Is "Jehovah" the Name of God?

Jason Dulle

There is a common belief in modern Christendom that the divine name of God in the OT is "Jehovah." The most influential group advocating this pronunciation of God's name today is the Jehovah's Witnesses. This study is intended to demonstrate that the name "Jehovah" is not, and never was the name of God in the OT, but is an accidental, fabricated pronunciation of the divine name. Those who came up with this spelling/pronunciation did so from a misunderstanding of the Hebrew tetragrammaton "YHWH," as it appears in the OT text. The rendering of YHWH as "Yahweh" is much closer to the actual Hebrew name of God.

The way in which Godís name came to be spelled and pronounced as "Jehovah" is detailed with a lot of history and study of phonetics, but a few comments are in order here to help make some sense of the issue.

The Hebrew tetragrammaton, YHWH, is the way the name of God appears in the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew language is a consonantal language, possessing no vowels. Vowels were pronounced, but not written. They were transmitted orally from generation to generation. This may like a difficult system, and quite strange to us, but it is not that difficult. Just as you can decipher that THS S TH WY TH HBRW PPL WRT BCK THN, means "this is the way Hebrew people wrote back then," so could they easily pronounce words without vowels.

By about 200 B.C., after the time of the Exile, and due to superstition, Jews would no longer pronounce Godís name for fear that they would take it in vain by not saying it properly. Instead of pronouncing the tetragrammaton, they would say Adonai, which is the Hebrew word meaning Lord. Because of this superstition, no one today knows exactly how it was pronounced. This was also true of the Masoretic scribes who copied the Hebrew Scriptures. When the Masoretic scribes, in the 9th to 10th ceturies, invented a system of vowels to preserve the pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible, they also inserted some vowels into the tetragrammaton. Because they too, did not know exactly how to pronounce Godís name, and did not believe one should attempt to, they did not try to insert the correct vowels into the tetragrammaton. Instead, they inserted the vowels from the Hebrew word Adonai, which are the sounds of the short a, long o, and another a with the sound of the word awesome. The insertions of these vowels were not for the purpose of pronunciation, but to remind the reader to say Adonai when they came to Godís name instead of pronouncing Godís name. If it was to be spelled out, however, it would read "Yehowah" (the vocalic change to the first vowel is due to the fact that yod, the first letter of the tetragrammaton is a non-gutteral, and thus turns the a sound [compound shewa] to a shortened, short e sound [simple shewa]).

Later on, in the days of the Renaissance, people were discovering the ancient languages all over again. The Hebrew Scriptures were being learned and read. When people came to the tetragrammaton, they simply pronounced it with the inserted vowels, not realizing that the vowels did not belong to YHWH, but were intended as indicators to say Adonai. As a result, they pronounced Godís name as Yehowah.

The spelling of "Iehovah" entered the English language through William Tyndaleís translation of the Bible completed in 1537. He transliterated the tetragrammaton into the English language with the Masoretic vowel markings as had those in the Renaissance. The letter and sound of the English "J" was a later development of the English language, and so this spelling and pronunciation would not change to "Jehovah" until the late 17th century. Since this time many English speakers have pronounced Godís name as Jehovah.

So how exactly should we pronounce the Hebrew YHWH? Because of the fact that the vocalic tradition for the pronunciation of YHWH has not been preserved, we cannot be absolutely sure about its pronunciation. We can be fairly certain, however. Here is a brief examination of the divine name of God.

YHWH is the third person singular form, most likely coming from the Hebrew word hayah, which has the meaning of "to be." In Exodus 3:14, when Moses asked God for His name, God said His name was ehyeh. This is the first person form of hayah, meaning "I am." YHWH is the third person form meaning "He is."

The original pronunciation was probably YaHWeH. This seems to be the case by examining Jewish names. Many names contain part of the divine name, i.e. yah, and by examing the vowels that they used to construct their names with the divine abbreviation attached, we can get a feel for how YHWH was originally pronounced. We conclude from the examining names such as Joshua, Jehoshaphat, Elijah, and even the word hallelujah (hallel=praise; yah=Yahweh), that YH was pronounced as yah. We also have evidence that Yahweh is probably the correct pronunciation from examining the Greekís tranliteration of the divine name as iaoue or iabe.

In conclusion, although it is not necessarily wrong to say Godís name as Jehovah, by no means can it be claimed that Jehovah is the name of God that has only been restored to us in these recent times. At best Jehovah can only be claimed to be an acceptable way of pronouncing Godís name in the English language, and at worst it could be said to be a phonetic corruption of Godís name. The probable pronunciation of Godís revealed name is Yahweh.

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