Seek Yahweh: God’s Name was Lost in Translation

In the last book of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi declares warnings and indictments against the people of God. They had forgotten Yahweh. The priests had despised His name (Malachi 1:6). This book was probably written around 433-430 BC[i]. It is the last of Hebrew Scriptures. In this small book of only four chapters, the name of God, Yahweh, appears over 40 times. The phrase “LORD [Yahweh] of hosts” appears 17 times. God boldly proclaims that His name will receive its proper reverence.

 

Malachi 1:11

For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations," says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts.

 

God promised that those who fear “Yahweh” and esteem His name will be in a book of remembrance. They will be spared.

 

Malachi 3:16-17

Then those who feared the LORD [Yahweh] spoke to one another, and the LORD [Yahweh] gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD [Yahweh] and who esteem His name.

"They will be Mine," says the LORD [Yahweh] of hosts, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him."

 

It would seem that such strong words of admonition would have been heeded and those who fear the LORD (Yahweh) would have boldly esteemed his name and declared it among the nations. Furthermore, God declared that He is Yahweh and He does not change!

 

Malachi 3:6a

“I the LORD [Yahweh], do not change.”

 

Yet, after this book, in what is called the “New Testament” which is translated primarily from Greek texts, the name of God, “Yahweh,” is not mentioned once. Not once! Something changed. God’s name appears to have been lost in translation.

 

The oldest extant New Testament writings do not show up until the second century AD. They do not contain even one usage of the name Yahweh. By this time, the division between Christianity and Judaism was great. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, Judaism itself went through a transformation, and it seems the rabbinic tradents barred the usage of God’s name in their oral traditions. At the same time, Christianity was developing, being greatly influenced by Greek culture, and much understanding of the Hebrew language was lost. Noted scholar Bruce Metzger makes the following observation in discussing the development and importance of the Greek Septuagint in early Christianity:

 

“By the end of the first century of the Christian era, more and more Jews ceased using the Septuagint because the early Christians had adopted it as their own translation. At an early stage, the belief developed that this translation had been divinely inspired, and hence the way was open for several church fathers to claim that the Septuagint presented the words of God more accurately than the Hebrew Bible. The fact that after the first century very, very few Christians had any knowledge of the Hebrew language meant that the Septuagint was not only the church’s main source of the Old Testament but was, in fact, it’s only source.”[ii]

 

In the writings of what scholars call the “church fathers,” there are some obscure references to the name of God, but in reality, it is rarely mentioned among early Christian authors. Throughout the thousands of pages of early church literature, there are only a few places that God’s name makes an appearance, translated from the Greek/Latin as Jao, Jaoth, Jaou, Jeuo, Jaho, Ja, Jabe, Jehjeh. Here are the few usages in early writings.[iii]

That’s it − less than 20 usages of God’s name in the entire collection of early Christian writings from the first 400 years of the Christian church. Yet, the name “Yahweh” appears more than 6,000 times in the Hebrew. In the book of Malachi alone, God’s name is declared over 40 times! Something changed. Somehow, God’s name was lost in translation and vanished through the traditions of men. It seems that God’s name was not esteemed. In fact, it was almost entirely removed. This seems very different from the words of admonition by the prophet Malachi. In the last chapter of the Old Testament Scriptures, the prophet speaks of the coming day when evildoers will be as chaff in the burning furnace. However, hope is provided for those who fear God’s name.

 

Malachi 4:2

But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.

 

Let us be among those who fear the name of Yahweh and declare it among the nations. Also, may we continue to seek Him as we see the day of Yahweh approaching.

[i]The Lockman Foundation, The New American Standard Bible: Reference Edition (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI Copyright © 1999). Introduction to Malachi, P. 909

 

[ii] Bruce M. Metzger, The Bible in Translation: Ancient and English Versions (Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI, Copyright © 2005) Page 18

 

[iii] Jehovah (Yahweh) From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1892.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08329a.htm. Downloaded on 2/5/2015.

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