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    A History of the Divine Name

    YHWH/JHVH
    יהוה (YHWH or JHVH) on stained glass in a Church in the village of Rök, Sweden

    Our translation uses the Divine Name of God. It appears in the Hebrew texts (and a handful of Greek manuscripts) as יהוה, usually written in English as Jehovah or Yahweh.

    This document explains what the name is, and it’s history. To learn why we use it in our translation, when other translations just say Lord, please see Why use the Divine Name in our translation? To see why we use it in our New Testament, please see The Divine Name in our New Testament.

    What is God’s name?

    The Bible tells us His name repeatedly. In Hebrew, it is written as YHWH (or יהוה) because that language doesn’t have written vowels in the same way as English. These four letters are known as the tetragram or the tetragrammaton (created from the Ancient Greek words for four and letter). In English, we usually add some vowels, and display it as Yahweh or, more commonly, as Jehovah.

    Exodus 3:15:

    ‘‘Jehovah ... That has been My Name through the ages, and it’s how I shall be remembered from generation to generation.’

    Exodus 15:3:

    ‘He’s the Lord that crushes with war; Jehovah is His [Great] Name.’

    Exodus 20:7:

    ‘‘You must not misuse the Name of your God Jehovah; for Jehovah your God will not forgive those that misuse His Name.’

    Numbers 14:21:

    ‘For, as I live and as My Name is living; the glory of Jehovah must fill the whole earth’

    1 Chronicles 16:8:

    ‘‘Give praise to Jehovah! Call on Him by His Name! Tell the people of the things He has done!’

    Psalms 24:10:

    ‘And who is this glorious King? His Name is Jehovah of Armies!’

    And so on. In total, the Divine Name is indicated in the Old Testament manuscripts over 5,300 times, and in the New Testament it appears in the shortened form Jah 4 times, plus it may appear as a euphemism a further 150 times or so.

    How old is the Name?

    Very old indeed. The oldest archaeological evidence of the Divine Name (to date) is actually from an inscription on an Egyptian temple. It may date from as early as the mid-14th century BCE (the period of Israelite Judges). It calls the Israelites, ‘the Nomads of Yehwah.’

    The oldest record of the name in sacred writings is found in The Silver Scrolls, dated to the 7th century BCE (just before the destruction of Solomon’s temple). It contains the words from Numbers 6:24-26.

    However, these are only the oldest archaeological findings. The Bible text itself describes the Name as being much older. Genesis 4:26 speaks of a pre-flood man named Enos who began to ‘call’ on the Name.

    How do we pronounce the Name?

    Nobody knows how YHWH was originally pronounced because Hebrew has no written vowels, at least, not in the same way as English. The correct pronunciation was lost years ago.

    Some modern Aramaic speakers from Syria and Iraq claim that the original pronunciation was Yahwah or Ya-Wa. However, this is just an unprovable tradition. Modern scholars prefer the spelling Yahweh, but this is just a guess based on how other Hebrew words are pronounced today. It might be right, it might be wrong.

    The pronunciation Jehovah comes from inserting the vowels used to pronounce the Hebrew word for God, Elohim. Why do that? It was because Jewish people do not say the Divine Name when encountering it in their scrolls, considering it too holy to utter. So instead, they say Elohim (or Adonai, meaning Lord). To remind readers to say this different word, scribes added little markings called ‘vowel points’ (used to show how a word should be pronounced) above YHWH, but instead of showing the vowel points for YHWH, they were instead the vowel points for the word Elohim.

    During the Middle Ages, someone in Europe began using these vowel points to pronounce YHWH like Yehowah. They either didn’t know that the vowel points were for a different word, or they didn’t care. Also, the English language changed. Many Y’s became J’s, and many W’s became V’s. So YHWH ended up as JHVH, and when combined with the vowel points from Elohim, we ended up with Jehovah.

    So, the bottom line is this: nobody knows how the Divine Name was originally pronounced. Some traditions say it was Yahwah or Ya-Wa, but we can’t prove this. Yahweh is a modern guess. And Jehovah is definitely wrong. So the question then becomes, does it matter what pronunciation we use?

    Does pronunciation matter?

    Well, unless the name of God is a magical spell that must be pronounced perfectly in order to work, the answer is no, it doesn’t matter. Nothing in the Bible commands that any word must be perfectly pronounced, not even God’s Name.

    Interestingly, the Bible records that even within the Israelites, different areas had different accents. In the time of the Judges, people from the tribe of Ephraim were said to have their own accent. Judges 12:5-6 reports that they had trouble hiding it! We know of no reason to assume that all the Israelites tried to pronounce YHWH exactly the same way all the time.

    Of course, Jehovah is quite different from Yahwah or Yahweh. Is it too different? Well, history records that the first Christians swapped between the Aramaic and Greek pronunciations and spellings of Jesus’ name without complaint (ישוע‎ or Yeshua versus Ἰησοῦς or Iēsoûs). These two names are at least as different as Jehovah is from Yahweh. So we have no record of anyone being troubled over any pronunciation, not even that of the name of Jesus the Anointed One.

    Our translation currently uses Jehovah, although some notes and commentaries say Jehovah/Yahweh. To see why we usually use Jehovah, see here.

    When the Name was replaced with a euphemism

    Sometime around the Jewish exile to Babylon, the Jews began to avoid saying the Divine Name aloud. This was either out of shame (for being exiled), out of great respect for the Name, or our of superstition. Whatever the exact reasons, they began to say Lord (maryah in Aramaic) instead of Jehovah/Yahweh.

    When Jews moved around the Greek Empire and adopted the Greek language, scholars produced the Greek Septuagint translation. In that translation, the Name was shown in Hebrew letters among the Greek words, or replaced with the euphemism Lord (kyrios in Greek) – but used without the word ‘the’ beforehand, as a signal to the reader that Lord was replacing Jehovah/Yahweh.

    Later translators simply continued these practices. So in the late 4th century, when Jerome created his Latin Vulgate (from which nearly all Bibles in the West descend), Bibles continued to leave out the Name, and instead said Lord. Although many say LORD in capitals to indicate where the Hebrew says YHWH. To its credit, this feature is found in the King James Version.

    This created some confusing wording in certain texts.

    For example, in Isaiah, God is often referred to in the Greek text as Kyrios ho Kyrios, or, Lord the Lord. These are obvious examples of texts where God’s Name was replaced with a euphemism. Such sentences should clearly read Jehovah the Lord. Yet, some Bibles that refuse to use God’s Name hide this error by deliberately mistranslating the words as, ‘Lord God,’ or ‘Sovereign Lord.’

    Or consider a famous verse, Psalm 110:1, which in most Bibles reads like this:

    The LORD said to my Lord...

    How confusing! Yet the original wording was not confusing. It said ‘Jehovah/Yahweh said to my lord.’