By Benjamin Winslett
Yesterday on social media, a home town friend posed an interesting question. I will share it, along with my answer, after a bit of ground work.
When God revealed His name to Moses, he gave a specific name. This name is a combination of four letters referred to as the Tetragrammaton. The Hebrew alphabet has no vowels, only consonants, so this name is given as the four consonants YHWH. It is commonly reported that Jews, out of reverence, would not pronounce the name of God, so their original pronunciation was not retained through the centuries. Our KJVs render this Tetragrammaton as Jehovah a few times (a correct interpretation to English* – supposedly borrowing the vowel sounds from Adonai, another Hebrew word for God) but they primarily translated it as the word LORD in all caps. When you see LORD in all caps, it was translated from the Tetragrammaton. Others insist that this name should be pronounced Yahweh. Others insist Yehowah or Yehovah. Still, others insist upon Yahu or Jahu. Who is correct? Should I be alarmed?
Here’s the serious question: My friend asked if it was offensive to God that we call Him Lord, rather than by the original pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton? Also, are we wrong to call Jesus by His English translation rather than Yeshua, His name in Hebrew.
This is a worthy question and I understand my friend’s concern.
Side note: The best way to interpret scripture is with scripture. I have heard that all my life and the statement drips with godly wisdom. Here is my research, and the findings are telling.
This question led me to a study of New Testament quotations of Old Testament scripture. The New Testament is every bit as inspired of God, the Holy Ghost moving men to pen the words equally then as when Moses first began to write. Amen? Glad we agree. SO! When New Testament writers quoted portions of the Old Testament that contained the Tetragrammaton, did they transliterate the word into Hebrew or did they simply use a Greek term?
Consider with me Isaiah 40:3 as an example. Luke, in Luke 3:4, quotes Isaiah 40:3, “Prepare ye the way of the LORD.” In Isaiah, the word for LORD is the Tetragrammaton. However, in Luke, it is Kyrios, a Greek word for Lord! So, Luke chose to use a Greek word rather than the Hebrew word. Let that soak in: Luke chose to use a Greek word for Lord rather than use the Hebrew word. Were the pronunciation crucial to “call upon the name of the Lord,” surely Luke would have used that exact word!
This tells us two things:
1) Inspired NT writers did not transliterate the Tetragrammaton but opted for the regular Greek word for Lord, meaning it should be fine to do the same in English.
2) English translators had good precedent to translate this word as LORD in all caps, considering the Greek word for Lord was used when quoting the Tetragrammaton from the Hebrew scriptures. The KJV translators gave it all caps to show it was the special word, not a generic term for Lord, to give us extra information.
Another example is the name of our Lord, Jesus. Should Christians exclusively call Jesus by the name Yeshua? Should they condemn those who don’t? I have read the works, online, of men who believed so. However, the New Testament was written in Greek and all writers used the Greek work Iesous. Again, let it soak in for a second. Inspired Apostles, men of God, used the Greek word Iesous rather than the Hebrew word Yeshua. What does that tell us? It tells us that we can use His name translated into our language and God hears and understands us all the same!
I find it highly likely that Mary and Joseph used the Hebrew name for Jesus when they called baby Jesus, child Jesus, or teenage Jesus (fathom that thought!!) into their presence. Yet Bible writers used a Greek name exclusively when writing the New Testament! In fact, they used a Greek rendition ANY time they referenced an Old Testament character (Elias, Esais, etc).
The conclusion you can draw from this is that it is just fine to an English person to call Jesus by the name Jesus. Likewise, it is fine for a Spanish speaking person to pronounce His name “Hay-Soos”.
Should we be surprised? No, not at all. I will close out my thoughts with the promise of God by the mouth of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 28:11:
“For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.”
The LORD actually foretold us, through Isaiah, that there was coming a day in which He would share His knowledge via another language. In fact, as evident from Acts 2, He has now carried His truth into all tongues, for Revelation 7:9 says His people exist among all nations, kindred, and TONGUES. Today, folks of every nation do tell the wonderful works of God in their own native tongues. They call upon the God of the Bible and He, their LORD, hears them.
*Many claim the J in Jehovah is improperly translated, the Hebrew language having no J syllable. However, Y words in Hebrew are commonly translated as a J sound in English. Hence names like Joshua and Elijah.