Jehovah is a personal name of God used in the King James Version. It is an attempt to transliterate the tetragrammaton used in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. In the modern Hebrew, or Masoretic, text this word is given as Yĕhovah. Medieval Jewish scholars inserted incorrect vowels into an ancient consonant-only text to prevent God's true name from being pronounced accidentally. The original pronunciation of the tetragrammaton is not known, but "Yahweh" is conventional among modern scholars.
Until the destruction of the Second Temple, the divine name was pronounced by a high priest on Yom Kippur. Later on, the rabbis substituted adonai (sovereign lord) or elohim (God) to avoid accidentally profaning the divine name. The pronunciation "Jehovah" comes from inserting the Hebrew vowels of the word adonai into a Latinized tetragrammaton (JHVH). It bears little resemblance to the divine name as it was originally pronounced.
There are over six thousand examples of the tetragrammaton in scripture. English-language translations typically use an all-caps "LORD" or "GOD" to indicate where it occurs.
The Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible used in the West used until the Reformation, gives the tetragrammaton as Dominus (lord). In William Tyndale's 1530 English translation of the Bible, the divine name is given as "Iehovah" in Exodus 6:3. The Geneva Bible of 1560, used by Shakespeare and by the Puritans, uses "JEHOVAH" as the name of God in Exodus 6:3 and in Psalms 83:18. It also gives the word as a place name in Genesis 22:14 and Exodus 17:15.
King James Version
In four cases, the KJV gives the divine name as "JEHOVAH":
- "And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them." (Exodus 6:3)
- "That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth." (Psalms 83:18)
- "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation." (Isaiah 12:2)
- Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength." (Isaiah 26:4)
The name "Jehovah" is not used by major modern translations, including the Revised Standard Version (1952), the New International Version (1978), the English Standard Version (2001), or the Christian Standard Bible (2017). In a footnote, CSB explains that the divine name is "Yahweh." The other translations do not explain that God is revealing his divine name to Moses in Exodus 6:3.
Rooted in the imperfect state of the causative form of the Hebrew verb הוה (ha•wah, "to become"), the Divine Name indicates progressive action. This can be seen by the context of Exodus 3:14, 15. Moses inquires who he said say has sent him to the captive Israelites. Where some translations render God's response as, "I am who I am" (King James), other translations show the dynamic nature of the Divine Name by rendering the Hebrew text as "I Will Be What I Will Be" (The Torah) or "I Shall Prove To Be What I Shall Prove To Be" (New World Translation) indicating that rather than a simple statement acknowledging His existence, He indicates that He can do whatever is necessary to accomplish His purposes.
Originally Biblical Hebrew was written without vowels, the reader having been educated to know the appropriate vowels to insert when reading. As the proper pronunciation of Hebrew was being lost through lack of fluency a group of Hebrew copyists, the Masoretes invented signs to be placed around consonants to indicate accents and proper pronunciation of vowels.
When it came to copying the Divine Name, the Masoretes provided vowel points for יהוה so that it now appeared as יְהוָה, following the accepted tradition of using "Adonai" (Sovereign Lord) or "Elohim" (God) in place of the Divine Name.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, some scholars hold Jehovah dates only from the year 1520. However, writers of the sixteenth century, regardless of religious background, were familiar with the word. The name has been found as early as the 13th century in the "Pugio fidei" of Raymund Martin, a work written about 1270 (ed. Paris, 1651, pt. III, dist. ii, cap. iii, p. 448, and Note, p. 745).
- Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917.
- The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever, 1984.
- Angel Fire, "Yahweh."
- Encyclopaedia Judaica, "Names of God."