Have you ever come across “God” written as “G-d”? Or have you ever heard Jews reading Hebrew from the Tanakh (Old Testament in Hebrew) say “Hashem” or “Adonai” when you realize that the word they saw is actually “YHVH” instead? How about looking at the underlying Hebrew of the Old Testament and realizing that the translators have translated “Adonai YHVH” as “Lord God”, and you know that is not what the Hebrew text says? What is going on here? It’s obvious isn’t it? Jewish leaders and Hebrew translators are not saying/translating God’s name in the Old Testament. Why is this? Is this the right thing to do? Let’s check this out.
God’s name controversy
The first time I came across the idea that you should not utter or even write God’s name or even the word “God” was when I saw a former undergrad classmate of mine typed “G-d” in some of his Facebook posts a few years ago. I decided to research it on the Internet and found out that Jewish people are not allowed to speak or write God’s name, and they take it a step further by not even typing or writing “God”. Apparently it is an oral tradition passed down through the teachings of Rabbis. The 12th century Rabbi Moses ben Maimon comments on this prohibition that persons ought not to even say his name for fear of the name itself and for fear of saying God’s name in vain. He references Deuteronomy 28: 58 and Exodus 20:7, as follows:
If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, The Lord Thy God; – Deuteronomy 28:58 (KJV)
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. – Exodus 20:7 (KJV)
Most Jews won’t even say or read God’s name when they see it in the scriptures. They will either say one out of two words instead. They would say “Adonai”, which means “Lord”, or they will say “Hashem”, which means “The Name”. This seemed very weird to me. So, I decided to check out my bible and searched for God’s name in Hebrew. When I did that I was almost equally shocked.
Apparently, the translators of most bibles, especially the KJV, also did not translate God’s name as it should be. In the KJV, there were only 4 instances where God’s name was translated properly. In most other instances it is either translated as “LORD” or “GOD” (note that the use of all upper case letters is intentional, as this is how it is printed in the KJV bible). It seems as if the translators of the KJV and many other bible translations have continued the rabbinical tradition that God’s name is too holy to be uttered, and should not be uttered for fear of taking his name in vain.
The truth about saying God’s name
Would you know God’s name if you ever heard it or saw it? Most of us only ever say, “God”. In the Old Testament, what the Jews call the Tanakh, God’s name is listed 6824 times. It is spelt with four Hebrew letters: yud (Y) heh (H) vav (V) heh (H). Hebrew is written and read right to left instead of left to right like English. Also, the ancient Hebrew that makes up the Old Testament uses letters that are all consonants, with some minor exceptions of a few weak consonants acting as silent vowels in specific cases. As a result of Hebrew having an alphabet of all consonants, a system of diacritical signs used to represent vowels, called niqqud or nikud, was developed and used. If you look at the God’s name in the Old Testamant, YHVH, you will find that YHVH has niqqud present that show you how to say the name. Despite this reality, Jews and scholars alike won’t say the name.
Instead of saying YHVH, there is even a term used to describe or reference YHVH called the Tetragrammaton, which is of Greek origin, meaning “four letters”. The reason that they have a term for God’s name is not only because the Jews refuse to say it, but also because there is no consensus on how to pronounce YHVH. The niqqud are present, but different Rabbis and scholars claim that no one can be sure that it is accurately applied, and there is an often quoted claim that the niqqud of “Adonai” have been transposed unto YHVH to remind the reader to use that word instead. In my research, I have come across this statement quite a bit, but when I check it out, the first niqqud in Adonai is a reduced patach (an ‘ah’ sound), whereas the first niqqud in YHVH is a sheva (an ‘eh’ sound). So, for me, this makes no sense. I really don’t agree with this claim.
Interestingly, there is a young Bible researcher, Nehemia Gordon, who also disagrees with this claim. He has written a book about it, and has several Youtube videos explaining his research. He believes YHVH should be pronounced as it is stated in the Masoretic (Hebrew) Text of the Old Testament. Although Jews have been forbidden to say YHVH by their Rabbis for centuries now, Nehemia claims that he has found over 16 rabbinical sources that state or explain how it should be said, and also he claims that there was a ritual mentioned in the Talmud, Kidushin 71a that talks about the Sages transmitting the correct pronunciation of YHVH to their disciples once in a seven year period. I was able to verify this claim by checking the Talmud online. Nehemia also claims that the Romans persecuted the Jews in the second century and banned them from reading the Torah, and speaking God’s name. The Romans killed 10 prominent Rabbis. They burned alive one of them, Rabbi Haninah ben Teradion, who they wrapped in the Torah scroll he preached from. It was from this persecution that Nehemia believes that Rabbis enforced the tradition to not say God’s name YHVH.
So, what should YHVH sound like? As I stated before, it is listed 6519 times by itself and translated as LORD 6510 times, GOD 4 times, and JEHOVAH 4 times in the KJV. Out of the 305 remaining times it is listed with Adonai and is rendered as GOD 304 times and LORD once. If Nehemia Gordon and his sources are right, then it should sound just like how it is written in our Masoretic Text. Keeping in mind the English letter J first had a Y sound up to the time when the bible was first translated to English, JEHOVAH actually sounded like YEHOVAH when spoken. This meant that in 4 verses in the KJV bible, YHVH was translated properly. Let’s take a look:
YHVH or YHWH : Yehovah or Yahweh
So, the name of God is YHVH and is pronounced as Yehovah. That should be the end of it. However, the truth is that this is not the end of it. While researching the name of God, I came across differing views about God’s name. It is very confusing. And in reality, the view that God’s name is YHVH and pronounced as Yehovah is actually a minority view point. It is held by very few Rabbis, Christians and scholars. Actually, there are many who would say that this is wrong. Even Nehemia Gordon, as a proponent of YHVH as Yehovah, acknowledges that majority of scholarly teaching actually contradicts what he proposes.
First of all, there are quite a few opponents who feel that Vav is pronounced like a W instead of a V. So, instead of writing YHVH, then would say that it should be written YHWH. Nehemia addresses this by explaining that the Waw sound was really influenced by Arabic and in the 1800s it was confirmed through a survey of different Jewish communities around the world that there were two authentic sounds of either Vah or Wah. However, it was most evident in the Jews of Syria who spoke both Hebrew and Arabic, which doesn’t have a Vah sound. The Jews living in Syria would use the Vah sound when speaking Hebrew in the synagogue and among their Jewish friends and family, but would use the Wah sound when speaking Arabic otherwise.
Some still object to the Vah sound, claiming that the Wah sound is oldest and was used in Ancient Hebrew. However, Nehemia points out scriptural proof, such as King David’s name in the bible, and also the two valid Hebrew words for ‘back’ in the book of Ezekiel, gav and gab (written with a ‘soft b’ that sounds like a ‘v’). This makes sense to me.
Even though YHVH makes sense to me, the fact is that numerous scholars believe and teach that God’s name is pronounced Yahweh and should be written as YHWH. This belief is very widespread. It is taught in Seminaries, universities, and even in the Roman Catholic Church. Actually, the first time I heard that God’s name is Yahweh was when I was about 14 in my Roman Catholic high school by a Roman Catholic Brother in Religion class.
Apparently, the use of Yahweh is widespread due to the enormous influence of the German Hebrew scholar Wilhelm Gesenius, who wrote the most famous and almost universally used Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, and also from “A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament” by Francis Brown, Samuel Driver, and Charles Briggs, which was based on Gesenius’ work. According to Nehemia’s research, he quotes Gesenius as explaining that the Hebrews got “Yahweh” from the Egyptians, as the Latins got Jove (pronounced ‘Yohweh’, and is what the Latins called Jupiter, God of the sky) from the Egyptians as well.
God told us to say his name
So, Jews don’t say YHVH because they are taught that if you mispronounce it, you are breaking the third commandment. Rabbis don’t say YHVH because they believe it should be feared and only spoken perfectly and reverently by specific people at specific times. Bibles don’t translate it because they follow the rabbinical tradition of not saying YHVH. Persons write G-d instead of God because they think that God’s name is so holy it should not even be written. Those who write God’s name, write it as YHWH because they believe that Vav sounds like a Wah sound. Scholars speak it as Yahweh because of the most well respected Hebrew lexicon writer Wilhelm Gesenius’ conclusions on why it was spoken as Yahweh (and the follow-up lexicon Brown-Driver-Briggs supporting Gesenius’ conclusions). So many people, Rabbis, and scholars are saying so many things that are followed without question, yet no one asks about what God says in the scriptures:
O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. – Psalm 105:1 (KJV)
YHVH is mentioned over 6800 times in the Old Testament, and most of those mentions are being quoted as spoken by people. There is no prohibition to speaking God’s name in the scriptures. Regardless, what about the teaching from rabbis that you could break the third commandment? Even in Christian churches, many pastors and preachers have warned against saying God’s name in vain. Some go as far as to say that if you say, “Oh my God”, you are calling God’s name in vain, and thus have committed a grave sin.
I have always thought that the idea that saying “God” or his name in a less than “perfect” way or in an exclamatory statement being the sin that breaks the third commandment doesn’t make much sense. Fortunately, I am not the only person who thinks this. I recently came across a Youtube video by Dennis Prager that expounded on the third commandment. He expressed that the third commandment to “[not] take the name of the Lord in vain” have nothing to do with speaking it. The word translated “take” in the KJV really gives the idea of “carry” or “to lift” or to “take up”. In addition, the Hebrew word translated as “vain” in the KJV really gives the idea of “useless”, “falsehood”, “wickedness” or “emptiness”. If we understand what the original Hebrew words really mean, we can understand that the third commandment refers to not committing evil in God’s name, or not carrying God’s name as a banner for evil, thus making it empty or void of its true purpose.
The scriptures are witness that we should speak God’s name, YHVH as Yehovah. It amazes me that even when the translators of the KJV were deceived by rabbinical tradition to substitute Yehovah for LORD or GOD, that yet still the Holy Spirit was able to get them to preserve it in the form of Jehovah in 4 verses in scripture.
For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. – Mark 7:8 (KJV)
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. – Colossians 2:8 (KJV)
Jesus and the apostles saw that the traditions of men have and will create confusion and take away from the truth and effect of the word of God. However, we know that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). And the apostles when faced with the ultimate threat of violence and death for not following tradition, said that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5: 29)
I personally believe that consensus is never a substitute for truth, and I have learned and observed that more often than not, the truth lies with the minority than the majority. In my mind the mere fact that the scripture contains the Hebrew text Yud Heh Vav Heh with the corresponding Sheva Cholam and Kamatz is enough evidence for me to feel comfortable considering and even siding with Nehemia’s research that God’s name is YHVH and is pronounced Yehovah. I don’t like fakeness and pretense, and it is clear that this idea that God’s name should be a secret can’t be right. As Christians, we need to wake up and learn to discern the difference between truth and tradition. It is super hard to do and scary to follow through with the truth that you learn. We need to dig deeper and look beyond our favorite English translations to see what the original texts are really saying. Should we stop saying “God”, and say “Yehovah” instead? I can’t say, but I know that we should stop being afraid of saying God’s name, Yehovah.
- Why Don’t Jews Say G-d’s Name? – Baruch S. Davidson – Site: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1443443/jewish/Why-Dont-Jews-Say-Gds-Name.htm
- Why Can’t We Use “Yahweh”? – Marcel LeJeune – Site: https://www.aggiecatholicblog.org/2008/10/why-cant-we-use-yahweh/
- Barring Yahweh – Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra – Site: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/october/9.15.html
- We Shouldn’t Take God’s Name in Vain. But What Is It? – Elon Gilad – Site: https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium.MAGAZINE-we-shouldn-t-take-god-s-name-in-vain-but-what-is-it-1.6546806
- TETRAGRAMMATON – Jewish Encyclopedia – Crawford Howell Toy, Ludwig Blau – Site: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14346-tetragrammaton
- Tetragrammaton – Wikipedia – Site: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetragrammaton
- The Historical Pronunciation of Vav – NehemiasWall.com – Nehemia Gordon – Site: https://youtu.be/Xz27bG2k4JU
- Yahweh where did it come from? – Nehemia Gordon – Site: https://youtu.be/xgKYifZeeO4
- 3. Do Not Misuse God’s Name – Dennis Prager – Site: https://youtu.be/nI8OtOfzUDE
- Kiddushin 71a – Sefaria – Site: https://www.sefaria.org/Kiddushin.71a?lang=bi