Friday, October 10, 2008

The Name

It has always struck me as interesting that neither the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament -- which the NT authors often used for OT quotations) nor the New Testament attempted to translate or transliterate the Hebrew personal Name for the LORD God by which the LORD revealed himself to Moses [(Exo 3:14 NIV)  God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"]. The Jews would not utter the Name. When they came across it in their readings they would say either "Adonai" ("Lord") or "the Name." The Septuagint consistently translated it with KURIOS (Greek for "Lord"). The NT consistently followed suit. 

My question is, Why? Why did not the Septuagint and the NT transliterate the Name? It could easily have been done. Perhaps the Jews were/are right and we ought not to utter the Name. Perhaps it is too holy for us to speak. Likely it is good that our translations use "the LORD" when translating the Name. Likely it is best to follow the lead of the Septuagint and the NT (and possibly the Jews of old) and not utter the holy Name. 

12 comments:

Wes Bredenhof said...

Interesting thoughts, George.

Maybe by the time of the LXX and NT, the proper pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton was lost, along with any motivation to recover it.

Your questions demand others, like: if God's personal name is too holy to utter, why did he give it at all? And why is "Yahweh" too holy, whereas "Jesus" is not? There are more such questions.

Hmmm....

George van Popta said...

Good added questions, Wes. The name "Jesus" (or "Jehoshua") is not too holy to use since it was a common name in the time of Jesus. Our Saviour took as common a name as "Wes" or "George."

Some ministers say the Tetragrammaton when pronouncing, e.g., the Aaronic benediction. I wonder about the propriety of that. The LXX did not but used KURIOS instead. Why not just say "the LORD"? Furthermore, we don't know how to pronounce the Tetragrammaton.

Wes Bredenhof said...

Okay, fair enough.

But then what about common Israelite names that incorporate "Yah," the abbreviated form of the Tetragrammaton? If his name is too holy to utter, why is it not too holy to abbreviate and include in a name? For instance, our son is Josiah, Yah sustains. From there, we could also get into "Hallelujah."

Incidentally, I wouldn't say Yahweh in the Aaronic benediction since I don't mess with the Bible translations we've agreed to use. But I will occasionally use Yahweh in a sermon or in my prayers.

George van Popta said...

Well, that may just strengthen the position I am tentatively putting forward: Such names (e.g., "Elijah," "Joel") are in fact translated/transliterated into Greek (LXX and NT) whereas the Tetragrammaton is not.

Question: How do you know how to pronounce YHWH?

Wes Bredenhof said...

The first syllable seems to be self-evident from the abbreviation, not only with names but also in poetry.

According to NIDOTTE (Vol. 5, p. 1296), the pronunciation is an educated guess, "constructed largely from early Christian references." TLOT (Vol. 2, p.522) adds that there are also philological considerations which lead scholars to that conclusion. I'm not aware of anybody arguing today that it was something different (TLOT mentions W. Vischer in 1960 arguing for Jahwo). Do you know of any?

George van Popta said...

No, I'm not aware. However, isn't the common opinion that the pronunciation is, as the dictionaries say and at best, only an educated guess? Not much to go on.

YFNWG said...

Musings from the weather guy. :)
There are numerous passages in the OT with the phrase "call on the name of the LORD" or a variation thereof. I would assume that this refers to the worship and prayers of believers to their God as JHWH. This would lead to a question as to what point did the Jews begin to consider JHWH too holy, eg was it pre or post captivity? Does it correspond with rise of phariseism (sp?)? Are then the writers of the Septuagint and NT following Jewish custom and superstitions by avoiding JHWH?
Things that make you go "Hmmmm".

George van Popta said...

You ask a very important question, Weather Guy. By not transliterating the T/G but, rather, supplying KURIOS instead, are the LXX and the NT showing that they were influenced by Jewish superstitions? I would have difficulty presenting the case for that with great enthusiasm.

YFNWG said...

I should add an addendum (so I don't get in trouble with my pastor and consistory :)) for my previous comment stating that going on the train of thought of that last question is a dangerous track as that leads to questions regarding the nature of Scripture, a discussion for which I as well don't have great enthusiasm.

George van Popta said...

I had read (correctly, it seems) between your lines, Weather Guy.

John said...

George (& Wes, and everyone else):

In this connection, you might be interested in "Lord, Language, and Liturgy," an article by Jeff Meyers, who is the pastor of Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church in St. Louis (PCA) and the author of The Lord's Service, which is the best Reformed book I've read on liturgy:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Enjoy!

George van Popta said...

Interesting, John. Thanks for the references.