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Tetragrammaton in the New Testament

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Tetragrammaton scripts

The Tetragrammaton in Paleo-Hebrew (10th century BC to 135 AD), Aramaic alphabet (10th century BC to 4th century AD) and modern Hebrew scripts.

Archaeologists have discovered papyrus fragments of works which were later included in the canon of the New Testament dating as far back as the middle of the second century. Despite the fact that there are no autographs surviving until today, it is worth mentioning that of all 5,000 extant New Testament manuscripts none contains any form of the Hebrew יהוה (Tetragrammaton).

One of the most ancient fragments, the papyrus codex designated Chester Beatty Papyrus No. 2 P46, is dated about to AD 200[1] and contains nine of the Apostle Paul's letters. In the Chester Beatty Papyri, we find ΚC and sometimes ΘC with a horizontal bar above them in citations of the Hebrew Bible where the Tetragrammaton occurs in the Hebrew text. These are abbreviations for kyrios (KYPIOC "lord") and theos (ΘEOC "God") normally known as nomina sacra ("sacred names"). Some scholars propose that such space-saving abbreviation was very common throughout costly, ancient manuscripts. Other scholars believe that this practice was based on the Hebrew consonantal writing, especially related to the extreme care for the word יהוה (YHWH).

For centuries, scholars rejected the idea of the existence of the Tetragrammaton in the copies of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). During recent decades, though, a number of very ancient manuscripts have been discovered using some form of the Tetragrammaton into the Greek text.[2] As a matter of fact, the oldest extant copies of the Greek Old Testament include the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew or Greek. Similarly, a newer thesis has been proposed that the pious Jewish authors of the New Testament used the revered name YHWH and did not replace it with a surrogate like "Lord". As a result, the Tetragrammaton was present in the New Testament autographs. Later on it was substituted by the nomina sacra.

George Howard set forth this hypothesis that YHWH appeared originally in the New Testament and that "the removal of the Tetragrammaton from the New Testament and its replacement with the surrogates kyrios and theos blurred the original distinction between the Lord God and the Lord Christ."[3] The weight of this position led to its inclusion in the article of the Anchor Bible Dictionary, where it is stated: "There is some evidence that the Tetragrammaton, the Divine Name, Yahweh, appeared in some or all of the OT quotations in the NT when the NT documents were first penned."[4] As it is a relatively recent thesis on an ever-changing field of study, it has not yet found wide acceptance, and Howard has qualified it: "My theory about the Tetragrammaton is just that, a theory. Some of my colleagues disagree with me (for example Albert Pietersma). Theories like mine are important to be set forth so that others can investigate their probability and implications. Until they are proven (and mine has not been proven) they should not be used as a surety for belief."[5] Even though Albert Pietersma does not accept Howard's theory, he has stated: "It might possibly still be debated whether perhaps the Palestinian copies with which the NT authors were familiar read some form of the tetragram."[6]

Jehovah and the Greek Old Testament

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Old Testament is a term (credited to Tertullian) used to describe the Hebrew Bible. The ancient translation of the Old Testament into Koine Greek is called the Septuagint, which continues to be the official version of the Old Testament for the Eastern Orthodox Church to this day. The Septuagint was translated prior to the birth of Jesus. He and the Apostles quoted extensively from it.[7] This is no surprise, since the New Testament was itself most likely written in Greek (see Aramaic primacy for the counter-argument); all the earliest surviving manuscripts are written in Greek.

Some copies of the Greek Old Testament from the latter centuries BCE, which are translated from lost Hebrew texts, leave a blank space where the Tetragrammaton would have been; other represent the divine name by ιαω; others use Template:Phoenician(Paleo-Hebrew alphabet which borrows from Phoenician alphabet); and other variations are evidenced in early manuscripts. [8] A notable version using Template:Phoenician is the version by Aquila of Sinope.[9]

The Septuagint was the preferred Greek translation of the Jewish Bible among Christians (and Jews up until the school of Jamnia and the Masoretic recinsion) at the time of the writing of the New Testament, and continued to be until the Reformation (the Vulgate being primarily a translation of the Septuagint).

When Saint Jerome, a Roman Catholic Doctor of the Church made his translation of the Old Testament into Latin, he switched from the Septuagint of the Early Church to the Masoretic.[1] He translated from a Masoretic Old Testament and brought YHWH into texts officially adapted by the Western Church. This use of the Masoretic did not affect the Eastern Churches and the bulk of the late Roman Empire's population who spoke Greek, not Latin.

It is stated that Origen of Alexandria included the Tetragrammaton in his Hexapla in the 3rd Century AD. Origen's Hexapla was a comparison in side-by-side columns of separate versions of the Old Testament: Hebrew, Aramaic, Samaritan, and Greek translations.

Jesus quoted numerous times from the Old Testament, including his replies to Satan during his temptation in the wilderness. "Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (Matthew 4.7). Here as elsewhere, the quotation is taken from the Septuagint.[2]

Babylonian Talmud

A passage in the Tosefta Shabbat 13:5 quoting Tarfon is sometimes cited to suggest that early Christian scriptures contained the Divine Name. It reads: "The 'Gilyon[im]' and the [Biblical] books of the Judæo-Christians ["Minim"] are not saved [on the Sabbath] from fire; but one lets them burn together with the names of God written upon them." The Jewish Encyclopedia defines the word Gilyonim in the Talmud as referring to the Gospels in the time of Tarfon.[10] Another reading suggests this is a reference to Torah and not the Gospels. [11]

Hebrew Versions of the New Testament

Over the centuries various translators have inserted the Tetragrammaton in the New Testament when translating into Hebrew Versions of the New Testament. One of the earliest Hebrew versions is the Gospel of Matthew translated by Shem-Tob in 1385, which bears the circumlocution 'ha-Shem' (meaning "The Name"), a surrogate for the Tetragrammaton written out or abbreviated 19 times.[12]

English versions of the New Testament

Some English Sacred name Bibles have used the Tetragrammaton in the New Testament. The ISR The Scriptures in 1993 was the first translation to use the Hebrew letters for the Tetragrammaton in stead of The LORD or a transliteration e.g. Yahweh. The Besorah, [13] which is a plagiarized [14] version of the ISR The Scriptures 1998 edition[15] has done this using the Paleo-Hebrew script. The Restored Name King James Version[16] has used the more modern Hebrew script to write it. The use of the Tetragrammaton in a Semitic alphabet within the English text is a graphic way of showing that it is a Semitic word. The name Jehovah is in the text of the New World Translation's New Testament; the complete edition is available in 79 languages, with portions translated into more than 400 languages.


  1. Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament: History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age, Walter de Gruyter, 1995 p. 23. ISBN 3110149702, 9783110149708
  2. See the article Greek Old Testament manuscripts that include the Tetragrammaton.
  3. Howard, George, Biblical Archaeology Review, March 1978.
  4. Freedman, D. N. 1996, c1992. "Tetragrammaton in the New Testament". The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Doubleday: New York. 6:392.
  5. Letter from Howard, 9 January 1990
  6. Al. Pietersma, "Kyrios or Tetragram: A Renewed Quest for the Original LXX, De Septuaginta. Studies in Honour of John William Wevers on this Sixty-fifth Birthday, Benben Publications, 1984, p. 87.
  7. Septuagint
  8. The 'Textual Mechanics' of Early Jewish LXX/OG Papyri and Fragments
  9. Swete's Intro to the OT in Greek, chapter 2.6.5: "The Tetragrammaton is not transliterated, but written in Hebrew letters, and the characters are of the archaic type ([script not available], not יהזה); cf. Orig. in Ps. ii., καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀκριβεστάτοις δὲ τῶν ἀντιγράφων Ἐβραίοις χαρακτῆρσιν κεῖται τὸ ὄνομα, Ἐβραικοῖς δὲ οὐ τοῖς νῦν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἀρχαιοτάτοις—where the 'most exact copies' are doubtless those of Aquila's version, for there is no reason to suppose that any copyists of the Alexandrian version hesitated to write ο κς or κε for יהזה‎"
  10. - GILYONIM
  11. Daniel Boyarin: Border Lines - The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, pg. 57
  12. The Watchtower, 15 August 1997, page 13

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