Q&A: Jehovah ???

Jehovah ???

Question

I have a question for you about something a JW told me.  He said that the word Jehovah was replaced with Lord in many places when it came to translatiion. is that true or not? can you give me some references to look up.  

Answer

Most English translations do not use the word "Jehovah" at all. Instead, they use the word "Lord." Often, they distinguish this from other words translated "lord" by putting translations of "Jehovah" in all caps ("LORD") or small caps ("LORD").

There are two main reasons for this. One is that in conservative Hebrew tradition, the name of God was never spoken. They avoided speaking the name of God in order to avoid accidentally mispronouncing it and thereby dishonoring God. Rather, when canters and readers would come upon the name of God in Scripture, they would either say "Adonai" (which means "lord") or "hashem" (which means "the name").

The second reason is that "Jehovah" is a rather poor translation. As all words in Hebrew Old Testament, God's name in the Old Testament is written in consonants only. Ancient Hebrew did not use vowels in writing. Of course, they used vowels when speaking, but in their writing they did not bother to include them. So, the spelling of God's name in the Old Testament is YHWH. (For a bit of trivia, the letters spelling God's name are known as "the tetragrammaton" meaning "the set of four letters.") Anyway, since no one ever spoke God's name, they eventually forgot what it was supposed to sound like when spoken. Modern scholars generally agree that it was probably pronounced "Yahweh."

So, where did the word "Jehovah" come from? Here's the story: As I have mentioned, in ancient times the Hebrews did not include vowels in their written texts (not just of the Bible — they didn't have any vowels in any of their written texts). But later, a group called the Masoretes, who began their work around A.D. 500 or 600 and continued it for hundreds of years, determined that it would be helpful to record the vowels also. So, they created Old Testament Hebrew texts that included "vowel pointing." Vowel pointing takes the form of tiny marks above, below, or inside the traditional Hebrew consonant letters. The vowel pointing tells the reader which vowels to pronounce after the pointed consonant. The Masoretes wrote in this way because they wanted to preserve the original text without alteration. They put the vowel pointing near the consonants so that they would not have to move any of the original letters. For example, a short "a" sound would be indicated by a small mark that looked a bit like underlining written under the consonant. A short "i" sound would be indicated by a small dot under the consonant, and so on.

Here's where it gets interesting: Remember that these vowel pointings were created to help people speak the words properly (they are completely unnecessary for silent reading). So, what do you do with the name of God? First, no one knows how to say it in the first place. Second, even if you know how to say it, you're not supposed to. So, in the Masoretic text, the vowel points for "Adonai" were added around the consonants of God's name. This was to remind people that instead of pronouncing the divine name, they were supposed to say the word "Adonai." In my copy of the Masoretic text, the name of God is typically written "YeHWaH." The first "e" comes from the "half-vowel" that appears as the first "a" in "Adonai." The "o" isn't normally written in the modern pointed text (I'm not sure if it normally appeared in the ancient Masoretic texts). The "a" is the last vowel in the Hebrew word "Adonai," since in Hebrew the "i" is actually a "y" ("Adonay"). Now, throw in the fact that the "w" can also be pronounced or written as "v," and you get YeHVaH. Then throw in the fact that the "y" is commonly turned into a "j" in when translating from Hebrew, and you get "JeHVaH. (Compare the name "Javan" in Genesis 10:4, which in Hebrew appears as "YaWaN.") Add the missing middle vowel from "Adonai," and you get "JeHoVaH" or "Jehovah."

Of course, no one actually ever said "Jehovah" in Hebrew. But apparently not everyone who translated those texts into other languages knew that. So, at some point, I'm not sure precisely when, some translator accidentally combined the consonants from "YHWH" and the vowels from "Adonai" and ended up with "Jehovah." In summary, "Jehovah" is not God's name in the Hebrew Bible. And it is a rather poor "translation" of his name in other languages. This is why most Bible's prefer the translation "Lord" over the odd but familiar "Jehovah." Even so, they typically use a different font for the word "Lord" when it translates the divine name, in order to indicate to modern readers that YHWH actually appears in the Hebrew text. This method preserves the accuracy of the translation, as well as the tradition of not mispronouncing God's name.

YHWH ("LORD")

For instance, here's Genesis 2:4 (the first place YHWH appears in the Old Testament):

King James Version Genesis 2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,

New American Standard Bible Genesis 2:4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.

New International Version Genesis 2:4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens--

New Revised Standard Version Genesis 2:4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,

New Word Translation (Jehovah's Witness version) Genesis 2:4 This is a history of the heavens and the earth in the time of their being created, in the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven.

In the four standard English translations, the divine name YHWH is translated "LORD," while in the JW version it is translated "Jehovah." Using ALL CAPS versus SMALL CAPS is an editorial decision the publisher makes. In any given Bible, the use should be consistent. Either it is always ALL CAPS, or it is always SMALL CAPS.

Adonai ("Lord")

When only the first letter of "Lord" is capitalized (Initial Caps), then it is usually a translation of the word "Adonai," and it refers to God. For instance:

KJV Genesis 15:2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?

NASB Genesis 15:2 Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"

NIV Genesis 15:2 But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?"

NRSV Genesis 15:2 But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"

NWT (JW) Genesis 15:2 At this A┤bram said: "Sovereign Lord Jehovah, what will you give me, seeing that I am going childless and the one who will possess my house is a man of Damascus, Eòliòe┤zer?"

Here the Hebrew name for God is "Adonai YHWH." So, in the KJV, NASB and NRSV, "Lord" translates "Adonai," and GOD (notice the ALL CAPS) translates YHWH. The NIV is a bit different, preferring "Sovereign" for "Adonia" and "LORD" for YHWH. The NWT uses "Jehovah" for YHWH, as it normally does, and "Sovereign Lord" for "Adonai."

adon ("lord")

When the word "lord" appears without any capitalization, then it usually doesn't refer to God. It is typically a translation of a word that means "ruler" or "master," such as "adon" or even "baal." For example, Sara called Abraham "lord" ("adon") because it was a term of respect for her husband.

KJV Genesis 18:12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

NASB Genesis 18:12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"

NIV Genesis 18:12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"

NRSV Genesis 18:12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?"

NWT (JW) Genesis 18:12 Hence Sarah began to laugh inside herself, saying: "After I am worn out, shall I really have pleasure, my lord being old besides?"

Notice that while the KJV, NASB and even NWT use "lord," the NIV prefers "master" and the NRSV simply says "husband."

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.