Occasionally in our congregations we bump into people who donít seem to be Jewish, but get very offended when someone uses the name "Jesus." Their preference is to pronounce his name "Yahshua."
These people are often adherents of a set of beliefs known as the "Sacred Name
Movement". It originated as an offshoot from the "Worldwide Church of God"
(Armstrong) in the early 20th century, and now numbers approximately 50,000 world-wide. They are attracted to Messianic congregations because of
our Saturday/Shabbat meeting time and their hostility to the name
"Jesus". You need to know that they bring with them doctrinal baggage that can cause much trouble unless it is addressed by the leadership of those congregations. Our own exposure to this has occurred through a small congregation nearby in central Maryland that calls itself Messianic, yet is thoroughly Sacred Name. We have had to deal with several ex-members who have shown up in our congregation.
The first issue with their beliefs is their divisiveness. They believe that the scripture that says, "Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13) literally means that the particular name of the Lord must be pronounced exactly and precisely correctly in order to effect salvation, and that Yahshua is the exact, precise, and only acceptable pronunciation of YHWH. This creates an issue with the rest of those in the Christian and Messianic movement, who refer to the Messiah as "Yeshua" or "Jesus." Since these names do not meet their criteria for the "name of the Lord," adherents to Sacred Name thinking would decree them unsaved. This eliminates all Christian writing and thinking throughout history from their consideration, isolating them soundly from the mainstream.
One main aspect of their teaching is that the name "Jesus" is a pagan name derived from the name of the Greek god "Zeus." This misconception derives from the English versions of both names, and has no foundation in the original Greek. Since this is one of their main issues, letís spend a little time on it; but we're going to need to delve a little into linguistics, so stay with me.
As English speakers, we donít change the form of nouns based on where they appear in our sentences. We can say, for example, "I gave the ball to the child," or "the child threw the ball," or even "the ball bounced past the child," and donít need to change the form of "child" or "ball." The Greek speaker does need to change the ending of nouns based on usage. For example, the noun "anthropos," meaning "man,"can also appear as "anthropon" or "anthropou." Greek also has endings for nouns that are feminine in gender, and different endings for nouns that are masculine.
Greek speakers needed the form of the masculine name, "Yeshua," to be masculine. They needed to end it in ways grammatically consistent with the example of "anthropos," above, and make it into "Yeshous" or "Yeshoun," etc. (This issue was not restricted to "Yeshua," but applied to other Hebrew nouns. For example, "Messiakh" which became "Messias.") Superficially, then, the endings of various Greek nouns look very similar because of grammatical reasons, not because one noun derived from the other. In the original Greek, they pronounced "Zeus" Zoh-ehs or Dias which donít, at all, resemble the Greek for "Jesus."
In getting from "Yeshua" to "Jesus" we already took a half step grammatically to "Yeshous." This wasnít proper Greek yet in that Greek didnít have the "sh" sound. They had no way to spell it and no way to pronounce it. They also didnít have the consonant "y" sound, so the best they could do was "Iesous" (Eee-ay-soos). In Germanic languages, the "j" is pronounced like our consonant "y" sound, and "y" is only used as a vowel. In ancient days, when English was more Germanic in spelling, "Yesus" was spelled "Jesus," though still pronounced Yay-soos, in the Germanic manner. When the English language changed the pronunciation of certain letters, we kept the spelling, but changed the pronunciation of "Jesus" to our modern pronunciation.
However, as far as the Sacred Name movement is concerned, anyone who has ever known the Messiah as "Jesus" is not saved. Period. This excludes all the great men and women of the faith. Once they have rejected them and their teachings they feel free to invent their own religion based on distortions of scripture.
The biggest distortion is based around this misconception of salvation. Scripture teaches that we are not saved by some magic incantation pronounced properly, but by
faith in, reliance upon, and allegiance to, a person. One of the most famous verses of the New Covenant, John 3:16, refers to "believing in him," not pronouncing his name correctly.
Since they are a movement and not a denomination, they have no unified statement of faith. It is therefore difficult to determine with certainty what a particular Sacred Name devotee believes. However, there are elements in common to most, if not all, of their pamphlets and other publications.
Their doctrine of Yeshua is particularly confusing. On one hand, they accept him as separate from the Father and accept that he was pre-existent before his birth in Bethlehem. They ascribe to him the basis of salvation and consider him to be more than a mere man. On the other hand, they deny that he is co-equal with the Father. They consider him to be subservient to the Father, not as a matter of will, but as a matter of nature.
The Philippians 2 passage, as well as others, teach, instead, that Yeshua voluntarily submitted himself to the will of the Father in order to accomplish his mission. The overwhelming weight of evidence is that Yeshua and the Father are of equal "stature" and power within the Godhead
The Sacred Name Movement also denies the existence of the Spirit as a person of the Godhead, but describes him only as an impersonal manifestation of the power of God. Because of their belief that the text we possess is filled with pagan influences, they simply deny any passage that contradicts this belief as being later pagan additions.
They believe that worship must be on Saturdays, and that the other biblical feasts must be observed. This is another reason they are attracted to Messianic congregations and cause them to appear in our midst.
They are also what we in the Messianic community would call "Torah observant" in other ways, especially with respect to the laws of kashrut. Some of their literature goes beyond the Mosaic covenant into issues of food additives and organically grown vegetables.
They believe in ongoing revelation, and some of their founders refer to themselves as prophets.
They have some loose connections to the Seventh Day Adventists and the Mormons. Sad to say, there are also congregations that call themselves Messianic that profess an identification with this group.
Our reaction to these individuals ought to be to correct them gently in love. Because of the strange interpretations they have been taught to embrace, we must educate them in a sound hermeneutic and lead them to consider themselves part of the larger community of believers rather than elite possessors of some higher truth.
If you would like to know more about this movement, a Google search on "Sacred Name Movement" reveals many informative sites. One of the best "insider" sites is http://www.bomis.com/rings/sacredname/ which is the Sacred Name Movement Web ring. From the opposing point of view, http://www.sacrednamemovement.com is a site that points out the many doctrinal errors of which they are guilty, concentrating on the "Yahshua" issue.
Pete Koziar is the Congregational Leader of B'Nai Avraham Congregation, Baltimore, MD, and AMC Vice President.