God's real name is Yahweh
Who is this Deity named Yahweh?
Dr. Thomas M. Strouse1
The Psalmist David proclaimed, “O LORD our Lord, how excel-
lent 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 JHVH2 (hwhy) was originally pro-
nounced “Yahwe.”3 Others say that it should be rendered ‘Iabe or ‘Iao
or Jaho.4 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 JHVH 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 JHVH
The traditional history for the pronunciation of the name for
JHVH assumes that the original correct pronunciation was lost, if ever
given. Some have claimed that God never inspired a pointed, vocalized
original Hebrew text.5 Others, building upon this initial view, have
1 Emmanuel Baptist Theological Seminary, Newington, CT 06111.
2In Hebrew the yodh (jot) may be transliterated as an English “y” or “j.” Also the vau
(waw) may be transliterated “w” or “v.” For the purposes of this essay the yodh will be
transliterated as a “j” and the vau will be transliterated as a “v” and hence the tetragram-
maton will be designated JHVH rather than YHWH.
3J. Barton Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ.
House, 1962), p. 147.
4Gustave F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ.
House, n.d.), pp. 92-93.
5“No system of writing is ever so perfect as to be able to reproduce the sounds of a lan-
guage in all their various shades, and the writing of the Semites has one striking funda-
mental defect, viz., that only the consonants (which indeed form the substance of the
language) are written as real letters, whilst of the vowels only the longer are indicated by
Who is this Deity named Yahweh?16
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 destruc-
tion of the temple.”6 Josephus affirmed that the name was originally
given to Moses (cf. Ex. 3:14 ff.) and that he, Josephus, was not permit-
ted to enunciate it.7 Maimonides (AD 1135-1204) averred that the sa-
cred 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
The alleged loss of the proper pronunciation of JHVH 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 conse-
quently stopped pronouncing it.9 2) These same Jews further inter-
preted Lev. 24:16 to read “and he that nameth (Hebrew: blasphemeth)
the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death.”10 Conse-
quently, according to this history, during the silent years until the com-
ing 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),11 who, having supposedly invented vowel pointing for the
traditional Hebrew text, substituted the vowels of ‘adonai (yn"doa]) for the
vocalization of JHVH, producing the popular, but “linguistically im-
possible,” Jehovah. Based on the practice of the LXX to render JHVH
by ho kurios (“the Lord”), the pre-Christian Jews and ultimately the
Masoretes placed the shewa of the hateph pathach under the yodh (y>),
certain representative consonants. It was only later that special small marks (points or
strokes below or above the consonants) were invented to represent to the eye all the
vowel-sounds,” E. Kautzsch and A. E. Cowley, editors, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar
(Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1910), p. 5.
6Oehler, p. 92.
7“Whereupon God declared to him his holy name, which had never been discovered to
men before; concerning which it is not lawful for me to say any more,” William Whiston,
trans., The New Complete Works of Josephus (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publ., 1999), p. 102.
8Oehler, p. 92.
9John M’Clintock and James Strong, “Jehovah,” Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological,
and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. IV (NY: Harper and Brothers, Publ., 1883), p. 809.
10This curious and un-biblical interpretation shows up in the LXX, although there is no
reason to assume that the pre-Christian Jewry derived it from this faulty translation.
11Jews in Tiberias passed on the standardized Masorah or the details of the Hebrew text
tradition, which in turn was the preserved Hebrew OT consonants and vowels. These
Jews were called Masoretes, although “who they were, and when or where their work
was accomplished are points involved in some uncertainty,” M’Clintock and Strong,
“Masorah, Masoreth or Massoreth,” Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesias-
tical Literature, vol., V (NY: Harper and Brothers, Publ., 1883), pp. 860-861.
Biblical Astronomer, number 111 17
the cholem above the vau (A), and the kamets beneath the vau (w").12 The
Reformation theologians continued the practice of using the qeri vow-
els of the Masoretic text for the kethiv consonants JHVH (the so-called
qeri perpetuum), popularizing the artificially “hybrid” name Jehovah.13
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 JHVH (i.e., Yeho [Jehoshaphat], Yah [Shephatiah]) demand
Yahweh (hwHeinrich Ewald (1803-1875) was the first to popularize the form Jahve,
followed by the eminent E. W. Hengstenberg (1802-1869) promoting
In summary then, the best that critical scholars can derive from
history for the discovery of the pronunciation for the sacred tetra-
grammaton JHVH is as follows. If God ever revealed the proper vo-
calization of His OT name JHVH, the apostate Jews, from the Babylo-
nian 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 JHVH 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 JHVH
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 con-
trived. The Lord has promised to preserve all of His inspired, canoni-
cal Words through His ordained institutions for all generations subse-
quent to the inscripturation of these Words. Therefore, He has pre-
served His OT Words, consonants and vowels, jots and tittles, includ-
ing the inspired vocalization of His name, the tetragrammaton. Since
the Lord God has preserved the proper pronunciation of JHVH, schol-
12M’Clintock and Strong state that the prevalence of this practice occurred may be “in-
ferred” from the similar pointing, but no historical documentation is forthcoming, vol. IV,
13Madeleine S. Miller and J. Lane Miller, “God,” Harper’s Bible Dictionary (NY:
Harper and Brothers, Publ., 1952), p. 230.
14“Jehovah,” Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Royal Publishers,
1973), p. 378.
15M’Clintock and Strong, vol, IV, p. 810.
Who is this Deity named Yahweh?18
ars have no need to restore their vocalization of it, and, as history, phi-
lology, and critical scholarship have demonstrated, they are incapable
of restoring authoritatively16 the pronunciation of JHVH.
The Scriptural Promises of Plenary Verbal Preservation
The Bible is replete with the teaching that God will perfectly pre-
serve 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 doc-
trinal 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 addi-
tion, Prov. 22:20-21 and Isa. 40:6 make the same claim for perfect
In the NT, the Lord Jesus Christ claimed the perfectly intact He-
brew OT Words (Mt. 4:4), the preservation of the consonants and vow-
els of Hebrew Words (Mt. 5:18), and the perfect preservation of all of
His canonical words including the NT Words (Mt. 24:35). The Scrip-
tures 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
The Deficiency of History, Philology and Critical Scholarship
In rejecting the preserved Words of Scripture, including the in-
spired vowel pointing for JHVH, 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 documenta-
tion, comparative philology, and rationalism.
Bible history indicates that believers and unbelievers did not have
16The only ultimate authority the enemy has is the Scripture (cf. Mt. 4:6), and the rejec-
tion of this final authority leads to confusion and destruction (cf. I Cor. 14:33; Ps. 1:6).
Biblical Astronomer, number 111 19
“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 Nehe-
miah 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 pun-
ishment 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 sin-
ner, 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 si-
lent 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, Euse-
bius, 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
That this conjecture is strengthened by the supposed existence of
a pre-Christian LXX which translated the tetragrammaton with ho ku-
rios and approved of the ‘adonai pointing for JHVH is based on un-
proved assumptions. There is no credible history for the origin of the
LXX,17 and the Bible does not teach that Christ and the Apostles ever
used the LXX18 or had need to use it. If there was a pre-Christian LXX
17Aristeas’ letter about the desire Ptolemy II had in securing a Greek translation of the OT
for his library is replete with fanciful legends about the origin of the Pentateuch. Seventy
two (or was it the seventy?) Jewish elders translated the Law in seventy-two days. The
letter has “extravagances” and is in part “unhistorical.” H. Thatcher, “Septuagint,” The
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. IV (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans
Publ. Co., 1939), p. 2724.
18The Lord Jesus did not quote verbatim from the LXX or from the Hebrew text in Lk.
4:18-19. Luke recorded His inspired synagogue “targum” (i.e., paraphrase) on Isa. 61:1-
Who is this Deity named Yahweh?20
it is not extant except in the hybrid form of three different “LXX” trans-
lations in Origen’s Hexapla.19 The Lord Jesus Christ declared that the
Hebrew text was perfectly intact in His day (Mt. 4:4),20 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 Scrip-
tures, with the Gentiles (cf. Mt. 15:21 ff.; Acts 2:42, etc.).21 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 JHVH with the use of a Greek translation. This history
however, is inadequate for overturning the pointing of JHVH 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 tex-
tual criticism22 since God allegedly did not preserve His words. How-
ever, the preserved OT words must constitute the basis for Hebrew
grammar as divine revelation, since scientific and comparative linguis-
tics are not authoritative and therefore fallible. For example,
M’Clintock and Strong argue that JHVH comes from the hayah (= ha-
wah) “to be” verb and consequently the middle radical may not take the
cholem, thus ruling out the Jehovah pronunciation.23 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).24
Furthermore, the aforementioned authors insisted that the Greeks
would have pronounced JHVH as Jao, treating the two He consonants
19Thatcher, pp. 2726-2727.
20He used the perfect tense verb “it is written” (gegraptai) denoting that the OT Scripture
had been and still was written.
21Since the Ethiopian treasurer was coming to Jerusalem to worship, he no doubt was
bilingual, knowing how to speak and read Hebrew, as he apparently was reading from the
Hebrew text of Isa. 53:7-8 (Acts 8:27-39).
22“Advance in grammar is therefore closely dependent on progress in textual criticism,”
Kautzsch and Cowley, p. 22.
23M’Clintock and Strong, vol. IV, p. 810.
24Even Payne admits, “As to the meaning of Yahweh, etymological speculation is rather
fruitless,” p. 147.
Biblical Astronomer, number 111 21
as silent letters, placing an alpha after the iota and substituting the omi-
cron for the vau. Gehman favored extra-biblical sources as well, stat-
ing, “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 fa-
vored by Greek transcriptions: Iabe, Iaoue, Iaouai, Iae.”25 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
JHVH, 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”).26 In Jn. 8:58, the Lord Jesus Christ declared, “before Abra-
ham was, I am” (ego eimi), emphasizing His interpretation of the
unique Hebrew pointing for Jehovah. Philology which rejects the di-
vine preservation of Hebrew pointing, words and grammar, must in-
stead rely upon evolutionary linguistic schemes and extra-biblical com-
parisons for the vocalization of JHVH 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 instruc-
tion 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 ver-
bal 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 tetra-
25Henry S. Gehman, ed., “Jehovah,” The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible (Phila-
delphia: The Westminster Press, 1970), p. 453.
26J. Davis incorrectly speculates, “Yahweh is an archaic form. It probably represents the
Qal imperfect of the verb hawah, later hayah, to be or become,” The Illustrated Davis
Dictionary of the Bible, p. 378.
Who is this Deity named Yahweh?22
grammaton. As rationalistic scholarship looks to historical documenta-
tion and philological techniques to determine the “true” name of the
Lord in the OT, it falls short because of its initial rejection of the doc-
trines of inspiration and preservation. The best that rationalistic schol-
arship can produce is the suggested speculation, confirmed by liberal
Bible scholarship, for the vocalization of the tetragrammaton. Unre-
generate Jews, catholic patristics, and liberal scholars have all agreed
that the best pointing for the tetragrammaton should be something like
Yahweh, and not Jehovah.27 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 vocaliza-
tion for JHVH because they have rejected the teaching that the pre-
served OT Scriptures have been preserved through the Masoretic text.
For instance, E. Wurthwein reasoned that the main criterion for discov-
ering 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 reli-
gious 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 an-
swer 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.”28 Although others suggest a pre-sixth cen-
tury 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 ‘Mas-
soretic’ text.”29 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
The Name Jehovah in the OT
The preserved vocalization of JHVH is Jehovah as represented by
the Masoretic Hebrew text. The Authorized Version (1611) and the
27“[A]t the present day, most scholars agree that this pointing is not the original and genu-
ine one (i.e., Jehovah), but that these vowels are derived from those of…Adonai,”
M’Clintock and Strong, p. 809.
28Ernst Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans
Publ. Co., 1981), p. 16.
29B. J. Roberts, Biblical Journal of Religious Literature 42 (1959), p. 144.
Biblical Astronomer, number 111 23
American Standard Version (1901) translate the tetragrammaton as
LORD and the Hebrew name ‘adonay as Lord, differentiating the two
Hebrew words. The AV transliterates JHVH 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 tetra-
grammaton, and critical scholars have restored His name through his-
torical documentation, philology, and rationalism, then the answer is in
the affirmative. However, since none of the aforementioned is Scrip-
turally valid or authoritative, then believers do not know how to pro-
nounce 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 LOR