Q.   What is the Tetragrammaton?

A.   The Tetragrammaton represents the four Hebrew letters of the Creator’s Name. The word itself is from the Greek tετραγράμματον, meaning “[consisting of] four letters,” which are yod-hey-waw-hey. These letters are unique in the Hebrew language, as they not only represent consonants, but also vowels. For this reason, they are called vowel-consonants.

According to most Hebrew scholars the Tetragrammaton is pronounced “Yahweh.” Consider the following scholarly sources:

A Book About the Bible, George Stimpson, pg. 247. “Jehovah in that form was unknown to the ancient Israelites. In fact, Hebrew scholars say that Jehovah would have been impossible according to the strict principles of Hebrew vocalization. The God of Israel was known by a name approximately rendered into English as Yahweh.”

Wycliff Bible Dictionary, Charles Pfeiffer, Ed., “God, Names and Titles of,” pg. 694. “Yahweh was doubtless the approximate pronunciation of the tetragrammaton, the four-letter word YHWH, since transliterations into Gr. in early Christian literature have been found in the form of iaoue (Clement of Alexander) and iahe (Theodoret) pronounced ‘iave.’ The name is a variant connected with the verb haya, ‘to be,’ from an earlier form, hawa.”

The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Bruce Metzger, Ed., “Names of God in the Hebrew Bible,” pg. 548. “The Bible often refers to God by his proper name, which was probably pronounced Yahweh …In the Hebrew Bible, the consonants yhwh are usually to be read as Adonai…’my Lord,’ for the sake of reverence, and English versions represent the word by ‘Lord’ or (less often) ‘God’ in capital letters.”

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, Allen C. Myers, Ed., “Yahweh,” pg. 1075. “Although the meaning of the name remains subject to debate, Yahweh is most likely a verbal form of Heb. haya (perhaps originally hwy)…Because of the utmost sanctity ascribed to the name, Jews from postexilic times on have declined to pronounce it in public reading, and only the consonants were written (YHWH; the Dead Sea Scrolls use the archaic, ‘paleo-Hebrew’ script). Although the original pronunciation was thus eventually lost, inscriptional evidence favors yahwae or yahwe. The name is represented in the MT by the consonants with the vowel pointing for ‘adonay ‘Lord.’ From this derived ca, the sixteenth century the form ‘Jehovah’ (yehowah). In modern usage pious Jews often substitute the expression has-sem ‘the Name.’”

The Journey from Texts to Translations, Paul D. Wegner, pg, 172, 173. “The scribes reasoned that if they did not point the name Yahweh then it could never be treated lightly since his name would not really be known. Initially the real pointing was probably passed along by tradition, but in time it was lost. In Exodus 20:7 the name Lord is written in capital letters according to the convention of signifying the name Yahweh, but the name as it appears in the Hebrew text is hwhy (yehowa), in which appear the consonants from the name Yahweh (hwhy [yhwh]) and the vowels from the word Lord (ynda [‘idonay]). Proof for the fabricated nature of this word are the two vowels which appear on the waw, an impossibility in Hebrew. However, until the revival of the Hebrew language in western Europe scholars read the consonants YHWH (Germans would read them as JHVH) with the vowels of ‘adonay, thereby originating the incorrect form Jehovah. This word was then introduced into English by William Tyndale and was continued by the King James Version.”

Understanding the Old Testament, Bernhard Anderson, “Definition: ‘Jehovah,’ ‘The Lord,’” pg. 61. “The personal divine name YHWH…has had an interesting history. In the Old Testament period the Hebrew language was written only with consonants; vowels were not added until the Common Era, when Hebrew was no longer a living language. On the basis of Greek texts, which of course use both vowels and consonants, it is believed that the original pronunciation of the name was Yahweh. Notice the shortened form of the divine name in the exclamation, ‘Halleluyah’ — ‘Praise Yah.’

“However, because of its holy character, the name Yahweh was withdrawn from ordinary speech during the period of the Second Temple (c. 500 B.C.E. and later) and the substitute word — actually a title not a personal name — Adonai, or (The) Lord, was used, as is still the practice in synagogues. Scholars who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek (the Septuagint) in the third century B.C.E. adopted this synagogue convention and rendered YHWH as (ho) kurios, ‘(The) Lord.’ From this Greek translation the practice was carried over into the New Testament.

“The word Jehovah is an artificial form that arose from the erroneous combination of the consonants YHWH with the vowels of Adonai — written under or over the Hebrew consonants to indicate that the substitute is to be pronounced. This hybrid form is often held to be the invention of Pater Galatin…but in actuality it can be traced back to a work by a certain Raymond Martin in 1270.”

For additional information on the Tetragrammaton, read our booklet, Your Father’s Name.

Also, watch our video, Does His Name Matter?

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