YAHWEH OR JEHOVAH?
Why does a debate exist over how this special name of God should be pronounced? The reason is both simple and complex. Old Testament Hebrew was written using only consonants. There were no written vowels, and a reader was expected to add the appropriate vowel sounds. Thus, this special name of God was written YHWH. But by the time the name was translated into English, the original pronunciation had been lost.
The reason, however, for the confusion is more complicated. Around A.D.1100, a group of Jewish scholars produced what is known as the Massoretic text. In this document, the scholars added a series of vowels to the Hebrew text, the vowels being represented by various placements of dots.
The special name of God was so sacred that no observant Jew would pronounce it. Instead, when reading the Scripture, a person coming to that name would substitute an entirely different word. This is a technical rule known as “kethive Kere.” This phrase means “written one way, to be read another.” It directed readers of the sacred Hebrew text that when they came to the four consonants YHWH, they were to attach vowel signs indicating that in its place they should read the Hebrew word Adonai, which means “Lord.” In this case, the scholars who produced the Massoretic text added the vowels “e,” “o,” and “a” to the consonants “Y,” “H,” “W,” and “H” (in other words, “YeHoWaH”).
The translators of the King James Version of the Bible followed this convention to translate YHWH as “Jehovah” (the sound of the consonant “Y” being represented by “J” and the sound of the consonant “W” by “V”). In other words, they used the vowels of the term to be pronounced (namely, Adonai) rather than the vowels associated with YHWH, which represented the correct pronunciation of this most sacred name of God. This explains how the name “Jehovah” was introduced into the English language Bible. And it is for this reason that the form “Jehovah” does not represent the correct way to pronounce the covenant name of God.
The majority of Hebrew scholars think the consonants YHWH were originally pronounced “Yahweh.” A minority of others, however, remain unsure. Regardless of just exactly how the sacred name was pronounced in Bible times, its essential meaning shines through to enrich our understanding of God.
Richards, Larry. (2001). Every name of God in the Bible (p. 24). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.