Jesus said: ‘I’ll also write the Name of my God upon them.’ –Revelation 3:12
Our translation says Jehovah 151 times in its Christian Era books (the ‘New Testament’). But how can this be? The divine name Jehovah/Yahweh (recorded in Hebrew as יהוה or YHWH), doesn’t appear in ANY of the relevant manuscripts yet discovered! So why on earth does it appear in our translation? Let me tell you why.
Sure, the Divine Name sort-of appears in Greek manuscripts in the shortened form Jah in the word hallelujah (‘praise Jah’) 4 times in Revelation. Also, in the Aramaic manuscripts, haleluwya (‘praise Jah’) likewise 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 Christian Era books, although it might say Jah/Yah 4 times.
Yet in our translation, the full name Jehovah appears 151 times. Why? For a very good reason that most people have never heard of or considered before! It may have appeared as a euphemism!
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 have the name 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 their books, 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’ was 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 they couldn’t use the same trick as the Greek-speakers of leaving out “the” beforehand. Why not? Because Aramaic doesn’t have a word meaning “the” (as is the case with many modern languages like Russian). 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. In Greek there was the grammar “error” of missing out “the”. In Aramaic there was maryah. They knew when the scrolls 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, these 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 Bible books of the Christian Era 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’s 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 Gospels and the other books of the Christian Era, 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, to avoid saying YHWH aloud, 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.
Only in poetry should we translate euphemisms as they literally appear. 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.
You might wonder, “Why not say ‘Lord’, but put (Jehovah) afterwards in parentheses?” Sure, we could do that. But, to be consistent, we’d have to do the same thing with ALL the idioms and euphemisms throughout the entire Bible! No other Bible does that, and it would be really long-winded and odd-looking.
So, to be consistent, when our editor decides that an instance of Lord is (probably) a euphemism for YHWH, this translation says Jehovah, and explains the reasons why in a linked translator note. We might not get every instance right, but we can try.
Please understand: we’re not dogmatic about this issue. This theory could be wrong. However, we feel that the 2001 Translation is doing a public service by exploring this possibility. If it turns out to be wrong, then fine. We’ll just correct our Bible and move on.
But a much more important question is this: what if the theory’s right?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a DeLorean, and 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).
Lord with the Greek grammar ‘error,’ treating it as a proper noun and using the Septuagint’s method for replacing YHWH. Learn more.
Where Lord or Lord Jah is written in Aramaic using the word maryah. Learn more.
Quote of a Jewish Era book which we can today see contains YHWH. Learn more.
Where the passage describes actions of YHWH in the Jewish Bible. Learn more.
Expressions from the Jewish Bible which contain YHWH. Learn more.
Where the context is clearly referring to the Father, Almighty God. Learn more.
The 2001 Translation says Jehovah 151 times across 147 verses in its books of the Christian Era (plus 3 times in translator additions to explain the meaning of a name).
- All are linked to a translator note to explain the reason(s) for it.
- We are not dogmatic about any particular occurrence. Some of these will likely change in the future.
- No other English Bible is so transparent, detailed, and open to change in this matter.
Each occurrence is listed below.