God’s Name in the Christian Scriptures
WHEN Jesus called God his Father, his Jewish hearers knew the One about whom he was talking. They saw God’s name in the Hebrew Bible scrolls available in their synagogues. Such a scroll was handed to Jesus in the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth. He read a passage from Isaiah that contained Jehovah’s name twice.—Luke 4:16-21.
Jesus’ early disciples also saw God’s name in the Septuagint—the translation of the Bible into Greek, which the early Christians used in teaching and writing. True, at one time it was thought that God’s name did not appear in the Septuagint, but it is now definitely known that this name was so respected that the Tetragrammaton (the term scholars use for the four letters with which God’s name is written in Hebrew) was copied in Hebrew letters, right into the Greek text.
Aquila wrote God’s name in Hebrew letters in his Greek text as late as the second century. In the third century Origen wrote that “in the most faithful manuscripts THE NAME is written in Hebrew characters.” In the fourth century the Bible translator Jerome wrote: “We find the four-lettered name of God (i.e., יהוה) in certain Greek volumes even to this day expressed in the ancient letters.”
Dr. Paul E. Kahle writes: “We now know that the Greek Bible text [the Septuagint] as far as it was written by Jews for Jews did not translate the Divine name by kyʹrios [Lord], but the Tetragrammaton written with Hebrew or Greek letters was retained in such MSS [manuscripts].”—The Cairo Geniza, pages 222, 224.
What does this mean? It means that, whether they spoke Hebrew or Greek, when Jesus’ hearers read the Scriptures they saw God’s name in them. Thus, it is only reasonable that when they quoted these texts they would follow the custom they had observed—putting the four Hebrew letters of Jehovah’s name in the text of their Christian Greek Scripture writings.
In the Journal of Biblical Literature, George Howard, associate professor of religion at the University of Georgia, wrote: “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.”—1977, Volume 96, No. 1, page 77.
The Replacing of God’s Name
It seems that the divine name was later dropped from both the Septuagint and the “New Testament” when non-Jewish Christians no longer understood the Hebrew letters. Thus Dr. Kahle writes: “It was the Christians who replaced the Tetragrammaton by kyʹrios [Lord], when the divine name written in Hebrew letters was not understood any more.”—The Cairo Geniza, page 224.
Of what importance was this loss? Professor Howard says: “This removal of the Tetragram, in our view, created a confusion in the minds of early Gentile Christians about the relationship between the ‘Lord God’ and the ‘Lord Christ.’”—Page 63 of the article quoted earlier.
For example, Psalm 110:1 says: “The utterance of Jehovah to my Lord is.” This is quoted in Matthew 22:44 where, after the name Jehovah was dropped, most modern translations read: “The Lord said to my Lord.” Thus, to members of Christendom’s churches the definite distinction between Jehovah (“the Lord”) and Jesus (“my Lord”) was lost.
There are major advantages in following the Biblical example of using God’s name: (1) It helps us to view God as a Person, not just a force. (2) It helps us to draw closer to him. (3) It eliminates confusion, sharpening our thinking about him, bringing our thoughts closer to what the Bible really teaches.
[Picture on page 8]
The Divine Name, in Hebrew characters, appeared in the early Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures