The Curious Case of God’s Missing Name

Burning Bush

A Problem

The vast majority of English translations of the Bible share a common problem. They completely leave out God’s personal name from the Old Testament.

It is certainly present in the Hebrew manuscripts. His name occurs thousands of times. But chances are your Bible just renders it as “Lord” in all caps.

Superstitions

The history behind this poor translation is a rather interesting one. It started with a Jewish superstition that prevented them from speaking God’s name out loud.

This was probably based on the commandment not to take God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7). However, they took it to an unbiblical level. God never told them to avoid speaking his name.

In fact, throughout the Old Testament, we can find many examples of people speaking God’s name. Sometimes they even shouted it.

Nonetheless, this taboo became ingrained into the Jewish mindset. Thus, when reading the Old Testament, they would replace God’s name with adonai, meaning “master” or “lord.”

Old Translations

This tradition carried over into the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Instead of including God’s name, the translators chose to replace it with kurios, the Greek equivalent of adonai.

Eventually, the Roman Catholics standardized the bible into a single Latin translation known as the Vulgate. This translation followed the same concept as the Septuagint, replacing God’s name with dominus, the Latin word for “master.”

English Translations

When John Wycliffe decided that English-speaking people should have a translation of the Bible in their own language, he used the Vulgate as his starting point. Thus he accurately translated dominus as “lord.”

Years later, William Tyndale began the translation effort that brought the Bible into English from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Unfortunately, the rendering of God’s name as “lord” was preserved (with the exception of just a few instances).

This tradition continued through a series of English translations and updates all the way to the Bishop’s Bible. An updated version of the Bishop’s Bible was used as the base text for the King James Version, and most translations since then have followed suit with their treatment of God’s name.

God’s Name

“Lord” is no more God’s name than “God” is. Both “Lord” and “God” are titles. They describe God, but they do not name him. Yet he has chosen to reveal his name.

And God said to Moses, “I am that I am.” And he said, “So you must say to the Israelites, ‘I am sent me to you.’”

And God said again to Moses, “So you must say to the Israelites, ‘Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and this is my remembrance from generation to generation.’” (Exodus 3:14–15, LEB)

And God spoke to Moses, and he said to him, “I am Yahweh. And I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I was not known to them.” (Exodus 6:2–3, LEB)

Yahweh

God’s name is יהוה (YHWH). It is sometimes referred to as the tetragrammaton, due to its consisting of four letters.

“Yahweh” is generally believed to be the most accurate pronunciation. “Jehovah” is another form of the same name, although it is probably not as accurate.

I don’t have a problem with either form being used, but I think it is a tragedy for God’s name to be left out entirely. Thankfully, there are a few translations that have properly included God’s name.

Getting It Right

There have actually been a decent number of obscure translations that use God’s name. However, most of them never achieved any significant circulation.

I’m just going to highlight eight of the better-known ones (though you may or may not have heard of these either).

Literal Translations

To start off, Young’s Literal Translation renders God’s name as “Jehovah.” This is a good translation for studying, as it closely follows word order and tenses. However, it is archaic and awkward to read. Darby’s translation is similar in these regards.

Green’s literal version also uses “Jehovah,” while the Concordant Literal Version renders God’s name as “Yahweh.” These too can be awkward to read, but they are less archaic than Young’s or Darby’s translations.

Readable Translations

The American Standard Version renders God’s name as “Jehovah.” It’s a great translation, and it flows quite well, but it retains archaic language.

The World English Bible is an updated version of the ASV, with the archaisms removed. “Jehovah” was updated to “Yahweh.” This translation has for some time been my default choice for the Old Testament.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible is a recent translation that uses the name “Yahweh.” However, it does so inconsistently. It often follows the tradition of rendering God’s name as “Lord,” but it does use “Yahweh” when the context specifically references it as a name. This seems like an odd distinction to me, but it is much better than leaving out God’s name entirely. It is a sound translation overall, and I would not hesitate to recommend it.

The Lexham English Bible is even more recent. The Old Testament was just completed in 2011. I am very excited about this translation. While I have not yet gone through it thoroughly, the parts I have examined seem to be highly literal while still easily readable. It consistently renders God’s name as “Yahweh.”

From all of these versions, the one I can most confidently recommend is the World English Bible.

[Update: I wrote a follow-up to this post, “Where Is Yahweh in the New Testament?.”]

What Do You Think?

Were you aware of the presence of God’s name in the Old Testament? Are you okay with rendering it as “Lord”? Will you check out any of the translations I mentioned?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends.