Re: The Tetragram (YHWH)

From: Otto Nordgreen (
Date: Mon Aug 11 1997 - 15:26:19 EDT


many thanks for your interesting remarks! I do, however, feel that your
remarks are in need of some comments themselves...

>Those translating James 5:10 as does RSV "As an example of suffering and
>patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord."
>are faced with a strange situation: While being textually correct the
>rendering is factually wrong. The prophets did not speak in the name of the
>Lord but in the name of YHWH. This situation MAY have arisen because of a
>tampering with the NT text.

First of all: I feel very comfortable with your emphasize on the MAY-part;
in my opinion your suggestion that the original epistle written by "James"
(the brother of the Lord) had the tetragram and that the original Greek (or
Hebrew [?] in case of the tetragram) rendering has been altered seems to be
highly (!) speculative. Donęt you feel that what you are doing is "special
pleading" and thus begging the question -- just a little bit -- ??

As a "working hypothesis" I find your arguments OK; but I feel that the
evidence from the NT mss clearely points towards a different conclusion,
viz. that the tetragram never was in the NT. And how can you say that the
rendering in RSV is wrong; it is only wrong insofar as James himself was
wrong in his rendering. The RSV is a honest translation of the actual NT
mss available. If James considered his rendering OK, why shouldn't we? When
you (and others??) argue that James originally wrote the tetragram, I feel
that you have to carry the actual burden of evidence? Don't you feel that
the ca. 5000 NT mss carry some weight?

>There is strong reason to believe that the modern critical Greek text is
>very close to the original, but regarding divine names we can almost with
>certainty say that the text has been changed. In the Chester Beatty
>Papyrii, P46, from the second century CE (against Kim/Thiede) we find
>KURIOS and QEOS abbreviated as KS and TS with a horizontal bar above. These
>abbreviations can hardly be original; thus they indicate a tampering with
>the text, but not what the original text was (see also the convincing
>arguments of a tampering with the NT text for doctrinal reasons in B D
>Ehrman, 1993, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.)

I see that you do not accept the early date of P46 as advocated by e. g.
Kim and Thiede. But surely, the abbreviated forms _as such_ do not support
an original version with the tetragram. If the tetragram originally was in
the NT, I find it somewhat amazing that it is not to be found in any single
NT manuscript (...and there are about 5000 [!] of them...)! I am not saying
that the so-called NT has not been changed - perhaps for what you call
doctrinal reasons (...along with the selections of the canonical
scriptures...), but that does not prove that the tetragram originally was
in the NT; if correct, it only proves that the NT we have today in many
respects can be different from the original one. This, again, could mean
that the tetragram might have been in the NT and that it was later removed;
just as other elements in the "original" NT might have been removed or
changed. But do you really find it likely that the whole Church would
accept this; why do we not have any mss with the tetragram? Or: why do we
not have documents referring to any discussion about this alteration?
Surely it would be noticed! I doubt anyone would
ever come up with such an idea regarding other historical material having
the evidence already existing pointing in quite another direction!

>You correctly observe that "LXX" fragments retain YHWH in some form, and
>this is true for ALL LXX fragments before the second century CE, including
>the youngest (of the Oxyrhybchus Papyrii) from the first century CE.
>Interesting is the fact that in the LXX part of the Chester Beatty Papyrii
>we also find the same nomina sacra in abbreviated form. When we know that
>the LXX contained YHWH in some form and it was changed to KS, it is also
>likely that the same was true for the NT. This is buttressed by two
>philological lines:

Do you mean that the tetragram version in the LXX version in question was
directly changed into KS or that it was indirectly changed into KS, viz.
first changed into kyrios (by the NT writer) and later, by the copyist/s,
into KS?

What we have is a situation where different traditions meet; the one using
the teragram others not using the Holy Name in the OT versions. I feel that
the actual evidence of NT mss support the main thesis advocated today, viz.
that the first Christians (including Jesus Himself) chose not to use the


>There is evidence that YHWH was not pronounced by some groups but
>pronounced by others down to and into NT times (IAW for instance signals
>pronunciation). There is no evidence indicating that Jesus and his
>followers did not pronounce it.

My questions are: (1) Who made the OT versions with the tetragram and (2)
for whom were they made. To my knowledge these versions were made by Jews
and for Jews. (BTW, are you sure that the _IAW_ was to be pronounced? If
so, do we know the pronounciation?) Furthermore, who dod actually pronounce
the name; Christians or Jews. If Christians, which group?

To me, however, it seems to be somewhat irrelevant whether the Holy Name
YHWH was pronounced or not; the question is: was it originally used in the
NT. You state that there is no evidence of Jesus (and His followers) never
pronouncing the Holy Name. But there is no evidence of Him pronouncing YHWH
either, is there?; in fact, there is no record of Jesus condemning people
for not pronouncing it; or - for that matter - we do not read of anyone
condemning Jesus for His (supposed) pronunciation of the Holy Name. Instead
we read that He calls God _father_ or, sometimes, using other "names" like
"heaven" (cf. Mt 21:23.25) and "power" (cf. Mk 14:61f; here obviously
referring to Ps 110:1 which has the tetragram in the MT) - see e. g. NJB
(1985) ad loc. When He spoke of the heavenly kingdom being near (Mt 4:17),
He probably meant the Kingdom of YHWH. Thus, whereas I do not find any
clear evidence of Jesus (or His followers) using the Holy Name (or, indeed,
pronouncing it), I do see evidence of the contrary, viz. Jesus avoiding the

> (In our context this is philological rather than theological evidence)

>2.1 Ex 3:15 says that the name should be used for ever.

Doe Ex 3:15 really say that? Are you stating that the Hebrew _olám_ means
"for ever", thus indiocating "with no end(ing) whatsoever"?; to my
knowledge the word in question would rather indicate "to indefinite time".
If this is the case, we should not be surprised if the Holy Name YHWH was
not used in the NT (cf. Acta 22:16 and Rom 10:12-14). At least not if we
accept that the comming of Christ was supposed to indicate some kind of new

>2.4 In view of Jesus being against traditions of men, always sticking to
>the Holy Scriptures, and that a form of YHWH both was in the Hebrew and
>Greek biblical text available, he most likely used and pronounced the name.
>I can see no reason why he should not.

And I just cannot see why he should have pronounced it! Of course,
pronouncing the name is not a bad thing to do! The first Christians might
very well have pronounced it when talking about their God. This is also
done by most Christians today. Nevertheless, the NT mss available seem to
bare witness to the practice of calling YHWH _God_ , _(the) Lord_ or _(the)
Father_ rather than YHWH. I feel we should respect that.

>This short sketch shows that in spite the lack of YHWH in the NT
>manuscripts available, there are strong arguments in favour of the name
>being in the original NT manuscripts (See George Howard, 1977, The
>Tetragram in the New Testament, Journal of Bibilical Literature 63-84).


obviously you feel that there are strong arguments in favour of the Holy
Name YHWH originally being in the NT! And I respect your position.

Personally, I just cannot share your view. I feel that you - because of the
lack of any real evidence - are making a case for your position that is
more based on assuptions than facts. Furthermore, I just cannot imagine
that George Howards' (interesting but highly cpeculative) JBL article from
1977 will ever become common consensus -- cf. Bruce M. Metzger:
_Manuscripts of the Greek Bible_ (1981), p. 35 and J. A. Fitzmyer: "Pauline
Theology", in NJBC (1990), pp. 1382-1416. Howards' thory was only meant to
be an hypothesis and it has not been sufficiently demonstrated. Therefore
he has never suggested that the Holy Name YHWH should be "restored" in the
NT -- that would realy be "tampering" with the text as long as there is no
NT mss to support it! I think he would aggree on that; in fact, to my
knowledge, today Howards himself does not subscribe to the thesis he once
presented anymore! One big problem is that there are absolutely no NT mss
to support the theory; whereas there are, however, strong evidence for (at
least some of) the Palestine Jews "replacing" the tetragram with _(the)
Lord_. I guess Jesus, Paul, James (et al) followed this practice. I see
nothing in the evidence to support otherwise. The real important Holy Name
to pronounce, viz. confess, mentioned in the NT seems to have been
_Yehoshua_ (cf. Rom 10:9). YHWH is only mentioned in the formel
_hallelu'ya_; and it is as part of this formel the Holy Name has been used
by Christians from the early days until our time.

Finally a 'theological PS'! If the pronunciation - and, indeed, the use -
of the tetragram was that important, why has YHWH God allowed the tetragram
to be removed completely from all the early NT mss? Only one early
testimony, one single ms, would have been enough to provide some real
support for the theory once presented by Howards and, now, advocated by you.

But that is, of course, only my opinion.


Otto Nordgreen

Student at Department
of Germanic Studies,
University of Oslo


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