Nomina Sacra

Some early Old Testament Greek manuscripts glorify God’s name by writing them in Hebrew characters. Some of my Jehovah’s Witness friends have made much of this fact, as properly reverencing the Divine Name is of central important to them.

I have recently discovered, in “The Cambridge History of the Bible, Vol I,” that these manuscripts with the Divine Name in Hebrew were Jewish manuscripts. While Christians did not observe the same practice, they did specially mark nomina sacra (i.e. sacred names) by leaving out a few vowels and writing a line over the contraction. What is interesting to me is that the nomina sacra include the words Theos (God), Kourious (Lord), Kristos (Christ), and Iasous (Jesus).

It is interesting evidence on two fronts:

  1. It treats the names God and Jesus on an equal footing, making clear the Divine status attributed to Jesus.
  2. It seems to leave out references to the Holy Spirit, as well as references to God as Father do not make use of this practice. Thus this practice does not give evidence to the Doctrine of the Trinity, but because “the Father” does not get this treatment it does not seem to be evidence against it either.

These four words were not invariably written this way, if the usage were non-theological then it would be written without contraction.

The Bible refers to Christians were “Believers in the Name.” What was this name? In New Testament usage, a name is not necessarily a literal word, but sometimes an authority, power, or personal identity. The practice of the sacra nomina points to four words that identify the sacred name and testify to a primitive belief in the Divinity of Chrst.

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