Q & A Series – Concerning Yahweh, God’s Covenant Name:

Where does the Hebrew word Yahweh originate?

 

By Craig Bluemel

 

 

From: George

To: craig@bibleanswerstand.org

Subject: Who's God?

 

Hi Craig,

 

It was so nice for me to find somewhere on the Internet, where I can learn more about the Creator of this world.  Yesterday, on your website, I read an article that describes the root word origin for the Hebrew name of God in the Old Testament, depicting ‘Yahweh,’ as derived from, ‘ehyeh,’ and portrays an explanation much different from my previous knowledge and understanding.  Someone at the International Bible Society told me that God's name is written as ‘Yahweh’ in the English translation, but not in the early Hebrew version; this person said the vowels in ‘Yahweh’ were added at a later date.

 

To the person that gave me this explanation, I asked, “Who added the vowels and for what reason?”  Until just now, upon reading the article posted on your website, I had not been provided with an answer.  I have never heard about the word ehyeh before; is this an English or a Hebrew word?  Whatever the case, why was it derived to Yahweh and by whom?

 

In the article I read, you provided numerical codes by each of the different names of God; for example, the Hebrew word, ‘Elah,’ corresponds to the number OT: 462.  Would you please explain to me the meaning and use for these numbers?

 

I’m looking forward to your response because, as a disciple of Jesus, I hunger for the truth and nothing satisfies except the Bread of Life.

 

Following Jesus~

George

 

 

Craig’s Reply & Answers

 

 

Hi bro George!

 

Your questions are well conceived and your search for linguistic documentation is commendable.  Your present overall scope of biblical knowledge is at the stage where you should seriously consider some good scripture study tools.  I will attempt to provide a basic framework for your future studies of scripture and at the same time, I will be answering your questions.  Your approach is known as, ‘etymological,’ and pertains to the derivation of words.  Any serious student of scripture is by association, an etymologist at heart.  You asked:

 

1.      In the article I read, you provided numerical codes by each of the different names of God; for example, the Hebrew word, ‘Elah,’ corresponds to the number OT: 462.  Would you please explain to me the meaning and use for these numbers?

 

The numbers correspond to those found in Strong's Exhaustive Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary.  In 1890, the original author was Mr. James Strong finished this amazing book, providing us with a simple, chronological number system to supplement studying scripture.  The main concordance includes both Old and New Testament words in alphabetical sequence, with every English word in the Bible from A thru Z formatted in word columns and listed in its contextual setting, depending on your format (i.e. – hardbound book or Bible software).  Corresponding to each English word, also in columns is the book of the Bible, including chapter and verse (e.g. – Exodus 3:14).  Finally, in yet another column list, Strong’s marks the numerical value for each English word.

 

2.      I have never heard about the word ehyeh before; is this an English or a Hebrew word?

 

3.      Whatever the case, why was it derived to Yahweh and by whom?

 

The entire Old Testament was originally penned in Hebrew with a few parts written in Aramaic; whereas the New Testament, for the most part, was written in the Greek language, and its writers made use of the Greek dialect known as, ‘Koine.”  Hebrew is like other languages in that certain nouns and verbs are considered primary, thereby the ‘root’ word from which other words are developed.  The word ehyeh (pronounced ‘aye-ah’) is an English transliterated cognate of the same Hebrew root as Yahweh, verb hayah meaning, ‘to be or to exist, or self-existence.’  It is remotely similar to the Latin based word, ‘being,’ (as in a human ‘being,’ or the human ‘existence’).  Translating directly from an ancient language to another can be tricky, difficult, and is never 100% accurate.

 

Translating directly from one language to another involves finding the word (in this case English) that best describes the language you are trying to decipher or define.  On the other hand, transliteration transcribes something into another alphabet, using a letter or word to represent what is written in one alphabet by using the corresponding letter or letters of another, so that the ‘sound’ of the letter or word remains approximately the same.  For example, in the Greek New Testament, the Greek word baptízo is transliterated into English as the word ‘baptize.’  Transliteration does not always work best; because it may or may not accurate represent the meaning of the original language.

 

Yahweh is simply a grammatical variation of ehyeh; ehyeh is first person singular, whereas Yahweh is third person singular.  Because Yahweh is grammatically noted as third person singular for Yahweh, it means, “He is,” whereas ‘ehyeh,’ being in the first person means, “I am.” 

Therefore, when humans discuss God’s name, the usage is Yahweh, meaning, “He is,” whereas when Yahweh Himself speaks, only HE can rightfully claim ownership in the first person singular construction, saying, “I AM.”

 

 

The Septuagint was commonly available and used by Jews during the lifetime of Jesus because the entire Roman Empire used Koine Greek as its primary national language, just as English is fast becoming the global standard today.  This major Greek version is called the Septuagint (meaning, ‘seventy’) because of the legend that the Torah was translated in the 3rd century BC by 72 scholars.  The legend is probably accurate in several respects: The first Greek translation included only the Torah, and it was done in Alexandria in the 3rd century BC.  Eventually the remaining Hebrew Scriptures were translated, but obviously, they were translated by other scholars whose skills and viewpoints differed.

 

As a result, the Jews of that period sought after a Hebrew Bible for benefit of everyone in synagogue could understand, due mainly to the decline of spoken Hebrew, then spoken by very few, mostly scribes, rabbis, and pockets of communities of Jews scattered in many places.  Consequently, the Septuagint is the Hebrew Old Testament translated in Greek and it played a key role in the changes made to the Hebrew name for God (i.e. – using the Tetragrammaton, YHWH to replace ‘Yahweh’ & omitting Yahweh altogether).

 

As a spoken language, ancient Hebrew is much different than in its written form.  God revealed himself by His personal Name to Moses as, “I AM THAT I AM,” (ehyeh asher ehyeh); this was done after He delivered the Hebrews (Israel) out of slavery in Egypt.  His Name signifies who He is and the unique relationship He enjoined with Israel, setting them apart from the pseudo-deities of all other ethnic people, or nations.

 

By giving His Name as the sustain to affirm His covenant of promise on behalf of His people, notably Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:14); He gave the Law to Moses, (who could actually read and disseminate its statutes to the Hebrew people), but Moses was also an educated man, having been raised in the household of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s. 

 

The word ‘Tetragrammaton’ (YHWH) is the woefully inadequate Greek word used to describe the name of the Almighty God.  It is a sad illustration showing the magnanimous extent of Hellenistic influence upon the Jews of that period, which later became pervasive in Christendom.  Perhaps the most influential figures of the time included the intellectual rabbis, who were schooled in Alexandria, the hub for Greek philosophical and religious contemplation.

 

 Alexandria was a metropolitan founded on the principle of mystic elitist ideology, where Jewish religious tradition was mingled with Neo-Platonism under the guise of Philonic Judaism and where Greco-Roman pantheism’s ‘mystery religions’ were given birth.  It is probable before his conversion that Saul, (who was renamed the apostle Paul), was educated in Alexandria under the famous Jewish scholar Gamaliel, whose teachings embraced precepts promulgated by Philo.  Philo was a Jewish rabbinical teacher-philosopher-theologian, who created a body of doctrinal writings, which contained his interpretation of the Pentateuch solely thru the tainted filter of Plato’s philosophical theory about ‘form’ (morphe) and reason (logos). 

 

Philo integrated the terms, ‘pre-incarnate logos, hypostasis, morphe, of wisdom & reason, etc’ into the Genesis account of creation, which later in time was used by the Roman Catholic Church scholars to develop false doctrines such as Logos Christology, describing Jesus as a hypostatic union of the human and divine, a deified anthropomorphism and deity in the Catholic triad of gods (i.e. – the Trinity).

 

These philosophical Jewish rabbis and teachers swayed mainstream Judaic thought, and amongst the Jewish communities, eventually, it became unlawful for all Jews to pronounce the Tetragrammaton (or the name of four letters Y-H-W-H).  Whenever that name occurred in their scriptures, they substituted the name 'Adonaay in its place.  It was held by the later Jews to be so sacred that it was never pronounced except by the high priest on the great Day of Atonement, and only when he entered into the most holy place.  Whenever this name occurred in the sacred books, they pronounced it, as they still do, "Adonai" (i.e., Lord), thus using another word in its stead.  The Massorets gave the vowel points which they esteemed appropriate; of course, this theory is up for debate. 

 

Even today, Jews maintain that the true pronunciation is utterly lost, and none of them endeavor to utter it. This Jewish practice was founded on a false interpretation of Leviticus 24:16.  The amplified meaning of the word ehyeh appears in Exodus 3:14, rendered in one version as, “the unchanging, eternal, self-existent {One},” or the English translation, “I am that I am," a covenant-keeping God.  (Compare Malachi 3:6; Hosea 12:5.)

 

The Hebrew transliterated name "Yehowah" (Hebrew has no corresponding ‘J’ or ‘V’) is generally translated in most Bibles by the word ‘lord’ printed in small capitals, to distinguish it from the rendering of the Hebrew ‘Adonai’ and the Greek ‘Kúrios,’ which are also rendered ‘Lord,’ but printed in the usual type. 

 

Bible versions that make this error are the King James Authorized Version (lord), New King James Version (lord), New International Version (lord), New American Standard Bible (lord), New American Standard Bible - Updated Edition (lord), Revised Standard Version (lord), and the Amplified Bible (lord), Douay Rheims Version (god).

 

Other Bible versions use the Anglicized word, ‘Jehovah’ to represent the Hebrew ‘Yahweh’ (from the Hebrew transliterated form as, ‘Yehowah’ or ‘Yahowah’); these Bibles include the American Standard Version, Darby Bible, and Young's Literal Translation Bible.

 

Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible translates ‘Yahweh’ as ‘Yahweh’ throughout the entire Old Testament, which is one reason it is a favorite for me.  One last note worth mentioning is the Septuagint, which never uses God’s covenant name Yahweh, nor is it found in the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Apocrypha, or in the New Testament.  Ironically, it is etched on the Moabite stone and consequently in the days of Mesba, it must have been so commonly pronounced by the Hebrews enough that it was noticed and familiar to their heathen neighbors.

 

In closing, I want to refer you to one of my articles online, because it will be of great benefit to you, and used as a guide to build your OWN study techniques.  It is found in the section titled Craig’s Studies, and the name of this important article is: ‘How To Do a Study of Scripture?’  You see I would rather teach you how to study the scriptures yourself, by learning the basic principles of applied hermeneutics.  This fancy word is a long-winded way of saying, “Applied rules of interpretation.” 

 

I think I have addressed all of your questions, so it’s time for me to answer other people’s questions.  God bless you brother!

 

Craigo (my nickname)

 

Craig Bluemel - The Bible Answer Stand Ministry

1 Peter 3:15 Always be ready to give a logical defense to anyone who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, but do it courteously and respectfully.   

 

 


 

Return to BAS Homepage   ·   Craig's Bible Studies   ·   E-mail Craig   ·   Write Us   ·   Writings & Links to BAS Friends   ·   Q & A   ·   Return to Top of This Page