by Luke Wayne
The New World Translation (the Bible produced by the Jehovah's Witnesses) inserts the name "Jehovah" into the New Testament in 237 places where the original Greek actually reads "Lord." On the surface, this might seem like a rather minor error to be dealing with. After all, most English Bibles do the opposite, putting the title "LORD" in place of the name YHWH in the Old Testament, and we consider that to be a legitimate approach to translation. If YHWH really is God's name, why would it be wrong to use an English form of that name (like Yahweh or Jehovah) in the New Testament, especially in Old Testament quotes or in passages clearly talking about God? There are, however, several reasons that this Jehovah's Witness practice is problematic and needs to be addressed:
- It often interrupts the flow of the passages and shrouds the meaning. There are many passages where the author is using the word "Lord" throughout the whole section in a consistent way. In these cases, translating the word as "Lord" in some verses and as "Jehovah" in others disrupts the author's flow of thought and changes the meaning of the passage. Notice, for example, the difference between these two translations:
"That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved,” (Romans 10:9-13).
"For if you publicly declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one exercises faith for righteousness, but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation. For the scripture says: “No one who rests his faith on him will be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek. There is the same Lord over all, who is rich toward all those calling on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved,” (Romans 10:9-13 NWT).
In the first translation (an actual rendering of what the Greek Manuscripts really say) we see that we are to declare with our mouth that "Jesus is Lord" and that "anyone who "calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" because both Jews and Greeks have the same Lord. The Lord is Jesus. It is Jesus we confess with our mouth. It is Jesus we call upon. Jesus is the Lord of both Jews and Greeks, and they are all to confess Him. This is the consistent and straightforward teaching of the text. But Jehovah's Witness doctrine cannot accept this teaching because that would mean that Joel 2:32, "Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved," is being applied to Jesus. Joel was talking about the one true God of Israel. Thus, the plain reading of Romans 10 is that Jesus is the one Lord, the Lord Joel told us to call upon. Jesus is Jehovah God. When they change the text, however, to make calling Jesus "Lord" and calling on the name of "Jehovah" two entirely separate things, they hide the otherwise clear reference to Christ's deity. This is what the New World Translation does. (You can see other examples of this HERE and HERE.)
- The reasoning Jehovah's Witnesses use to justify their translation actually calls the whole New Testament into question. The Jehovah's Witnesses don't just claim to be using the word "Jehovah" for clarity or to distinguish God from other lords. They go much further, claiming that scribes changed the text. They insist that the original New Testament writings all had the name YHWH in them, but that later scribes chose to replace the name "YHWH" with the word "Lord." Think of what it would mean if scribes could make this change so completely in every Greek manuscript, in every early translation into Latin, Coptic, Syriac, etc., and in every New Testament quote by any other author in even the most obscure of personal letters, and leave no evidence behind. If we accept this, it doesn't stop at the one word. We have to assume that the scribes could have changed literally anything. This radical thinking about history and manuscripts has much larger consequences than the Jehovah's Witnesses realize. They are, in fact, accusing the entire New Testament of being completely untrustworthy and casting all of scripture into doubt. This is a very important claim to address.
- The Centrality of their "Jehovah" doctrine also makes this worth addressing. It is central to the Jehovah's Witness identity that they alone have a biblical appreciation of and reverence for Jehovah's name and that they have restored its proper use. They also trust the New World Translation above other translations, in part, because of its approach to the divine name. The fact that the Jehovah's Witnesses are actually mistaken in their simplistic approach to God's name and that their Bible is so often incorrect and unbiblical in how and where it uses that name is a significant blow to the Jehovah's Witness claim to be the unique and distinctive people called out for God's name. This seemingly small error actually has tremendous weight in the Jehovah's Witness community.
For these reasons, we have taken the time to address each of the various arguments that Jehovah's Witnesses use to prop up this erroneous practice in their translation in the articles linked below:
- Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament?: New Testament Manuscripts
- Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament?: Old Testament Manuscripts
- Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament?: Jewish Tradition
- Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament?: Jesus words and the Father's name
- Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament?: The Consistency Argument
- Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament?: Names and Abbreviations
- Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament?: Modern Scholars
- Was the name Jehovah removed from the New Testament?: Modern Translators