Who is this Deity Named Yahweh?
Dr. Thomas M. Strouse
Emmanuel Baptist Theological Seminary
The Psalmist David proclaimed, "O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" (Ps. 8:1). Certainly the Lord's name is excellent, but what is this excellent name? Some state dogmatically that the Hebrew tetragrammaton JHWH (hwhy) was originally pronounced "Yahwe." Others say that it should be rendered 'Iabe or 'Iao or Jaho. Orthodox Jews substitute the word Ha-Shem ("The Name") into their commentaries to avoid taking the name of the Lord in vain. The Masoretic Hebrew Text behind the Authorized Version renders the vocalization of the tetragrammaton as Jehovah (hA'hy>). This has been the accepted pronunciation of JHWH for at least the last four hundred years in the Western world. Scripture, translations, commentaries, prayer books, theological works, hymns and Christians at large have utilized this standardized pronunciation Jehovah. Yet recently in scholarly circles the notion has been advanced that the pronunciation Jehovah should be replaced with Yahweh. Is it important that believers know the correct vocalization of the Lord's special Old Testament name? How will believers "sing praise to the name of the LORD" (Ps. 7:17), if they do not know how to pronounce it?
The History of the Pronunciation of JHWH
The traditional history for the pronunciation of the name for JHWH assumes that the original correct pronunciation was lost, if ever given. Some have claimed that God never inspired a pointed, vocalized original Hebrew text. Others, building upon this initial view, have posited that the Lord gave an oral tradition of vocalization for the un-pointed consonantal text, but the vocalized pronunciation was lost. For instance, Oehler stated, "The Jews maintain that the knowledge of the true pronunciation of the name has been entirely lost since the destruction of the temple." Josephus affirmed that the name was originally given to Moses (cf. Ex. 3:14 ff.) and that he, Josephus, was not permitted to enunciate it. Maimonides (AD 1135-1204) averred that the sacred name was pronounced at blessings and by the high priest on the Day of Atonement during the early years of the Second Temple, but later was exchanged for 'adonai after the death of Simon the Just (3rd century BC).
The alleged loss of the proper pronunciation of JHWH occurred because of one of several reasons, according to this common historical account. 1) The Jews developed a superstitious fear of taking the Lord's name in vain according to the warning of Ex. 20:7, and consequently stopped pronouncing it. 2) These same Jews further interpreted Lev. 24:16 to read "and he that nameth (Hebrew: blasphemeth) the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death." Consequently, according to this history, during the silent years until the coming of Christ, Jews refused to pronounce the sacred name. This refusal among the Jews continued until time of the Masoretes (c. AD 6th - 10th century), who, having supposedly invented vowel pointing for the traditional Hebrew text, substituted the vowels of 'adonai (yn"doa]) for the vocalization of JHWH, producing the popular, but "linguistically impossible," Jehovah. Based on the practice of the LXX to render JHWH by ho kurios ("the Lord"), the pre-Christian Jews and ultimately the Masoretes placed the shewa of the hateph pathach under the yodh (y>), the cholem above the waw (A), and the kamets beneath the waw (w"). The Reformation theologians continued the practice of using the qeri vowels of the Masoretic text for the kethiv consonants JHWH (the so-called qeri perpetuum), popularizing the artificially "hybrid" name Jehovah. To augment the veracity of this history, advocates appealed to the laws of philology, showing that the prefix and suffix forms for proper names based on JHWH (i.e., Yeho [Jehoshaphat], Yah [Shephatiah]) demand Yahweh (hw<h.y:) as the proper pronunciation. The German rationalist Heinrich Ewald (1803-1875) was the first to popularize the form Jahve, followed by the eminent E. W. Hengstenberg (1802-1869) promoting Jahveh.
In summary then, the best that critical scholars can derive from history for the discovery of the pronunciation for the sacred tetragrammaton JHWH is as follows. If God ever revealed the proper vocalization of His OT name JHWH, the apostate Jews, from the Babylonian captivity onward, lost this pronunciation. Believers therefore have not known the true name of the Lord for about 2,600 years. However, with the help of the LXX, the laws of philology, and the scholarship of liberal German rationalism, the "true" vocalization Yahweh has been recovered. Should believers be thankful that critical scholarship has restored the proper vocalization of the name of JHWH that God chose not to preserve? Is it true that Christians may now know that the proper pronunciation of the OT name of the Deity they serve is Yahweh?
The Biblical Position on the Name of JHWH
It should be evident to those who believe God has promised to preserve His Words perfect, and this preservation is in the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Received Greek text, that this history contradicts Scriptural promises and is therefore un-biblical and consequently contrived. The Lord has promised to preserve all of His inspired, canonical Words through His ordained institutions for all generations subsequent to the inscripturation of these Words. Therefore, He has preserved His OT Words, consonants and vowels, jots and tittles, including the inspired vocalization of His name, the tetragrammaton. Since the Lord God has preserved the proper pronunciation of JHWH, scholars have no need to restore their vocalization of it, and, as history, philology, and critical scholarship have demonstrated, they are incapable of restoring authoritatively the pronunciation of JHWH.
The Scriptural Promises of Plenary Verbal Preservation
The Bible is replete with the teaching that God will perfectly preserve His Words. This teaching then constitutes the doctrine of the verbal, plenary preservation of the Words of God. Several passages from the OT Scripture promise the preservation of the Words of the Lord forever. Although one reference is sufficient to establish the doctrinal truth of the preservation of the Words of the Lord, a selective few additionally clinch the clear Biblical position. The Psalter gives these references for this doctrine: Pss. 12:6-7; 119:111, 160, et al. In addition, Prov. 22:20-21 and Isa. 40:6 make the same claim for perfect Words preservation.
In the NT, the Lord Jesus Christ claimed the perfectly intact Hebrew OT Words (Mt. 4:4), the preservation of the consonants and vowels of Hebrew Words (Mt. 5:18), and the perfect preservation of all of His canonical words including the NT Words (Mt. 24:35). The Scriptures also teach the respective agencies which God promised to use for His preservation process. For the OT Scriptures, His agency was the Jewish nation (Rom. 3:2) and for the NT Scriptures, He promised to use the pillar and ground of the truth--the NT churches (I Tim. 3:15). In fact, bound up in the great Commission is the requirement of the churches to observe or guard His canonical Words (Mt. 28:19-20). The Lord's people, in their respective agencies, have the sole responsibility to preserve for their generation and following the Words of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Deficiency of History, Philology and Critical Scholarship
In rejecting the preserved Words of Scripture, including the inspired vowel pointing for JHWH, critical scholars are left with several non-authoritative means to attempt to discern the "correct" vocalization of the Lord's tetragrammaton. These means are historical documentation, comparative philology, and rationalism.
Bible history indicates that believers and unbelievers did not have "the dread of uttering The Name" of the Lord. From the first writer of Scripture to the last, OT saints pronounced the name of Jehovah. The first writer of the OT canon, Job, referred to "the hand of the LORD" in the affairs of man (Job 12:9). Moses, upon writing Genesis, initially referred to the LORD God as creator of the earth and the heavens in Gen. 2:4. Later, Moses began to express the name of Jehovah to the Lord and to others (Ex. 4:1; 5:1). About a thousand years later Nehemiah expressed the LORD's name in his prayer (Neh. 1:5) as did Ezra in his preaching (Neh. 8:9). The last book of the Tanak records the name of Jehovah (II Chron. 36:23) as well as the last book of the prophets (Mal. 4:5). Furthermore, unbelieving Gentiles mentioned the vocalized tetragrammaton in their conversations without fear of punishment by death. Ranging from Pharaoh to Rahab to Cyrus, these goyim pronounced Jehovah's name without dread and suffered no ill affects (cf. Ex. 9:27; Josh. 2:9; Ezra 1:2). This survey of the period of Biblical history (22nd to 5th century BC ) indicates that no saint or sinner, Jew or Gentile, from beginning to end, ever expressed dread to pronounce the tetragrammaton or suffered death as its consequence.
The history of this "dread" must have commenced during the silent years (the four centuries before Christ's first advent) while Judaism continued to apostatize. The testimony of unbelieving Jews, such as Josephus or Maimonides, and fallible patristics such as Origen, Eusebius, and Theodoret, suggesting that the vocalization was lost among all the Jewry for sacred reasons must be debunked. These non-authoritative historians have passed on their surmisings of the traditions of apostates. Maimonides' speculation that the vowels for 'adonai were substituted for the tetragrammaton is just that--non-authoritative speculation. There is no historical documentation for this popular but fanciful conjecture.
That this conjecture is strengthened by the supposed existence of a pre-Christian LXX which translated the tetragrammaton with ho kurios and approved of the 'adonai pointing for JHWH is based on unproved assumptions. There is no credible history for the origin of the LXX, and the Bible does not teach that Christ and the Apostles ever used the LXX or had need to use it. If there was a pre-Christian LXX it is not extant except in the hybrid form of three different "LXX" translations in Origen's Hexapla. The Lord Jesus Christ declared that the Hebrew text was perfectly intact in His day (Mt. 4:4), the jots and tittles were preserved (Mt. 5:18), and the three-fold Tanak division of the Hebrew OT was in use (cf. Lk. 11:50-51; 24:44). Neither He nor His disciples attempted to evangelize Gentiles with the Greek OT Scriptures. They used the Hebrew OT with the Jews and their inspired Greek statements and messages, as recorded in the canonical Scriptures, with the Gentiles (cf. Mt. 15:21 ff.; Acts 2:42, etc.). The best that history can demonstrate is that some Jews, apparently apostates, had a dread for pronouncing the Lord's name and may have justified re-pointing JHWH with the use of a Greek translation. This history however, is inadequate for overturning the pointing of JHWH as it is preserved in the Masoretic text.
Philology is the study of words, and is foundational to the study of grammar, which includes linguistic phenomena and their origin. Modern philology is based on evolutionary principles, including the evolution of the Hebrew language and the need for the practice of textual criticism since God allegedly did not preserve His words. However, the preserved OT words must constitute the basis for Hebrew grammar as divine revelation, since scientific and comparative linguistics are not authoritative and therefore fallible. For example, M'Clintock and Strong argue that JHWH comes from the hayah (= hawah) "to be" verb and consequently the middle radical may not take the cholem, thus ruling out the Jehovah pronunciation. However, this is an effort to make the science of linguistics authoritative over divine revelation and ignores the fact that the tetragrammaton is the unique revealed name of God (cf. Ex. 6:3).
Furthermore, the aforementioned authors insisted that the Greeks would have pronounced JHWH as Jao, treating the two He consonants as silent letters, placing an alpha after the iota and substituting the omicron for the waw. Gehman favored extra-biblical sources as well, stating, "There was also in the coastal Plain and in part of Galilee a dialect pronunciation Yeu from Yehu, a form derived by dissimulation from Phoenician Yohu from Yahu. The Yahweh pronunciation is also favored by Greek transcriptions: Iabe, Iaoue, Iaouai, Iae." In this case, looking to extra-biblical grammatical guidance is an attempt to make comparative linguistics authoritative over the preserved vowel pointing the received Hebrew text.
In the classic passage for the presentation of the special name of JHWH, the LORD punned on the hayah verb with His name (Ex. 3:13-15). The Lord God gave His name as a denominative with the jodh prefixed and special, unique pointing. As the NT confirms, He did not give Moses the Qal imperfect of hayah, which would be Yihyeh ("he shall be"). In Jn. 8:58, the Lord Jesus Christ declared "before Abraham was, I am" (ego eimi), emphasizing His interpretation of the unique Hebrew pointing for Jehovah. Philology which rejects the divine preservation of Hebrew pointing, words and grammar, must instead rely upon evolutionary linguistic schemes and extra-biblical comparisons for the vocalization of JHWH is deficient. It produces the non-biblical and therefore non-authoritative vocalization Yahweh and must be rejected by Christians.
The Scripture is clear about its own authority and sufficiency. The Apostle Paul stated, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (II Timothy 3:16-17). The Lord God does not need man to recover what He allegedly chose not to preserve, because He has indeed preserved all canonical revelation He gave man. The doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration demands the doctrine of verbal plenary preservation and the Bible teaches both doctrines. Man's only responsibility is to receive by faith God's written revelation and then guard it for his respective generation. It is ludicrous then, for critical scholarship to attempt to restore and reconstruct the text of the divinely written revelation, including the vowel points for the tetragrammaton. As rationalistic scholarship looks to historical documentation and philological techniques to determine the "true" name of the Lord in the OT, it falls short because of its initial rejection of the doctrines of inspiration and preservation. The best that rationalistic scholarship can produce is the suggested speculation, confirmed by liberal Bible scholarship, for the vocalization of the tetragrammaton. Unregenerate Jews, catholic patristics, and liberal scholars have all agreed that the best pointing for the tetragrammaton should be something like Yahweh, and not Jehovah. However, this rationalistic approach for vocalizing the name of the LORD is Biblically deficient and spiritually unsatisfactory for the Bible believer.
Rationalists have rejected the teaching of the preserved vocalization for JHWH because they have rejected the teaching that the preserved OT Scriptures have been preserved through the Masoretic text. For instance, E. Wurthwein reasoned that the main criterion for discovering the OT text must be the history of the transmission of the text. However, he did not look to biblical history that gives theological grounding for the transmission of the text, but instead considered religious history. He maintained that three text types representing the OT text emerged at Qumran, namely the Samaritan Pentateuch, the LXX and the Masoretic text. How this could be, however, he could not answer reasonably. Wurthwein cited F. M. Cross, who stated, "The ground is not yet sure, and many missteps will be taken before sure results can be hoped for." Although others suggest a pre-sixth century AD "Masoretic" text, they do not look to Scripture for this "faith" position as expressed by the Lord Jesus Christ (Mt. 4:4). For instance, B. J. Roberts affirmed the "likely existence of a pre-Massoretic 'Massoretic' text." The student of the Bible knows that there was a pre-Masoretic Hebrew text and a pre-Textus Receptus Greek text based on the promises of God, and not on the skills of the Masoretes or Erasmus. These "pre" texts are the preserved texts of the Hebrew OT and the Greek NT.
The Name Jehovah in the OT
The preserved vocalization of JHWH is Jehovah as represented by the Masoretic Hebrew text. The Authorized Version (1611) and the American Standard Version (1901) translate the tetragrammaton as LORD and the Hebrew name 'adonay as Lord, differentiating the two Hebrew words. The AV transliterates JHWH in Ex. 6:3, Psalm 83:18, Isa. 12:2 and 26:4 as JEHOVAH, with the last two references reading literally Jah Jehovah. David's reference to Jah is transliterated JAH in Ps. 68:4. The writers of Scripture coupled both Jehovah and Jah with 'elohim (God) in various places throughout the OT (cf. Gen. 2:4 and Ps. 68:18, respectively). The translators of the AV have given English speaking people a consistent presentation and biblical understanding of the vocalized tetragrammaton Jehovah.
Do Christians worship and serve a God named Yahweh? If
God has not preserved His words including the vowel pointing of the
tetragrammaton, and critical scholars have restored His name through
historical documentation, philology, and rationalism, then the answer is
in the affirmative. However, since none of the aforementioned is
Scripturally valid or authoritative, then believers do not know how to
pronounce the name of the Lord unless they receive by faith the preserved
vocalization found in the Masoretic Hebrew text. Christians do not know or
worship a god named Yahweh, but instead believers do know and worship the
God Jehovah. Believers have the assurance that "His name shall endure
forever" (Ps. 72:17), which name is "the LORD God" (v. 18).
The Bible For Today
For whosoever shall call upon the name
of the Lord shall be saved.
From the Authorized King James Bible