Sunday, 5 August 2018

Obstacle 4: New Testament references to Yahweh

In the endearing little love story between Tina and Archie we saw Tina is the church and Archie is the Lord Jesus Christ. The old-fashioned name "Archie" that Archie wants to change is "Lord". 

I believe a translation overhaul is needed for "Lord" in many modern Bible translations both in English and other languages. This overhaul is necessary for a relevant and yet faithful religious institution like Christianity.

The Number 1 question was how to translate the Hebrew name for God, "Yahweh". I finally arrived, after two years of researching the issue, at the idea that GOD, all caps, would be a good solution. Eugene Peterson got there first though!

This only makes the suggestion all the more palatable, as I have arrived at the same destination as Peterson but via, I am sure, a different route, bringing more grammatical substance than Peterson's work had access to.

Overcoming Hurdle 4: New Testament references to Yahweh 

If you make this move - to switch the Yahweh translation from "The LORD" to "GOD", then there are some fresh problems to solve - I identify five of these. Overcoming the first obstacle, we established that it is more than faithful to ancient tradition to apply the lower case "g" to god, permitting the possessive "GOD, our god". Overcoming the second, we realised that often "Lord of lords" can be replaced by "king of kings", condensed or even "Commander-in-Chief". Overcoming the third, we addressed the issue of "Divine Combos" where we steered clear of the risk of redundant repetition. 

This now leaves us excellently placed to approach the fourth and fascinating hurdle: New Testament references to Yahweh, the divine Kyrios that is distinct from the Kyrios, Jesus.

French Darby: Le *Seigneur

Back in 2016, I did my best to highlight a fascinating translation approach adopted by a well-known French translation of the even better-known English Darby translation. Although John Nelson Darby's main translation was into English, he had students who went on to translate into other languages like French and German based on his work. The French one, in particular, introduces a fascinating nuance into the New Testament that is extremely useful for our task in hand. 

The equivalent of Lord in French is Seigneur. Now, everything that I have been saying about religious antiquation of "Lord" in English is just as true for "Seigneur" in French, maybe even more so. At some point, if Christianity is going to somehow bridge its way back into modern French society, Seigneur should also be axed, in my view. So what is the connection between the French Darby translation and "Seigneur"? 

Well, Seigneur is very present in this translation. However, the translator has shown extraordinary awareness of the Greek he was translating and of the Septuagint underpinning it. Whenever he has to translate a Kyrios that is unambiguously a reference to the pre-Christian Israelite god, he added a discreet asterisk, rendering it to Le *Seigneur.

So while he still kept the article, le (even though it was frequently missing in the Greek), he still flagged a distinction between this Seigneur from the Seigneur Jésus Christ. We do not have space here to go through them all - more than a 100, but I endorsed most of them, as they fall into their four main categories (which overlap), which can serve for us as criteria:
  • The birth narratives, especially Luke's
  • Septuagint quotations
  • "The Lord God"
  • Certain other lexical units
I developed this in two ways. Firstly, as I noted a number of inconsistencies in the French Darby methodology (such as in various passages in Acts where despite satisfaction of the Septuagint quotation criterion, the asterisk went "AWOL"), I felt released to also identify other conspicuous passages, the most important of which, written by Paul, is found in 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 and is densely packed with anarthrous Lord occurrences. Here, both the content and the anarthrous usage point specifically to the Israelite god as the referent of Kyrios. Secondly, and with the translator's natural inclusion of "the Lord God" (le *Seigneur Dieu), I developed his implicit criteria to suggest certain anarthrous "lexical units" can also be used by the New Testament writers to link their readers back to a Septuagint usage, such as παρὰ κυρίου ("from the Lord") and ἡμέρα Κυρίου ("the day of the Lord"). While this overlaps with the first two categories, I do suggest that even for this translation to be consistent, further checks need to be made.

For instance, I noted in the post on the Darby asterisked Seigneur, that παρὰ κυρίου might be significant. I also wrote a specific post on this lexical unit here. Most of these occurrences take place either in a birth narrative or are located in a Septuagint citation. However, the Darby translator also caught 2 Peter 2:11 but he did not identify 2 Timothy 1:18 (although Peterson did identify it, translating Kyrios to "God" here)

Readers of this blog can consult these posts using the above links (although note at that time I had not yet hit upon the GOD solution - some posts have been updated but maybe not all). Otherwise, for our purposes, consistency is best maintained by supplying GOD to these passages (note, not quite the move we see Peterson make in The Message, even though he translates some of these occurrences to "God").

While still an incomplete response to the problem, I will consecrate the remainder of this post to two New Testament books that, combined with the treatments of the above, constitute the bulk of the methodology needed to overcome this obstacle: Jude and Revelation.


In this small and often overlooked epistle there are some interesting historical rapprochements between "the Lord Jesus" and "the Lord" of Old Testament and inter-testamental times. For our purposes, we need to ask the question of how Jude makes any (if any) clear distinction between the two via the measurable parameter of the anarthrous Kyrios tradition: Κύριος, not  Κύριος (for the most part). Verse 5 reads in the NIV: I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt... The Greek says "ὅτι ὁ Κύριος". My review of every single Yahweh translation into Greek, commentated and presented on this blog, showed me that there are some prepositions in Greek which change the odds of inclusion (or dispensation) of the article. However, if you stick "ὅτι Κύριος" into a Septuagint search engine, you get plenty of Yahweh references, so Jude using "ὅτι" has nothing to do with the presence of the article. Another interesting testimony to the linking of the two lords is that there is early manuscript evidence of scribal changes to this verse, changing this Old Testament "Lord" to "Jesus" in verse 5. So is Jude actually proto-orthodox Trinitarian, thus confounding the difficulties of our Lord overhaul project?

Wonderfully, for our purposes, we move on next into an intertestamental witness via Jude's citation of a dispute between an angel and the Devil over the body of Moses, citing it in verse 9 to say "The Lord rebuke you!" In Greek we read: "Ἐπιτιμήσαι σοι Κύριος". No article! Verse 14 is from the same era, and is a citation from Enoch: "See, the Lord is coming...". The Greek here reads: "Ἰδοὺ ἦλθεν Κύριος" (actually says: "the Lord has come"). No article! All the other "Lord" occurrences (v4, v17, 21 and 25) are unambiguous references to Jesus, τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν, our Jesus, the Lord of us.

With such a small sampling of pre-Christian witnesses to assess, it is difficult to be certain that Jude is picking up a Septuagint tradition (33% Lord occurrences are arthrous), but it still seems distinctly possible despite verse 5. This renders the usage of GOD possible, wherever the pre-Christian Israelite Kyrios-named deity is apparently mentioned. Secondly, the rapprochement we discussed around verse 5 is not an original one. It is a valid one, the sort of change one might expect from scribes that did make occasional changes on a road that would lead the church to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan confessions of 381, but it is nonetheless chronologically anachronistic. If that were the purpose - permitting subsequent scribal changes to reflect a broader scope of Christian interpretation - then the massive process of Bible translation and biblical criticism is pretty much thrown to the flames as we allow back in the Johannine comma and pretty much anything that fits a particularly desired theology.

Note that Jude is synoptic with a section of 2 Peter 2, where the same comments apply.


It was actually some of the references to a very distinct Kyrios from Jesus in Revelation that led me to think that I might need to offer a specific solution to New Testament references to a pre-Christian Israelite Kyrios-named deity. Let's look at Revelation's Kyrios, this time from the NASB.

1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God -> no article!
4:8  “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY" -> no article!
4:11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God" -> possessive
6:10  “How long, O Lord, holy and true" -> not Kyrios!
7:14 I said to him, “My lord, you know.” -> Κύριέ μου = "Sir"!
11:4 the Lord of the earth -> Top Authority (see Obstacle 2)
11:8 their Lord was crucified -> Jesus (see Obstacle 5)
11:15 the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ
11:17  “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty..." -> vocative, OT
14:13 "...the dead who die in the Lord" -> ἐν Κυρίῳ, no article (expected), Jesus (see Obstacle 5)
15:3 "O Lord God, the Almighty" -> vocative, OT
15:4 "“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?" -> vocative, OT (see previous verse)
16:7 “Yes, O Lord God" -> vocative, OT
17:14 He is Lord of lords -> JesusTop Authority (see Obstacle 2)
18:8 for the Lord God who judges her is strong -> no article!
19:6 "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns" -> no article!
19:16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” -> JesusTop Authority (see Obstacle 2)
21:22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. -> no article!
22:5 the Lord God will illumine them -> no article!
22:6 the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets - article
22:20 Come, Lord Jesus -> Jesus
22:21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all -> Jesus

Some initial comments on these Kyrios occurrences in Revelation:

  • they are nearly all citations
  • Clear knowledge of the anarthrous practice
  • Divine Combos are often written three times over
  • A very clear distinction between the pre-Christian Israelite Kyrios deity and the Kyrios Jesus Christ (e.g. see 11:15 and 21:22)
  • Jesus has clearly been ascribed the title previously held by Yahweh of "Lord of lords" (ΚΥΡΙΟΣ ΚΥΡΙΩΝ).

We need not dwell on the first point for now, but simply to acknowledge that we are in a discussion of an address and not a simple linguistic designation.

The witness to a practice of referring anarthrously to the Israelite god as Kyrios (anarthrously: without the article) is strongly maintained.

The third point is important. Up until now in the previous obstacles I have addressed, I have been keen to legitimise the practice of condensing of redundant repetition where appropriate. Fortunately, we have also been careful to ensure that alternatives are also on offer, and here we may need to appeal to those. Why? Why not suggest simply a triple-condensing of "Lord God Almighty" into GOD? I am not saying that this is impossible. I simply want to acknowledge that at the time that Revelation was written, such condensing practices were likely to already be known and were not applied here. In which case, we may wish to apply some of the additional titles already suggested. Which way to go?

"Commander-in-Chief" was an interesting suggestion before for the Old Testament "Lord of lords", ΚΥΡΙΟΣ ΚΥΡΙΩΝ, awesomely ascribed to Jesus Christ here in Revelation more than once. It makes sense, therefore, to leave that ascription as it is, unless a condensing into "King of kings" for Jesus is considered sufficient. So we cannot consider that.

I suggested appending "Almighty", "Awesome", "Ultimate" or "All-Powerful" if appropriate. I confess to some reticence about Almighty, because to me it still sounds religious and a bit antiquated to a modern ear. "Awesome" has more appeal to the modern ear and can bridge the historical gap with some fidelity. The problem with "awe" is that although the experience is somewhat overwhelming, it does not leave a secondary experience with the necessary understanding that all power emanates here. I would suggest "Awesome GOD" for a younger target readership and "Ultimate GOD" or "All-Powerful GODfor a more formal equivalence, even if in fact all are influenced by the goals of dynamic equivalence.

On the fourth point of distinction between the two Kyrios of the Old and New Testaments, I do not have much to add except to say that Revelation seems not only to strengthen the case again for representation of that distinction but for me, personally, to reinforce the whole purpose of this blog (see banner above).

On the final comment of Jesus being the Kyrios of all the other Kyrios, we are supposed to say "wow". Allow me to join the throng: WOW. Regarding the option of condensing into a single "King of kings", I am indifferent. Of course, we have examined some of the options here in Obstacle 2. There is obviously no space in my proposal for any inclusion of the mention "Lord" given its relegation to an irrelevant religious corner of modern consciousness, which unfortunately also includes "Lord of lords". Of course, kings may go that way too eventually. So, one option, for the time being, is to say that "King of Kings" is amazing enough. If not, then the title "Commander-in-Chief" should also be added. If that is the case, then in order to carry the allusion intended by the writer of Revelation, then the Old Testament occurrences translated by the Septuagint as ΚΥΡΙΟΣ ΚΥΡΙΩΝ should also be presented as close to that as possible.


The French Darby translation's distinctives on Le *Seigneur Paul's exposition of Kyiros in the desert in 2 Cor 3:16-18 and the textual evidence of Jude and Revelation consistently legitimise a specific designation to a pre-Christian Kyrios, best represented by GOD

In my next post I will proceed to the 5th (and I hope final) obstacle in the path of the Yahweh translation, GOD. Writing this post has, however, drawn my attention to other less significant occurrences of human lords, which I suppose may end up constituting a 6th obstacle. On verra, as the French say! 

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