The 2001 Translation AboutJehovah in our New Testament

YHWH/JHVH
יהוה (YHWH or JHVH) on stained glass in the Church of Saint-Philibert in Charlieu, France

‘Jehovah... That has been My Name through the ages, and it’s how I shall be remembered from generation to generation.’ –Exodus 3:15

This translation uses Jehovah 150 times in its New Testament. Yet, the divine name Jehovah (or Yahweh) recorded in Hebrew as יהוה‎ or YHWH, does not appear in any ancient New Testament manuscript yet discovered. So why does it appear in our translation? This article explains why.

Firstly, let’s be clear. The only places where the Divine Name appears in Greek New Testament manuscripts is in the shortened form Jah in the word hallelujah (‘praise Jah’) just 4 times in Revelation.

In the Aramaic New Testament, haleluwya (‘praise Jah’) also appears 4 times, plus 210 potential references in the word maryah (sometimes written as moryo), which means ‘Lord,’ but was commonly used to stand-in for the tetragram, YHWH, when used like a proper noun.

So a literal translation would never use Jehovah/Yahweh in the New Testament, although it might say Jah/Yah 4 times.

Yet in our translation, the full name Jehovah appears 150 times. Let’s see why.

Did the early Christians know the Divine Name?

Yes, they knew it. This fact is not in dispute, because it appears in many sources from around the 1st and 2nd centuries CE:

  • Greek Septuagint fragment 4Q120 uses ΙΑΩ (in the Greek script) which was probably pronounced something like “ya-ho.”
  • Greek Septuagint fragment Papyrus Fouad 266 uses יהוה‎ (in the Hebrew script).
  • Greek Septuagint fragments 943, 3522, and 5101 use 𐤉𐤄𐤅𐤄 (in the Paleo-Hebrew script).
  • Josephus described how the Name “is not lawful for me to say any more”.
  • The 1st century CE Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria said that the names of God “may only be mentioned or heard by holy men having their ears and their tongues purified by wisdom, and by no one else at all in any place whatever”.
  • 2nd century Christian writer, Clement of Alexandria, commented, “For human speech is by nature feeble, and incapable of uttering God. I do not say His name. For to name it is common, not to philosophers only, but also to poets.” He also said “the mystic name of four letters which was affixed to those alone to whom the [Most Holy of the Temple] was accessible, is called Jave (Greek: Ιαουε), which is interpreted, ‘Who is and shall be.’ The name of God, too, among the Greeks contains four letters.”

Also, there are conflicting Rabbinic traditions from the Middle Ages which describe how it could or could not be used back in the 1st century. Some state that the name could only be spoken once a year by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, while others say that priests said it once per day in the daily sacrifices.

Jesus himself mentioned that God has a personal name:

‘For though I’ve come in the Name of my Father; you haven’t welcomed me. Yet if someone else came in his own name, you would welcome him!’ —John 5:43

‘the things that I’m doing in my Father’s Name all testify about me’ –John 10:25

‘I’ll also write the Name of my God upon them’ —Revelation 3:12

So people of that time knew the Name. However, the question is not whether they knew the Name, it’s whether they explicitly wrote it in the New Testament.

Was it removed?

One possibility is that early Christians wrote the Name in the New Testament, but then unknown persons later removed it. This may be true, but nobody has yet found any evidence to support the idea. There are no early fragments containing the Name, nor any external references to it being there or it being removed.

So if that’s what happened, then it must have happened extremely early in the Christian period. So early, in fact, that nobody may find any manuscript evidence proving it either way.

Yet there is a second possibility that we cannot ignore.

Lord is a well-understood euphemism

It’s quite possible that the early Christians wrote the name in plain sight of everyone, but as a euphemism. How so? Well, using ‘Lord’ as a euphemism for the Divine Name was a centuries-old existing practice.

Most copies of the Greek Septuagint had used kyrios (‘Lord’) as a proper noun in place of Jehovah/Yahweh. Yes, the Septuagint didn’t say “the Lord,” but just “Lord” where it originally said YHWH in the Hebrew, treating Lord as if it’s a personal name.

Normally this would be a weird grammar error, but in this case, it was a special signal to the reader. It told Greek-speaking Jews where the Divine Name is supposed to be. Some Septuagint copies just left a blank space instead of YHWH, a few even had YHWH in Hebrew script (and one transliterated it into Greek script), but most used this trick of saying ‘lord’ instead of ‘the lord’ to indicate where the Hebrew text originally said YHWH. When readers or listeners came across the ‘error,’ they knew what it really meant.

This practice was about 300 years old at the time of the Apostles, probably dating back to whenever Jews starting speaking Greek.

As for Aramaic-speakers, they also said Lord, but couldn’t use the same trick as Greek of leaving out “the,” beforehand because Aramaic doesn’t have a word meaning “the” (as is the case in many languages). So instead, they used a different little trick. The full, long, spelling of Lord (maryah) was usually reserved for replacing YHWH. They’d use shortened spellings of the word at other times (e.g. mara). This practice may have been 500 years old by the time of the Apostles, perhaps dating back to the time of the Babylonian exile.

So, 1st-century Jews (and Jews who became Early Christians) had ways of knowing when Lord was a euphemism. They knew when it really meant YHWH.

It’s a bit like how in the King James Version, it sometimes says “LORD” (in capitals) instead of “Lord”. Not many people know it, but this is a deliberate clue left by the KJV translators to tell readers where the Hebrew source texts say YHWH.

Anyway, by the time of the Apostles, their own little tricks were centuries-old customs. Writings from the time show that people knew of the Name, and people also knew the laws around saying it (and not saying it). Thus, audiences knew when ‘Lord’ was a euphemism for Jehovah/Yahweh. They hadn’t lost or forgotten the name YHWH, they just referred to it by euphemism. It was like saying “[insert Divine Name here].”

In other words, it could easily be that the New Testament manuscripts never had YHWH written in them, but it didn’t matter! Everyone knew when Lord meant YHWH. Greek-speakers looked for the missing “the,” while Aramaic-speakers listened for maryah being used like a proper noun. In addition, there was also the context. After all, what do you look for when working out that something is a euphemism? Probably the context.

The people weren’t stupid; they knew what was going on. They knew the game, and they knew how to play it. It could easily be that YHWH is in the New Testament, and has been there all along, staring at us in the face. It was just written for an audience that was “in-the-know,” something that modern-readers are not.

An even older custom

Further, the custom of saying ‘Lord’ as a euphemism is even older than I’ve described. Remember, the Jews already used the same custom to avoid saying a pagan god’s name. This custom was a staggering 1,500 years old by the 1st century. The Law of Moses forbade saying the names of foreign gods:

‘don’t mention the names of other gods or speak of them in any way.’ —Exodus 23:13

So instead, people said ‘Baal,’ which is an ancient word meaning ‘Lord’ or ‘Master.’ There was no god called Baal. It is just a title (for more information, see our translator note for BaAl). So, at the time of the Apostles, this custom of using ‘Lord’ as a euphemism for a gods name, was 1,500 years old – all the way back to the beginning of their nation!

When they starting using Lord as a euphemism for YHWH

Since returning from exile in Babylon, the Jews did something new. Scholars tell us that the Jews felt so horribly ashamed of their captivity, that they adopted the same method used with pagan gods to avoid saying the name of their own God.

We may get a hint of this in Psalm 137:4, where the captives in Babylon said (and later made famous by a popular song):

‘But, how can we sing the songs of the Lord,
There in an alien land?’

Yet in their post-exile era, it seems that instead of replacing YHWH with ‘BaAl’ (which traditionally referred to pagan gods), they used kyrios (‘Lord’) in Greek and maryah in Aramaic (‘Lord’ or ‘Lord Jah’).

So while some Jews and early Christians may have said YHWH discreetly on occasion (especially when explaining matters to Gentiles who understood none of this, one might assume), they could also use euphemisms that everybody would understand.

This legal loophole allowed you to ‘say’ YHWH and not break the law, nor risk your expensive scrolls and letters being confiscated and destroyed. By the time of Jesus, this custom was centuries old. Readers and listeners of the New Testament could put YHWH back into the text with their minds, as they perhaps did every sabbath at the synagogue when hearing readings from the Hebrew scrolls, Aramaic Targums, or the Greek Septuagint.

How to translate a euphemism?

If Lord is indeed a euphemism, how should it be translated? Translation is not a mere word-for-word transcription. A proper translation aims to convey the full meaning that the original writer meant, and the meaning the audience was meant to understand.

If a Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word is meant to be understood as a euphemism, then the meaning of the euphemism must be conveyed to modern readers. Sometimes you can just use an equivalent euphemism in English. In which case, there is no problem.

For example, in Hebrew, to ‘cover your feet’ was a euphemism for emptying your bowels. In English, this is no problem, because translators can just replace it with an equivalent English euphemism (of which we have plenty!). Therefore, the full meaning of the original words are conveyed, and everyone knows what we’re talking about.

So, where Lord in the New Testament was a well-understood euphemism for the Divine Name, that must be conveyed to modern readers. Unfortunately there is no equivalent euphemism in English which means ‘insert Divine Name here.’ So instead, our translation just translates the euphemism to say what it means, Jehovah.

The only way to translate it

This is the standard way to translate euphemisms and idioms in Bible translation. It is the method taught in training courses for those producing Bible translations for minority languages and sign languages (although no such courses yet recognize Lord as a euphemism for Jehovah/Yahweh). Translators are told to find an equivalent euphemism in their target language, and if one doesn’t exist, to just say what it means.

Imagine what the Bible would look like if euphemisms and idioms were not translated into an English equivalent, or into words saying what it actually means. Large parts of the Bible would be extremely hard to understand. Just look at the many literal word-for-word translations out there.

Even in modern English, speakers say things like “he’s well-built” or “big-boned” to mean overweight. Translators should not translate these as “constructed with skill” or “has a large skeleton,” as that would be a mistranslation. No, they must change these euphemisms into local equivalents, or just be plain-spoken and translate it as “overweight,” but somehow convey that it was said politely.

After all, isn’t that what translation is supposed to be? Conveying the original meaning to a new audience?

So what is the situation that we face? There’s the strong possibility that ‘Lord’ was often understood as a euphemism for YHWH, depending on the context. The historical evidence seems to support this. So, translators must convey that to the modern reader. Otherwise it would be a mistranslation, or even censorship of the intended original meaning.

Indeed, the tradition of using Lord as a euphemism for YHWH is so old and well-established that one could even say that Lord simply means YHWH in certain contexts. Just like how “big boned” has nothing to do with bones, but means “fat,” Lord sometimes just means YHWH.

The only place to literally translate euphemisms is in poetry. Poems use words to convey feelings, not just plain meanings. Elsewhere, though, translating euphemisms literally would cause misunderstandings, and therefore, mistranslations.

Therefore, if Lord means the Divine Name in certain places, then the simplest translation is just the most commonly-used version of the Name in English, Jehovah.

Other options

Alternatively, translators could still say ‘Lord’ but put (Jehovah) afterwards in parentheses. However, to be consistent, translators would have to do the same thing with all idioms and euphemisms throughout the entire Bible! That would be very long-winded and unnecessary. No Bible does that.

So, to keep consistency, when our editor decides that there’s a reasonable amount of suspicion that an instance of Lord is a euphemism for YHWH, this translation just says what it means, Jehovah, and explains it in a note.

Please understand: there is no dogmatism here. This theory could be wrong. However, the 2001 Translation is doing a public service by providing a New Testament which explores this possibility. What if it turns out to be wrong? Then the theory was wrong, and our translators will correct our Bible.

A much more important question, though, is this: what if the theory is right?


Possible places

Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time to ask a 1st century Jew or Christian where Lord is a euphemism for YHWH. We can only guess. And we might get it wrong! So, where might it be a euphemism?

We put verses into six different categories. Most verses fall into more than one category (see table below).

Category A

Where Lord has a Greek grammar error, treating it as a proper noun. Learn more.

Category B

Where Lord is written in Aramaic using the word maryah. Learn more.

Category C

Quotes of the Old Testament in the New which contain YHWH. Learn more.

Category D

Where the New Testament describes actions of YHWH in the Old. Learn more.

Category E

Expressions from the Old Testament which contain YHWH. Learn more.

Category F

Where the context is clearly referring to the Father, Almighty God. Learn more.


Our totals

The 2001 Translation says Jehovah 150 times across 146 verses in its New Testament (plus 3 times in translator additions to explain the meaning of a name).

Each occurrence is listed below.

Verse AGreek grammar BAramaic maryah COT Quote with YHWH DActions of YHWH in OT EOT Expression with YHWH FClearly refers to the Father
Matt. 1:20
Matt. 1:22
Matt. 1:24
Matt. 2:13
Matt. 2:15
Matt. 2:19
Matt. 4:7
Matt. 4:10
Matt. 5:33
Matt. 12:4
Matt. 21:9
Matt. 21:42
Matt. 22:37
Matt. 22:44
Matt. 23:39
Matt. 27:10
Matt. 28:2
Mark 5:19
Mark 11:9
Mark 12:11
Mark 12:29
Mark 12:30
Mark 12:36
Mark 13:20
Luke 1:6
Luke 1:9
Luke 1:11
Luke 1:15
Luke 1:16
Luke 1:25
Luke 1:28
Luke 1:32
Luke 1:38
Luke 1:45
Luke 1:46
Luke 1:58
Luke 1:66
Luke 1:68
Luke 1:76
Luke 2:9
Luke 2:22
Luke 2:23
Luke 2:26
Luke 2:39
Luke 4:8
Luke 4:12
Luke 4:18
Luke 4:19
Luke 5:17
Luke 10:27
Luke 13:35
Luke 19:38
Luke 20:37
Luke 20:42
John 12:13
John 12:38
Acts 1:24
Acts 2:25
Acts 2:34
Acts 2:39
Acts 3:19
Acts 3:22
Acts 4:26
Acts 4:29
Acts 5:9
Acts 5:19
Acts 7:30
Acts 7:49
Acts 8:26
Acts 8:39
Acts 11:21
Acts 12:7
Acts 12:11
Acts 12:23
Acts 13:11
Acts 13:47
Acts 15:17
Romans 9:28
Romans 9:29
Romans 11:3
Romans 11:34
Romans 12:19
Romans 14:11
Romans 15:11
1 Cor. 1:31
1 Cor. 2:16
1 Cor. 3:20
1 Cor. 4:4
1 Cor. 4:17
1 Cor. 4:19
1 Cor. 7:17
1 Cor. 10:9
1 Cor. 12:3
1 Cor. 14:21
1 Cor. 15:58
2 Cor. 2:12
2 Cor. 3:16
2 Cor. 3:17 (A)
2 Cor. 3:17 (B)
2 Cor. 3:18 (A)
2 Cor. 3:18 (B)
2 Cor. 6:17
2 Cor. 6:18
2 Cor. 10:17
Eph. 2:21
Eph. 5:19
2 Th. 3:3
2 Timothy 2:19
Hebrews 6:3
Hebrews 7:21
Hebrews 8:2
Hebrews 8:8
Hebrews 8:9
Hebrews 8:10
Hebrews 8:11
Hebrews 10:16
Hebrews 10:30
Hebrews 12:5
Hebrews 12:6
Hebrews 13:5
Hebrews 13:6
James 1:7
James 4:6
James 4:10
James 4:15
James 5:4
James 5:10
James 5:11 (A)
James 5:11 (B)
1 Peter 3:12 (A)
1 Peter 3:12 (B)
2 Peter 2:9
2 Peter 2:11
2 Peter 3:8
2 Peter 3:9
Jude 1:5
Jude 1:9
Jude 1:14
Rev. 1:8
Rev. 4:8
Rev. 11:17
Rev. 14:10
Rev. 15:3
Rev. 15:4
Rev. 16:7
Rev. 18:8
Rev. 19:6
Rev. 21:22
Rev. 22:5
Rev. 22:6

Plus: Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:13, and Luke 1:31, added by our translator to describe what the names Jesus and John mean. Not part of the original text.


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