Use of “Yahweh” in Bible Translations

SHARE THIS POST:

 

The name “Yahweh” is a commonly accepted spelling and pronunciation of God’s personal name among scholars. It’s the covenant name of the God of Israel. As for the meaning of this name, I’ll quote Got Questions?:

 

“The name Yahweh comes from the Hebrew word for “I am.” When God met Moses at the burning bush and commanded him to go back to Egypt and lead the people out, Moses asked who he should say has sent him. “God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I am has sent me to you.”’ God also said to Moses, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “The LORD [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 is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations’” (Exodus 3:14–15).

Several things must be noted here in order to properly understand the significance of the name Yahweh. First, the tetragrammaton, which is the technical term for the four letters YHWH, is based on the Hebrew word for “being.” It could be translated “I am who I am” or “I will be what I will be” or perhaps even “I am the One who is.” Regardless of the specific translation, the name speaks of the self-existence and self-sufficiency of God. All others are dependent upon Him for life and breath and existence. He is dependent upon no one. It is for this reason that the Jewish leadership in Jesus’ day thought it was scandalous, blasphemous, and worthy of death for Jesus to utter the words “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58–59).”

 

I won’t go into the history and scholarly process involved, but Yahweh is a reconstruction of the Hebrew letters YHWH—which is known as the “Tetragrammaton,” which is from the Greek, meaning: word with four letters. These four letters are found in the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, the name Yahweh is used in some recent English Bible translations, such as the Lexham English Bible (LEB), the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), the World English Bible (WEB) and most recently—the Legacy Standard Bible (LSB), which was produced by John MacArthur and scholars from his seminary (The Master’s Seminary)—which is an update of the 1995 version of the NASB. Most English translations follow tradition and use “LORD” for God’s personal name wherever YHWH is found. Where the Hebrew says “the Lord YHWH,” it’s substituted with “the Lord GOD,” where GOD (all capitals) is used for YHWH.

The translations that use Yahweh do so because the translators want to give honor to God’s personal name and to translate the Scriptures as they are. These are honorable reasons for choosing to veer from traditional practice. Most importantly, we’re taught in Scripture to give honor to God’s name. So if you’ve been wondering if you should start using a translation that uses Yahweh instead of LORD, this article is for you. Or if you’re already using a translation that uses Yahweh, this article is for you too.

While the reasons for using Yahweh instead of LORD may be honorable, the true pronunciation of YHWH is still uncertain. Although commonly accepted among scholars, it’s still just a scholarly guess, no matter how confident they are about it—because the pronunciation of YHWH was lost in ancient times. I think it’s reasonable to believe that the Apostles – who walked with Jesus and were taught by Jesus – knew the correct pronunciation, but was lost not long afterward. In fact, according to Michael Marlowe (a researcher in biblical languages and ancient manuscripts) says this about the pronunciation of YHWH:

 

“And in the writings of the Church Fathers there is evidence that Christians had received accurate information about the pronunciation, because in these writings we find the phonetically accurate transcriptions ιαουε, ιαουαι, and ιαβε.”

Also according to Marlowe, “ancient sources state that it was spoken by the priests in the Temple service.”

 

So there is certainly evidence that the true pronunciation of YHWH was known up through the Apostolic period, in the beginning years of the Church. However, even though the correct pronunciation is believed to be known, it became the custom of ancient Jews, before the time of Christ, not to utter the name YHWH, except apparently in the Temple by the priests. Out of their desire to give special honor to God’s personal name, and because they considered it too sacred to say or mispronounce – and thus, breaking the Third Commandment – they began the practice of replacing YHWH with Adonai (Hebrew for Lord). Accordingly, when the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint) were being written (about 200 years BC), they predominantly used the Greek name Kurios (Lord) for the Hebrew name Adonai. Again Michael Marlowe:

 

“In nearly all extant manuscripts of the Septuagint we find the sacred Name represented by the Greek word κύριος, meaning “Lord.” The rule is applied consistently, even in such a verse as Isaiah 42:8, ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεός τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ ὄνομα, “I am the Lord God, that is my name.” This was nothing other than a Greek application of the Jewish custom of substituting אֲדֹנָי for יהוה when the Hebrew text was read aloud in the Synagogue.”

 

Instead of translating the Hebrew YHWH, they translated the traditional substitute Adonai. Likewise, the New Testament writers (which was done in Koine Greek) followed this same practice of the Septuagint. When quoting the Old Testament where YHWH is used, instead of translating YHWH, they translated the traditional Hebrew Adonai into the Greek Kurios. This to me is highly significant, which brings us to the main purpose of this article.

The evidence reveals that the writers of the NT Scriptures knew the correct pronunciation of YHWH—especially considering that Peter, John and Matthew were disciples of Christ and were personally taught by Him. Likewise, James, who wrote the book of James, was the Lord’s half brother. Therefore, I believe we can safely assume that Jesus, when quoting from the OT Scriptures and talking to His disciples about YHWH of Israel, would need to speak that name—and in doing so, the disciples would have heard the exact pronunciation. The Apostle Paul, too, who received the truth about Christ and understanding of the OT Scriptures from a direct revelation from Jesus Himself (Ga 1:11-12; Eph 3:2-4), surely would have known the correct pronunciation of YHWH. Yet, in their writings of the NT Scriptures, they followed tradition and the Greek Septuagint in using Kurios (Lord) for God’s personal name.

However, as a result of the traditional practice of using Adonai (Heb.) and Kurios (Gr.) for YHWH, knowledge of the true pronunciation of YHWH was eventually lost. Again, this is highly significant, because it reveals the providence of God regarding His own name. Under the Old Covenant, God revealed Himself to Israel as YHWH, so at that time the people knew how His covenant name was pronounced. Under the Old Covenant, this is the name God chose to be known by.

But under the New Covenant, we see something else. In the NT Scriptures, while all three Persons of the Trinity are prominent, the name of Jesus is the most prominent. The decision of the NT writers not to translate YHWH – which would have provided the pronunciation of that name – was sovereignly ordained, for it was the Spirit of God who provided the inspiration, even to the very words (2 Ti 3:16; 2 Pe 1:2-21). This reveals the sovereignty and providence of God in making the name of Jesus (Jesus the Christ/Messiah) the most prominent name in the New Covenant era. Because without Jesus, there is no Christianity. Jesus is central. The OT Scriptures always had Jesus in view. Thus, when we get to the New Testament, that’s the name that is the most prominent of the three Persons of the Trinity..

Therefore, I believe that it’s by the providence of God that the correct pronunciation of YHWH (and thus, the use of His covenant name) was lost, and the name of Jesus was elevated as the “name above all names” (Phil 2:9) under the New Covenant of Christ. In other words, under the Old Covenant, God chose to reveal Himself as YHWH (however that was actually pronounced), and under the New Covenant, He chose to make Himself known in the person of His Son, who’s name is Jesus, who is Lord and Savior.

At this point it would be helpful to learn something about the name of Jesus and its significance:

 

(Matthew 1:21) – 21 And she shall bring forth a son; and you shall call his name JESUS; for he will save his people from their sins.

 

The meaning of the name of Jesus is given to us in the statement: “he will save his people from their sins,” which alludes to Him as being “Savior.” More specifically, Jesus means “YHWH saves” or “YHWH is salvation.”

 

Got Questions?

“The name Jesus, announced to Joseph and Mary through the angels (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31), means “Yahweh saves” or “Yahweh is salvation.” Transliterated from Hebrew and Aramaic, the name is Yeshua. This word is a combination of Ya, an abbreviation for Yahweh, the name of Israel’s God (Exodus 3:14); and the verb yasha, meaning “rescue,” “deliver,” or “save.”

The English spelling of the Hebrew Yeshua is Joshua. But when translated from Hebrew into Koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the name Yeshua becomes Iēsous. In English, Iēsous becomes Jesus. Thus, Yeshua and, correspondingly, Joshua and Jesus mean “Yahweh saves” or “the Lord is salvation.”

 

So we see that the Hebrew name for Jesus is Yeshua. This is the name that the Hebrew speaking Jews would have known Jesus by. The Greek is Iēsous. The English is Jesus. But no matter what language we use for the name of Jesus, it means “YHWH saves.“ What’s important to see here is that the name of Jesus is associated with YHWH, God’s covenant name. We also see this in the following Scriptures:

 

(Romans 14:11) – 11 For it is written, as I live, says the Lord, to me every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess to God.

(Phil 2:9-11) – 9 Therefore also God highly exalted him, and gave to him the name that is above every name; 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Also Eph 1:20-21)

 

Those two passages are a quote from this passage in Isaiah:

 

(Isaiah 45:21-23) – 21 Declare and bring it forth; yes, let them take counsel together: who has shown this from ancient time? Who has declared it from of old? Have not I, the LORD? There is no God besides me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides me. 22 Look to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else. 23 By myself have I sworn, the word is gone forth from my mouth in righteousness, and will not return, that to me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear.

 

We see in these verses that Paul, in referring to the name of Jesus (Yeshua) as “the name that is above every name,” it’s not that the name of Jesus is above the name YHWH—but revealing Jesus to be YHWH, and declaring His name to be the equivalent of that name. Paul is revealing that in the gospel era in which we live, the name of Jesus is to be given the same honor that was given to the name of YHWH under the Old Covenant. In other words, YHWH has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus, and has associated the name of Jesus with His personal name.

I believe it’s the will of YHWH that in the New Covenant era, the name of Jesus is to be prominent as the “name that is above every name,” because Jesus said that we’re to give the same honor to Him as we give to the Father (Jn 5:23). This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus also said that the “Spirit of truth” would glorify Him (Jn 16:13-14). In glorifying Jesus, YHWH is being glorified.

Therefore, I believe it’s an appropriate practice for modern translations to continue to follow the traditional pattern of using LORD for YHWH in the Old Testament. Or perhaps even better, put YHWH in parentheses in order to be recognized. I think YHWH should be seen within the translation, instead of just a footnote or discussed in the preface.

Is it wrong to use Yahweh in our Bible translations? I don’t think so, because I know God honors those who honor Him (1 Sam 2:30), and scholars and translators are doing the best they can to ascertain the correct pronunciation of His personal name. On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s the most discerning way to go either—for three reasons:

 

One, since we don’t know for sure how YHWH is actually pronounced, I don’t think it’s particularly wise to give a pronunciation to God’s personal name that may be incorrect. I read that there is no “W” sound in Hebrew. I think that’s pretty telling—although scholars probably have an answer for that.

Two, it doesn’t follow the historical pattern. Neither the Septuagint nor the writers of the NT Scriptures translated YHWH, even though it’s almost certain they knew the true pronunciation. I believe we can safely assume that the exact pronunciation was revealed by Jesus in His teaching, and thus known in the early years of the Church. But even if the believers in that day didn’t know the pronunciation of YHWH, the Holy Spirit could have revealed it to them as the NT Scriptures were being written. Either the Holy Spirit gave the very words to the NT writers or He didn’t. We know He did. Therefore, the NT Scriptures themselves provide the pattern to follow for translations that would be produced afterwards.

Three, the NT Scriptures themselves give prominence to the name of Jesus, who is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” He has the “name that is above every name.” The name of Jesus is central.

 

For these reasons, I believe the most discerning and sensible course to take is to follow the New Testament pattern and the historical tradition of using LORD for YHWH, rather than giving it a pronunciation we’re not even sure about—no matter how honorable the intentions may be. I trust the Apostles and the writers of the NT Scriptures – who were led by the Holy Spirit as they wrote – more than I do those of today who believe we should break with tradition and the pattern provided for us. The providence of God is all over this. He certainly has a reason for this course regarding His personal name. Therefore, I would rather stay in harmony with that reason—whatever that reason is. The prominence given to the name of Jesus in the New Testament suggests the answer to that question. Those who believe it’s more God-honoring or more fitting to use Yahweh in place of LORD, may not have considered the providence of God or the reasons for the historical precedent in using LORD. Either God has sovereign control over His own name or He doesn’t. We know He does.

So the question is, should we avoid using Bible translations that use Yahweh instead of LORD? I don’t think I would go that far. I think it’s a matter of personal conviction, based on one’s understanding and perspective. The primary purpose for this article is to inform you so that you’re able to make a decision about this for yourself. From my perspective, it’s just as God-honoring to recognize the providence of God regarding His personal name, and to continue the historical practice of using LORD. So for myself, I prefer using that type of translation.

In addition, if you’ve ever tried reading the book of Psalms in a translation that uses Yahweh, you know that it’s a bit cumbersome—at least it is for me. It’s a smoother read using LORD. But that’s a secondary consideration.

I encourage you to do your own reading about the name of Yahweh. Here’s a helpful short video to start with:

Divine Name

 

 

SHARE THIS POST: