We received this question in a post from a member in our Hope With God community. He was curious about seeing different spellings of the word and wondered if their meanings were the same. Hallelujah, no matter how it’s spelled, is a command to all of God’s people to praise Him. If you want to learn where the word comes from, read on.
Unless you read ancient Hebrew and Greek, you probably read a translation of the Bible. Your translation might be close to a word for word translation that tries to precisely translate words and phrases, like the King James Version, or a thought for thought translation, like the New International Version. In any translation, you will find names and phrases that the translators felt were better to not translate but to do something called transliteration. To transliterate something means to represent the sounds of a word or phrase directly in the characters of another alphabet. The translators did this to protect the words’ rich roots in Jewish tradition.
Hallelujah is a joyful call to worship. In the Hebrew alphabet, the word is הַלְּלוּיָהּ. Remember to read it from right to left! The first part, hallelu, is a plural command to praise. The second part is Yah, a shortened form of YHWH, the name God gave for Himself when He met Moses in the burning bush. (Want to learn more about this name of God, and why some say it is Yahweh and others Jehovah? Read our article: here.) A paraphrase would be: “all of you, praise the LORD!”
Because the New Testament often references the Old Testament, you can find words transliterated from Hebrew into Greek. In Revelation, Hallelujah is transliterated into the Greek word ἀλληλούϊα, which we read as alleluia in the KJV and other translations. Though some Christian traditions use both Hallelujah and Alleluia in specific places in their worship services, their meanings in the text of the Bible are really the same. Some translators will choose Halleluyah instead of Hallelujah, perhaps out of deference to the spelling of YHWH they feel is most accurate.
There will always be some debate over things like this. It is made more difficult by the fact that the orthography of any language, the way its sounds are represented by written symbols, changes over time. It further complicated when we transliterate a word from Hebrew into something like American English and then, say, bring it into Nigerian English. In this case, there may be as many different spellings as there are people doing the translating work. If that work is done respectfully to the original text and with a good understanding of the final language, the result is probably fine to use.
The name Jesus is a shortened form of the same Hebrew name we know as “Joshua” in the Old Testament. But in English, Jesus and Joshua are completely different names. Jesus is an English transliteration of the Latin transliteration of the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Yeshua!
If we take a look at the name Yeshua, which is who we are talking about when we say, “Jesus,” its root means to deliver, to save. That root meaning would have been very clear when Peter and John announced to a Jewish audience in Acts 4:12 that, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." No matter what spelling you see used Hallelujah, when you read or hear the word, I pray your spirit is stirred joyfully to praise our Maker. You are hearing a word that has called many to worship Him for thousands of years and will echo into eternity.