Bible Answer

Where did the name Jehovah come from?

Where did the name Jehovah come from? Is it accurate to use?

There is much debate surrounding the original Hebrew name of God. Age-old Hebrew did not use vowels when they wrote, which is where things can get confusing as manuscripts are passed down generation to generation. Because the name for God – YHWH – is too holy to write with vowels within Hebrew tradition, there is no way for us to know 100% which vowels are correct. So as the vowel sounds were spoken orally, they were never recorded manually. As we study the name of God in Hebrew (i.e., YHWH), we incorporate vowels without being absolutely certain which vowels to use, as we still see today in the many preferred ways to write/say YHWH (i.e., “Yahweh," “Yehowah,” “Yahuweh,” “Yahawah," or "Jehovah.")

During the third century A.D., the Jewish people stopped saying this name for fear of contravening the commandment “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name" (Exodus 20:7). As a result of this, Adonai is occasionally a substitute for YHWH. The following compound names which start with "YHWH" have been shown using "Jehovah." This is due to the common usage of "Jehovah" in the English of these compound names in the early English translations of the Bible (i.e., the Geneva Bible, the King James Version, etc.).

As modern scholars began to study the name of God they noticed that the pronunciation of "Jehovah" posed a problem. In ancient Hebrew writing there is no, "J" sound. The "v" in Jehovah is rendered from the W in YHWH, as the Hebrew letter vav. After more linguistic study of the ancient Hebrew, YHWH is said to have originally had a pronunciation closer to W than the V as shown in Jehovah. If we follow these rules as mentioned, we end up with JHVH. 

Since the Hebrew manuscripts didn't have vowels a group of Jewish scribes in the Medieval times, known as the Masoretes were brought in to apply vowel symbols to the traditional consonantal text.

So how did ancient scribes adopt Jehovah as the chosen name for God? Over centuries the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament was translated into different languages resulting in YHWH reading as JHVH and the Masoretes of the Middle Age added vowels to the consonants. Simply put, Jehovah is a Latinization of the Hebrew Yahweh, one vocalization of YHWH.

Interestingly enough, the term "Jehovah" is less than 700 years old. Jehovah became increasingly used in early English translations. Tyndale, the Geneva Bible, and others used the term Jehovah occasionally to represent the Hebrew name YHWH. The term occurs only four times in the King James Version of the Bible (Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; 26:4). A mixture of “Jehovah” and “Lord” remained consistent in most English translations. The English Revised Version of 1885, and the American Standard Version of 1901, choose “Jehovah” as its standard rendering of YHWH, a name it uses over 6,800 times. It is also used, and strongly promoted by Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

With that said, some argue that the name Jehovah is a more literal term for God's name, however, we disagree. We have observed that the term “Jehovah” is neither original to the Bible and it is simply inaccurate to use an English transliteration of a Hebrew word that was never intended to be pronounced in the first place. 

Nevertheless, this is no reason to argue or debate with others in the Church on the "correct" pronunciation of God's name as we today can not be certain of the original vowels used in the original Hebrew YHWH. Moreover, it is far more important to know God through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, than to know the original pronunciation of the original name of God. 

As the writers of the Bible were divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can rest assured that the adopted generic text of God's name in different languages is acceptable as we see in todays Bibles. For example:

English: Lord, LORD, God
Hebrew: YHWH, Adonai, Elohim
Greek: Theos, Kurios