The Tetragram (YHWH)

From: Otto Nordgreen (
Date: Sun Aug 10 1997 - 09:58:29 EDT

Traditionally it has been argued that the NT writers used _kyrios_ instead
of the tetragram because of the Lxx. This just cannot be true, I think. In
Greek translations of the so-called OT made by Jews (and for Jews) the
tetragram was, in fact, written in Hebrew characters - or sometimes as

So, the question is why the NT authors used _kyrios_ (instead of YHWH) both
in their own compositions as well as in their quotations from OT
(...despite the fact that the tetragram was to be found in the Lxx).

There is no reason to assume that this NT practise was a Christian
innovation (even if it very well could have been that); as we now know that
Palestine Jews in the last centuries BCE were beginning to call YHWH (by
the title) "the Lord" - cf. J. A. Fitzmyer: "Pauline Theology", in: NJBC,
pp. 1382-1416, 1394.

Why the NT authors chose to follow this practise, I just cannot say.
Interesting to observe, however, is the effect of this practise -- e. g. in
Rom 10:9 ; cf. v. 13 (...where Paul has _kyrios_) and Mal 1:2f (...where MT
has YHWH). As the NT does not have any record of Jesus using the Name
(YHWH), I guess we can assume that he did not use it. This might have been
one reason for the NT authors not to use the Name.

Wheras the tetragram has been preserved in the Greek translations of the
OT, the same cannot be said of the (right) pronounciation of it. I believe
it was Jerome who recorded that, in his time, the tetragram (Hebrew style)
in the Lxx was (wrongly) understood as Greek _pi_ (...because the readers
did not understand Hebrew). Clemens of Alexandria seems to have translated
the tetragram as _Jahoue_, with _oe_ standing for the sound [v].

Otto Nordgreen

Student at Department
of Germanic Studies,
University of Oslo


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