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The Biblical Origin of the Pronunciation of Jehovah

The Biblical Origin of the Pronunciation of Jehovah

Table of Contents

Introduction

Eighteen Hebrew Names Giving the Vowels of Jehovah

The Fusing of the Final Vowel of Jehovah into the Heart of Hebrew Names

Fifteen Shortened Spellings of Names Also Exhibiting the Hebrew Vowels of Jehovah

Yah and Yahu

Jehovah in the English Bibles

An Introduction to the Meaning of Jehovah

The Authority of the Niqqod of the Masoretic Texts

 

Introduction

The name Jehovah is everywhere present in the English Old Testament. It is all but completely spelled out in Biblical names such as Jehoshaphat and Jehoash.  The sounds of the name of the Covenant God of Israel still echo around us today in common Christian names, in name such as Joel, Jonathan, Joshua, Jeremiah and Joseph. Understanding how to pronounce Jehovah in Hebrew or English is not difficult. It is as simple as listening carefully to the great names of God’s people, for there, fused to the hearts of these names, is the sound of the name of the Hebrew God of Covenant.

By way of background, the name Jehovah does not mean lord. Lord is an entirely different word in Hebrew. It is the word adown. However, translating Jehovah is not nearly as straightforward as translating Jonathan. Some have called His name ineffable, or unutterable. Unutterable is certainly incorrect, but ineffable is not very far wrong. Consider In Exodus 33:23:

And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts (achowr- Strong’s # 268): but my face shall not be seen.

Because Jehovah did not reveal His complete purpose, His face, to Moses, the meaning of His name, likewise, is filled with mystery. Nevertheless, He did give Old Testament believers all of the information they needed to carry out His will. Because Jehovah is a mysterious, almost incomplete title, it is important to be as clear as possible on the Hebrew spelling, including the intended vowels and syllables. Not only will the basics of the pronunciation of Jehovah be known, but based on this Hebrew spelling, understanding exactly what the Father intended to reveal about Himself through in His name Yehowah becomes clear.

Another difference between translating Jehovah and translating Jonathan is that the Hebrew spelling of Jonathan is more easily documented than the spelling of Jehovah. The very oldest manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament do not show vowels at all. In these manuscripts Jehovah is simply written YHWH. These four letters are called the Tetragrammaton. The oldest complete Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament were those copied by important scholars and Rabbis called the Masorites. The Masorites added vowel notations to the Hebrew Old Testament to preserve its structure and sound. Although the vast majority of the consonants agree perfectly, and although a tremendous amount of the added vowel points completely agree, some of the best manuscripts, the Aleppo and Leningrad Codices, have as many as seven different vowel combinations associated with the name Jehovah. This is the work of man’s traditions, superstitions, and fears. Specifically, the needless fear that someone would speak the name Jehovah aloud. This particular fear resulted in many man-made scribal practices devoted to “protecting” the Divine name. Like most human works, many of these methods are now lost; only an immense amount of confusion is left. Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure. His word lives and abides forever. God’s name Jehovah can be plainly read by studying the names of His people with whom His name has been combined. Names such as Jonathan and Hezekiah provide plain evidence that the Hebrew spelling and pronunciation of His name is Yehowah. We would say Jehovah in English.

Eighteen Hebrew Names Giving the Vowels of Jehovah

Christian D. Ginsburg in his Introduction of the Massoretico-critical edition of the Hebrew Bible discusses eighteen examples (p. 371) of Hebrew names that begin with the sounds of first three of the four Hebrew letters that spell Yehowah (YHW or Ahy>). The vowel combination for the first three letters of the Hebrew names is always the same. All of these names begin, phonetically, with two syllables that should be read “Yeh-ho.” In English the Y becomes the hard sound of J. Hence, we would read Jeho as in Jehonadab.

The first column is the common King James Version spelling. The second column is the Strong’s Reference number. This standard reference book has numbered each Hebrew word in the Bible. To read the Hebrew in the third column, remember that while English reads from left to right, Hebrew reads from right to left. You may notice that Jonathan does not have the two vowel sounds (Jeho) as the other Hebrew names do. This was a matter of translator preferences. Jonathan has two Hebrew spellings. The translators chose the spelling with only one syllable. This is also the case with Joseph.

 

Jehoaz           3059     zx'a'Ahy>        Yehow'achaz          whom Jehovah sustains        20 uses

Jehoash          3060     va'Ahy>            Yehow'ash              "whom the Lord bestowed"    17 uses

Jehozabad      3075     db'z"Ahy>        Yehowzabad           "Jehovah has endowed”       4 uses

Jehohanan      3076     !n"x'Ahy>         Yehowhanan           "Jehovah has given"             9 uses

Jehoiada         3077     [d'y"Ahy>        Yehowyada`           "Jehovah knows"                 48 uses

Jehoiachin      3078     !ykiy"Ahy>        Yehowyakiyn          "Jehovah establishes"          10 uses

Jehoiakim       3079     ~yqiy"Ahy>        Yehowyaqiym         "Jehovah raises up"             37 uses

Jehoiarib        3080     byrIy"Ahy>>        Yehowyariyb          "Jehovah contends"             2 uses

Jehonadab      3082     bd'n"Ahy>        Yehownadab           "Jehovah is willing"              7 uses

Jonathan         3083     !t'n"Ahy>         Yehownathan          "Jehovah has given"             82 uses

Joseph1          3084     @seAhy>         Yehowcepth            “Jehovah has added"           1 use

Jehozadak      3087     qd'c'Ahy>        Yehowtsadaq          "Jehovah is righteous"          8 uses

Jehoshaphat   3092     jp'v'Ahy> >       Yehowshaphat        "Jehovah has judged"           84 uses

Jehoadah        3085     hD'[;Ahy>        Yehow`addah         "Jehovah has adorned"        2 uses

Jehoaddan      3086     !yDi[;Ahy>        Yehow`addiyn         "Jehovah delights"               2 uses

Jehosheba      3089     [b;v,Ahy>        Yehowsheba’          "Jehovah has sworn"            1 use

Jehoshabeath 3090     t[;b.v;Ahy>>      Yehowshab`ath       "Jehovah is an oath"            1 use

Jehoshua        3091     [;vuAhy>         Yehowshuwa`         "Jehovah is salvation"           218 uses

 

1 Despite Genesis 30:24’s definition of Joseph’s name as “Jehovah will add,” there is only 1 use of Jehowceph in the Hebrew Old Testament. This use is in Psalm 81:5. One suspects that the full syllabic spelling of Joseph was necessary to maintain the integrity of the music of this wonderful Psalm. Otherwise, its ancient spelling might also have vanished.

 

As the listing above shows, without exception, the Biblical Hebrew pronunciation of the vowels accompanying first three letters of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) is “Yehow.” This is tremendous information because almost all of the spelling varieties in the Masoretic texts are the result of leaving out the e or the o vowel points. Virtually every Old Testament manuscript agrees that the last syllable of Jehovah is “ah”. Hence, the simple study of the theophoric biblical names, gives conclusive certainty about how His name is properly spelled and pronounced. Jehovah must be three syllables.  The first syllable approximates an English short e sound and the second the English long o.

 

The Fusing of the Final Vowel of Jehovah into the Heart of Hebrew Names

But what of the last syllable of Yehovah, the “ah’? How can only Jehow be part of names that mean things like “Jehovah-has-given,” or “Jehovah-adds”? With only one, amazing exception the following list of twenty names shows that the short “a” sound of Jehovah appears in the syllable immediately following Yehow. The name Jehovah is fused poetically, by the figure of speech assonance, into the heart of the names of His people. The starred (*) examples are especially powerful because in them the a sound flows without a consonant interruption exactly as it does in Jehovah.

In these Hebrew names this short a sound is indicated most frequently by the t-shaped vowel point qametz. That is exactly how the a sound in Jehovah is marked in Strong’s Concordance (hw"hoy>).

 

*Jehoahaz        3059         zx'a'Ahy>      Yehow'achaz            whom Jehovah sustains    19 uses

*Jehoash          3060         va'Ahy>         Yehow'ash               "whom the Lord bestowed"      17 uses

Jehozabad        3075         db'z"Ahy>       Yehowzabad            "Jehovah has endowed”   4 uses

Jehohanan        3076         !n"x'Ahy>       Yehowhanan            "Jehovah has given"         9 uses

Jehoiada           3077         [d'y"Ahy>       Yehowyada`             "Jehovah knows"             48 uses

Jehoiachin        3078         !ykiy"Ahy>       Yehowyakiyn            "Jehovah establishes"      10 uses

Jehoiakim         3079         ~yqiy"Ahy>      Yehowyaqiym           "Jehovah raises up"         37 uses

Jehoiarib          3080         byrIy"Ahy>      Yehowyariyb            "Jehovah contends"         2 uses

Jehonadab        3082         bd'n"Ahy>>      Yehownadab            "Jehovah is willing"          7 uses

Jonathan1         3083         !t'n"Ahy>       Yehownathan           "Jehovah has given"         82 uses

Joseph2            3084         @seAhy>       Yehowcepth             “Jehovah has added"       1 use

Jehozadak        3087         qd'c'Ahy>      Yehowtsadaq            "Jehovah is righteous"      8 uses

Jehoram           3088         ~r'Ahy>       Yehowram                "Jehovah is exalted"         24 uses

Jehoshaphat     3092         jp'v'Ahy>      Yehowshaphat          "Jehovah has judged"       84 uses

*Jehoadah        3085         hD'[;Ahy>      Yehow`addah           "Jehovah has adorned"    2 uses

*Jehoaddan      3086         !yDi[;Ahy>      Yehow`addiyn          "Jehovah delights"           2 uses

Jehosheba3       3089         [b;v,Ahy>      Yehowsheba’            "Jehovah has sworn"        1 use

Jehoshabeath3 3090         t[;b.v;Ahy>>     Yehowshab`ath         "Jehovah is an oath"        1 use

*Joel4               3100         lae_Ayw>        Yehow'el (ale)           "Jehovah is God"             13 uses

Jehoshua5         3091         [;vuAhy>       Yehowshuwa`         "Jehovah is salvation"       218 uses

 

1 Though there are eighty-two uses of the Hebrew Jehonathan in the Old Testament, there are only three uses of the full spelling, Jehonathan, in the KJV: 1 Chr. 27:25; 2 Chr. 17:8; Neh. 12:18. This was an editorial decision perhaps based on a familiarity with the Christian name Jonathan as handed down from Greek and Latin versions of the Old Testament.

2. Although English speakers will read short e in the last syllable of Jehowceph, the Old Hebrew phonetic pronunciation is Yeh-ow-safe', with a long a sound. If Joseph means “Jehovah-adds” or “Jehovah will add” the last syllable would be “safe” in Hebrew. If Joseph means “Jehovah-added” or “Jehovah has added” the last syllable would read “saf” with the short a sound. The past tense (the qal) of “to add” would take the qamez (t-like vowel point) under the samekh, making Yehow-saph.

Joseph is also represented in the Septuagint with the long a sound in Greek. This sound is shown with the eta or Greek h (h). However, even the long a sound spoken with the final allophonic p (spoken ph), must have produced a clear Hebrew assonance with the sound “wah,” for Rachel is making a pun with the Hebrew word for “taking away.” In Genesis 30:23 Rachel proclaims that “Jehovah has taken away, ‘awsaph (@s;îa') my reproach.” In “taken away,” ‘awsaph, the short a sound is prominent. Then she proclaims her firstborn son’s name, based on the Hebrew word for “to add” (@seóyO).  Jehoseph means, “Jehovah will add” or “Jehovah adds.” In this hiphal, imperfect form “to add” receives the long a sound. Rachel’s own efforts at adding have failed. Selling her husband for mandrakes and giving her own serving woman to bear ‘for her’ have proven to be only disappointing misery. It is only Jehovah who can take away her reproach by His increase. Rachel then plays on the truth embodied in Joseph’s name by proclaiming that Jehovah has taken away her reproach by adding to her a son.

After Pharaoh accepts God’s revealed words from Joseph, the deliverance of Israel is all but settled. Israel will dwell and prosper in Egypt for four hundred years, and, like Joseph himself, emerge from bondage with treasure and blessings. Pharaoh marks this moment by giving Joseph a new, Egyptian name: Zaphnathpaaneah. Even in Egypt assonance played a key role in naming. As Abram became Abraham, Sarai, Sarah, and Benoni, Benjamin; Zaphnathpaaneah holds within it an echo of, safe, from Joseph’s Hebrew roots (tn:åp.c'(:zaphnath has a qamets beneath the tsade). These puns can still be heard today in the shorter sounds of Yusuf and Joseph.

3 Jehoshabeath and Jehosheba are the same person, the daughter of King Jehoram (see 2 Kings 11:2 and 2 Chronicles 22:11). The longer spelling preserves the assonance that fuses Yehowah into her Hebrew name.

4. Although there are thirteen occurrences of Yehowel in the Hebrew Old Testament, there are no full spellings in the King James Version. The short a of Jehovah is contained, by assonance, in the sound of the long o merging directly with the long a vowel sound of the Hebrew pronunciation of El. The long a sound of the Hebrew “El” in Joel is also preserved in the Greek of the Septuagint by the Greek h or eta.

5. The full Hebrew spelling of Yehoshua appears 218 times in the Hebrew Old Testament; however, the full English spelling of Joshua’s name, Jehoshua, appears only twice in the King James Version: Numbers 13:16 and 1 Chronicles 7:27. According to Numbers 13:16, Joshua’s name was, originally, Hoshea (pronounced Ho-shay-ah). Hosea (of Hosea 1:1) is the same name. In Numbers 13:16 Moses changed Joshua’s original name, which meant “save” (see Psalm 86:2 for the Hebrew form), to “Jehovah is salvation.” Uniquely, Joshua’s name is fused with the Divine name by way of the assonance of both “ye” and “a.” His name became a compound of salvation, in Hebrew Yeshua, and Yehovah. The result is the wonderful name Yehoshua. It is as though the name of Jehovah overlays the entirety of the name Jehoshua. This is of singular significance because this is the name that in the English New Testament becomes Jesus (see Hebrews 4:8 in the King James Version).

 

Fifteen Shortened Spellings of Names Also Exhibiting the Hebrew Vowels of Jehovah

The Septuagint, or Greek Old Testament, was translated from the Hebrew Old Testament well before the birth of Christ. In it none of the twenty names listed above are spelled out completely. They all appear in Greek without the first syllable (the eh). In the Hebrew Old Testament, sixteen of the twenty compound names fused with Jehovah above also appear in the shortened form found in the Septuagint. For instance, Jehoaz is also spelled Joaz in the Hebrew Bible. Because of this pattern, biblical researchers know that all the shortened names that appear in the Septuagint (with Yo rather than Yeho) are compound names with Jehovah as a prefix. Likewise, they also know that a whole second series of names that only occur, even in the Hebrew Bible, in these shorter forms also includes Jehovah in their meaning. These shortened forms are listed below.

Dr. Ginsburg believed that these shortened Hebrew forms were the result of ancient scribal fears and superstitions. He believed that tradition removed the first syllable so that the name of Jehovah was not spoken in Gentile tongues. We have no biblical evidence that this is so, except that Yo, alone, is never used to indicate God or any of His titles. It is possible, since the ancient texts were designed to be read out loud, that the scribes simply shortened these names as a caution to novices. Perhaps they had designed a code to show the full reading, and the code has since become lost. Therefore, to do a complete investigation of the name Jehovah as prefixed to biblical names, these shortened forms should be expanded to see whether or not the final syllable, the ah, would appear within these names too.

In the list of expanded shortened forms given below, once again all three vowels of Jehovah are emphasized. The vowel most often left out in the Hebrew spelling of Jehovah in the ancient manuscripts was the o sound. After the o, the Hebrew manuscripts most frequently left out the vowel e. No matter why some of these forms were shortened in the Hebrew and Greek Old Testaments, even the shortened forms prominently display the o as one of the sounds in Jehovah. In every name prefixed with Jehovah in both the ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, the long o of the Greek omega plays a signatory role.

 

*Joab         3097     ba'Ay     Y[eh]ow'ab                                  "Jehovah is father"               138 uses

*Joah         3098     xa'Ay     Y[eh] ow'ach                               "Jehovah is brother"             10 uses

*Joahaz1     3099     zx'a'Ay     Y[eh] ow'achaz                           "Jehovah has grasped"        4 uses

Joiakim       3113     ~yqiy"Ay    Y[eh] owyaqiym                          "Jehovah raises up"             4 uses

Jochebed2 3115     db,k,Ay    Yowkebed {y[eh] o-keh'-bed}       "Jehovah is glory"                2 uses

*Joed3        3133     d[eAy     Yow’ed “y[eh] o-ade”                   "Jehovah is witness"            1 use

*Joezer2     3134     rz<[,Ay     Yow`ezer {y[eh] o-eh'-zer}           "Jehovah is help"                 1 use

Jozachar    3108     rk'z"Ay     Y[eh] owzakar                             "Jehovah remembers"          11 uses

Joha           3109     ax'Ay     Y[eh] ow cha'                              "Jehovah gives life"              2 uses

*Joash        3101     va'Ay     Y[eh] ow'ash                               "the Lord hastens"               48 uses

*Joash        3101     va'yO             Y[eh] o'ash {yo-awsh'}                 "the Lord hastens"               1 use

*Jokim4       3137     ~yqiAy     Yowqiym {y[eh] o-a4-keem'}         "Jehovah raises up"             1 use

Jorai5         3140     yr;Ay      Yowray {y[eh] o-rah'-ee}             "Jehovah has taught me"     1 use

Joshaviah   3145     hy"w>v;Ay    Y[eh] owshavyah                         "Jehovah makes equal"        1 use

Jotham6      3147     ~t'Ay     Y[eh] owtham {yo-thawm'}            "Jehovah is perfect"             24 uses

 

1. Joahaz is actually considered a form of Jehoahaz (3059) given in the first lists above. The shortened form is used three times for King Jehoahaz but only this once in the lone mention of Josiah’s chronicler.

2. The ayin or U-like letters in both Joezer and Jochebed are marked with three dots. This is the Hebrew segol. In both names the segol is involved in open syllables. This indicates a Hebrew e sound that is more like the English long a. It is e as in they. The sound of moving from the long o to the long a suggests the final vowel sound in Jehovah. However, as it does with the Hebrew syllables marked with the T-shaped qamets, the Septuagint spells both names with an “a” in the second syllable. As a point of comparison, the long a sound in the Hebrew pronunciation of Joseph, is shown in the Septuagint with the Greek letter eta (h).

Joezer is another one use name for which it is difficult to establish the spelling. (See the two spellings of Jehosheba above). The Hebrew root word, “to help” in “Jehovah is help,” is spelled with the long a sound. However, there is a passive verb form of “to help” (Isaiah 31:3) in which a sound is pointed and pronounced with the qamets as in “Eben haw-`ezer” (Ebenezer 1 Samuel 4:1).

Jochebed only appears twice. Jochebed means “Jehovah is glory. ”Kabad” the Hebrew word for glory, is always pointed with the T-shaped qamets found in the final syllable of Jehovah. Ichabod (inglorious) in 1 Samuel 4:21, based on the same root, is also pointed with the qamets.

3. The “ayin” or U-like letter in Joed is marked with two dots, or a tsere. This indicates a long a sound as in the English word eight. The Hebrew root for “is witness” is pronounced with a long a. However, this longer a sound is also represented in Greek with the Greek a (alpha) rather than the Greek h (eta). The two Hebrew vowels must have been very close in the ears of those transcribing the Hebrew name into the Septuagint Greek.

Likewise, this tsere marking occurs with Jorai. It is difficult to verify the spelling with a single use. In fact the hiphal form of the root of Jorai, found in 2 Kings 12:3, shares two vowels with Yehowah. This form, translated “instructed” in 2 Kings 12:3, includes both the o and the short a sound. Whether Jorai was pronounced with the long or short a, the Septuagint uses an “a” to represent this sound, not an e (epsilon), or and h (eta). In Old Testament times the assonance with the vowels of Jehovah must have been very clear.

4. The Septuagint spelling is Joakim. While no Septuagint spelling includes the second H (YHVH) or the short e vowel, the Hebrew texts from which Joakim was transliterated into the Greek Old Testament were older than the oldest Masoretic text in extent today. Although these are different people, the Septuagint also uses this spelling for Joiakim (3113 above) and Jehoiakim (3079). Both forms, Jokim and Joiakim, trace their meaning and origin to 3079: Jehoiakim.

5. The Resh, or boomerang shaped letter in this word, is pointed with a patch indicating a short a sound as in aqua. This is virtually the same sound indicated by the t-shaped Qamats which is the usual vowel point with the third vowel of Jehovah.

6. The Septuagint spelling is Ioatham. If the Septuagint reading is correct, the Hebrew spelling left out an a. The full Hebrew this spelling would be Yehowa-tham. This makes perfect sense since the meaning of Jotham is “Jehovah is perfect.” Perhaps a scribe shortened Yehowa-tham to Yehow-tham. Then, still dissatisfied with the powerful assonance echoing the Divine name, removed the second sylable, the eh, as well.

Even though neither the second H (YHVH) nor the short e is ever included in any Greek Old Testament spelling, IOA was used in some fifth century Christian writings as the Greek vocalization for the Tetragrammaton. Based on the meaning of Jotham, that is “Jehovah is perfect,” such an assumption makes sense. If however, one recognizes that the second H and short e was never included in the Greek Old Testament name prefixed with Jehovah, another conclusion must be reached. IEOA (Iota-Epsilon-Omega-Alpha) would be a better spelling in Greek.

 

Indeed, when expanded, even the names that appear in the Hebrew Bible only in a shortened form fit the pattern of including the final vowel sound of Jehovah, the short a, in their heart. As one can see from the names marked with the asterisk, many names that only appear in the shortened forms would almost completely sound out Jehovah if the forms were expanded. In other words, if expanded, there is no consonant between Jehow and the short a sound. If the scribes really did shorten these forms, that may be why.

Hence, from a comparison of the names prefixed with Jehovah, it is plain that the vowels of His name are a, e, and o. They fit neatly between the well established Hebrew consonants YHWH as Yehowah in Hebrew and Jehovah in English.

 

Yah and Yahu

There is an additional way of establishing the sound of the last syllable of Jehovah from the names of God’s people. That is by studying a shorter, praise form of Jehovah often found in Psalms and as an ending of biblical names. There are over one hundred Hebrew names that end with Yah. In these names the sound of the last syllable of Jehovah is clearly preserved by the Masoretic vowel points.

All of the figures of speech in the Bible are for Divine emphasis. Via the figure of speech assonance, the Father has welded His name into the names of His people. In this way He has emphasized His absolute commitment to us. As He reveals His character to man in His name Jehovah, His mercy, care, and love are complete. This fusion by way of assonance does not occur with names prefixed with references to God as Elohim. In all biblical names such as Elisha, rather than having Elohim or Eloah prefixed, a shorter form, El, meaning “mighty one,” is used. When El appears independently in the Bible, it is often accompanied by a descriptive phrase like “Almighty” or “Most High.” Likewise, Jah is a shorter form of Jehovah. Unlike El, which serves as the root of Elohim or Eloah, Jah appears independently without accompanying descriptive phrases. While El appears as a prefix and as a suffix with the names of God’s people, Yah only appears as a suffix. This shorter form for God in relationship to His people can be heard today in names such as Elijah, Jeremiah, Hezekiah, and Isaiah. In English, most of the names ending with Yah are spelled iah, The i represents the ancient Hebrew y in Yah. This y sound is very soft, almost silent in English. Nevertheless, this “yah” sound is important for pronouncing the name Jehovah properly, for in it is the vowel sound that goes with the last letter of the Tetragrammaton (YHWH). The e and o are the vowels belong to the first three letters (JeHo =YHW), so the a sound in Yah must be the vowel that leads into the final H. Putting all of the sounds together gives the Hebrew pronunciation: Yehowah.

 

Whether El is affixed to a name, or whether it appears independently, El, in Hebrew, is always pronounced in the same manner. However, according to the Masorites, when Yah appears independently, it is pronounced differently than when it appears as a suffix in a name. When Yah appears independently, the final h contains a mappiq, a vowel point that indicates that Yah, in Hebrew, should be pronounced “Yaw.” However, when Yah appears as a suffix there is no mappiq, and it is pronounced softly as in Hezekiah, or Halleluiah. Indeed, Halleluiah is often translated in the King James Version “praise ye the LORD (Yah).” Perhaps, in accordance with their traditions, the Masorites added the mappiq to Jah simply to remind the readers in the synagogue to say “Lord” (Adonai) instead of Jah. Perhaps Yah is the correct pronunciation even when this shorter form of Jehovah appears independently. Either way, when short a appears with h at the end of names, as in Jehovah, the a sound should be read softly as in Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Of the over one hundred biblical names, such as Uriah and Obadiah, that end with Yah, at least eighty have a second spelling that ends with the spelling yahu. This suffix is never translated into the King James English of the Bible, but it lives today in Hebrew names such as Netanyahu. Dr. Ginsburg believed that this syllable was added by the Masoretic scribes for fear of men speaking this name for God out loud. However, unlike the shortened form of Yehow, Yo, this suffix may have a biblical Hebrew meaning. Hu is spoken like the third person independent pronoun (hu’) often translated himself, that, or who or which (see himself in Leviticus 27:8). Hence, Yahu is a homonym for “Yah-himself.”

This independent pronoun is spoken hu, but, while yahu does not include a final, silent aleph, the independent pronoun is always spelled with this silent final letter. Even Abihu, a name formed from a compound of “father” (ab) and “he” (hu’), spells this third person independent pronoun by adding a final aleph. Nevertheless, “yahu” is, at the very least, a homonym for “Yah-Himself.” Like Yo however, Yahu never appears independently in the Bible as a name or title for God. Whether the u was added by scribes or whether yahu appears in the original God breathed word, Yahu was used in place of Yah and Yehowah on pottery and in literature that predates the time of Christ. Some of the Greek forms of Yahu, like IAU or IAO, have been mistaken for Jehovah by some archaeologists.

 

Jehovah in the English Bibles

Although the oldest handwritten manuscripts of the Masoretic Hebrew Old Testament have as many as seven conflicting styles of vocalizing Jehovah, it is important to note that one of the very first printed versions of the Old Testament, the Ben Chayyim 2nd Rabbinic Bible (1524), consistently points Jehovah in the way it appears in Strong’s Concordance and in many other reference books. That is, except for the way it appears in the phrase Adonai Jehovah, the first printed Hebrew Bible pointed Jehovah with an e, an o and an a. The subject of Dr. Ginsburg’s Introduction of the Massoretico-critical edition of the Hebrew Bible is this 2nd Rabbinic Bible. This form of the Hebrew Old Testament also formed the basis for the King James Version.

Because, for the first thousand years after Christ, the Christian communities relied primarily on the Old Testament in Latin or Greek, many believers had almost no knowledge of the Hebrew name Jehovah. Nevertheless, in the centuries before the printing of the Hebrew Old Testament, Hebrew scholarship among believers improved greatly. For instance, in the twelfth century Ramon Martini was aware of the changes made and noted by the Masorites in the original Hebrew Old Testament Masoretic text. Beginning with Martini, history notes a series of biblical students that became interested in the relationship between the Hebrew names Yehoshua (Jesus) and Yehovah. Finally, during the period of the printing of the 1st and 2nd Rabbinic Bibles, Martin Luther and William Tyndale used Jehovah or Iehovah in their work.

Although modern scholarship has not had access to the men who copied the Hebrew Old Testament by hand for five hundred years, certainly Luther and Tyndale had face to face discussions with Orthodox Masorites as well as those, like Ben Chayyim, who converted to Christianity. Although modern scholars often dismiss or disparage these great students of God’s word, all were well versed in biblical Hebrew and were well able to conduct a study as simple as the one above. Because the printed Rabbinic Bibles were not designed for reading out loud in a synagogue, it is very likely that scholarship simply supplied the missing o sound to properly spell Yehowah for a Christian audience.

 

The pronunciation of any word in human language undergoes continual change. Names in particular are subject to even more dynamic changes in pronunciation according to their value. A name of tremendous worth, such as Jesus of Nazareth will be spoken in a thousand tongues. Though no two utterances may be phonetically identical, each uttered in faith will reap the exact same gift, the exact same measure of grace, and the exact same inheritance of eternal glory. For instance, “Say-zar” in Spanish or or “See-zar” in English can be spoken for Caesar, and yet neither are the original, Latin pronunciation of Julius Caesar’s surname. God is the one who searches the hearts. The intent and faith of each speaker indentifies He who is named. It is in our hearts that we dare not be far from Him. We dare not honor him with our lips while we teach the traditions of men in place of His truth.

We are to understand the meaning of all of God’s titles and who it is we call on through Christ. A part of understanding who God is can be gained by learning about the biblical Hebrew origin and biblical Hebrew pronunciation of Jehovah: for all scripture is profitable for doctrine reproof and correction which is instruction in righteousness. This stands in contrast to a belief in the “magic” power of names. Raising a believer from the dead resides in the authority of the living Christ. It is of no consequence whether we pronounce the Aramaic words Talitha cumi, from Mark 5:41 according to the phonics of the fist century. Nevertheless, whether we say John, or Jonathan, or Yehonathan, believers, for their edification and comfort, can understand the biblical origin, purpose, and meaning of biblical names. Jehovah is no exception. In the case of Jonathan, understanding the pronunciation of his name in Hebrew shows its meaning. Jonathan is Jeho – nathan, which means “Jehovah has given.” While it is hard to imagine that we would write this translation “Jehovahhasgiven” in place of every use of Jonathan, a little study about the name Jonathan is a blessing.

In studying the history of the pronunciation of the Divine name, there are a number of orthographical variations that simply show changes in the languages of biblical scholars. For instance, at times a B will represent a V sound, and variations in spelling between YHVH and YHWH are common. There is a tendency to make a louder, more accented sound in American English when saying the ah in Jah as compared to Yah; however, this would have been far more significant in ancient Hebrew than it is in modern English.

The difference in the English translations of Jehovah, as compared to the Hebrew Yehowah, are primarily the result of changing styles of transliteration. Jehovah comes to the English reader through Scandinavian and German scholars of the Middle Ages. The J in these languages would have been spoken softly like the Modern American Y. Likewise, the difference between Yehowah and Yehovah reflects a modern understanding of the difference between the sounds of Biblical Hebrew and the sounds of Modern Hebrew. The sounds assigned to each inflection must be considered within the entire phonetic system employed. If Yoseph, then Yehowah. If Joseph, then Jehovah. The phonetic system of the vowel points found in the Masoretic texts (Leningrad- L, or Ben Chayyim’s 2nd Rabbinic Bible), as they pertain to Biblical Hebrew, should be the focus of biblical study, for these vowels can be related most directly to the passages in which Jehovah gives the meaning of His name.

 

An Introduction to the Meaning of Jehovah

There are almost as many theories about the meaning of Jehovah as there are theories about the pronunciation of His name. Most of these theories are not biblical at all. Often a theoretical etymology for Jehovah begins with a desire to have the name of the Living God coincide with philosophical notions of the “unmoved mover” or “the eternal good.” First, this results in a private interpretation of the verbs involved in the phrase, “I am that I am.” These words will be translated, for instance, as “I am the Being.” Finally, a shell game with the Hebrew vowel points ensues, and a mythical etymology results in another new pronunciation of Jehovah.

There is, however, one popular belief about the meaning of Jehovah that does take several biblical elements into consideration. The meaning given is based on Revelation 1:4-5:

... Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; 

And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth,,,

The one true God is plainly made known as he “which is, which was, and which is to come.” This title is repeated in Revelation 1:8:

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty

The theory is that Jehovah is, therefore, composed of the abbreviated forms of the imperfect, the participle, and the perfect of the Hebrew verb "to be" (ye=yehi; ho=howeh; wa=hawah). According to this explanation, the meaning of Jehovah would be "he who will be, is, and has been". This theory properly takes into consideration the Hebrew verb “to become” while referring to one of God’s biblical titles as given in Revelation.

The biggest problem is that in referring to God’s three-fold title in Revelation, this theory ignores the two-part title that is God’s own explanation of the meaning of His name in Exodus 3:14:

And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

Additionally, while this theory recognizes that there is a Hebrew verb to be considered, it’s consideration of the verb is very questionable. First, the Hebrew verb translated “I am” means “I come to be.” One has either to ignore the lexicon definition of hayah in order to believe it is a reference to God’s majestic titles in Revelation or to suppose an original Aramaic text of Revelation that has been poorly translated into Greek. Second, although Hebrew names can rely on assonance rather than precise Hebrew grammar, there is no biblical example for any of these abbreviated forms. Hence, as an extra-biblical theory, it is of little true value in rightly dividing the word of truth.

This popular theory about the meaning of Jehovah is also a little misleading about the pronunciation of the imperfect, third person form of the Hebrew verb “to become.” The English transliteration should be yih’ya not yehi. The first sound in Jehovah is based on a shewa or sheva (two vertically place dots) beneath the yud or yod (the y like letter in Hebrew). The third person imperfect form is pronounced based on the chireq (a single dot below the yod). The spelling yehi is actually the third person imperfect jussive mood of the Hebrew verb “to become.”

This third person imperfect jussive form is, however, the best candidate for the etymological origin of the first syllable of Jehovah. As in Genesis 1:3, the jussive mood is part God’s creative commands:

And God said, Let there be (haya in the jussive) light: and there was light.

The jussive can also be used, as it is in 2 Kings 2:10, to establish the absolute certainty of the second clause in conditional statements:

And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so (haya in the jussive) unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.

The jussive mood of the verb “to become” is also the language of prophecy, as in Genesis 49:17:

Dan shall be (haya in the jussive) a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward

Therefore, as expressive of prophetic certainty about the future, haya in the jussive mood is inspiring as the root word for the first syllable of Jehovah. The name of He who declared, literally, in Exodus 3:14, “I will come to be what I will come to be” begins with “He will absolutely come to be.”

Since the Bible tells us that Jehovah’s name is based on the verb “to become,” the English “o” sound can only be from a participle form. Indeed, the participle form suggested above (ho=howeh) is found in God’s word in Exodus 9:3:

Behold, the hand of the LORD is (hy"©Ah hovah) upon thy cattle...

Hence, one way of expressing the etymological meaning of Jehovah would be: “He (who) absolutely will come to be is coming to be right now.” All that He would come to be for His people in Christ was not revealed to Moses, and the meaning of the etymological name of Jehovah is therefore mysterious, especially in an Old Testament context. However, in the light of the New Testament, even the reason for the mysterious title of the God of Covenant is revealed. This is the subject of another study.

This expression of God’s presence with the believer is far different than the meanings attached to “I am that I am” by Greek philosophy. To the Greeks God was, as He is to some enlightenment thinkers, an author of the laws of life, who, setting His massive time-space machine of the universe in perpetual motion, removed Himself to the distant perspective of a scientist. This is absolutely not the God of the Hebrews. Jehovah is the living God, ever present to comfort and to deliver His people.

 

The Authority of the Niqqod of the Masoretic Texts

There has been some discussion about whether or not the vowel points in the oldest Hebrew texts are of Divine origin. They certainly are not. The oldest Hebrew and Aramaic texts have no vowel points. God’s Word, as it was originally given, had only the Hebrew and Aramaic consonants. Despite the abbreviated language used by those involved in text messaging, it is almost impossible to imagine writing in English without the use of vowels. Nevertheless, as it is written in Psalm 12:6-7:

The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried (refined) in a furnace (not the usual word for earthen crucible, perhaps including the entire process of breaking down the ore and then heating and skimming), words (via an ellipsis) of (l' – pertaining to) earth (as compared to heaven), purified seven times.

Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

God so ordered His word that it is absolutely pure and absolutely enduring. When silver is perfectly refined, the refiner’s reflection is revealed even while it is yet liquid. Because of the Hebrew preposition translated of in the King James Version means “pertaining to,” and since a furnace made of earth is not a “furnace pertaining to earth,” words should be supplied via an ellipsis. God’s word is composed of the words of this earth. God has chosen human words, words from languages confounded at Babylon, man’s words as opposed to the language of angels (I Corinthians 13:1). These He has purified until they perfectly reflect His will. God’s word is perfect. He will preserves His words forever. As it is written in Psalm 33:11:

The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.

His word is so perfect that, even without the use of vowel points, God’s meaning is completely available today. Every word in His word is decipherable.

Even though it has been thousands of years since Moses, a student of God’s word could reconstruct each and every vowel originally intended by God from His word alone. However, ignoring the Masoretic vowel points is like throwing out all the punctuation, capital letters and verse markings in the entire Bible, and then trying to study. Like the punctuation marks and the separations in modern Bibles between words and letters, the Masoretic vowel points are a blessing. We would have a much more difficult time studying God’s word without them. While one is studying God’s word, one may discover that a chapter heading has been placed in the middle of a verse (see John 3:1). Likewise, there may be times that an excellent student of God’s word may discern that the vowel points in a given section of the Old Testament are inaccurately placed. However, any thought of dismissing the vowel points without tremendous evidence is without profit. Unlike chapter and verse markings, the Niqqod reflect an ancient expertise about biblical Hebrew that is almost impossible to duplicate today.