Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Yahweh / LORD — ay, yi yi

Background: I've both written and ranted about this nutty, indefensible tradition of English translations using the codewords LORD or GOD (in caps) when the Hebrew text has YHWH, most likely pronounced "Yahweh."

Foreground: one modern translation, the Christian Standard Bible, at least sometimes (about 75 times, out of over 6000 occurrences of Yahweh) uses the actual name God gave Himself (Exodus 3:13-16).

Now, I basically like the CSB. It is hard to get used to the contractions, but while I generally read the ESV, I appreciate that the CSB is occasionally willing to strike out with a fresh rendering that better captures the Hebrew or Greek text. For instance, years ago I very closely studied, and translated, the book of Colossians. In doing so, I had to part company with more standard translations here and there to represent the Greek text more accurately. Now I see some of those same renderings in the CSB.

So, back to this particular. My philosophy is, "Some is better than none." So I'm glad the CSB uses "Yahweh" at least some times.

However, their rationale just makes no sense, and it sometimes makes for zany nuttiness. The translators say that "The HCSB® uses Yahweh, the personal name of God in Hb, when a text emphasizes Yahweh as a name: His name is Yahweh (Ps 68:4)." So... why? How can you tell? God decided to use it some 6823 times in the Torah (according to BDB). How do you decide that almost 6750 of those times is not emphatic enough? This strikes me as yet another example of unintentionally trying to be smarter than God.

With that kind of wackiness, you end up with renderings like Exodus 15:3:
The LORD is a warrior;
Yahweh is His name.
Huh? Notice "LORD" in the first stich, "Yahweh" in the second. But in the Hebrew, the exact same word.

Okay, so... if "Yahweh is His name," then why don't we use it?

Same thing here:
5 The LORD came down in a cloud, stood with him there, and proclaimed His name Yahweh. 6 Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh-- Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth.... (Exodus 34:5-6)
"The LORD came down... and proclaimed His name Yahweh." His name Yahweh, that we won't use most of the time. I just can't see how that can do other than baffle an English reader who thinks about it at all.

Or again, here:
So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it Yahweh Shalom. It is in Ophrah of the Abiezrites until today. (Judges 6:24)
Or here:
"Answer me, LORD! Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back" (1 Kings 18:37)
Or here:
For I am the LORD your God who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar-- His name is Yahweh of Hosts (Isaiah 51:15; again, it's His name... but we mostly won't use it)
Or here:
So they called out to the LORD: "Please, Yahweh, don't let us perish because of this man's life, and don't charge us with innocent blood! For You, Yahweh, have done just as You pleased" (Jonah 1:14)
Or here:
At that time those who feared the LORD spoke to one another. The LORD took notice and listened. So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who feared Yahweh and had high regard for His name (Malachi 3:16)
I defy anyone to make any sense of any of that.

So, unfortunately, that leaves only one modern translation that consistently uses the name—and it's Roman Catholic (New Jerusalem Bible). And one older (Rotherham). And some odd, fringey, cultish knockoffs. And as usual, when the church holds back on some Biblical truth, cults come in and make that one thing mean everything, and over-obsess. Nonetheless, it's hardly a badge of pride for "Protestant" translations that we continue to prop up this indefensible old relic.

I had one very well-known, very well-studied prof reprove me in seminary for regularly using "Yahweh" when I translated texts that used "Yahweh." He said it's what the liberals say. Really.

Well, I imagine liberals occasionally brush their teeth and comb their hair, too; and I'm not going to refrain from either simply because I fear false association with them.

Ay yi yi , the slavery of traditions. Not good.


Neil said...

This was a very good post and a very good point.

Is this tradition of substituting something else for "Yhwh" a hanger-on from the Jewish aversion to speaking the Name?

donsands said...

I have a New Jerusalem Bible. It's difficult to read Yahweh, when your so used to the word LORD. But I like it.

Nice thoughts on all this.

I do think by saying Lord for the word Yahweh Jesus Christ is identified with God in some sense, though I imagine the word Yahweh most likely refers to the Father, though I'm not sure about that.

DJP said...

That's my understanding, yes. It grew from the same superstitious legalism that over-defined "work" on the Sabbath, setting a hedge around the law. If using Yahweh's name frivolously was a sin, one way to avoid it would be NEVER TO SAY IT! Problem solved!

Thus the absurd practice of saying 'adonay instead of Yahweh when reading aloud, which persists to this day—even among many Christian Hebrew profs! And thence the odd vowel-pointing in the Hebrew text, which led to the mispronunciation "Jehovah" which, while no likelier than 'adonay, at least has the advantage of not being utterly and unquestionably impossible and misleading, like "Lord."

Phil Walker said...

Tell me about it. I recently decided it made more sense to use "Yahweh" when writing theologically. One of these, er, years, I'd love to sit down and study what governs the Bible writers' various uses of the Tetragrammaton, Adonai and Elohim. There'll be a book somewhere on it already, I'm sure.

[Incidentally, spinning off from Judges 6:24, I wish they'd translate Jehovah-Jireh and their ilk as "Yahweh provides" etc. Names were meant to mean something, darn it, so tell us what they mean!]

DJP said...

Well, Don, some OT texts which are applied to Jesus in the NT do use the name Yahweh; so if the translation used "Yahweh," readers would more readily see that Jesus is Yahweh the Son. I've made much of that, betimes, in witnessing to Jehovah's Witnesses.

The NT writers tended to use the LXX (Greek translation) as we do the NAS or KJV, and it had kurios (Lord).

To make clear: "Yahweh" never occurs in the NT. Fringey tr's that stick it in there are either cultic, nuts, or both.

Tom Gee said...

Great post. I'm glad that during the Pyro break we don't have to take leave of DJP as well!!

That use of "Jehovah" always bothered me. God gives us the inestimable privilege of his name, and we dare use the verbal typo of "Jehovah", even when we know that it's wrong.

(Minor nit: you might want to reconsider the use of Google ads on your site. Because they appear on your blog, it could cause some to believe that you endorse those ads. The ads that came up on this post, for example, included "Hell does not exist: and you can prove it", "Revelation 17 reveals the name of the next Pope, ... Learn Bible prophecy" and "Eloah: the Goddess within the Bible").

FX Turk said...

Dan --

Didn't you just answer your own argument with the LXX rebuttal?

Here's what I'm thinking:
[1] Hb has YHVH, which is a convention to honor the name of God. Right or wrong, that's the convention.
[2] The Jews who translated "YHVH" into LXX Greek used "kurios" for "YHVH".
[3] The Christians -- like Peter, for example, at Pentecost -- who were using the LXX as the their source for OT wisdom, call Jesus "kurios" and "xristos". The implication in that case is quite obvious.
[4] The basis for using "kurios" is established over time -- and by the NT, btw -- as a validated method of refering to God the Father.
[5] 1200 years later, English comes around, and we translate "kurios" as "Lord", and go back and realize that this is what the hellenized Jews called "YHVH".

The reason I bring that up is that I find it hard to believe that the KJV translators were "superstitious" about the name of God. I think these were men of extraordinary erudition who could read many languages, and their facility in handling the issue (I think) demonstrates something quite insightful.

Consider Ex 6:2-3. In those verses, God says to Moses, "I am the LORD. 3I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them."(ESV) That reads in HCSB, "I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but I did not make My name Yahweh known to them."

My suggestion is that, irony of ironies, the KJV actually gets it right: "I am the LORD: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them."

That is: there are two senses to the use of "YHVH" which the reader ought to be sensitive to. The first, of course, is as the name of God. But the second is as it works in the text to refer to God not just by name but by position or title. For God to say, "I am that I am", and thereby tell Moses His name is Yahovah, He is also telling Moses His essence or position among all things.

Because we do not have a great way in English of representing the Hebrew word play going on when God provides His name as "I AM", I think the view that both LORD and Yahweh are viable translations, and I think the HCSB's criteria is goo on its face even if it doesn't represent it in my example from Ex 6 very well.

How you enjoying the Pyro vacation, btw?

DJP said...

Frank, thanks for your thoughts. They're characteristically clever and well-put. However, the argument is wrong at every essential point. (c:

[1] "Yahweh" is not a "convention." Hiding it behind "LORD" or "GOD" is a convention. That Yahweh inspired the writers to call Him, well, "Yahweh," is a fact, not a convention.

[2] Why the NT writers continued LXX use is a matter of speculation. Best not to build on speculation when you have a truckload of facts. To my mind, 6823 uses constitute a truckload.

[3] What you argue about the "two senses" of Yahweh amounts to an unnecessary "improvement" on the text itself. I am extremely leery of saying, in effect, that God didn't phrase Himself very deftly, so I am going to help Him out. You're smart and very well-read, so you can put on your 3-D glasses and see behind the secret code. I think the Bible is sufficiently challenging reading that we don't need to "improve" on it by adding over-subtle obstacles.

[4] You give the KJV too much credit in one regard. I've been doing this Hebrew/Greek thing for well over thirty years. There are some conventions of translation that are simply there because they are over-familiar, and don't even get thought about by translators. Like Proverbs 22:6, which I'll write on someday. The KJV's rendering "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it," for instance, is fine except for the "train up," the "in," the "he should go," and the "and." I mean to write on that someday. But no tr will challenge that rendering as they should.

As to the vacation -- < shrug >


Tim said...

I dunno about the Yahweh thing. Some guys came to my door one day and said God's true name is Jehovah. They didn't say anything about Yahweh.

They seemed really sincere, so I guess it must be true.

FX Turk said...

The vacation is nice. Somehow I feel like the blogging pressure is off until Daddy comes home.

That said, I'm not a Hebrew scholar -- I'm a guy with a blog. But I think -- I think -- that "Yahweh" is itself a convention, Dan, isn't it? Isn't it "YHVH" a contraction of "YAHOVAH" (I'm sure it ought to be "JEHOVAH")? It's "Yahweh" the "fourth commandment" version of the actual name of God, isn't it?

So translating it "Yahweh" and saying, "hey -- that's the text" is a little short sighted, I think. Especially in Ex 6:2-3, as I have exemplified already. It's wooden to say that God never uses His name as His title. It overlooks several cases where that conclusion cannot be overlooked. (for example, Ps 3, where the sense of "YHVH" moves from "YHVH" who I cry out to" to "YHVH who saves me")

It's exactly the way the word "Caesar" works -- it is both a name and a title.

You can have the last word on that. It's a slow day and I couldn;t think of any good ways to poke at iMonk, so I cam by to poke at you.

DJP said...

So, I'll just pass by how troubling it is to know that you associate iMonk and me in your mind that way, and say this....

No, forgive a little Hebrew. The entire alphabet, per se, is consonantal, though originally some of the consonants may have signalled vowel sounds. The vowels were understood in reading and, later in the textual tradition, supplied by a system of vowel-points.

So the whole text originally is strictly consonantal -- `brhm (Abraham) no less than yhwh (Yahweh).

The pronunciation "Jehovah" is sort of an abomination, made by reading the vowels for `adonay (lord) into Yahweh per Jewish superstitions as discussed above, then coming to us by way of German or Latin (where the y sound is represented by j, and w by v).

So the pronunciation "Jehovah" or "Yahowah" is a mongrel impossibility.

I think this is probably paralyzing enough without my going into why "Yahweh" is the most probable pronunciation.

So, all that to say, love you Frank, but no.

And thanks for the poke.

FX Turk said...

I can be wrong.

DJP said...


Highland Host said...

I learned Hebrew (well, the basics) from a man whose day job is outreach to the Jews in North London (where most of the London Jewish population is these days). He tells me the Jews only say 'adonay' when reading the Scriptures in the Synagogue - apparently that's now too holy for everyday use.
But my teacher always substituted adonay for YHVH in our reading the Hebrew Bible. I think he'd find using a Bible that used 'Yahweh' a problem.

Also he'd say 'Yahvey', as modern Jews pronounce the relevant letter as a 'v' not a 'w'.
Ah, the joys of learning Hebrew...

DJP said...

Yes, that's the practice, and it's a bad one. The text says "A," but they're much holier than the text, so they read "14."

So I reverse-course. When I read a text with LORD or Lord GOD, I read it as given: Yahweh, Lord Yahweh.