Does “Jehovah” Mean “God of Ruin, Mischief”?
We were recently asked to look into a claim that the name “Jehovah” meant, literally, “God of Ruin, Mischief”. We thought that this was a rather interesting request and so we began to dig into it. First, we must start out by making it very clear that you cannot reverse-translate a word to determine its original meaning. In this case specifically, someone had taken the word “Jehovah” and broken it out into two words: Yahh and Hovah. In our humble opinion, this is really bad hermeneutics. One must look at what was originally written – not what the translated word is. In the case of the word “Jehovah”, the originally word translated as thus was YHWH, or Yod, Hey, Vav, and Hey. So, how did the whole “Jehovah” word come into being to begin with?
We started with the King James Version of the Bible. Now, the word Jehovah was used four times in this particular translation as follows: Exodus 6:3; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 12:2 and Isaiah 26:4. Now, what is interesting is that if one looks at the Hebrew, as referenced by Strong’s, the actual Hebrew is the exact same as YHWH (Yod, Hey, Vav, and Hey, ususally pronounced as Yahweh, the Tetragrammaton usually translated as LORD in most Bible versions). The definition is “the Lord”. But let’s not stop there and let’s take a look at an Interlinear translation. No surprise there – it is translated as Yahweh. Things get a bit more interesting when one starts looking at the oldest translations that we have to-date. For example, the Latin Vulgate translated that same word as Adonai. The Codex Sinaiticus has many fragmented pieces of the first few books of the Bible; unfortunately, the book of Exodus is missing completely; and, rather unfortunately, none of the other verses translated thus in the King James Version have an English translation available at this time. Finally, the Greek Septuagint simply has it translated as “Lord”. So, historically, the origin of the word that was translated as Jehovah is the exact same word also translated as Lord, Adonai, YHWH, or Yahweh in other Scripture passages.
It is also important to note that the Third Commandment (Exodus 20:7) states, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” On account of this, the Israelites, specifically the Masoretes, ensured that the Name of the LORD would not be taken in vain by substituting the vowel marks for Adonai and putting them under the letters in the running text (this is called Qere [what is to be read] as opposed to Ketiv [what is to be written]). The Hebrew text, then, contains the Ketiv but uses the vowels of the Qere and this has led to the obviously incorrect pronunciation of the Name as “Jehovah” (in older English, “J” had a “y” sound). So, now we know that Jehovah is actually a mistranslation.
It is important that we digress here for a moment to note that there was no “J” in English; the J is a product of a stylized I; thus giving us the current Jehovah rather than the Old English Iehovah. The letter ‘J’ originated as a swash character, used for the letter ‘i’ at the end of Roman numerals when following another ‘i’, as in ‘xxiij’ instead of ‘xxiii’ for the Roman numeral representing 23. A distinctive usage emerged in Middle High German. Gian Giorgio Trissino (1478–1550) was the first to explicitly distinguish I and J as representing separate sounds, in his Ɛpistola del Trissino de le lettere nuωvamente aggiunte ne la lingua italiana (Trissino’s epistle about the letters recently added in the Italian language) of 1524. Originally, ‘I’ and ‘J’ were different shapes for the same letter, both equally representing /i/, /iː/, and /j/; but Romance languages developed new sounds (from former /j/ and /ɡ/) that came to be represented as ‘I’ and ‘J’; therefore, English J, acquired from the French J, has a sound value quite different from /j/ (which represents the initial sound in the English word “yet”).
So how did this mistranslation happen? In 1278 a spanish monk, Raymundo Martini, wrote the latin work PUGIO FIDEI (Dagger of faith). In it he used the name of God, spelling it Yohoua. Later printings of this work, dated some centuries later, used the spelling JEHOVA. Soon after, in 1303, Porchetus de Salvaticis completed a work entitled VICTORIA PORCHETI AVERSUS IMPIOS HEBRAEOS (Porchetus’ Victory Against the Ungodly Hebrews) He spells God’s name IOHOUAH, IOHOUA and IHOUAH. Then, in 1518, Petrus Galatinus, a Catholic priest born in the late 1400’s, published a work entitled DE ARCANIS CATHOLICAE VERITATIS (Concerning Secrets of the Universal Truth) in which he spelled God’s name IEHOUA. The name “Jehovah” first appeared in an English BIBLE in 1530, when William Tyndale published a translation of the Chumash (the first five books of the Bible). In this, he included the name of God, usually spelled IEHOUAH, in several verses (Genesis 15:2; Exodus 6:3; 15:3; 17:6; 23:17; 33:19; 34:23; Deuteronomy 3:24. Tyndale also included God’s name in Ezekiel 18:23 and 36:23 in his translations that were added at the end of THE NEW TESTAMENT, Antwerp, 1534), and in a note in this editon he wrote: “Iehovah is God’s name… moreover as oft as thou seist LORD in great letters (except there be any error in the printing) is is in Hebrew Iehovah.” In 1534 Martin Luther published his complete translation of the Bible in German, based on the original languages. While he used the German “Herr” (Lord or Sir) for the Tetragrammaton, in a sermon which he delivered in 1526 on Jeremiah 23:1-8, he said, “The name Jehovah, Lord, belongs exclusively to the true God.” Subsequently, Jehovah was used not only in the “Authorized” King James version of 1611, but the Spanish VALERA version of 1602, the Portugese ALMEIDA version of 1681, the German ELBERFELDER version of 1871, and the American Standard Version of 1901. It appears that the Jerusalem Bible was the first one to used Yahweh instead of Lord and Jehovah.
So what does YHWH really mean, literally? The Yod is suspended in mid-air, and is the smallest of the Hebrew letters, the “atom” of the consonants, and the form from which all of the other letters begin and end: The first dot with which the scribes first start writing a letter, or the last dot that gives a letter its final form — is a yod. (Likutei Maharan) In the Jewish mystical tradition, Yod represents a mere dot, a divine point of energy. Since Yod is used to form all the other letters, and since God uses the letters as the building blocks of creation, Yod indicates God’s omnipresence. In fact, the word yod itself depicts something of the geometry of creation. It begins with the Yod itself, as a dot, and then moves downward, from the divine toward the created order to form Vav (the “hook” of creation). Finally it moves outward in the horizontal realm as Dalet (the “doorway” of creation). Since Yeshua upholds the world by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), and Yod is part of every Hebrew letter (and therefore every word), Yod is considered the starting point of the presence of God in all things – the “spark” of the Spirit in everything.
The Hey (which is used twice) represents the divine breath, revelation, and light (the word “light” is mentioned five times on the first day of creation (Gen. 1:3-4), which is said to correspond to the letter Hey). Since the numerical value of Hey is five, this corresponds on a physical level to the five fingers, the five senses, and the five dimensions. On a spiritual level it corresponds to the five levels of soul. “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6). In the Talmud (Menachot 29b) it is said that the “breath of His mouth” refers to the sound of the letter Hey – the out breathing of Spirit.
And finally, the vav is the connecting force of God, the divine “hook” that binds together heaven and earth.
In conclusion, one can see that there is nothing associated with mischief or ruin in the name of Jehovah. It is simply a mistranslation of the tetragrammaton of YHWH. So how did ruin and mischief get linked to “Jehovah” to begin with? In our opinion, someone attempted to reverse-translate “Jehovah” by separating out Yahh and Hovah and then looked up Hovah in the Strong’s, Concordance, which is H1943, and is defined as ruin-mischief. In our opinion, this is poor scholarship, misleading, and improper manipulation of the Scriptures. It is through such poor methodology that many of the false teachings today are presented to those that are unwilling or unable to search the Word out for themselves as the Bereans did.