An “Ineffable Name”?
AT 630 feet [192 m], the Gateway Arch on the riverfront in St. Louis, Missouri, is the tallest monument in the United States. Near one side of the arch sits a not-so-tall church, commonly called the Old Cathedral.
Describing the architectural features of the entryway of the church, the booklet The Story of the Old Cathedral, published by the church, says: “The portico is crowned by a beautiful pediment in the center of which is engraved in large gilded Hebrew characters the ineffable name of God.” As the photograph shows, the four Hebrew letters יהוה (YHWH), or the Tetragrammaton, representing the divine name, are clearly visible.
When the cathedral was built in 1834, those of the diocese of St. Louis must have felt that the name in the form of the four Hebrew letters should have a prominent place. Why, then, is the divine name considered to be “ineffable,” or “not to be uttered”?
The New Catholic Encyclopedia explains what took place some time after the Jews returned from their Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C.E. It says: “The name Yahweh [the Tetragrammaton with vowels added] began to be considered with special reverence, and the practice arose of substituting for it the word ADONAI [Lord] or ELOHIM [God]. . . . The practice led in time to forgetfulness of the proper pronunciation of the name Yahweh.” Thus, people stopped using God’s name. Eventually, the exact ancient pronunciation was lost and the divine name became ineffable to them.
Although we cannot be certain exactly how God’s name was pronounced, the important thing is that using his name draws us closer to him. Would you like your friends to call you “mister” or “miss,” or would you rather that they call you by your personal name? Even if they speak another language and do not pronounce your name exactly right, you would still prefer to have them call you by your name, would you not? The same is true of God. He wants us to use his personal name, Jehovah.
In English, the pronunciation “Jehovah” is commonly known. Would it not be appropriate for all who love God to address him by that personal name and thus draw close to him? “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you,” says the Bible.—James 4:8.