Thursday, 9 March 2017

The name of [the] LORD

Followers of this blog should by now be aware that there are some interesting translator problems and choices behind the words rendered in English Bibles as "The LORD". We have reviewed on several occasions how the definite article - the "the" - implies that this was more of a title than a name. We should therefore expect to find:

* "the LORD of"
* the definite article in Greek

Generally speaking, neither are true. Why only generally? Because on the second point, the "the" is sometimes present in the Greek. However, as we have previously noted on several occasions:

- this is required sometimes by Greek grammar
- after the Septuagint was translated in the third century BC, subsequent translators began to slip a bit, forgetting in some less self-evident scenarios that the original Pentateuch translators had attempted to preserve the name aspect of Yahweh.

On the first point, some explaining might be necessary (and this for the first time on the blog) of the rather famous "the LORD of hosts". This sounds a lot like a title, right? Well, it depends which translation you read actually. The traditional KJV (King James Version) rendering goes this route, and, peculiarly so do my usually more-trusted-translations of the ESV and NET. The NIV opts for "the LORD Almighty". What's going on behind the scenes here?

The first thing to note is that, strangely enough, although the Hebrew יְהוָ֨ה צְבָא֜וֹת - Yahweh ṣəḇā’ō-wṯ - occurs 223 times as "the LORD of hosts" according to the ESV (I have not checked all references, so some slight variations in Hebrew are possible), 


Why do I put that in such a scarily large font? To me it seems of genuine significance to note that the first translators of the Hebrew books only had to deal with Yahweh as a true name, and did not have to deal with this "of hosts" business. Others have obviously noticed this. Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon states that: "this appellation of the most high God, is very frequent in the prophetical books, especially in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Malachi; never found in the Pentateuch [nor in Joshua] nor Judges [nor in Ezekiel, Job, or Solomon]". While the usage of the square brackets here is something of a mystery, we do gain some valuable insight into the various usage - and non-usage - of this notion of Yahweh of the hosts.

Second point: τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου τῶν δυνάμεων (LXX 2 Samuel 6:2), which in English means "[by, to, ...] the name of [the] LORD of the hosts". My first square brackets, [by], refers to the fact that the definite article τὸ is the accusative form of the article, which naturally has to match the noun, onoma, which it does. The second square bracket is different. By it, as I have done for some time now, I am referring to the presence in English of the definite article, which is absent from the Hebrew and the Greek for reasons already described. What it is important to note is that although we are now necessarily outside the scope of the first translators of the Hebrew, the nameness of Yahweh is preserved in and against "the hosts", which conspicuously do receive the definite article. It strikes me as a strange combination for the second generation Septuagint translator, but he seems to be doing the best he can in a difficult scenario.

Sorry, I don't yet have anything that satisfying on this usage other than that this is a second-generation translation scenario. It strikes me as most unlikely that in Hebrew the name of Yahweh could have slipped toward some sort of title, such that it could be used to describe other persons or gods of high standing. Since in Greek the distinction is still made between anarthrous Kyrios and arthrous dunameon, I don't think we have a strong case for any significant exception to the fact that anarthrous Kyrios and Kyriou, when applied to the God of Israel, is intended almost 100% of the time as a name.

Yahweh is the name of the God of Israel.

[anarthrous] Kyrios is the name of the God of Israel.

Hmm. So how does that change our understanding of an ever-so-common phrase: "in the name of the Lord"? I hope that having read this and given it some consideration you will at least give it considerable likelihood that what is meant is not:

In the name (=Name) of the Lord (=holder of the name). 
Surely what must be meant by "in the name of the Lord", given that this is consistently translated without the article, is "in Yahweh's name" or "in LORD's name". There's nothing else. Yahweh is the name! And that name is preserved in the anarthrous translation into the Greek.

Thanks for reading.

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