Jehovah

JEHOVAH. A misleading representation in English of the only name (as distinct from titles) of God in the OT. Since it is uncertain what vowels should be attached to the Hebrew consonants YHWH that make up the divine name, actual pronunciation must remain hypothetical, but there are reasonable grounds for thinking that the name was Yahweh. At a late date it became a matter of binding scruple not to pronounce the divine name, and Jews (in reading the Scriptures) customarily substituted the noun adhonai, which means “Lord.” LXX followed this lead, using the Greek kyrios, “Lord,” to stand for the divine name—a significant thing in the light of the usual NT designation of Jesus as kyrios. But the formulation “Jehovah” arose by inserting the vowels of adhonai into the consonants YHWH, thus producing a name that never was!

According to Exod.6.2-Exod.6.3, the name YHWH had not been used prior to Moses as a meaningful understanding of the divine nature. When the patriarchs used the name, it was simply as a label and had not yet become a revelation of the nature of God. This is, in fact, an accurate statement of what we find in Genesis. For example, in Gen.17.1 Yahweh appeared to Abram, but the revelation vouchsafed was not “I am Yahweh” but “I am El Shaddai.” We must return to Exod.3.13-Exod.3.15 for the moment when the theological significance of Yahweh was opened to Moses. We notice the following: (1) The name is related to the Hebrew verb “to be”; and it must be pointed out that while this verb cannot help meaning “to exist,” its characteristic force is “to be actually present,” “to be a present reality.” (2) The form Yahweh, as a part of the verb “to be,” could be translated either “I am actively present” or “I make to be actively present.” Thus “I am who I am” means either “I am actively present as and when I choose” or “I bring to pass whatever I choose.” In context Moses is made alert to the active presence of Yahweh in the coming events (the Passover-redemption and the Exodus) or to the fact that as sovereign God, he is bringing these events to pass by his own determination, volition, and power. Thus, in his very nature (as summed up in his name), the Lord identifies himself with redemption, the blood of the lamb, and the choosing out of his people for himself. It is important to note, though, that Moses is not left simply to watch unfolding events and make the best interpretation of them that he can. Exod.3.1-Exod.3.22-Exod.4.1-Exod.4.31; Exod.6.1-Exod.6.8 show that Yahweh is a God who speaks before he is a God who acts. Moses is made wise before the events, so that when they happen, they are a confirmation of the word that has preceded them, thus making the revelation of God doubly certain. Yahweh is thus, fundamentally, the covenant-Redeemer, the God who brought his people out of Egypt (Exod.20.1ff.).

Two further points must be mentioned. First, in the light of the total biblical revelation in the Old and New Testaments, the name Yahweh is not to be identified only with God the Father, but rather with the Holy Trinity. The way OT passages are made to refer alike to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit demonstrates this; and we should always beware of cramping our theological understanding by thinking of the God of the OT simply as God the Father—while at the same time recognizing that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, while latent in the OT, is not discoverable there without the definitive revelation of the NT. Second, our English Bibles generally (the Jerusalem Bible is an exception) follow the scruple that avoids using the divine name. Printers have agreed on the convention that Yahweh is represented by the word “Lord ”—in caps and small caps. When adhonai is used independently and in its own right in the OT as a divine title, it appears as “Lord.”——JAM


The traditional English spelling, introduced by Tyndale, of the Hebrew name for the God of Israel; it is generally agreed today that the correct spelling should be “Yahweh.” The earliest MSS of the books of the Hebrew Bible contained no vowels, so the sacred name appeared simply as YHWH (“the Tetragrammaton”); for knowledge of the pronunciation we are indebted to the Greek writers Clement of Alexandria and Theodoret. Even before the Christian era, the Jews refused to pronounce the name at all and substituted the word “my Lord” (in Hebrew adonay); in later (Massoretic) MSS the vowels of this word were therefore attached to the consonants of Yahweh, as a guide to synagogue readers to substitute adonay. The erroneous reading of this hybrid form as “Jehovah” dates from the medieval period. The KJV and its successors usually prefer to translate the Tetragrammaton as “the Lord” (in capitals). The original meaning of the name is uncertain; suggestions include “He who is,” “He who is present,” and “He who causes to be.”

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

je-ho’-va, je-ho’-va.

See GOD, NAMES OF, II, 5.

See also

  • Names of God