The NLT’s use of “the LORD” for YHWH

by Mark Taylor, member of the NLT Bible Translation Committee and CEO of Tyndale House Publishers

In the Old Testament, the God of the Hebrews identified himself by the Hebrew name YHWH (sometimes transliterated in English as Yahweh). The meaning of the Hebrew name can be translated literally as “I am who I am” or “I will be what I will be.”

This name was considered to be so holy that ancient readers of the Hebrew text would not say it aloud. Instead, they would use the name Adonai (“God”) in place of YHWH. In Psalm 23:1, for instance, we find this familiar phrase: “YHWH is my shepherd.” But the Hebrew reader would read it aloud as “Adonai is my shepherd.”

Perhaps because of this reticence to pronounce the name YHWH, most English translations of the Old Testament render it as “the Lord.” (Note the use of small caps in this usage.) So Psalm 23:1 is typically rendered in English as “The Lord is my shepherd.”

This method of translating YHWH as “the Lord” goes back as far as the Coverdale translation, which was first published in 1535.

The name YHWH is found 6,828 times in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Like most other English translations, the NLT renders YHWH as “the Lord” almost every time. But in a few passages in Exodus, the name itself is being emphasized in the text. In those instances, the NLT renders YHWH as “Yahweh.”  These passages are:

Exodus 3:13-16a

        13But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”
        14God replied to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you. 15God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.

        This is my eternal name,
                my name to remember for all generations.

        16“Now go and call together all the elders of Israel. Tell them, ‘Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has appeared to me.’”

Exodus 6:2-3

2And God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh—‘the Lord.3I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them.”

Exodus 15:3

        3The Lord is a warrior;
                Yahweh is his name.

Exodus 33:19

19The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”

Exodus 34:5-6

5Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. 6The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,
        “Yahweh! The Lord!
                The God of compassion and mercy!
        I am slow to anger
                and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.”

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word adonai is found 442 times. In most cases it is used as a name for God. In those instances, the NLT and most other English translations render it “Lord”. (Note that the word is capitalized, but we do not use small caps.) Look, for instance, at Psalm 147:
        5How great is our Lord! His power is absolute!
                His understanding is beyond comprehension!

And sometimes YHWH and Adonai are used in conjunction with one another, as in Psalm 8:
        1O Lord, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth!
                Your glory is higher than the heavens.

I hope this helps you get behind the English text, where Lord and Lord look quite similar, but they reflect very different Hebrew words.

2 thoughts on “The NLT’s use of “the LORD” for YHWH

  1. Your analysis of Yahweh gives not one reason as to why we should not be using Yahweh today for His name. I don’t care that Jewish people found it too holy to pronounce. In the verse you quoted, Yahweh himself said that this is His name forever. I think I since LORD is more common, and has a KJV following, that sales and dollar signs are more motivating than Yahweh’s own statement to use His name.

    1. As indicated above, the NLT generally follows the pattern of almost all other English translations (e.g., KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, NRSV, ESV, NET, NAB) in the way we translate YHWH. The exception is the Christian Standard Bible, which translates YHWH as “Yahweh” 611 times. But that same version translates YHWH as “the LORD” 6,217 times. Since the reading public has long been accustomed to reading “the LORD” for YHWH, our committee’s conclusion was that it would have been unnecessarily jarring to consistently transliterate it as Yahweh. (response from member of the Bible Translation Committee)

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