What about the Name Jehovah?

 

GUEST ARTICLE

What About the Name “Jehovah”?

 

The question occasionally arises: “Why is the name ‘Jehovah’ not found in the King James Version of the Bible, or in most modern translations?”

The term “Jehovah,” appearing in the American Standard Version (1901), takes the place” of “LORD” (all caps) in the King James Translation, as well as in most modern versions. It derives from four Hebrew consonants, called the “Tetragrammaton,” a term that signifies a “four-letter word.” This expression is used by scholars for the four Hebrew letters, YHWH, that constitute a name for God, employed some 6,800 times in the Old Testament. (Note: “Jehovah” is found in the King James Version in Exodus 6:3, Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; 26:4.)

I am not sure of the motive of the KJV translators 500 years ago (or of later versions, e.g., RSV, NIV, ESV), in rendering YHWH by “LORD” (all caps), in contrast to “Lord” (upper/lower case). “Lord,” a rendition of the Hebrew term adonai was used as a title for deity (some 442 times). Perhaps the “all caps” format was to accommodate the late first-century Jewish superstition against pronouncing the sacred covenant name of God (Exodus 6:3; cf. 3:14).

Admittedly, the name “Jehovah” is a hybrid term (i.e., vowels from adonai were imported into the four Hebrew consonants). The same procedure is employed in the construction of Yahweh, a term commonly used today in scholarly literature as a substitute for “Jehovah.”

Though “Jehovah” may not approximate the original term quite as closely as Yahweh, the expression “Jehovah” has “now acquired by usage independent standing in English” (Ferm, ed. 1945, 389), and certainly is more familiar to the common reader than is Yahweh. Criticism of the use of the name “Jehovah” is unwarranted.

Numerous scholars have noted that the original word’s exact pronunciation has been lost and the various spelling forms are speculations, e.g., “Jehovah, Yehovah, Jahweh, Yahweh” (Unger & White, 1980, 229). All of these forms are conjectural transliterations. There is no solid documentation to confirm the original vocalization of YHWH (Horn, 1960, 1161). Dogmatism, therefore, is without justification.

It is difficult to appreciate the rationale of the somewhat caustic critics who virtually rail against the name “Jehovah,” when no one knows precisely how the original term was pronounced. Moreover, why has there been no swelling enthusiasm by translators for incorporating Yahweh, as an anglicized term, into the texts of our modern Old Testament versions?

Finally, why camouflage the difference between Yahweh and adonai by a subtle change in the English capitalization, when the average Bible student has no clue under the sun as to what lies behind the typestyle alteration from “Lord” to “LORD” (KJV, RSV, NIV, etc.)?

One scholar notes that: “LORD obscures the fact that Yahweh is a name” (VanGemeren, ed. 1997, 4.1296). This controversy, it appears to me, is a translation “tempest in a teapot.”

–Wayne Jackson

[We agree that LORD is not a good rendering of the tetragrammaton–YHWH–even though most modern translations use that substitution. On the other hand, we are somewhat more positive to the use of Yahweh or something similar, for most scholars are convinced that this is much more accurate than “Jehovah.” Regardless of this, the Jehovah’s Witness cult continues to insist on the hybrid term “Jehovah” to the point of naming their organization after it! We must guard against making a major point over this, however. The “Sacred Name” cults insist on the use of Yahweh to an excessive degree, making this their major point of emphasis! It is instructive to notice that the New Testament Greek writers must not have insisted on the use of Yahweh since there is no indication of this in the inspired 27 canonical writings. They freely used “God” or “Father” or “Lord” and didn’t insist on Jehovah or Yahweh. When they quoted the Old Testament, generally from either the Septuagint or another Greek translation, they simply employed the term “Lord” from the Greek kurios. RH]

Sources/Footnotes

  • Ferm, Vergilius. An Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Philosophical Library. 1945

     

  • Horn, Siegfried. ed. SDA Bible Dictionary. Washington, DC: Review & Herald. 1960.

     

  • Unger, Merrill & William White, Jr. Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980, 229

     

  • VanGemeren, W.A. ed. Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.

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