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Thread: Yahweh or LORD

  1. #1

    Default Yahweh or LORD

    Phillips rejects the practice of rendering YHWH as LORD in translations, posting it in the "new modules" thread. I continue the discussion here:

    A reminder: I said, returning YHWH to Yahweh in the OT would tend dull our ears to the NT echoes that LXX tradition in calling Jesus Christ "Lord." Phillips still thinks it an indefensible practice; I think he even calls it "stupid."

    But I would respond, where do you see the name Yahweh anywhere in the NT? When the NT quotes OT texts that have YHWH in Hebrew, it has no trouble in continuing the practice of rendering it LORD (i.e., kurios). Just a few examples follow:

    • "the angel of the Lord" (Matt 2:19)
    • "Lord your God" (Matt 3:3 = Isa 40:3; Matt 22:37 = Deut 6:5)
    • "name of the Lord" (Matt 23:39 = Ps 118:26)
    • "LORD to my Lord" (Matt 22:44 = Ps 110:1).

    Would you then to straighten out the NT on this practice too, so that it would be clear that the NT attributes the divine name to Jesus?

    Dale A. Brueggemann

    כִּי עֶזְרָא הֵכִין לְבָבוֹ לִדְרוֹשׁ אֶת־תּוֹרַת יְהוָה וְלַעֲשֹׂת וּלְלַמֵּד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט (Ezra 7:10)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2007


    I am certainly not suggesting that we need to clean up the New Testament! But keep in mind that the NT authors were using what was available to them. And they were certainly quite comfortable with the Greek scriptures of the LXX. What should be remembered is that, at some time in their history, the Jewish people developed the tendency toward circumlocution when it came to the name of God, and, especially, the tetragrammaton (YHWH). I can't give you an exact dating for this phenomenon, but it seems reasonably clear to have become standard practice by the time of Esther. In that vein, Mordecai told Esther that if she failed to act, deliverance would come from "another place." This was surely a circumlocution for God. In fact, in the liturgical prayers of rabbinic Judaism, "HaMaqom," "the place," continues to be one of the circumlocutive epithets for God. In the same way, the rabbis began to substitute "Adonai" ("Lord") for the ineffable name of YHWH. It was only natural that the LXX translators would continue that translation practice and insert the Greek kurios. In turn, since the NT authors quoted the Septuagint predominately, they carried this tradition on over to the New Testament. But I am not suggesting that we need to go back into the NT and clean it up. But, if you're going to do a new translation of the OT, I see no harm or no problem in properly representing the four letter name of God.

    Incidentally, the following might illustrate my philosophy here. Since the NT authors were writing in Greek to a predominately Greek-speaking audience, they catered their vocabulary toward their recipients. So, very often, when describing Jesus, they spoke of him as the christos or Christ. But this was only the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew original, Messiah. I would never suggest that we need to go back into the NT and clean up all those references. However, I work in a Jewish ministry context. And there is no compelling reason for me to refer to him by the name "Christ." For most Jewish people, that conjures up the notion of the God of and for the Gentiles. Most Jewish people have no idea that "Christ" is a translation of "Messiah. For Jews, "Messiah" and the messianic concept is something that they readily can wrap their arms around. "Christ" however is altogether foreign to them. So, when I preach, I refer to him as Jesus the Messiah. And some of the newer translations of the NT geared toward a Jewish readership also favor this terminology. So, in sum, it is not an aversion or revulsion to "Christ." But the use of "Messiah" is more culturally sensitive and has missiological value.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2004

    Default Does cultural sensitivity extend to English?

    This title is a bit misleading. I have two points:

    The NT Greek changes to the Hebrew "YHWH" and "Messiah" were done because the audience understood Greek, not Hebrew. Was this not the whole point of the English translation process from Wycliffe on down? They are English words for English readers.

    Irving's point is well taken. Cultural sensitivity with a missional aim leads to giving Jewish readers a point of contact with the Savior. Leaving English (or any other language) translations for Gentile speakers of those languages would provide the same function.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2007


    Your comments are certainly fair, Bob. And much respected. But here is just something to think about. Suppose you were to give a bible to someone from a completely unchurched background and who had no literacy in the bible, English or otherwise. When they come across the term Jesus Christ in their reading, do you think that they would immediately comprehend that what was being claimed about Jesus was that he was the anointed one (the literal meaning of christos or Messiah) announced and promised in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures? Would they readily recognize that he was the long anticipated and expected redeemer and deliverer according to the Old Testament prophecies? I'm not so sure that they would. My surmise is that many would probably guess that "Christ" was his last name. The term "Messiah" however may bring more of the Old Testament background and expectation to the term and to the equation. I'm not being dogmatic here; I'm just speculating.

    In the early 1990s, the New York Rangers hockey team signed hockey great Mark Messier as a free agent. Not only was Messier a great player. He was also a great leader and had a lot of championship experience, having won five previous Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers. The NY Rangers, at that point, had gone 50 years since their last championship. The fans had been very long-suffering. The Rangers brass felt it was high time to change the tide and desperately desired to make a champion of the Rangers again. Sure enough, a couple of years later - 1994, to be exact - Messier led his new team to the championship. I will never forget the jubilant screams of the play-by-play announcer as the seconds counted down on the clock to the Rangers championship. His first comment right after the final buzzer sounded was about Mark Messier and what he meant to the Rangers' franchise. The announcer shouted "The Messiah has delivered!" Of course, you'll readily recognize the similarity between the terms "Messier" and "Messiah." And that, no doubt, played a part in the announcer's choice of those words and that phrase. But it also capitalized on the understanding that the "Messiah" was a savior-type figure. People seem to understand that. The point is to say that I'm not so sure that all of our long-held standard English bible phrases always communicate things (the) best.

    Anyway, sorry for making you suffer through a long-winded hockey illustration, especially if you have no interest in hockey yourself. But I must say that my congregants know that they will hear periodic hockey illustrations in my sermons from time to time. But they humor me and indulge me. I love the game and make no apologies for it.



  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2010

    Thumbs up

    Great discussion of YHWH/LORD of which I must do more reading. Excuse my learning curve please with these one or two thoughts... trying to understand how such a great name, YHWH, with such great weight, meaning, and history, not be carried over in the Greek as is without substitution or equivalent. Where was the cultural sensitivity factor among the followers and writers where they could simply leave this out and put in Ο κύριός. If it was YHWH or Messiah why not carry it over? Was it the letters or the meaning behind the letters? it this the same as, in a small, non-Biblical kind of way, like attempting to detach and use any other name besides "Jordan" from the definition of 'greatest basketball player ever'? (which would lose me and maybe rile me a bit in a friendly type way)

    I could see myself not having an attachment to LORD and 're-learning' the significance of a new (old, ancient) word used such as YHWH. It seems its meaning is lost on most believers unless we, and I'm speaking first of myself, make an effort to dig into what it means or actively use it and attach it to the one we know as (English speaking) LORD. However, I don't necessarily need to do this, don't have a passionate dog in the hunt, but wonder if a new translation with YHWH begins me/us on a road of recapturing something. Thanks and keep going, john.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2009


    Of course, using Yahweh in translations of the Hebrew Bible would help end the confusion which does arise between LORD and Lord (as a translation of Adonai).

    It would also make the potentially clumsy:
    אדני יהוה
    "lord LORD" much more understandable as "lord Yahweh".

    The NIV's "Sovereign LORD" and the ESV/NRSV's "Lord GOD" are inadaquate (for me, personally that is) because they are attempting to retain an old and unnecessary tradition at the expense of a more accurate translation.

    In respect of the New Testament and the lack of connection people would find if "LORD" were eliminated as the translation for Yahweh - that is a matter for good teaching and preaching by the pastors/teachers of the churches, and should not be the function of the translation itself.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Nov 2007


    Quote Originally Posted by ISalzman View Post
    ... Suppose you were to give a bible to someone from a completely unchurched background and who had no literacy in the bible, English or otherwise. When they come across the term Jesus Christ in their reading, do you think that they would immediately comprehend that what was being claimed about Jesus was that he was the anointed one (the literal meaning of christos or Messiah) announced and promised in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures? Would they readily recognize that he was the long anticipated and expected redeemer and deliverer according to the Old Testament prophecies? I'm not so sure that they would. My surmise is that many would probably guess that "Christ" was his last name.
    Irving, this is an astute question and it isn't as theoretical as one might assume.
    In Japan, for example few people have any clue at all that Christ is not a surname, but rather a title. And, nope here the average person(unless they are Christian) would not readily recognize that Jesus was long anticipated by the prophets. Even, the word God would not have the same nuance. In Japanese the word for God 神(Kami) only means spirit(over something) and is something similar to the greek pantheist concept of a god. However, in their belief certain people who die can become a god, which is what some here may think happened to Jesus.
    Brian K. Mitchell
    חפשו בתורה היטב ואל תסתמכו על דברי

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2007


    Bink, first, you make great points and raise an excellent question. Dealing with the latter first, I think the main motivation of the Greek translators for substituting kurios/LORD for YHWH was most likely in keeping with the Jewish tendency to circumlocute ("talk" or "speak" around) the ineffable name of God. It was more acceptable to call Him LORD than use His unspeakable name. By the way, you might be interested to know that, today, Jewish people even hesitate to speak the "name" Adonai (Lord) in non-religious contexts, but prefer instead to substitute "Hashem," "the name."

    And I agree with you. I don't think we've ever really finished the job of translation. I think we ought always to attempt to become clearer and clearer in our translations. While, yes, as some have mentionned, it is the job of the preacher/communicator to bring out these finer nuances in his teaching, it still does not absolve us of the obligation and responsibility to render the clearest and best communicating translations. But, as you might know, this is an unending dialogue within Christian circles, especially in recent years with the plethora of the new and more modern tranlations that have been recently produced and released (NET, ESV, TNIV, the updated NIV, ISV, etc.).

    Lastly, remember this: YHWH is a name; specifically, God's name. Without wanting to knock the "LORD" translation (or "superstition," a term used earlier in this or a related thread), LORD is ultimately a title (and NOT a name). So, in effect, substituting "LORD" for YHWH, in our translations, replaces an original name with a title. That's just the way it is.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Sep 2007


    Brian, that doesn't surprise me. Thanks for an excellent point!

    Last edited by ISalzman; 02-21-2011 at 01:09 PM.

  10. #10


    So, if I'm just "Phillips" now, does that mean I'm famous? Because I want to be sure to tell my wife, if so.

    Yes, on this thread I brought up the ISV, to which 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?

    Moving the worthy Dr. Brueggemann to pursue my remarks about "Yahweh," even as far as honoring the meta to this post with his own thoughts. It might have been nice to drop me a word that he was pursuing yr. faithful correspondent here also, but that's fine. Perhaps the good doctor assumed I'd notice it. And so I have.

    Here is how I replied to basically the same thoughts when Dr. B voiced them at my blog. I quote me:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Dale.

    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.

    And now... you know all that.

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