No one knows exactly how to pronounce the proper name of God, represented in the Hebrew Bible by the “Tetragrammaton,” יהוה (yod-hey-vav-hey). Observant Jews do not pronounce the name, instead using an epithet such as Adonai (Lord), HaShem (literally, “the name”) or The Eternal One. On printed pages, vowel pointing in the Hebrew Masoretic text directs the reader to say either “Adonai” or “Elohim” instead of pronouncing the name of God.
The first English translation of the Hebrew Bible was made by Isaac Leeser, publishing the Torah in 1845 and the entire Tanakh in 1853. His Bible followed earlier tradition in Christian translations of representing the name of God with the word LORD. A footnote at Genesis 2:4, the first occurrence of the Tetragrammaton (I’ll call it the Divine Name) in the Torah, reads as follows:
The proper signification of this word is the Eternal, which term will be used when absolutely required, but generally the usual word will be employed; but its proper sense will be indicated, as is customary in all the English Bibles, by printing it in what is technically called SMALL CAPITALS.
Most English translations represent the name of God by the word LORD in all capital letters. I’ve not been able to determine when the use of “SMALL CAPITALS” started, but this is generally the way it appears in the majority of English Bibles today.
A few English translations use a transliterated form of the Hebrew name of God. The Bishop’s Bible (1586) used the name Jehovah (spelled at that time as Iehouah) in several verses in Exodus. The Authorized King James Version (1611) continued that practice in Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:3, and as part of several compound names of places. The American Standard Version (1901) used the name Jehovah throughout the Old Testament to represent the name of God. In 1917, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society published the New World Translation specifically for their church, Jehovah’s Witnesses. This translation uses Jehovah in both the Old and New Testaments.
The name “Jehovah” was derived by vocalizing the Masoretic vowel points along with the written Hebrew characters, something never intended by these Jews who would not have attempted to pronounce the name. It certainly is not the proper pronunciation of the Divine Name, and even Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledge this as a literary error, justifying its use by saying:
“Yahweh” is obviously a transliteration, whereas “Jehovah” is a translation, and Bible names generally have been translated rather than transliterated.
Most scholars believe “Yahweh” is at least close to the original pronunciation. The most well-known mainstream Bible translation to use the name Yahweh throughout the Old Testament to represent the name of God is the New Jerusalem Bible published by Doubleday in 1985. It is a revision of the Jerusalem Bible, also published by Doubleday in 1966.
The American Standard Version, the New World Translation and the New Jerusalem Bible should not be considered Sacred Name Bibles. Rather, they are English Translations that attempt to translate/transliterate the proper name of God. Notably, these all use the accepted English rendering of the Messiah’s name, Jesus.
What is a Sacred Name Bible?
Sacred Name Bibles are Bible translations that use some type of Hebrew or Hebraic form for the name of God and for the name of the Messiah. They also incorporate Hebraic pronunciations of other proper nouns. Some even attempt to integrate Hebrew transliteration of select common terms as well. They were originally developed by groups that consider the use of titles or monikers to be, at best, inappropriate, and in some cases a direct violation of Biblical instruction.
The first modern Sacred Name Bibles were just common public domain translations, including both the King James Version and the American Standard Version, with certain proper names changed to “sacred names.”
My first Sacred Name Bible was “The Sacred Scriptures, Bethel Edition” published by the Assemblies of Yahweh in Bethel, Pennsylvania. It was the 1901 American Standard Version with names changed to the “sacred” proper names, but it also had certain objectional terms and verses re-written to fit the doctrine of Elder Jacob O. Meyer. I no longer have a copy of this Bible.
Sacred Name Bibles are not necessarily Messianic Bibles, or Bible translations targeted to Messianic Jews. In fact, many Messianic Jews would be uncomfortable with the extensive use of the proper name of the Creator.
Unfortunately, all of the Sacred Name Bibles listed here mutilate the name of the Messiah, understood by Hebrew scholars to be “Yeshua.” Because of errant Sacred Name doctrine, these Bibles print things like “Yahshua” or “Yahusha” in an attempt to literally include the name of “Yah” in the pronunciation. Even the ones that show these names in Hebrew characters change the spelling to fit their rules.
By the way, calling these translations “Bibles” is generally frowned upon by these groups as using a pagan word.
Messianic Bibles fall in-between mainstream Bible translations and Sacred Name Bibles. Messianic Bibles seek to bring Jewish or Hebraic understanding to the reader through both the use of Hebrew terms and an understanding of Hebrew idioms. They generally maintain the use of an epithet for the name of God and properly transliterate the name of the Messiah as Yeshua. They are included in this evaluation to check their accuracy in recognizing the Divine Name.
Overview of Bibles Evaluated
Because the focus here is recognizing the Divine Name, we will evaluate several Bibles for the way they translate three selected passages of Scripture. For this evaluation we will consider these popular Sacred Name Bibles:
The Scriptures (2009, Institute for Scripture Research)
The HalleluYah Scriptures (similar to the ISR Scriptures, independently published)
The Restoration Study Bible (Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry)
These Messianic Bible translations will also be evaluated:
The Complete Jewish Bible (Messianic Jewish Publishers)
The Tree of Life Version (TLV Bible Society)
Though not considered Sacred Name Bibles or Messianic Bibles, we will also evaluate these English translations that use some form of the Divine Name.
The New World Translation (The Watchtower, Jehovah’s Witnesses)
The American Standard Version (1901, public domain)
The New Jerusalem Bible (Doubleday)
Daniel 9 Test
Daniel 9:1-19 is Daniel’s prayer of repentance for the nation of Israel as the Babylonian captivity was coming to a conclusion. In his prayer, Daniel uses both the Divine Name and the title Adonai. The purpose of a Sacred Name Bible is to accurately convey the proper name of God whenever it is in the Hebrew text, so a good Bible translation should make the distinction between when Daniel spoke the Divine Name and when he used the title Adonai.
Here is the prayer from the New King James Version1 highlighting the words in this test.
In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans– in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said,
“O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments. Neither have we heeded Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings and our princes, to our fathers and all the people of the land. O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face, as it is this day–to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those near and those far off in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of the unfaithfulness which they have committed against You. O Lord, to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him. We have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in His laws, which He set before us by His servants the prophets. Yes, all Israel has transgressed Your law, and has departed so as not to obey Your voice; therefore the curse and the oath written in the Law of Moses the servant of God have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against Him. And He has confirmed His words, which He spoke against us and against our judges who judged us, by bringing upon us a great disaster; for under the whole heaven such has never been done as what has been done to Jerusalem. As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come upon us; yet we have not made our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities and understand Your truth. Therefore the LORD has kept the disaster in mind, and brought it upon us; for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works which He does, though we have not obeyed His voice. And now, O Lord our God, who brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and made Yourself a name, as it is this day–we have sinned, we have done wickedly!
“O Lord, according to all Your righteousness, I pray, let Your anger and Your fury be turned away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people are a reproach to all those around us. Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies. O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and act! Do not delay for Your own sake, my God, for Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”
(Daniel 9:1-19 NKJV)
Where the NKJV has the word “LORD” (all upper case) the Hebrew text has the Divine Name, and where the NKJV has the word “Lord” (mixed case) the Hebrew text has the word adonai. To pass the Daniel 9 test, a Sacred Name Bible should use its preferred transliteration of the Divine Name, and a different word expressing the meaning of adonai (or the actual Hebrew word) where appropriate.
This is how the Bibles we are evaluating meet the Daniel 9 test:
ISR Scriptures – FAIL – uses the Divine Name in all instances
Halleluyah Scriptures – FAIL – uses the Divine Name in all instances
Restoration Study Bible – FAIL – uses the Divine Name in all instances
Eth Cepher – PASS
Complete Jewish Bible – PASS
Tree of Life Version – FAIL – incorrectly uses the Divine Name in verse 15
One New Man Bible – PASS
New World Translation – FAIL – uses the Divine Name in all instances
American Standard Version – PASS
New Jerusalem Bible – PASS
Genesis 18 Test
This is the account of the three visitors and Abraham just before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Divine Name appears in verse 1, identifying the visitors as God. In verse 3, Abraham greets the visitors, though it is not certain whether or not he is aware that it is God. He addresses them as Adonai (“my lord”).
Later, Sarah is told she will become pregnant. In verse 12, she laughs at the idea of having intimate relations at an old age. She uses the exact same word, Adonai (“my lord”) in reference to Abraham.
Again, a good Bible translation will identify the use of the Divine Name in the first verse and another word for adonai in verses 3 and 12. We can also glean from capitalization (which does not exist in Hebrew) whether or not the translators believe that Abraham recognized the visitors as “my Lord” or just “my lord.”
Here is how this passage appears in the New King James Version (remember that in this translation, LORD means the Divine Name appears in the Hebrew text).
Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.
(Genesis 18:1-3 NKJV)
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
(Genesis 18:11-12 NKJV)
To pass the Genesis 18 test, a Sacred Name Bible should use its preferred transliteration of the Divine Name in verse 1, and a different word expressing the meaning of adonai (or the actual Hebrew word itself) in verses 3 and 12.
This is how the Bibles we are evaluating meet the Genesis 18 test:
ISR Scriptures – FAIL – uses the Divine Name in verse 3
Halleluyah Scriptures – FAIL – uses the Divine Name in verse 3
Restoration Study Bible – FAIL – uses the Divine Name in verse 3
Eth Cepher – PASS
Complete Jewish Bible – PASS2
Tree of Life Version – PASS
One New Man Bible – PASS
New World Translation – FAIL – uses the Divine Name in verse 3
American Standard Version – PASS
New Jerusalem Bible – PASS
New Testament Usage – Acts 2:39
Neither the Greek texts of the Septuagint nor the New Testament contain the Divine Name. In the Septuagint, the Hebrew name of God is translated as Kúrios, as is the word adonai, so a distinction cannot be made. Kúrios is used the same way in the Greek New Testament. If a Sacred Name Bible uses it’s version of the Divine Name in the New Testament, it is because the translator thinks a particular occurrence of Kúrios was meant that way.
There are two influences that may also suggest the Divine Name in the New Testament. The first is when it is used in a direct quote from the Hebrew Bible, in which case we can look at the original use. The second would be an indication of the Divine Name from Aramaic, Syrian or other Semitic New Testament texts. These are debated, and in this evaluation we will not attempt to determine whether or not usage of the Divine Name is appropriate. We will just identify how the Sacred Name Bibles read.
Our examination of Acts 2:38-39 will focus on the Greek phrase Kúrios ho Theós, or “the Lord our God” in the passage below:
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
(Acts 2:38-39 NKJV)
Here is how the Bibles we are evaluating translate Kúrios in Acts 2:39.
ISR Scriptures – uses the Divine Name in Hebrew
Halleluyah Scriptures – uses the Divine Name in Paleo Hebrew
Restoration Study Bible – uses Yahweh
Eth Cepher – uses Yahuah
Complete Jewish Bible – uses ADONAI, assumes the Divine Name
Tree of Life Version – uses ADONAI, assumes the Divine Name
One New Man Bible – uses Lord
New World Translation – uses Jehovah
American Standard Version – uses Lord (“Jehovah” does not appear in the ASV New Testament)
New Jerusalem Bible – uses Lord (“Yahweh” does not appear in the NJB New Testament)
Observations and Conclusions
Based on the Daniel 9 test, the ISR Scriptures, Halleluyah Scriptures and Restoration Study Bible all fail. They do not accurately convey the use of the proper name of God. Instead, they insert it where they wish it occurred. Among Sacred Name Bibles, only the Eth Cepher gets this right.
The same thing happens with the Genesis 18 test. ISR Scriptures, Halleluyah Scriptures and Restoration Study Bible all insert their version of the proper name of God into the text where it does not appear in Hebrew. Only Eth Cepher got it correct.
With the Sacred Name Bibles we see an agenda that they are willing to embellish in order to get their point across. That should not happen with the Word of God, and if it does it should properly be called a paraphrase, not a translation. It is obvious that these should never be used as a primary translation or relied upon for serious study. In these tests, the Eth Cepher is an exception. Please read my review of Eth Cepher before considering it as your primary translation.
What is evident here is that ISR Scriptures, Halleluyah Scriptures and Restoration Study Bible all seem to make errors identical to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation. I do not know if there is any relationship between the translators and the Watchtower organization. Perhaps it is only a commonly shared view by those with a primary focus on promoting a sacred name.
The Messianic Bible translations all accurately show the presence of the Divine Name in the Hebrew text. The Tree of Life Version misses it in one verse, Daniel 9:15. I intend to research this issue further.
For those of us who cannot directly read the Hebrew text with understanding and therefore rely on English translations, the Messianic Bibles are a clearly better choice than the Sacred Name Bibles. Even better is to use more than one version, like one of the Messianic Bibles and a reputable translation like the New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, or New King James Version. It is easy to recognize where the proper name of God is used in any of these Bibles.
1The Hebrew text followed by the King James Version (see Green’s Interlinear Bible) and some other respected English translations uses the Hebrew adonai in Daniel 9:8 where the Masoretic Text has the Divine Name. Hence, this verse is not used in the PASS/FAIL evaluation. Surprisingly, ALL of the Sacred Name Bibles follow the text used in the KJV, not the Masoretic Text, and properly do not use the Divine Name in this one instance. Go figure.
2The Complete Jewish Bible does not translate the word adonai in verse 15, rendering it as “for yourself” rather than “for Adonai’s (the Lord’s) sake.”