I criticize the traditional use of LORD in the English Old Testament in my book The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek Scriptures. I need to explain my growth in this area to others in my own community.
I was raised in the Protestant tradition and had received good Bible training. I understood that the capitalized word LORD in the Old Testament represented the Hebrew name of God. Into my late 40s, I found no fault with the English Bible's use of LORD as an appropriate "translation" of the Hebrew name of God. However, some 15 years prior to publication of the above book in 1998, I began a study of the use of "Jehovah" in the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation Christian Scriptures (New Testament). In the process of that study, I became well read in the field of textual criticism and the manuscript and historical issues surrounding the Watch Tower Society's use of "Jehovah" for 237 Kurios (Lord) references in the New Testament.
Initially, my interest focused on the absence of manuscript evidence supporting insertion of the word "Jehovah" into the New Testament. It was only after 15 years of research that I began to see the parallels between what I was objecting to in the New World Translation's use of "Jehovah" in their "New Testament" and what I had accepted as a proper translation of God's name in the Old Testament.
My personal focus shifted from simple manuscript evidence to translation integrity and purpose. I realized that I needed a Bible which accurately reproduced the original Bible author's meaning into English. I recognized that in certain New Testament verses the authors clearly identified the Old Testament Yahweh. In these instances they used the word Kurios which the Septuagint Jewish reader knew as the One God of the Old Testament. Equally, these same writers frequently identified Jesus as Kurios. In many instances, however, the New Testament writers made no clear distinction between "Jesus" and "Yahweh" when they used Kurios, allowing it to be ambiguous. Was that merely an oversight, or did God intentionally blur the two uses of the word? In my opinion today, every indication is that God, through the process of inspiration, purposefully identified the Lord of the New Testament with Yahweh of the Old Testament through this use of the single New Testament word Kurios. Since this dual meaning was introduced in the original inspired New Testament Greek manuscripts, then it becomes the responsibility of the English Translator to preserve that same dual meaning in the English translation. If the original meaning of Kurios was blurred so that both Jesus and Yahweh were identified, then the English translator must not attempt to alter the meaning by making an artificial distinction.
Thus, I could charge that the New World Translation attempted to separate Kurios into two entities when the best Greek manuscripts did not. But if that was a fair assessment of a fault in the New World Translation, then I realized I must equally consider my own English Bible tradition. Again, I was confronted with the meaning the Old Testament writers intended to convey to their readers. It is abundantly clear that the Old Testament writers were using YHWH as a name. It is also clear that throughout their history, the Jewish community has clearly understood YHWH to be God's name.
I realized that:
The writers and early readers of the Hebrew Old Testament understood YHWH to be a sacred name, and not merely a title.
An English Old Testament translator must convey the Old Testament writer's intent to the English audience today. That intent must be that YHWH is the name of our God. (We understand, however, that this is not a simple problem for the Old Testament translator to resolve because he or she must choose between a number of alternatives which may all convey the meaning of a personal name. These would include Jehovah, Yahweh, He Is, The Eternal, and other ways of expressing YHWH in English.)
Because "LORD" does not convey the sense of a name in
places where YHWH is used in the Old Testament, our English
Bible translators and publishers must carefully make the
It is merely a self-serving argument that would try to justify one of the two translation traditions as acceptable and the other as faulty. Both the New World Translation's effort to introduce "Jehovah" into the New Testament and the English Bible tradition which removes Yahweh from the Old Testament are wrong. Both errors must be corrected.
I realize, however, that change is often a slow process. In my own experience, it required many years before I realized the seriousness of the error in my own Bible tradition. I know that the Jehovah's Witness reader will struggle when considering evidence that the New World Translation Christian Greek Scriptures have altered the meaning of Scripture by introducing "Jehovah" 237 times. I also know that the communities of Christians who have used the English Bible for almost 600 years will struggle with the notion that LORD in the Old Testament does not translate the sense of YHWH.
I do not expect immediate change. But I prayerfully look forward to the day when the translators and publishers of the English Bible will produce an Old Testament which conveys the Divine Name in the way the original writer meant it to be understood.