Re: Divine name in NT

From: Wes Williams (
Date: Wed Sep 30 1998 - 22:57:16 EDT

On 09/30/98, "Jonathan Robie <>" wrote:
> > wrote:
> >>
> >> > Matthew's Gospel was eventually translated into Greek. Would God's
> >> > name have appeared in these Greek writings?

<snip for sake of brevity>
> "Jehovah" is this: the name is only restored when at least one of the
> Hebrew translations made between 1500 and the current century translates it
> as YHWH. Since there are 15 or so to choose from, this gives the translator
> a fair degree of freedom, and since these are all relatively recent
> translations, none of these "manuscripts" are really any kind of evidence.
> IMHO, a translation that claims to be a very literal translation should
> simply translate the text, perhaps using footnotes if the translator feels
> that the text being translated differs from the original. Since we have
> absolutely no examples of Greek texts of the NT that include the
> Tetragrammeton, a literal translation that is based on the Greek text
> should not translate KURIOS as "Jehovah". Naturally, there are also works


> Jonathan

Dear Jonathan,

I think you reflect sound argumentation given the facts you present. There
is more that I would like to contribute to your analysis regarding
Professor Howard's arguments. This may clarify how the Hebrew versions of
the NT have a bearing on the original Greek text. To condense the points
and leave textual criticism out, it will prove beneficial to consult the

The early writers Papias, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome all allude
to or quote a Hebrew version of Matthew (for references and discussion, see
"Hebrew Gospel of Matthew," by George Howard, 1995). The earliest complete
text of Matthew in Hebrew is preserved in a 14th century work authored by
Shem-Tob ben-Isaac ben Shaprut, or just Shem-Tob. This is referred to as
"J1" in the work you cited. In this version of Matthew, YHWH is replaced
with ''H (with two yohds, an abbreviation for M$H, or ha-shem, meaning "the
Name" in Hebrew). This led and still leads Professor Howard to conclude: "I
have no hesitancy in saying that the occurrence of the Divine Name in
places where the canonical text lacks any reference to the Lord at all
[which is found three times in Shem-Tob, 22:32; 27:9, 28:9], eliminates
Shem-Tob as the author of the text." Why? He continues: "No pious Jew of
the Middle Ages would have dignified a Christian text by inserting the
Divine Name·. Whatever the date of this text (i.e. the source document), it
must have included the Divine Name from its inception."

The du Tillet Hebrew version of Matthew ("J2") uses three yohds ''' (with
the center yohd raised) in place of the name YHWH. With regard to the text
that du Tillet used, Howard writes in "The Textual Nature of an Old Hebrew
Gospel of Matthew," 1986, p.63, note 34: "I now conclude with considerable
finality that the Hebrew Matthew of du Tillet is a rather thorough revision
of an earlier Hebrew Matthew in a much less corrupted form than Shem-Tob."

If Howard is correct, what happened to the Name that it was substituted
with the surrogate KURIOS? Is there evidence of textual tampering as early
as the second century? I recommend Bart Ehrman's "The Orthodox Corruption
of Scripture" for an evaluation of that evidence.

Therefore, there is more to the Hebrew versions of the NT ("J" witnesses)
than what appears at first glance. Translations that include the name
"Jehovah" or, I saw one recently that just inserts the Tetragrammaton in
the NT, do not use these secondary sources as their primary line of
argumentation. There are other considerations. For example, in James 5:10,
we have: Brothers, take as a pattern of the suffering of evil and the
exercising of patience the prophets, who spoke in the name of KURIOU. Here
we have an example of a statement that is textually correct but factually
wrong. They spoke in the name of YHWH. What should a "literal" translator
do when there is secondary textual evidence that the Divine Name was
originally there but removed? What they do may depend on their translation
principles. But reference to Hebrew versions containing nomina sacra in
various forms would be secondary sources, IMO.

In conclusion, I see a line of defense for its inclusion in the NT where OT
quotations and expressions included the name, at least until hard evidence
in the form of earlier NT MSS can be found. Or, as you suggested, footnotes
are a fine assistance to the reader. On the other hand, I think it proper
to note that there is no justification for the removal of the Divine Name
YHWH in the O.T. by the translation "LORD." Should not a "literal"
translation translate the name in some form in the OT? With that in mind,
even if NT MSS that contained the name were found, it may likely have
little impact on current translations. At least, that is the way I see it.
In any case, we can see that there is more to the matter and theology tends
to be involved in decisions regarding the Name.

Thank you for your thoughts and I always enjoy exchanging opinion with you.
As an advance notice, B-Greek list member Rolf Furuli has a chapter
dedicated to an in-depth discussion of the Name and the NT in his book
"Theology and Bias in Bible Translation." Hopefully it will be released
soon so we can discuss the points on b-greek.

Wes Williams

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