In the Hebrew Scriptures, the name of God is recorded as YHWH. So, where did the name “Jehovah” come from? Ancient Hebrew did not use vowels in its written form. The vowels were pronounced in spoken Hebrew but were not recorded in written Hebrew. The appropriate vowel sounds of words were passed down orally. As a result, when ancient Hebrew is studied, scholars and linguists often do not know with absolute confidence how certain Hebrew words were pronounced.
This particularly becomes an issue when studying the Hebrew name of God, written in the Hebrew Scriptures as YHWH, also known as the tetragrammaton. Despite much study and debate, it is still not universally agreed upon how the Hebrew name for God YHWH was pronounced. Some prefer “Yahweh” (YAH-way); others prefer “Yehowah,” “Yahuweh,” or “Yahawah”; still others argue for “Jehovah.”
As you can see, virtually everything is up for debate. Should YHWH be pronounced with three syllables or two? Should the vowels be borrowed from Elohim or Adonai? Should the W be pronounced with more of a W sound or more of a V sound? It is not the purpose of this article to settle the debate. Rather, it is the purpose of this article to discuss the use of “Jehovah.”
The vast majority of Jewish and Christian biblical scholars and linguists do not believe “Jehovah” to be the proper pronunciation of YHWH. There was no true J sound in ancient Hebrew. Even the Hebrew letter vav, which is transliterated as the W in YHWH is said to have originally had a pronunciation closer to W than the V of Jehovah. Jehovah is essentially a Germanic pronunciation of the Latinized transliteration of the Hebrew YHWH. It is the letters of the tetragrammaton, Latinized into JHVH, with vowels inserted. “Yahweh” or “Yehowah” is far more likely to be the correct pronunciation.
The form Jehovah, though, is very commonly used. It is used in the King James Version of the Bible (Genesis 22:14; Exodus 6:3; 17:15; Judges 6:24; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; 26:4). It is also used, and strenuously promoted by, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Jehovah’s Witnesses emphasize the use of Jehovah to the extent that any other name or title for God is viewed as borderline idolatry or outright heresy.
With all of that said, it is not crucial to the Christian faith for the proper pronunciation of YHWH to be known. Both the Old and New Testaments, inspired by God, use generic terms for “God” and “Lord,” including El, Elohim, and Adonai (Hebrew); and Theos and Kurios (Greek). If the authors of Scripture, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were allowed to use these terms, it is not wrong for us to refer to Him as “God” or “Lord,” either.