The Ineffable Name of God -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 07:1 (Winter 1978)
Article: The Ineffable Name of God
Author: Anonymous


The Ineffable Name of God

There are a number of words used for God in the Old Testament, but the one that is most puzzling to Bible scholars is the name Yahweh. Hebrew grammarians cannot be sure of the exact spelling of the NAME because, originally, Hebrew was written without vowel letters. It appeared as YHWH in the text, the so-called “Tetragrammaton”. The vowels in the name Yahweh, therefore, are an educated guess.

The NAME was too sacred to be pronounced by the ancient Hebrews, so when they came to it in the biblical text they would say the word for “Lord”. When Hebrew became a dead language and vowels were added to the consonantal text in the Christian era, the vowels for the word “Lord” were used with the Tetragrammaton. This led to the peculiar transliteration of the NAME as “Jehovah” in the King James Version of the Old Testament. Many times, however, the King James translators simply rendered the NAME as “Lord”.

Yahweh is a distinctive name for God used only by the Hebrews so far as we know. What scholars have been trying to determine for centuries is where did the NAME come from and what is its root meaning?

The NAME undoubtedly derives from the Hebrew verb “to be”. In Exodus 3:14 an explanation of the meaning of Yahweh is apparently given to Moses by God Himself. The difficulty here is in understanding the full meaning of the original Hebrew. It is translated as “I am that I am” in the King James Version. In 1909 Paul Haupt suggested that it meant “I call into being what will be.” William F. Albright, in 1924, correlated this explanation with the use of sentence names in the ancient Near East and came up with “He causes to be, He creates.” Other sentence names have been suggested based on the uses of the NAME in other passages of the Old Testament.

William H. Brownlee has taken a fresh look at the meaning of

Yahweh by examining the use of the NAME in the Dead Sea Scroll text of 1 Samuel 2:3b. In the King James Version it reads, “the Lord (Yahweh) is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.” The usage of this verse at Qumran, however, indicates that a more accurate translation would be “The God of knowledge makes things happen, or come into being.” Brownlee believes that the Qumran usage of the NAME shows that it means not simply “to come to be” but “to cause to happen.” Thus Yahweh was understood as referring not only to God’s work of creation, but also to His preservation and providen...

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