The Hebrew text of the Bible contains the Tetragrammaton many many times. This is used as a name, not as a title. And yet, the vast majority of Bible translations render this as LORD, not as a name. Prominent exceptions are the Jerusalem Bible, which uses Yahweh, and the New World Translation, which uses Jehovah, the traditional rendering in English. There are very few translations which transliterate or otherwise retain the Tetragrammaton in their text.

I believe that the intent of most translators is to imitate Jewish practice of not pronouncing the Divine Name; however, Jews do write the name in their holy texts. Similarly, Catholic practise is not to pronounce the Name, but the Catholic Jerusalem Bible still contains it in written form. Why do most translations omit it?

  • You could add the WEB: World English Bible to the list of translations using Yahweh. As far as I know, no translation except NWT uses Yahweh or Jehovah in the New Testament. 'Lord' is correct in NT because even if it represents YHVH, it is Kyrios in Greek which is the same as Hebrew Adonai which is Lord in English. – disciple Dec 2 at 17:21
  • 1
    Yes, @disciple. Using Jehovah in the NT is a rather strange decision made by the translators of the NWT, which very little support. Their use of it in the OT is far more defensible. – TRiG Dec 2 at 18:13
  • The ASV also uses "Jehovah". – Ruminator Dec 2 at 23:10
  • 1
    As far as I have yet studied Robert Young's work, he seems to me, in his literal bible (1862), to have faithfully rendered the word 'Jehovah' when YHWH appears in the original. I do not see the point, myself, of missing out the vowels which would be spoken by Hebrew speakers - when translating into a language (English) which does render them in writing. It seems to me to be a rather academic fad, personally. – Nigel J Dec 3 at 2:45
  • @Kris - Trinitarian Christians are NOT confused into thinking that Jehovah and Jesus are the same person. Some minority groups may think that, and some anti-Trinitarians put it about that Trinitarians are confused, thinking Jehovah and Jesus are the same person, but that is not the truth. The Trinity doctrine has NEVER said the Father and the Son are the same person. It is the anti-Trinitarians who are confused and who are themselves spreading confusion through a misrepresentation of the doctrine. I respectufully ask you to delete your comment. – Lesley Dec 4 at 14:39

Using the word ‘bowdlerize’ gives a misleading impression, that only a very few Bibles retain an English rendition of the Divine Name; that the vast majority have expunged this word, that is, erased and omitted it from the Bible. If that was the case, then the Authorised Version and very many more recent translations would have failed to include the Tetragram at all, yet they have it in several places in the Hebrew scriptures, the most common places being Exodus 6:3 and Psalm 83:18. It is also the case that many old hymns have God’s name pronounced as Jehovah in some verses. Many times in church sermons I have heard God addressed as Jehovah when the Covenant God of Israel is being referred to. Given that many English translations retain Jehovah in a few places, it is misleading to say they have bowdlerized that word.

Now, it is undeniably true that the Tetragram was initially written 6,961 times in the ancient Hebrew scriptures (including 134 times where the Masoretic text shows that ancient copyists called Sopherim had changed the primitive Hebrew text to read ‘Adho.nay’ or ‘Elo.him’ instead of Yehowah’.) Yet Jewish believers themselves began to ‘lose’ the use of the Divine Name during and after their many years in captivity commencing particularly after the third Babylonian deportation of Judah in 586 B.C. Colonies of Jews were established in various areas of the Mediterranean world. Alexandria (Egypt) became an important center for expatriate Jews – a leading center of learning and Greek culture until it was conquered by Rome. Gradually, many Jews lost their ability to read and understand the Hebrew scriptures. Thus, around 280 B.C. a group of Hebrew scholars began translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. The translation became known as ‘the Seventy’ (LXX) with a Latin name of the Septuagint.

An important point about this translation into Greek was that the Divine Name was rendered as YHWH in some Septuagint versions. Although many manuscripts of the Septuagint are available today that contain the word Kyrios [LORD] rather than the Tetragram, a discovery in Cairo of Aquila’s Greek text clearly shows the four Hebrew letters of the Tetragram. However, his translation was done during the second century C.E., so was not available to Jesus or the Apostles. Yet not all versions of the Septuagint retained the Tetragram, so eventually the divine name written in Hebrew letters was not understood any more.

Thus the way in which the Divine Name became less and less common was a process that started before 280 B.C. and continued until, by the time the Christian church was well established, the Tetragram was not understood by the majority of scripture readers. You need to go back centuries to discover this gradual reduction in use of the Tetragram in scripture translations. Nevertheless, it should be used nearly 7,000 times in the Hebrew scriptures, although a problem preventing that is not knowing an accurate word to translate it with, given that the vowel points remain missing. Rather than guess, (perhaps wrongly) many prefer to use the respectful LORD in the Hebrew scriptures. Erring on the side of caution is no bad thing when dealing with holy scripture. For example, given that the letter ‘J’ was not introduced into the English alphabet until the early 15th century A.D., ‘Jehovah’ is not the best attempt. I would personally be happy to see Yahweh written nearly 7,000 times in English translations of the Hebrew text, but I do not have a problem with ones that have LORD, because when capitalised, we all know that it refers to the one true God, the Creator.

Finally, when you say, “Jews do write the name in their holy texts” it needs to be pointed out that they still do not pronounce it.

Source: The Divine Name in the New World Translation, released for worldwide internet distribution in 2001 with no copyright. http://www.tetragrammaton.org

  • Bowdlerize after Thomas Bowdler who famously censored Shakespeare and in so doing created the verb synonymous with expunging or omitting original content of literature bowdlerize or bowdlerise. – Kris Dec 4 at 18:06
  • Yes, Kris, that is in my Concise Oxford Dictionary too. Reduction of the use of a word is not, however, the same as an attempt to totally eradicate it. – Anne Dec 4 at 18:09
  • Your spelling of the word needs editing the l comes after the d – Kris Dec 4 at 18:11
  • Yes, Kris, I've got a touch of dyslexia, particularly bad when keying numbers! The only sort I'm safe with are the numbers 11 or 22 etc! – Anne Dec 4 at 19:30
  • Ha I had never seen the word before the OP used it. I edited because he also had it misspelled – Kris Dec 4 at 19:47

There is a simple reason for this. Most Christians (and virtually anybody who is not a Christian) are not familiar with the Tetragrammaton. When they read it they would not know what it meant. Also the Tetragrammaton gives no indication of how is it to be pronounced.

This makes the word an obstacle to clear understanding and even more to clear reading. Most Bible translators consider at least one of their objective making the meaning of the texts clear to readers, and so without a pressing reason to put the Tetragrammaton in the text, most substitute something more understandable.

As an example, I was once in a church that switched to using the Jerusalem Bible, (which renders the name of God as "Yahweh"). This produced considerable confusion in the congregation, even when the use was explained; and also produced some highly idiosyncratic pronunciations when reading aloud. After a few months the minister ordered that the word Yahweh would always be read aloud as "The Lord".

  • 1
    This boils down to It's done that way because it always has been done that way, which is a little unsatisfying. – TRiG Dec 2 at 18:14
  • 1
    No, that is completely not what I said. – DJClayworth Dec 2 at 18:31
  • When they read it they would not know what it meant. Because they're not used to it. If they were used to it, they would know what it meant, surely? – TRiG Dec 3 at 5:55

You are right when you say God's name has been replaced by a Title "LORD" - English, "Kyiros" - Greek, "Adoni" - Hebrew. This became a Jewish tradition to alter the Bible Texts to follow a pagan tradition:-

."The Origin of the Nouns "Adonai" ...

Adonai: The singular "adon" was used by the Phoenicians for their pagan god Tammuz and is the origin of the Greek pagan god Adonis."-http://www.myredeemerlives.com/namesofgod/adonai-elohim.html

Support on coping of Pagan ideas:-

"The Greek word "Kurios" was originally a title for the Greek and Roman Sun-deity "Helios" and was called "The Kurios (Lord) of Heaven and Earth." The Hindu god "Krishna" is also known as "Lord." The title "Lord" was eventually applied to all heathen deities. Most Bible translators continue to use the title "Lord" as a substitute name for YHVH (Yahweh)."-http://assemblyoftrueisrael.com/Documents/Sunworship.htm

Further proof of text changing by scholers:-

"Ho Kyiros Hebr. Yahweh, Lxx Ge.11.5 al ...."-A Greek-English Lexicon H.G.Liddell & R.Scott p.1013 (9th ed 1989)"

"Ho Kyiros Hebr. Jehovah : the Lord ..."-A Greek-English Lexicon H.G.Liddell & R.Scott p.421. (M. DCCC XLIII ed)"

Example were you read in The Bible the phrase "in the name of the LORD" this shows the God's name cannot be the "LORD" as it says "in the name of the LORD"!

  • 1
    -1 I disagree that use of Adonai is pagan. The Tanach calls God "Adonai Yahweh" many times. That pagans would refer to their god as "my Lord" is not surprising. If you have a source based on Hebrew scholarship I may reconsider my downvote. – disciple Dec 4 at 23:35
  • @disciple I did not say Adonai was pagan, to us it as a replacement for God's personal YHWH name is a pagan idea or only to call God "LORD" is the pagan way. – ethos Dec 5 at 8:44

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.