The King James Bible Code

The King James Bible Code

The King James translators contrived a Bible code that is a needless anachronism.

By Dr. David R. Reagan


There has been much hoopla recently considering Bible codes. Some claim they exist. Others deny it. But there can be no denial that the King James Version of the Bible contains a code that was devised by the translators themselves, and which, unfortunately, has been carried over into almost all translations since that time. I say unfortunately because I believe the King James Bible code has robbed the Bible of some of its meaning and impact.

The Reasons for the Code

The code devised by the translators was based upon the Jewish tradition of never pronouncing the name of God. The rabbis felt that God’s name was so holy that when they came to it in the Hebrew scriptures, they refused to pronounce it. They would, instead, substitute for it the Hebrew word, Adonai, which means Lord.

Another motivation for refusing to pronounce the Lord’s name was to keep from violating the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). They believed that if they never pronounced God’s name, they could never violate this commandment.

God’s Personal Name

The name of God is Yahweh. Or, at least, that is the consensus of opinion by scholars. The reason there is doubt is because the name is rendered in Hebrew as YHWH. There were no vowels in biblical Hebrew, so the correct pronunciation cannot be determined from the text, and since the Jews developed a tradition of not pronouncing the name, its pronunciation was lost.

When transliterating Hebrew into English, another tradition developed of substituting the letter J for Y. Thus, Yerushalayim became Jerusalem, Yosef became Joseph, Ya’acov became Jacob, and Yeshua became Jesus. The translators also converted the Hebrew W into V. So, they took YHWH and transformed it into JHVH, and then they added vowels to produce Jehovah as the name of God. But again, the consensus of scholarly opinion is that the name of God was pronounced Yahweh. And therefore, a term like Jehovah-jirah (Genesis 22:14), meaning “The Lord my provider,” should really be pronounced Yahweh-yireh.

The Revelation of God’s Name

Yahweh first appears in the Bible in Genesis 2:4 where it is used in conjunction with Adonai. It appears in the Hebrew text as Yahweh Elohim (Yahweh God) and is translated into English as LORD God. The first use of the name alone is in Genesis 4:1 where Eve is quoted as saying the birth of Cain was due to the help of Yahweh. In English translations, the statement appears as follows: “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.”

In Exodus 3 we are told that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and told him to go to Pharaoh and demand the release of the children of Israel from captivity (Exodus 3:1-12). Moses responded by asking what he would say when Pharaoh requested the name of his God (Exodus 3:13). God told Moses to tell Pharaoh that he had been sent by “Yahweh the God of your fathers.” The English translation is “The LORD, the God of your fathers” (Exodus 3:15).

Later, God spoke to Moses again and said, “I am Yahweh, and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai [God Almighty], but by My name, Yahweh, I did not make Myself known to them” (Exodus 6:2-3). The English translation reads: “I am the LORD, and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them.” Notice how much more meaningful this statement is when the actual name of God — Yahweh — is used. In fact, the statement really doesn’t make any sense unless Yahweh is used.

This statement in Exodus 6 makes it clear that God did not reveal his personal name to anyone before the time of Moses. Therefore, when the name is used in Genesis, it appears there because those passages were written by Moses who applied the name retroactively to a period of history when it was unknown.

The King James Code

Now, to avoid the use of the sacred, personal name of God, the King James translators developed a code that is still used in most versions today, even the modern ones. The code is as follows:

  1. Elohim is rendered as God (Genesis 1:1).
  2. Yahweh is rendered as LORD — all in capital letters (Genesis 4:1).
  3. Adonai is rendered as Lord — a capital L followed by lower case letters (Genesis 18:27).
  4. Adonai Yahweh is rendered as Lord GOD (Genesis 15:2).
  5. Yahweh Elohim is rendered as LORD God (Genesis 2:4).

So, every time the personal name of God — Yahweh — appears, it is rendered as LORD unless it appears in conjunction with Adonai, in which case it is rendered GOD. But either way, its presence is always indicated by all capital letters.

To say the least, it is very confusing. And, as I have already indicated with Exodus 6:2-3, the code can rob the passage of its meaning.

A Solution

It would be a blessing if modern translators would drop this confusing and misleading code and simply translate the personal name of God as Yahweh. That’s what Eugene Peterson has done in his paraphrase of the Psalms (The Message: Psalms, Navpress, 1994). Consider how the meaning is amplified by Peterson’s use of God’s personal name:

Psalm 8:1 — “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name…”

Peterson: “Yahweh, brilliant Lord…”

Psalm 100:3 — “Know that the LORD Himself is God…”

Peterson: “Know this. Yahweh is God, and God, Yahweh.”

Psalm 110:1 — “The LORD says to my Lord:…”

Peterson: “The word of Yahweh to my Lord:…”

Psalm 18:1 — “I love Thee, O LORD, my strength.”

Peterson: “I love You, Yahweh — You make me feel strong.”

Psalm 18:1 — “The LORD is my rock.”

Peterson: “Yahweh is bedrock under my feet.”

Psalm 23:1 — “The LORD is my shepherd…”

Peterson: “Yahweh, my shepherd!”

Psalm 27:1 — “The LORD is my light and my salvation.”

Peterson: “Light, space, zest — that’s Yahweh!”

Psalm 100:1 — “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.”

Peterson: “On your feet now — applaud Yahweh!”

Think of it this way — Would you want someone who loves you to always call you by a title? Would you want them to say, “I love you madam,” or “I love you mister”? Or would you want them to use your name?

Intimacy Requires a Name

God has a personal name. The biblical writers who had a personal relationship with Him used that name repeatedly in adoration and praise of Him. Why shouldn’t we? He desires intimacy with us (John 4:23).

Before I had a personal relationship with God’s Son, I always called him by His title, Christ (Messiah). But once I came to know Him, I started calling Him by His personal name, Jesus (Yeshua). Which do you think He would prefer to hear: “I love you, Christ” or “I love you, Jesus”? I don’t think there is any doubt.

God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am Yahweh My name is Yahweh.” (Exodus 6:2-3)

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