“Your Word Is Truth”
“Yahweh” or “Jehovah”?
NAMES are important. Harvard University researchers found that not only were people influenced by the first names others had but the names that parents gave their children affected them either favorably or unfavorably.
A study of the Bible shows that its Author appreciated the value of his name. Among his many titles are “the true God,” “the Most High,” “Sovereign Lord,” “Grand Creator” and “King of eternity.” In addition to these titles he has a distinctive name, sometimes referred to as the Tetragrammaton. It is so designated because of its four Hebrew letters that correspond to the English letters YHWH, or JHVH, the consonants forming the basis of the name “Jehovah.”—Gen. 5:22; Ps. 83:18; 69:6; Eccl. 12:1; 1 Tim. 1:17.
But how shall this Tetragrammaton be pronounced? The exact Hebrew pronunciation of it has been lost, since in ancient times Hebrew contained no written vowels and the pronunciation was handed down by word of mouth. By and large, there are two forms in use: “Yahweh,” with the accent on the second syllable, and “Jehovah.” Concerning the form “Jehovah,” a Jesuit writer says: “It is disconcerting to see the divine name written as Jehovah, a 16th-century . . . error for Jahweh.”—America, Nov. 27, 1971, p. 460.
In the same vein the New Catholic Encyclopedia says: “JEHOVAH, false form of the divine name Yahweh. The name Jehovah first appeared in manuscripts in the 13th century A.D., but had probably been in use for some time.” (Vol. 7, p. 863) Likewise the Revised Standard Version translators objected to the form “Jehovah,” stating that “the word ‘Jehovah’ does not accurately represent any form of the Name ever used in Hebrew,” and that “it is almost if not quite certain that the Name was originally pronounced ‘Yahweh.’” (P. vi.) Also, the modern Roman Catholic version known as The Jerusalem Bible uses the form “Yahweh,” even as does Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible.
In view of these opinions, why do the witnesses of Jehovah prefer to use “Jehovah” rather than “Yahweh”? For one thing, no one can be certain just what the original pronunciation was, even as admitted by those who prefer “Yahweh.” And further, the form “Jehovah” has a currency and familiarity that “Yahweh” does not have. “Yahweh” is obviously a transliteration, whereas “Jehovah” is a translation, and Bible names generally have been translated rather than transliterated. A transliteration usually sounds strange to the ears of those speaking the tongue into which the proper name has been transliterated.
That there are valid reasons for using the form “Jehovah” can be seen from the fact that, while in both the Protestant Revised Standard Version and the Roman Catholic New American Bible the name “Jehovah” does not appear, the translators of the New English Bible have not shrunk back altogether from using it. Thus their translation at Exodus 3:15, 16 and Ex 6:3 reads:
“You must tell the Israelites this, that it is JEHOVAH the God of their forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, who has sent you to them. . . . Go and assemble the elders of Israel and tell them that JEHOVAH the God of their forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to you.” “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty. But I did not let myself be known to them by my name JEHOVAH.” Interestingly, the translators in a footnote make the following observation: “The Hebrew consonants are YHWH, probably pronounced Yahweh, but traditionally read Jehovah.”
Even more to the point is what the noted English Bible scholar J. B. Rotherham has to say on this subject. Especially is this of interest in view of the fact that he might be said to have been one of the pioneers in using the form “Yahweh” in transliterating the Tetragrammaton. His Emphasised Bible was published in 1897, whereas his Studies in the Psalms were not published until 1911, after he had died. In this latter work Rotherham returned to the use of “Jehovah,” which is all the more remarkable in view of how strongly he objected to the form “Jehovah” in the introduction to his Emphasised Bible. In explanation of his reasons for returning to the form “Jehovah,” he says in the introduction to his Studies:
“Jehovah—The employment of this English form of the Memorial name [Exo. 3:18] in the present version of the Psalter does not arise from any misgiving as to the more correct pronunciation, as being Yahweh; but solely from practical evidence personally selected of the desirability of keeping in touch with the public ear and eye in a matter of this kind, in which the principal thing is the easy recognition of the Divine name intended. . . . As the chief evidence of the significance of the name consists not nearly so much in its pronunciation as in the completeness with which it meets all requirements—especially as explaining how the Memorial name was fitted to become such, and to be the preeminent covenant name that it confessedly is, it has been thought desirable to fall back on the form of the name more familiar (while perfectly acceptable) to the general Bible-reading public.”
Rotherham realized that what was important was not the more accurate pronunciation but the “easy recognition of the Divine name intended,” thereby keeping better in touch with the “general Bible-reading public” by means of a name that is “perfectly acceptable” and “meets all requirements” of its uniqueness. In a similar vein S. T. Byington in his Preface to The Bible in Living English notes that “the spelling and the pronunciation are not highly important. What is highly important is to keep it clear that this is a personal name. There are several texts that cannot be properly understood if we translate this name by a common noun like ‘Lord.’”
Those who object to the use of “Jehovah” might be said to “strain out the gnat but gulp down the camel!” (Matt. 23:24) How so? In that they make much of the correct pronunciation of God’s name, and yet they seldom if ever use it but prefer to call him “God” or “Lord,” which are mere titles, there being many called “lords” and “gods.”—1 Cor. 8:5, 6.
How greatly the Author of the Bible set store by his unique name is apparent from the fact that his Word uses it to refer to himself more often than all other designations put together, for a total of 6,961 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. His concern is also seen in the fact that the expression “they shall know that I am Jehovah” occurs upward of seventy-five times in those writings.
The name “Jehovah” was chosen by Him with great purpose, for it literally means “He Causes to Become.” Jehovah’s distinctive name shows him to be a God of purpose. Whatever he purposes comes to pass.—Isa. 55:11.2