Something New About God’s Name?
IN THE last pages we have considered some surprising new evidence about the use of God’s name in the period when Jesus and the apostles were on earth.
Do you see the conclusion to which this evidence points? What is its bearing on what you should find in the Bible and on how you personally view God’s name? Consider the conclusions of a noted authority who studied the manuscript evidence:
Little more than a year ago, George Howard, associate professor of religion at the University of Georgia, came to grips with the issues involved in the Journal of Biblical Literature. (Vol. 96, No. 1, 1977, pp. 63-83) His article begins:
“Recent discoveries in Egypt and the Judean Desert allow us to see first hand the use of God’s name in pre-Christian times.”
He then discussed the recently published Greek texts from the pre-Christian period that you have seen reproduced on preceding pages. Regarding the previously accepted view that in the Septuagint the Greek title Kyrios was always substituted for God’s name, we read:
“From these findings we can now say with almost absolute certainty that the divine name, יהוה, was not rendered by [Kyrios] in the pre-Christian Greek Bible, as so often has been thought.”
What about the general mass of Dead Sea Scrolls? Professor Howard writes:
“Perhaps the most significant observation we can draw from this pattern of variegated usage of the divine name is that the Tetragram was held to be very sacred. . . . In copying the biblical text itself the Tetragram was carefully guarded. This protection of the Tetragram was extended even to the Greek translation of the biblical text.”
BUT WHAT OF JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES?
While all of the foregoing may be of special interest to scholars, what bearing does it have on your Bible? What view should you have concerning the use of God’s personal name?
Professor Howard draws some important conclusions. First, he points out:
“We know for a fact that Greek-speaking Jews continued to write יהוה within their Greek Scriptures. Moreover, it is most unlikely that early conservative Greek-speaking Jewish Christians varied from this practice. . . . It would have been extremely unusual for them to have dismissed the Tetragram from the biblical text itself.”
What did the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures do when quoting from the books of the Hebrew Bible, whether from the original Hebrew or from a Greek translation? Did they use the Tetragrammaton when it appeared in the source from which they were quoting? Based on the evidence that is now available, Professor Howard explains:
“Since the Tetragram was still written in the copies of the Greek Bible which made up the Scriptures of the early church, it is reasonable to believe that the N[ew] T[estament] writers, when quoting from Scripture, preserved the Tetragram within the biblical text. On the analogy of pre-Christian Jewish practice we can imagine that the NT text incorporated the Tetragram into its OT quotations.”
Why, then, do all extant copies of the “New Testament” lack the Tetragrammaton? Might God’s name have been removed after the apostles died? That is what the evidence shows. Professor Howard goes on:
“The Tetragram in these quotations would, of course, have remained as long as it continued to be used in the Christian copies of the LXX. But when it was removed from the Greek OT, it was also removed from the quotations of the OT in the NT.”
“Thus somewhere around the beginning of the second century the use of surrogates [substitutes for God’s name] must have crowded out the Tetragram in both Testaments. Before long the divine name was lost to the Gentile church altogether except insofar as it was reflected in the contracted surrogates or occasionally remembered by scholars.” (Italics added)
THIS IS NEW! OR IS IT?
Many scholars reading the Journal of Biblical Literature may have been surprised at the conclusion reached, namely, that the divine name, Jehovah (Yahweh) appeared in the “New Testament” when it was originally written. It may have seemed new, for it is an about-face from the long-held view that Christian writers avoided using the divine name. But is it new?
Away back in 1796 Dominikus von Brentano used the divine name at places in his German translation of the “New Testament.” Consider, for example, Mark 12:29, which you see here reproduced. Jesus had been asked, “Which is the foremost commandment?” Brentano’s translation then reads: “The foremost commandment, answered Jesus, is this: Hear Israel! Jehovah, our God, is the only God.”
29. Das allervornehmste Gebot, antwortete Jesus, ist dieß: Höre Israel! Jehovah, unser Gott, ist der einige Gott◊).
Did Brentano have good reason for showing Jesus as pronouncing the divine name? Yes, for Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:4, which contains the Tetragrammaton. Certainly Jesus was not tradition-bound, as most Jewish religious leaders were, for Jesus ‘taught as a person having authority and not as the scribes.’ (Matt. 7:29) Christ publicly said that he desired to glorify his Father’s name, both his actual name and all the purposes and accomplishments associated with that name. (John 12:28) And near the end of his earthly life he said that he had made his Father’s name known. So translator Brentano had a logical basis for presenting Jesus as using God’s name when quoting a text containing it.—John 17:6, 26.
Similarly, Matthew’s Gospel account alone contains more than 100 quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures. In 1950 the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures said about Matthew: “Where these quotations included the divine name, he would be obliged faithfully to include the tetragrammaton.”
This translation in 1950 reached the same basic conclusion set forth later on in the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1977. In view of the evidence that the writers of the “New Testament” encountered the Tetragrammaton, whether they quoted scriptures from the Hebrew text or from the Greek Septuagint, the Foreword of the New World Translation stated:
“The modern translator is warranted in using the divine name as an equivalent of [the Greek words for “Lord” and “God”] at places where Matthew, etc., quote verses, passages and expressions from the Hebrew Scriptures or from the LXX where the divine name occurs.”
Thus, the position set out by Professor Howard in 1977 is not entirely a new one. But it brings to light fine new evidence that was not available when the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in 1950 used “Jehovah” 237 times in the “New Testament.”
Certainly, then, God’s name does have a place in translations of the Bible. It belongs there, to be used and appreciated by all true worshipers who desire to do what Jesus did—glorify his Father’s name—and who pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”—Matt. 6:9, Authorized Version.
[Picture on page 9]
Nahal Hever, looking eastward over the Dead Sea