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God’s Word for You

Luke 11:2b The First Petition

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, June 28, 2018

let your name be made holy.

The Greek word onoma (ὄνομα) means more than just “name.” Like its Hebrew counterpart shem (שֵׁם), it stands in this context for anything that designates God: all his names, all his titles, and also “all that God has been pleased to make known about himself” (Werner Franzmann, Bible History Commentary: New Testament Vol. I p. 255). It is God’s whole revelation of himself. That means that the Bible itself, God’s word for us, is also included in this phrase, “let your name be made holy.”

It’s tempting to translate this phrase “Hallowed be your/thy name.” But an archaic word is, by definition, a word without meaning. So it’s better to use language that’s clear even if it doesn’t seem elegant.

First: “Thy.” This was once the informal possessive pronoun. Neither Greek nor Hebrew has a second set of pronouns the way Middle and Early Modern English did, and so there is no word for “thy” in either Greek or Hebrew that’s different from “your.” “Thy” was once an informal pronoun, that is, a pronoun used instead of “your” when speaking with your family or friends. It was informal as opposed to formal.

“Your” was the more formal pronoun in the English of four or five centuries past. “Give me thy hand” (Winter’s Tale, V:2) is more personal than “You shall pay your fees” (I,1). Since we don’t use “thy” in normal conversation today and since most people think it means the opposite of what it once meant (they think it’s formal rather than informal), we should probably avoid it when praying to God.

Second: “Hallowed.” What does “hallowed” mean? While the very first online definition I looked up was correct—to make holy or sacred—it also included a picture of a jack-o’-lantern. To make a thing holy is to revere and regard it as sacred. But in this petition, we need to remember that the name we regard as sacred is not simply a name or title of God. It is everything God reveals about himself.

It does not please God when we make light of his word, his gospel, or his name. He wants us to use his name with respect as a way of worshiping him. Isn’t his name already holy all by itself? Luther explained: “God’s name is certainly holy by itself, but we pray in this petition that we too may keep it holy.” How do we do that? Luther explained further:

      God’s name is kept holy when his word is taught in its
      truth and purity and we as children of God lead holy
      lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in
      heaven! But whoever teaches and lives contrary to
      God’s Word dishonors God’s name among us. Keep us
      from doing this, dear Father in heaven!
(Small Catechism)

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.