The Divine Name and Your Favorite Translation

God has a Name. There is no question this Name occurs upwards of 7,000 times in the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. It occurs in the Hebrew Bible from Genesis to Malachi as YeHoWaH (YHWH). [For some who think YHWH is missing from Esther will have to look closer.] When the Jewish scholars of the third century BC translated the Hebrew into Greek they left YHWH unchanged as the Greek language cannot precisely accommodate all these consonants.

Though the Jews of the time of Christ did not pronounce YHWH according to Josephus (a Jewish historian of that period), he wrote that they instead say Adonay (Lord) or Elohim (God). Despite this the Jews NEVER removed the Divine Name from their sacred Scriptures. Who did remove YHWH from the Bible? The failure falls at the feet of certain Christian scholars who went beyond the Jewish tradition and actually omitted YHWH and substituted KYRIOS or THEOS. This possibly took place during the time of the evolution of the Trinity doctrine.

Thus today most modern versions no longer contain YHWH in their multitude of versions. One is instantly driven to apply certain verses of the prophets to these translators -- like Jeremiah 23:26, 27, "How long will it exist in the heart of the prophets who are prophesying the falsehood and who are prophets of the trickiness of their own heart? They are thinking of making my people forget my name by means of their dreams that they keep relating each one to the other, just as their fathers forgot my name by means of Ba'al [meaning Owner, or Lord]." .

Not only does the Divine Name appear in every book of the Bible, the phrase "your Name" also occurs many hundreds of times in most books. Consider these:

Isaiah 25:1 -- O Jehovah, you are my God. I exalt you, I laud your name, for you have done wonderful things. Isaiah 26:8 -- For your name and for your memorial the desire of the soul has been. Isaiah 26:13 -- By you only shall we make mention of your name. Isaiah 63:16-- O Jehovah, (you) are our Father. Our Repurchaser of long ago is your name.

Malachi 1:6 -- And if I am a grand master, where is the fear of me?' Jehovah of armies has said to you, O priests who are despising my name.

Malachi 1:11 -- "For from the sun's rising even to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place sacrificial smoke will be made, a presentation will be made to my name, even a clean gift; because my name will be great among the nations," Jehovah of armies has said.

Malachi 3:16 -- And a book of remembrance began to be written up before him for those in fear of Jehovah and for those thinking upon his name.

When God first explained the meaning of His Name to Moses the point could not be missed that this was the Creator’s eternal name. Consider the Almighty’s own words from a Jewish version:

Moses said to God, "When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, "What is His name?" what shall I say to them?" And God said to Moses, "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh." [JPS footnote: "I Am Who I Am."] He continued, Thus shall you say to the Israelites, "Ehyeh [footnote: sent me to you. And God said further to Moses: "Thus shall you speak to the Israelites: The LORD [footnote: The name YHWH], the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: This shall be My name forever. This My appellation for all eternity." (Exodus 3:13-15 Jewish Publication Society Tanakh)"

Here even the Jewish editors remove YHWH and substitute LORD in caps. To remove any portion of God’s inspired word is a dangerous matter, as even the Law states: "You (Jews) must not add to the word that I am commanding you, neither must you take away from it, so as to keep the commandments of Jehovah your God that I am commanding you (Jews). ... Every word that I am commanding you is what you should be careful to do. You (Jews) must not add to it nor take away from it." (Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 12:32)

Even the Proverbs warn: "Every saying of God is refined. He is a shield to those taking refuge in him. Add nothing to his words, that he may not reprove you, and that you may not have to be proved a liar." (Proverbs 30:5, 6) The Book of Revelation ends with this warning: "I am bearing witness to everyone that hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone [a Christian] makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll; and if anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take his portion away from the trees of life and out of the holy city, things which are written about in this scroll." (Revelation 22:18,19)

The comprehensive work Dictionary of New Testament Theology states: "God is not without a name; he has a personal name (Yahweh). ... God’s name belongs with his revelation." (Volume 2, pages 649, 653)

Is it fair to conclude that adding the word LORD when it was not in the Hebrew original is a very serious matter? Is it fair to conclude that removing the divine Name represented by YHWH is down right dangerous?

It is true that there is some disagreement on the exact form of YHWH however some outstanding scholars agree YEHOWAH (or, in English, Jehovah) is correct. (Compare Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, volume 1, pages 210, 211) Some prefer YAHWEH and even others forms. The failure to use the name of the Father has led to much ambiguity among some Christian groups. For example, many hymns do not use the Name and as a result the identity of Lord Jehovah and Lord Jesus is confused. Many of these hymns were composed by Trinitarians and thus certain Bible phrases or verses that contextually involve Yehowah are wrongly applied to Jesus. Also, most Christians speak of an ambiguous "Lord" often confusing the Father and the Son in their speech.

The Name of God was not less minimized by the Christian Bible. The importance of the Father’s Name is seen in the Lord’s Prayer, "Hallowed be Thy Name." (Matthew 6:9) During the Nazarene’s ministry the Voice of God was only heard three times. One of these had a direct bearing on His Name: "Father, glorify your name." Therefore a voice came out of heaven: "I both glorified [it] and will glorify [it] again." (John 12:28) Sixty years later this same point is mentioned in the Bible’s last book: "Who will not really fear you, Jehovah, and glorify your name, because you alone are loyal?" (Revelation 15:4 NWT)

In his closing prayer with his disciples Passover night, Jesus stressed his Father’s "name" four times: "I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world. ... Holy Father, watch over them on account of your own name which you have given me, in order that they may be one just as we are. When I was with them I used to watch over them on account of your own name which you have given me. ... I have made your name known to them and will make it known, in order that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them." (John 17:6, 11, 12, 26) Can anyone argue that the Father’s "name" is so unimportant that it can be removed from those places where it originally occurred?

It is true the word "name" has a wider meaning including reputation, character, authority, and fame. It is also true that there is little or no evidence that Jesus himself uttered the divine Name in private conversation. It has been suggested he may have used it when quoting those places in the Hebrew Bible where YHWH occurs. (Compare Matthew 4:4 with Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:7 with Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:10 with Deuteronomy 6:13) Jesus was bound to keep all the Law of Moses. This would have included that warning not to add or remove anything from the Law. This may suggest the Nazarene could possibly have used YHWH in these Hebrew Bible texts above.

Despite this, there is no justification for removing and replacing YHWH with LORD in the Hebrew Bible. What may this mean for some Christians in these days of a profusion of Bible translations? Though it is not forbidden any where not to read a Bible lacking YHWH, would it be preferable, based on the above, to use a Bible which reads YHWH (Yehowah; Yahweh; Jehovah) in the largest part of the Holy Scriptures?

There are a number of excellent versions available which preserve the 7,000 occurrences of YHWH in the Hebrew Bible. Some of these are the New Jerusalem Bible (Yahweh), the American Standard Version (Jehovah), the New World Translation (Jehovah), Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible (Yahweh), King James II (Jehovah), Interlinear Bible (Jehovah).

The reason some translations included the Divine Name in its 7,000 occurrences are interesting to read:

American Standard Version (1901): "[They] were brought to the unanimous conviction that a Jewish superstition, which regarded the Divine Name as too sacred to be uttered, ought no longer to dominate in the English or any other version of the Old Testament . . . This Memorial Name, explained in Exodus 3:14, 15, and emphasized as such over and over in the original text of the Old Testament, designates God as the personal God, as the covenant God, the God of revelation, the Deliverer, the Friend of his people . . . This personal name, with its wealth of sacred associations, is now restored to the place in the sacred text to which it has an unquestionable claim."

The German Elberfelder Bibel states: "Jehova. We have retained this name of the Covenant God of Israel because the reader has been accustomed to it for years."

Steven T. Byington, The Bible in Living English: "The spelling and the pronunciation are not highly important. What is highly important is to keep it clear that this is a personal name. There are several texts that cannot be properly understood if we translate this name by a common noun like 'Lord,' or, much worse, by a substantivized adjective."

The renowned scholar J. B. Rotherham in Studies in the Psalms (1911): "JEHOVAH.-The employment of this English form of the Memorial name (Exodus 3:18) in the present version of the Psalter does not arise from any misgiving as to the more correct pronunciation, as being Yahwéh; but solely from practical evidence personally selected of the desirability of keeping in touch with the public ear and eye in a matter of this kind, in which the principal thing is the easy recognition of the Divine name intended."

All things considered, is it not the course of wisdom to use a Bible that incorporates the Divine Name YHWH. Jesus did. So did Paul and the other inspired writers.

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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