What Is The Name?
Should we use a name for God? If so, how is it pronounced?
“WHY did they stop putting God’s name, ‘Jehovah,’ in the Bible?” asked a letter to the religious section of the Washington, D.C., Evening Star of September 30, 1961. The question was answered by a clergyman who said: “The chief reason for this name being omitted from most English Bibles is that it did not appear in the original Hebrew manuscript.”
In like manner, when the Revised Standard Version of the Bible was produced in 1952 its translators eliminated the use of the name “Jehovah,” saying: “The word ‘Jehovah’ does not accurately represent any form of the Name ever used in Hebrew.”
Similarly, when the Roman Catholic publication Our Sunday Visitor of October 1, 1961, commented on the name “Jehovah” it said: “Jehovah is a Christian mistake. The name was neither written nor pronounced like that by the Jews.”
The thinking represented by these examples is common to the religious leaders of Christendom. They generally argue that using the name “Jehovah” when referring to Almighty God is incorrect. Hence, many of them eliminate it from their Bible translations, and from their speeches, writings and worship as well. Yes, the major religions of Christendom have practically abandoned using a name for the Creator and contend that titles such as “Lord” or “God” are sufficient.
DOES GOD HAVE A NAME?
From all this the average person who is unfamiliar with Biblical scholarship might conclude that there is no name for God, that the term “Jehovah” is an invention that has no basis in fact. So a fundamental question to ask now is: “Does God have a name?”
Where would you go to find the answer to this question? If someone doubted that you had a name, would it not be the most logical thing to inquire of you? Yes, because you would be in the best position to answer, although it would seem to be a very foolish question to you since you had used your name all your life!
In the same way it would be most logical to inquire of God himself as to whether he has a name. Where can we go to do this? To the record he inspired by his holy spirit, which record is the Holy Bible. In that Word of God it states, according to the Roman Catholic Douay version: “Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name.” (Matt. 6:9) A more recent translation, the Revised Standard Version, states at Psalm 22:22: “I will tell of thy name to my brethren.” The widely used King James Version renders Isaiah 12:4 this way: “And in that day shall ye say, Praise the LORD, call upon his name, declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted.” The Catholic Knox translation of Jesus’ words at John 17:6 says: “I have made thy name known.”
While there are many more scriptures from many more translations that could be quoted to show the same thing, must we not forcefully conclude from these samples that God has a name? All reasonable persons would have to acknowledge, Yes. But is that name “God” or “Lord”? No, for these are not names but titles, much as you might be called “Mister” or “Sir.”
That it is vital to know the name of God and to use it, God’s own Word makes clear, for at Romans chapter 10, verse 13, which is a quotation from Joel chapter 2, verse 32, it states: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”—Catholic Douay version.
The evidence from God’s Word is therefore conclusive that God indeed has a name and that it is important for life seekers to know it and to use it. Doubting that God has a name is much more foolish than doubting that you have a name.
WHY ANY DIFFICULTY?
While there is no doubt that God does have a name, the question still remains, What is it?
In the Hebrew portion of the Scriptures that name is clearly spelled out for us in four Hebrew letters, called the tetragrammaton. These four Hebrew letters are the equivalent of our four English letters YHWH (or JHVH). The previously mentioned article in the Washington Evening Star said in this regard that the divine name “was spelled in Hebrew letters which are equivalent to YHWH.” Said Our Sunday Visitor: “It was written with consonants only: YHWH.” The preface of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible spoke of “the four consonants YHWH of the Name.”
Since the Hebrew letters of the Divine Name are so well known, why should there be any difficulty in determining what the name is? The difficulty comes in translating the ancient Hebrew language. In the ancient Hebrew writing only consonants were used, no vowels. Those who spoke it supplied vowel sounds by their knowledge of Hebrew pronunciation.
It is because the Divine Name is represented by four Hebrew consonants, and no vowels, that the difficulty presents itself. Those familiar with Hebrew, as were Jesus and the ancient Hebrews before him, certainly well knew and correctly pronounced the name, since it was found 6,962 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. But especially after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the correct pronunciation gradually came to be lost. Added to this was the apostate Jewish superstition that it was a sin to pronounce the Divine Name, which superstition, of course, was not shared by Jesus, the early Christians, or the ancient faithful Hebrews. So in time the proper pronunciation of YHWH became generally unknown.
Vowel signs in Hebrew copies of the Bible came into use first in the seventh century of our Common Era. These signs indicated which vowel sounds were to be used when reading the all-consonant Hebrew text. But because of the superstition of not pronouncing the Divine Name, the vowel signs for Elohim (God) and Adonay (Lord) were inserted to warn the reader to say those words instead of the Divine Name. By combining those warning vowel signs with the four Hebrew consonants, the pronunciations Yehowihʹ and Yehowahʹ were formed, from which we derive “Jehovah” in the English language. It was thus introduced into English translations of the Bible, including the King James Version of about 350 years ago.
Although the exact pronunciation of the Divine Name in Hebrew is not known today, what pronunciation might be the closest? A recent Roman Catholic version, The Holy Bible, edited by Monsignor T. O’Connell, commenting on Exodus 3:14, says: “I am who am: apparently this utterance is the source of the word Yahweh, the proper personal name of the God of Israel.” The Revised Standard Version states: “It is almost if not quite certain that the Name was originally pronounced ‘Yahweh.’” The Evening Star article said: “If the name were to be spelled out it would be more correct to spell it as ‘Yahweh.’”
Yes, many Bible scholars acknowledge that “Yahweh” more nearly represents the Hebrew pronunciation of the Divine Name. But this also shows the inexcusability of the religions of Christendom for taking the Divine Name away from Bible translations and everyday worship! If the pronunciation “Yahweh,” or even another, is said to be more correct, then why do they not use it? What sense does it make to admit a more correct pronunciation and then eliminate its usage altogether? Truly, it is outright hypocrisy to defend one pronunciation over another and then never use either!
USE YOUR LANGUAGE
What pronunciation do Jehovah’s witnesses view as more correct? On page 25 of the foreword of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in 1950, the translators stated that they inclined “to view the pronunciation ‘Yah.weh,’ as the more correct way.”
If the publishing agency for Jehovah’s witnesses recognizes that “Yahweh” is more correct, why do they use “Jehovah” in their translation, writing and worship instead? Because the form “Jehovah” has been familiar to people for many centuries, and that form of The Name, just as faithfully as other forms, preserves the sounds of the four consonants of the tetragrammaton. Furthermore, we do not speak Hebrew today! We speak other languages. When we speak English, for example, then we use the English pronunciation of the Divine Name, which is “Jehovah.” In other languages the divine name is pronounced differently, although quite similarly most of the time.
Those who reject the English “Jehovah” and insist on using the Hebrew pronunciation would do well to ask themselves why they say “Jesus Christ,” when that was not the way his name was pronounced in Hebrew. That is the English way, derived from the Greek language. In Hebrew, Jesus would be closer to “Yehóshua” and Christ would be “Mashíahh.” So, as we say “Jesus Christ” in the English language, we also say “Jehovah,” both being correct when speaking English.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 8, 1910 edition, page 329, notes the correctness of using “Jehovah” in English when it states: “Jehovah, the proper name of God in the Old Testament.” Interestingly, it adds: “It has been maintained by some recent scholars that the word Jehovah dates only from the year 1520. . . . But the writers of the sixteenth century, Catholic and Protestant, are perfectly familiar with the word. . . . Besides, Drusius discovered it in Porchetus, a theologian of the fourteenth century. Finally, the word is found even in the ‘Pugio fidei’ of Raymund Martin, a work written about 1270. Probably the introduction of the name Jehovah antedates even R. Martin.”
Hence, it is perfectly correct for the King James Version to say at Psalm 83:18: “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.” It is also correct for other translations, such as the American Standard Version, Moulton’s Modern Reader’s Bible, Robert Young’s translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, and others, to use “Jehovah” in English. Translations in many other languages use the Divine Name in their own tongues.
That the Divine Name should be used was well expressed by Johann David Michaelis in his German translation of the Old Testament of the eighteenth century. When commenting on Genesis, he said in part: “On the other hand, the name Jehovah [Jehova in German] is used in equally long sections [of the Bible] and the Supreme Being continually called Jehovah God, likely with the intent of conveying to the reader that the God of whom Moses is speaking is that one God who had made himself known to him by the name Jehovah and who distinguished himself from all other gods by means of this peculiar name. . . . so I considered it to be a matter of integrity in translation to identify it, even though it might not always be pleasing to the German ear.”
In Michaelis’ comments on the book of Job, he said: “Nothing has more often aroused doubts on my part in translation than the name of God, Jehovah, occurring so frequently in the Hebrew [Scriptures]. Several of my friends insisted that I not at all insert this foreign word. . . . Jehovah is a Nomen Proprium, and, just as properly as I retain other nomina propria [such as] Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or, taking names of other gods as examples, Baal, Ashtaroth, Dagon—they may be as foreign-sounding as they like—it can well occur in the case of Jehovah. In the translation of a classical author one would not have the slightest hesitance toward the use of the names Jupiter, Apollo [and] Diana; and why then should the name of the Only True God sound more offensive? I do not therefore see why I should not use the name Jehovah in the German Bible.”
As this translator makes so clear, the name of God, Jehovah, occurs so often in the Bible that God-fearing men of integrity are bound by conscience to render the Divine Name in their translations and worship in whatever language they speak.
That it is correct to use the Divine Name in the language we speak should not seem so strange. It is just the same with other names. Is your name “John” in English? Well, it is not that in the Spanish language, for in Spanish it would be “Juan.” In the French language that same name would be “Jean.” In the German language it is “Johannes.” In Hebrew it is “Yohhanán.” In other languages this same name could be pronounced in varying ways. But just because your name is pronounced differently in different languages, would you abandon its use in your own language altogether? Of course not! Neither should God’s name be abandoned just because it is pronounced differently in different languages!
THE VITAL POINT
The vital point is not whether “Yahweh” or some other form of the Divine Name is more correct in Hebrew. The vital point is whether you use the pronunciation common to your language. Any religion that abandons its use cannot be the true religion, for God said: “My people shall know my name.” Not only do they know what The Name is, but to them it is a name that is exalted and treated with respect.—Isa. 52:6, King James Version.
Those who want to serve God faithfully and receive his blessings use his name. They use the Divine Name in their own language and strive to magnify it to the greatest extent possible. They are well aware that God has “turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name,” and they want to be associated with those people.—Acts 15:14.
So, then, what is God’s name? In English, as faithfully translated from the Hebrew Scriptures, the Bible answers: “I am Jehovah. That is my name.”—Isa. 42:8.