Re: The Tetragram (YHWH)

From: Otto Nordgreen (
Date: Fri Aug 15 1997 - 09:55:13 EDT

Dear Mr. Mitchell Andrews,

You wrote:

>I read your response to Rolf's arguments with interest. I considered your
>reasons against what Rolf actually said and I have a few comments for you to
>reflect upon as I tried to separate fact from opinion.

I always welcome "feedback". However, it would seem to me that you have
misunderstood me; or - perhaps - I have had a poor diction. Anyway, I would
like to clarify some of the points I made.

>Rolf wrote:
>>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.

>Otto wrote:
>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. Donīt you feel that what you are doing is "special
>pleading" and thus begging the question -- just a little bit -- ??

>Otto, I would like to draw your attention to what Rolf actually wrote.
>He does not say what you say he said, does he? Are we in agreement that
>the prophets did not speak in the name of KYRIOS? You are citing one
>conclusion to which this line of reasoning may lead and reject the fact
>based upon the conclusion. Is this not backwards?

Rolf wrote that James' (at least supposed [?]) rendering (cf James 5:10) as
recorded in the RSV is "factually wrong". I, for one, do not accept this.
First, what is meant by "rendering". It is true that the prophet originally
spoke in the name of YHWH. The question, however, is whether James -
writing in Greek - would have presented a "wrong" rendering if he wrote
_the Lord_ instead of YHWH. One could, of course, argue that any
translation of a name (e.g. Germ. _Deutschland_ > Eng. _Germany_) would end
up with a rendering which is factually wrong. But if James (and his
audience) considered _the Lord_ as equivalent to YHWH ( most
English(wo)men would consider _Germany_ as equivalent to Germ.
_Deutschland_ ...) the rendering is not factually wrong. When I translate
Norwegian texts into e.g. German, English, or Dutch, I always feel I have
to change different elements; thus producing a translation that _de facto_
is not only a translation of a text but also a completely new text. I f we
have to believe that James wanted to quote verbitam, or that he actually
had to keep the Holy Name in its original Hebrew form (or, as Greek IAO),
we just might have questioned his (supposed [?]) rendering. I just do not
think that this is the case here. That was my point; which - of course -
can be factually wrong! :-)

>Otto wrote:
>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?
>Once again Otto, you are tearing down an argument that Rolf never
>presented. Did not Rolf state that the rendering was "textually
>correct?" He said (I refer you to the above) "While being textually
>correct the rendering is factually wrong." Is it not backwards to reject
>a thought because we do not care about one _possible_ conclusion to
>which it leads?

I have never stated that Rolf did not consider the RSV a honest translation
of the NT mss available! What I have questioned is the distinction between
rendering and translation - at least in this case. Perhaps you should read
my message as carefully as Rolf's?

>Rolf wrote:
>>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.)
>Otto wrote:
>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...)!

>This is really outside Rolf's point since our 5000 [!] NT copies are all
>dated _after_ the replacement of divine names took place with the LXX
>manuscripts. What we need to do is to consider the manuscript evidence
>in the light of the LXX 2CE textual tampering and _possible_ NT
>tampering and reach plausible conclusions.

Did you notice that I put my argument with the "about 5000" NT mss in
bracelets? But for the record: I do agree with you! My point was that we do
have (a lot of) old mss with Kyros or Theos, but we do not have any single
one with the Tetragram! And as realized by e.g. Rolf, this, indeed, is a
strong argument (if not an evidence) against the theory in question.

>Otto continued:
> 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!
>Once again, your question is what we are trying to determine, is it not?
>The problem I have with rejecting a plausible argument like Rolf and others
>suggest as a possibility is that we have heard this exact argument
>before and the answer came in favor of the Tetragrammaton. Specifically,
>we heard for centuries that the LXX never contained the Name because
>there was "no manuscript evidence." Some German and English Translators
>chose to use the Name in their versions because it was in the Hebrew
>Scriptures and they suspected LXX manuscript tampering. They received
>the same argumentation as above. But they were later proven right. We
>now have early LXX manuscripts with the Name. Therefore, I remain
>cautious to reject a plausible option based on this kind of
>argumentation. Otherwise, what will you do if a NT manuscript is found
>with the Name?

...I will, of course, change my position; due to the evidence at hand! And
that is the point I hanve been trying to make all the time!! I c o u l d,
of course, present a new theory, arguing that originally the tetragram was
not in the NT after all; that some Christians had put it there, and that
true Christians later removed it again. Then I could say that my theory
should be worth considering because we just might find the original NT mss
someday. But - I do not think I would do that...

>Rolf said:
>>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:

>Otto responded:
>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

>This is true as it stands without regard to the textual tampering of the LXX
>and _possible_ parallel tampering with the NT manuscripts. However, if you
>are to try to convince others of your hypothesis, I personally would expect
>more evidence than "I feel.".

I cannot force you to look upon the evidence at hand in the same way as I!
I already have (twice!) tryed to prove my case by referring to a recent
article by J. A. Fitzmyer: "Pauline Theology", in NJBC (1990), pp.
1382-1416. This would be the third time, then.

>Rolf wrote:
>>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).
>Otto wrote:
>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
>Perhaps the same reason he allowed the scribes to remove the Name from
>LXX copies from 2CE onward? If I understand Rolf's research with an open
>mind, I see he has not been dogmatic, and he has addressed the concern
>about manuscripts. What is of import is not _number_ of manuscripts, it
>is _early_ manuscripts, before the textual tampering of the Name
>occurred in the LXX.

As I already have stated - even in the quotation you have presented (!) - I
agree that only one old NT ms would be enough to bring some real force into
the arguments presented by e.g. Rolf. We do, however, have old NT mss; some
of them - e. g. P64 - might be as early as from ca. 100 CE. None of these
contains the Tetragram. But, as I have stated, new findings m i g h t make
things different.

>This issue is not as easy as it is portrayed, as illustrated by one Bible
>Translator who opted to translate the Name, John W. Davis, a missionary in
>China during the 19th century. He explained why he translated the Name:
>"If the Holy Ghost says Jehovah in any given
>place in the Hebrew, why does the translator not say Jehovah in English
>or Chinese? What right has he to say, I will use Jehovah in this place
>and a substitute for it in that? . . . If any one should say that there
>are cases in which the use of Jehovah would be wrong, let him show the
>reason why; the onus probandi [burden of proof] rests upon him. He will
>find the task a hard one, for he must answer this simple question,-If in
>any given case it is wrong to use Jehovah in the translation then why
>did the inspired writer use it in the original?"-The Chinese Recorder
>and Missionary Journal, Volume VII, Shanghai, 1876.

I accept - or, even welcome (!) - translations of the socalled OT that
contain the Tetragram YHWH (or _Yahweh_, not Jehovah) instead of _(the)
Lord_, as e.g. in the Dutch _Petrus Canisius_ translation from 1938 (?) and
the English (N)JB (1985). I do not accept any translation of Greek Kyros in
the NT with YHWH (or other form of the Holy Name). You - and Rolf - might
feel otherwise. And I resepect that.

Thus: _respectfully_,

Otto Nordgreen

Student at Department
of Germanic Studies,
University of Oslo


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