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YHWH in the New Testament:

This article is a English version of a Italian article published on the catholic magazine, edited from Dehonian friars, "Rivista Biblica", year XLV, n. 2, April-June 1997, p. 183-186. Bologna, Italy.


For a long time it was thought that the divine Tetragrammaton YHWH, in Hebrew written with the letters YHWH (which recurs over 6800 times in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament) did not appear in the original writings of the New Testament. In its place it was thought that the writers of the New Testament had used the Greek word for LORD, KYRIOS. However, it seems that such an opinion is wrong. Here below are some factors to consider:

1) The Tetragrammaton in the Greek Version of Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX).

One of the reasons produced to support the above mentioned opinion was that the LXX substituted YHWH (YHWH) with the term KYRIOS, (kurios) which was the equivalent Greek of the Hebrew word ADONAY used by some Hebrews when they met the Tetragrammaton during the Bible reading.

However, recent discoveries have shown that the practice of substituted in the LXX YHWH with KYRIOS started in a much later period in comparison with the beginning of that version. As a matter of fact, the older copies of the LXX keep the Tetragrammaton written in Hebrew characters in the Greek text. (See App. 1)

Girolamo, the translator of the Latin Vulgate confirms this fact. In the prologue of the books of Samuel and Kings he wrote: "In certain Greek volumes we still find the Tetragrammaton of God's name expressed in ancient characters". And in a letter written in Rome in the year 384 it says: "God's name is made up of four letters; it was thought ineffable, and it is written with these letters: iod, he, vau, he (YHWH). But some have not been able to decipher it because of the resemblance of the Greek letters and when they found it in Greek books they usually read it PIPI (pipi)". S. Girolamo, Le Lettere, Rome, 1961, vol.1, pp.237, 238; compare J.P.Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol.22, coll.429, 430.

Around 245 C.E., the noted scholar Origen produced his Hexapla, a six-column reproduction of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures: (1) in their original Hebrew and Aramaic, accompanied by (2) a transliteration into Greek, and by the Greek versions of (3) Aquila, (4) Symmachus, (5) the Septuagint, and (6) Theodotion. On the evidence of the fragmentary copies now known, Professor W. G. Waddell says: "In Origen's Hexapla . . . the Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and LXX all represented JHWH by PIPI; in the second column of the Hexapla the Tetragrammaton was written in Hebrew characters." - The Journal of Theological Studies, Oxford, Vol. XLV, 1944, pp. 158, 159. Others believe the original text of Origen's Hexapla used Hebrew characters for the Tetragrammaton in all its columns. Origen himself stated that "in the most accurate manuscripts THE NAME occurs in Hebrew characters, yet not in today's Hebrew [characters], but in the most ancient ones".

A biblical magazine declare: "In pre-Christian Greek [manuscripts] of the OT, the divine name was not rendered by 'kyrios' as has often been thought. Usually the Tetragram was written out in Aramaic or in paleo-Hebrew letters. . . . At a later time, surrogates such as 'theos' [God] and 'kyrios' replaced the Tetragram . . . There is good reason to believe that a similar pattern evolved in the NT, i.e. the divine name was originally written in the NT quotations of and allusions to the OT, but in the course of time it was replaced by surrogates". - New Testament Abstracts, March 1977, p. 306.

Wolfgang Feneberg comments in the Jesuit magazine Entschluss/Offen (April 1985): "He [Jesus] did not withhold his father's name YHWH from us, but he entrusted us with it. It is otherwise inexplicable why the first petition of the Lord's Prayer should read: 'May your name be sanctified!'" Feneberg further notes that "in pre-Christian manuscripts for Greek-speaking Jews, God's name was not paraphrased with kýrios [Lord], but was written in the tetragram form in Hebrew or archaic Hebrew characters. . . . We find recollections of the name in the writings of the Church Fathers".

Dr. P.Kahle says: "We now know that the Greek Bible text [the Septuagint] as far as it was written by Jews for Jews did not translate the Divine name by kyrios, but the Tetragrammaton written with Hebrew or Greek letters was retained in such MSS [manuscripts]. It was the Christians who replaced the Tetragrammaton by kyrios, when the divine name written in Hebrew letters was not understood any more". - The Cairo Geniza, Oxford, 1959, p. 222.

Further confirmation comes from The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, that says: "Recently discovered texts doubt the idea that the translators of the LXX have rendered the Tetragrammaton JHWH with KYRIOS. The most ancient mss (manuscripts) of the LXX today available have the Tetragrammaton written in Hebrew letters in the Greek text. This was custom preserved by the later Hebrew translator of the Old Testament in the first centuries (after Christ)". Vol.2, pag.512.

Consequently, we can easily deduce that if the writers of NT in their quotations of the OT used the LXX they would surely have left the Tetragrammaton in their writings the way it recurred in the Greek version of the OT. To confirm the correctness of this conclusion it is interesting to note the following declaration made before the finding of the manuscripts proving that the LXX originaly continued the Tetragrammaton:

"If that version (LXX) would have kept the term (YHWH), or had used the Greek term for JEHOVAH and another for ADONAY, such a use would have surely been followed in the discourses and in the reasonings of the NT. Therefore our Lord, in quoting the 110th Psalms, insteand of saying: 'The LORD has said to my LORD' could have said: "JEHOVA has said to ADONI". Supposing that a Christian student was translating in Hebrew the Greek Testament: every time that he met the word KYRIOS, he should have had to consider if in the context there was something that indicated the true Hebrew correspondent; and this is the difficulty that would have arisen in translating the NT in whatever language if the name JEHOVAH would have been left in the Old Testament (LXX). The Hebrew scriptures would have constituted a standard for many passages: every time that the expression "the LORD's angel" recurs, we know that the term LORD represents JEHOVA; we could come to a similar conclusion for the expression "the LORD's word", according to the precedent established in the OT; and so it is in the case of the name "the LORD of armies". On the contrary, when the expression "my LORD" or "our LORD" recurs, we should know that the term JEHOVA would be inadmissible, when instead the words ADONAY or ADONI should be used". R.B.Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, 1897, p.43.

For a stronger support of this argument there are the words of the professor George Howard, of the University of Georgia (U.S.A.) who observes: "When the Septuagint Version that the New Testament Church used and quoted, contained the Divine Name in Hebrew characters, the writers of the New Testament included without doubt the Tetragrammaton in their quotations". Biblical Archeology Review, March 1978, p.14.

Consequently several translators of the NT have left the Divine Name in the quotations from the OT made by the New Testament writers. It can be noted, for example the versions of Benjamin Wilson, of Andrč Chouraqui, of Johann Jakob Stolz, of Hermann Heinfetter,in Efik, Ewe, Malgascio and Alghonchin languages.

2)The Tetragrammaton in Hebrew version of the NT.

As many know, the first book of the NT, the gospel of Matthew was written in Hebrew. The proof of this is found in the work of Girolamo De viris inlustribus, chap. 3, where he writes:

"Matthew, that is also Levi, that became an apostle after having been a tax collector, was the first to write a Gospel of Christ in Judea in the Hebrew language and Hebrew characters, for the benefit of those who where circumcised that had believed. It's not know with enough certainly who had then translated it in Greek. However the Hebrew one it self is preserved till this day in the Library at Cesarea, that the martyr Pamphilus collected so accurately. The Nazarenes of the Syrian city of Berea that use this copy have also allowed me to copy it". From the Latin text edited by E.C.Richardson, published in the series Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschicte der altchristlichen Literatur, vol.14, Lipsia, 1986, pp.8,9.

External evidence to the effect that Matthew originally wrote this Gospel in Hebrew reaches as far back as Papias of Hierapolis, of the second century a.C. Eusebius quoted Papias as stating: "Matthew collected the oracles in the Hebrew language". - The Ecclesiastical History, III, XXXIX, 16. Early in the third century, Origen made reference to Matthew's account and, in discussing the four Gospels, is quoted by Eusebius as saying that the "first was written . . . according to Matthew, who was once a tax-collector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, . . . in the Hebrew language". - The Ecclesiastical History, VI, XXV, 3-6.

Was this really Aramaic? Not according to documents mentioned by George Howard. He wrote: "This supposition was due primarily to the belief that Hebrew in the days of Jesus was no longer in use in Palestine but had been replaced by Aramaic. The subsequent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, many of which are Hebrew compositions, as well as of other Hebrew documents from Palestine from the general time period of Jesus, now show Hebrew to have been alive and well in the first century".

It is therefore natural to conclude that when Matthew quoted passages from the OT in which the Tetragrammaton appeared (thing that occurred both in the Hebrew OT and in the Greek one then available) he would have surely left YHWH in his gospel as no Jew ever dared to take away the Tetragrammaton from the Hebrew text of the Holy Scriptures.

To confirm this there are at least 27 Hebrew versions of the NT that present the Tetragrammaton in the quotations of the OT or where the text requires it. (see app.2) Three of these are the versions of F.Delitzsch, of I.Salkinson & C.D.Ginsburg , of the United Bible Societies, ed.1991 and of Elias Hutter.

3) The Tetragrammaton in the Christian Scriptures according to the Babylonian Talmud.

The first part of this Jewish work is called Shabbath (Sabbath) and it contains an immense code of rules that establishes what could have been done of a Sabbath. Part of it deals with if on the Sabbath day Biblical manuscripts could be saved from the fire, and after it reads:

"The text declares: 'The white spaces ("gilyohnim") and the books of the Minim, can't be saved from the fire'. Rabbi Jose said: 'On working days one must cut out the Divine Names that are contained in the text, hide them and burn the rest'. Rabbi Tarfon said: 'May I bury my son if I don't burn them together with the Divine Names that they contain if I come across them". -From the English translation of Dr. H.Freedman.

The word "Minim" means "sectarians" and according to Dr. Freedman it's very probable that in this passage it indicates the Jewish-Christians. The expression "the white spaces" translates the original "gilyohnim" and could have meant, using the word ironically, that the writings of the "Minim where as worthy as a blank scroll, namely nothing. In some dictionaries this word is given as "Gospels". In harmony with this, the sentence that appears in the Talmud before the above mentioned passage says: "The books of the Minim are like white spaces (gilyohnim)."

So in the book Who was a Jew?, of L.H.Schiffman, the above mentioned passage of the Talmud is translated: "We don't save the Gospels or the books of Minim from the fire. They are burnt where they are, together with their Tetragrammatons. Rabbi Yose Ha-Gelili says: "During the week one should take the Tetragrammatons from them, hide them and burn the rest". Rabbi Tarfon said: 'May I bury my children! If I would have them in my hands, I would burn them with all their Tetragrammatons'". Dr. Schiffman continues reasoning that here "Minim" is referred to Hebrew Christians.

And it's very probable that here the Talmud refers to the Hebrew Christians. It is a supposition that finds agreement among the studious people, and in the Talmud seems to be well supported by the context. In Shabbath the passage that follows the above mentioned quotations relates a story, regarding Gamaliel and Christian judge in which there is an allusion to parts of the Sermon on the Mount. Therefore, this passage of the Talmud is a clear indication that the Christians included the Tetragrammaton in their Gospel and their writings.

Because of all we have said there are valid reasons to assert that the writers of the New Testament reported the Tetragrammaton in their divinely inspired work.

Matteo Pierro Salita S. Giovanni 5, 84135 Salerno, ITALY. e-mail cdb@supereva.it

Appendix 1

List of LXX versions that have Tetragrammaton:

1) LXX P. Fouad Inv. 266.

2) LXX VTS 10a.

3) LXX IEJ 12.

4) LXX VTS 10b.

5) 4Q LXX Levb.

6) LXX P. Oxy. VII.1007.

7) Aq Burkitt.

8) Aq Taylor.

9) Sym. P. Vindob. G. 39777.

10) Ambrosiano O 39 sup.

Appendix 2

List of Hebrew versions of the NT that have the Tetragrammaton:

1) Gospel of Matthew, a cura di J. du Tillet, Parigi, 1555

2) Gospel of Matthew, di Shem-Tob ben Isaac Ibn Shaprut, 1385

3) Matthew and Hebrews, di S. Munster, Basilea, 1537 e 1557

4) Gospel of Matthew, di J. Quinquarboreus, Parigi, 1551

5) Gospels, di F. Petri, Wittemberg, 1537

6) Gospels, di J. Claius, Lipsia, 1576

7) NT, di E. Hutter, Norimberga, 1599

8) NT, di W. Robertson, Londra, 1661

9) Gospels, di G. B. Jona, Roma, 1668

10) NT, di R. Caddick, Londra, 1798-1805

11) NT, di T. Fry, Londra, 1817

12) NT, di W. Greenfield, Londra, 1831

13) NT, di A. McCaul e altri, Londra, 1838

14) NT, di J. C. Reichardt, Londra, 1846

15) Luke, Acts, Romans and Hebrews, di J. H. R. Biesenthal, Berlino, 1855

16) NT, di J. C. Reichardt e J. H. R. Biesenthal, Londra, 1866

17) NT, di F. Delitzsch, Londra, ed.1981

18) NT, di I. Salkinson e C. D. Ginsburg, Londra, 1891

19) Gospel of John, di M. I. Ben Maeir, Denver, 1957

20) A Concordance to the Greek New Testament, di Moulton e Geden, 1963

21) NT, United Bibles Societies, Gerusalemme, 1979

22) NT, di J. Bauchet e D. Kinnereth, Roma, 1975

23) NT, di H. Heinfetter, Londra, 1863

24) Romans, di W. G. Rutherford, Londra, 1900

25) Psalms and Matthew, di A. Margaritha, Lipsia, 1533

26) NT, di Dominik von Brentano, Vienna e Praga, 1796

27) NT, Bible Society, Gerusalemme, 1986


Matteo Pierro after his article about God's Name in New Testament appeared on catholic magazine "Rivista Biblica" published a book about this subject. It is in Italian language. You can see here a preview: http://utenti.tripod.it/matteopierro To contact author: cdb@supereva.it

Here is some reviews about this book:


GEOVA E IL NUOVO TESTAMENTO (Jehovah and The New Testament) Matteo Pierro (Sacchi Editore Via Bonvesin de la Riva,8, 20027 Rescaldina [MI] Italy, 2000) 174pp. Tel: 0331-57.76.28.

One intractable factoid that faces every Bible translator centers on what to do with the regular appearance of the Divine Name in the Hebrew text. For those few that read the Introduction or Preface of Bible translations ,invariably they will see that there is comment on how this problem was addressed. In the popular New International Version we discover: "In regard to the divine name YHWH, commonly referred to as the Tetragrammaton, the translators adopted the device used in most English versions of rendering that name as "LORD" in capital letters to distinguish it from Adonai, another Hebrew word rendered "Lord" for which small letters are used." The American Translation produced by renowned scholars in the second decade of the 20th Century alerts the reader: "In this translation we have followed the orthodox Jewish tradition and substituted 'the Lord' for the name 'Yahweh' and the phrase 'the Lord God' for the phrase 'the Lord Yahweh.'" Viewed from a broad perspective, the truth is that around the world some translations render the Tetragrammaton as "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" regularly or in a few instances and others completely replace the personal name of God with a generic title like "Lord" or "God." Clearly, there has been an ongoing inconsistency. But what about the place of the Tetragrammaton, the personal name of God, in the New Testament? A small but increscent number of scholars and critics are arguing that the personal name of God has a place in the New Testament. Matteo Pierro is one of those and he diligently essays to make his case in an attractively packaged work headed GEOVA E IL NUOVO TESTAMENTO (Jehovah and The New Testament.)

The author is well aware of the scant manuscript evidence supporting his conclusion but he demonstrates a solid knowledge of both sides of the issue and critically analyzes the available data.

Pierro documents Jewish and Christian practices affecting the appearance and disappearance of the Divine Name in Bible translations and copies in the original languages. He reviews the debate over the Hebrew pronunciation of the Divine Name. Careful attention is given to scholars who reject the pronunciation "Yahweh" and cogently argue for a trisyllabic Divine Name. His survey of evidences for the appearance of the Tetragrammaton in the New Testament includes the testimony of the Talmud and interesting New Testament texts that only seem to make sense if the Greek text's "Kurios" ("Lord") was really "Jehovah/Yahweh" in the original Greek text.

The reader will be treated to a lengthy list of New Testament translations from around the world that incorporate the Divine Name in their texts. A wide range of scholarship is consulted and referenced. If you are fluent in Italian, I recommend that you add this work to your "must read" list.

Hal Flemings Instructor in Hebrew Language San Diego Community College San Diego, California


Matteo Pierro's book "Geova e il Nuovo Testamento" (Jehovah and the New Testament) is a bibliographic novelty worth of researchers' most serious attention. Theonymy has been in the last three centuries a subject neglected by most Christian theologians. Reformation and contra-reformation theological disputes focused mainly on the surface level of the Scriptures, putting aside esoteric aspects, such as theonymy and its mystical implications. Most contemporary studies on theonymy are of laic nature, adopting a scientific-historical approach. They usually regard the theonyms Elohim, YHWH and others as denominations of different deities that eventually, out of political reasons, merged into one. Such phenomena were usually the result of tribal alliances, religious syncretism, etc. Of course, the scientific-historical approach, no matter how tempting it might be, leaves the religious aspects of the problem uncovered. The originality of Mr. Pierro's book resides in the fact that it is one of the very few books written by a modern Christian author that treats the problem of theonymy, mainly of the theonym YHWH, from a religious and philological point of view.

By discussing the usage and importance of the Ineffable Name among early Christians, Mr. Pierro brings to light new common elements shared by Judaism and Christianity alike and opens new perspectives for interconfessional dialogue.

Unlike most modern specialists, Mr. Pierro considers that the Ineffable Name was originally pronounced Yahowa and not Yahwe. The author's arguments are certainly worth of the attention of specialists and might represent a contribution to the solution of the problem: how was the Tetragrammaton pronounced?

Mr. Pierro analyses as well the causes that lead to the replacement of the theonym YHWH by the theonym Kuvrio" (< ynado<á /adonay/) in early Christian texts in Greek. A very tempting explanation, proposed in the book, is the possible intention of the Christian Church to create a textual identity between Kuvrio" (in Hebrew ynado<á /adonay/, literally "my Lords"), that referred to the Christian God Father and the Jewish One God, and Kuvrio" (in Hebrew ynido<á /adoni/ "my lord", "my lordship" or in Aramaic yrima /mari/ with the same meaning), that referred to Jesus of Nazareth.

Mr. Pierro's book is a fresh and important contribution in a field which, in spite of its huge importance, has been neglected by most modern Christian theologians. Mr. Pierro's book constitutes one of the few theological and philological alternatives to the scientific-historical approach that has so far predominated in the research of Christian theonymy, opening thus new perspectives for interconfessional dialogue and for further and deeper understanding of early Christianity.

Gustavo Adolfo Loria Rivel Romanian specialist on Biblical philology and Balcanic linguistics. Born in San Jose, Costa Rica on June 27 1970. In 1996 received a degree in English and Latin by the "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University from Iasi, Romania. Nowadays, doctorate student at the University of Iasi, Romania, under the guidance of prof. Traian Diaconescu (the professor who coordonates his doctorate). The subject of his doctorate thesis, to be presented in 2002, is "Pentateuch: Problems of translation of the Biblical text". He have participated in two International Congresses on Balcanistics: Piatra Neamt, Romania (1995) and Constanta, Romania (1996). He have published on Balcanistics mainly in the Thraco-Dacica Review of the Romanian Academy of Sciences and the "Anales" of the "Alexandru Ioan Cuza" University of Iasi.

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