Sunday, May 4, 2014

Word study #2 “God”

Where does the word “god” come from?  Why do we use it?

The Nine Billion Names of God is a short story written by Arthur C. Clarke back in 1953.  It tells a story of a group of Tibetan Monks who hire IBM to install a mainframe to print out the Nine Billion Names of God; they believe that the world was created to discover the Nine Billion Names and that when the purpose of the world was completed the world would end.  I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story, you will need to find it out yourself.

But I don’t want to talk about the god of Tibetan Monks.  I want to talk about the God of the Judeo-Christian Traditions.  “God” is a generic term for a deity, or a power mightier than man who interacts with man. 

There is a ton of speculation about the origin of the word “god”. has quite a bit on the subject. 

Personally, while I agree that the idea that our English “god” comes from the Germanic “gott”, I think that there is a deeper undercurrent to the meaning.  In the article on “Gad” in the Jewish Encyclopedia  it is mentioned that Gad is the name of the Canaanite god of Fortune, pronounced “gawd”.  And today, we wish each other “Good Luck”, or we say “how fortunate” or “how lucky” a person is, which is similar to saying “Gad be with you”.  Of course, “luck” is Loki, the Norse god of fortune, “fortune” is the Roman goddess “Fortuna”. 

Where this all started for me was a couple of years ago in discussion with an acquaintance about “God”.  This acquaintance was arguing that since I worship “God”, and Muslims worship “God”, and members of the Church of Latter Day Saints worship “God”, and many others claim to worship a “God” or “gods” that we should all just get together and worship “god” together, or better yet, just live and let live and let each one worship his or her own “god”: the way they want to.  I mean, like, you know, its all the same anyways, right man?

Well, no, it isn’t all the same, at least not to me.  See, my “God” requires me to worship him a certain way, and not only that, my “God” claims to be the only true “god” and claims that all others are not really “gods” at all.  If only one “god” said that then it would not be a problem, but practically every “god” around makes similar claims.  So now what do I do?

I have settled to my own satisfaction that the “God” I worship is, for me, the true “God”.  I’m not going to go into the details here and now, but for a good place to start you can try “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.

In the Hebrew Old Testament, or Tanakh, what is translated usually as “God” is usually the Hebrew for “Elohiym”; which may be loosely translated as “Mighty One”.  In Genesis 1:1 it says that Elohiym created the heaven and the earth.  Some scholars think that Elohiym is the plural for Eloahh and that Elohiym should be translated as "Mighty Ones"; there is great debate on this matter.  As near as I can tell it is all speculation and no-one really knows for sure; much data has been lost about the Hebrew language.  Although, considering how little we know about other languages from 4-5,000 years ago, we know quite a lot about the Hebrew language.  Interesting, is is not?

In Genesis 2:4 is the first appearance of what is sometimes called the Tetragrammaton, or The Name, or YHWH, or Jehovah, or as I read it, Yahuah (ya HOO ah).  For arguments on the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton see the article in Wikipedia or in the Jewish Encyclopedia.

So, as someone else might say that their God is Allah, I will say that my Elohiym is Yahuah, because I believe, worship, and trust the Hebrew deity.  Depending on my audience, I may say “God Bless you” or I may say “Elohiym bless you”.  I may say “Praise the Lord” or I may say “HalleluYAH”.  However, in my own personal worship and prayer, I normally use the Hebrew names.  And I will rarely tell a person "Good Luck" or say how lucky someone is, because to me, that is a referent to a different god.

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