Someday I am going to write a disciplined, organized, proof-read essay about the use of "LORD" in English translations, what a stupid idea it is, and how it has led to increasing sloppiness among writers.
This is not that essay. This is a rant.
Premise: the use of "LORD" in Christian, English translations is a stupid and indefensible tradition that should have been cast aside centuries ago.
Nearly 7000 times (6,823, if memory serves), God saw fit to move His prophets to use His personal name Yahweh in the Hebrew Old Testament. Now, it is often observed that the Name is actually YHWH, written without vowels, and so the pronunciation is uncertain. In itself, this is true.
What is not often mentioned in this connection is the fact that all of the OT is written in consonants, without vowels; and so the pronunciations of all names is somewhat speculative. But that has never yet prevented English translators from giving vocalized (and somewhat Anglicized) forms of names such as Abraham, Isaac, Isaiah, and so on.
What is different when it comes to YHWH is that the Jewish scribes developed an unbelieving superstition about the Name of God. Because God forbade using His name in vain (Exodus 20:7), they figured, with Pharisaical legalistic precision, that the safest way not to take it in vain would be never to say it at all. They would copy it, but put in the vowel points for the Hebrew words for "Lord" or (if YHWH followed the actual word for "Lord") "God." (This is why our English Bibles sometimes have "LORD God," and sometimes "Lord GOD.")
Now of course, we can see that this is just as foolish as the Sabbath laws that condemned our Lord for healing on a Saturday. Dumber, in fact, for it forbade obedience to the many calls to call on Yahweh's name, swear by it, trust in it, and the like.
Further, it required acting as if the reader was wiser and holier than Yahweh Himself. (I speak as a fool.) By this, I mean that while Yahweh saw fit to put His Name in the text, the reader, much wiser than Yahweh, would not read that Name. He'd substitute another: 'adonay, which is Hebrew for "Lord."
English translators held to this foolish, superstitious tradition. But to signal that there was some difference between some occurrences of "Lord" and other occurrences, they gave everyone a decoder ring, as it were. So when we read "Lord," all is well. But when we read "LORD" in caps, that is a signal to get out our decoder-rings, and mentally substitute "Yahweh."
Dumb, huh? Yes, very. I mean, I feel as if I've heard every rationalization in the book, and each one makes less sense than the previous one.
So to sum up this part of the rant: nearly 7000 times in the Hebrew OT we see YHWH. We have reason to believe that it was pronounced "Yahweh," but we are uncertain. But there is one fact about which we can have absolute statistical certainty: however it was to be pronounced, it could not possibly have been pronounced 'adonay; and so it cannot possibly mean "Lord"!
Having said that, I say this.
I just got the long-awaited first volume of beleving OT uber-academic Bruce Waltke's commentary on Proverbs. Proverbs is a special love of mine. I did my Master's thesis on it, I've done seminars on it, I've studied and written on it, I've translated about half of it for myself.... It's a favorite.
And who better to do it than Bruce Waltke? Waltke is a believer, and he is a renowned scholar. I will never know one-fifth of what Bruce Waltke has forgotten. I am not worthy to move the place marker on his BHS (edition of the Hebrew Old Testament).
Further, we haven't had an in-depth, academic verse-by-verse commentary written by a Bible believer since Delitzsch's German commentary in the 1800's. It is long-overdue. And now Waltke, who is a marvelous and deep scholar, steps up to the plate.
I have not read it, and am not prepared to say much in depth about it. But one thing strikes me over the head as a blow with a baseball bat: the book's handling of YHWH is, well... insane.
I don't know whether that is Waltke's fault, the publisher's, or a combination. But let me 'splain.
First, Waltke gives one of the most bizarre rationalizations I've ever read from a Christian pen, for pretending that the text says "Lord" instead of Yahweh (p. xxiv). He actually sees the providential hand of God in our not knowing the pronunciation, as if it paved the way for identifying the Lord Jesus with Lord (decoder ring = Yahweh).
Now, it is true that Jesus is identified with Yahweh in the Bible. But Waltke does not mention that we don't know for sure how to pronounce "Abraham" or "Isaiah" either -- but that doesn't mean we should render the first by "garbage disposal" and the second by "balloon."
If we must take the Jews' superstitious refusal to honor God's commands to call on His name as binding on us, then Jesus should have equally been bound by their Sabbath traditions, and traditions about women and Samaritans. Which He wasn't. Nor should we be.
But it gets worse.
Having rationalized that we don't know for sure how to pronounce YHWH, Waltke later comments on the uses of the Name of God in Proverbs. In passing, he says, "The book refers to God almost exclusively by his name 'The LORD' (Yahweh), which occurs 87 times" (pp. 66, 67, emphasis added).
But wait -- didn't Waltke just explain to us that he refused to render YHWH as "Yahweh" because we're unsure of the pronunciation? (Even though he's willing to render Shlomoh as "Solomon" in 1:1 and elsewhere.) So shouldn't he have said, "...'The LORD' (which we have no idea how to pronounce)"? This little slip lets out the truth, in my opinion.
But it gets still worse.
I don't like it when someone refuses to honor God's decision to use his name, Yahweh. But at least let's be consistent. Surely that isn't too much to ask, is it?
But evidently it is too much to ask either of Waltke or his publisher, Eerdmans.
Take just one page to show something I've already seen a number of times in this book, p. 576. Here Waltke translates Proverbs 14:1ff. He renders v. 2 in part as "Whoever fears the Lord [sic]," even though the Hebrew text has Yahweh. So we aren't even warned to get out our decoder rings!
But then, in the footnote, Waltke says, "Pagans may walk uprightly, not knowing the LORD [sic], and the fear of the LORD [sic] tends to be the topic of this book...." Huh? If "LORD" is a secret wink-wink clue that the underlying Hebrew text really has YHWH -- then what is the underlying Hebrew text here? These are Waltke's own comments! Did he write them in Hebrew first, before translating them into English and then censoring his own use of YHWH?
And then again on p. 581 he twice uses "Lord" to render YHWH... but on the very next page uses "LORD"!
Now, I have no idea whether this is Waltke's fault, or his publisher's. If the latter, I can't understand why Waltke wouldn't correct the galley proofs, as it ends up making him look... well, not showing him to be the fine scholar I truly believe he is.
And I seem to see that sloppiness increasingly. John Piper's books quote the OT a lot, and I find that either he or his publisher aren't careful to preserve the translation's use of "LORD" in those quotations. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Well, I'm through with this rant. I will just say to the Christian, believing world of academics and translators, "Brothers, guys -- shake off the Pharisaical chains. God says His name is 'Yahweh,' let's us do the same."