The Bible’s answer
Jehovah is the true God of the Bible, the Creator of all things. (Revelation 4:11) The prophets Abraham and Moses worshipped him, as did Jesus. (Genesis 24:27; Exodus 15:1, 2; John 20:17) He is the God, not just of one people, but of “all the earth.”—Psalm 47:2.
Jehovah is God’s unique name as revealed in the Bible. (Exodus 3:15; Psalm 83:18) It comes from a Hebrew verb that means “to become,” and a number of scholars suggest that the name means “He Causes to Become.” This definition well fits Jehovah’s role as the Creator and the Fulfiller of his purpose. (Isaiah 55:10, 11) The Bible also helps us to know the Person behind the name Jehovah, especially his dominant quality of love.—Exodus 34:5-7; Luke 6:35; 1 John 4:8.
The name Jehovah is an English translation of the Hebrew name for God—the four letters יהוה (YHWH), known as the Tetragrammaton. The exact pronunciation of the divine name in ancient Hebrew is not known. However, the form “Jehovah” has a long history in the English language, first appearing in William Tyndale’s Bible translation of 1530.*
Why is the pronunciation of God’s name in ancient Hebrew unknown?
Ancient Hebrew was written without vowels, using only consonants. The Hebrew-speaking reader could easily provide the appropriate vowels. However, after the Hebrew Scriptures (“Old Testament”) were completed, some Jews adopted the superstitious belief that it was wrong to utter God’s personal name. When they read aloud a scripture that contained God’s name, they substituted expressions such as “Lord” or “God.” As centuries passed, this superstition spread and the ancient pronunciation was eventually lost.*
Some feel that the divine name was pronounced “Yahweh,” while others suggest different possibilities. A Dead Sea Scroll containing a portion of Leviticus in Greek transliterates the name Iao. Early Greek writers also suggest the pronunciations Iae, I·a·beʹ, and I·a·ou·eʹ, but none of these can be proved to be the pronunciation used in ancient Hebrew.*
Misconceptions about God’s name in the Bible
Misconception: The divine name should not be used in the Bible because it is not known exactly how to pronounce it in Hebrew.
Fact: This line of reasoning assumes that God expects people who speak different languages to pronounce his name identically. However, the Bible indicates that God’s worshippers in the past who spoke different languages pronounced proper names differently.
Consider, for example, the Israelite judge Joshua. First-century Christians who spoke Hebrew would have pronounced his name Yehoh·shuʹaʽ, while those who spoke Greek would have said I·e·sousʹ. The Bible records the Greek translation of Joshua’s Hebrew name, showing that Christians followed the sensible course of using the form of proper names common in their language.—Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8.
The same principle can be applied to translating the divine name. Far more important than the exact pronunciation chosen is that God’s name be given its rightful place in the Bible.
Tyndale used the form “Iehouah” in his translation of the first five books of the Bible. Over time, the English language changed, and the spelling of the divine name was modernized. For example, in 1612, Henry Ainsworth used the form “Iehovah” throughout his translation of the book of Psalms. When he revised that translation in 1639, he used the form “Jehovah.” Likewise, the translators of the American Standard Version of the Bible, published in 1901, used the form “Jehovah” where the divine name appeared in the Hebrew text.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, Volume 14, pages 883-884, says: “Sometime after the end of the Exile, the name Yahweh began to be considered with special reverence, and the practice arose of substituting for it the word ADONAI or ELOHIM.”
For more information, see appendix A4, “The Divine Name in the Hebrew Scriptures,” in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
See the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, Volume 2, pages 523-524.