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Why Use God’s Name if Its Pronunciation Is Uncertain?
No one today knows exactly how God’s name was pronounced in ancient Hebrew. Significantly, however, God’s personal name appears in the text of the Bible some 7,000 times. Jesus made God’s name manifest when on earth, and he instructed his disciples to pray for the sanctification of that name. (Matthew 6:9; John 17:6) Thus, one thing is certain—the use of God’s name is of utmost importance to Christian faith. Why, then, is the original pronunciation of that name uncertain today? There are two main reasons.
First, some two thousand years ago, there arose among the Jews a superstitious tradition that it was wrong to pronounce God’s name. When a reader came to the name in Bible text, he would say the word “Lord” as a substitute. In this way, after many centuries of disuse, the pronunciation of God’s name faded from memory.
Second, ancient Hebrew was written without vowels, very similar to abbreviations in English and other languages. When reading the written text, the reader supplied the missing vowel sounds from memory. In time, a system was devised to prevent the pronunciation of Hebrew words from being completely forgotten. Vowel points were added to each word in the Hebrew Bible. For the divine name, however, either the vowel points for “Lord” were added to remind the reader to pronounce the substitute word, or none were added at all.
What survived, then, were the four consonants called the Tetragrammaton, which one dictionary defines as “the four Hebrew letters usu[ally] transliterated YHWH or JHVH that form a biblical proper name of God.” It is easy to see how JHVH, with vowel points and vowel sounds added, becomes “Jehovah,” the form that is most familiar and widely accepted in English.
Some scholars, though, recommend the pronunciation “Yahweh.” Is that closer to the original pronunciation? No one can be certain. Actually, other scholars have cited reasons for not using this pronunciation. Of course, Bible names, when spoken in a modern-day language, probably sound nothing like the original Hebrew, and hardly anyone objects. This is because these names have become part of our language and they are easily recognized. So it is with the name Jehovah.
The first-century Christians were called a people for God’s name. They preached about the name to others and encouraged them to call upon it. (Acts 2:21; 15:14; Romans 10:13-15) Clearly, it is important to God that we use his name in whatever language we speak, appreciate its significance, and live in harmony with what it stands for.
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Significantly, God’s personal name appears in the text of the Bible some 7,000 times