God’s Name and Bible Translators
IN 1952, The Bible Translator published a discussion of the “problem” of representing God’s name in Bible translations to be used in Christendom’s mission fields. Contributors recognized the importance of the name in the Bible—which name appears in the Hebrew Scriptures nearly 7,000 times. But they could not agree on how it should be rendered in modern languages. Some favored a term such as “The Eternal.” Others opted for the title “Lord.” None recommended the rendering “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” Why not?
Two reasons were mentioned by contributor H. Rosin. First, he believed that when the Hebrew Bible was originally translated into Greek (the pre-Christian Septuagint version) the translators rendered God’s name by the Greek word for “Lord.” Second, he feared that introducing the name Jehovah into translations “might also rend apart the church.” For, he added, “are not ‘Jehovah’s witnesses’ anti-Trinitarians?”
Regarding Rosin’s first point, archaeological discoveries have proved him wrong. In fact, the translators of the Septuagint did not represent the divine name by the Greek word for “Lord.” Rather, they wrote it out in its original Hebrew characters right in the Greek text, so that copies of the Septuagint translation used by the early Christians contained the divine name.
Interestingly, when the early Christians quoted from the Septuagint it is highly unlikely that they removed the name from the quotation. Thus, original manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures (the “New Testament”) more than likely contained God’s name. Professor George Howard, in an article appearing in the Biblical Archaeology Review, March 1978, offered strong arguments for this conclusion. For example, he mentions “a famous rabbinic passage (Talmud Shabbat 13.5)” that “discusses the problem of destroying heretical texts (very probably including books of Jewish-Christians).” What was the problem? “The heretical texts contain the divine name, and their wholesale destruction would include the destruction of the divine name.”
But what of Rosin’s second objection? Would the use of God’s name cause problems for Christendom? Well, consider what happened when the name was removed. After the first century, “Christian” copyists replaced God’s name with words like “God” and “Lord” in both the Septuagint and the Christian Greek Scriptures. According to Professor Howard, this likely contributed to the turmoil that Christendom experienced in later years: “It may be that the removal of the Tetragrammaton [God’s name in Hebrew] contributed significantly to the later Christological and Trinitarian debates which plagued the church of the early Christian centuries.”
Certainly, the removal of God’s name from the Bible made Christendom’s adoption of the Trinity doctrine much easier. Hence, if Christendom were to restore the name in the complete Bible and in worship, it would cause difficulties. Jehovah, as he is revealed in the Hebrew and Christian Greek Scriptures, is clearly separate from Jesus Christ and is no part of a Trinity.
Professor Howard said in addition: “The removal of the Tetragrammaton probably created a different theological climate from that which existed during the New Testament period of the first century. The Jewish God who had always been carefully distinguished from all others by the use of his Hebrew name lost some of his distinctiveness with the passing of the Tetragrammaton.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have restored God’s name not only in the complete Bible but also in their daily worship. Thus, they observe a ‘careful distinction’ between the true God and the false gods of this world. In this way they have been enabled to restore the “theological climate” that existed in the first-century Christian church.