Saturday, April 11, 2009

Nomina Sacra- The Sacred Names

Taking the Lord's name in vain is soooo common today. You hear it in the movies, read it in books and probably hear it at work a lot...hopefully you're not partaking in this horrible atrocity. Yes, I say "atrocity" since it's obvious to me that it is horrific. Treating the Lord God with contempt is nothing less than a horrible affront to His honor and it says a lot about the person that does not even think of the Lord except in a curse.

Doesn't Exodus 20:7 warn us about this?

"Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain."

I've been spending a good amount of time indexing a 13th century NT manuscript that's in the form of a lectionary. To be honest, it's great fun! It's also very good to help me try and keep my Greek skills from atrophying. I think the most astounding "discovery" for me so far is to see the use of "nomina sacra" first hand.

"What is nomina sacra?" you say...we'll it literally means "sacred name" and it refers to the practice of abbreviating the use of "Jesus", "Christ" and "God" in the word as the scribe copied the text. Some dispute that this was simply to save be honest, it's probably true in the case of the lectionary I'm indexing since anthropos, meaning "man, mankind" is also abbreviated throughout the lectionary.

Some believe the abbreviations could have started as an attempt to treat the names as sacred by not spelling them out. Either way, this exercise has caused me to think on the sacred names and how easily it is to take God's name in time you say "God bless you" when someone sneezes you might think about I really even thinking about God and desiring Him to bless a person that sneezes...or am I flippantly taking His name in vain?

[ in the attached graphic of John 3:3 above you can see the "Basileian tou theou"- except you might notice that instead of "Theou" you have a Theta (looks like an "O" with a line through its middle) and what looks like a "U"- this is the Greek upsilon. This is a nomina sacra for the Greek word "Theou"which means "of God"- instead of the whole word spelled out you have the theta and then the upsilon. The phrase in view says "the kingdom of God".]
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> posted by Jim Leavenworth at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. Persoanlly, when I am taknig Bible notes, to save time I sometimes want to abbreivate "Holy Spirit" as "H.S." But I often wonder if I should because I kinda think that bu not spelling it out in my laziness I am not honoring his name. He is holy and I should be diligent enough to write the whole word "Holy" in front of his name. It sometimes seems weird or bad to refer to him as the "H.S." I'm in a toss up. I don't mean disrespect, but still have trouble writing just "H.S."

April 13, 2009 at 7:54 AM  

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