Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament? Modern Translators

by Luke Wayne

The Jehovah's Witnesses add the name "Jehovah" to the New Testament in their version of the Bible some 237 times. There is no ancient manuscript of any book of the New Testament that contains the Divine Name, but the Watchtower literature insists that this is because all of our manuscripts are corrupt and the original versions that contained the Divine Name have been altered by all the scribes who copied them.1 They further defend their practice by pointing out that many other translators have also utilized the Divine Name in the New Testament. While the logic of this argument is at the same level of a teenager insisting to their parents "everybody's doing it!" or "all my friends are going to be there!" to justify doing something the parents recognize as foolish, nevertheless, let's examine their claim a little more closely.

They assert that "recognized Bible translators have used God's name in the Christian Greek Scriptures."2 They then go on to provide a list to prove their point, stating:

"These translators and their works include: A Literal Translation of the New Testament . . . From the Text of the Vatican Manuscript, by Herman Heinfetter (1863); The Emphatic Diaglott, by Benjamin Wilson (1864); The Epistles of Paul in Modern English, by George Barker Stevens (1898); St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, by W. G. Rutherford (1900); The New Testament Letters, by J.W.C. Wand, Bishop of London (1946)."3

As one can see, they use the term "recognized" rather loosely here. Not only are none of these examples easily "recognized" in the sense of people generally being familiar with them, it is also true that none of them are "recognized' in the sense of receiving formal recognition or approval by any known authority. They were obscure in their own day as well as in ours, and are not particularly representative of serious scholarship. That doesn't automatically make them wrong, but one can hardly appeal to them as any sort of recognized authority on the matter. Without further evidence as to why they translated the way they did, the mere existence of their translations doesn't prove anything.

The Jehovah's Witnesses go on to cite a Spanish translator named Pablo Besson whom they say "used 'Jehová' at Luke 2:15 and Jude 14, and nearly 100 footnotes in his translation suggest the divine name as a likely rendering."4 While this is supposed to be evidence for their translation, it is a strange accolade. If Besson believes that there are less than 100 places where the Divine Name is even a possible reading (and only two where he thought it was the most probable reading and put it the main text rather than a footnote) that helps to demonstrate how radical a position the Jehovah's Witnesses are taking. Even among fringe translators who believe that the Divine Name may be a lost reading in some places in the New Testament (a position for which there is no material or logical evidence) they still don't come close to substantiating the 237 places the Jehovah's Witnesses have added the name. This points to the fact that even the obscure, revisionist translations to which the Watchtower translators appeal do not agree with them on exactly where the name needs to be "restored." Here we see the sticky position that the Jehovah's Witness teaching puts them in. Once you claim the original wording of the New Testament has been lost, why should we believe that you have restored it correctly? All of these other translators had very different "restored" translations. Other religious leaders like Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith have their own "restored" translations. What makes the New World Translation an accurate restoration and all of these others false? The truth is, if the original words had, in fact, been completely lost to history with no material evidence left behind, then the Bible would simply be lost. No anonymous governing body or clever individual claiming "I think I figured out what the Bible was really supposed to say!" carries any real weight. Even if they point to a Bible passage that is supposed to prove they have the God given authority in the matter, how do we know that the passage they are pointing to is accurate? What if that was also changed? The Jehovah's Witness teaching does not actually affirm their translation. It undermines the entire Bible. Fortunately, they are incorrect, and we have very solid ground for knowing what the original text said.

Finally, they point out that "Bible translations in over one hundred different languages contain the divine name in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Many African, Native American, Asian, European, and Pacific-island languages use the divine name liberally"5 So a lot of translations into relatively obscure languages use some form of the divine name. Does this prove anything about what the original text said? Let's go a step further. What if they weren't obscure languages? What if hundreds of translations into major languages used the divine name in the New Testament. Would that prove that the original documents contained it? No. This is not, in and of itself, evidence. History isn't up to a vote, and even if it was, the majority of translators are against the Jehovah's Witness position. The Jehovah's Witness argument from other translators is not evidence. It is a form of emotional reassurance. Finding other people who seem to think like you do might help you feel better about what you believe, but it doesn't actually prove you right any more than finding people who disagree with you proves you wrong. You have to look at the actual evidence. In the case of the Divine Name and the New Testament, all of the early evidence points in perfect unity to the conclusion that the New Testament writers did not use the name Jehovah in their inspired writings. They used the title "Lord" and so that is what any accurate translation of the New Testament should use today.

  • 1. New World Translation: 2013 Revision, Appendix A5
  • 2. ibid
  • 3. ibid, ellipses in the original
  • 4. ibid
  • 5. ibid