The Tetragrammaton: A Special Name for the God of the Jewish People

In the Old Testament is found a special name for the God of the Jewish people, which from earliest times was spelled with four letters, and hence has been called the tetragrammaton. The pronunciation of the original name is not now known, since Hebrew writing contained only the consonants until many centuries after it had ceased to be a living language. This name, transcribed into the nearest English equivalent letters is YHWH, and a shortened form of it, which is contained in many compounds used as personal names, is also used alone, mainly in poetry, as YH.

The roots of the Semitic languages¹ consist of two letters: these roots are each expanded into a number of three-lettered stems expressing various ideas originating from the root. The various grammatical uses of these stems, such as verb, noun and adjective, are differentiated mainly by vowel changes not written in the script. From these three lettered stems are formed more complex ideas by the addition of other letters. In all probability therefore, the tetragrammaton is a developed idea of some kind since it contains four letters. From the commandment not to take the name of God in vain the Jews developed a fear of this name as of magical potency, and feared to pronounce it. In the days of Jesus it was correctly pronounced during the Temple service when the sh’ma (blessing) was pronounced, but an ellipsis was substituted at this point during the Synagogue service.² With the destruction of the Temple it followed that it ceased to be used at ail in religious service; and several centuries later, when vowel pointings were written into the Hebrew text in an attempt to preserve the traditional reading, false vowels were added to the tetragrammaton lest the name should be framed in the mind as the eye scanned the page.

The frequent use of the tetragrammaton in private correspondence as witnessed by the Lachish ostraca of the 6th century B.C. and the Elephantine papyri of the 5th century B.C. indicates that the avoidance of the name was not observed until after the exile, while the fact that no Greek transcriptions have come down to us would indicate that the practice had developed by the 3rd century B.C. In the days of Jesus a number of evasions were used where reference could not be avoided.³

To continue reading this Bible article, click here.

Author: R. T. Lovelock

Keywords: Yahweh, YHWH, Divine name, God's divine name, Jehovah, Tetragrammaton, Tetra, Tetragrammatron, Tetragramatron, Tetragramaton, Lord Almighty, God Almighty, I Am That I Am, I am, God, 4 letters, Four letters, Theonym, God's name, Name of God, YHVH, JHVH, JHWH, Adonai, LORD, LORD God

Bible reference(s): Gen 2:4, Gen 2:5, Gen 2:7, Gen 2:8, Gen 2:9, Gen 2:15, Gen 2:16, Gen 2:18, Gen 2:19, Gen 2:21, Gen 2:22, Gen 3:1, Gen 3:8, Gen 3:9, Gen 3:13, Gen 3:14, Gen 3:21, Gen 3:22, Gen 3:23, Gen 9:26, Gen 24:7, Gen 24:27, Gen 24:48, Gen 28:13, Exodus 3:15, Exodus 3:16, Exodus 3:18, Exodus 4:5, Exodus 5:1, Exodus 7:16, Exodus 9:1, Exodus 9:13, Exodus 9:30, Exodus 10:3, Exodus 23:17, Exodus 32:27, Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:23, Deuteronomy 1:11, Deuteronomy 1:21, Deuteronomy 4:1, Deuteronomy 6:3, Deuteronomy 12:1, Deuteronomy 26:7, Deuteronomy 27:3, Deuteronomy 29:25, Joshua 7:13, Joshua 7:19, Joshua 7:20, Joshua 8:30, Joshua 9:18, Joshua 9:19, Joshua 10:40, Joshua 10:42, Joshua 13:14, Joshua 13:33, Joshua 14:14, Joshua 18:3, Joshua 22:22, Joshua 22:24, Joshua 24:2, Joshua 24:23, Judges 2:12, Judges 4:6, Judges 5:3, Judges 5:5, Judges 6:8, Judges 11:21, Judges 11:23, Ruth 2:12, 1 Samuel 2:30, 1 Samuel 10:18, 1 Samuel 14:41, 1 Samuel 25:32, 1 Samuel 25:34, 2 Samuel 5:10, 2 Samuel 12:7, 1 Kings 1:30, 1 Kings 1:36, 1 Kings 1:48, 1 Kings 2:26, 1 Kings 8:15, 1 Kings 8:17, 1 Kings 8:20, 1 Kings 11:9, 1 Kings 14:7, 1 Kings 14:13, 1 Kings 15:30, 1 Kings 16:13, 1 Kings 16:26, 1 Kings 16:33, 1 Kings 17:1, 1 Kings 17:14, 1 Kings 18:37, 1 Kings 19:10, 1 Kings 19:14, 1 Kings 22:53, 2 Kings 2:14, 2 Kings 9:6, 2 Kings 10:31, 2 Kings 14:25, 2 Kings 18:5, 2 Kings 19:19, 2 Kings 19:20, 2 Kings 21:12, 2 Kings 21:22, 2 Kings 22:15, 2 Kings 22:18, 1 Chron 15:12, 1 Chron 15:14, 1 Chron 16:4, 1 Chron 16:36, 1 Chron 22:1, 1 Chron 22:6, 1 Chron 22:19, 1 Chron 23:25, 1 Chron 24:19, 1 Chron 28:4, 1 Chron 28:20, 1 Chron 29:1, 1 Chron 29:20, 2 Chron 2:12, 2 Chron 6:4, 2 Chron 6:7, 2 Chron 6:10, 2 Chron 7:22, 2 Chron 11:16, 2 Chron 13:5, 2 Chron 13:12, 2 Chron 13:18, 2 Chron 14:4, 2 Chron 15:4, 2 Chron 15:12, 2 Chron 15:13, 2 Chron 17:4, 2 Chron 19:4, 2 Chron 20:19, 2 Chron 21:10, 2 Chron 21:12, 2 Chron 24:18, 2 Chron 24:24, 2 Chron 26:5, 2 Chron 26:18, 2 Chron 28:6, 2 Chron 28:9, 2 Chron 28:25, 2 Chron 29:5, 2 Chron 29:10, 2 Chron 30:1, 2 Chron 30:5, 2 Chron 30:6, 2 Chron 30:7, 2 Chron 30:19, 2 Chron 30:22, 2 Chron 32:16, 2 Chron 32:17, 2 Chron 33:16, 2 Chron 33:18, 2 Chron 34:23, 2 Chron 34:26, 2 Chron 36:13, 2 Chron 36:15, 2 Chron 36:23, Ezra 1:2, Ezra 1:3, Ezra 4:1, Ezra 4:3, Ezra 6:21, Ezra 7:6, Ezra 7:27, Ezra 8:28, Ezra 10:11, Psa 41:13, Psa 68:18, Psa 71:16, Psa 72:18, Psa 73:28, Psa 84:11, Psa 106:48, Isa 3:15, Isa 7:7, Isa 10:23, Isa 10:24, Isa 17:6, Isa 21:17, Isa 22:5, Isa 22:12, Isa 22:14, Isa 22:15, Isa 24:15, Isa 25:8, Isa 28:16, Isa 28:22, Isa 30:15, Isa 37:21, Isa 40:10, Isa 48:16, Isa 49:22, Isa 50:4, Isa 50:5, Isa 50:7, Isa 50:9, Isa 52:4, Isa 56:8, Isa 61:1, Isa 61:11, Isa 65:13, Isa 65:15, Jeremiah 2:19, Jeremiah 2:22, Jeremiah 5:14, Jeremiah 7:20, Jeremiah 11:3, Jeremiah 13:12, Jeremiah 21:4, Jeremiah 23:2, Jeremiah 25:15, Jeremiah 30:2, Jeremiah 35:17, Jeremiah 44:26, Jeremiah 46:10, Jeremiah 49:5, Jeremiah 50:25, Jeremiah 50:31, Jeremiah 51:56, Ez 2:4, Ez 3:11, Ez 3:27, Ez 5:5, Ez 5:7, Ez 5:8, Ez 5:11, Ez 6:3, Ez 6:11, Ez 7:2, Ez 7:5, Ez 8:1, Ez 11:7, Ez 11:8, Ez 11:16, Ez 11:17, Ez 11:21, Ez 12:10, Ez 12:19, Ez 12:23, Ez 12:25, Ez 12:28, Ez 13:3, Ez 13:8, Ez 13:9, Ez 13:13, Ez 13:16, Ez 13:18, Ez 13:20, Ez 14:4, Ez 14:6, Ez 14:11, Ez 14:14, Ez 14:16, Ez 14:18, Ez 14:20, Ez 14:21, Ez 14:23, Ez 15:6, Ez 15:8, Ez 16:3, Ez 16:8, Ez 16:14, Ez 16:19, Ez 16:23, Ez 16:30, Ez 16:36, Ez 16:43, Ez 16:48, Ez 16:59, Ez 16:63, Ez 17:3, Ez 17:9, Ez 17:16, Ez 17:19, Ez 17:22, Ez 18:3, Ez 18:9, Ez 18:23, Ez 18:30, Ez 18:32, Ez 20:3, Ez 20:5, Ez 20:27, Ez 20:30, Ez 20:31, Ez 20:33, Ez 20:36, Ez 20:39, Ez 20:40, Ez 20:44, Ez 20:47, Ez 21:7, Ez 21:13, Ez 21:24, Ez 21:26, Ez 21:28, Ez 22:3, Ez 22:12, Ez 22:19, Ez 22:28, Ez 22:31, Ez 23:22, Ez 23:28, Ez 23:32, Ez 23:34, Ez 23:35, Ez 23:46, Ez 23:49, Ez 24:3, Ez 24:6, Ez 24:9, Ez 24:14, Ez 24:21, Ez 24:24, Ez 25:3, Ez 25:6, Ez 25:8, Ez 25:12, Ez 25:13, Ez 25:14, Ez 25:15, Ez 25:16, Ez 26:3, Ez 26:5, Ez 26:7, Ez 26:14, Ez 26:15, Ez 26:19, Ez 26:21, Ez 27:3, Ez 28:2, Ez 28:6, Ez 28:10, Ez 28:12, Ez 28:22, Ez 28:24, Ez 28:25, Ez 29:3, Ez 29:8, Ez 29:13, Ez 29:16, Ez 29:19, Ez 29:20, Ez 30:2, Ez 30:6, Ez 30:10, Ez 30:13, Ez 30:22, Ez 31:10, Ez 31:15, Ez 31:18, Ez 32:3, Ez 32:8, Ez 32:11, Ez 32:14, Ez 32:16, Ez 32:31, Ez 32:32, Ez 33:11, Ez 33:25, Ez 33:27, Ez 34:2, Ez 34:8, Ez 34:10, Ez 34:11, Ez 34:15, Ez 34:17, Ez 34:20, Ez 34:30, Ez 34:31, Ez 35:3, Ez 35:6, Ez 35:11, Ez 35:14, Ez 36:2, Ez 36:3, Ez 36:4, Ez 36:5, Ez 36:6, Ez 36:7, Ez 36:13, Ez 36:14, Ez 36:15, Ez 36:22, Ez 36:23, Ez 36:32, Ez 36:33, Ez 36:37, Ez 37:5, Ez 37:9, Ez 37:12, Ez 37:19, Ez 37:21, Ez 38:3, Ez 38:10, Ez 38:14, Ez 38:17, Ez 38:18, Ez 38:21, Ez 39:1, Ez 39:5, Ez 39:8, Ez 39:10, Ez 39:13, Ez 39:17, Ez 39:20, Ez 39:25, Ez 39:29, Ez 43:18, Ez 43:19, Ez 43:27, Ez 44:6, Ez 44:9, Ez 44:12, Ez 44:15, Ez 44:27, Ez 45:9, Ez 45:15, Ez 45:18, Ez 46:1, Ez 46:16, Ez 47:13, Ez 47:23, Ez 48:29, Daniel 9:3, Hosea 12:5, Amos 1:8, Amos 3:7, Amos 3:8, Amos 3:11, Amos 3:13, Amos 4:2, Amos 4:5, Amos 5:3, Amos 5:15, Amos 6:8, Amos 7:1, Amos 7:4, Amos 7:6, Amos 8:1, Amos 8:3, Amos 8:9, Amos 8:11, Amos 9:5, Amos 9:8, Obadiah 1:1, Jonah 4:6, Micah 1:2, Habakkuk 3:19, Zephaniah 1:7, Zechariah 9:14

Source: “Problems,” The Testimony, Vol. 19, Nos. 220-1, April & May 1949, pp. 122-8, 166-7. Used with permission.

Page indexed by: inWORD Bible Software.