The Divine Name in Later Times
THAT the divine name was used in early history is beyond question. But what about later times? Why have certain Bible translations omitted the name? And what is its meaning and significance to us?
THE NAME “JEHOVAH” BECOMES WIDELY KNOWN
Interestingly, Raymundus Martini, a Spanish monk of the Dominican order, first rendered the divine name as “Jehova.” This form appeared in his book Pugeo Fidei, published in 1270 C.E.—over 700 years ago.
In time, as reform movements developed both inside and outside the Catholic Church, the Bible was made available to the people in general, and the name “Jehovah” became more widely known. In 1611 C.E. the King James or Authorized Version of the Bible was published. It uses the name Jehovah four times. (Ex. 6:3; Ps. 83:18; Isa. 12:2; 26:4) Since then, the Bible has been translated many, many times. Some translations follow the example of the Authorized Version and include the divine name only a few times.
In this category is An American Translation (by Smith and Goodspeed) with a slight variation of using “Yahweh” instead of “Jehovah.” Yet, one may ask: “Why have the translators done this? If using ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahweh’ is wrong, why put it in at all? If right, why not be consistent and use it every time it appears in the Bible text?”
Against the preceding historical and factual background, let us now examine what the translators say in answer.
THE TRANSLATORS’ ANSWER
Says the Preface of An American Translation: “In this translation we have followed the orthodox Jewish tradition and substituted ‘the Lord’ for the name ‘Yahweh.’ “ But by following “the orthodox Jewish tradition,” did the translators realize how harmful it can be to ignore God’s clear determination that his ‘name be declared in all the earth’? Moreover, Jesus condemned man-made tradition that would invalidate God’s word.—Ex. 9:16; Mark 7:5-9.
The Preface of the Revised Standard Version states: “The present revision returns to the procedure of the King James Version, which follows . . . the long established practice in the reading of the Hebrew scriptures in the synagogue. . . . For two reasons the Committee has returned to the more familiar usage of the King James Version: (1) The word ‘Jehovah’ does not accurately represent any form of the Name ever used in Hebrew; and (2) the use of any proper name for the one and only God, as though there were other gods from whom he had to be distinguished, was discontinued in Judaism before the Christian era and is entirely inappropriate for the universal faith of the Christian Church.” (Italics ours.)
The translators made a great mistake in following the example of the King James Version and Jewish tradition. Did they really think it was God’s will that his name should be kept in the background? Is the divine name something to be ashamed of so that it should be left out of the Bible?
An interesting fact is that the American Standard Version, published in 1901, uses Jehovah’s name right through the Hebrew Scriptures. In contrast, the Revised Standard Version, published in 1952, makes only a very brief reference to the Tetragrammaton in a footnote (at Exodus 3:15). During that period, Jehovah’s Witnesses were proclaiming God’s name world wide. Could it be that the omission of the divine name in certain translations was caused by prejudice against their witnessing activity?
That this could be so in some cases is indicated by the following statement appearing in the Katholische Bildepost (a Catholic magazine of Germany): “The name of God, however, which they [Jehovah’s Witnesses] have changed to ‘Jehovah’ is simply an invention of the sect.” (August 24, 1969) This statement smacks of religious prejudice. It also reveals poor research since, as already mentioned, the first writer to use the term “Jehova” was a Catholic monk—obviously not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses!
“The word ‘Jehovah’ does not accurately represent any form of the Name ever used in Hebrew,” says the Preface of the Revised Standard Version. But what word does “accurately represent” the divine name in Hebrew? Some prefer “Yahweh,” others “Yehwah,” others “Jave,” and so on. The problem is that when writing ancient Hebrew only consonants were used, and even experts admit that it is a matter of conjecture as to which vowels made up the complete divine name.
One could also ask those objecting to the form “Jehovah” why they do not object to other names such as “Jesus” or “Peter.” Why do these critics not insist on using the original Greek forms of those names (Iesoús and Petros)? Are these individuals not guilty of applying a double standard in rejecting “Jehovah”?
Many translations, of course, do use “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or some other representation of the Tetragrammaton. Moreover, there are about 40 vernacular translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures (“New Testament”) that use a vernacular form of the Tetragrammaton such as Iehova (Hawaiian) and Uyehova (Zulu).
The Bible in Living English (by Steven T. Byington) also uses “Jehovah” right through the Hebrew text. In his Preface, Byington says concerning “Jehovah”: “The spelling and the pronunciation are not highly important. What is highly important is to keep it clear that this is a personal name.” Yes, the name of the most exalted Person in the universe is unique, exclusive, incomparable, sublime.
WHAT DOES THIS UNIQUE NAME MEAN?
To answer this, a historical flashback is appropriate. When he was commissioned by the Most High to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, “Moses said to the true God: ‘Suppose I am now come to the sons of Israel and I do say to them, “The God of your forefathers has sent me to you,” and they do say to me, “What is his name?” What shall I say to them?’ At this God said to Moses: “I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE.’ And he added: ‘This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, “I SHALL PROVE TO BE has sent me to you.”’” (Ex. 3:13, 14) This means Jehovah would carry his own grand purpose to completion in vindication of his name and sovereignty, and this helps us to understand the memorial name “Jehovah,” given in Ex 3 verse 15. According to the Hebrew root of the name, it appears to mean “He Causes To Become” (or, “Prove To Be”) with respect to himself. Thus God’s name has real significance to thoughtful persons. That name reveals him as being One who unfailingly fulfills what he promises and is perfectly in control of whatever situation may arise.
What a deep, sacred meaning the divine name has! It is the name par excellence of the universe, a glorious name. The term “Lord” is pale and inexplicit in comparison. Jesus loved and respected his Father’s name and once said to him: “Father, glorify your name.” The account continues: “Therefore a voice came out of heaven: ‘I both glorified it and will glorify it again.’”—John 12:28.
If Jesus had been a Bible translator today, would he have omitted his Father’s name from new translations? Hardly! Without a doubt, Jesus, of all persons, had the right attitude toward Almighty God and His name. So what should be our attitude toward God and his name?