A few days ago, a reader of this blog and a former student asked me to explain the origin of the name Jehovah. I always welcome questions from readers and when a question is of general interest, I try to write a post and provide an answer that will benefit the general public.
First, let me remind readers that I have already written several posts on the divine name. The following posts deal with the name of God:
The name Jehovah is not the real name of God. Let me explain. The word Jehovah, a popular English name used by Christians to identify the God of the Old Testament, was not used until after 1278 A.D.
In the Hebrew Bible, the name of God is expressed by four consonants: YHWH. These four consonants are also known in academic circles as the Tetragrammaton. The name of God was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai:
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:13-15 RSV).
When God sent Moses back to Egypt to bring the people out of their oppression, God told Moses: “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD has sent me to you’: this is my name for ever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exodus 3:15). In Hebrew the name “the LORD” is YHWH.
Over the centuries, the Jewish community has avoided using or pronouncing the divine name in public. Thus, when reading the name of God in Hebrew, the Masoretes wrote the four consonants YHWH and inserted the vowels of the Hebrew word Adonai, a word that means “the Lord.”
The name Jehovah is a hybrid name. The name was formed by the use of the Tetragrammaton YHWH with the vowels of Adonai and the result was YeHoWaH. This hybrid name became the basis for the Latinized name Jehovah.
The name Jehovah was not known until sometime after 1278 when a Dominican monk by the name of Raymundus Martini, a Spaniard, first used it in his book Pugeo Fidei. The name Jehovah appeared in English when William Tyndale translated the book of Moses in 1530. Thus, the name Jehovah is an artificial creation that was not used until the Middle Ages. It does not reflect an accurate rendering of the divine name in the Hebrew Bible and its use should be avoided.
Most Christian Bibles today follow the example of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and of the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible by Jerome. The Septuagint translated the Tetragrammaton YHWH by Kurios, “Lord” and the Vulgate rendered the divine name as Dominus, “Lord.”
The name Jehovah appears in the King James Bible in four places: Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; and Isaiah 26:4. The poetic form of the name, Yah (or Jah in the KJV) appears in Psalm 68:4. The divine name appears in several passages in the Bible compound with other words: “Jehovahjireh” (Genesis 22:14 KJV), “Jehovahnissi” (Exodus 17:15 KJV), and “Jehovahshalom” (Judges 6:24 KJV).
Most modern English translations follow orthodox Jewish tradition and avoid using the divine name. Instead, these translations substitute the word “the LORD” for the name Yahweh. The following are the usages of the divine name in most English Bibles:
1. The word “God” translates the Hebrew name Elohim.
2. The word “GOD” translates the divine name Yahweh.
3. The word “Lord” translates the Hebrew word Adonai.
4. The Word “LORD” translates the divine name Yahweh.
I respect my Jewish readers who refrain from using the divine name as a way of honoring God. This reluctance to use the divine name reflects their love and reverence for God and a recognition of the holiness of God’s name. Instead of using the divine name, they use “Adonai,” and “Hashem,” a Hebrew word meaning “The Name.”
As a Christian, however, I believe that this reluctance to pronounce the divine name goes contrary to God’s own wishes. God said to Moses:
“Say this to the Israelites: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation (Exodus 3:15 HCSB).
God clearly tells Moses that he wants to be remembered forever by his name. However, if we do not call God by his name, how can people know him by his name?
The Psalmist wrote: “Sing to God! Sing praises to His name. His name is Yahweh.” (Psalm 68:4 HCSB).
The Psalmist also wrote: “Proclaim with me the greatness of Yahweh, let us acclaim his name together (Psalm 34:3 NJB).
To sing praises to God’s name and to acclaim his name requires the worshiper to know God’s name and to use it and pronounce his name aloud.
The prophet Joel wrote: “Everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved” (Joel 2:32 HCSB). However, how can people call upon the name of God when the name of God is not used?
Christians should avoid using the name Jehovah because it does not provide an accurate translation of the Hebrew name for God. And, although I am going against the majority of Biblical scholars on this issue, I believe we should take seriously God’s desire that he wants to be remembered forever by his name.
If Christians and Jews are to use the divine name, it must be done so with reverence, for we must remember God’s own admonition: “You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name” (Exodus 20:7 NJB).
NOTE: For other studies on the name of the God of the Bible, read my post Studies on the Name of God.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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