Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Yahweh In Translation

     I recently read an article by a preacher in which he objected to the use of Yahweh,
the  personal  name  of  the  deity,  in  translating  the  tetragrammaton  (YHWH)  in
the approximately 6828 times the term occurs in the Hebrew text. His reasoning is
that the use of Yahweh in translation tends to be confusing to most people because
they are not accustomed to hearing and/or reading the sacred name.

     First, I  doubt  that  the  degree  of confusion that he alleges really exists. The
American Standard  Version  published  in  1901  made  a  salient  effort  for
consistency by translating YHWH with the hybrid term Jehovah in all of its occurrences.
Some other English versions also use Jehovah for the Tetragrammaton. The KJV even
uses  Jehovah  a  few times. (cf. Gen. 22:14; Ex. 6:3; 17:15; Jdg. 6:24; Psa. 83:18;
Isa. 12:2; 26:4)  Furthermore, the  Jerusalem  Bible  uses  Yahweh  in thousands of
places, and  the  Holman  Christian  Standard  Bible  uses  it  over 600 times in the
Old Testament.

     Second,  even    if    the   use  of   Yahweh   initially confuses  those  who  lack
familiarity  with  the  name, is  it  not be the duty  of  preachers, who ought to be
exegetes of the sacred scriptures to explain its meaning and use? Do we not do this
with other words and concepts with  which  people  may not be familiar? I believe
much of the confusion regarding the issue of translating the Bible, is the direct result
of those who know failing to adequately inform those who do not know ! There are
ways of teaching our people the reasons why some things are translated the way they
are, and why some things need changing without being too technical and sounding
too academic. The bottom line is, we have the duty to teach people so they can be
informed. (2 Tim. 2:15) We who preach need to stay abreast of important issues,
and Bible translation is such an issue. There  is  no  excuse  for  spiritual and mental

     In my judgment, there is one thing confusing about the way most modern versions
address the issue of translating YHWH. It is this: where YHWH occurs in the text, they
put   the  word  LORD   in  all  capitals, except  in  those  instances  when  Adonai
(lord, ruler) and YHWH appear together. When they do occur together, YHWH is
translated GOD. Most people never notice such, and when they do, they have no idea
why Lord with lower case letters appears, and why at other times it is LORD with all
upper case letters. Then at other times we read God with lower case letters and in other
instances it appears as GOD with all upper case letters. Now that is what confuses many
people. They are unaware that such variety is an "expedient" used by translators to
differentiate Lord and God from YHWH.

     So, why not use Yahweh  in  the  places  where  YHWH  appears  in  the  text of
the Old Testament? Why not equip oneself to teach the people about the sacred name
as    we    teach   them   about   words   like   immerse,  congregation,  hades,  and
countless other words and concepts in our writing, preaching, and teaching?

                                                                                                               R. Daly

Copyright 2011


Friday, December 2, 2011


     I am occasionally asked, "Which translation is better, the ESV or the NASB?"
Both are excellent translations. They approach translation "theory" from slightly
different perspectives. The ESV is an "essentially literal" translation, meaning it
attempts word for word correspondence when possible, but it does not hesitate
to be "dynamic" or "interpretive" when necessary. The NASB leans more
toward the formal equivalence method of translation. In this sense it is generally
more of a modified literal text than the ESV. The translation philosophy of the
NASB makes it slightly more difficult (though not impossible) to read than the
ESV. The NASB is generally closer in "form" to the underlying Hebrew, Aramaic,
and Greek texts, and as a result some of its phrasing is awkward. Neither
translation is strictly literal. If they were, they would not be understandable to
most readers of English.

     The NASB tends to pay relatively close attention to Greek verbs and
participles. For instance, in Colossians 3:1 Paul uses the word zeteite, which
is a present active imperative. Most English versions say, "seek," but the NASB
translates it as "keep seeking." Some scholars call this over translation, but it
is useful to the Greek student and non Greek student alike, as it shows what is
going on in the Greek text. Examples of this kind in the NASB can be multiplied.

     The ESV is slightly more accurate than the NASB in that it sometimes makes
better textual choices because its lexical base is better. For example, the NASB
translates the noun paidagogos as "tutor" in Galatians 3:24 and 25. This choice
was likely influenced by older Greek lexicons such as Abbott-Smith's Manual
Greek Lexicon Of The New Testament. A paidagogos was not a tutor, but
was frequently a slave who was entrusted with the care and supervision of a male
child, hence a guardian, guide, custodian, disciplinarian. This is reflected by
modern Greek lexicons (BDAG, Trenchard, etc.) and  modern versions of the
scriptures. (cf. RSV, ESV, NIV, NRSV)  There are several instances wherein
the NASB's textual choices are deficient, but to its credit, the marginal notes
often contain the correct translation. It seems to me that the correct choices
should be in the text.

     There are also instances where both the ESV and the NASB miss the same
point in translation. In Acts 19 Paul came to Ephesus and found some disciples.
He asked them "Into what then were you immersed?" They replied, "Into the
immersion of John." Paul taught them about Jesus and on hearing this "they were
immersed into the name of the Lord Jesus." (verses 3 and 5) Both the ESV and the
NASB say they were "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." Both translations
acknowledge "into" is what the text literally says in their footnotes and marginal
notes. The Greek  preposition  used  is  "eis"  in each of the three instances in
the context. The ASV says "into" in all three instances.

     A person can learn what to do to be saved by diligently studying both the ESV
and the NASB. They compliment each other in many ways. Study from both texts.
The ESV is more readable in part because it is not as literal as the NASB. The
NASB, like the ASV-1901, is a good study bible because of its closeness to the
underlying Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The marginal notes in the NASB
are among the best found in any English version of the scriptures!
                                                                                                         R. Daly
Copyright 2011