by Luke Wayne
The New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses frequently inserts the name Jehovah into the New Testament. They justify this by claiming that the original New Testament contained that name. They insist that all of our manuscripts, translations, and quotations of the New Testament through all of Church history going back to the earliest years of Christianity are all corrupt. They believe the scribes altered the original readings that contained Jehovah's name. All of the New Testament manuscripts (and even the Old Testament manuscripts) provide evidence against this theory. There is no physical, historical evidence for their theory. They, therefore, attempt to find a logical argument that will perhaps override the weight of the material evidence. They thus contend:
"Since the Christian Greek Scriptures were an inspired addition to the sacred Hebrew Scriptures, the sudden disappearance of Jehovah’s name from the text would seem inconsistent."1
Is this the case? Would it be inconsistent with the Old Testament for the New Testament writers to refer to the Almighty as "Father," "Lord," "Master," and "God" but to never use the personal name "YHWH" like most of the Old Testament writers did? Do we have to assume, against all material evidence, that the Apostles must have written the name of Jehovah in their writings because so many of the prophets did so? No, this is not at all a necessary conclusion.
First of all, not even all of the Old Testament writings contain the name of YHWH. The book of Esther does not. The book of Song of Solomon can only be said to possibly use the name of God in a very derivative fashion as a piece of another word, and even this is disputed.2 W should also remember that the Psalms were all individual compositions and were only later compiled into one book. Considered as separate writings, many of the Psalms are Old Testament works that do not contain the name YHWH, such as Psalms 43, 45, 49, 52, 53, 60, 61, 63, 65, 67, 82, and 114. The inspired writers of the Hebrew scriptures certainly used the divine name in most of their works, but they did not do so in every inspired document they wrote. You cannot, then, say that writing a letter or a book of history without using the name of God, like those that make up the New Testament, is any more inconsistent than a book of history like Esther or an inspired poem like Psalm 43.
In fact, the New World Translation's approach to the Psalms is a great example of the fact they are not actually concerned about the pattern the Old Testament authors used regarding the divine name. Instead, they are imposing a standard of their own creation and altering both Old and New Testament writings to fit it. For example, Psalms 44, 51, 57, and 66 also lack the name YHWH in Hebrew text. Instead, they call God by the title "Adonay" or "Lord." The Jehovah's Witness translators, however, ignore the Hebrew and insert the name Jehovah in these places anyway. It doesn't apparently matter that the Psalmist actually wrote Lord, the Watchtower publishers believe that he should have written "YHWH." In one even more interesting instance, Psalm 53 does not contain the name YHWH or even the word "LORD," but they insert the name "Jehovah" in place of the word "Elohim" or "God." As far back as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Hebrew in this passage plainly says "God." The Greek Septuagint translates with the word "Theos," the Greek word for "God." The Holy Spirit through the author of the Psalm plainly chose the word "God" when he wrote this passage, but the Jehovah's Witness translators apparently believe that "Jehovah" would have been a better choice, so they have corrected the divinely inspired writer's "mistake." The Psalmists themselves don't live up to Jehovah's Witness standards in their use of the divine name. This should tell us something about how objective they are being when dealing with the New Testament author's word choices.
Finally, it is also not quite right to call the New Testament writings "an inspired addition to the Old Testament writings." When the prophets wrote after Moses had given the books of the Law, they were not trying to add to the Law. They were creating a new body of inspired documents that were also infallible and authoritative for God's people, but their writings were distinct. Likewise, the Psalmists were writing the prophetic word of God, but their works were not additions to the works of the Prophets. Not only have Jews always made such distinctions, Jesus Himself also made them (for example, in Luke 24:44). When the New Testament writers began to produce their works, they certainly would not have said they were writing additions to the Law. They would not have said that they were adding to the Prophets. They were producing a new and distinct body of scripture. There is a sense in which we can call all of these works together as "the scriptures," but it would wrong to take that to mean that they are all just one big thing. The books of the Bible represent different genres and are written in different languages. They appear in the styles of their various authors and express the literary customs of the various times and places they were written. They each have a unique context and purpose, and they are rightly grouped into various categories. This doesn't mean that some are truer or more authoritative than others, nor does it mean that there is any contradiction between them. What it does mean, however, is that we cannot expect them all to use the same words or express themselves in the same ways. While their teachings will all harmonize perfectly, there is no specific set of words, phrases, or terms that a biblical author is ever required to use. This is not the way any of the Bible works. The New Testament authors used the style and terminology that one would expect in the times and places they wrote, yet the factual, historical, ethical, and spiritual content they wrote is perfect and accurate because their words were inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is what makes their writings scripture, not some slavish commitment to the use of the words we think they should have used to say it.
- 1. New World Translation: 2013 Revision, Appendix A5
- 2. Song of Solomon 8:6 compares the passions of love to fire. The word used for fire here is sălhebetyáh. Many scholars understand the suffix "Yah" at the end to be derived from "Yahweh" or "YHWH" (Jehovah), though in an abbreviated form. This is why the NASB and ESV translate it "the fire of the LORD." Most scholars understand the word to primarily carry the sense of "a mighty flame" (NIV), "a raging flame" (NRSV), "a most vehement flame" (NKJV, KJV) "fiery flames— the fiercest of all," (HSCB). Ancient translations like the Septuagint favor the latter understanding and do not include a reference to YHWH or the Lord in this verse. Either way one takes it, this is a technicality of grammar and hardly an actual use of the word YHWH.