"The Lord," "Jehovah"

RESEARCH: "The Lord," "Jehovah"

How God's name is translated into English

Research Assistant to the Book Editor, Review and Herald

The July, 1950, installment of THE MINISTRY J. article by S. H. Horn (page 34) mentions a curious fact about one of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls: In the Commentary on Habakkuk the name of God familiar to us in the form Jehovah is written in a peculiar script, a more ancient form than the rest of the manuscript, as can be seen clearly in the published text (Hab. 2:2, 13, 14, 16). He also mentions that several of the fragments found in the same cave do the same with the word El, God. These words stand out as noticeably as does an italic word in the midst of ordinary type.

The special respect for the name of God as evidenced in these ancient manuscripts became even more marked in later times, until the Jews would not presume even to pronounce the sacred word JHWH, the personal name of God. Consequently, they eventually forgot how it sounded! As a result of this (though for another reason than reverence) our English Authorized Version to this day prints the translation of this word in a special type a curious fact which most people do not notice in reading.

This is how it came about: The original He brew word translated LORD in this King James Version is JHWH, known as "the Tetragrammaton." When the Jews came to this name in reading they avoided pronouncing the sacred syllables, and substituted another word, Adonai (Lord). Since the Hebrew alphabet has no vowel letters, and the points indicating vowel sounds were not introduced until after the pronunciation of JHWH was forgotten, linguists are not certain of it to this day. One attempt to restore it (about 1500) led to the form Jehovah. This form, which appears occasionally in the Authorized Version, is used habitually in the British and American Revised versions, but today we find Yahweh, Yahwe, and Jahweh, used by various scholars.

The Authorized Version and the British Version follow the example of the Jews, who pronounced it Adonai; they translate it almost without exception as LORD. When the word is translated from JHWH, both these versions give it in small capitals as LORD. In other places (not from JHWH) the word appears in ordinary form, "lord," or "Lord," as in Genesis 19:18; Numbers 11:28; Joshua 13:3; and 1 Kings 1:2. Thus to get the actual force of the original we may read Jehovah whenever we see LORD in the Authorized Version or the British Revised Version. Jehovah, indeed, is what we find printed in the American Standard Version (the Standard American Edition of the Revised Version of the Bible).

To us "the Lord" sounds adequate to express the meaning "God," since we are steeped in the concept of only one God as Lord of all. But in the Old Testament setting, with "gods many and lords many" contesting the supremacy of the one God of the Hebrews, the personal name of the true God is often much stronger than "the Lord." The Israelites on Mount Carmel, witnessing the defeat of Baal (whose name also means Lord) before Elijah's blazing altar, were in no doubt at all as to which lord they meant when they shouted, "The LORD, he is the God!" They were saying, "Jehovah, he is God!" Not Baal, but Jehovah.

God thus personally identified Himself in the preface to the Ten Commandments: "I am Jehovah thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt."

"I Jehovah thy God," is what He really says in the second commandment.

"Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain. . . . The seventh day is the Sabbath of Jehovah thy God: . . . for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth."

"I am Jehovah: that is my name," He declared to Isaiah. Isa. 42:8.

For discussions of the name of God see the Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary oh the words Tetragrammaton, Jehovah, Adonai; also Young's Analytical Concordance on Jehovah, Lord; and Clarke's Commentary on Genesis 2:4. For reproductions o£ the manuscripts mentioned by Horn, see The Dead Sea Scrolls of St. Mark's Monastery, vol. 1, edited by Millar Burrows, plates LVII, LIX, LX; The Illustrated London News, Oct. 1, 1949, p. 494, fig. 6.

 

 


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Research Assistant to the Book Editor, Review and Herald

December 1951

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