by Luke Wayne
The New World Translation (the Bible produced and used by Jehovah's Witnesses) inserts the name "Jehovah" into the New Testament in spite of the fact that not a single Greek manuscript nor even an early translation contains it.1 Regarding this practice, they explain:
"In deciding to do this, the translators took into consideration two important factors: (1) The Greek manuscripts we possess today are not the originals. Of the thousands of copies in existence today, most were made at least two centuries after the originals were composed. (2) By that time, those copying the manuscripts either replaced the Tetragrammaton with Kyʹri·os, the Greek word for “Lord,” or they copied from manuscripts where this had already been done."2
These claims, however, do not hold up to scrutiny:
- We don't have the originals of the New Testament, and most of our copies come from more than two centuries after the New Testament was written: While this statement is technically true, it doesn't actually say anything useful to the discussion. In fact, it barely says anything meaningful at all! The New Testament has been copied non-stop for almost 2,000 years. We're still copying it today. Of course most of our copies come from after the first 200 years. How could they possibly have made more copies in just the first two centuries than people would be able to make over the next eighteen centuries? It's just common sense that most copies would come later. The fact is, however, that the New Testament was written in the mid-late first century AD, and by the end of the third century AD (or within just over 200 years of the time of the New Testament writers) we have surviving manuscripts from almost every book in the New Testament.3 For many New Testament books we have quite a few! For example, we have 16 manuscripts of the Gospel of John within that timeframe, and for Matthew we have 12!4 When dealing with literature so ancient, this is a vast wealth of early testimony. There are also a fairly large number of other Christian writings whose earliest manuscripts date back that far.5 Many of these manuscripts contain quotes from the New Testament, adding even more confirmation of what the original text said. The truth is that we have diverse examples of the New Testament text from very early on, and they all use the Greek word "Kurios" rather than the proper name YHWH.
- Those copying the manuscripts changed the name YHWH into the Greek word "Kurios" or "Lord": Let's consider what this claim would require. Remember that each of the New Testament books was written at a different time and place and sent to different people. They were not all being copied by the same people at the same time. Our various copies were produced by a variety of people in a variety of places. We even have very early translations into other languages. The same is true for the other Christian documents that quote the New Testament and that display the same practice of using the title Lord rather than the name YHWH. It is entirely beyond credulity that all of these various scribes in various places (and even speaking various languages) coordinated to systematically remove the name of God from all of these books wherever they were being copied, and successfully did so in such a way that no evidence was left behind. Not even a single Christian writer remembered what any of these books used to say nor managed to keep and reproduce an older copy. These scribes would also have to convince every Christian everywhere to stop using the name YHWH and to replace it with the word Lord in their own writings. Not only that, they would have to have changed the documents, practices, and memories of all of the heretical offshoots of Christianity as well, like the Gnostics whose early manuscripts also survive. This apparently universally powerful network of scribes would have to do this everywhere and leave no evidence behind. Their power would have to transcend political boundaries, reaching lands under Roman rule, the Persian Empire, and into smaller, independent kingdoms. What's more, if one does accept such a grand conspiracy theory, they have to give up the reliability of the New Testament entirely. If all the writings and memories of all the Christians throughout the ancient world could be so completely altered without leaving a shred of evidence behind, who knows what else such an authoritarian scribal network changed! No word or phrase is safe. The whole New Testament tradition is potentially compromised. Fortunately, such a conspiracy theory is utterly impossible. The evidence is too early and too numerous.
In conclusion, the New Testament documents are quite reliably preserved and are attested by extremely early manuscripts and quotations in multiple languages and locations. There is no reason to doubt the manner in which they have come down to us, even regarding the names and titles used for God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The Jehovah's Witnesses and the New World Translation are simply wrong on this point.
- 1. The earliest translations to contain the divine name were medieval Jewish translations of the New Testament into Hebrew, though even these do not universally use it. The same Hebrew translation may use "YHWH" in some places, "Lord" in others, and the Hebrew title "HaShem" or "The Name" in still others. The translators were plainly interpreting these conventions into their work, and they give us no reason to think that their inventive Hebrew versions better reflect the original than do the oldest Greek manuscripts or the earlier translations
- 2. New World Translation: 2013 Revision, Appendix A5
- 3. Larry Hurtado, The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins (William B. Eerdmans, 2006) 20-21
- 4. ibid, 20
- 5. ibid, 22-24