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A Chinese-Language Project that Restores the Name YHWH

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A Chinese-Language Project that Restores the Divine Name YHWH

Bentley Chan

An Online Bible Tool

Although my article is about a Chinese-language Bible tool, it touches on biblical issues that transcend the Chinese language, and is therefore equally relevant to those who do not read Chinese. Those who read Chinese can visit http://yahwehdehua.net for an online Bible resource whose objective is stated in the URL’s name, yahwehdehua, which stands for 雅伟的话 (“the Word of Yahweh”). This project was done by Raymond and Rosa Suen, pastors of one of our churches in Hong Kong, with the purpose of restoring God’s personal name in the Chinese Bible. But before I explain the utility of this resource, I would like bring out the biblical issue that underlies it.

The Divine Name YHWH

In the Hebrew Bible (or what Christians call “the Old Testament”), YHWH is the predominant name of God. It occurs far more frequently than even Elohim (אְֶלֹהִים, “God”) in the Hebrew Bible (6,828 versus 2,602 occurrences, approximately).

The name YHWH is commonly known as the Tetragrammaton for its having four Hebrew consonantal letters (ancient Hebrew was written with no vowel markings). Most biblical scholars today believe that YHWH was originally pronounced “Yahweh,” including the Jewish authors of the article “Names of God” in the 22-volume Encyclopaedia Judaica (2nd edition). We accept the entrenched rendering “Yahweh,” but do not wish to rule out other possibilities, for we prefer not to be dogmatic about ancient pronunciations.

YHWH is Suppressed in Most English Bibles

The true problem today regarding the name YHWH goes beyond its exact pronunciation. Most Christians in the English-speaking world today do not know that God’s name is YHWH or that He even has a name. The ignorance of God’s personal name is unacceptable given that YHWH occurs 6,828 times in the Hebrew Bible. The ignorance is puzzling because many academic books regularly use the name YHWH or Yahweh in their biblical studies. For example, the exact word “Yahweh” occurs 2287 times in the revised ISBE, 2090 times in the UBS OT Handbooks, 4023 times in the OT portion of the New American Commentary, and 3280 times in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, possibly the most scholarly Bible dictionary ever.

The problem is that most English Bibles, with a few exceptions such as New Jerusalem Bible, suppress the name YHWH, replacing it with “the LORD” (where “LORD” is rendered in small capitals). The substitution of a personal name (YHWH) for a title (the LORD) has obscured the way we read the Bible.

For example, in the Hebrew text, the familiar phrase “the word of the LORD” is literally “the word of Yahweh” (e.g., 1 Kings 18:1, “the word of Yahweh came to Elijah”). In Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd” is literally “Yahweh is my shepherd”. The familiar term “the Spirit of the LORD” is literally “the Spirit of Yahweh” (e.g., Ezekiel 11:5, “the Spirit of Yahweh fell upon me”). One of the Ten Commandments is, “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). The traditional rendering of Isaiah 42:8 makes no sense (“I am the LORD, that is my name”) unless we restore the name Yahweh, as in NJB and HCSB: “I am Yahweh, that is my name”.

In Exodus 3:15, Yahweh says to Moses:

“Say this to the Israelites: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.” (Exodus 3:15, HCSB)

In saying, “This is my name forever,” God is here referring to His own name Yahweh which appears in the same verse. The word “forever” indicates that Yahweh is God’s name not just for one generation but for all eternity; indeed it is “to be remembered in every generation”.

Restoring the name YHWH

Some Bible scholars are calling for a return to the original name Yahweh. The standard five-volume New International Dictionary of OT Theology says:

The “translation” LORD is something of a problem from various perspectives. LORD obscures the fact that Yahweh is a name and not a title … In view of this reality, it could be argued that, as with other personal names, we simply transliterate what the original Hebrew was thought to be—Yahweh. (NIDOTT, “Yahweh”)

It was out of the same reverence for the name YHWH that Raymond and Rosa worked on a years-long project to produce an edition of the Chinese Bible that has the divine name YHWH restored, using 雅伟 (Yawei) as the Chinese phonetic equivalent of Yahweh, which also has the advantage of being euphonious in the Chinese language. More information on this project can be found at http://yahwehdehua.net. The following is my Chinese-to-English translation of its home page.

Approximate English Translation of the Home Page Information

Dear Reader,

The Bible is God’s revelation given to saintly people of Israel who had known and experienced God. The prophets in the Bible received God’s message directly, and as God’s spokesmen passed on the message they had received to the people of their generations. But they also left us a written record that is to be passed on to future generations. In this way, the Bible is the Word of God.

God’s revelation to humankind is entirely of God’s grace. If there had been no message from God, life would be like that of a blind man groping about in the darkness, in a futile search for the meaning and value of life.

What touches our hearts are the many such messages that appear in the Bible, which are often prefaced by the proclamation that the word of YHWH (Yahweh) came upon certain people (Genesis 15:1, 1Samuel 15:1, Jeremiah 1:2, etc). There is also the statement that they walk according to YHWH’s words (Joshua 8:27, 2Chronicles 35:6, Jeremiah 13:2, etc). This brings out two aspects to God’s Word:

  • When a person encounters God’s Word, it takes him or her to a turning point in life, a reality that can be seen from one’s personal experience or from accounts in church history. The Word of the Lord brings forth life and restoration. When the Word of the Lord comes to you, can you remain indifferent to it?
  • God’s Word is an important guide for our lives, and demands our obedience. The Bible is not so much a book of history, scholarship, or academic research, as God’s direct instruction on how we ought to live and do things. It is like a parent’s exhortations to a child in the hope that the child may, in response to their instructions, grow to maturity.

The Chinese Union Bible has been around for nearly a hundred years, and is still the most popular Chinese Bible. Unfortunately, the Union Bible was a product of its time and circumstances, and is not perfect in various ways. With the ubiquity of Internet technology, we are issuing a new edition of the Chinese Union Bible with amendments made in three important areas:

  1. God’s name
  2. The use of the word “Lord” in the New Testament
  3. The Greek and Hebrew Strong’s numbers

 

1. God’s Name

The Hebrew Bible (often called the Old Testament) frequently uses God’s name יהוה (YHWH) whose Strong’s number is H3068 (e.g., Genesis 2:4), with H3069 being a variant. Unfortunately, the Chinese Union Bible translates the Hebrew word for “Yahweh” according to the English rendering “Jehovah,” whereas modern scholarship transliterates YHWH as “Yahweh” (雅伟). The rendering Jehovah is known to be erroneous, hence the correct form of God’s name ought to be restored even if the Chinese church by tradition continues to use the incorrect form. Our present revision restores the name YHWH (Yahweh, Strong’s numbers H3068, H3069) which in the Old Testament occurs 6,828 times, along with the 49 occurrences of the short form “Yah” (Strong’s number H3050), rendering YHWH as the more accurate 雅伟.

In those places where we leave the translation untouched, the presence of the divine name in the original text is indicated by means of brackets: [雅伟].

 

2. Use of the word “Lord” in the New Testament

The Jews in New Testament times avoided uttering God’s personal name, and replaced it with “Lord” (Strong’s number G2962). However, the Greek word for “Lord” is used in a variety of senses. In addition to referring to God, it can also refer to the Lord Jesus, or to the master of a slave, or to a person of high standing. Because of this variability in meaning, many believers are unable to distinguish between the Lord (Jesus) and God (Yahweh), and conflate the two. Therefore our revision makes the following amendments:

  • Where “Lord G2962” refers to Yahweh, it is expanded to “Lord G2962 [雅伟]” (e.g., Matthew 1:22).
  • Where “Lord G2962” refers to Jesus, the reference is made explicit as “Lord Jesus” (e.g., Mark 16:19), with a few instances rendered as “Lord* G2962” (e.g., Matthew 7:21) with the asterisk.
  • Similarly, where “Lord G2962” refers to Christ, it is revised to “Lord# G2962” (e.g., Matthew 22:43,44,45).
  • If there is some ambiguity as to whom “Lord” refers to, either to the Lord Yahweh or to the Lord Jesus, the word is left unmarked (e.g., Matthew 21:3).
  • Where the word “Lord” in the Chinese Union Bible is not found in the original Greek text, it is marked as “Lord G0” (e.g., Matthew 2:12,22).
  • If “Lord” refers to someone other than God or Jesus, such as a master of a slave or a wealthy man, etc., it is left unmarked (e.g., Matthew 6:24, 10:24).

In the text-only edition of the Chinese Union Bible without Strong’s number, we use “Lord [雅伟]” or “Lord *” or “Lord #,” with the same distinctions in meaning as explained just now.

 

3. The Greek and Hebrew Strong’s Numbers

The Greek and Hebrew numbering system was devised by James Strong in 1890 for his Strong’s Concordance. The numbers are sequenced according to the alphabetical order of the words in the original languages, and assigned numbers H0001 to H8674 for Hebrew, and G0001 to G5624 for Greek. Later, some scholars added H8675-H8853 and G5625-G5942 on the basis of the TVM (Tense, Voice, Mood) data. The purpose of the Strong’s numbering system is to assist those who lack a sufficient understanding of the original text, to make use of biblical language dictionaries, and to do word searches and compilations in the original languages. The basis of our work is the edition of the Union Bible which is circulated on the Internet and contains Strong’s numbers, and into which we implemented our system of codes. This edition has not been fully proofread, with instances of mismatch between the text and the Strong’s numbers, but these are gradually being rectified.

This 2017 revision is available in two PDF e-books:

  • The text-only edition is a parallel Chinese-English Bible, covering the Old and New Testaments. In this parallel Bible, the Chinese version is our Yahweh edition of the Chinese Union Bible, whereas the English version is the Lexham English Bible (LEB), which also uses the divine name “Yahweh”. LEB’s translation notes are included in our edition as {Note: …}. Words added to the text are displayed in brackets [ ].
  • The parallel Chinese-Greek New Testament displays the Chinese Union Bible (our Yahweh edition) in parallel with the Westcott-Hort Greek Bible, with Strong’s numbers included for reference.

May the word of Yahweh God be your fountain of life, the light on the path!

April 12, 2017

 

Closing Words

Many thanks to Raymond and Rosa for their time and their proclamation of the one true God. It must have taken much time and energy to complete such a project, one that involved many tasks such as comparing multiple texts (Hebrew Bible, LXX, Greek NT, Chinese Union Bible, Lexham Bible, HCSB); assessing difficult or ambiguous verses; and checking the accuracy of the Strong’s numbers in the early editions of the Chinese Union Bible. They have been careful to avoid disturbing the original Bible text and to refrain from injecting interpretation into the verses. This is in part the result of the design of their notation system, which allows the reader to make an independent assessment of the verses in question.

The website http://yahwehdehua.net has five links to the following resources:

  • Four essays on knowing the Bible
  • A PDF download page
  • The OT and NT displayed in six versions and four languages, including Hebrew and Greek with Strong’s numbers
  • An explanation of the numbering system for the biblical languages
  • Other resources

I have been using their YHWH edition of the Chinese Union Bible as a MySword module on my Android tablet, in the resource-rich app called “MySword Bible”.

 

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church