When God reveals Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He introduces Himself as JEHOVAH (Yeh-ho-vaw, or Yah-weh). (Ex 6:4) Yet most of the time translators come to God’s name, in the Hebrew – YHWH, they refuse to translate it, rendering it the LORD. Why?
The choice is likely rooted in long-standing Jewish tradition to not pronounce the name of God, or to even write it, in order to avoid misusing it or taking God’s name in vain. (Ex 20:7) Yet this has resulted in obscuring God’s name altogether, such that there’s serious debate about how to even pronounce it, which doesn’t seem very good either; now, we’ll need to wait until He returns just to know for sure what His precious name sounds like.
This fact been bothering me for a while, that the KJV in particular has this problem most of the time, such that when I’m quoting scripture which contains the tetragrammaton I’ve been saying Jehovah; it seems to me the most respectful way to navigate this one. Personally, I’d be displeased if no one was willing to pronounce my name when talking about me or addressing me; I’d see it as a subtle way to dishonor me. So, in loving God fully I mustn’t do that which might dishonor Him.
However, recently, I noticed that when Paul quotes Ps 117:1 in Ro 15:11 he does the same thing, replacing YHWH with the Greek kurios: Lord. If Paul himself does this under inspiration, it appears reasonable for translators to do so as well. This is sufficiently conclusive to settle the matter for me; it just isn’t an issue.
Yet some argue that Paul wrote Romans in Hebrew, not Greek, claiming he didn’t actually translate God’s name; they’d claim the Greek kurios came to us later through a scribe, and it’s not inspired. But this doesn’t pass the sniff test: in Romans, Paul addresses Gentiles (Ro 11:13) as well as Jews (Ro 2:17), and Gentiles in that day weren’t expected to be fluent in Hebrew. Paul wouldn’t write a letter to a mixed Jew-Gentile congregation in a language many in his intended audience didn’t understand.
If the Pauline answer isn’t enough, the Gospel of John also follows this pattern (Jn 12:38), and was clearly not written in Hebrew – within the text itself John translates common Hebrew terms for his reader, such as rabbi (Jn 1:38) and messiah (41), and explains basic biblical feasts (Jn 6:4); this wouldn’t be the case if John wrote in Hebrew to a Jewish audience.
We should certainly be careful to respect God’s name, and it’s clear that God originally reveals His name in Hebrew. So, it certainly isn’t wrong to use His Hebrew name as well as we can, especially when quoting the Hebrew scriptures, and many of us prefer using God’s Hebrew names. But insisting that others do so, or that God’s name must be transliterated, or not replaced with the LORD, is inconsistent with God’s own manner of inspiring His Word.