We strongly suspect that the Divine Name was removed from the Hebrew copies, and then later restored by scribes – but accidentally to too many places. When did this happen? And why do we suspect this?
We’re not sure when it happened. It could have been sometime after the Jews returned from Babylon in the 6th century BCE (but restored in time for the Dead Sea Scrolls to feature the name). Or it could have been sometime after the 1st century CE (and restored sometime before the Masoretes began their work in the 5th century CE). Or both.
Interestingly, George Lamsa (the creator of the Lamsa Bible from Aramaic into English), argued that the Hebrew Bible was entirely lost sometime after the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE. He said that the Bible only survived as an Aramaic translation, and that the Hebrew text we have today is a translation from Aramaic back into Hebrew! We can’t prove that this happened, but if it did, then this could be the time that YHWH was first removed from the Bible.
The Aramaic translation likely replaced YHWH with Lord (as the word maryah). We know this because the Aramaic Old Testament and Aramaic Targums survive to this day, and that’s what they do to the Divine Name. So later on, when they came to translate this Aramaic Bible back into Hebrew, they had to guess where Lord originally meant YHWH and where it really did just mean Lord! Unfortunately, in a few places they got it wrong, putting YHWH back into the text too many times.
Perhaps it happened that way, or some other way. Whatever the case, we strongly suspect that something like that happened. Why? For two main reasons:
1. In some places the Name breaks the normal customs of Hebrew poetry
For example, Psalm 19:9, word-for-word says this in the Hebrew text:
‘The/fear of/Jehovah (יְהוָ֨ה) is/clean,
The/Judgments of/Jehovah (יְהוָ֨ה) are/true,
What’s the problem? Well, in the rules of Hebrew poetry, when mentioning something or someone twice, the author should use a synonym or a simile instead of repeating the same thing. So we would expect to see YHWH in the first sentence, and Lord in the next sentence (or vice versa). Yet instead we see YHWH twice in a row.
The Greek Septuagint also has the same error, because Lord appears without ‘the’ beforehand in both places, suggesting that both instances said YHWH in the Hebrew text used by the translator. This would suggest that, if the name was indeed removed and ‘restored’ to the Hebrew Bible, it must have occurred before the appearance of the Greek Septuagint. In other words, before the 3rd century BCE.
In our Bible translation, we attempt to correct this, so the verse says:
‘The fear of Jehovah is pure…
It lasts through the age and through ages of ages.
And the judgments of the Lord are all true,
For they bring equal justice to all.’
We don’t know that we got it the right way around, but at least there’s a 50% chance we did.
2. Several prophecies about the Messiah read incorrectly
For example, at Romans 10:13, Paul quotes Joel 2:32, which says in the Hebrew:
Then, all that call on the name of Jehovah (יהוה) will be saved, said Jehovah (יהוה).
Why does Jehovah not say ‘all that call on MY NAME will be saved’ instead? Also, the context indicates that God was speaking of someone being sent by Him, and that it was this other person’s name that people were supposed to call upon. Christians would say that it’s the name of Jesus.
Indeed, this is the point Paul was making when he quoted the verse! Paul was not encouraging people to call on the name Jehovah, but on Jesus, the Son of Jehovah! The Jews had already been calling on the name Jehovah for centuries; it was not new. Calling on the name of Jesus, however, was new.
We feel that the scripture likely originally read like this:
Then, all that call on the name of the Lord will be saved, said Jehovah.
Another example is in Isaiah chapters 50 and 51. In the Hebrew text, Jehovah is spoken of in the 3rd person there, but then it seems like He’s speaking in the 1st person. This continues to shift confusingly all the way until chapter 53. Yet once you realize that YHWH may have been restored too many times, you can correct it, and then it all makes sense.
For example, the Hebrew text starts by saying, ‘And Jehovah said this to me...’ and then it quotes what ‘Jehovah’ said to Isaiah. But then ‘Jehovah’ says (in verse 4): ‘Jehovah gave me a tongue to instruct,’ and then, ‘Jehovah will come to my aid,’ and so on.
Huh? Jehovah gave Jehovah a tongue? Jehovah will come to Jehovah’s aid? Later on, in chapter 53, Jehovah even quotes Jehovah!
The simple answer is that it is not Jehovah speaking. Back at the start, when it said that ‘Jehovah’ is speaking, it probably originally said that the Lord was speaking. That Lord was a spirit messenger, and perhaps even Jesus himself. Indeed, the chapter is a messianic prophecy that describes many of the things that Jesus was to endure. Unfortunately, at some point, it seems that scribes ‘restored’ the name YHWH to this Bible book in too many places, and messed up the prophecy.
Other possibilities open up
If we’re right about this (and we’re not saying that we are), then it puts a question mark above several instances of YHWH in the Hebrew Masoretic text.
For example, in the writings of the Prophets, they report that one of God’s messengers was conveying Jehovah’s words. Now, did the Prophets refer to this messenger respectfully as the Lord, or as Jehovah, the person whom the messenger was representing? For example, in our translation, Jeremiah 2:1 says:
‘Then the Word of the Lord came to me again and said,
Go and yell in JeruSalem’s ears…
Tell them that thus says Jehovah:’
So we have ‘the Lord’ (the messenger or angel) bringing a message from Jehovah (a third party). That’s how it appears in our translation, but the Hebrew text says Jehovah in both instances. Yet, as you can see, if the first instance was originally Lord, and was referring to the spirit messenger, it would still makes sense.
This is just a possibility. There are some clear examples of spirit messengers being called Jehovah because they are His representatives. For example, at Exodus 3:2 it clearly says that a messenger (an angel) appears to Moses in the burning bush, and then in verse 6 that same messenger says, ‘I am the God of your ancestors.’
But the point is, if our suspicions are right, there could be many instances of YHWH that shouldn’t be there, and should actually read Lord.
So in our translation, we are very cautious about saying Jehovah wherever the Hebrew Masoretic text says YHWH, and also cautious about places where the Greek Septuagint uses Lord without ‘the’ beforehand (the standard way in which it replaced YHWH). If the Divine Name had been removed and restored from the Jewish Era books prior to the 3rd century BCE (when the Greek Septuagint was translated), then both texts are suspect.
Generally, if the context shows that a spirit messenger is talking, we refer that messenger as the Lord. Of course, we might be wrong, but we believe a cautious approach is best. Also, we’re gradually linking all such instances to a translator note which explains the issue.