Questions from Readers: “Jehovah” in the New Testament

Watchtower Parody

So recently, I’ve been in conversation with a JW on a forum site. Most recently he asked me to read an article on jw.org entitled “Should the Name Jehovah Appear in the New Testament?” The answer to that question is most appropriately a long laugh and then “No.” Read on for my longer point-by-point response below…

Bible scholars acknowledge that God’s personal name appears in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures. However, many feel that it did not appear in the original Greek manuscripts of the so-called New Testament.

Many “feel” that way, because there’s simply no manuscript evidence otherwise. We have 5,686 manuscript copies of the New Testament in the original Greek–some of them dating back to the early half of the second century. By comparison, if we compare this to the writings of Tacitus (considered one of the greatest Roman historians), we only have 7 copies and the earliest dates back to c.1100 A.D.

In all of the extant manuscripts of the Greek NT, the name in question does not appear anywhere.

What happens, then, when a writer of the New Testament quotes passages from the Old Testament in which the Tetragrammaton appears? In these instances, most translators use the word “Lord” rather than God’s personal name. The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures does not follow this common practice. It uses the name Jehovah 237 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, or New Testament.

The Watchtower is side-stepping the issue here, yet again. This is not a translation issue. The reason English translations use “Lord” even when quoting the Old Testament in the NT… is because that’s the word we find in the original manuscripts. The word in Greek is κυριος (kyrios), and it means “Lord” as seen in Acts 7:59, for example.

Also, the Watchtower may have a reasonable case for changing the word used when it is clear the NT writers were quoting the OT–but that is not the only time they “restore” the name. See Acts 7:60, for instance. There in the NWT, the name “Jehovah” is used, even though the NT writers were not quoting the OT. It’s pretty clear that the Watchtower wants to draw some distinction between the “Lord Jesus” in Acts 7:59 and the “Lord” in Acts 7:60–likely because it’s clear that Stephen is praying and the theological bias of the Watchtower dictates that it’s wrong to pray to Jesus. Accordingly they translate the same word two different ways to draw a distinction that never existed in the original text.

What problems do Bible translators face when it comes to deciding whether to use God’s name in the New Testament? What basis is there for using God’s name in this part of the Holy Scriptures? And how does the use of God’s name in the Bible affect you?

If by “God’s name” we are not including the “name above every name” (namely Jesus) and we are referring exclusively to “Jehovah” then there simply is no basis for using the name in a translation of the New Testament, simply because it doesn’t exist in the New Testament. There is simply no legitimate basis for it.

The manuscripts of the New Testament that we possess today are not the originals. The original manuscripts written by Matthew, John, Paul, and others were well used, and no doubt they quickly wore out. Hence, copies were made, and when those wore out, further copies were made. Of the thousands of copies of the New Testament in existence today, most were made at least two centuries after the originals were penned. It appears that by that time those copying the manuscripts either replaced the Tetragrammaton with Ku?ri·os or Ky?ri·os, the Greek word for “Lord,” or copied from manuscripts where this had been done.

Now we get into the heart of the Watchtower’s conspiracy theory. It is quite simply groundless. Yes, of course we do not have the autographs, but we do have the most reliable manuscripts of any ancient Greek text in existence. There is no evidence for their assertion, and considering the great plethora of manuscript evidence we do have, their assertion seems absolutely ludicrous to me.

Knowing this, a translator must determine whether there is reasonable evidence that the Tetragrammaton did in fact appear in the original Greek manuscripts. Is there any such proof? Consider the following arguments:

As I just mentioned, the answer is a flat simple “No.” But let’s hear what their “arguments” are, shall we?

When Jesus quoted the Old Testament or read from it, he used the divine name. (Deuteronomy 6:13, 16; 8:3; Psalm 110:1; Isaiah 61:1, 2; Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; 22:44; Luke 4:16-21) In the days of Jesus and his disciples, the Tetragrammaton appeared in copies of the Hebrew text of what is often called the Old Testament, as it still does today. However, for centuries scholars thought that the Tetragrammaton was absent from manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament, as well as from manuscripts of the New Testament. Then in the mid-20th century, something remarkable came to the attention of scholars—some very old fragments of the Greek Septuagint version that existed in Jesus’ day had been discovered. Those fragments contain the personal name of God, written in Hebrew characters.

What they neglect to mention is that by the first century the Tetragrammaton was not pronounced outloud. It was common Jewish custom to instead say “Adonai” (Hebrew for “Lord”) out of reverence. The vowel points of “Adonai” were placed under YHWH to encourage the reader to say it instead. In fact, this is likely how Medieval scholars ignorantly devised the erroneous name “Jehovah” in the first place, since it is a combination of the consonants of YHWH with the vowels of “Adonai” rendering “YaHoWaH.” The letter “I” was used at the time for the “Y” sound, and this later was changed to “J” and the “W” was likewise changed to “V” as English evolved.

So, even if YHWH was present in the LXX (Seputagint), it’s not at all a foregone conclusion that Jesus ever uttered it. In fact, if you pay close attention to the words of our Lord, He always talked of His “Father” and even in the NWT Jesus is never found saying “Jehovah.” It wouldn’t be terribly respectful to call your Father by name now would it?

Jesus used God’s name and made it known to others. (John 17:6, 11, 12, 26) Jesus plainly stated: “I have come in the name of my Father.” He also stressed that his works were done “in the name of [his] Father.” In fact, Jesus’ own name means “Jehovah Is Salvation.”—John 5:43; 10:25.

Yeah, they just made my point for me this time. If “in the name of” must refer to a literal name, then does that mean the Holy Spirit has a personal name too? Or maybe the Father, Son, and Spirit collectively have a personal name? Jehovah maybe? Because if we’re to employ the Watchtower’s argument here that “in the name of” must refer to a personal name, then that’s the exact phraseology employed in Matthew 28:19.

They can’t have it both ways.

The divine name appears in its abbreviated form in the Greek Scriptures. At Revelation 19:1, 3, 4, 6, the divine name is embedded in the expression “Alleluia,” or “Hallelujah.” This expression literally means “Praise Jah, you people!” Jah is a contraction of the name Jehovah.

Yeah, so? So we put “Alleluia” and “Hallelujah,” and every English translation does this already. This is a total non sequitur.

Early Jewish writings indicate that Jewish Christians used the divine name in their writings. The Tosefta, a written collection of oral laws completed by about 300 C.E., says with regard to Christian writings that were burned on the Sabbath: “The books of the Evangelists and the books of the minim [thought to be Jewish Christians] they do not save from a fire. But they are allowed to burn where they are, . . . they and the references to the Divine Name which are in them.” This same source quotes Rabbi Yosé the Galilean, who lived at the beginning of the second century C.E., as saying that on other days of the week “one cuts out the references to the Divine Name which are in them [the Christian writings] and stores them away, and the rest burns.” Thus, there is strong evidence that the Jews living in the second century C.E. believed that Christians used Jehovah’s name in their writings.

They’re really reaching now, aren’t they? There’s a lot of possibilities here. For one thing in Jewish thought God has many “names” and a “reference” could include Almighty, God, the Lord, or even “the Name” (i.e. Ha Shem). Note that the Watchtower admits that the “minim” are thought to be Jewish Christians, but even that is up for debate. The quote pertains to a rabbinical injunction concerned with a hypothetical scenario.

And this single out-of-context quote of a rabbinical text from 300 A.D. is “strong evidence”? If that’s strong, I’d hate to see what they consider weak…

How Have Translators Handled This Issue?

I’m just going to respond to this whole section with this: So what? Another non sequitur. Translators are fallible. I have no idea why some non-English translations have made the same mistake as the Watchtower–or to what extent. Ultimately it’s irrelevant.

Clearly, then, the New World Translation was not the first Bible to contain the divine name in the New Testament. Like a judge who is called upon to decide a court case for which there are no living eyewitnesses, the New World Bible Translation Committee carefully weighed all the relevant evidence. Based on the facts, they decided to include Jehovah’s name in their translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Note two compelling reasons why they did so.

This is like when the teenage daughter argues “But all my friends are doing it!” If all the translators in the world started jumping off bridges, would you do the same, Watchtower? But, hey, they’re going to give us some “compelling reasons” so let’s consider them. So far, the reasons they’ve given thus far haven’t been that “compelling” but who knows, right?

(1) The translators believed that since the Christian Greek Scriptures were an inspired addition to the sacred Hebrew Scriptures, the sudden disappearance of Jehovah’s name from the text seemed inconsistent.

Yeah, it does, doesn’t it? Coincidentally, the New Testament heralds the sudden appearance of Jesus. What a coinkydink…

Why is that a reasonable conclusion? About the middle of the first century C.E., the disciple James said to the elders in Jerusalem: “Symeon has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) Does it sound logical to you that James would make such a statement if nobody in the first century knew or used God’s name?

Yawn. Here’s that tired old “name” argument. What does the Watchtower say about Matthew 28:19 again?

(2) When copies of the Septuagint were discovered that used the divine name rather than Ky?ri·os (Lord), it became evident to the translators that in Jesus’ day copies of the earlier Scriptures in Greek—and of course those in Hebrew—did contain the divine name.

Rehash. Already addressed.

Apparently, the God-dishonoring tradition of removing the divine name from Greek manuscripts developed only later. What do you think? Would Jesus and his apostles have promoted such a tradition?—Matthew 15:6-9.

God-dishonoring? To refer to your Father respectfully? Yes, yes I do think Jesus and His apostles would have promoted such a tradition. I never called my earthly father by name. That would be disrespectful.

Really, the Scriptures themselves act as a conclusive “eyewitness” statement that early Christians did in fact use Jehovah’s name in their writings, especially when they quoted passages from the Old Testament that contain that name. Without a doubt, then, the New World Translation has a clear basis for restoring the divine name, Jehovah, in the Christian Greek Scriptures.

Wow. Precisely the opposite. Even when the OT was quoted, the NT writers used “Kyrios” instead. We have no evidence to the contrary. They respected their Father in Heaven. Why can’t the Watchtower do the same?

How does this information affect you? Quoting the Hebrew Scriptures, the apostle Paul reminded the Christians in Rome: “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” Then he asked: “How will they call on him in whom they have not put faith? How, in turn, will they put faith in him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:13, 14; Joel 2:32) Bible translations that use God’s name when appropriate help you to draw close to God. (James 4:8) Really, what an honor it is for us to be allowed to know and to call upon God’s personal name, Jehovah.

Romans 10:13-14 precisely illustrates what is so terribly wrong about this misguided translation. The name of the Lord in question is JESUS. That is who we are to call on to be saved. 3 verses earlier in Romans 10:9 makes that perfectly clear. Translations that obscure the central role of Jesus Christ dishonor both the Son and the Father.

“Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.” – 1 John 2:23