In the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, God is in His heaven—all-powerful, allknowing, surveying His creation from a lofty height. Our thoughts must rise to Him. And so we now pray that His very name, and thus His sacred person, be hallowed by all men. The two questions emerging from this plea are: what does “hallowed” mean, and what significance is attached to a “name” in Hebrew culture?
I. THE MEANING OF “HALLOWED”
The word translated “hallowed” is part of the Greek verb hagaizesthai. This verb is connected with the adjective hagios, and means “to treat a person or a thing as hagios.” This adjective has two meanings. The basic meaning is “holy,” but more importantly it means “different” or “separate.” In other words, if a thing is hagios it is different from other things, and a person who is hagios is separate from other people. So a temple is hagios because it is different from other buildings. A priest is hagios because he is separate from other men.
So what does this petition mean? “Let God’s name be treated differently from all other names; let God’s name be given a position which is absolutely unique.”1
II. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF “NAME” IN THE HEBREW CULTURE
In traditional cultures, a “name” simply means the name by which a person is called, such as George or John or Mary. By contrast, in Hebrew, the “name” means the nature, the character, and the personality of the person.
This becomes clear when we see how the Psalmist used “name.” For instance, Psalms 20:7 says, “Some boast of chariots and some horses, but we boast of the name of the Lord our God.” This means while some put their trust in human and material aids and defenses, the Psalmist will remember the nature and character of God; he will remember what God is like, and that memory will give him confidence (cf. Ps 9:10). A further example is in Exodus 34:6–7 where the name of God is, in other words, the sum of God’s attributes (read the text).
Now if we put the biblical meaning of “hallowed” (to regard as different) together with the Hebrew usage of “name” (nature, character, personality), then when we pray, “Hallowed by Thy name” it means, “Enable us to give you the unique place which your nature and character deserve and demand.” In other words, this first petition in the Lord’s Prayer demands that we give God the reverence He is due.
William Barclay suggests that in all true reverence there are four essentials:
1. Reverence implies a belief that God exists. The Bible makes no attempt to prove the existence of God. It is a selfevident truth. To a Bible writer, any attempt to prove the existence of God would be superfluous simply because they experienced God every moment of their lives. Those who seek for proof that God exists might reflect on the words of Kant who said “the moral law within us, and the starry world above us” drive us to God.
2. Reverence requires a knowledge of God. The God we know has three great qualities: holiness, justice, and love. We must reverence God not only because He exists, but because He is the God we know Him to be. May this idea of God be a treasure on which our hearts rest and hold separate from all contamination of our own thoughts about God.
3. Reverence involves a constant awareness of God. To reverence God means to live in a “God-filled” world, to live a life in which we never forget God. Such an awareness is not confined to church or so-called holy places; it is rather an awareness that invades all aspects of our lives. This awareness is not spasmodic, acute at certain times and places, or totally absent at others. It is like an omnipresent consciousness of His abiding presence.
4. Reverence is obedience and submission to God. Summarily, reverence is knowledge plus submission. Martin Luther asked, “How is God’s name hallowed amongst us?” and his answer is, “When both our life and doctrine are truly Christian”—that is to say, when our intellectual convictions, and our practical actions, are in full submission to the will of God. May our obedience and submission be guarded as “the holy and reverend name of the Lord.”2
III. THE LORD’S PRAYER AND THE DECALOGUE
One question remains: Is there a relationship between the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer and the third commandment of the Decalogue?
To answer that question we must ask: What did it mean to a biblical writer to desecrate the name of God? How did he conceive that it could be defiled, dishonored, or treated as though it were not sacred? No doubt very often in Jewish history it was thought that the name of God was desecrated if some ritual taboo was disobeyed—if a prescribed sacrifice was not offered or if a corpse was touched. But the prophets taught, in many a stinging phrase, that it was possible to be ritually correct and at the same time ethically wrong and in this way the name of God was desecrated.
The third commandment originally had little if anything to do with the use of what we call “bad language.” To “take the name of the Lord Thy God in vain” was to fail in the ethical duty of keeping a vow or fulfilling an obligation solemnly made to one’s neighbor. If, conversely, such an obligation was kept, then the name of God was hallowed.
The name of God is desecrated when the poor are crushed, when a widow is denied her rights, when unjust scales are used in commerce, when sexual immorality takes place (e.g. Amos 2:7, RSV—“a man and his father go in to the same maiden, so that My holy name is profaned. But when the name of God is hallowed all facets of everyday life and ethics are affected. William Neil comments, “To take God’s name ‘in vain’ is to refuse to take seriously the claim of God to command our obedience in social, political and economic affairs as well as in our private lives.”3
How can we translate this petition into our everyday lives? You have some great task to do, some great decision to make: You begin it with prayer, “hallowed be Thy name”; you complete it with the Gloria, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.” That task, that decision, will not be far from the will and purpose of God. You have some small task to do with hand or brain—a letter to write, a visit to pay, a chore to labor at: You begin with “Hallowed by Thy name”; you end with the Gloria. It will become an act of worship. F. T. Pelgrave got near to the mark in his hymn, “O Thou not made with hands”:
“Where in life’s common ways
With cheerful feet we go;
Where in His steps we tread,
Who trod the way of woe;
Where He is in the heart,
City of God, thou art’ –
Yes, and there the Name of God is hallowed.”
1 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew (Louisville, KY: Westminster and John Knox, 2001), 205.
2 Ibid., 206–208.
3 William Neil, One Volume Bible Commentary, 91.
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.