Can We Know the Pronunciation of the Name of YHVH?
Today, many in the Messianic movement say that we cannot know with certainty the pronunciation of the Name of YHVH, the tetragrammaton Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. They say that the exact pronunciation of the Name of YHVH was lost in antiquities and therefore impossible to know its correct uttering. Others go even further to say that we cannot know how to pronounce the Name of YHVH, because of “the conspiracy of the Rabbis” who have hidden it by purposely supplying incorrect vowel points in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Scripture (Tanak).
And since “it has been hidden” by the Rabbis, therefore, and against any sound reasoning, they come up with strange “names.” Very often they twist the plain Hebrew grammar and phonetics to justify their “findings” such as “Yahweh, Yahuah, Yahueh, Jave,” etc.
However, to believe them is to disbelieve YHVH and what He is saying from the Scripture, and more particularly, that His Set-apart Name shall be known forever:
…My Name shall be declared in all the earth. (Exo 9:16)
Therefore My people shall know My Name, … (Isa 52:6)
And those who know Your Name trust in You, … (Psa 9:10)
I set him on high, because he has known My Name. (Psa 91:14)
In this article we will study this controversial topic of whether we can know the pronunciation of the Name of YHVH from Hebraic perspectives. This we will do, as it has always been the intent of the present author. He will show to the reader a simple Hebrew grammar rule that will prove that we can know the pronunciation of His Name, for the simple reason that YHVH says it so.
But, let us begin.
YHVH I exist. This is my mention forever.
YHVH said to Mosheh, when he asked Him what His Name was,
Thus you are to say to the children of Israel, ‘I am’ Elohim of your fathers, the Elohim of Avraham, the Elohim of Yitshak, and the Elohim of Ya‘akov, has sent me to you. This is My Name forever, and this is My remembrance to all generations. (Exo 3:15) (JPS says ‘My memorial’)
This translation is not necessarily a bad translation but does not do justice to the Hebrew text, because the Hebrew word zichri does not mean my remembrance, much less my memorial, as in JPS translation, but more literally: my mention. Or, the Hebrew text literally says thus,
This is My Name forever, and this is My mention (zichri) to all generations.
This translation best reflects the Hebraic culture, since the Hebrews remember something by mentioning it, not just by keeping it in mind. Bear in mind that Hebrew is an action oriented language and one “remembers” something by doing it—an action—verses keeping it in mind, which is a pure mental exercise.
The JPS and KJV translations of zichri as “my memorial” are preposterous, because the Living and Everlasting Creator of the universe by no means could have “memorial.”
And if we seek for the meaning of the Name of YHVH, the expression אהיה אשׁר אהיה, in Exo_3:14, is neither to be rendered, “I shall be that I shall be”, nor “I am who I am.” Because in names formed from the third person imperfect tense, the imperfect is not a future tense, but a verb tense expressing action (especially past action) without indicating its completion or continuation. Hebrew language is less concerned about time, but whether the action is completed or not: the imperfect is for incomplete actions, and the perfect: for complete.
Nor shall we render the Name as “I am”, as most of the translations do, since “to be” is not actually an action verb, but an auxiliary verb which denotes state, not action. Therefore, more properly we are to render the literal meaning (as literal as possible) of the Name of YHVH thus: “I exist” (a continuous existence).
An altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings, and thy peace-offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come unto thee and bless thee. (Exo 20:21 JPS, but Exo 20:24 in the Christian Bibles)
In the phrase ‘in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned, I will come to you and bless you’ the Hebrew verb is אַזְכִּיר, I will cause to be mentioned. But, the Jewish commentator of Tanak Rashi says it should apparently read ךְתַּזְכִּיר, you will mention. This is a direct departure from the Hebrew text, because the suggested form of the verb זָכַר, zakar, ךְתַּזְכִּיר does not appear in the verse.
Therefore, what Rashi explains is that the phrase in question means: “whenever I will permit you to mention My Explicit Name, there I will come to you and bless you. I will cause My Shechinah to rest upon you.” From here we learn that according to Rashi the permission was given by the Rabbinical authority to the priests to mention the Explicit Name only in the place to which the Presence of YHVH comes, and that is in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is what we read from Mechilta, Sifrei, Num. 6:23, Sotah 38a.
The Rabbinical teaching that the Name of YHVH is hidden and concealed (which we find in b.Pes. 50a; b.Kidd. 71a) is a direct contradiction with the Torah precept that the Name should be “declared in all the earth.” The Hebrew Scripture also speaks of apostates “which think to cause my people to forget my Name” (Jer_23:27). The Rabbinical teaching of keeping the Name concealed also conflicts with Isa_52:6, Psa_9:10, Psa_91:14, Mal_3:16, Psa_99:3, and Psa_145:21.
The plain rule of Hebrew grammar comes to help
Let us consider another verse.
But in very deed for this cause have I made thee to stand, to show thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth. (Exo 9:16 JPS)
The phrase שְׁמִי סַפֵּר וּלְמַעַן ulema’an sakeir shmi, does not mean “and my name may be declared” as the English word “may” denotes some probability, but literally means “and in order to declare my name,” which announces a solid decision of YHVH in His actions to make His Name known throughout all the earth.
By having said that, we are coming to the point to answer the question “Can we know the pronunciation of the Name of YHVH?”
As we said above, in Hebrew there are two tenses: perfect and imperfect, unlike in other languages that have past, present, and future tenses. Again, the perfect tense denotes a complete action, while the imperfect tense: an incomplete action. The perfect tense is usually translated in past tense; and the imperfect tense in present, present continuous, present perfect, or future tense, as the translators see it fit.
Unfortunately, as we know there is no perfect translation; this is how it is. We always lose something in translation. But it is the responsibility of the translators to carefully consider the context of the text in question and in marginal notes, for example, to give alternative translations with the explanations of the peculiarities of the Hebrew text and language. It is also the responsibility of the teachers to educate the readers to learn the Hebrew Scripture from Hebraic perspectives; to leave the Gentile mindset behind and delve into the Hebraic culture and language of Israel. By doing this, many errors in the translations could have been avoided, including the erroneous idea that we cannot know the pronunciation of the Name of YHVH.
Therefore, this is where, in the present author’s view, the confusion begins: the misunderstanding of what the Hebrew text actually says.
The remnant always knows the Name of YHVH
Let us consider the following examples from the Tanak in which we will seek to find the answer to our question from the Hebraic perspectives.
May his name endure for ever; may his name be continued as long as the sun; may men also bless themselves by him; may all nations call him happy. (Psa 72:17 JPS)
And the same verse in KJV translation:
His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. (Psa 72:17 KJV)
In the above verse, the verbs rendered as “may endure” and “may be continued” as found in JPS, and “shall endure” and “shall be continued” (in KJV) are in imperfect forms of the verbs and therefore we should translate them as either present tense, “His Name endures for ever” or present continuous, “His Name is enduring for ever” or present perfect, “His Name has endured for ever.” These are more proper translations since the imperfect form the verbs are in denotes a continuous unfinished action as opposed to the future tense (KJV), which could mean that the action is not in a present or continuous present tense, i.e. the Name of YHVH does not endure at the time of speaking, but will endure some time in the future. Or, we read the verse this time from Hebraic perspectives thus,
His Name has been enduring for ever: His Name has been continued as long as the sun: and men have been blessed in him: all nations have called Him blessed. (Psa 72:17)
This rendering reflects better the idea of the proclamation that as long as the sun exists, the Name of YHVH has been enduring.
Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore they shall know in that day that I, even He that spoke, behold, here I am. (Isa 52:6 JPS)
The Hebrew verb in question is יָדַע, yada, to know, which is in imperfect tense and therefore should be rendered as “My people know My Name” rather than the future tense, which denotes knowledge in the future, but not necessarily in the time of speaking. In other words, the JPS translation of Isa 52:6 suggests that His people have forgotten the Creator’s Name in Isaiah’s time, but will know it the future. Therefore, the more proper rendering of the unfinished action of the verb will be the present tense, i.e. “My people know My Name.” Again, keep in mind that the suggested tenses by the present author are conditional: they can be accepted as long as we know that the imperfect tense denotes unfinished actions. Or, we read the verse this time from Hebraic perspectives thus,
Therefore My people has known My name; therefore they have known in that day that I, even He that spoke, behold Me. (Isa 52:6)
This rendering reflects better the idea that as long as He exists (the literal meaning), his people has known the Name of YHVH. That is, as long as His people beholds Him (literal translation), they have known His Name.
And it shall be that everyone who shall call on the Name of Yehovah shall be delivered. For on Mount Tsiyon and in Yerushalayim there shall be an escape as Yehovah has said, and among the remnant whom Yehovah shall call. (Joe 3:5 JPS but 2:32 in the Christian Bibles)
In these instances the verbs are in imperfect tense, that is a continuous action which can only mean that the call YHVH makes to the remnant of His people to call on His name for deliverance is a constant call throughout the history, and not necessarily only for the last generation, as it seems the JPS translation suggests. Thus the rendering of Joe 3:5 is consistent with the Tanak that YHVH always preserves for Himself a remnant of His people to whom YHVH calls, “Call upon My Name for deliverance.” Or, we read the verse this time from Hebraic perspectives thus,
And it has been that everyone who has been calling on the Name of Yehovah has been delivered. For on Mount Tsiyon and in Yerushalayim there has been an escape as Yehovah has said, and among the remnant whom Yehovah has called. (Joe 3:5)
This rendering reflects better the idea that it has always been call to the remnant for deliverance as long as they have called on His Name. That is not to say that there will be no future escape; on the contrary, there will be. But this is to say that from Hebraic perspectives the idea is of unfinished action: as it has always been, so there shall be again. Yeshua’s disciples being Hebrews correctly understood the Master’s warning that whenever they would see the abomination that would take place in Jerusalem, they would flee to the mountain. And this is a good example of the beauty of the Hebrew language: the idea of “as it has always been, so there shall be.”
In conclusion, we should realize that even if we render the above texts the way we have rendered them, we still lose something in the translation. But if we keep in mind that the verbs in these examples are in imperfect tense, i.e. unfinished and continuous actions, we should come to the logical conclusion that His Name has not been forgotten and therefore its pronunciation has not been forgotten either. His Name has always been known to His people and YHVH has always preserved a remnant to know His Name. We derive this from the imperfect tense YHVH has chosen to use which denotes unfinished actions, i.e. “My people know My Name” vs. “My people shall know My Name, but now they do not know it.” To believe that we cannot know how to pronounce the Name of YHVH is to disbelieve Him who says we do know it, that is His Set-apart Name has been and shall be known forever.
Here is the place to say that the present author is against the teachings of some in the Messianic movement about “a Jewish conspiracy” of hiding His true Name, Yehovah, blessed be His Name.
But for more understanding of this controversial matter, and how to pronounce the Name of YHVH, the reader is encourage to read the articles from the series “The Name of Yehovah.”