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Should YHWH be Jehovah or LORD or Yahweh?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Our Old Testament is the Jewish Scriptures. They were originally written in Hebrew. (There is a little Aramaic in the books of Daniel and Ezra - Daniel 2:4-7:28 and two passages in Ezra to be specific.) In the Hebrew Scriptures there are many names for God. But the divine personal name for God is ‘YHWH.’ Ancient Hebrew language was written only in consonants. YHWH is called the tetragrammaton (which is Greek for “four letters.”)

Since we can't read Hebrew (or Aramaic) the Hebrew Scriptures must be translated to English. The translation teams must make a choice on the best way to translate the divine name of God.

An old school Bible like the 1611 King James Version will in some instances translate YHWH to “Jehovah” and this comes from the Latin rendering of YHWH. Scholars say this is a misunderstanding of the Hebrew spelling, due not only to the absence of vowels, but also to the mistaken insertion of “o” between the “h” and the “v.” Scholars say this is not a good translation of YHWH because it is translating it from Hebrew to Latin to English.

Jewish people realized YHWH is sacred and feared using it improperly. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:7 NASB) They began verbally substituting “Adonai,” which means “my Lord,” when referring to YHWH. This practice continued throughout New Testament times. In keeping with this Jewish tradition many translation teams chose to translate YHWH to "LORD" in our English texts. Note they used capital letters to signify this name is sacred. LORD is the most common translation of YHWH.

Biblical scholarship in the study of the ancient Hebrew language has significantly grown in the past century. Many modern scholars believe the most probable choices based on research for inserting vowels would be adding an ‘a’ and an ‘e’ making YHWH best translated to English as “Yahweh.” The 'a' and the 'e' comes from "Adonai" and "Elohim," two names of God. You will see Yahweh in a few modern versions of the Bible.

In our English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, you will see YHWH translated as either “Jehovah” or “LORD” or “Yahweh.”

YHWH is found about 6,800 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew Bible translates YHWH to "Yahweh."

I use five Bibles.

- NASB, NIV, and ESV all translate YHWH to "LORD."

- The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) translates YHWH to “Yahweh” in 656 instances in 611 verses. The introduction says the HCSB Old Testament uses Yahweh when the biblical text emphasizes Yahweh as a name, "His name is Yahweh" (Psalm 68:4), and when it is used as a self-identification as in "I am Yahweh" (Isaiah 42:8.) Most of the time though the HCSB translates YHWH to “LORD.” Yahweh is used more often in the HCSB than in most Bible translations.

Exodus 3:14,15 from my Holman Christian Standard Bible showing "Yahweh."

- The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) came out in 2017 and is basically a revision to the HCSB. All of the scholars who worked on the Christian Standard Bible have their PhDs! The CSB Oversight Translation Committee chose to come in alignment with other English translations and in every instance they translated YHWH to “LORD.” They did this because of feedback from readers who said “Yahweh” was unfamiliar and was an obstacle to the readability of the HCSB. Their dilemma for translating YHWH was do we use what is deemed the best translation for the word or do we achieve better readability? They chose readability.

I came across a more in depth article on this written by Tyler Martin. Tyler has a B.A. in biblical languages and an M.A. in biblical exegesis. Check it out to learn more:

It comes down to translation philosophy.

Old-school – Jehovah

Traditional translation – LORD

Considered most accurate translation – Yahweh

Does it matter? To me it doesn’t because reading a word brings a concept into your head and if I read any of those words – Jehovah, LORD, or Yahweh – I know exactly who the Scripture is referring to – the holy God of the universe. But my vote is for the traditional translation of LORD because people are the most familiar and the most comfortable with it.

What I really want you to note about this discussion is the seriousness with which the translation process occurs. Only scholars work on the translation teams. They have been extensively trained and they take their task of translating the original language manuscripts, which we know what they say, to another language. They very much realize they are dealing with the holy word of God, a sacred text. No decision is taken lightly and every choice is discussed and agreement is reached. The translators must however, hold two things in tension. How close do they translate word for word or do they translate a word or phrase so that it is readable and understandable to today's readers? Language evolves over time. Scholarship has become more finely tuned. A great example of this is they used to call people from another nation "aliens." The word "aliens" is just not that familiar to modern readers. Many will think of space aliens! Now they translate it to "foreigners." Does this change the meaning of the text? It does not. I maintain the same thing with whether they use Jehovah, LORD or Yahweh.

We take on faith that these scholars have done the best job possible in translating the original language manuscripts for us to read and understand.

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