God’s Name and the “New Testament”
THE position of God’s name is unshakable in the Hebrew Scriptures, the “Old Testament.” Although the Jews eventually stopped pronouncing it, their religious beliefs prevented them from removing the name when they made copies of older manuscripts of the Bible. Hence, the Hebrew Scriptures contain God’s name more often than any other name.
With the Christian Greek Scriptures, the “New Testament,” the situation is different. Manuscripts of the book of Revelation (the last book of the Bible) have God’s name in its abbreviated form, “Jah,” (in the word “Hallelujah”). But apart from that, no ancient Greek manuscript that we possess today of the books from Matthew to Revelation contains God’s name in full. Does that mean that the name should not be there? That would be surprising in view of the fact that Jesus’ followers recognized the importance of God’s name, and Jesus taught us to pray for God’s name to be sanctified. So what happened?
To understand this, remember that the manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures that we possess today are not the originals. The actual books written by Matthew, Luke and the other Bible writers were well used and quickly wore out. Hence, copies were made, and when those wore out, further copies were made of those copies. This is what we would expect, since the copies were usually made to be used, not preserved.
There are thousands of copies of the Christian Greek Scriptures in existence today, but most of them were made during or after the fourth century of our Common Era. This suggests a possibility: Did something happen to the text of the Christian Greek Scriptures before the fourth century that resulted in the omission of God’s name? The facts prove that something did.
The Name Was There
We can be sure that the apostle Matthew included God’s name in his Gospel. Why? Because he wrote it originally in Hebrew. In the fourth century, Jerome, who translated the Latin Vulgate, reported: “Matthew, who is also Levi, and who from a publican came to be an apostle, first of all composed a Gospel of Christ in Judaea in the Hebrew language . . . Who translated it after that in Greek is not sufficiently ascertained. Moreover, the Hebrew itself is preserved to this day in the library at Caesarea.”
Since Matthew wrote in Hebrew, it is inconceivable that he did not use God’s name, especially when quoting from parts of the “Old Testament” that contained the name. However, other writers of the second part of the Bible wrote for a worldwide audience in the international language of that time, Greek. Hence, they did not quote from the original Hebrew writings but from the Septuagint Greek version. And even Matthew’s Gospel was eventually translated into Greek. Would God’s name have appeared in these Greek writings?
Well, some very old fragments of the Septuagint Version that actually existed in Jesus’ day have survived down to our day, and it is noteworthy that the personal name of God appeared in them. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Volume 2, page 512) says: “Recent textual discoveries cast doubt on the idea that the compilers of the LXX [Septuagint] translated the tetragrammaton YHWH by kyrios. The oldest LXX MSS (fragments) now available to us have the tetragrammaton written in Heb[rew] characters in the G[ree]k text. This custom was retained by later Jewish translators of the O[ld] T[estament] in the first centuries A.D.” Therefore, whether Jesus and his disciples read the Scriptures in Hebrew or Greek, they would come across the divine name.
Thus, Professor George Howard, of the University of Georgia, U.S.A., made this comment: “When the Septuagint which the New Testament church used and quoted contained the Hebrew form of the divine name, the New Testament writers no doubt included the Tetragrammaton in their quotations.” (Biblical Archaeology Review, March 1978, page 14) What authority would they have had to do otherwise?
God’s name remained in Greek translations of the “Old Testament” for a while longer. In the first half of the second century C.E., the Jewish proselyte Aquila made a new translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, and in this he represented God’s name by the Tetragrammaton in ancient Hebrew characters. In the third century, Origen wrote: “And in the most accurate manuscripts THE NAME occurs in Hebrew characters, yet not in today’s Hebrew [characters], but in the most ancient ones.”
Even in the fourth century, Jerome writes in his prologue to the books of Samuel and Kings: “And we find the name of God, the Tetragrammaton [יהוה], in certain Greek volumes even to this day expressed in ancient letters.”
The Removal of the Name
By this time, however, the apostasy foretold by Jesus had taken shape, and the name, although appearing in manuscripts, was used less and less. (Matthew 13:24-30; Acts 20:29, 30) Eventually, many readers did not even recognize what it was and Jerome reports that in his time “certain ignorant ones, because of the similarity of the characters, when they would find [the Tetragrammaton] in Greek books, were accustomed to read ΠΙΠΙ.”
In later copies of the Septuagint, God’s name was removed and words like “God” (The·osʹ) and “Lord” (Kyʹri·os) were substituted. We know that this happened because we have early fragments of the Septuagint where God’s name was included and later copies of those same parts of the Septuagint where God’s name has been removed.
The same thing occurred in the “New Testament,” or Christian Greek Scriptures. Professor George Howard goes on to say: “When the Hebrew form for the divine name was eliminated in favor of Greek substitutes in the Septuagint, it was eliminated also from the New Testament quotations of the Septuagint. . . . Before long the divine name was lost to the Gentile church except insofar as it was reflected in the contracted surrogates or remembered by scholars.”
Hence, while Jews refused to pronounce God’s name, the apostate Christian church managed to remove it completely from Greek language manuscripts of both parts of the Bible, as well as from other language versions.
The Need for the Name
Eventually, as we saw earlier, the name was restored to many translations of the Hebrew Scriptures. But what about the Greek Scriptures? Well, Bible translators and students came to realize that without God’s name, some parts of the Christian Greek Scriptures are very difficult to understand properly. Restoring the name is a big help in increasing the clarity and comprehensibility of this portion of the inspired Bible.
For example, consider the words of Paul to the Romans, as they appear in the Authorized Version: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13) Whose name do we have to call on to be saved? Since Jesus is often spoken of as “Lord,” and one scripture even says: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” should we conclude that Paul was here speaking about Jesus?—Acts 16:31, Authorized Version.
No, we should not. A marginal reference to Romans 10:13 in the Authorized Version points us to Joel 2:32 in the Hebrew Scriptures. If you check that reference, you will find that Paul was actually quoting the words of Joel in his letter to the Romans; and what Joel said in the original Hebrew was: “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will get away safe.” (New World Translation) Yes, Paul meant here that we should call on the name of Jehovah. Hence, while we have to believe in Jesus, our salvation is closely linked with a proper appreciation of God’s name.
This example demonstrates how the removal of the name of God from the Greek Scriptures contributed to confusing Jesus and Jehovah in the minds of many. Undoubtedly, it contributed greatly to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity!
Should the Name Be Restored?
Would a translator have any right to restore the name, in view of the fact that existing manuscripts do not have it? Yes, he would have that right. Most Greek lexicons recognize that often the word “Lord” in the Bible refers to Jehovah. For example, in its section under the Greek word Kyʹri·os (“Lord”), Robinson’s A Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament (printed in 1859) says that it means “God as the Supreme Lord and sovereign of the universe, usually in Sept[uagint] for Heb[rew] יְהוָֹה Jehovah.” Hence, in places where the Christian Greek Scripture writers quote the earlier Hebrew Scriptures, the translator has the right to render the word Kyʹri·os as “Jehovah” wherever the divine name appeared in the Hebrew original.
Many translators have done this. Starting at least from the 14th century, numerous Hebrew translations were made of the Christian Greek Scriptures. What did the translators do when they came to quotations from the “Old Testament” where God’s name appeared? Often, they felt forced to restore God’s name to the text. Many translations of parts or all of the Christian Greek Scriptures into Hebrew contain God’s name.
Translations into modern languages, particularly those used by missionaries, have followed this example. Thus many African, Asian, American and Pacific-island language versions of the Greek Scriptures use the name Jehovah liberally, so that readers can clearly see the difference between the true God and the false ones. The name has appeared, too, in versions in European languages.
One translation that boldly restores God’s name with good authority is the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. This version, currently available in 11 modern languages, including English, has restored God’s name every time that a portion of the Hebrew Scriptures containing it is quoted in the Greek Scriptures. Altogether, the name appears with a sound basis 237 times in that translation of the Greek Scriptures.
Opposition to the Name
In spite of the efforts of many translators to restore God’s name in the Bible, there has always been religious pressure to eliminate it. The Jews, while leaving it in their Bibles, refused to pronounce it. Apostate Christians of the second and third centuries removed it when they made copies of Greek Bible manuscripts and left it out when they made translations of the Bible. Translators in modern times have removed it, even when they based their translations on the original Hebrew, where it appears almost 7,000 times. (It appears 6,973 times in the Hebrew text of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, 1984 edition.)
How does Jehovah view those who remove his name from the Bible? If you were an author, how would you feel about someone who went to great lengths to remove your name from the book you authored? Translators who object to the name, doing so on account of problems of pronunciation or because of Jewish tradition, might be compared to those who Jesus said “strain out the gnat but gulp down the camel!” (Matthew 23:24) They stumble over these smaller problems but end up creating a major problem—by removing the name of the greatest personage in the universe from the book that he inspired.
The psalmist wrote: “How long, O God, will the adversary keep reproaching? Will the enemy keep treating your name with disrespect forever?”—Psalm 74:10.
[Box on page 25]
“The LORD”—Equivalent of “Jehovah”?
To remove God’s distinctive personal name from the Bible and substitute a title such as “Lord” or “God” makes the text weak and inadequate in many ways. For example, it can lead to meaningless combinations of words. In its foreword, The Jerusalem Bible says: “To say, ‘The Lord is God’ is surely a tautology [a needless, or meaningless, repetition], as to say ‘Yahweh is God’ is not.”
Such substitutions can also lead to awkward phrases. Thus in the Authorized Version, Psalm 8:9 reads: “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” What an improvement when the name Jehovah is restored to such a text! Thus, Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible reads here: “Jehovah, our Lord, how honourable Thy name in all the earth!”
Removing the name can also lead to confusion. Psalm 110:1 says: “THE LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” (Authorized Version) Who is talking to whom? How much better the rendering: “The utterance of Jehovah to my Lord is: ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies as a stool for your feet.’”—New World Translation.
Additionally, substituting “Lord” for “Jehovah” removes something of pivotal importance from the Bible: the personal name of God. The Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Volume 1, page 572) states: “Strictly speaking, Yahweh is the only ‘name’ of God.”
The Imperial Bible-Dictionary (Volume 1, page 856) describes the difference between “God” (Elohim) and “Jehovah,” stating: “[Jehovah] is everywhere a proper name, denoting the personal God and him only; whereas Elohim partakes more of the character of a common noun, denoting usually, indeed, but not necessarily nor uniformly, the Supreme.”
J. A. Motyer, principal of Trinity College, England, adds: “Much is lost in Bible reading if we forget to look beyond the substitute word [Lord or God] to the personal, intimate name of God himself. By telling his people his name, God intended to reveal to them his inmost character.”—Eerdmans’ Handbook to the Bible, page 157.
No, one cannot render a distinctive proper name by a mere title. A title can never convey the full, rich meaning of the original name of God.
[Box/Pictures on page 26]
This fragment of the Septuagint (right) dated to the first century C.E. and containing Zechariah 8:19-21 and Zec 8:23–9:4 is in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. It contains God’s name four times, three of which are indicated here. In the Alexandrine Manuscript (left), a copy of the Septuagint made 400 years later, God’s name has been replaced in those same verses by KY and KC, abbreviated forms of the Greek word Kyʹri·os (“Lord”)
[Box on page 27]
John W. Davis, a missionary in China during the 19th century, explained why he believed that God’s name should be in the Bible: “If the Holy Ghost says Jehovah in any given place in the Hebrew, why does the translator not say Jehovah in English or Chinese? What right has he to say, I will use Jehovah in this place and a substitute for it in that? . . . If any one should say that there are cases in which the use of Jehovah would be wrong, let him show the reason why; the onus probandi [burden of proof] rests upon him. He will find the task a hard one, for he must answer this simple question,—If in any given case it is wrong to use Jehovah in the translation then why did the inspired writer use it in the original?”—The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, Volume VII, Shanghai, 1876.
[Picture on page 23]
The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures properly uses God’s name 237 times
[Pictures on page 24]
God’s name on a church in Minorca, Spain;
on a statue near Paris, France;
and on the Chiesa di San Lorenzo, Parma, Italy