Elements of The World
I recently received an email from a brother which said,
“If you knew that the name Jesus was the mark of the beast, would you still pray in the name of Jesus ?”
My response was, “if I knew that the name ‘Jesus’ was the mark of the beast then I wouldn’t use it, but it is absolute nonsense to suggest that it is!” During that same period of time I also received another message which suggested that I would lose my credibility if I insisted that focusing on the Hebrew names of God and Jesus, was simply a form of legalism. The reasoning of this brother is that God declared several times in the Bible that it was important to know that his name was Yahweh, and it was unreasonable to label something as legalistic when God himself insisted that it was a necessity.
Now it is true that the Hebrew expression of the name of God is YHWH, a word which cannot be pronounced in the way it is spelled. It is necessary to add some vowels in order to be able to pronounce this word. Some people believe it should be pronounced as Yahweh, others say it should be Yehovah, and there are still others who suggest that the proper pronunciation should be Yahuwah. Even if we could discover exactly how to pronounce the name, would this mean that it is something important to the point that we make it into a doctrine?
I have no issue with people using these names as a matter of personal preference, I do that myself sometimes. But what I am completely against is the idea that we all need to stop saying, ‘Jesus,’ and ‘God,’ and that we should use exclusively the Hebrew expression of the names of the Father and the Son. This is legalism and this is what I want to focus on in this article.
Let me begin by sharing a verse found in Galatians 5:3.
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. (Gal 5:2-3)
The word, “debtor,” used in this context, means to be under an obligation; the person under an obligation is duty-bound, has a responsibility, a necessity to do something. Why is it that if a person is circumcised (according to Paul’s reasoning here) he is under an obligation to keep the whole law? It is because when a person embraces a certain way of thinking, then he will take the next logical step, then the next: if it is necessary to keep one part of the law then of course there is no way to escape the conclusion that it is also necessary to keep the rest of the law!
Legalism is always looking for words and statements to support its position, but the way of Jesus Christ in the new covenant is to focus on principles; the spirit and not the letter. Words by themselves can lead to very wrong conclusions: Jesus said that if a person wishes to be his disciple he must hate his mother and his father (Luke 14:26)! Are we to accept these words just as they read? Of course not! We look at the principle behind the words, we try to understand the underlying meaning instead of just accepting the literal, superficial meaning of the words. In Hebrews 5:12, Paul says:
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. (Heb 5:12)
When we are gone back to interpreting the Scriptures in such a literalistic, legalistic way, then are we not children? Are we not only fit to take milk rather than hard food? When Paul encountered this kind of thinking among the Galatians he rebuked them in a very pointed way:
But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. (Gal 4:9-11)
I share the same kind of concern for some of our brethren. Paul says that these Galatians were turning again to, ‘weak and beggarly elements.’ He highlights what he means by pointing out that they had started to observe, ‘days, and months, and times, and years.’ They were ritualistically and mindlessly observing the ceremonies commanded under the old covenant in an age when those things had passed. Paul refers to these practices as, ‘weak and beggarly elements.’
Everything that was in the law had to do with physical things; a physical temple, physical people, a physical land and all the rules had to do with how people were to operate in relation to the physical space in which they lived. They had to go to a particular place to worship and carry out that worship service in a specified way. It was of the elements of the world!
What is legalism?
Perhaps the first question to be addressed is the question, what is legalism? I would say that very simply put, it is the religion of the old covenant. Many people would define it as an attitude where a person believes in being saved by keeping the law, however legalism is much more than this. Essentially it is taking an attitude where one’s life is governed by outward forms, by superficial things. Let me give an example of what I mean:
The sign on the door says, “please wipe your feet.” So I remove my shoes and step inside, but the doorkeeper points out that I have not wiped my feet and asks me to go back and wipe them. I point out that I have actually removed my shoes, I have done something much more effective than simply wiping my feet, but he insists that I must go back and wipe them because this is what the rule says! That is the essence of legalism, it is mindless conformity to statements without reference to the meaning or the purpose of the statement, this is the approach of legalism and it embraces many things in our lives, it doesn’t affect us only in the realm of religion, but it is especially harmful in religion. It leads to the conclusion that the God who made these legalistic rules is not a very intelligent person, but is more concerned about form than about what makes sense. Because there is a rule that says, “don’t work on the Sabbath,” you can’t pick fruit on the Sabbath even if you’re hungry! The legalist enjoys this kind of religion. When we are children it may be enough that we are given an assignment to go and memorize Bible verses. Responding to questions we simply produce a verse regardless of time or context and this is understandable because we are only children. But surely, when we become adults this is not good enough! We need to understand what we are reading and to avoid misinterpreting Scriptures!
Legalism is based on the religion of the old covenant and if I may put it another way it is religion that centers around the physical senses. The apostle Paul says,
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Col 2:8)
What does Paul mean when he speaks of, “the rudiments of the world?” He uses the same phrase when chastising the Galatians about their obsession with the legalistic principles of the old covenant law:
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: (Gal 4:3)
At one time, we the people of God were in a state of spiritual infancy. Paul refers to that time as a time when we were children and he says that we were in bondage, under the control of the elements of the world. This of course refers to the old covenant age before the spirit was given, at this time the people of God were governed by the system of the law. In the previous verse, verse 4, Paul says that we were placed under tutors and governors and it was these tutors and governors which kept us under, “bondage.” Paul is simply reinforcing and emphasizing something that he already stated in chapter 3:
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal 3:23-24)
The law was a schoolmaster, it was a tutor, a governor. It subdued and kept us under discipline until the coming of Christ. But what is interesting is that this system of the law is described by Paul as consisting of the, “elements of the world.” Under the system of the law the religion established by God was based on the principles of the world. In Colossians 2:20,21, Paul says:
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? (Col 2:20-22)
Of the senses
Here we see an example of what Paul means by the, “rudiments of the world.” He is referring to things that can be discerned by the senses, things that can be touched, tasted, handled. Of course this would also include things that can be seen, heard and smelled. What Paul is really saying is that we, in Jesus Christ have been elevated to a place where our worship is no longer governed by the limited principles of this planet, the things that can be discerned by the senses. We operate on a spiritual plane which is not based on the elements of this world.
Somebody might argue that in referring to these elements of the world Paul was not referring to the things of the law because he refers to them as, “the Commandments and doctrines of men,” and of course it was God who gave the commandments in the law. But regardless of who gave the commandments, when God has abolished that system of rules and regulations, then they are no longer the commandments of God. Those who continue to promote and to require them are simply teaching the commandments of men. For example it was God who gave strict instructions for Jewish boys to be circumcised, but do we regard this as God’s commandment today? If somebody comes along and begins to insist that all Christian men must be circumcised, would this be the Commandments of God, or would it be the traditions of men? We are in a different age and we operate on different principles. The New Covenant made a great change and every Christian ought to understand this!
Paul says we should not be subject to ordinances which include, “touch not, taste not, handle not.” These refer to things which are tangible, the things which relate to the senses. The five physical senses which we possess as humans are, the senses of touch, sight, hearing, smelling and tasting. Paul is saying that we no longer operate under the governance of a religion which focuses on the things of the senses. We died with Christ and are risen with him, we no longer operates on the principles of this physical world. That was the way of the old covenant, but we are no longer under that covenant.
In his conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus made it clear that there had been a great change. This Samaritan woman had questions concerning the correct location where God should be worshiped. The Jews claimed that the proper place was Jerusalem, but she along with the other Samaritans believed that Samaria was the correct place because that was where their ancestors had worshiped. Her focus was on a visible place, a place that could be discerned with the senses.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. . . . But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. (John 4:21,23)
Where should we be worshiping then? Jesus said, “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth,” not in the ways of the flesh, not in forms and representations but in relation to the things that are spirit. As Paul tells us, the things that are seen are only temporal and temporary, but the things that are not seen are the real things, the things that are eternal. The religion that is based on touch, hear, see, feel, taste – is the religion of this world and we do not belong to that religion anymore, we have been elevated to something better, we worship God in spirit and in truth! This is the principle of the new covenant and it is the principle that takes us out of legalism. In actual fact the religion that is focused on physical things is building on the same principle as superstition. Superstition is always focused on the things you can see, touch, taste etc. and so is legalism. It is the principle of the world and it is also the principle of immature, childish Christianity.
Old covenant principles
Under the old covenant there was a sacred race of people. People are still confused about this today and even at this moment the subject of racial superiority is still a very volatile topic among many groups of people and even in religious circles. Among the several confused groups which are racially focused, is one which refers to itself as, “Hebrew Israelites.” These confused people teach that black people are the true Jews and they insist that they are the only people who are loved and favored by God. All other races are rejected and even hated by God! This religion is not only racist, but it is foolish. It is silly to believe that the Almighty Creator of the universe who made all things including all men, is so parochial and concerned about skin color that he favors one race above everybody else! But there are people who end up with these crazy, unreasonable conclusions, because their worship of God is focused on the elements of this world.
Under the old system there were also sacred ceremonies. The books of Exodus and Leviticus are filled with instructions as to how to perform these ceremonies, which included the observance of feast days along with the rituals involved in worshiping in the earthly sanctuary. God gave instructions that these ceremonies and rituals should be carried out; he gave very strict instructions as to how and when they should be observed and in fact, the Hebrews were blessed only if they carried out these instructions. But these were ceremonies related to this world, they were of the elements of this world, they were not based on the principles of God’s eternal kingdom. But still, at that time there was a sacred race, there were sacred ceremonies, and there was a sacred land!
But now, none of these exist anymore! Under the principles of the new covenant there is no longer any particular race that is specially favored of God, no race which he claims as his people above all others. God loves all people equally and he made a way to save all people, equally, from every race, from every tribe, from every nation! Many misguided Christian are fixated with the Jewish nation and with the land of Palestine. They believe that God still specially favors the physical Jews above everyone else, but this is because they are still operating on the principles of the old covenant. God has elevated his true religion to a higher place through Jesus Christ. Under the new covenant we do not operate on these physical principles, these elements of the world. So we no longer believe in sacred races, we no longer believe in a sacred piece of land and we no longer believe in sacred ceremonies.
A sacred language?
How is it then that some of us still believe in a sacred language? Is this not something that has to do with the senses? How do we believe that because we pronounce a word in a certain way, this is of great importance to the God of the universe? That he is watching carefully to see if we use the word, Yahweh, or Yahuwah, or some similar pronunciation when we address him or speak about him? How can we believe that the Almighty God is so obsessed with a particular sound?
During the times of the old covenant the Hebrews existed in a society where they were surrounded by many nations all of which worshipped different gods. There was Bel, Ashtoreth, Dagon, Addrammelech, Milcom, Chemosh and many others. In the context of a society in which so many people worshiped so many different gods, it was important that a distinction be made between the identity of the Hebrew God, and all the other gods of the nations. God’s purpose in that age was to demonstrate that he was more powerful and superior to all other gods, and the way to distinguish him was simply by the Hebrew name which he gave to them.
Let us make note of the fact that God is not a Hebrew! When God confounded the language of the human race at the Tower of Babel, different language groups emerged and formed themselves into different nations each with its own unique language. The Hebrew language was just one of these languages and there is nothing special or unique about it, it is not the language of heaven and God and the angels do not communicate with each other in the Hebrew language. This language is limited to the Hebrews and is of the elements of this world.
The name Yahweh is derived from the word, YHWH and is firmly associated with the Old Covenant experience of the Hebrews and is inextricably linked to the Hebrew language. We notice that this word has no vowels and cannot be pronounced the way it is spelled. This is how it is in the Hebrew language, there are no written vowels, only consonants. There has always been controversy as to exactly how this word was pronounced and this is why today, there is still disagreement as to how it should be pronounced. Some people say, “Yahweh,” others say it should be, “Yahuwah,” others say, “Yahvah,” and still others say it should be, “Yehovah.” Some people have spent a great deal of time digging and researching trying to discover exactly what sound to make in trying to pronounce this word. Many of them believe it is extremely important that we pronounce the name with exactly the correct sound, to the point where they insist that it is a salvational issue. As we may imagine this presents quite a challenge as nobody is quite certain as to exactly how this word was pronounced.
Contending for a sound
When we consider all of this it is clear that what is being emphasized is not so much the name of God, it is more the sound which we make when we speak of him, or address him! The contention over the Hebrew name of God is really contention about a certain sound! Some have drawn comparisons with human names, pointing out that people respond to their names, that they recognize when they are being addressed by the particular sound which is made. However, it is childish and simplistic to use this comparison with relation to God as though God is so limited, that he needs to hear a particular pronunciation before he recognizes that he is being addressed.
This is really an argument about a sound, and as was pointed out, sounds are one of the elements of this world. These are the things which were emphasized under the old covenant and of course God emphasized them! There was a holy race, there were holy ceremonies, there was a holy land and of course, there was a holy name for the God that they worshiped. Everything was of the elements of the world!
Not in the New Testament
What we find most revealing is the fact that there is not a single place in the New Testament Scriptures where the literal name of God is emphasized. It is not there because the way we pronounce the name of God is not an issue in spiritual worship. In the new covenant the emphasis is entirely upon the character of the God that we worship, not upon the sound by which we address him. The spiritual application of the name of God helps us to understand the character of the God that we worship, not merely a sound that we make when speaking of him, not at all. We operate on a higher plane and emphasize something far more important.
And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads. (Rev 14:1)
His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. (Rev 19:12)
I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. (John 17:6)
Here are three verses from the New Testament, they mention the name of God or the name of the Son of God. Yet, it is very obvious that not one of them refers to the sound of a name, but rather to the character of the person mentioned. In one case it even says that the only person who knows his name is Christ himself! Obviously this is not the sound by which others address him, but rather, the character he possesses, based on his own personal experience. This is what a name really signifies and this is what we should focus on when we speak of the name of God, not the way we pronounce it, but what it means.
Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. (2Cor 3:6)
Here Paul tells us that we have been made ministers of the new testament and he specifies the difference between the old and the new. The old covenant focuses on, “the letter,” while the new covenant is of, “the spirit.” This is absolutely applicable in understanding the name of God. The letter is simply what is written, it is the bare statement without understanding the principle behind it. The word YHWH is the letter, the meaning or the understanding of the word is the spirit. Under the new covenant it is the meaning that we emphasize, not the sound, not the letter. We are New Testament Christians, or we ought to be! We worship God in spirit and in truth, not in form, ritual, ceremony or sounds. In Luke 17:20-21, the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus said in response,
. . . . The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)
Jesus said that this kingdom would not be something that could be observed, so it could not be seen! Could it be smelled, touched, tasted or heard? Of course not! The kingdom of which he spoke was not of this world and it did not operate on the principles or the elements of this world.
From one thing to another
The truth is that one thing leads to another. When a person starts out on a certain pathway then it is natural that he will continue in the same logical pattern that led him to take that path from the beginning. Ultimately he will end up at a destination which is the logical end result of the path that he has chosen. This is why Paul stated that if a person was circumcised he was under an obligation to keep the entire law. The same understanding that made a person believe he needed to be circumcised would lead him eventually to believe that he needed to keep the rest of the law. The law was a package and circumcision was just one part of it, why should a person pick out one little piece of it to observe and leave the rest of it alone? That would not make sense and so the adoption of circumcision would lead to the observance of the entire law.
In the same way if a person sets out to operate on the principle of the elements of this world, adopting one part of that worship system as being necessary, then there is no logical reason why he should not adopt the rest of it. This is why many of the people who insist on using Hebrew names go on to observing feast days and other ceremonials of the law, even to the point where they feel that they need to adopt the speaking of Hebrew, and identifying everything by Hebrew terms! Some of them even go on as we have seen, to identify themselves as literal Jews! It is the logical consequence of building on the wrong principle, it is the result of operating on the principles of the world. The insistence on using the Hebrew names to address God is a step in that direction. As an example of what I mean, look at the following statement which was posted on Facebook by one of these people who is focused on these Hebrew names:
“If you kept the Qadash Feast days of YaHUaH for his year of 2022 May he Barak Rapha and Shamar you in his Shalam Aulam b’ha’sham YaHUsHa Ha’mashiach’s sham aman.
We don’t keep the Feast days because we’re Jews we keep the Feast days because we’re Set-apart unto YaHUaH through YaHUsHa and look forward to the promise of things yet to come.”
Quite likely, this person will soon go on to attempting to speak only Hebrew, believing that in doing this he obtains some kind of merit with God! This is worldly, trivial, pointless religion. It does nothing for anybody and does not draw anyone closer to God. It may impress some people, like people dressing up all in white when they go to church or practicing some other outward form to demonstrate religious piety. It makes them look good in the eyes of foolish people, but it does nothing for their relationship with God and in fact it hinders it, because it keeps them locked into the worship pattern of the old covenant. God is not impressed with outward forms but as he told Samuel, he looks on the heart.
As I said, if a person chooses to use these Hebrew names as a matter of personal preference, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However when people begin to insist that it is necessary that we all do this and even to suggest that this can somehow affect our salvation, then this becomes a harmful practice, an erroneous teaching and something that needs to be resisted. It is an effort to drag us backwards into the religion of the old covenant. May we be preserved from this backward step into darkness.