by Luke Wayne
The New World Translation (the Bible version produced by Jehovah's Witnesses) has a number of problems. Among these is the fact that they frequently insert the name "Jehovah" into the New Testament where the original authors used the word "Lord." This matters, in part, because it often obscures or even alters the otherwise plain meaning of the passage. The Jehovah's Witnesses defend this practice by claiming that all the New Testament manuscripts are corrupted and that the original actually did have the name Jehovah in it in all the places they insert it. They claim, thus, to be restoring the original text that has been entirely lost to history. They defend this thesis by appealing to scholars who supposedly agree with them:
"Some Bible scholars acknowledge that it seems likely that the divine name appeared in Hebrew Scripture quotations found in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Under the heading 'Tetragrammaton in the New Testament,' The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: 'There is some evidence that the Tetragrammaton, the Divine Name, Yahweh, appeared in some or all of the O[ld] T[estament] quotations in the N[ew] T[estament] when the NT documents were first penned.' Scholar George Howard says: 'Since the Tetragram was still written in the copies of the Greek Bible [the Septuagint] which made up the Scriptures of the early church, it is reasonable to believe that the N[ew] T[estament] writers, when quoting from Scripture, preserved the Tetragram within the biblical text.'"1
There are several important things to note here:
- The Jehovah's Witnesses do not actually cite more than one scholar here. While they cite two sources, The Anchor Bible Dictionary and Dr. George Howard, what they don't mention is that George Howard wrote the section of the Anchor Bible Dictionary that they are citing. So, in fact, they simply provide two quotes from the same man.
- Dr. George Howard, former associate professor of religion at the University of Georgia, is an intelligent man, but he is hardly a grand authority on the original text of the New Testament. He is most famous for his claims regarding the origins of the book of Matthew. He asserts that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew and only later translated into Greek. Others have speculated things like that before, but Howard goes further. He claims that a medieval Spanish Jew named Shem Tov, who wrote against Christianity in the 14th Century and frequently quoted from the gospel of Matthew in Hebrew, was actually using a copy of the lost Hebrew original of Matthew, albeit a copy that was somewhat corrupted by scribal errors through the centuries.2 Thus, Howard tends to reconstruct the text of the New Testament based on somewhat sensational theories. Scholars more directly involved in the study of New Testament manuscripts and textual history do not share his conclusions.
- The quotes the Jehovah's Witnesses give from Dr. Howard are much more guarded than their own claims. These quotes from Howard only say that there is "some evidence" and that it is "reasonable to believe" that the name YHWH might have been in the original New Testament specifically when it is directly quoting from the Old Testament. Even that claim is beyond the actual evidence, but it is a far cry from establishing the wide use of "Jehovah" throughout the NWT New Testament or the dogmatic certainty Jehovah's Witnesses claim. Howard's words do not justify the Jehovah's Witness teaching or practice.
- The scholar they quote says that the Divine Name would have been used in Old Testament quotations from the Septuagint, but the Jehovah's Witnesses only selectively follow this practice when it suits their agenda. For example:
Hebrews 1:10-12 (NWT), "At the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; and just like a garment, they will all wear out, and you will wrap them up just as a cloak, as a garment, and they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never come to an end."
The author of Hebrews is quoting from Psalm 102:25-27. The Psalm is definitely about Jehovah God and uses His name throughout. Further, the author of Hebrews is directly quoting from the Septuagint. Jehovah's Witnesses claim that, in the time of the New Testament, the Septuagint used the divine name and not the word "Lord" when referring to God. They insist that the practice of using the word "Lord" in place of God's name only came later. So why leave this reference to Psalm 102 as "Lord" and not Jehovah? The reason is obvious. The author of Hebrews is applying this verse to Jesus. It is saying that Jesus is the "Lord" referred to in Psalm 102. To translate it as Jehovah would be to admit the obvious truth that the book of Hebrews is claiming Jesus to be Jehovah God. If they were consistent in their practice, they would have to admit that this passage teaches the full deity of Christ and points to the doctrine of the Trinity. But that is exactly what they are trying to deny, so they selectively leave the word as "Lord" here, even though their own textual theory would insist that it should be "Jehovah." Thus, it becomes clear that the real reason for selectively changing the word "Lord" into "Jehovah" is a doctrinal agenda rather than an actual concern for the original form of the text.
- 1. New World Translation: 2013 Revision, Appendix A5
- 2. This claim was published in the original edition of his work, "The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew." In Subsequent editions he scaled back his claim, merely insisting that Shem Tov's Hebrew Text comes from an early Hebrew version of Matthew, but not necessarily an original that predates the Greek.