Sometimes I am asked about the correct pronunciation of YHVH יהוה , the name of God in the Hebrew Scriptures since the time of Moses. But first a “disclaimer”– it is not worth arguing about, because:
- No one really knows for sure how it was pronounced.
- There is no demand in the New Covenant for specific pronunciation.
- The first century apostolic community said the only name we had to deal with is Yeshua (Acts 4:12; Phil 2:9).
- The name of Yeshua replaced YHVH for Lord, Adonai or “Kyrios” (Philippians 2:9).
- The name Yeshua (ישוע) is a shortened form of Yehoshua (יהושע), which contains the first part (יהו or Yeho) of the Yehovah pronunciation of YHVH. In other words, YHVH is contained within the name Yeshua.
I am not advocating that believers in Israel start using a specific pronunciation, because:
- The social and religious reaction against it among the Orthodox community in Israel is not necessarily worth what would be gained by trying to pronounce it.
- When pronouncing some form of YeHoVaH in Hebrew, it is not clear what you are saying because it sounds like declensions of the verb “to be.”
- However certainly anyone has the right to pronounce the name as long as it is not “in vain.” (Ex 20:7)
- To place an overemphasis on pronunciation has often led to cultic or elitist tendencies among the groups that do so.
With all that said, it seems that the correct pronunciation would have been YeHoVaH (or YeHoWah if the Vav was indeed pronounced in ancient times with a W sound, as many scholars believe).
The most obvious reason for this is that in the over 100 uses of names with the same root and the same syllable structure in the Hebrew, ALL of them without exception use the E-O-A vowel structure. The names are the following: Yehoyariv, Yehonadav, Yehoram, Yehoshevaat, Yehoshaphat, Yehosheva, Yehoshua, Yehozabad, Yehotsadak, Yehoahaz, Yehoaddan, Yehoada, Yehoyakim, Yehoyachin.
In the middle ages, rabbinic tradition abandoned all efforts at pronouncing YHVH by substituting the word “adonai” (lord). Any reference to the scribal changes of that time would be irrelevant since this is the full biblical text that we have available.
The second reason has to do with spiritual meaning. The name YHVH is connected to the verb “to be.” This is seen in the Exodus 3 burning bush encounter of Moses and in more than a dozen references to “I am” as YHVH in Isaiah chapters 41-48.
In the verb “to be” in Hebrew, the “e” vowel represents the future, the “o” vowel represents the present, and the “a” vowel represents the past. Thus the spiritual significance of the name YHVH is the eternal God, who was, is and will be. The meaning of the name YHVH is dealt with more extensively in my book, “Who Ate Lunch with Abraham?”