The "Baal Gad" Scam

by Glen Penton

Let's start with a little basic Hebrew.

Adon is an ordinary common noun in Hebrew. It means 'lord' or 'master'. In modern times it has added the meaning 'Mr.' In that way it resembles Spanish "senor", Italian "signor" and German "Herr" in meaning. With the regular noun ending, "ay", it becomes Adonai, and literally means 'my lords'. Adonai is used as a title of honor, kind of like how the French word "dame" becomes "madam" and the Italian "signor" becomes the title "monsignor". It is used to refer to God, as one of His royal titles, about 700 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Any relationship between the Greek god Adonis and the Semitic word "adon" is purely speculative.

Ba'al is also an ordinary common noun in Hebrew, a synonym of adon, but with a wider range of meanings. It may mean 'lord', 'master', 'owner', 'possessor', 'husband', or 'tyrant'. When used as a verb, it may mean 'he married', 'he ruled', or 'he rejected'. (Click here for an interesting footnote on the use of the verb ba'al in Jeremiah 31:32.) Ba'al seems generally to have harsher connotations than either adon or ish (another Hebrew word that can mean husband. Click here for an interesting footnote on the use of the nouns ba'al and ish in Hosea 2:16-17.). I can think of one time when the Holy Spirit used Ba'al as a title for God. (Isaiah 54:5, "Your Makers is your Husbands (=ba'als, Heb. "Vo'alayikh")." (Interesting and unusual use of plurals here. See footnote.) As a proper noun, Ba'al is also the name of a Canaanite god.

Gad is another ordinary common noun in Hebrew. It means 'good luck'. We all want as much of it as we can get. So it is not surprising that it became a proper noun, the name of some people, a tribe of Israel, and a god. The god Gad was not ordinarily identified with Baal. But the identities of ancient Mediterranean gods were quite fluid, so it wouldn't be surprising if the two deities were identified with each other somewhere at some time.

An interesting but unimportant fact about the noun "gad" is that it is pronounced like the American English (but not British-English) word "God", just like the Hebrew word for God sounds like the English word "ale", the British-English word "God" sounds like American-English "goad", the Russian word for God sounds like the British-English word "bog", the German word for God sounds like the English word "goat", etc. Human languages are full of such interesting but meaningless coincidences.

The development that prompts this little lesson in Hebrew and linguistics today is a silliness attack among some within the Holy Name movement. I am not criticizing the majority of the people who accept some version of the Holy Name theology. For the most part, I think, they are sincere people who love God, and are not afraid to break tradition and think for themselves. Much as I may disagree with their opinions, I agree with them. There is, however, a "lunatic fringe" among them, a few power-hungry teachers who feel they have something to gain by turning that movement into an out-and-out cult. Those wicked leaders attack the Bible because it uses other titles for God in addition His Holy four-letter Name. They also attack Jews and Christians who don't follow them (and line their pocket$). They accuse us of being followers of "Baal Gad". Thus they show their real attitude towards the Lord God. It concerns me that some (very few, but one would be too many) Messianics give attention to these attacks on God's Word, without considering either the implications of what it would be not to have a reliable message from God, and without considering the common-sense realities of human languages and thought.

So for most of you, this article is an interesting little Hebrew lesson.
For a few, it is my plea, "Come on, folks! Get real!"
more about the Bible
about the form and meaning of God's Name
about the Hebrew word translated 'name'
more about names in Jewish culture
more about Jeremiah 31
more about Hosea 2
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Jeremiah 31:31-32 reads, "'The time is coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the Family of Israel and with the Family of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, and I ba'alti them,' declares the LORD."

It's interesting how the translations handle that verb form ba'alti near the end of verse 32. Just looking at the translations I have in my personal library, old and new KJV, old and new RSV, old and new American Standard, Darby (English and French versions), Biblia de las Americas in Spanish, old and new Webster, NIV, Green, NAB, TEV, TLB, and the old and new versions of the standard Spanish RV translation see 'was a husband to'; Leeser, Young, Jerome, three Italian versions, four German versions, two French versions, the Spanish RVA, and the 1993 World translation into Russian understand it as 'was a lord over'; the standard Russian translation proceeds with 'continued to lead'; CEV gets 'was God to' and the standard German translation wrestles 'must subdue' from that verb form. We can compare these various hypotheses with how the Holy Spirit Himself translates it in Hebrews 8:9. There He uses the Greek word that means 'rejected'. It is also worth noting that the translations made closer to Jeremiah's own time and culture, the Peshitto and the Septuagint, also understand the verb in that sense. And in modern times, the Bible in Basic English (a relatively unknown translation) alone of the 33 post-Vulgate translations I've consulted and mentioned in this footnote, has accepted the Holy Spirit's word for the correct sense of the verb here. The problem is not a hard one linguistically. It's just that, for the most part, I'm sorry to say, Christianity, even the best of Christian scholarship, has not done very well at following the Lord.

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"And on that day," is the Lord's oracle, "You'll call Me Ishi. You won't call Me Ba'ali any more, because I will take away the idolatrous name of Ba'al from your mouth and your memory." (Hosea 2:18-19). This text seems to include a promise about the Hebrew language which has not yet been fulfilled. Ba'al is still a common noun in modern Hebrew. More importantly, although Baal is no longer worshipped and there is of course no longer a confusion of the Lord with Baal, as there was in Israel in Hosea's time, most of our people don't yet perceive themselves as part of the Lord's bride. (The "-i" suffix is the Hebrew equivalent of 'my', so verse 18 contrasts two ways of saying "my Husband" in Hebrew.)

On another level of midrash (interpretation/application), the primary meaning of the Hebrew word ish is 'man, adult human male'. There is a remez (hint) here that God would become a Man.

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For your Makers is your Husbands.
The Lord Almighty is His Name.

Most translations, understandably, translate that first line with singular nouns. The plurals there are unusual grammatically and don't seem to "fit", either in Hebrew or in English. God is usually treated as singular in both languages. But God's Spirit gives us a grammatical surprise, a hint that although God is One, His Oneness is infinite, not simplistic. It is a Oneness that includes a complex Inner Nature, which theologians have attempted to describe as a "plurality of persons".

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