Did you know that the name “Jehovah” is not in the original Bible?

Exodus 3:14 reveals the personal name of God as “I Am Who I Am” (That’s right, Popeye stole it from God.) In the Hebrew, this was written as 4 consonants Y H W H. Through time, religionists made this special name so “sacred” that some refused to write it and would insert other names in its place.

The name “Jehovah” probably first came into use during the Middle Ages where the consonants from the revealed name of God; YHWH, and  the vowels from one of the generic terms for God: adonai, were combined into the new Man-made word “Jehovah.”

YHWH to Jahovah

As time went by, the Hebrew was translated into Latin, the Latin into German and  the German into English.  Eventually the translation from one language to the next converted the “Y” into a “J” and the “W” into a “V”.   If you have ever met someone with a German accent, you will notice how the letter “w” is pronounced like the English “v” and the letter “y” is pronounced with “j” sound.   Eventually the King James translation adopted the made-up name “Jehovah.”

The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary summarizes the origins of the invention “Jehovah”      this way:

When the Jewish scholars (called Masoretes) added vowel signs to biblical mss some time before the 10th century a.d., the Tetragrammaton was punctuated with the vowels of the word “Adonai” or “Elohim” to indicate that the reader should read “Lord” or “God” instead of accidentally pronouncing the sacred name (TDOT 5: 501–02).

The form “Jehovah” results from reading the consonants of the Tetragrammaton with the vowels of the surrogate word Adonai. The dissemination of this form is usually traced to Petrus Galatinus, confessor to Pope Leo X, who in 1518 a.d. transliterated the four Hebrew letters with the Latin letters jhvh together with the vowels of Adonai, producing the artificial form “Jehovah.” (This confused usage may, however, have begun as early as 1100 a.d.; note KB, 369). While the hybrid form Jehovah has met much resistance, and is universally regarded as an ungrammatical aberration, it nonetheless passed from Latin into English and other European languages and has been hallowed by usage in hymns and the ASV; it is used only a few times in KJV and not at all in RSV.

Henry O. Thompson, “Yahweh (Deity)” In , in , vol. 6, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1011.

Of course this has a lot of important implications for all of the King James Version Only folks, the Jehovah’s Witness faithful, and even for all of our English translations.

There is a newer practice of writing the personal name of God as, “Yahweh.”  This translation brings back the revealed name of God by using the Hebrew consonants with the addition of vowels to make it more readable in English.  This is a completely acceptable translation.  However, my own practice is simply use the Hebrew consonants with no added vowels, but the pronunciation of YHWH is the same as Yahweh.

For a more detailed explanation of the Hebrew, here is a portion of the lecture from Dr. William Barrick, Professor of the Old Testament at The Master’s Seminary.

I hope that helps my readers better understand why I use the personal name of God; YHWH, in my writing.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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