An Interesting H
Updated: Aug 13, 2021
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, Hebrews 8:8.
My daughter recently contacted me with a question; "Why is Judah spelled with an H in Hebrews 8:8, when throughout the rest of the New Testament it is spelled J-u-d-a?". In the 1960s, my mentor Billy Randall began preaching that the King James Bible was inspired. He did so before it became cool. He taught us that in the King James Bible, whenever any passage ostensibly saying the same thing as another passage deviated in the least little bit in capitalization, plural vs. singular or in any other respect, we were to be alert. There is a reason.
I think that we are all familiar with the differences in the spelling of bible names when they are used in the Old Testament as opposed to when they are quoted in the New Testament. Isaiah of the Old Testament becomes Esaias in the New Testament. Hosea becomes Osee, and Elijah become Elias. This is in keeping with the practice of transliterating names as they are written in Hebrew by using one phonetic spelling, and transliterating names as they are written in Greek with a different spelling.
Anyone who is familiar with more than one language understands that names shift in pronunciation and spelling from language to language. John is Juan in Spanish, Ionni in Greek, and Ivan in Russian. One way that the King James translators maintained the integrity of the original languages was by reflecting the difference in both the Hebrew pronunciations and spellings from the Greek pronunciations and spellings by transliterating them differently. Therefore we have Jehoshaphat in the Old Testament but Josaphat in the New Testament.
When we come to the name "Judah" we see something interesting. When Judah the son of Jacob is named in the New Testament, our King James Bible spells it J-u-d-a-s. Whereas when the tribe named after him Judah is spelled out in our New Testament it is spelled J-u-d-a. This reflects a difference in how they are spelled in Greek. When Matthew wrote about Judah the man he spelled it ιουδαν. Yet when he spelled the name of the tribe, he spelled it ιουδα. You don't have to be able to read Greek to see that it is spelled with one less letter when speaking of the tribe as compared to the man.
The spelling of the man's name Judah, when spelled in the New Testament is consistently spelled J-u-d-a-s throughout the New Testament. Likewise, the spelling of the tribe Judah is spelled J-u-d-a throughout the New Testament. There is one exception to that rule, Hebrews 8:8, it is spelled J-u-d-a-h. Lest you should be lulled into thinking that it is some kind of an oversight, think again.
The first printing of the King James James Bible uses that spelling. When the translators Ward and Bois were able to affect their own printing of the bible in the 1638 Cambridge Bible, they retained that spelling. When Dr. Paris spent 7 years collating all existing King James Bibles, followed by Blayney spending another 7 years collating Paris's work and all existing King James Bibles, they left the spelling intact.
When Scrivener published his 1873 Cambridge Paragraph Bible, he conformed the spelling in Hebrews 8:8 to the rest of the New Testament. I have commented in other places (Here) on Scrivener's strengths and weaknesses as applied to the 7 years that he spent collating all existing King James Bibles. He over corrected in far too many places. The next two editors of the King James Bible, an unknown editor for Oxford who published in 1893 and A.W. Pollard for Cambridge during WWI, rejected his spelling. Today, both the Oxford and Cambridge texts of the King James Bible which vary in hundreds of places, retain the spelling J-u-d-a-h in Hebrews 8:8.
Why? That is what my daughter asked last month, "why?". Why indeed; it is evident from all historical data and from the current text of the King James Bible as published by both Cambridge and Oxford that the King James Translators themsleves wanted to distinguish the spelling of Judah in Hebrews 8:8 from the rest of the New Testament. I am going to offer a theory here. I think that it will stand the test of doctrine and the test of time, but I want to propose it as a theory and not fact, because it is after all, my reckoning.
The translators gave us a heads-up. Hebrews 8:8-12 is taken from Jeremiah 31:31-34. I think that we are all familiar with the fact that when a New Testament writer quotes the Old Testament, that he is doing so with the inspiration of the Almighty giving his spirit understanding so that he may not always quote it word for word, but he will interpret the passage written in Hebrew into the Greek language and in doing so will often give it a New Testament understanding.
Whereas the Book of Habakuk says, the just shall live by his faith, Habakuk 2:4, Paul quotes him as saying, The just shall live by faith, Romans 1:17. What is remarkable about Hebrews 8:8 is that it is a word for word quotation of Jeremiah 31:31. That is rare if not unprecedented. The word for word rendition continues in verse 9 of Hebrews 8 as it quotes Jeremiah 31:32 until the semi-colon after the words "land of Egypt". For all of Jeremiah 31:31 until half way through Jeremiah 31:32, the Book of Hebrews quotes the verses word for word.
Midway through verse 32 as quoted in Hebrews 8:9, the text takes the familiar New Testament pattern of interpreting the Old Testament prophet in New Testament parlance. The rest of Jeremiah 31:32 says, which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD, whereas Hebrews 8:9 finishes out saying; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. Jeremiah 31:33 and Hebrews 8:10 take the typical Old to New Testament approach when quoting from Old to New, they vary slightly. Jeremiah 31:33-34 is quoted and interpreted in Hebrews 11:-12 with different wording.
Suffice it to say that Hebrews 8:8 has a flag in it put there by the King James translators themselves. To me, it is clear that they want us to stop and think about why one portion of the Old Testament quote is quoted word for word, whereas the rest of the quote uses the New Testament tactic of interpreting the word of scripture differently under the anointing of the Holy Ghost. The brethren may argue as to why there is that difference, what they cannot doubt is that there is a change in the way it's quoted and the translators wanted you to know it.