What’s in a name?
Words have great spiritual importance. God created the world with words, and rules over the world with words. The power of words is in their meaning, not so much in their pronunciation. I am often asked how the name of YHVH is pronounced (Yahweh or Yehovah)? The very question partly misses the point. There is no discussion in the Torah, the Prophets, or the New Covenant on how to pronounce the name.
A name is a word that describes a person. The names in the Bible had prophetic meaning. They described a person’s character, his destiny, his purpose. To the degree that we are looking at a name to have power by its sounds, we have fallen into superstition. However, when we seek to understand the spiritual significance of a name, we are touching the root of its power.
So if I were asked how to pronounce the name YHVH, I would like to respond: Exodus 34:5-7
And YHVH came down in a cloud and stood with him there and called upon the name YHVH. And YHVH crossed before His face and cried, “YHVH, merciful God and gracious, longsuffering and great in mercy and truth, keeping mercy to thousands…”
Thus the Angel YHVH declared to Moses the name and the meaning of the name on Mount Sinai. This is His full name, as it were, a list of character qualities. It was not a lesson on pronunciation; it was an explanation of God’s attributes and “personhood.”
This same Angel had earlier said to Moses: Exodus 6:3
I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as El Shaddai but by My name YHVH I was not known to them.
This statement does not mean that the people of Israel did not know of the name YHVH, nor how to pronounce it. It means that they had not received the full meaning of the name as it was revealed to them during the Exodus and at Sinai. Again the issue here is not one of pronunciation, but of revelation.
We know this because the letters and sound of the name were already known to mankind long before this, even at the time of Enosh.
Then men began to call upon the name of YHVH.
The early patriarchs knew how to call on the name YHVH, but they did not have the fullness of the meaning of that name. The revelation they had was of the meaning of the name El or Elohim. The root of the word in Hebrew for El means “power.” The patriarchs knew God as El Shaddai, the God of nature, provision, power, and protection.
At the time of Moses, the people of Israel received more revelation of God, concerning His judgment, redemption, and holiness. That’s what they learned at the Exodus – not a different way of pronouncing the letters.
The root of the name YHVH in Hebrew means “to be.” The letter V may well have been pronounced more like the sound W in ancient times. However, between the V or W pronunciation there is no difference in meaning, and therefore virtually no significance, in my opinion.
Biblical Hebrew was written only in consonants, as we see in the letters YHVH. Therefore, the main question of pronunciation concerns which vowel (points) to add to the consonants. The vowels can make a difference in the meaning. If we add the vowels – “e”-“o”-“a”- to the consonants, we receive the name YeHoVah.
In this format, the “e” (sh’va) stands for the future tense, the “o” (holom) for the present tense, and the “a” (patach) refers to the past tense. That gives meaning to the name YeHoVah as “He will be, He is, He was.” In other words, the Eternal One. This meaning fits the understanding of the early patriarchs.
If one chooses the pronunciation, YaHWeH, there is no particular sense to the vowel pattern. For that reason I see YeHoVaH as preferable. Yet there is another reason grammatically. Hebrew vowels change form depending on the number of syllables, and on where the syllables are located in the name.
If there is just one syllable, such as Yah, then the “a” vowel is correct. Or if the letters come at the end of the word, such as Eliyah (Elijah), then the “a” is also correct. However, when the vowel comes at the beginning with multiple syllables, it changes. This can easily be proved by checking a concordance of the Bible.
Such names as Yehoyachin or Yehoshua or Yehoyada or Yehoshaphat contain the same root letters as YHVH, in the same syllable arrangement. All of the names in this pattern display the vowels as “e”-“o”-“a.” If that same pattern is placed in the letters YHVH, we see the name again as Yehovah.
Since EVERY example of the YHVH root used in biblical names in this pattern shows the vowels as “e”-“o”-“a”, one would have to show some other overwhelming evidence, textually or grammatically, to choose a different pronunciation. There is no such other overwhelming documentation weighty enough to refute the biblical and grammatical evidence.
In summary, 1) the meaning of the vowels, 2) the grammatical form, and 3) the list of biblical examples, all point to Yehovah (or Yehowah) as the preferred pronunciation over Yahweh.
Pronunciation of the name, for mere pronunciation sake makes little difference. If it were an important issue, Yeshua or one of the apostles would have emphasized it. Religious cults in both the Jewish and Christian worlds have at times placed great emphasis on certain pronunciations, but that emphasis cannot be supported in Scripture. (For example, it is popular among some ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Jerusalem today to refer to YHVH as “D” [“daleth”]. Another rabbinic tradition holds that Yeshua performed miracles by “stealing” the pronunciation of the name YHVH from the Holy of Holies, writing it on a note and inserting it in His thigh [Toldot Yeshu, chapter 3].)
This pronunciation issue carries over into the name of Yeshua Himself. The name Yeshua is a shortened form of Yehoshua (Joshua). Yehoshua itself is a contraction of the words Yehovah Yoshia (Yehovah Saves). In other words, the name YHVH is contained INSIDE the name of Yeshua. This corresponds to the biblical prophecy: Exodus 23:20-21
Behold I send an Angel before you to keep you in the way…Be careful of Him and hear His voice…for My name is inside Him.
What an amazing prophecy: the name of YHVH would be contained in the name of the Angel who would lead the children of Israel. This Angel YHVH would have the power, character, and authority of the name of YHVH. In addition, the name of YHVH would be contained in the Angel’s name. Both dimensions of this prophecy were fulfilled when Yeshua received His name at birth. Some Christians and Messianic Jews today want to spell the Messiah’s name as Y’shua or Yahshua, while many modern Israelis refer to Him as Yeshu. All of those pronunciations are patently incorrect. The name Yeshua is found thirty (30) times in the Hebrew text of the post exilic history books of the Bible (like Ezra and Nehemiah).
Every single time the name is written Yeshua. The vowel point is a “tsere,” not a “patach,” “kamats,” or “sh’va”; not even a “segol.” There is always an “ayin” at the end of the name.
One could make an argument for transliterating the name as Yeishu’a, but certainly not Y’shua, Yahshua, or Yeshu.
Personally, I don’t care how someone pronounces His name. I only want to help my friends not to be taken captive by someone with a cultic, hypocritical, or phony intellectual spirit, telling you that you are wrong if you don’t pronounce it just the way they say (even when what they are telling you is not the correct pronunciation anyway). By contrast the seven Skeva brothers all pronounced the name of Yeshua perfectly, yet missed the meaning and authority of the name, and thus were overcome by Satan (Acts 19:14).
The wonderful part of the name of Yeshua is to know that there is revelatory meaning to His name, and that the name and authority of YHVH is found INSIDE His name. You don’t have to worry about how to pronounce YHVH, because YHVH is already contained in Yeshua. Or to rephrase an old advertising slogan, “When you’ve said Yeshua, you’ve said it all.”
I would summarize the revelation of the divine names this way: “El” stands for God’s power; “Yehovah” stands for His holiness, and “Yeshua” stands for His love. Those are the three general attributes of God: power, holiness, and love. God revealed His name (His character qualities) to mankind in three great progressive revelations.
God is all powerful, yet His power is controlled by His holiness. God is perfectly holy, yet His love overcame the holiness by offering us an opportunity to receive forgiveness (through the cross) long before the day of judgment and punishment comes.
Hallelujah! We knew Him first as Elohim. Then we knew Him better as Yehovah. Now we know Him best of all in Yeshua. In Him the power, holiness, and love of God all come together in a full and perfect balance. That’s the name above all names (Phil. 2:9), and the only name by which mankind can be saved (Acts 4:12).
©April 12, 2007 Asher Intrater