by Luke Wayne
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the New Testament originally contained the divine name YHWH, which they translate as Jehovah. Though the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament provide clear evidence to the contrary, and the Old Testament manuscripts and other Jewish writings of the period give us further reasons to reject this radical claim, they insist there are reasons to believe it is true. One of the chief among these reasons is, they say, that Jesus Himself often referred to God's name and made it known to others. How could the New Testament authors tell about Jesus emphasizing God's name without ever actually using that name themselves?
The Jehovah's Witnesses reference passages like John 5:43 where Jesus says, "I have come in my Father's name," and John 10:25 where Jesus speaks of "the works I do in My Father's name." First of all, it is ironic that these verses do not contain the name "Jehovah" even in the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation. If anything, these verses demonstrate that you can properly talk about God's name while calling Him by an honorific title like "Father" and not actually saying or using the name. Even Jesus did it! That said, the Jehovah's Witnesses have an overly simplistic understanding of what it means to do something in someone else's name. If I am a king, a head of state, or in charge of a major corporation, and I send a representative somewhere to carry out a mission "in my name," that has nothing to do with my literal, personal name. It means to go in my place, to act in my authority, to carry out the duty on my behalf. Using a title for me does not undermine this and in some situations may assist in it (as it did with Jesus when He referred so often to "The Father"). To assume that because Jesus came in the Father's name that He had to walk around saying His literal, personal name all the time is just silly. By oversimplifying what is meant by the word "name," they fail to grasp the plain meaning of the text.
The issues are similar in other references like John 17:6:
"I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word."
What does it mean to manifest God's name? Jesus goes on to explain immediately in verses 7-8:
"Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me."
Jesus life, work, teachings, and ministry were from the Father. Jesus is one with the Father, was sent by the Father, and perfectly represented the Father. Jesus didn't teach the disciples a set of syllables by which they were to refer to God. They were all practicing Jews and already knew the name YHWH. Jesus manifested the name of the Father. He perfectly represented the person and will of the Father. This is what Jesus is saying.
Likewise, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6:9, "Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name." He taught them to keep God's name as Holy, and this didn't involve actually speaking the word! Nowhere in Jesus' model prayer does the word "Jehovah" occur, not even in the New World Translation. And again, what does it mean for God's name to be hallowed? Does it simply mean to use the literal word and religiously revere it, or does it mean much more than that? If I "make a name for myself," I am not literally creating a new name. I am earning a great reputation. Likewise, if I "ruin my name," it has little to do with the literal name my parents gave me. The word "name" is used to refer to more than just a personal word that people use to refer to God. In Malachi 2:11, Jehovah God says:
"For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name."
He says that incense will be offered to His name. Not in His name, but to it. What does it mean to offer incense to a name? God's "name" is more than just the word we call Him. We cannot be so simplistic in our reading if we want to understand the Bible.
At any rate, obviously none of the references to God's name in Jesus teaching point to the New Testament documents having ever contained the word YHWH or Jehovah. None of these verses are talking about what the New Testament writers wrote, and if anything they do show us that even Jesus Himself talked about the name of God in contexts where He never actually used that word and instead used a title. If even Jesus thought it was acceptable to talk about the Father's name without using a literal personal name, why would it be strange for the New Testament writers to do the same?
In short, there is nothing in any of these passages that would suggest that we should reject the unanimous testimony of all the manuscripts, translations, and quotations of the New Testament documents dating back to the earliest time period of Christianity which all agree unanimously together that the New Testament did not contain the word YHWH (Jehovah).