YHWH: The Lost Pronunciation

YHWH: The Lost Pronunciation

By Jaymark Molo

It is the writer’s joy to report you that the debate ended in a peaceful manner,[1] but there are some points thattetragrammaton are worthy to be examined and emphasized. Consequently, the following arguments were advance to make healthy responses to the notable claims of the Congregation (Assembly) of Yahweh. Consequently, this paper is just a mere reflection to the arguments presented on yesterday’s debate on the topic of true pronunciation of YHWH as Yahweh, the Tetragrammaton. Thus, the writer believes that the affirmative side arguments can only become successful if the latter conditions can be met first biblically and historically as sound. These are the following loopholes that needed reasonable substantiations and careful considerations:

I. Before going to the verses[2] that talks about the name of God as necessity to the requirements of salvation; they must prove to us first that these texts contextually pertains to YHWH and try to provide evidences that proves that correct pronunciation of YHWH is Yahweh alone.[3]

The affirmative side simply begs the question by using numerous verses that mentions the name of God without proving to us first that these texts pertain to YHWH and have something to do with correct pronunciation of YHWH as Yahweh.[4] Like for instance, they employed Romans 10:13 to support their belief that if you mispronounce the name of the Lord you will not be saved, however, Paul did not say in 10:13 that “for everyone who mispronounces the name of the Lord will not be saved” nor “for everyone who got the correct pronunciation of the Lord will be saved” but simply “for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” that is to say, “if you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raise Him from the dead, you will be saved” (v. 9). Surely, the immediate context has nothing to do with mispronouncing the name of the Lord as a result of loss of salvation.[5]

II. Before jumping into conclusion that we are profaning the name of the Lord through mispronouncing it; they must prove to us first that the issue of profaning the name of the Lord in the Scriptures is actually through mispronouncing it.

The affirmative side loves to assert that we are profaning the name of the Lord if we happen to mispronounce it. They validated their view through the use of human analogy; their analogy goes this way, “ let us say that your original name is “Melvin” and I mispronounce your name as “Milven”—will you be happy if I did?” Their resounding answer is No! This can also be applied to the mispronunciation that is happening to the name of God (YHWH), they argued. “God is not happy if His people are mispronouncing His holy name: YHWH.” Unfortunately, this argument can become triumphant only in the horizontal (human) plane, at least. However, if one will look at the biblical grounds of this argument—it will be found lacking. The issue of misusing the name of the LORD in Exodus 20:7 is primarily related in the word “in vain” it can be translated as “iniquity,” “falsehood,” “vanity,” “emptiness.”[6] In the Old Testament, bringing dishonour on God’s name was done by failing to perform an oath or vow taken in His name (Lev. 19:12);[7] (2) They were also to be careful not to use his name irreverently, such as when cursing in anger (cf. Lev 24:16).[8] Thus, “to inculcate reverence is the chief purpose of the third commandment (see Ps. 111:9; Eccl. 5:1, 2).”[9] To make an illustration outside in the scope of the Scripture is not safe for we might use the name of the Lord in vain by using vain-human illustrations.

III. Before claiming that the Old Testament allusions to New Testament were wrong on translating YHWH into KURIOUS[10] (on some cases THEOS); they must attest to us first the reasonableness of primacy of Aramaic of Peshitta.

The affirmative side advocates the “Primacy of Aramaic Peshitta”, or the view that the Christian New Testament and/or its sources were originally written in the Aramaic language. However, their side hastily labelled the translation from YHWH into KURIOUS as erroneous without proving to us first the primacy of Aramaic of Peshitta and disproving that Greek Text has primacy over Aramaic of Peshitta.[11] Thus, scholars today have general consensus that “the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, the Greek of daily conversation. The fact that from the first all the New Testament writings were written in Greek is conclusively demonstrated by their citations from the Old Testament.”[12]

IV. Before claiming to us that Greek New Testament writers were guilty of employing some pagan words (i.e., Theos, Heaven); they should demonstrate to us first the consistency of denunciation with the usages of Hebrew Old Testament pagan associated words (i.e., Elohim,[13] Baal,[14] etc).

Let me put my arguments in a systematic way:

Statement A: The Greek New Testament writers used pagan words and associated it to God (i.e., Theos, etc).

Statement B: The Hebrew Old Testament writers employed some pagan words and associate it to God (Elohim, Baal, etc).

Statement C (Consistency): If will denounce statement A, then it is also reasonable to reject statement B in practice.

 Statement D (Inconsistency): I will only denounce statement A, but not statement B in practice.

Remarkably the affirmative side agree to statements A, B and D. Therefore, their arguments on pagan association can be found incurably inconsistent.[15]

 V. Before giving us the certainty that the correct pronunciation of YHWH is Yahweh; they must face first the historical fact that post-exilic Jews ceased to use the name YHWH that eventually lead them to forget the true pronunciation of YHWH.

This is a well established fact,[16] but in the debate this fact was well ignored. This is the historical fact that they need to face: “The Jews considered the name YHWH so sacred that they would not pronounce it even when reading the Scriptures, lest they inadvertently profane the name of the Lord. Instead of Yahweh, they read ’Ad̃nay. Thus the true pronunciation of YHWH had been lost centuries before the time of the Masoretes.[17]

VI. Before using some other references except the Scripture; they should re-check their resources if their extra-biblical references contextually agree to them.

Most of the affirmative side’s resources can be found misquoted, therefore, misused. Like for instance, they find irresistible to quote the SDA Bible Commentary on this matter, quoting: “And the name above all others that was looked upon as the name, the personal name of God, was Yahweh.”[18] While we certainly agree with this, however, we will find that this is a conjectural reading; a closer look at the context will inform us “that Jews considered the title YHWH so sacred that they would not pronounce it even when reading the Scriptures… Consequently, the true pronunciation of YHWH, not thought to have been Yahweh, was lost.”[19] This conjectural attempt of the affirmative side will be lost if they will not see that the true pronunciation of YHWH was lost in this context.

VII. Lastly, before explaining to the 21st century believers today that it is a sin to mispronounce the name of the LORD (YHWH); they should be able to explain to us first the eloquence of silence of Jesus’ disciples (including Jesus Himself) to the issue of the replacement that happened.

Frank Holbrook emphatically concludes the matter:

If it is wrong to refer to the Saviour as Jesus, then all the apostolic writers of the New Testament stand indicted. None of them ever use Yeshûa’ (or Yahshûa’ as some choose to spell the name). On the contrary, they preached and wrote in the name of the Lord Jesus (Kurios Iēsous) or some variation of that expression (see Acts 16:31; 1 Thess.1:1;Phil. 3:8).[20]

Thus, it is the writer’s hope to contend the views presented on the debate by asking the affirmative side to meet all these conditions before their argument can have a real bearing. If and only if  the conditions (see, above) can be satisfied, then we say that their arguments really have merits, but if not, then, let the truth remain truth to educate and let the Holy Spirit become Holy Spirit to convict.

[1] The friendly debate was held at Tagaytay, Mendez Seventh-day Adventist Church happened in December 21, 2013 between two respected debaters, namely, LJ Niones (in the side of Seventh-day Adventist) and Fretz Alcade (in the side of Assembly of Yahweh) with the topic of lost pronunciation of YHWH. The url link of the video debate will be given as soon as the video has been posted.

[2] Romans 10:13, Acts 4:12, etc.

[3] Some state dogmatically that the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHWH was originally pronounced “Yahweh.” See, J. Barton Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publ. House, 1962), p. 147. See also, Julian Obermann, “The Divine Name YHWH in the Light of Recent Discoveries,” Journal of Biblical Literature 68 (1949): 301–23; B. Alfrink, Theologische Zeitschrift 5 (1949), pp. 72ff; B. Alfrink, B. D. Eerdmans and G. J. Thierry, Oudtestamentische Studien 5 (1948): 1–62; W. Zimmerli, I Am Yahweh (1982). Some would still use Yahweh but reveals uncertainty with the origin, see:     Others say that it should be rendered ‘Iabe or ‘Iao or Jaho. See, Gustave F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publ. House, n.d.), pp. 92-93. Paul J. Achtemeier reasonably states: “The origin of the name Yahweh (usually translated ‘Lord’ in English Bibles) remains uncertain.” [Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985), p. 685.]

[4] Here are the list: Yahueh (ya-hu-eh); Iahueh (i-a-hu-eh); Yahuah (ya-hu-ah); Iahuah (ia-hu-ah); Yahevahe (yah-e-va-he); Iahevahe (ia-he-va-he); Yohwah (yoh-wah); Iohwah (i-oh-wah); Yohweh (yoh-weh); Iohweh (i-oh-weh); Yahwah (yah-wah); Iahwah (i-ah-wah); Yehwah (yeh-wah); Iehwah (i-eh-wah); Yehweh (yeh-weh); Iehweh (i-eh-weh); Yahweh (yah-weh); Iahweh (i-ah-weh); Yahwe (yah-we); Iahwe (i-ah-we); Yahohewah (yah-o-he-wah); Iahohewah (i-a-ho-he-wah); Yahuwah (ya-hu-wah); Iahuwah (i-a-hu-wah); Yahveh (yah-veh); Yehveh (yeh-veh); Yahohevah (yah-o-he-vah); Jove (ho-ve); Jehovah (je-ho-vah); Iehovah (i-eh-ho-vah).

[5] However, the affirmative side might still press the question: “How can you confess and call in the name of the Lord if you do not know the correct pronunciation of His name?” The writer can plainly reply: “That is not the concern of the text. Even Paul did not use YHWH (יְהוָ֖ה) to designate as the name of the LORD, but he used KYRIOU (Κυρίου) instead. Interestingly, he could have retained the rendering of YHWH in Joel 2:32, but he simply did not.”

[6] Francis D. Nichol, The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 1 (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978), p. 603.

[7] Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary (Louisville: Westminster, 1974), p. 410. Douglas K Stuart reasonably comments: “the primary meaning of ‘misuse the name of the Lord’ (nāśāh šēm yahweh, lit., “raise up Yahweh’s name for no good”) would appear to be invoking his name as guarantor of one’s words.” (Exodus The New American Commentary 2 [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007], p. 455)

[8] Donald C. Fleming, Concise Bible Commentary (Chattanooga, Tenn: AMG Publishers, 1994), p. 38.

[9] Francis D Nichol, p. 603.

[10] Compare Psalms 117:1 (“O praise the Lord [YHWH], all ye nations”) and Romans 15:11( “Praise the Lord [Kurios], all ye Gentiles”).

[11] See the following works that defends the Greek Primacy, Bruce M. Metzger and Bart D. Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Madion Avenue, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992). See also, Archibald Macbride Hunter, Introducing the New Testament (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Press, 1972); Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Daniel B. Wallace Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) page not known.

[12] Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1995), p. 52.

[13] Sam 5:7; 1 Kgs 11:33; 18:24; 1 Kgs 11:5.

[14]  Isaiah 54:5; Joel 1:8.

[15] If they really want to become consistent, they should also refrain from using Yahweh or Yah for this name has been associated to pagan: “”A letter found in a mound northwest of the modern town of Ta’annek written in the fifth century B.C. proves that ‘Yah’ was a deity of the Canaanites. Yah is associated with the Canaanitish Mother-goddess, Ashtart-Anat as seen by the Father-Mother titles of the deity of the Jews at Elephantine. There, the title of Anat-Yaw is seen as well as Ashim-Bethel and Afat-Bethel where the titles of Astarte are combined with the Sun-god, Bethel. At Gaza, Yah appears as a Sun-god on a coin and coins were frequently inscribed with the figure of Ashtart-Yaw, Anat-Yaw, and Anat-Bethel, which corresponds to the Phoenician Melk-Ashtart and Eshmun-Ashtart.” George Foot Moore, Louis Herbert Gray, John Arnott MacCulloch, The Mythology Of All Races, Vol. 5 (Charleston, South Carolina: Nabu Press), p. 44. “Yahweh appears to have been originally a sky god – a god of thunder and lightning. He was associated with mountains and was called by the enemies of Israel ‘a god of the hills’. His manifestation was often as fire, as at Mount Sinai and in the burning bush.” Bruce Metzger, Great Events of Bible Times: New Perspectives on the People, Places, and History of the Biblical World (New York: Doubleday, 1987),

[16] “The correct pronunciation of the tetragrammaton was gradually lost.”Toorn K. van der ; Bob Becking, Bob ; Horst, Pieter Willem van der: Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible Leiden; Boston; Grand Rapids, Mich. : Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), p.  910. David Noel Freedman said it right, when he argued that “the pronunciation of yhwh as Yahweh is a scholarly guess. Hebrew biblical mss were principally consonantal in spelling until well into the current era. The pronunciation of words was transmitted in a separate oral tradition.”[David Noel Freedman: The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), p. 1012, emphasis mine]

[17] Don F. Neufeld, Yahweh, Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (Hagerstown, MD : Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1995).

[18] Francis Nichol, p. 172.

[19] Ibid.

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