It struck me the other day that ‘theos’ is the word normally used for God in the New Testament. I have always taken it for granted but YHWH is the name most often used for God in the OT whereas ‘theos’ is the impersonal name for God that is equivalent to ‘El’ in the OT. If the Septuagint used ‘kurios’ for YHWH, then why doesn’t the NT do the same? (1) Why does the NT use the more impersonal name for God – ‘theos’? I think the answer to that question speaks to the identity of the Lord Jesus.
The revelation of the name YHWH was closely connected with the making of the covenant at Sinai. It was a name that was revealed as opposed to El, which is a name that we know from the time we are born, perhaps almost instinctively.
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exo 34:6-7 ESV)
There is a direct equivalence between the name YHWH revealed at Sinai, and the name of the Lord Jesus revealed to the Church. Both names are associated with the making of a covenant. The words Jesus used to address his disciples at the last supper clearly recall the words spoken by Moses to the people at Sinai.
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1Co 11:25 ESV; cf. Luke 22:20)
And Moses took the blood and scattered it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Exodus 24:8
Moses commanded the people to remember the laws of YHWH but Jesus commanded his disciples to remember him.
The Apostle Paul said that Jesus has been given the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. There can be no doubt that ‘Lord’ is more than a title here. It is the name YHWH.
As a side note, the name ‘Jesus’ very rarely appears alone in the New Testament outside of the Gospels. In the Gospels, the name ‘Jesus’ is used when narrating events but otherwise Jesus is always addressed as ‘Lord’ or ‘Teacher’. In the Epistles, the name ‘Jesus’ is almost always accompanied with the words ‘Lord’ and / or ‘Christ’. It is more common today for the name ‘Jesus’ to be used alone to express familiarity or closeness. But this form of address has no precedent in the New Testament.
(1) The name Iao (equivalent to Hebrew – Yah) is found in Greek texts in reference to YHWH but it is only used by Greek and Roman writers such as Varro and Diodorus of Sicily . The Jews did not use this Greek transliteration of YHWH. At some point in the post-exilic period, they ceased pronouncing the name YHWH. By the time the Septuagint was created (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made late in the 3rd century BC), the translators chose to use the Greek word ‘kurios’ (which means ‘lord’) in place of YHWH. This was a natural choice since ‘Adonai’ (Hebrew – Lord or ‘my LORD’) often appears in the OT in combination with the name YHWH.