In this fifteenth video on “Theological English”, Jonathan Dunne looks at the importance of names. “Name” is “man” in reverse with a final “e”, and we read in Genesis chapter 2 that God brought the creatures to Adam so that he could “name” them – in effect, so that he could translate them and choose the right word. God didn’t ask Adam to make the creatures because he is not an author – he cannot create out of nothing. He, and the rest of humankind, are translators. So “name” is central to man’s role in this world. What can the names of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary tell us about their roles? And what meaning can we find in the names of people like Strauss and Grant Gustin, and countries like Ukraine?
There is a very important distinction in grammar between countable and uncountable nouns. Uncountable nouns are generally concepts, things that have no boundaries, that cannot be circumscribed (a line cannot be drawn around them). Examples would be ‘love’ and ‘righteousness’. Countable nouns are nouns that can have a line drawn around them, they can be separated in our imagination from the rest of the environment. These nouns – and this is very important – are preceded by the indefinite article a or an. Examples would be ‘a house’, ‘a car’, ‘a person’. Compare the concept of ‘light’ with the countable noun ‘a light’. ‘Light’ is what fills the sky. ‘A light’ would be a single bulb – that is, it can have a line drawn around it and be contained.
When God created man in chapter 2 of the Book of Genesis, what he did was create a countable noun – a being separate from him (with its own free will). Of course, ‘man’ (here it is uncountable, it is not preceded by the indefinite article) is contained within God, he can never be quite separate, but ‘a man’ is allowed his own free will to make decisions, to believe in God or not, to love or hate, to react with kindness or anger…
The name that God reveals to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, for me the most important verse in the Old Testament, is ‘I AM WHO I AM’ or simply ‘I AM’. Most of us would say ‘I am Jonathan’, ‘I am Rebecca’, etc. But God says only, ‘I AM’. There is no need for him to add a name because he is everything. Now in the study of speech sounds (called phonetics, the study of where speech sounds are produced in the mouth), the consonants, the hard sounds, so to speak, are divided into seven pairs, one of which is m-n. These two sounds are produced close to each other in the mouth.
If we apply this pair to the name of God without the personal pronoun, AM, we get an, the indefinite article. We can understand that from God came an individual human being, a countable noun. And if we put these two words one after the other, we get AM an – which is to say that God created a man.
The letter a is the first letter in the alphabet, it comes at the beginning, and so it is the letter I most associate with the act of creation (described in chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of Genesis). What was the name of the first man? Adam. If we turn Adam around, we see that he was made (I have allowed fluidity to the final vowel so that a becomes e).
Adam’s partner was Eve. Here the dominant vowel is e. We are progressing in the alphabet. Eve resembles another word very closely: eye. Now we are drawing close to the vowel i because eye and i sound the same.
When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they didn’t heed God’s command, they turned away from AM and said I’m, they made this progression from the vowel a to i.
The reverse of man is name, and that indeed was man’s purpose in Genesis, chapter 2, when God brought him the creatures to name (not to make). Name, with the letters rearranged, spells mean (by naming the creatures, he gave them meaning) and amen (Adam agreed with God’s plan for him). In the Fall, however, together with Eve, he took the fruit and said not amen anymore, but mine. Again, he replaced the vowel a with the vowel i.
We live now in the era of the i. This is the vowel that is used to represent the ego in English: I. In the system we have at the moment, it is every man for himself. Yes, we may receive some help, but basically every person has his or her own money, his or her own address, and has to struggle, more or less successfully, to make ends meet.
Where do we go now that we have succumbed to the wishes of the ego, of the I? Well, if we treat the ego (I) as a number (1), there are two ways we can go – upwards (2) or downwards (0). We can start to count (the objects around us, all of which are countable nouns – this is how we package and sell them) or we can make the much shorter journey to zero (a word, by the way, that is very close to eros).
The Latin alphabet, the alphabet we use in English, counts up. The last letter of the Latin alphabet is Z, so in effect it counts from I to Z (1 to 2). This would reflect a more rational, self-reliant way of thinking, a view that treats the world as a way of making money.
As an aside here, I would like to ask why it is we teach our children the basic skills of writing and counting. Is it not in a sense to record what is in the world by writing down what there is and counting it? Are we not instilling this rationalistic way of thinking in our children from the very start (not to mention the huge emphasis placed in school on marks)?
The Greek alphabet, on the contrary, counts down. The last letter of the Greek alphabet is omega, which we can write O (it is a long o; there is also a short o in Greek, omicron). Greek is the language of the Gospel, so this would reflect a God-oriented way of thinking.
The other way of writing omega is W (this is how it is written lower case in Greek). If we put the three vowels I have talked about – the A of creation, the I of the Fall and the O of spiritual enlightenment/repentance/recognition – together, we get AIO. If we use the Greek way of writing omega, we get AIW.
Now what is very interesting is that this progression of spiritual growth that puts God (0) at the centre of the picture is found in the name of God himself: I AM. All I have to do is turn the W upside down. God is indicating to us the path that we should follow – we should turn to him.
What is the most famous aspect of the Old Testament, of the Jewish Bible? It is the law – Moses received the Ten Commandments when he met with God on Mt Sinai; the Jews are famous for their rules and regulations (Jesus is often criticized for healing on the Sabbath); and indeed Christ, in the New Testament, says that he has come to fulfil, not to abolish, the Old Testament law (‘not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished’, Matthew 5:18).
The word law contains the same progression, AIW, and is clearly related to the name of God in Exodus, I AM.
What of the New Testament then? Is there any indication in language to support the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (who he says he is)?
In John 14:6, Jesus says to Thomas, who has asked how they are to find the way to heaven, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
Here we find the third word that is related to the progression AIW: I AM – law – way. The letter y is the semi-vowel that corresponds to i, they are often interchangeable. Note that Jesus says, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ We could rewrite this, ‘No I comes to the Father except through me.’ That is, each individual I must pass through him.
And so we find that the whole purpose of the spiritual journey in this life (AIW) is found in the name of God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14 (I AM), is found in the law that Jesus came not to abolish, but to fulfil, and is found in Jesus himself, who is the way.
There are many other confirmations in language that Jesus is the Son of God. Let us take the word Messiah, which is a combination of the name of God, I AM, and she (the Virgin Mary). I have written about these confirmations in my book Stones Of Ithaca.
But there is one other confirmation that Jesus is who he says he is that I would like to include here. At the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming towards him and declares, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who will be sacrificed on the Cross to atone for our sins. He will take our sins upon his sinless self. He will take the blame for our sins (lamb and blame are clearly connected, as are words like balm and psalm).
But let us look a little more closely at the word lamb (the last letter of which is silent). Again we see the name of God, I AM, in the first three letters.
The whole of the Bible can be reduced schematically to: I AM – law – way/lamb. Here we find a spiritual map, so to speak, an indication of the road we must take, which passes not through counting the objects around us and dealing in them (often to the detriment of the environment and of our fellow man), but in placing God at the centre of our lives and acknowledging him.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com
It is a remarkable thing that the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, I AM, contains the progression of human life, AIO, which is also the progression of the Greek alphabet, if we write the last letter, omega, in the Greek way: AIW. You may remember that the letter A refers to the act of Creation described in the first two chapters of Genesis; the letter I, which represents the ego in the English language, refers to the Fall, when we turned away from God and began to rely on ourselves; and the letter O is the letter of repentance, of recognition, when we turn the ego, I, into a number, 1, and count down to O.
All of this is contained in the simple statement/name I AM. Note that God does not say, ‘I am God. Thus you shall say to the Israelites…’ He does not use a predicate, something after the ‘I am’, in the way that you and I would. ‘Hello, I am Jonathan.’ If I stood in a room and said, ‘Hello, I am,’ people would think I was strange. They expect a name to follow the enunciation ‘I am’. But in God’s case, it is enough for him to say simply, ‘I am.’ He is in all, and all things come from him. He is the Author of all things, the origin, the source. We are translators, because things pass through us, nothing begins with us – life, food, oxygen, thoughts… What belongs to us is our reaction, our free will, how we choose to respond to the things, the people, we meet on our road. We give them meaning and take away meaning from our encounter. This is why we are translators, because this is the process of translation.
In the act of Creation, AM created a separate object, a countable noun, AN. The indefinite article, a/an, is used for things that can have a line drawn around them: a book, a room. It is used for things that we can visualize and, in order to visualize them, we have to be able to separate them from ourselves. We cannot do this with concepts such as love and righteousness, so when we talk about concepts we do not used the indefinite article. We use it only for things that are separate from ourselves. Why does the indefinite article, therefore, refer to the creature that God created in the beginning? Because he made that creature separate from himself – he endowed it with free will. It is not a machine, remotely controlled. It may make its own decisions. That is why it is a countable noun, because it is separate from God. God did not want hangers-on, he wanted true, living, breathing human beings who would love him of their own accord.
If we combine the name of God, AM, and the indefinite article, AN, we get A MAN, and the name of that man was ADAM (which contains the name of God, AM). So while we are separate, we do bear God’s imprint. After all, we are made in his image and likeness and, to quote St Augustine, ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in You’.
Christ came to fulfil the Old Testament law and prophets, to make the law personal, relevant to you and me, and there are numerous words that show this connection, but let us take the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM, and see how this relates to Christ. It relates in four ways. The first is that it gives us the words ‘law’ and ‘way’. For ‘law’, we apply the physical pairs, pairs of letters that look alike, i-l and m-w, that is we replace the capital I with a lower-case l and turn the M upside down. For ‘way’, we again turn the M upside down and replace the vowel i with its corresponding semi-vowel y.
Christ says as much in John 14:6: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (my italics). Language confirms this because the two words – ‘I am’ and ‘way’ – are connected.
But we also find the name of God from Exodus 3:14 in a common appellation of Christ, first given to him by John the Baptist in John 1:29: Lamb. ‘I am’ is found in ‘lamb’. Again, language seems to confirm his provenance.
In Revelation 22:13, towards the end of the Bible, Christ cries, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’ We will see how ‘first’ and ‘last’ might be connected in the next article, but the name Alpha and Omega, or A+O, contains the three ways of escaping the ego (I): to make reference to a third point and form a triangle (Δ), to delete the I and form a cross (†) or to treat the I as a number and count down (0). These three symbols, Δ†0, spell the name spoken in the Book of Revelation, Alpha and Omega (A+O), and are referenced already in the name of God in Exodus, I AM, which contains that same progression, AIW (only the I has not been deleted).
And finally this name of God in Exodus is translated into Greek as O WN, the three letters found in the halo of icons of Christ, because according to Orthodox tradition it is Christ who appears to Moses at the burning bush. O WN, if we rotate the second letter, gives us ONE, a reference to the Holy Trinity, because it contains the chemical symbols for all three persons: the Father (O1, no one), the Son (O2, oxygen) and the Holy Spirit (O3, ozone), only in chemistry the subscript 1 is not normally written down: ONE (the 2 has toppled over, the 3 is back to front).
So we see a strong connection between Christ – the way, the Lamb, the Alpha and the Omega, O WN – and the name of God in Exodus, I AM. We have also seen how AM and SON combine in the word RANSOM if we omit the initial r. The word RANSOM seems to confirm what Christ says in Matthew 20:28 about coming to serve and to give his life a ransom for many – that life was the life of the SON and it was given on the Cross, in accordance with the pre-eternal design of the Holy Trinity.
Now I would like to see if there is any indication in the English language not only to affirm that Christ is the Son of God, as we saw in the previous article, but also to point to Mary as his Mother. Perhaps you have already seen the link.
When we discussed the progression AIO inside words, we saw that it is contained in common appellations of the Virgin Mary: ‘lady’ and ‘maid’. It is also in the word AID, and in Orthodox prayers we often ask the Virgin Mary to ‘come to our AID’. But I would like to see if there is a connection between Mary and I AM, as there was between Christ and I AM.
It is remarkable that I AM is contained in MARY if we replace the vowel i with its corresponding semi-vowel y and add the letter r. The name MARY contains the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM, and that is surely a coincidence. Not only that, but if we again add the letter r, we get the word MARRY:
I AM – MARY – MARRY
Christ came into the world, became incarnate, as a result of the action of the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father, and through the wish and obedience of the Virgin Mary. She could have said no. God relied on her willing cooperation, the free will we talked about earlier in relation to countable nouns. But after the initial surprise (how is that to be if I have not known a man?), when it was explained to her by the Archangel Gabriel, she bowed to God’s will, she acquiesced, and the ‘marriage’ took place. This led to the Incarnation, Christ becoming fully human, and ultimately to our salvation (if Christ became fully human, it was so that we could become fully divine, a process known in Orthodoxy as theosis – we become gods by adoption).
All this connection, all this lineage, is contained in the name of the Virgin MARY: the name of God in Exodus 3:14, I AM, the human progression from A (Creation) to I (the Fall) to O or W (the act of repentance, the moment when our hearts comprehend that of ourselves we are not enough, on our own we can do nothing, we do not avail – we become aware of our own limitations, and it is curious for me that AWARE contains AM and the second person singular of the verb ‘to be’, ARE: AWARE conjugates the verb ‘to be’).
Language is a wonder. Whoever would have said that AWARE conjugates the verb ‘to be’? There is more on this, the different parts of the verb ‘to be’, perhaps I will write about it in the future.
So MARY contains the name of God in Exodus, I AM, and if we double the letter r, we get MARRY, which is how the Incarnation took place.
Is that all there is? Well, no. A very important word to describe Christ is the Messiah. He is the long-awaited Messiah, the one that would come to earth and atone for our sins, make everything right again, give us a way to return to God, but a different way, not the way we have come through sin, the Fall, this is not a return to the GARDEN OF EDEN, where once again we would be in DANGER OF NEED. We do not go back to the first letter of the alphabet, A, because what would be the point of that? It would only all start again – the Fall, repentance… No, we must break the circle, so we progress on to the letter O, not back to the letter A, we progress to the end of the alphabet.
Can you find the name of God in Exodus, I AM, inside the word MESSIAH? It is there. And what word can you spell with the remaining letters, bearing in mind that letters may be doubled?
M E S S I A H
The word is SHE.
MESSIAH is a combination of I AM and SHE. It is as if the Messiah would only come when God, I AM, combined with a certain woman, the Virgin Mary. This event took place in history, and Christ was born.
I will provide one more example. You remember at the end of the previous article we saw that, if we do some dance-steps in the alphabet, if we put our best foot forward, then JERUSALEM can be turned into JESUS AMEN. All we have to do is apply three alphabetical pairs: l-m, m-n and r-s. Something similar can be done with the word MOTHER, but this time we must take one step forward and one step back: m-n and s-t.
What two words can be found in MOTHER? To whom does the Mother point in icons of her with Christ? She points to HER SON. I would say that this is what the MOTHER achieved through her obedience: the life, death and resurrection of HER SON, which were not isolated incidents that have no bearing on us. They changed the course of history. By his life on earth and his descent into hell, Christ brought the possibility of salvation to all human persons, wherever they might be. But this was only possible by the consent, purity and experience of the Virgin Mary. Without her, there would be no salvation, and the road – the way to I AM – would be closed.
It’s amazing what you will find in three letters.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com