus, namely that he is very God and very man in one person.”[7] (emphasis his)

Thus the shorthand given by one of my seminary profs:

  • Concerning God: there is one God eternally existing as three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (This is known as the Trinity.) 
  • Concerning Jesus, the Son of God: there is one person with two distinct natures – divine and human. You shall neither divide the person nor confuse (as in mix together) the natures. (This is known as the Hypostatic Union.)

Examples of Denial of Deity:

Cults and false religions are typically rather clear in their denials that Jesus is God, clothed in flesh[8]. A prime example being the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’ve appropriately been called “Apostles of Denial.” since they deny the Trinity and the deity of Jesus among a number of other Christian doctrines which they also deny.[9] More subtle and and perhaps harder to detect for those laboring under the biblical illiteracy that’s so prevalent today are the depictions of Jesus when the denials of His deity are through emphasizing the human side while refusing to show the divine side. In such productions you typically won’t see things such as the inimitable miracles like the resurrection of Jesus, walking on water, feeding the multitudes or turning water to wine. Such not only do not consider Jesus fully divine, he is not in the least bit divine.

Rather he is often depicted as a mere man whose followers made him out to be God incarnate. This is the representation you’ll find in “liberal”[10] depictions of Jesus, where the goal is to find the “historical”[11] Jesus. These “liberal” depictions are common these days. Such works are typically easy to identify because in their efforts to be objective like scientists, they have really simply taken on secular biases. Thus they tend to disbelieve in miracles (and thus not show Jesus performing them), and disbelieve that Jesus was divine (and thus edit out anything that might point to that). And since it takes divine foreknowledge to make prophecies about the future, they tend not to believe in that either, considering everything presented as a predictive prophecy (like Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple (Mark 13.1-2)) as written after the fact.

A couple of examples of this:
Bill O’Reilly’s movie, Killing Jesus[12] (which I review here.) O’Reilly’s is a Jesus without miracles, without prophecy, without the self-awareness of deity, and most glaringly, without the resurrection.  The closest he can come to the resurrection is the empty tomb. But there’s not a single post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. The bias is quite noticeable in the representation of the post-resurrection miraculous catch of fish (John 21.1-14) where the risen Jesus appears to the disciples, performs the miracle of the great catch of fish (being caught after a night of fishing with no results), and cooks and serves the disciples breakfast. In O’Reilly’s version, the fish jump into Peter’s net after Peter prays, similar to how they jumped in his net at the first miraculous catch (Luke 5.5-9) after Jesus prayed (depicted earlier in the movie). There is no physical Jesus there as there is in the biblical account of the post-resurrection. In fact John tells us it was Jesus’ third post-resurrection appearance. (John 21.14) But in O’Reilly’s version, all we see is Peter praying and then he announces to the other disciples that Jesus is back and has called them to continue the work. Whether Killing Jesus is denying a bodily resurrection of Jesus or suggesting the resurrection appearance was merely a figment of Peter’s imagination, it’s an unsettling unbiblical depiction of the event. But typical of a liberal presentation.

Or consider the recent three part mini series Who Was Jesus[13] Once again there are none of Jesus’ aforementioned inimitable miracles (though there are descriptions of “miracle workers” who purportedly did things like produce rain. Clearly another attempt to discredit Jesus’ miracles.) Additionally there was no prophecy, and again most notably no resurrected Jesus. Once again all they can muster is the empty tomb. From their telling of the life of Jesus, the biggest influence on his life was not the fact that he is the Son of God, come from heaven to save mankind from sin (as Jesus himself declares, Luke 19.10), but rather that he grew up poor, and thus identified with the poor and thus was determined to help deliver the poor. (Never mind that the theme of God’s care for the poor as repeatedly expressed through God’s concern for the “alien, the fatherless and the widow” which runs throughout the Old Testament).

Examples of Denials of Jesus’ full humanity

This error is not nearly as common today as denials of Jesus’ divinity, but does linger on so it’s worth mentioning.

One of the first error of this type that emerged was that of Docetism from the Greek δοκεω (dokeō) “to appear” or “to seem.” It claimed that Jesus was not really human, he didn’t have a real body, he just seemed to have one. Instead, it teaches he was really a spirit being who appeared to be human. We can detect traces of this philosophy in the refutations by the Apostle John in his first epistle. In its intro:

That…which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched...” (1 John 1.1.)

Obviously you can’t touch spirits, so Jesus could not have been merely a spirit. It’s also detectable as the background for John’s test of teachers of true doctrine which he gives in the fourth chapter of the same epistle:

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,”
(1 John 4:2)

The influence of Docetism and Gnostism – and Examples:

Docetism arises out of the sharp duality of Gnostism, which, along with teaching the requirement of a secret knowledge or γνωσις (gnōsis) required for salvation, teaches that only the spiritual realm is good; matter is inherently evil. Thus Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ, could not take on a material human body – that would be joining His pure, good spirit to evil material. Thus accordingly Jesus could not have had a body – he only seemed to have a body. And so we’re lead directly to Docetism. Thus wherever you find the teaching of the duality of pure spirit / evil matter – you will find some form of Docetism.

Christian Science, a cult founded by Mary Baker Eddy, teaches a flavor of Docetism, which can be gleaned from their teachings on matter, and applied to their teachings of Jesus. Like Gnosticism, Christian Science has a distinct view of matter: For them, matter is not evil, it simply does not exist. Thus appearances of evil in the material world (like sickness) are manifestations not of matter, but wrong thinking in the mind. From official church teachings:

All these vagaries are at variance with my system of metaphysics, which rests on God as One and All, and denies the actual existence of both matter and evil...”
(No and Yes, p. 34)[14]

 

There is no life, truth, intelligence nor substance in matter. All is infinite Mind and its infinite manifestation, for God is All-in-All
(Science and Health p. 468)[15]

Clearly the existence of matter as a real substance is rejected. Which makes it difficult for Christ to have a real body. Which is reflected in her teachings about Jesus – where again we see a sharp duality between the pure Christ spirit and the human Jesus. Since matter does not exist, Christ was not conscious of it:

The real Christ was unconscious of matter, or sin, disease, and death, and was conscious only of God, of good, of eternal Life, and harmony.”
(No and Yes, p. 25)

Since matter does not exist, it logically follows that this earthly realm or “human kingdom” also does not exist:

“…for God’s kingdom is everywhere and supreme, and it follows that the human kingdom is nowhere, and must be unreal.(emphasis hers)
(No and Yes, p. 24)

So Eddy essentially anticipates a common New Age teaching of a spiritual Christ who joins a material man. Such is the teaching of Theosophy, forerunner of a number of cults, which proclaims:

“…and Jesus (at the River Jordan, where Christ came upon Jesus at his baptism.)
Jesus willingly volunteered his body for use by the Christ.”[16]

Identifying Error

Thus in Christian Science you have the spirit of the Christ join the body of a material man which they consider unreal. And in the New Age teaching of Theosophy, you have the spirit of the Christ use the body of the man Jesus – with his permission. Armed with the definition of Chalcedon, or even the short hand version, the error of both of these can easily be spotted.

Again: the Short hand version of the definition of Chalcedon:

Concerning Jesus, the Son of God: There is one person with two distinct natures – divine and human. You shall neither divide the person nor confuse (mix) the natures.

See the problems?
The problem with Christian Science – their denial of both matter, and Christ being conscious of matter, means he cannot have a real human nature. Because that requires a real body.
The Problem with this New Age teaching as expounded by Theosophy – They have two persons – the person of the spirit of the Christ who takes over the body of the man Jesus, and the person of the man Jesus who lends his body to the spirit of the Christ. (Christian Science appears to fall into this category as well since its adherents separate the spirit Christ from the man Jesus.)

Does Doctrine Matter?

As you see, armed with the creed of Nicea (the Nicene Creed) and the definition of Chalcedon, you will be able to spot and refute most errors concerning the doctrine of Jesus, the Son of God. Perhaps you’re wondering by this time what difference does it make? Aren’t these theologians merely splitting hairs? Two responses:

First, recall the discussion at the beginning on distortions and caricatures. We don’t want to be guilty of teaching a distorted picture of God, or Jesus the Son of God.

Second, here’s a lesson that’s not only good theology to learn, but it could stop Jehovah’s witnesses from repeated visits to your door. Recall the exodus from Egypt. Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to meet with God who gives him the 10 Commandments. In the meantime the people decide Moses has been gone too long, they don’t know what happened to him, so they take matters in their own hands. They decided to make an idol in the shape of a calf that can go before them. (Ex 32.1) After Aaron makes the idol of gold, look what they say about it:

Then they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
[ver 5] When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.'”
Ex 32.4-5

Two things to note: They called the idol God; and even worse, they said the idol was the God who delivered them from Egypt, and called the detestable idol by God’s covenant name, written in the text as: YHWH. (A mistake in transliterating God’s name is where the name “Jehovah” comes from.)

If you know anything about the God of the Bible, you know that was an abomination before him, and he was ready to destroy the people for it. (Ex 32.10) Take note – God was ready to destroy the people for the distortion they made concerning him – saying the God who led the Israelites out of Egypt (one of God’s greatest miracles) was a golden calf. For that sin, God was ready to execute immediate judgment and destroy them and start over with Moses. (Ex 32.10) Only Moses’ prayer saved them from destruction. (Ex 32.11-14)

The Lord does not change. (Mal 3.6) If he hated distortions concerning himself then, how do you think he feels about them now?

As for repelling Jehovah’s witnesses – I tell them they’re idolaters – worshiping the wrong God. I explain they think they have the proper name of God – Jehovah- but they don’t, it’s an incorrect transliteration of YHWH[17], then I take them to this passage and show them how the people called the golden calf idol “Jehovah.” Clearly they were worshiping and exalting the wrong God – as do the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They stopped coming to my house after that.

Conclusion (and my advice)

Errors concerning Jesus the Son of God abound in false religions and cults; where they’re able to flourish in the fertile ground of the minds of those untrained in the Bible. When you encounter people who either outright proclaim these errors, or refuse to state what they believe about these errors (particularly those in a position of leadership) then I have advice on what to do from the Apostle Paul – for both the mature and for the untrained:

For the mature:
Refute them and expose them.

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
(Eph 5:11)

For the untrained and novices in the faith – unsure of your ability to refute false doctrine: Run – and have nothing to do with them.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”
(1 Cor 10:14)


“Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,
[ver 21] which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.”
(1 Tim 6.20-21)

Note in Paul’s warning to the young pastor Timothy concerning “what is falsely called knowledge.” The root of the word “knowledge” γνωσεως (gnōseōs – knowledge) is from the same root word from which is derived Gnosticism (remember they claimed a secret knowledge). This is likely a not-so-veiled reference to their false doctrine. Note that those who have have followed it have “wandered from the faith.” Note also his advice to turn away from it. If you’re not going to refute it, that’s a good response to false doctrine – to turn away.


Duane Caldwell |May 20, 2020 | Printer friendly version

Related Articles:
Knowledge of the Holy One Part 1: Jesus the Holy One Revealed


Notes

1. The use of images of Christ for “veneration of honor and affection, such as can be given to the creature” was formally approved in 787 at the Seventh Ecumenical Council: The Second council of Nice (Nicea II).
Henry R. Percival, Editor, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, edited 1899, republished 2013 by Veritatis Splendor Publications, Kindle ed. p.663
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2. David F. Wells, The Person of Christ, Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1984, p. 70
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3. Gnosticism teaches many gods and a number of conflicting creation stories. All are heretic distortions of biblical teachings. According to the apologist Irenaeus in his well regarded treatise “Against Heresies,” one story has it that the god who created the {material) universe is a lesser god than the pure and true God – the Fullness (“Pleroma”) – from whom Jesus came. (Hints at another pagan concept – the duality of matter and spirit – matter being evil, spirit being pure and good.) Another has it that Jesus came from a lesser “mother” god outside the higher and purer “Pleroma.”

Cyril C. Richardson, Editor, Early Christian Fathers, New York: Collier Books, 1970, pp. 361-362; 367
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4. George Hodges, The Early Church From Ignatius to Augustine, Didactic Press eBooks, 2014, Kindle Edition, Loc 1357
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5. John McManners, editor The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, pp.56-57
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6. This translation: Klaas Runia, The present-day Christological Debate, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1984, p. 12
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7. Runia, Christological Debate, pp. 12-13
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8. This “clothed in flesh” is, of course merely a manner of speaking. by “flesh” I mean a fully human person with both body and soul. Denials that Jesus has a human soul is yet another heresy known as Apollinarianism – the teaching that Christ’s body consisted merely of a human body but not a human soul. This too, was condemned at the council of Chalcedon. (451)
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9. Wesley Walters & Kurt Goedelman, essay “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in A Guide to Cults & New Religions, by Ronald Enroth & Others, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1983, pp. 108-109
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10. “Liberal” here are those who do not take scripture at face value, that is to say the scriptures are true and are to be interpreted by the historical-grammatical method. Liberals think they can separate what they consider legend from fact. In so doing not only are they denying the scriptures, but creating a Jesus of their own making. As one theologian put it:
“Indeed the Jesus who emerged from most of these studies was so like the liberal authors who wrote them that Schweitzer observed that they must have been looking down the long well of human history and seen their own faces reflected at the bottom!”
Wells, The Person of Christ, p. 141
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11. Those seeking the “historical Jesus” reject the accuracy of the Bible. Thus using human-made tools for investigation known as “higher criticism” they seek to divorce Jesus from the biblical, scripture depiction (as described in part 1 of this this series), and seek to find what is historically viable – according to their various methods. Since the Bible is the prime source of history of Jesus, they start by using their tools to carve up the Bible in order to determine what, in their minds is true, and what is not – whether it be added later, mere opinion, or Christian doctrine placed in the scripture not by Jesus but by the new testament writers.
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12. Killing Jesus, 2015 National Geographic Channel drama based on the book of the same title by Martin Dugard and Bill O’Reilly
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13. Who Was Jesus (Three part mini Series – Part 1, Childhood; Part 2, The Mission; Part 3, The Last Days) Produced by Renegade pictures (UK) LTD for the Discovery Channel, 2009
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14. Mary Baker Eddy, No and Yes, (Authorized Literature of The First Church of Christ, Scientists) Boston: MA, by the Trustees of the Will of Mary Baker G Eddy, 1919, p. 34
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15. Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, (Authorized Literature of The First Church of Christ, Scientists), p. 468
ref. from Walter Martin, The Kingdom of The Cults, Minneapolis MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1985, p. 141
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16. Ron Rhodes, The Counterfeit Christ of The New Age Movement, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990, p.120
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17 Due to the third commandment’s prohibition against misusing the divine name (Ex 20.7) the Jewish nation considered the divine name too holy to be spoken. Yet the divine name is throughout scripture. To help prevent people from speaking the divine name when reading from the Tanakh (Tanakh=the name for the Jewish Old Testament scriptures), the word Adonai (Lord) was substituted. But the Masorites, the keepers of the scriptures, of course did not want to change the holy writ. Their solution was to substitute the vowels for the Divine name YHWH with the vowels for Adonai. (This could easily be done, because again not wanting to change the text, vowels are written underneath or between the letters – leaving the text unchanged.) But this substitution produces a word that breaks the rules – producing an impossible word, and thus impossible to be pronounced. This served as a reminder to not speak the holy name, and speak “Adonai” (Lord) instead. Thus translations that translate the divine name as “Jehovah” do so erroneously.
ref:
J. Weingreen, M.A., PhD., A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew, Second Edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 1959, p. 23
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Images
“The Adoration of the Golden Calf”
by Nicolas Poussin / Public domain

Distorting Mirror © Alexander Efisko | Dreamstime.com

Article Title: Ref Prov 9.10; 30.3

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