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Observant Jews have traditionally not used the name Yahweh, refusing to pronounce the so-called proper name of God out of respect, or to be sure they do not misuse it. Now neither will Roman Catholics, at least in their worship services.

"In recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," said a June letter from the Vatican. "As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: Adonai, which means 'Lord.'" In August, U.S. bishops were directed to remove Yahweh from songs and prayers.

Protestants should be following their lead, said Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. "It's always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name," she said. "Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God."

While refusing to write or say Yahweh aloud is a long-standing Jewish tradition, the Bible does not forbid its pronunciation.

"I don't have an issue with the use of that word in the worship context," said Mike Harland, director of the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Worship, which released the new Baptist Hymnal in August. "It's a transliteration of one of the names of God. It wouldn't be off-putting to me at all."

While the Baptist Hymnal does not use Yahweh (except in one Scripture reading), its omission was not a conscious decision, Harland said. The discussion has not surfaced in the SBC and is not likely to, ...

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Barring Yahweh
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October 2008

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