Sunday, February 14, 2016

NRSV Preface on the Tetragrammaton and Use of "Jehovah"

I've noticed that there was once a time when translators, theologians, and preachers freely used the name "Jehovah." John Calvin, John Gill, and Charles H. Spurgeon along with many others all liberally employed the divine name. However, in the twentieth century, a movement began to cease writing or pronouncing "Jehovah." One instance is the NRSV Preface (by Bruce Metzger):

Careful readers will notice that here and there in the Old Testament the word Lord (or in certain cases God) is printed in capital letters. This represents the traditional manner in English versions of rendering the Divine Name, the "Tetragrammaton" (see the notes on Exodus 3.14, 15), following the precedent of the ancient Greek and Latin translators and the long established practice in the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures in the synagogue. While it is almost if not quite certain that the Name was originally pronounced "Yahweh," this pronunciation was not indicated when the Masoretes added vowel sounds to the consonantal Hebrew text. To the four consonants YHWH of the Name, which had come to be regarded as too sacred to be pronounced, they attached vowel signs indicating that in its place should be read the Hebrew word Adonai meaning "Lord" (or Elohim meaning "God"). Ancient Greek translators employed the word Kyrios ("Lord") for the Name. The Vulgate likewise used the Latin word Dominus ("Lord"). The form "Jehovah" is of late medieval origin; it is a combination of the consonants of the Divine Name and the vowels attached to it by the Masoretes but belonging to an entirely different word. Although the American Standard Version (1901) had used "Jehovah" to render the Tetragrammaton (the sound of Y being represented by J and the sound of W by V, as in Latin), for two reasons the Committees that produced the RSV and the NRSV 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. (2) The use of any proper name for the one and only God, as though there were other gods from whom the true God had to be distinguished, began to be discontinued in Judaism before the Christian era and is inappropriate for the universal faith of the Christian Church.

We may not know the actual pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, but there must be some way to honor/glorify YHWH--the One who proclaims that he is YHWH, that is His name (Isaiah 42:8). How does omitting the name from our translations uplift and honr the Most High over all the earth?


Duncan said...

What I find interesting about these types of works when mentioning the medievil ommit reference to Dutch influence and spelling . Jehovah pronounced yehowah which is not to far from yiweh.

I have a copy of a letter of reply from the NIV translation commity as to why they ommited to use "Jehovah" which states that they would not want to jeopardise the saleability of the translation.

Matt13weedhacker said...

It would make an interesting exercise, to survey, and/or see if this change (shift in favor towards: “Yahweh”) mainly dates to, or even accelerates Post-1931 (adoption of the name: "Jehovah's Witnesses") or Post-1950 (NWT released). Or whether there has been a gradual incremental change, or a sharp shift after these dates.

Unknown said...

Unsurprisingly, the claim that using God's name is inappropriate is never supported with a scriptural quotation and also, they never apply their logic to Jesus' (whom they usually claim to be God) name. I wonder why.

@ Duncan,

If you could post a link of the reply letter from the NIV translation committee, I would greatly appreciate that.

Interesting posts and comments as always.

dokimazo said...

Have you read much from Nehemia Gordon on the issues of pronunciation.
also P.D Vasileiadis ;'Aspects of rendering the sacred Tetragrammaton.'Gertroux,'The Name of God Yehowah.....'I personally prefer Jehovah. Yahweh I really don't get. The Samaritan vocalization Yabe or presumably Yahweh is to me a bit of a stretch to make conclusions as Metzger does in the preface and to conclude with almost certainly that this is so. I really look at theophoric names and conclude that if we are to change and mark the divine name as having a certain spelling and pronunciation, then we may have to look at changing a lot of names and how we say them in the Biblical text. Another thing that bothers me is that the supposedly vowel points of Adonia being supplied in the tetragram are really not those vowels at all at least the first vowel is a shewa not a chateph-pathach.

Your reply is very much appreciated;

Duncan said...

@ Killa Jules

I have a scan of the actual letter but the persons name who made the inquiry has been obliterated, so I am not happy about putting online as I cannot authenticate (I have tried through my source).

This Page:-

Does quote this letter as I have it.

Hope it is adequate.

Duncan said...

@ dokimazo

Edgar Foster said...

Matt13: That would be an interesting and profitable exercise. I'm not aware of anyone having undertaken that project yet.

Dokimazo: I do have some of Gordon's work and appreciate his efforts. I have also benefited from his work. Have you read Ginsburg critical introduction to the MT? He discusses supposed efforts to "safeguard" the divine name, but from such analyses, I can already see that much of what is written concerning adonai/YHWH is highly speculative. See also

Good questions, Killa Jules and thank you, Duncan.

Unknown said...

" if their were other gods from whom the true God had to be distinguished, began to be discontinued in Judaism before the Christian era and is inappropriate for the universal faith of the Christian Church."

But there ARE other gods from whom the true God has to be distinguished. 1 Corinthians 8:5. And the "universal faith of the Christian church" came into being to carry the Divine Name, no? Acts 15:14.

@Edgar Perhaps the possessor of the Name has only allowed a select few to see its significance in bearing it responsibly in these modern times? :)

Great post.

dokimazo said...


I do have a copy of Ginsburg's 'Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible.' Rather extensive in his efforts to bring forward glosses in the Hebrew text regarding the divine name. Do you feel that Yahweh is the better fit to the tetragammaton? I have a copy of Ginsburg and Isaac Salkinson translation of the Christian Greek scriptures in Hebrew along with Delitzsch and both vowel pointed Yehowah. It's interesting. Once I visited with a Gentleman who was reading the Hebrew text and as he read he always read adonai in place of tetragram. I asked who has the right to change even in a vocalization the words of God. He really did not have a good answer.

dokimazo said...


Maybe a little confused on your comments. I guess if I'm hearing you right you feel the Name and it's significance was lost or no longer needed in the First Century with Christians. I guess you'd have to do the research. There's plenty of it. See Anchor Bible Dictionary under Tetragrammaton. "And God said once more to Moses: 'This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel, Jehovah the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name to time indefinite, and this is the memorial to me to generation after generation. Exodus 3.15
I guess no matter what we humans think, that name is important to him.


Edgar Foster said...

@Terence: I agree that the Christian faith has the most solemn obligation (serious duty) to bear the divine name. We are supposed to be a people for his name as you pointed out. Thank you.

@Dokimazo: I do not favor Yahweh; it is a historical reconstruction of the actual Tetragrammaton. Georgew Buchanan has produced evidence that the Tetra should be pronounced trisyllabically rather than bisyllabically. I like his approach.

Those who refuse to pronounce the divine name normally lean on Exod 20:7 and Leviticus 24. Unfortunately, both passages were misconstrued in antiquity by some.

Duncan said...

One should not misrepresent the character of Jehovah (Exod 20:7).

One should not pierce through the character of Jehovah (Lev 24:16).

Unknown said...

Quite the opposite. I was refuting the fallacious reasoning of the preface of the NRSV.

Scripture is clear: Jehovah's Name and the sanctification of such is the biggest issue facing mankind. And is completely appropriate for the faith of the "universal Christian Church", though the translators of that particular translation think otherwise.


dokimazo said...

The NWBTC has added 6 more additions of the divine name in 2013 revision. I have found four justifications in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The only two that I have not found is 1Samuel 2.25 and the alluded to text found in Judges 19.18 in other ancient manuscripts.

guitarsatele said...

I wanted to ask a question so I thought this might be a good place to leave it. I have been in a discussion with someone who is convinced we should not use God's name because the Greek Scripture writers never appear to have used the name. For example, we see instances like this

1 Thess 1 Paul, Sil·vaʹnus, and Timothy, to the congregation of the Thes·sa·loʹni·ans in union with God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: May you have undeserved kindness and peace.

We never see the statement Jehovah God, the father and lord of Jesus.

One would think that with the name being so common in the Hebrew scripture, it would be common in the Greek scripture.
My Trinitarian friend is trying to say the Greek scriptures do not prove that Jehovah is the Father. Which is odd to say the least. But I came upon this article which I found very interesting and gives a great explanation of why the name is so uncommon in the greek scritures and makes a lot of sense if its correct. I would like your thoughts on this article. I have left a link to it in its entirety as well.

International Meeting
Society of Biblical Literature
International Meeting
Society of Biblical Literature
G. Gertoux PhD candidateUNIVERSITÉ LYON

“Jesus (and also his disciples) used this name cautiously (2 Tm 2:19), and to avoid being judged as a blasphemer (Rm 2:23-24) during his trial he respected the judicial prohibition not to pronounce the Name before the final judgement (Talmud Sanhedrin 56a 7,5). For this reason, during this trial many substitutes were used such as:
“the living God”, “power” (Mt 26:63-64), “the Blessed One”(Mk 14:61), hence, from his trial up until his death, Jesus did not use the divine Name. This problem affected the early Christians of Jewish origin because they were regarded by the Jews as apostates (Dt 13:10)
and therefore as blasphemers deserving of death (Ac 26:10). This penalty was executed if they pronounced the Name before the final verdict as Stephen did (in 33 CE). In fact, he was first accused of blasphemous sayings (Ac 6:11-12). Then, during his judgement before
the Sanhedrin he quoted the famous episode of the explanation of the Name (Ac 7:30-33) and he pronounced the Name three times (Ac 7:31,33,49) that was considered a profanation of the Name (hilloul ha-shem) for which he was stoned (Ac 7:58). One can understand that Judeo-Christians used the name cautiously because they ran the risk of losing their life. Outside Israel, the situation was not any easier because of a law on superstitions12(lex superstitio illicita) which involved the death penalty for introducing a new unauthorized deity. For example, Socrates (470-399) was put to death because of this law. Of course, the apostle Paul knew this law (Ac 16:21, 17:18, 18:13) and therefore, he avoided using the tetragramin his speeches, preferring substitutes such as “deities, God, Lord of heaven and earth, the Divine Being” (Ac 17:21-32). To sum up, in each instance the wiser choice for early Christians was to use the divine name very cautiously13(Rm 2:24). On the other hand knowledge of the name of Jesus was an important new teaching (Mt 12:21; Jn 16:24, 20:31; Ac 4:17-18 9:15; Ro 1:5; 1Jn 5:13) and even exorcists discovered it
was a powerful name (Mk 9:38; Mt 7:22). Thus the use of God's name was not the same in time and was depending on its religious context.”

Thanks for your hard work. I really enjoy your site.