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Why I love the name Yahweh like I love the name Jesus

If you find it off-putting when Christians speak of Yahweh instead of the LORD, this testimony is for you.

When I first heard the name Yahweh, I found it off-putting. Even a bit distasteful. I heard it from Richard Dawkins, and he was using it as a way to emphasize that Yahweh was just one other bronze age deity no better than all the rest. I didn’t like it. I thought: “That’s not my God he’s talking about. Yahweh isn’t my god.”

But hearing the name put a stone in my shoe. I wanted to at least know where it came from. So I did some research online, and I read the notes in the front of the ESV, and I found that LORD wasn’t just capitalized because God is so important, but because of the tetragrammaton that it stands in place of.

Tetragrammaton: the four-letter name of God in Hebrew, spelled יהוה (yod hey waw hey, YHWH, pronounced “Yahweh”). From the Greek tetragrammaton meaning “of four letters”.

I also discovered that the reason Bibles say LORD instead of Yahweh is because of an ancient Jewish tradition going back about 2300 years, where the name of God was considered too sacred to risk speaking. Instead they would say adonay (“Lord”). The same tradition is why Jews write “G-d” instead of “God” today.

But then I thought, well, hang on…we wouldn’t use G-d because of what amounts to a Jewish superstition…so then why would we use LORD for the same reason?

I was a bit perplexed by it all, but now that I had started shaking the stone out of my shoe, I began to think that misusing the name of God was a pretty serious issue, so I had better figure out whether LORD is right, or Yahweh. As I was investigating this, I decided to try reading a translation that used Yahweh instead of LORD, just to see how it “felt” (I used the WEB).

I’ll be honest; it felt kind of uncomfortable. I felt like I was halfway to becoming a Messianic Jew. I had always found Messianic Jews kind of weird and extreme. But as I read the Old Testament, I also started to notice that a lot of passages began to make more sense; I began to see a very personal God who had never been there before; and I began to relate to that God more personally as a result.

Let me give you just a few examples:

Of course, under the new covenant we call on the name of Jesus. But that’s Peter’s whole point in Acts 2:21: the Lord must have a personal name to call on. In the New Testament it is revealed as Jesus. But in the Old Testament it was revealed as Yahweh. Jesus is Yahweh.

Coming to love God’s name

The text of the Old Testament became so much more alive to me when God’s name was put back in. The personal, covenant love between God and his people started to leap out from every page instead of being obscured behind the title “LORD”. I started to love the name Yahweh in the same way I love the name Jesus, because I realized they were used in the same way (even though aesthetically they honestly both leave me cold).

I also started to learn what Yahweh meant; how it spoke of God’s transcendence, and his sovereignty, and his power and prerogative to cause all that happens. And those are doctrines I love, and so I loved his name even more.

But as I started to love the name Yahweh, I also started to get jealous for it. I started to feel indignant that it had been taken out of the Bible. I even felt angry that I should have once found it uncomfortable and off-putting. I thought, you know, the Bible is full of weird, foreign-sounding names. Yet I don’t bat an eye at them. If names like Immanuel or Ebenezer aren’t a problem, why should Yahweh be?

I began to feel strongly like the psalmist in Psalm 113:1-3, who sang:

Praise Yahweh! Praise, O servants of Yahweh, praise the name of Yahweh! Blessed be the name of Yahweh from this time forth and forever more! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of Yahweh is to be praised!

And I felt sad that so many of God’s people read that psalm and they don’t even know what God’s name is. They don’t even know that his name is in there! How are they supposed to praise it?

I also noticed that Psalm 102:21-22 says that God’s people will declare in Zion the name of Yahweh and in Jerusalem his praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship Yahweh. I am sure that each would worship in his own language, just as the Greeks called Yeshua “Iesous” and we call him “Jesus”. But the accepted English version of God’s Hebrew name is Yahweh. So why should I find it off-putting? And this in turn got me wondering why I disliked Messianic Jews using the name Yeshua. That was Jesus’ name in Hebrew, after all. And they speak Hebrew. I started to think maybe I was just being a bit racist or insular.

Gradually, I actually started to like the way that the foreignness of “Yahweh” reminded me that Yahweh is a foreign God: the God of a little middle-eastern country; the God who grafted me, a foreigner, into his covenant people purely by his undeserved love. I began to feel that using a concept-word (“God”) as a name has significant downsides compared to using an actual name.

Faithful translation

This all sparked another question for me—about translating the text of Scripture. When I am preaching or teaching, my burden is to transmit God’s word as faithfully as I can. But I had become deeply convicted that I would be presenting the text unfaithfully if I were to say “the LORD” instead of “Yahweh”, or “the Lord GOD” instead of “Yahweh God”…because the text that God himself wrote simply does not say those things. I would be mistranslating God’s word; conveying it falsely.

Indeed, my deepest worry is that, now that I know God’s very name is in there, if I say something other than his name, I am effectively making it to be of less value than a tradition (a tradition which, as I say, is based on nothing more than a superstition). But the whole point of the third commandment is to not make God’s name of less value than it actually is. The text of Exodus 20:7 says, “you shall not take up the name of Yahweh your God for a worthless cause;” or we could translate it more dynamically as, “you shall not make the name of Yahweh your God a worthless thing.” I worry that I would, in effect, be making God’s name a worthless thing by replacing it with LORD. I would be saying to God that his name is of no great worth to me, since I am happy to substitute it with something else—something that isn’t even a name at all.

“Lord” in the New Testament

Now, you might say to me that the New Testament translates the tetragrammaton as kurios—“Lord”. This point is well taken. In fact, it is the major reason I haven’t felt convicted to make a fuss about other people using LORD. I have personally been greatly blessed by the name Yahweh, and I want other people to be blessed by it too. So I have taken the opportunities God has given me to use his name publicly, and to advocate for it; but I haven’t felt I should be negative about LORD so much as positive about Yahweh.

That said, we are in a very different situation today than the apostles were. By the time the New Testament was written, the name of God had already been forgotten. Because of the Hebrew tradition of reading adonay (“Lord”) instead of Yahweh, codified as kurios in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible used in New Testament times, the New Testament authors didn’t actually have much alternative than to say “Lord.” Moreover, this became very providential for connecting Yahweh with Jesus—this is why you so often read about the “Lord Jesus”. It is how the New Testament authors connect Jesus to Yahweh (of course, “Yahweh Jesus” would just sound silly).

But we are not in a situation like that. When it comes to translating the Old Testament into English, we have to ask ourselves what the most faithful way to do that is in a context where God’s name has been recovered, and everyone knows that Jesus is Yahweh. We don’t change any other names into titles when we translate the Bible. We wouldn’t even think of it. So how much more, surely, should we not change the name of God?

It might seem like a minor change, but if we draw some simple analogies it starts to become more obvious how it mangles the text. For example, suppose I wanted to say some things about my pastor, David—but replacing his name with “the Pastor”…

In a modern context, what is the most faithful way to translate God’s name—and to honor his statement that it should be proclaimed and remembered for all generations? I am convinced that it is by restoring “Yahweh” to the 6,828 places in the Bible where God chose to use it—and by sharing this great name in our congregations.

6 comments

  1. Gabriel

    If that’s the case, then you might like the HCSB. It’s an original translation, so it doesn’t have as much influence from traditional translations. It also uses Yahweh and “slave” where they should be used. You can check out more details at the translation’s website, and here are other things you might like it about it:
    http://m.lifeway.com/Article/Bible-HCSB-translation-Nine-reasons-you-will-love
    However, it might read a bit awkwardly in some places, or the translation may just be too simple for some people. But it could make a decent secondary translation.

  2. Toni

    Your article really got me thinking. Pretty eye opening actually. I didn’t know that the name of the Lord was forgotten at the time of the apostles. It’s quite astonishing that Yawehs name even in the church today seems to be shrouded in obscurity, since its used so rarely.
    Given your view, I assume you would like the Lexham English Bible (LEB). In it you got “Yahweh” all the way (“slave” too). I really like it. I’d hope they will put it in print someday.

  3. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Toni, the LEB is my “default” version at the moment, for the reasons you mention. But it is a very patchy translation. In places it is much closer to the Hebrew, and in places it is much more dynamic. I suspect the editorial team didn’t smooth out the wrinkles produced by having different people translating different books according to their different styles.

    It also has some very strange translation decisions. Deuteronomy 32:8, for example, reads “children of Israel”, while the Faithlife Study Bible, produced by the same people using the LEB, says that “sons of God” is obviously the correct reading (as indeed it is).

    So yeah…patchy.

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I haven’t found the HCSB to a be a very reliable translation; indeed, one of my beefs is that it doesn’t use Yahweh reliably. It uses LORD in many, many places. That’s almost worse than being consistently wrong, since it only adds to reader confusion. See for example https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=gen+2&version=HCSB

  5. Gabriel

    Since you mentioned it in your post, do you mind commenting on the World English Bible? Would you recommend it? What are some problems with it? Also, if it isn’t too much trouble, could you create a post on translations, or link me to one?

  6. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I don’t have too much to say about the WEB since I don’t really use it. It seems to be a generally good translation. It’s based on the ASV, which is solid, albeit old. As with any translation, I tend to compare it with a couple of others rather than being too trusting, but it is seldom dodgy. Certainly I don’t think it is any more dodgy than the LEB (which is occasionally pretty bad—for instance, both the LEB and the WEB say “children of Israel” in Deut 32:8 instead of “sons of God”).

    The main benefit of the WEB is that it is fully public domain. The main downside is that it doesn’t have any other notable benefit! The language is often stilted, even more than the ESV or LEB. So it’s not great for reading. And it lacks the notes of the ESV, LEB and NET that makes them good for study.

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