Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament? Names and Abbreviations

by Luke Wayne
10/11/16

The New World Translation, the Bible produced and used by Jehovah's Witnesses, inserts the name "Jehovah" into the New Testament some 237 times. The Greek New Testament manuscripts do not contain the name YHWH in any of these places, but Jehovah's Witnesses argue that the original copies did and that scribes actively changed the name of God into the word "Lord." The unanimous, early testimonies of New Testament manuscripts, translations, and quotations in other Christian (and even heretical) writings all agree together against this teaching, but Jehovah's Witnesses insist that it must be true and argue for it through other means. Among their arguments is that there are names and other words in the New Testament that contain the divine name in an abbreviated form.

"At Revelation 19:1, 3, 4, 6, the divine name is embedded in the word 'Hallelujah.' This comes from a Hebrew expression that literally means 'Praise Jah.' 'Jah' is a contraction of the name Jehovah. Many names used in the Christian Greek Scriptures were derived from the divine name. In fact, reference works explain that Jesus’ own name means 'Jehovah Is Salvation.'"1

This is true, but doesn't prove anything at all. No one questions that there were popular names among first century Jews that contained the name of God, like Matthew (which means "gift from YHWH") or John (which means YHWH is gracious), and that many people in the New Testament have such names. Are the Jehovah's Witnesses seriously trying to argue that anyone who has written about people with these names must have also used the name YHWH directly throughout their writings? This is obviously unreasonable. There are all kinds of writings (both ancient and modern) that reference people with such names but do not utilize the divine name itself. The fact that the New Testament writers mention these names does not justify inserting the name "Jehovah" in place of words like "Lord' or "God." Translating means rendering what the person actually said into another language, not what you think they should have said or what you really wish they had said. When the New Testament authors write "Matthew" we should keep it as "Matthew" and when they write "Lord" we should keep it as "Lord." The fact that Matthew means "Gift from YHWH" doesn't mean we can just throw YHWH in the text where ever we want.

They also mention the word "Hallelujah," and of course this is true. The 'Jah" (or "Yah") in Hallelujah is an abbreviated form of YHWH. While this is not an instance of the actual name of YHWH being present in the New Testament text, it is a word that directly and meaningfully references that name. Thus, if a Bible translator chose to render this word as "Praise Yahweh" or "Praise Jehovah" instead of transliterating it is "Hallelujah," there would be no problem there. This approach would be imperfect, as it would ignore the abbreviated form and would fail to capture the fact the even in the Greek text of Revelation the word is a transliteration from the Hebrew as "Hallelujah" and is left untranslated by the original author. Still, such a translation would at least be drawing from the actual meaning of the word. If all that Jehovah's Witnesses were suggesting was to translate "Hallelujah" as "praise Jehovah" in this one chapter of Revelation, there would be no argument. But that is not what they are suggesting. This is not a simple matter of translation approach. The word "Amen" is also a Hebrew word transliterated into the Greek, and we likewise transliterate it into English as "Amen" without translating it. This is a normal and fair practice, and the Jehovah's Witnesses agree when it comes to words like "Amen." Even when it comes to "Hallelujah," they render it as "Praise Jah" rather than "Praise Jehovah," because strictly speaking the full name of YHWH is not in the text here. So this is not an argument about how to translate hallelujah into English. The use of a Hebrew word that contains an abbreviation of YHWH in one chapter of one book does not somehow prove that the original text of the New Testament used the full name YHWH all over the place or even at all. It does not point to a need to "restore" the text by putting the name YHWH where ever one thinks it should be. One cannot substantiate inserting Jehovah 237 times in 27 New Testament books based on the presence of Hallelujah four times in one chapter of Revelation. 

What's more, if anything this points the opposite direction. If scribes were systematically suppressing any reference to the name YHWH, why would they have left the obvious instance of the word "hallelujah"? You only have two options. Perhaps they didn't change it because they were faithfully copying what was in the text. If so, then they were not altering the text and the Jehovah's Witness theory about changing the name of God fails. On the other hand, maybe they didn't change it because Greek speakers back then didn't know that it was a reference to YHWH, so they just overlooked it. Maybe they used it as a more general term of praise for God without regard to the Hebrew origin of the word. Of course, if this is so, the original author writing in Greek to Greek speakers was probably using it the same way, and you can't count it as a reference to the name of YHWH at all. Either way, these instances don't help the Jehovah's Witness case. Instead, they provide at least circumstantial evidence that the scribes were trying to preserve the text exactly as they found it, which speaks against a theory of some widespread effort to alter the text and remove the name of God. At any rate, we have more than sufficient grounds to be confident that the text of the New Testament has come down to us reliably and that we can know what it really says, even in the titles used for God.

  • 1. New World Translation: 2013 revision, Appendix A5