Yahweh, Jehovah, Adonai
What Is the Difference?
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What is the difference between Yahweh, Jehovah, and Adonai? People have very different ideas about pronouncing Biblical Hebrew. The Hebrew word יהוה (the tetragrammaton) provides a clear example of the differences in pronunciation. Remember to read Hebrew from right to left. Ancient Hebrew manuscripts do not contain vowels, which are written above and below the consonants in Hebrew. People learned to speak the words by adding vowels which someone else taught them. Tradition paved the way for pronunciation. In the Middle Ages, the Masoretes added vowels to the Old Testament words. The Masoretes added many marks to the text and marginal notes to help people pronounce the Hebrew text. They were not inspired.
Some people added three vowels to יהוה and came up with the term Jehovah. The cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses loves the term Jehovah, which has German roots for its pronunciation of the first letter as a J. The King James Bible used the term Jehovah in Genesis 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2; 26:4 and never used the term Yahweh. Some people claim the term Jehovah comes from adding the vowels from the Hebrew word Adonai (אֲדֹנָי–meaning Lord) to יהוה, producing Jehovah. Some evidence suggests that the term Jehovah was unknown until 1520, when Galatinus coined it, amidst opposition.
Other people thought it was better to add the vowels producing Yahweh or Yahway. One old Hebrew lexicon observes that the texts of Theodoret and Epiphanius favor יַהְוֶךְ in contracted form to produce “Yah.” Today, some people see יַהְוֶה as related to the Hiphil (Hebrew stem) form, meaning One Bringing To Life, or Life Giver (taking the Hiphil as causative). Other people see it related to a Qal (Hebrew stem) form, yielding the One Who Is. some people see a play on words in Exodus 3:14 supporting the pronunciation “Yahweh.” Needless to say, a wide variety of opinions about the proper pronunciation of יהוה remain. Your pronunciation will depend upon your training and experience.
To complicate matters further, modern Hebrew pronounces vowels and consonants differently from Biblical Hebrew. Even among grammars and lexicons for Biblical Hebrew, the pronunciations differ.
The proper pronunciation of the term יהוה remains at issue, but Yahweh most appeals to me because of my training and experience. Yours may be different. We have the text for all to study and pronounce as they deem best.
Some translations today wrongly follow the Jewish tradition of never saying the Name Yahweh and so change Scripture to read “LORD” where יהוה appears in the inspired text. No one familiar with Biblical Hebrew would think that the English word LORD constitutes a correct transliteration of יהוה. Based solely upon Jewish tradition, some people today adamantly object to saying Yahweh out loud. Because God told Moses to use the Name יהוה with the people of Israel and the Egyptians, including Pharaoh (Exodus 6:2-3; 7:16; 10:7-8), the Scriptures must be followed and all human traditions contradicting the Scriptures abandoned. Furthermore, saying the Names Jesus and Holy Spirit certainly have Scriptural support (for examples, Luke 23:42 and Acts 1:16). Therefore, when some people claim the Name יהוה is too holy to pronounce, they take a swipe at Jesus and the Holy Spirit by freely pronouncing their Names (see Saying Yahweh).