Should “Hebrews” Contain the Tetragram?

The “Tetragram” means the four letters standing for the Name of God in the Hebrew Bible transliterated into English YHWH. The Tetragram is translated Yahweh, Yehowah, or Jehovah depending on the rendering one uses. [NJB, RHM, ASV, NCMM] The Jews of the 1st Century CE did not pronounce the noma sagrada our of fear of violating the Third Commandment, “You shall not profane the Name of YHWH.” [Exodus 20:7] The 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus confirms this Jewish custom in the days of Jesus and Paul. Though these Jews did not utter the Divine Name they did not remove it from their sacred Scriptures as later non-Jewish Christians did. There is strong proof that the original Jewish Greek Bible of the 3rd Century BCE, the Septuagint, contained the Name of God in the Hebrew form YHWH.

It is likely this is so because the Greek language was not capable of converting the Hebrew characters into Greek, for the Hellenist tongue did not use these four consonants. Thus, the Bible, whether Hebrew or Greek, used by the inspired writers of the Christian Bible, contained YHWH though it would not be pronounced. Rather ELOHIM or ADONAY were used in its place. However, would, say, Paul, when quoting from these Hebrew Scriptures write out YHWH in his quotation? There seems some evidence this may have been the case. How do we know? Consider the word “Lord” as used in English translations of Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews. In Hebrews 8:8-12 Paul quotes Jeremiah 31:31-35 -

“‘Behold! Days are coming,’ LORD says, ‘and I will conclude with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah a New Covenant unlike the covenant which I made with their forefathers in that day when I took hold of their hand and led them out of Egypt. Because they did not remain in My covenant and so I showed no concern for them,’ says LORD. ‘Because this is the [new] covenant which I will covenant with the House of Israel after those days,’ says LORD, ‘giving my laws into their understanding minds. And upon their hearts I will write [My laws]. Then I will be a God unto them, and they will be a people unto Me. They will never teach each other’s fellow-citizen, nor each other’s brother by saying: “Know the LORD.” Because they will all know Me from the smallest to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins I will never remember.’” [Jeremiah 31:31-34] [Hebrews 8:8-12 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures - NCMM]

Note the four occurrences of the word “LORD” in the NCMM rendering above. [Nazarene Commentary 2000©] Though virtually all translations add the article “the” before the word “Lord” the Greek lacks the article in the first three examples. Thus, it reads literally as presented above. The lack of the article argues that the original of Hebrews would have contained the Hebrew name of God -- YHWH. The fourth “Lord” above reads in Greek GNOTHI TON KYRION, or “Know the LORD.” This is a rare exception where the article appears before “Lord” in Old Testament quotations by Paul. The Hebrew Text of Jeremiah 31:34 has YHWH thus reading, “Know Yehowah.” This seems to indicate that Paul has deliberately omitted the article “the” before many occurrences of the Greek KYRIOS [Lord]. The only way this quotation reads with any proper sense is to assume YHWH may have been in the original copy of Hebrews.

The same thing happens when comparing quotations Jesus made of the Hebrew Bible. For example, at Matthew 22:44 the Nazarene quotes Psalm 110:1. This reads according to the Hebrew Text, “Yehowah [YHWH] says to my Lord ...” In the Greek of Matthew this reads “EIPEN KYRIOS TO KYRIO MOU” - or literally, “Said Lord to the lord of me.” Most translators add the article “the” and so render the phrase, “[The] Lord said to my lord.” This absence of the article before the first “Lord” suggests the original contained YHWH here.

In view of the above, there seems reasonable authority to render some cases of KYRIOS without the article as YHWH in quotations and leave it to the reader to either pronounce YEHOWAH or LORD as so moved.

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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