The Divine Name and the New Testament

 

 

When you are preparing your English translation of the Bible, it's perfectly acceptable to use God's name Jehovah in the Old Testament. Nobody who knows anything will you any grief about this. You can do it nearly 7000 times. That's how often the four consonant tetragrammaton appears in the original Hebrew.
 
Using God's name in the New Testament is a different matter. It is a bolder move, not without controversy. At first glance, it would seem that you ought to be able to do it without fuss. At second glance, it begins to seem that you have no right to do it at all. At third glance - you get the green light once again, and using God's name is okay. It's solid.

The New World Translation, the Bible most frequently used by Jehovah's Witnesses, uses the Name in both Old and New testaments. Many translations use the name in the OT, but as far as I know, only the NWT, among English translations, use it in the NT. (there are foreign language translations that do so) Believe me, Witnesses take heat for it. Critics constantly grouse that they've "written their own Bible," inserting favorite words without justification, simply because it fits their doctrine.
 
At first glance, why would you not use the name Jehovah in the New Testament? As any Bible reader knows, the New Testament is packed with direct quotes from the Old Testament. So, if the Name appears without controversy in an Old Testament verse, why should it not also appear when that verse is lifted and inserted into the New Testament?
 
But at second glance, it's not quite so simple as that. Ancient manuscripts of the Old Testament [Hebrew] contain the divine name, but ancient manuscripts of the New Testament [Greek] do not. Maybe you think they should, but they don't. That's strange - why would a direct quote pick up every word except the divine name? Nonetheless, as a translator, you have to translate what is, not what you think ought to be.
 
But at third glance, the picture changes again. Those NT writers didn't take their quotes directly from the Hebrew Scriptures. Starting around the 3rd century BC, Greek became the dominant language in that part of the world. Therefore, the Hebrew Old Testament was rendered into Greek in a translation that came to be known as the Septuagint, since it was produced by seventy scholars (actually 72). For the most part, New Testament writers took their OT quotes from this translation, not directly from the Hebrew writings.

Now, the Septuagint doesn't contain the divine name, either - that is, the Septuagint as we have it today. Instead, where you might expect to find God's name, you find kyrios, a Greek word that means lord. However, numerous early fragments have been found that do contain the divine name. Thus, it appears that the same sentiment (that the Name is too sacred to pronounce) which caused it to disappear in latter Hebrew manuscript copies also caused it to disappear in latter Septuagint manuscript copies!

Quite obviously, New Testament authors did not consult latter Septuagint versions - ones produced centuries after their deaths. They used the early versions, and these versions include the Name. The New World Translation (Large Print Version, with References) contain numerous examples, in an appendix, of early Septuagint inclusions of the name. So the translation is on firm ground to use it in the NT, even though few Bibles do.
 
George Howard of the University of Georgia writes this in Journal of Biblical Literature (Vol. 96, 1977, p. 63): "Recent discoveries in Egypt and the Judean Desert allow us to see first hand the use of God's name in pre-Christian times. These discoveries are significant for New Testament studies in that they form a literary analogy with the earliest Christian documents and may explain how NT authors used the divine name. In the following pages we will set forth a theory that the divine name, YHWH [alas, Howard uses the Hebrew characters, but I don't know how to do that on the keyboard!] (and possibly abbreviations of it), was originally written in the NT quotations of and allusions to the Old Testament and that in the course of time it was replaced mainly with the surrogate abbreviation for Kyrios, "Lord" [Again, he uses the Greek characters]. This removal of the Tetragram[maton], in our view, created a confusion in the minds of early Gentile Christians about the relationship between the 'Lord God' and the 'Lord Christ' which is reflected in the MS tradition of the NT text itself." [bolded print mine]
 
Not only did the removal of the Tetragrammaton create that confusion, but isn't its proper restoration, now that it is clearly found in the earliest Septuagint manuscripts, resisted by Trintitarians so as to continue that confusion?
 
Hmmmm....well...(I hear it all the time)...isn't it awfully suspicious that it's the Jehovah Witness Bible that uses Jehovah in the New Testament? Doesn't that mean they're writing their own doctrines into the Bible? No, it doesn't. What it means is that Witnesses love the divine name and so they highlight facts that are not highlighted (if not actually buried) by those who don't love the name. Since the name appears some 7000 times in the entire Bible, it's hard to argue that God doesn't want it known. Especially in view of .....
 
...that men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth. Ps 83:18 (Old Testament)
 
or
 
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Matt 6:9-10 (New Testament)
 
In fact, should not Christians be identified with that name?
 
[Peter] hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. Acts 15:14    [all verses taken from the King James Version]
 
In spite of this, most churches today are moving in the opposite direction! Check this out in the Boston Globe:
 
The Vatican, saying the name of God deserves more reverence, earlier this summer instructed that Catholics stop using the word Yahweh in worship, a step that is expected to affect a number of hymns, according to the Catholic News Service. And now comes Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine, talking with Protestants about the issue. One of several perspectives reported in the article: "Protestants should be following their lead, said Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. 'It's always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name,' she said. 'Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God."
 
That's fine with us. Let the Name be associated with those who strive to keep His worship uncontaminated with non-Christian teachings - teachings like Trinity, hellfire, and so forth.

Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. (Isa 26:2)

Perhaps its well that those who so misrepresent God don't even attempt to use his name. In fact, no one knows it's exact pronunciation....all we know are the consonants, the vowels are educated conjecture. I've even heard it suggested that perhaps Jehovah maneuvered matters that way precisely to assuage the concern Jews would later voice....that the name is too sacred to be pronounced by imperfect lips. That doesn't entirely make sense to me, since the name was pronounced accurately at one time. But....people go from bad to worse, and maybe God saw fit to take the proper pronunciation off the table for a time. I'm not sure if I buy that, but it could be.
 
[Edit: 4/25/10; see also here and here.]

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Tom Irregardless and Me      No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash 

 


The New International Version and the Tetragrammaton

The world’s most popular Bible translation today is The New International Version. It does not even once mention God’s distinctive name Jehovah. Edwin H Palmer, Executive Secretary for the NIV committee, was asked about that.

“Here is why we did not,” he replied. “You are right that Jehovah is a distinctive name for God and ideally we should have used it. But we put 2 1/4 million dollars into this translation and a sure way of throwing that down the drain is to translate, for example, Psalm 23 as, ‘Yahweh is my shepherd.’ Immediately, we would have translated for nothing. Nobody would have used it. Oh, maybe you and a handful [of] others. But a Christian has to be also wise and practical. We are the victims of 350 years of the King James tradition. It is far better to get two million to read it—that is how many have bought it to date—and to follow the King James [which does include the name in four places], than to have two thousand buy it and have the correct translation of Yahweh. . . . It was a hard decision, and many of our translators agree with you.”    (2nd set of brackets mine)

Who can’t empathize with this fellow? Do you want your new Bible translation to be read by everybody or by nobody? All you need do to ensure the former is remove the feature people loathe so much that its inclusion would send sales into the toilet. Yes, you must be “wise and practical.” As Jesus said, “the sons of this system of things are wiser in a practical way toward their own generation than the sons of the light are.” (Luke 16:8) So the sons of this system of things remove God’s name from their Bibles and sales go through the roof, whereas the dopey and pious sons of the light won’t compromise an inch and sell a thousand copies of theirs.

What can one say when you have to pull the author’s name from his own book in order to get anyone to read it? This might not be a big deal if the original text featured that name a half dozen times or so, but it appears in the Hebrew almost 7000 times!  [the tetragrammaton: YHWH] You don’t think that if God includes his own name 7000 times, he must consider it important, perhaps the most important aspect of the scriptures? After all, the Son’s name, Jesus, appears only 1000 times and you can just imagine the furor if some translator saw fit to take that out! And yet the sons of this system of things pull God’s name, and consider themselves “wise and practical” in doing so.

Over the years, some have pointed outwhat a blunder that is. For instance...."the most common "error" made by most translators in the last 3500 years...is their elimination of heaven's revealed Name of the Most High, Yahweh (Jehovah)" - A. B. Traina; in the Preface of the Holy Name Bible

and    "The substitution of the word "Lord" is most unhappy; for...it in NO WAY represents the meaning of the sacred name (Jehovah)..." - The 1872 edition of Smith's Bible Dictionary

 

 

Various sons of the light through the years have produced some translations that consistently translate the tetragrammaton as “Jehovah:”  such as the American Standard Bible of 1901, or the Bible in Living English (Stephen Byington - 1972), or the Holy Name Bible (1963). Have you heard of any of them? True to Mr. Palmer’s prophesy, they have all slipped into obscurity. Alas, there would appear to be no way to highlight the name of the Bible’s author!

But there is a way, and the sons of the light have proved themselves less dopey than they may at first appear. The key is to dispense with commercial distribution channels and not try to run Christianity as a popularity contest. There is one translation today that both faithfully publishes the divine name Jehovah and enjoys widespread circulation: the New World Translation. It is both translated, published, and distributed by faithful servants of Jehovah. Jehovah’s Witnesses are organized as a separate Bible society in no way beholden to the commercial interests Dr. Palmer felt held hostage to. The translators were free to focus on accurate translating, unconcerned with any popular or commercial verdict, feeling no need to come up with familiar and favored renderings lest money-conscious executives turn thumbs down.

It’s master text in Greek is Westcott and Hort, the same as the Revised Standard Version (1946), the Emphasized Bible (1902), An American Translation (1923) and others…..and in Hebrew, the Masoretic Text, same as most versions. Again, it is by no means the first Bible ever to incorporate God’s name throughout. Many others have done so. It is merely the first such Bible to receive widespread distribution. It’s success lies in the fact that distribution depends upon the efforts of dedicated Christians, and not upon the world’s commercial interests.

If the churches in general reject use of God’s name, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not as put out about it as one might expect. Instead, they have suggested [strongly] that the situation is of God’s doing:

God’s name Jehovah is hated so badly that the clergy of Christendom…. have denied it as being the Creator’s name, have removed it from their modern translations of the Bible, have said it is not the name of the God of Christians and thereby have left Jehovah’s witnesses alone to bear the distinguished divine Name. Little do they know that this is a maneuvering of God, for he respects his sacred name, and has arranged it so that only those devoted to him may bear it.              Watchtower 1966, pg 634

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The parable giving rise to the expressions sons of this system of things and sons of the light is an odd one. Several of Jesus’ illustrations are downright quirky…..not at all the syrupy drivel you get at church…and the reader isn’t entirely sure who to root for:

“A certain man was rich and he had a steward, and this one was accused to him as handling his goods wastefully. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Hand in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer manage the house.’ Then the steward said to himself, ‘What am I to do, seeing that my master will take the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, I am ashamed to beg. Ah! I know what I shall do, so that, when I am put out of the stewardship, people will receive me into their homes.’ And calling to him each one of the debtors of his master he proceeded to say to the first, ‘How much are you owing my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred bath measures of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your written agreement back and sit down and quickly write fifty.’ Next, he said to another one, ‘Now you, how much are you owing?’ He said, ‘A hundred cor measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your written agreement back and write eighty.’ And his master commended the steward, though unrighteous, because he acted with practical wisdom; for the sons of this system of things are wiser in a practical way toward their own generation than the sons of the light are.     Luke 16:2-8

Ain't that the truth.

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Tom Irregardless and Me       No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

 


The Divine Name and the Old Testament

When you are translating your Old Testament from the original Hebrew to English, it's perfectly acceptable to render the Divine Name as "Jehovah." Nobody who knows anything will give you any grief over this. All you have to do is translate the four-consonant tetragrammaton, and there it is, over 6000 times, in the original writings. You don't think if someone puts their name in a document 6000 times that they want it known?

Even translations that decline to render the name as a name do so for reasons philosophical, not technical. They simply don't want to do it. So they usually render the tetragrammaton as (the title, not name) LORD, in all caps to distinguish it from the actual word Lord. It can make for odd reading, such as at Ps 110:1.

The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool?  RVS

Who is speaking to whom? Obviously, there's a difference in the two original language terms rendered Lord.

It's a bit clunky, too, when context indicates a name:

Let then know that thou alone, whose name is the LORD, art the Most High over all the earth.    Ps 83:18

Hi, my name's "the LORD." Doesn't that just roll off the tongue? Or take those ancient Israelites in Charlton Heston's "The Ten Commandments." There they are whining and crying in the movie's first half: they don't even know their God's name. Even the Egyptians taunt them about this. Later on, they do know: it's "the LORD." Everybody's happy.

Translations that pull the name often do so without a trace, and you have to reason on Ps 110:1 (above) to show there is a difference in the original language. Other translations pull it in all but a few places. Thus, the King James Version leaves the name intact in four locations, Ps 83:18 being one of these. Still other translations pull it entirely, but explain why in their prefaces. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) is one of these:

"For two reasons the [translation] Committee has returned to the more familiar usage of the King James Version [rendering YHWH as LORD]: (1) the word "Jehovah" does not accurately represent any form of the Name ever used in Hebrew; and (2) the use of any proper name for the one and only God, as though there were other gods from whom He had to be distinguished, was discontinued in Judaism before the Christian era and is entirely inappropriate for the universal faith of the Christian Church."

Note the philosophical, not technical, basis. Neither argument holds water.

1. Okay, okay, so "Jehovah" is not the Hebrew pronunciation. Neither is Jesus, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, indeed, most names from the OT. We all know names change when we cross languages. In Ecuador, they call me "Tomas." You think I don't answer? If you want to be so picky, then render the name "Yahweh." We could live with that. But removing the name entirely in order to slap in a title betrays a callous attitude toward the Book's author.

2. It is? Inappropriate? What about 1 Cor. 8:5?

For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.    (KJV)

We've all experienced cases of mistaken identity. We speak with someone of a name we both know, yet the attributes don't line up. We soon realize we're speaking of two different persons who share a common name. It's that way with "God." The God who would torture people forever and ever in hellfire is entirely different from our God [Jehovah] who would never dream of such a thing. (Jer 2:35)

You're safe, therefore, putting "Jehovah" in the Old Testament. You ought to do it, in fact, rather than presume to hide his name. Putting it in the New Testament is another matter. It's a move readily justified, yet it is bolder, not without controversy. A future post will deal with the subject.

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Tom Irregardless and Me         No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash