Thursday, February 24, 2011

More thoughts about the use and non-use of "Yahweh" in English translations

You may be familiar with my undisciplined rant about the use of God's personal name in the Old Testament. Now to some thoughts a bit more disciplined, and a bit less "ranty," on the same subject.

Over at the BibleWorks user forums, there was a post about new resources available for BW.

In it, I brought up the new ISV translation, to which a commenter named ISalzman remarked that it looked to be a good translation, moving me to this response:
Yeah, but (first glance)
  1. Gender neutering. Pah!
  2. Perpetuating the LORD superstition. Pah twice! When will some translation finally shake OFF those chains?
This moved a commenter named Dr. Dale A. Brueggemann to pursue my remarks about "Yahweh," even as far as distinguishing the meta to this post (mentioned earlier) with his own thoughts. You can see his comment there, in defense of using "Lord" instead of "Yahweh" when translating the Old Testament. He observed (correctly) that the Greek translation of the OT (Septuagint, or LXX) used kurios ("Lord"), not "Yahweh"; and the NT had preserved this practice. Further, that use helps the reader see passages where Jesus is called Yahweh by inference from OT passage citation.

In response, I said this:
But why should we be bound to echo the LXX tradition? It's an odd text of uneven value, and we certainly don't feel bound to echo it in other ways (i.e. dropping verses from Proverbs, adding other verses, etc.).

Of course I wouldn't insert "Yahweh" into the NT, because it isn't in the text. But it is in the given text of the OT, over 6800 times. The simple and, I think, undeniable fact is that God the Holy Spirit saw fit to move the writers to use Yahweh well over 6800 times.

For me to (A) know that and (B) lay out a rationale why I shouldn't honor the text, is to oppose my wisdom over God's. It amounts to saying "I have a better idea about how to honor God and Christ than God had." To go that way is to head off into Pharisaical/Roman Catholic human tradition.

For the Lord/Yahweh passages applied to Christ, it's enough to translate Moses and Isaiah faithfully to Moses and Isaiah (and the others), and Paul and Peter faithfully to Paul and Peter, respecting the text. They either (A) the reader can look up the original and note that Yahweh is used, or (B) pastors can bring it out in sermons, or (C) a note could be inserted marginally, to wit: "The OT text has 'Yahweh.'"

It's using "LORD" that misleads the readers and dulls the ears, since "Yahweh" does not possibly mean "Lord," for which there are at least two other Hebrew words.

Briefly and in sum: respect the text. It's the submissively believing thing to do. God knew what He was doing, and He's really good at communication.
In another post started on the same subject by Dr. Brueggemann (isn't that a great name? seriously), I posed these questions, which I now commend to you as well (slightly edited), in the hopes that they would help clarify folks' thinking:
  1. Is there anyone who thinks that Yahweh, in any sense, actually means "Lord"?
  2. Are there any other cases where we would insist on using a translation that we know with certainty absolutely cannot possibly be accurate?
  3. Do we know that "Yahweh" is meant by God to be a proper name, while "Lord" is a title?
  4. Do we know for certain why the LXX substituted "Lord" for "Yahweh"?
  5. Is it wise to chain ourselves to a practice whose rationale that we cannot even explain with certainty? Isn't that the very definition of superstition?
  6. For that matter, can we conceive or a rationale that would excuse our saying "No" to God when He tells us to call on His name, and never rescinds that command?
  7. Does the NT ever suggest that its adoption of LXX passages inserting kurios instead of Yahweh is meant retroactively to overrule and effectively erase the Hebrew text in its own context?
  8. If God, in moving men to write "Yahweh" over 6800 times, was not thereby indicating that He meant that Name to be used, then what more could He have said to indicate that intent?
  9. Do we have an objective, positive reason sufficient to overrule God's own employment of "Yahweh" over 6800 times, to excuse our own refusal to employ it as fully and robustly as He does?


Al said...

Excellent Dan... The Aaronic blessing makes much more sense when the Name is translated as a Name…
Numbers 6:
22 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
24 Yahweh bless you and keep you;
25 Yahweh make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
27 “So shall they put MY NAME upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

We make this translation in all our public readings of Scripture.

al sends

DJP said...

Exactly right, Al. It's just one of those silly things we've become accustomed to. Take a step back, and all those passages that combine "Name" with "LORD" (which is not a name, except in the late Jack Lord's case, but I digress) just look silly.

Robert said...

I'm glad that the churches I have been in since God saved me all make the point of stating that every time the English text says LORD, it means Yahweh. It definitely adds more depth and reverence to least to me.

DJP said...

Yes, Robert - and it isn't a matter of indifference to me either, because of my background.

I was saved out of a "mind science" cult, that denied the personality of God. It made a real difference to learn that God had a name.

Aaron said...

You've got me totally discombobulated over this now.

Can you please explain the differences between YHWH, Yahweh, Jehovah, Adonai,and Elohim? I'm a little foggy on the matter because the only ones who seem to make much hay with this are the King James nuts.

DJP said...


"Yahweh" is the likely pronunciation of God's personal name, of which the consonants are YHWH. Most every time you see LORD or GOD, all in caps, Yahweh is the Hebrew text.

'adonay is the Hebrew word meaning "Lord." Usually Jews in synagogue substitute this (or "hashem," the Name) for Yahweh when reading Scripture aloud.

The mark of this in the common Hebrew text is that the consonants YHWH are given an adapted form of the vowels for 'adonay.

Jehovah is an illegitimate step-child. It is caused by taking the consonants YHWH, and pronouncing them with the vowels from 'adonay. Think of the J and V as being like Latin or German, and thus pronounced as if they were Y or W.

'Elohim means "God." When Yahweh is combined 'adonay in the text, the word 'elohim is substituted by Jews instead of 'adonay (so you don't have "Lord Lord," but instead "Lord GOD").

Hope that helps.

Mark Patton said...

The "smokey smell" coming from the east is me thinking. I have followed all the links and get your point. I think I even agree with it (obviously my agreement makes it valid, but I digress). My question, if I could be so bold is how does this play out in your preaching, praying, etc. Do you say Yahweh instead of LORD when reading the text, preaching?

WV: imanias which I am going to retranslate as mns and say as bob.

DJP said...

Believe it or not, I'm not an obsessive about it except as far as dealing with the OT text and faith. So yeah, in reading aloud with a familiar congregation I will reverse the superstition and go "correct" LORD and GOD to Yahweh. I will speak of Yahweh in OT narratives and, in my writing about OT, I use Yahweh.

See, it really really is all about the inspired text, to me.

Mark Patton said...

Thanks Dan.

Al said...

Mark, if I may, this is what say in our guide to worship at Providence:

We notice that you use the word Yahweh a lot. Why that name for God and not the Lord as it is translated in our Bibles?

That is an excellent question. Let me answer that by showing you something in Exodus chapter 6:1-3.

But the LORD said to Moses, ―Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land. 2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, ―I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Al-mighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. (ESV)

Notice how the word 'LORD‘ is in all capital letters? If we were to put the English letter equivalents into those three verses for the words the LORD‘ it would read this way:

6:1 But YHWH said to Moses, ―Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.‖ 2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, ―I am YHWH. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name, YHWH, I did not make myself known to them.

In English we supply vowels to complete a transliteration of YHWH and we get Yahweh. So when you hear us read a Psalm or an Old Testament passage of Scripture and we come across the word LORD in all caps we will use the name Yahweh to more accurately reflect who it is we are talking about. We think it makes passages like Exodus 6 easier to under-stand.

al sends

Mark Patton said...

Thanks Al.

Chuck said...

Dan just made JW's everywhere even more furious with him. I love it.

DJP said...

It's what I live for.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your "more disciplined" thoughts on the subject. I appreciate your "undisciplined rant" as well.

I agree that the use of "LORD" in Christian, English translations is a stupid and indefensible tradition that should have been cast aside centuries ago.

Allow me to share my personal experience of being called by a name that is not my true name.

My first name is Bobby. My full name is Bobby Stanley McCullars, Jr. I sign it as B. Stan McCullars, Jr.

Over the years I have had numerous people ask me what the "B" stands for. I would reply "Bobby". They would say, "No. You mean Robert."

I would respond "It's not Robert. It's Bobby. Thus the letter 'B' and not 'R'."

At that point in the conversation I have had several people literally argue with me over the point. I would remind them that it is MY name we're talking about so my view wins.

When I was younger such arguments would hurt my feelings. My name was/is important to me.

How dare we refuse to call God by the name he told us to call him!

Tom Chantry said...

Stan, great story.

I was in a high school classroom with a grandson of Ernie Reisinger and listened to a teacher argue with him about how to pronounce his name. Who cares what the German pronunciation ought to be? His name is what generations of Reisingers in our home county say it is! (Even if Ernie himself finally gave up and let the Southern Baptists mispronounce his name.)

And Al, I'll take your Exodus 6 and raise you Exodus 34:

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” That makes sense, how? Much better when we have this: Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Yahweh. Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious...”

Or I Kings 18: "The LORD, He is God?" How does that even really distinguish from "Baal (master), he is god?" Might it not matter to know that they cried out, "Yahweh, He is God; Yahweh, He is God!"?

DJP said...

I've heard the most disappointing rationales for not using God's name, over the years.

The late, great Charles Lee Feinberg put up with me saying it in class for a while, then reprimanded me, because "that's what liberals say."

Oh dear.

Wes Walker said...

To wit,

When I first adopted the practice of addressing my spouse as "wife" rather than by her given name, it did not go well.

But, in trying to remain faithful to this tradition -- as I am with the "LORD" tradition discussed here by Dan -- I believe I will continue the practice. ;-)

Good thing I have a comfortable couch.

FX Turk said...

Brilliant. As usual.

DJP said...



Now get Phil over here and my day is made. I'll just say "good night," go home, and go to bed.

lee n. field said...

>When I first adopted the practice of addressing my spouse as "wife" rather than by her given name, it did not go well.

As long as WIFE is in capitals.

Dan, hmmm, your thoughts about those who insist on "Yeshua" or "Yahashua" or some such, when the NT writers were fine with "Iesous"?

(word verification "petra" :-) )

Tom Chantry said...

Be careful what you wish for. If both Frank and Phil start commenting here, Tom (the other one) might start showing up at this blog every day to ask why Frank can't be more like you.

Robert said...

Wait...I thought you were Phil.


Sonja said...

This was fascinating! I've often wondered about the non-use and never thought about "supersition" but can't now think of a better reason.

I like learning new things -- a lot. :)

Stephen said...

My Old Testament professor went over these distinctions a few weeks ago, in helping to make a theological point about the quality of repentance, or lack thereof, shown by the Ninevites in response to Jonah (Jonah and sailors use YWHW, Ninevah uses general Elohim)... I, being the nerd who obsessively reads the various prefaces to the Bibles I happen to be reading, was already familiar with this.

What made it rather awkward was that the prof also has a tradition of singing a hymn, sometimes obscure, at the beginning of each class. It just didn't really fit to sing, "Guide me O, Thou great Yaa-aa-ah-weh!"

rwt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DJP said...

lee n. field and :

See, that is totally different. How to pronounce Jesus' name is totally unrelated to whether to use Yahweh or LORD.

To be analogous, we would have to be arguing about translations that think Jesus' name too holy to pronounce, and so substitute TEACHER or SAVIOR or MASTER every time the text has "Jesus."

No, I have no patience with re-pronunciations of "Jesus" in American culture. "Jesus" is the American way to pronounce the name, and is a name. LORD is not a name, and isn't even a try at pronouncing "Yahweh" in ANY culture.

Is that clear? If not, ask.

Brad Williams said...

I'm even more of stickler than Dan on this. Since no vowel points were inspired, I pronounce YHWH without them. And Dan, where are you getting the "W" from? Everyone knows it is a "vav". That's as bad as the 'J' in "Jehovah."


DJP said...

You're actually backwards on that, n00b.

Brad Williams said...

Alas, now my non-sense is not even going to be funny due to Dan's last comment.

DJP said...

Don't worry. Everything you say is funny.

Brad Williams said...

I'm backwards on it?! Oi Weh!

DJP said...

Yes, because the surest way to understand Biblical Hebrew is to listen to the way modern Yiddish is pronounced.


David Regier said...

Thanks for singling out Dr. Brueggemann's name. Now I've got K C and the Sunshine Band running through my head..

DJP said...

K C and the Sunshine Band have a song named "Brueggemann"?

Hunh. They must not have done that one when I saw them in Vegas....

David Regier said...

Dr. Brueggemann, that's who I am
Theologizin' whenever I can
Be it early mornin' late afternoon
Or at midnight it's never too soon

If I were he, that would be my theme song.

Brad Williams said...


You have unveiled my influences. I chose the 'v' sound over the 'w' sound because of Fiddler on the Roof. That, and it made more sense than the Latin "v".

Veni, vidi, vici.

Ok, the truth is all of my pronunciations of Hebrew were hopelessly ruined right after conversion. I was in college and ignorantly thought Hebrew was Hebrew, so I enrolled in a class and stuck it out for over a year. Alas, it was modern Hebrew that I was learning. I instantly registered my complaint by letter at the consolate in Tel Awiw.

Good times. :)

Oh, and I agree with your article. I think it makes my eyes bulge slightly less than yours due to my inordinant pride. I like to feel scholarly before men when I point out to the congregation how LORD should be Yahweh. I like to amaze them with my book learnin'.

100 Mile Pants said...

A hearty "Amen" to all this.

The sad thing is that someone can be a Christian for years and years and yet still be surprised to discover that God has a name.

Imagine having a relationship with someone for years and not knowing their name! When "that guy/girl at Starbucks" gets a name that you then use, it implies a more intimate relationship with them.

Motivations from this post:
1) Use Yahweh in prayer more.
2) Get back to trying to learn Hebrew properly again.

Thanks, Dan.

Robert Warren said...

Book 'em, Dan-O.

Hey, did you know that if you use Logos 4, you can change LORD to Yahweh using Visual Filters? See this post (several variations in subsequent replies):

The better of the suggestions is on the second page of the thread, May 14 at 12:02 (changes the LORD to YAHWEH, instead of "the" YAHWEH).

Susan said...

Dan: "Jehovah is an illegitimate step-child."

Hmm...I have never heard of an illegitimate step-child before, least of all an illegitimate step-child named Jehovah... O_o

...but I digress.

Aaron said...


Why do the king James weirdos say that Yahweh is a transliteration and Jehovah is the proper pronunciation? (other than defend the King James use of Jehovah?)

Can you explain transliteration and how it affects translation?

Susan said...

Whoa...this name just gave me a double-take.

Charles. Lee. Feinberg.

THE Charles Lee Feinberg?

The very same Charles Lee Feinberg who signed this!?

Wow. O_o

Aaron said...

@Wes walker: my wife doesn't like me to refer to her as the spousal unit. For the life of me, I can't understand why.

Steve said...


The HCSB does as you fact, the banner ads I've seen online boldly proclaim "the Name is YAHWEH"

However, the publishers of the HCSB, an obscure translation (though it appears to be the SBC's sanctioned version), are phasing in "Yahweh."

As a translator, I cringe, not knowing the second vowel of the name. I really wish that the superstition hadn't taken hold....because isn't this the "name above all names?"

Thomas Louw said...


I have just been educated thanks.
I always for some “darf” reason though God had no name, because He is to Great to be defined by a name.
And that is why he told Moses His name is “I am”.
(Some bell is going off, Jahweh is I am)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Dan. I must admit, I'm a bit conflicted...partly because I've trained myself so well to knowing that LORD = Yahweh, so that as I'm reading, I visualize it as Yahweh, but when I write notes/prayers down in my notebooks, I tend to write "LORD" all the time!! Now I'm feeling a tad convicted over this. Thanks for the hard words.

Thomas Louw said...

So Yahweh, is it the collective name for the Trinity or for God The Father only?

If it's only the name for God the father why is the Holy Spirit the only member in the trinity with no "personal" name?

DJP said...

Aaron, don't ask me to explain the mental processes of KJVO obsessives. They are the single most embarrassing group of professed Bible-believers to me, without one single rational leg to stand on.

HSAT, transliteration is representing the sounds of words in another language (but not the meaning), while translation is representing the meaning of those words.

Thus: anastasis is a transliteration, while "resurrection" is a translation.

DJP said...

Yes, Susan; the very one.

DJP said...

Steve, if I'm using BW right, the current HCSB has "Yahweh" 476X, which is a good start, but still about 6347X short.

DJP said...

Thomas, I know offhand of passages that use the name alike of Father and Son; I don't know offhand of one that uses it of the Spirit.

Mike Westfall said...

Just curious, and not being a Hebrew scholar myself, I wonder why the OT writers didn't use vowels when writing the name of God?

I can see why you go by your middle name.

Stefan Ewing said...


I love that you're so passionate about the name of Yahweh, even to the point of (almost) being called a liberal by Dr. Feinberg!

We should appreciate His Name all the more, because it is His covenantal Name, and without His New Covenant in the blood of Jesus Christ, we have no relationship with Him, and no standing before Him. And if we have a personal relationship with Him, shouldn't we use His personal Name?

There are many very good reasons to appreciate the Septuagint—it's the Old Testament quoted by the Apostles and Evangelists; and we get our modern Old Testament book order from it. But on the other hand, it's freighted down with additional non-canonical material, and crystallized a superstition regarding the uttering of God's Namme that was evidently already afoot before the time of Christ.

It's a travesty of the Church's neglect, that the only ones really pushing to use some approximation of God's Name today, are a certain heretical cult.

DJP said...

They didn't use vowels when writing anything, strictly speaking. That is, the text we have is entirely consonantal. Vowels are supplied later, by vowel pointings (not letters of the alphabet). So YHWH is only exceptional in that some superstition drove later Hebrew scribes not to pen in the correct vowels, though versions in Greek and Latin supply vowels that validate the pronunciation "Yahweh."

IOW, "David" is DWD and "Dan" is DN, etc.

DJP said...

Oh, Stefan, it doesn't stop there. Add that the only versions consistently representing God's name are either cultic (Roman Catholic) or obscure (Rotherham).

It is simply bizarre. So many traditions of varying weight have been cast off, to good and bad result. Here's a tradition for which (imho) there simply isn't a good defense — and no "independent, new, fresh" translation will break free of it entirely. Not the ESV, not the CSB, not the NET, not the NIV/TNIV/NIV2010 -- and now not even the ISV.

Just aggravating.

Aaron said...

Thanks, Dan. Helpful post and helpful answers to my questions.

Perhaps you should work on a new translation?

DJP said...

You'll see some in World-Tilting Gospel, and more in the Proverbs book.

Al said...

DJPon the KJVO crowd - "They are the single most embarrassing group of professed Bible-believers to me,"

Al: Whipes brow, "WHEW!"

al sends

DJP said...

There are runners-up.

Al said...

"well, I didn't come in last..." has been my mantra since kickball in the 3rd grade. I'm good.

even if I can't spell wiped...

al sends

CGrim said...

I did a quick scan, and couldn't tell if this was mentioned in the comments here, or in your previous post on the topic, but what about NT quotations of OT passages? For example, in Matthew 4:10, Jesus uses κύριον (Lord) when quoting Deuteronomy. It's of course possible that Jesus actually used the name "Yahweh" in his conversation with Satan, but Matthew, inspired by the Holy Spirit records it as κύριον.

Another example that comes to mind is Paul quoting Isaiah in Romans 10:16. Isaiah almost certainly wrote the name Yahweh in his original text, but Paul quotes it as κύριε.

Am I overlooking something?

DJP said...

Yep, covered in post.

CGrim said...

Waaaaat? *re-reads post*

Oh. There it is. Whoops.

The perils of skimming on a Friday. :)

DJP said...

Wish I could give you a prize. Seriously.

The usual, at this point, at Pyro, would be for the commentator to explode "What?!! No, it isn't! It isn't in the article at all! You never touch on this! I demand you answer my question! That you do not answer my question only proves that I have defeated you with my awesomeness, and you have nothing!"

So, thanks for that.


Stephen said...

To Steve (not me): The HCSB also beat John Macarthur's book to the punch and translates doulos as 'slave' instead of 'servant', at least some of the time. It gets quirky, in my opinion, though when it translates christos as "Christ" when used explicitly of Jesus as his title (e.g., when called Jesus Christ) but many times changes the word to "Messiah" when not explicitly Jesus... even though my naive self sees there being only one Christ/Messiah in the theology of the NT, who is Jesus. Compare Ephesians 1:2,3,17 with 1:10,12,20.

It's a translation that does a few things right (and also saves Lifeway lots of money in no longer having to pay Zondervan for NIV use!) but does a few things rather weird, too.

Susan said...

(I see that Dr. Feinberg's name really did "give me" a double-take. I should have said his name "made me do a double-take". Sorry for the distracting grammar.


The Blainemonster said...

Good stuff, good stuff. I have nothing to add or subtract, except to say that Dale Brueggemann is a heavyweight - was a professor at Central Bible College (Springfield, MO) in the 80's and 90's, and a translator for the NLT (I think)... anyway, super-smart guy. Just like Dan.