Friday, 29 June 2018

Let's (at last) translate Yahweh and Kyrios into modern English!

So where does all this research into ancient Divine Name translation take us for modern-day translation?
Let's take Yahweh first. Reverting back to "Yahweh", simply transliterated into English, was a preference of mine for a couple of years. When reading or studying the Old Testament, I even began tricking my brain to replace LORD with  "Yahweh", which is kinda freaky!

So could Catholicism-endorsed "Yahweh" be a good solution?

Part of my research has included an international survey of different translations*, which I think could be further analysed into families. Like French Catholics, for instance, Eglish-speaking Catholics use the Jerusalem Bible that states in Deuteronomy 6:4: 'Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God is the one (or "Yahvé", in French). Like these Catholic translations, I noticed some Asian and new translation languages (maybe a Wycliffe policy) preferring transliteration too. Strangely, the mainline Italian translation, however, doesn't agree with this transliteration business practiced by Catholics elsewhere! The Vatican-endorsed Italian Conferenza Episcopale Italiana goes with the more (Protestant?)  il Signore (the Lord). So even the Catholics seem to be either lost or in a state of disunity on this question of how to translate Yahweh, as they actually endorse both possibilities!


The entrenchment of LORD (Signore, Seigneur, etc.) is interesting and everywhere. It actually speaks to the underrated significance of the ancient Greek Septuagint, itself a fascinating but complex window on potentially earlier Hebrew texts than those we access via the Aleppo and Leningrad codexes and perhaps even earlier than (or geographically distinct from) the dead sea scrolls discovered mid 20th century in Israel. There are deep-seated and complex arguments both ways as to the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls differences on the translation/transliteration choices. Why does it matter? Simply because no-one yet has a good argument to satisfactorily explain the LORD development with consistent dating. Dating matters because if translating the Old Testament's Yahweh, we want to know if there were even "Lord" undertones, overtones, or any tones at all. Well, a fascinating comparison between 1 Chronicles 17 and 2 Samuel 7 by Koog Hong suggests that there is indeed a link, even if he dots his "i"s and crosses his "t"s in an illogical way to my mind. The point is that it is possible that it may have entered Jewish practice to read one thing with your eyes but say another out loud in the context of religious gatherings.

I could go on for ages about this, sorry, but I'm trying to stick to the point: there are two problems with the English LORD that concern translation:

1. It is prefixed by the definite article, "the". So it is not quite true to say that "LORD" translates Yahweh in may translations, but rather "The LORD". That is obviously neither true of Yahweh, but nor is it true of the Septuagint.

2. Hardly anyone says "Lord" any more, although many Christians don't realise this.


ONE translation I hadn't looked at yet in my international survey of Yahweh and Kyrios translations (and weirdly this idea came to me in the early hours!) was to check Eugene Peterson's famous The Message - check it out! Peterson is super respected and not only have his books sold well but his Message translation has been very successful and seems to be standing the test of time. He went and translated, I'm guessing, all the 6867 Yahwehs that I counted "GOD"! I say, result! There's a score right there, BUT I would be surprised if he had explored like me how every single one of those Yahwehs were translated into koine Greek (not modern Greek). So I guess I'm excited, because, like with the Triune Hub, my proposal is going to sit predominantly on and tie together happily accepted practices.

So Peterson is a solid reference, but translating Yahweh by GOD does not solve everything, it's simply clearing the first of at least 7 hurdles. First, what does it solve? Both the above points, in fact. In English, we quite happily use this title as a name, which seems to be exactly what those early Greek Septuagint translators were aiming for. So GOD is faithful to that principle. Secondly, "God" is still as used and understood as ever, unlike "Lord".

Other problems

So we still have some other hurdles ahead of us that we will begin to navigate in the next post:
  1. "GOD our God" (the Message)
  2. "God of gods and Lord of lords"
  3. Hebrew "divine combos", esp. Adonai Yahweh and Yahweh Elohim
  4. New Testament references to God the Father (e.g. "The kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ", Revelation 11:15)
  5. The Lord Jesus: Jesus was "made Lord" (Acts 2:36); the Lord Jesus Christ" (most translations of Jesus' full title in Greek, e.g. Acts 11:17)
Obviously, I have nothing definitive to offer, but I think I may have at least some potential connections for most of these extra hurdles now that Peterson has helped us over the first and most formidable! (I will add any further hurdles I have forgotten here as I proceed).

I can already share that I believe I can tie 1, 2 and 4 together happily with accepted practices. For 1, I will be referring to N.T. Wright and Michael Heiser. For 3, I will be consulting multiple mainstream translations and the Septuagint interpretive pattern itself. For 4, I will be leaning on the French Darby translation and some of my own work on 2 Corinthians 3:16-18.

My suggestions for hurdles 2 and 5 are fresh (i.e. mine and therefore probably valid for quicly shooting down in flames) but avoid simplistic or systematic translation. I feel confident they can lead to workable outcomes if in agreement with the general diagnosis of a "Lord" overhaul. I hope 5 will become clearer as this work gains momentum and interaction. This hardest of hurdles, how to translate today the "Lord" title attached to Jesus, is a challenge that will never see a fully satisfactory translation due to diversification and politicisation of authority positions in our modern society. Nonetheless, 5. can legitimately follow Peterson's suggestion in some instances.

So there're a few more posts needed right there! Thank you so much for your interest.

* the survey I reference here is a slowly advancing and incomplete study that I haven't yet published

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