YHWH

March 27, 2015

YHWH is a transliteration from Hebrew into English of God’s personal name. It is sometimes called the tetragrammeton, which comes from Greek and means “four letters.”

Y stands for yod — י
H stands for hey — ה
W stands for waw or vav — ו
H stands for hey — ה

It looks like this in Hebrew, but remember that Hebrew is read right to left.

יהוה

In English translation, it is usually transliterated by Jehovah or Yahweh. Transliteration is the giving of the letters of one language in the letters of another. One of the problems of transliterating YHWH is the question of what vowels go with these letters. Hebrew is written without vowels except when dealing with the Masoretic text. The Masoretes were Jewish scribes from about A.D. 500 to 1000, who provided vowel points (vowel indicators) to aid with correct pronunciation. However, YHWH was not pronounced out of reverence for God, and the correct pronunciation can only be guessed at now. When a reader reached this point in the text they would say either adonai (my Lord) or elohim (God) — the latter being said when YHWH appeared with the word “lord” already. The Masoretes put the vowels for adonai or elohim on YHWH in the text since the reader was actually going to say adonai or elohim.

Jehovah as a transliteration goes back to ecclesiastical Latin in the 16th century A.D. or possibly even as far back as 1100 A.D. However, the transliteration was made with the vowels of adonai (my Lord). Yahweh is the attempt of modern scholarship to determine the correct vowels for YHWH and indicate that in the transliteration.

YHWH occurs over 6000 times in the Old Testament. The King James Version only renders 4 of those occurrences as Jehovah. The ASV is more consistent and has Jehovah 6779 times. Other translations use LORD or GOD in all capital letters to indicate YHWH following the later Jewish practice of saying either adonai (my Lord) or elohim (God) when encountering the divine name.

As a Bible reader, I like to know this background so that I’m aware of God’s personal name and be able to identify when it occurs, because certain passages make more sense that way.

So he built an altar there and called upon the name of the LORD and pitched his tent there… (Genesis 26:25, ESV) — Lord is a title. YHWH, however, is a name. When you understand that LORD is standing for YHWH, the passage makes more sense.

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2, ESV) — Pharaoh is saying he doesn’t know YHWH as opposed to the gods of Egypt whose names he did know.

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:2, ESV) The preface to the Ten Commandments names YHWH as the one who has delivered them. They lived in a polytheistic setting. This identification is important.

The above passages are examples. In many places, knowing that you are dealing with the divine name helps make the passage clearer. The preface to most modern Bible translations are going to tell you how the translators have chosen to handle the divine name.

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A Second Wind

March 20, 2015

When I was in college, I ran for exercise. I was not fast, and I was no competitive runner, but I ran. Anyone who has run for any distance has probably experienced this sensation. You start to hurt, you feel like you can’t go on, and you want to quit. But as you press on, you catch a second wind, and you finish the course that you set out to cover.

The definition of second wind is “a person’s ability to breathe freely during exercise, after having been out of breath.” We then use it metaphorically as “a new strength or energy to continue something that is an effort.”1

Christian living is compared to a race, and for most of us that race is a marathon (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Philippians 2:16, Hebrews 12:1-2). We must go the distance and not give up. This athletic imagery is also found in the use of victor’s crown or victor’s wreath. The Greek word is stephanos (from which we get the name Stephen). It is distinguished from the diadem, which is the royal crown. This is the imagery when Paul says:

Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8, ESV — See also 1 Cor. 9:25, Jam. 1:12, 1 Pet. 5:4, Rev. 2:10, 3:11.)

Just like my night runs in college, running the Christian race gets difficult. We may feel the need for a second wind as we face difficulties, sorrows, and temptations. Here’s a couple of my favorite “second wind” passages.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV)

Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30–31, ESV)

Are you struggling? I believe God is faithful to those who love him — just hold out for a second wind.

1New Oxford American Dictionary


The Confusing Binding and Loosing Passages

March 6, 2015

We are blessed to have English translations of the Bible, but on a few occasions our English translation may make it impossible to arrive at the correct sense out of a passage. One such case is the binding and loosing of Matthew 16:19 and 18:18. The ESV, unfortunately, gives the typical translation.

… and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, ESV)

You find a similar reading in the KJV, ASV, NKJV, NIV, NRSV, and NLT, although the NKJV, NIV, and ESV give the correct reading in their footnotes.

The name of grammatical feature in the passage is given in the footnote of the NASB. It is a future perfect passive form. William Douglas Chamberlain comments on this in his grammar.

This is wrongly translated “shall be bound” and “shall be loosed,” seeming to make Jesus teach that the apostles’ acts will determine the policies of heaven. They should be translated “shall have been bound” and “shall have been loosed.” This makes the apostles’ acts a matter of inspiration or heavenly guidance. Cf. Matthew 18:18. This incorrect translation has given expositors and theologians a great deal of trouble.1

The NASB translates it correctly.

…and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on

earth shall have been loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, NASB)

If reading several future perfect passives in a row makes your head spin, the HCSB provides the clear sense of the passage, although not a literal translation of it.

…and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:19, HCSB)

The sense of these passages, whether we are talking about Peter in Matthew 16:19 or the disciplining church in 18:18, is that the action and decision first occurs in heaven and then is followed on earth. Peter and the church are following heaven’s authority not dictating heaven’s policy. I simply make a note in the margin of my Bible so that I have the correction translation. The correct translation makes a world of difference and takes the confusion away.

1William Douglas Chamberlain, An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 80.