Response to Chapter One of the Bible Teach book

(Includes a response to the Appendix on the Divine Name)

 

Much of what is written in the first chapter is not objectionable. The God of the Bible is a God of love and mercy who is concerned for all his creatures. On pages 12-15 we come to what is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ main doctrine: the name “Jehovah.” This response will also contain a response to the first appendix of the Bible Teach book on the Divine Name (pages 195-197).

 

In the Hebrew Old Testament (also known as the Hebrew Scriptures) the name “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” appears thousands of times. For example, the New Jerusalem Bible describes the creation of man in Genesis 2:4-7 this way:

 

“At the time when Yahweh God made earth and heaven there was as yet no wild bush on the earth nor had any wild plant yet sprung up, for Yahweh God had not sent rain on the earth, nor was there any man to till the soil. Instead, water flowed out of the ground and watered all the surface of the soil. Yahweh God shaped man from the soil of the ground and blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being.”

 

Most Bible translations, however, follow the long-standing tradition of using “LORD” instead of “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” It is not wrong to translate the Hebrew name as “Jehovah” or (more accurately) as “Yahweh.” How do we account, then, for the lack of emphasis of this name in Christian tradition?  If this is one of the most important doctrines of Christianity how could it die out from the first Christian century until the twentieth century? (A historical note: Jehovah’s Witnesses did not start emphasizing the name “Jehovah” until the mid-1920’s.)

 

While the Hebrew Old Testament contains the name “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” (written as YHWH) thousands of times the Greek New Testament does not contain it even once. The Greek New Testament is one of the best attested documents in antiquity (over 5,000 manuscripts are known today) and not one of those manuscripts has “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in either Greek or Hebrew letters. Since 1950 the Witnesses have claimed that the original text of the New Testament has been tampered with and the name YHWH has been removed. Again, not one manuscript has been found proving their claim. Elsewhere, the Watchtower Society tries to bolster faith in the transmission of the text of the New Testament (Christian Greek Scriptures). Under the heading: “Is the Text Trustworthy?”:

 

“We have already seen that the text of the Christian Greek Scriptures is in better condition than any other ancient literature. Kurt and Barbara Aland, scholars of the Greek text of the Bible, list almost 5,000 manuscripts that have survived from antiquity down to today, some from as early as the second century C.E. The general testimony of this mass of evidence is that the text is essentially sound. Additionally, there are many ancient translations—the earliest dating to about the year 180 C.E.—that help to prove that the text is accurate….The text we have is substantially the same as the one that the original writers penned, and its accuracy is confirmed by the fact that contemporary Christians accepted it.” The Bible—God’s Word or Man’s?, published by the Watchtower Society in 1989, pp. 59-60.

 

The Witnesses’ Bible version The New World Translation has “restored” the name YHWH to the New Testament 237 times.  As noted above, there is no New Testament Greek manuscript evidence that would indicate the name had been removed—so this is not a “restoration.” The Watchtower Society realized that if the name YHWH was not in the original New Testament then their main doctrine about emphasizing the name “Jehovah” would have no New Testament support. After all, if St. Paul or St. Peter (or Jesus himself) was not recorded as using the name YHWH, it must not be all that important for us to use it today.

 

Ask the Witnesses studying with you:

 

1)      Can we trust the text of the New Testament?

2)      Ask the Witnesses to show you the text of the Greek New Testament in their Interlinear. Ask them if they can show you the name YHWH in the Greek text?

3)      Are there any manuscripts of the Greek New Testament which contains the name YHWH?

4)      Why should we believe the Greek New Testament is not trustworthy?

 

At this point, the Witnesses will pull out more of their literature which defends their view that the text of the New Testament has been tampered with and that the name YHWH should be there. For example, they will cite ancient pre-Christian fragments of the Greek Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) which has the Hebrew YHWH in amongst the Greek text. This, they claim, is what the original New Testament must have looked like. Yet, no one has found a New Testament Greek manuscript with the name YHWH in Hebrew letters in it.

 

A little thinking shows the weakness of the Witnesses’ use of these Septuagint fragments. If the Jewish people were still using the name “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” in their everyday speech, why did they not just translate it into Greek when the Septuagint version was made? Does not the fact the name YHWH appears in Hebrew in a Greek text support the generally held view that the usage of the name was disappearing in the centuries before Christ? The name YHWH was just left untranslated in the Greek text. It should be noted that only a handful of early Septuagint fragments contain YHWH. Complete Septuagint manuscripts do not have the name YHWH and this evidently is what was used in Jesus’ day.

 

The internal evidence from the New Testament, even in the Witnesses’ New World Translation, shows that the first Christians did not emphasize the name YHWH. Does not Jesus’ speak of God’s name? Yes, but not like the Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to it. For example, in the New World Translation Jesus utters the name “Jehovah” in a few passages (with no Greek manuscript support) which are quotations from the Old Testament. But, does he emphasize the name “Jehovah” in his everyday speech? In the New World Translation there are only three places where Jesus is said to use the name “Jehovah” apart from Old Testament quotations.

 

Jesus prays to “Father” and “God.”  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done." (Luke 22:42) As he was dying, Jesus prayed in Aramaic: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) There is not one prayer of Jesus in the New World Translation where he utters the name “Jehovah.”

 

Page 196 of the Bible Teach book implies that one cannot have intimacy with God without using a name. Yet, as we’ve noted above, even in the Witnesses’ Bible version Jesus did not emphasize a name for God. Instead, he emphasized the terms “Father” and “God.” Do you refer to your parents by their names? Or, do you call them “Mom” and “Dad”? Intimacy is not dependent on using a name in a family setting.

 

So, when the New Testament speaks of the “name” of God what is it referring to? This is a Semitic expression that refers to God’s character and personality. As the text of the New Testament shows it does not refer to a pronunciation or vocalization of YHWH. The Dictionary of the Bible  (edited by John L. McKenzie, S. J.) explains:

 

“The work of Jesus is to make known the name of the Father (John 17:6, 26), to reveal His true character. He glorifies the name of the Father by bringing recognition of his divinity (John 12:28). He prays that the Father will keep the disciples in His name (John 17:11), that He will preserve them as His own. He works in the name of the Father (John 10:25), which here means what He says elsewhere, that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him (John 14:10). The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is that the name of the Father may be sanctified, that His divinity may be manifested (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2).” In another section, McKenzie elaborates: “The petition of the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2) that the divine name be sanctified is couched in Old Testament terms; the name is to be sanctified by the acknowledgement of the divinity of God.”  (Emphasis added, page 604; 366.)

 

Some Bible translations reflect this understanding of “name” in Hebrew culture.  The New Jerusalem Bible literally translates Jesus’ words at John 17:6: “I have revealed your name to those whom you took from the world to give me.” (Remember, even in the Witnesses’ New World Translation Jesus does not utter “Jehovah” in this chapter.)  The New International Version reads: “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.” The Contemporary English Version has: “I have shown them what you are like.” The Amplified Bible gives: “I have manifested Your Name [I have revealed Your very Self, Your real Self] to the people whom You have given Me out of the world.”

 

The English language has a similar idiom. When a police officer says: “Stop in the name of the law,” he is not referring to an actual name. Instead, he is referring to the authority he possesses under the law. The use of “name” in many of New Testament passages is a similar idiom.  An example can be found at Matthew 10:41. Literally, that passage reads: “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive the reward of a prophet: and he that receiveth a just man in the name of a just man, shall receive the reward of a just man.” (Douay) Most modern Bible versions translate that idom the same way the New World Translation does: “He that receives a prophet because he is a prophet will get a prophet’s reward, and he that receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will get a righteous man’s reward.”

 

Ask the Witnesses studying with you:

 

1)      Does the Bible show Jesus using the name “Jehovah” in his prayers?

2)      In those passages where Jesus speaks of God’s “name” (John 17:6, 26; Matthew 6:9, etc.), does he actually use the name “Jehovah”?

3)      When Jesus was not quoting from the Old Testament, did he emphasize using the name “Jehovah”?

4)      Is there any evidence that the Christians in the decades and centuries after Christ emphasized the name “Jehovah”?

5)      Can we trust the Greek New Testament manuscripts which do not have YHWH in them?

 

If we accept the facts the way they are without trying to change them to fit our beliefs we are left with this:

 

1)      The Hebrew Old Testament used the name YHWH thousands of times.

2)      The Greek New Testament never used it once.

 

Why? Why did the usage of the name YHWH disappear by the time of Jesus? Actually, the New Testament does emphasize a name—the name of Jesus. Interestingly, the New Testament writers seemed to have no hesitation in applying Old Testament passages about “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” to Jesus. (See the article "Is Jesus Yahweh?" for more on this.) The name that is missing in the New Testament actually is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

For a presentation of the Divine Name from the traditional Christian perspective, see this section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

 

 

For further answers on the Watchtower’s claim the New Testament Greek text has been tampered with see the online book The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek Scriptures.  This article from that site gives the main issues involved.

 

Go to the Response for Chapter Two

 

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