The truth about the spelling and pronunciation of the Divine Name
The Sacred Name of Israel's Elohim!
The true divine name of Elohim is a controversial and divisive issue among many messianic congregations. Some in America, and elsewhere, often strongly insist upon the use of “Yahweh.” One particular messianic ministry urges everyone to use that name for the sake of unity. If this, however, is a chief goal, is everyone then to logically practice “ecumenism”? Or close their sanctuaries and rejoin organized religions like the Roman Catholic Church with its universal doctrines for the use of names?
Scripture, in contrast, does not counsel us to unite in error! Messiah exclaimed, “Do you suppose that I come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division.” (Luke 12:51) Instead, we are told to champion truth: “Rejoice not in iniquity, but rejoice in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)
In a church I pastored years ago, before I came to know and teach about the Sacred Name, this issue came up periodically. One man visited our church service about once a year to make his views on this subject known. During congregational singing, whenever the words “Jesus” or “Lord” appeared in a hymn, he would raise his voice and loudly shout, “Yahweh!”
Since this issue continues to be a source of division and even hostility among Christians, I spent a considerable number of hours researching the Sacred Name in leading libraries. There is much more in my compiled notebooks than I can present in this article, but the following information is quite interesting and sheds some needed light on the tremendous amount of confusion and misinformation people have on this subject.
THE SACRED NAME WAS NOT "YAHWEH"
Most Sacred Name groups use the form "Yahweh" as the Divine Name. This was the form used at least during the early post-apostolic Christian era (100 - 200 AD). Biblical scholars, however, note that the Hebrew names of kings and prophets in the pre-exilic period were a composite that included a Sacred Name that was not "Yahweh". For example, Judahite prophets had "YAHU" or "YAHUA" appended to their Hebrew names, e.g. Isaiah (YeshaYAHU), Jeremiah (YirmeYAHU), Zedekiah (SidquiyYAHU) and Zephaniah (TzfanYAHU). Another prophet, Elijah, had the Hebrew name “Eli-YAHU”, which meant “my God (El) is YAHU”. King “Hezekiah” of the House of Judah had the Hebrew name of "KhizakiyYAHU".
Among the kings of the ten-tribe House of Israel (the northern kingdom) the Divine Name differed from that of the House of Judah (the southern kingdom). Israel used a slightly different Divine Name (“YO”, “YEHO”, or “YAO”) as compared to “YAHU” in Judah. Neither of the two Houses used "Yahweh" prior to, or during the exilic period (from 597 to 458 BC).
Dr. F.C. Norton in "A Popular Handbook of Information for Beginners in the Study of Assyriology," writes that the famous 6-foot inscribed “Black Obelisk of [Assyrian king] Shalmaneser II has five tiers of bas-reliefs and 190 lines of inscription. Among the Tributes of the Nations is Jehu (Ya-u-a) 'son' of Omri. It was found at Birs-Nimroud by Sir Henry Layard and is now in the British Museum.” (p.31) The Israelite King “Jehu” (2 Kings 9) was named after his Elohim, who did not have the name “Yahweh”. Note that the king’s name, and that of his Elohim, was “YA-U-A”.
Dr. W.F. Albright, a leading and widely acclaimed 20th century Hebrew scholar, gives further evidence that the Sacred name forms of “YAHU” and “YAHUEH” were used as Divine Name in early Israel. "The ostraca from Samaria and the earlier seals from the 9th and 8th centuries write consistently YAU (for the older YAHU) … [There was a] religious revival of Yahwism in the period of Hezekiah and Josiah, which insisted on the use of the full form of the name YAHUEH … To strict Yahwists, the pronunciations YAHU, YAU and YO were associated with religious laxity and worship of the God of Israel under heathen forms." ("Further Observations on the Name Yahweh," Journal of Biblical Literature, 44:159)
Dr. James A. Montgomery of the University of Pennsylvania also wrote about "The Hebrew Divine Name" in the Journal of Biblical Literature. He states, "The earliest form of the [Divine] Name was doubtless Yahu." (63:162)
This is verified again in an article titled, “The Name of God,” in the Jewish Quarterly Review. It states, “Except for appearances in the proper names of people, the name Yahu all but disappeared from Israelite consciousness; replaced by a never-pronounced YHWH …” (Vol. 90-1:212)
Dr. Lukinbill, another Hebrew language scholar, wrote, "The writing YHWH found in the Moabite stone, so far from favoring a pronunciation 'YAHWEH', seems definitely to preclude it." (Quoted by Dr. W.F. Albright, "Further Observations on the Name Yahweh," Journal of Biblical Literature, 44:161)
Is it probable that Elohim would allow the truth of His Name to be entirely lost and forgotten by His covenant people? Interestingly enough, Hebrew scholars comment that the word, "Jehovah" used in the King James Bible for centuries is close to the true Hebrew pronunciation of the Sacred Name.
The famous Biblical scholar, William Tyndale, spelled the Divine Name, "IEHOUAH," which could be pronounced, "Yehuah." The Hebrew language did not have the letter "J" and its sound. But early German scholars wrote the Sacred Name as Jehovah because in German the letter "J" is pronounced as a "Y." (This is similar to some other European languages as well, although not true of English.) Therefore, language scholars of the past were pronouncing the Sacred Name as "Yehovah" or "Yehuah," since the letters "V" and "U" were at one time used interchangeably. If someone absolutely must use an English equivalent of the Sacred Name (but why?), “Jehovah” comes closest to the original Hebrew pronunciation.
Dr. Raymond Abba of the University College of Swansea (United Kingdom), in an article entitled, "The Divine Name" from the Journal of Biblical Literature says, "The original pronunciation is uncertain … If however—as seems probable—Huwa is the original Semitic form … the original cry would be YA-HUVA, which, ironically enough bears a close resemblance to the hybrid form Jehovah. This, Mowinkel argues, could have developed into both Yahu and Yahveh". (80:320-321) So, the popular modern terms “Yahveh” and “Yahweh” are later developments. These are not the correct original form of the Divine Name that was used throughout Israel’s pre-exilic period in Scripture.
THE ALTERATION OF THE DIVINE NAME
If the Divine Name was indeed originally pronounced something like “Yehuah” or “Yehovah,” how did it change into “Yahwah” and “Yahweh?” In the early pre-Christian centuries, a Jewish belief arose that this Name was too sacred to be spoken, so a variation was substituted. The Jewish Sanhedrin (VII: 5 Mishna) stated, "The blasphemer is not guilty until he reproduces exactly the Name, that is, until he make use of the exact Name."
Commenting on this, Dr. William R. Arnold of Andover Theological Seminary stated, "[This is] confirmation of the proposition … that the name was sometimes purposely mispronounced … the alteration was not accidental, but due to the purpose to prevent the utterance of the ineffable name … the alteration took place, accordingly, sometime during the fourth century B.C. … to avoid its actual pronunciation … The altered word is 'entirely devoid of meaning' [a non-word] … In the fourth century B.C., YHWH was pronounced YAHWA." ("The Divine Name in Exodus 3:14," Journal of Biblical Literature, 24:159-162) Thus the form, "Yahwa," over time became pronounced "Yahway". So, neither of those pronunciations is original.
HOUSE OF ISRAEL CONNECTION
Prof. Avraham Biran (Hebrew Union College, Jerusalem) tells of an amphora jar discovered in the area of the northern House of Israel. Its handle was stamped "immadi-yo" meaning "God [i.e., "Yo"] is with me." Dr. Biran adds, "The theophoric ending Yo is the same as Yahu in Judah." ("Biblical Dan," p.199) This was dated to the 8th century B.C., during the time of King Jeroboam II of the ten-tribe House of Israel. Note again that the House of Israel (the northern kingdom that broke away from Judah after the death of Solomon) used a slightly different Divine Name (YO or YAHO), than did Judah (YAHU). For instance, the Hebrew name of Jonathan, son of Saul, was “YAHO-nathan” (“YAHO has given”).
Dr. George Wesley Buchanan’s article on “The Pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton” states, “Clement of Alexandria … spelled the Tetragrammaton ‘Iaoue, ‘Iaouai, and ‘Iao. In early Aramaic papyri, the divine Name was spelled yao … which might also be pointed yaho. Later magical papyri found in Egypt, often spelled the name Iao ... In a Leviticus LXX fragment from cave 4, the Tetragrammaton was used and spelled IAO, with majuscule letters …” (“The Consequences of the Covenant,” Supplement to Novum Testamentum, 20:316-317)
THE TRUE SACRED NAME
The information in this article is a small sampling of research posted for your benefit on the internet website www.sacred-name.info. That site explains that the original, pre-exilic, Sacred Name used by the royal tribe of Judah was YAHUAH. That Name was sometimes shortened to YAHU or YAH (as in “HalleluYAH,” which means “praise ye YAH”). The ten-tribe House of Israel used a slightly different form of the name as “YEHO,” which was most likely just a dialectical variation in pronunciation. Yet neither used the name “Yahweh,” “Yahveh,” “Yahwah,” or any of the other modern variants that became popular long after the exilic era.
The impetus for changing the name of YAHUAH to other forms was from a rabbinic decision that the Divine Name was too sacred to be spoken. Such a view is not taught in the Bible. Rabbis changed (“corrupted”) the Name into a variant to avoid speaking the true Name. As quoted earlier by Dr. William Arnold, it was “to prevent the utterance of the ineffable name.” Why should Messianic believers adopt a misguided and corrupted form of Elohim’s true Sacred Name? In other words, why should anyone use an English or German alteration of Elohim’s true Hebrew name? As Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod aptly states, "The God of Israel has a proper Name. There is no fact in Jewish theology more significant than this."
I pray this article helps explain why worship services at Bet Yeshurun Assembly involves the use of YAHUAH, the original form of the true Sacred Name. This assuredly is not a “salvation issue”. Nor do I criticize those who worship with us and choose to use an alternate name or an alternate pronunciation. The fact remains, however, that from the time of pre-exilic Israel down to the royal House of David (and beyond) the original Hebrew pronunciation was “YAHUAH”.
May YAHUAH bless you and keep you! May YAHUAH let His face shine upon you and be gracious to you! May YAHUAH look upon you kindly and give you peace! (Numbers 6:24-26)