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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Psalm 68:20 Sovereign Lord

This post is terribly late. I was asked several months ago if there was an explanation for the use of "Sovereign" in the (T)NIV, when it does not appear in other translations. I have been taking my own sweet time in responding. Fortunately, it is fairly straightforward. Here is Psalm 68:20,

    הָאֵל לָנוּ, אֵל לְמוֹשָׁעוֹת:
    וְלֵיהוִה אֲדֹנָי--לַמָּוֶת, תֹּצָאוֹת

    God is unto us a God of deliverances;
    and unto GOD the Lord belong the issues of death.
What concerns us is the phrase "GOD, the Lord", as a translation for יהוִה אֲדֹנָי. As I noted recently, יהוִה, YHWH, is usually translated LORD and אֲדֹנָי Adonai (master), as Lord. English translations do not like to use "Lord, Lord," although that is the equivalent given in the Septuagint. Here is the phrase in several different translations.
    יהוִה אֲדֹנָי

    του κυριου κυριου LXX

    Domini, Domini Vulgate

    of the Lord, of the Lord DR

    Lord God Geneva

    GOD the Lord JPS, KJV, RSV, NRSV, ESV

    Lord GOD HCSB

    Yahweh, My Lord Rotherham

    the Lord, Our Lord Good News Bible

    Sovereign LORD NLT, (T)NIV

    The LORD Master Alter
The expression "Sovereign Lord" occurs 289 times in the NIV and usually translates Adonai YHWH. In Psalm 68 it translates YHWH Adonai. "Sovereign" is used as the alternate translation for Adonai, which means "master" or "lord."

Since יהוִה YHWH was usually pronounced as Adonai in Hebrew, this sequence יהוִה אֲדֹנָי YHWH Adonai poses a problem. It looks as if it should be pronounced Adonai, Adonai, and the LXX translation suggests that it might have been. However, יהוִה was usually pointed with the vowel marks for Elohim in this phrase, and so it was likely pronounced Adonai Elohim, "Lord God." In short, YHWH was read in Hebrew as Adonai, "Lord," but if the previous word was already Adonai, then it was read as Elohim, giving the translation "Lord God" in the KJV and "Sovereign Lord" in the (T)NIV.

This rather curious feature of translation argues against concordance or formal equivalence as integral to communicating essential religious knowledge about God across languages. However, it is only through having access to formal equivalent translation in the first place that one can become aware of these irregularities in translation, if one does not read the text in the original languages. My sense is that a formal equivalent translation does not have great spiritual significance, but it does affect one's intellectual understanding of the scriptures.

There is, however, a certain aspect of the text that is fixed in translating YHWH. Whether LORD or GOD, YHWH is marked in the text by the use of capital (or small capital) letters. The name of YHWH is communicated to us in an unambiguous way through a visual or non phonetic feature of the text.


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