TranslationHow Was the Divine Name Translated in the Reformation? Part 4 Translators have wrestled with the divine name for centuries. Some have used it only to reverse course later. Andrew CaseIllustration by David FassettSeptember 5, 2023 ShareFacebookTwitterLinkedInPrint Level The previous articles in this series considered God’s desire for us to use his name, how the pronunciation was lost, and how the New Testament writers handled the matter. It remains, finally, to consider how it has been handled by translators since the Reformation. In that time there have been various departures from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, which rendered the divine name as Dominus (“Lord/Master”), while others have maintained the tradition, which goes back to the Septuagint. The Reformers’ view Luther and Calvin were not in agreement on this. Luther followed the tradition of the Septuagint and used the German title “Herr” (Lord) in all caps, while Calvin’s choice was to use “Jehovah” for his French translation of the Psalms. Calvin explained his decision as follows: It would be tedious to recount the various opinions as to the name “Jehovah.” It is certainly a foul superstition of the Jews that they dare not speak, or write it, but substitute the name “adonai;” nor do I any more approve of their teaching, who say that it is ineffable, because it is not written according to grammatical rule … Nor do I agree with the grammarians, who will not have it pronounced, because its inflection is irregular; because its etymology, of which all confess that God is the author, is more to me than an hundred rules.1John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony by John Calvin, trans. Charles W. Bingham (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1843), 127. The Wycliffe version of the Bible in English used “the Lord,” as did Tyndale’s unfinished translation of the Old Testament, but in a few places, like Exodus 6:3, he rendered “Iehouah.” This set a precedent for all early Protestant bibles, except Coverdale’s translation (1535). The King James Bible printed “Lord” in all caps when it represented YHWH, except in four places (Exod. 6:3, Ps. 83:18, Isa. 12:2; 26:4) where the translators felt the need to render it as a proper name, and in these places the name “Iehouah” appeared in the first printing (spelled as “Jehova” in later editions). Get new articles and updates in your inbox. Leave this field empty if you're human: Casiodoro de Reina, the first translator of the most famous Spanish version of the Bible (the Reina-Valera), took particular interest in avoiding the substitution of a title for the divine name. In the prologue to the 1569 publication of his work, he wrote the following: We have retained the name (Iehovah), not without serious reasons. First of all, because wherever it will be found in our version, it is in the Hebrew text, and it seemed to us that we could not leave it, nor change it for another without infidelity and singular sacrilege against the law of God, in which it is commanded “Do not take away from it, or add to it” (Deut. 4:4 and Prov. 30:5) … It also seemed to us that this mutation cannot be made without contravening God’s advice, and in a certain way wanting to amend it, as if He had done wrong all the times that his Spirit in Scripture declared this name, and it was to be another. And it is true, that not without particular and very serious advice, God revealed it to the world, and wanted his servants to know and invoke him; it would be a reckless thing to abandon it, and reckless superstition to neglect it, on the pretext of reverence. Someone could argue to us here that neither Christ nor the Apostles in their writings made amends for this error, etc. To this we answer, that they were never in charge of making versions, or correcting the facts, but attentive to a greater and more central matter, which was the announcement of the advent of the Messiah, and of his glorious Kingdom. They used the common version, which was then in use, which seems to have been that of the Seventy [the Septuagint], because they had plenty of it for their main purpose. Casiodoro De Reina’s 1569 Spanish translation used “Iehoua” throughout as seen here in Exodus 3. Modern translations By the nineteenth century, German scholars began to point out that the name “Jehovah” was a mistaken pronunciation, but many scholarly works in England continued to use “Jehovah.” In spite of these trends, English Christians did not see the necessity to produce an altered version of the Bible. By the nineteenth century, German scholars began to point out that the name “Jehovah” was a mistaken pronunciation. It wasn’t until the 1880s that “Yahweh” became a more frequently used pronunciation among scholars and students. Then, in 1901, American scholars prepared their own edition of the Revised Version (a revision of the KJV) for publication in the USA, known as the American Standard Version (ASV). In this version they decided to use “Jehovah” consistently. Even though they were aware that Jehovah was not an accurate pronunciation, they decided it would be received better because it was still more well-known than Yahweh. They explained in their preface: The American Revisers, after a careful consideration were brought to the unanimous conviction that a Jewish superstition, which regarded the Divine Name as too sacred to be uttered, ought no longer to dominate in the English or any other version of the Old Testament, as it fortunately does not in the numerous versions made by modern missionaries.2Preface to the ASV, 1901, accessed January 16, 2021, https://biblia.com/books/asv/offset/389. Benjamin B. Warfield, who was influential at the time of the publication, expressed strong approval of this decision. But the public had a harder time accepting the change. As the Princeton Seminary Bulletin later remarked, “However correct this practice might be in scholarly theory—for the word in Hebrew is indeed a proper name, not a title—it was disastrous from the point of view of the liturgical, homiletical, and devotional use of the Bible, and was almost universally disliked.”3Robert C. Dentan, “The Story of the New Revised Standard Version,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin vol 11, no. 3 (Nov 1990): 212. Thus, when it came time to revise the ASV, the committee decided to revert to using “the Lord” instead of Jehovah. The resulting RSV was published in 1952. RelatedHow Was the Pronunciation of God’s Name Lost? Part 2Andrew CaseWhy Didn’t the New Testament Authors Use God’s Name? Part 3Andrew CaseDoes God Want Us to Use His Divine Name? Part 1Andrew Case This would not be the last time modern versions flipflopped on the divine name. The Catholic NJB version (1966) used “Yahweh,” but the revision switched to “the Lord” in 2019. The Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004) used “Yahweh” (albeit inconsistently), and then decided to reverse their decision only five years later with the Christian Standard Bible revision. To date, only one mainstream English Bible is committed to translating God’s name as a name: the Legacy Standard Version (2021), which is a revision of the NASB. The revisers write: “The effect of revealing God’s name is His distinction from other gods and His expression of intimacy with the nation of Israel. Such a dynamic is a prevalent characteristic of the Scriptures.” That said, since 1960 there are other (not mainstream) bibles that have arisen specifically to restore the translation of God’s name (more about that here). It should also be mentioned that the World English Bible (public domain) uses “Yahweh” consistently. Conclusion History shows us how the winds of market forces, fickle human opinions, ignorance, and tradition can toss modern versions to and fro and blow them about, especially regarding the translation of God’s name. Will translations like the LSB suddenly fall out of vogue and turn course as others have done? My hope is that the English Bible publishers rise to the task of taking a clear, systematic, robustly biblical stand on what they are going to do with the divine name and why. It is not an issue that can be resolved in a few paragraphs of a version’s preface or a few pages on a website. Rather, it calls for a decision based solidly on Scripture’s teaching that leaves no stone unturned, documented exhaustively, and open to the public.Notes1John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony by John Calvin, trans. Charles W. Bingham (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1843), 127.2Preface to the ASV, 1901, accessed January 16, 2021, https://biblia.com/books/asv/offset/389.3Robert C. Dentan, “The Story of the New Revised Standard Version,” Princeton Seminary Bulletin vol 11, no. 3 (Nov 1990): 212. Andrew Case Andrew is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Canada Institute of Linguistics. He serves as a Bible translation consultant, and produces a podcast about his field called Working for the Word. He and his wife Bethany now work in Mexico and together founded FreeHebrew.online where they teach Hebrew to the world.