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Has God's Name Been Removed from Most Bibles?
The following imaginary dialog is a
composite of several I have had with Jehovah's Witnesses in person and
on the Internet. There are a lot of ways one can take a dialog on
this subject (a favorite of Witnesses, who identify themselves as God's
true Congregation in large part because they alone are "making the
Divine Name known"), but I have tried to focus on the essentials in
the dialog itself, and added footnotes to go into greater detail (or run
down a rabbit trial, depending on your point of view).
I am indebted to Duane Magniani's Watchtower Files, which contains similar dialogs between "Chris" and "Jay" on subjects other than this one.
The Cast of Characters:
Chris, an Evangelical Christian
Jay, one of Jehovah's Witnesses
Chris's driveway. Chris is washing his car.
Jay: Hello, sir. My name is Jay, and I have been going through your neighborhood, asking people some very important questions and discussing issues of interest to everyone. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?
Chris: I'm Chris. Sure. You don't mind if I keep washing my car, do you?
Jay: No problem. OK, let's start with the first question: Does God have a Name?
Chris: Yes, He does.
Jay: Do you know what it is?
Chris: It's Yahweh.1
Jay (smiling): Yes! You'd be surprised how many people don't know God's Name. Are you Jewish or...
Chris: I'm a Christian.
Jay: Oh, OK. You know, I've been walking through your neighborhood today, and you're the first person that's known God's Name. Why do you think that is?
Chris: I don't think many of my neighbors study the Bible.
Jay: Really? Well, I've talked to some people who say they're Christians, and they don't know God's Name. Why do you suppose they don't know His name?
Chris: A lot of people say they're Christians. That doesn't mean they trust in Jesus alone for their salvation and study His Word.
Jay: What Bible translation do you read?
Chris: It depends. I use one Bible for in-depth study and another for my personal devotions.
Jay: Do you read the NASB?
Jay: Are you aware that the NASB - like almost every other English Bible - has removed God's name over 3000 times in the Old Testament alone? How can you trust a Bible that has removed God's Name?
Chris: Well, the NASB hasn't removed God's Name. I can show you every one of those 3000 occurrences.
Jay: But they've changed God's name. They've hidden it by replacing it with 'Lord.'
Chris: Well, I wouldn't say they changed it. They've translated it with L-O-R-D - all capital letters - so it's easy to see where the four Hebrew letters appeared in the original.
Jay: By what authority did the NASB translators do that? According to the introduction, it's because it was a tradition started with the King James Version! How can you trust a Bible that prefers tradition over God's own Name?2
Chris: What authority did the New Testament authors have when they wrote the Christian Greek Scriptures?
Jay: God's authority, of course.
Chris. Yes. God's authority. And when the New Testament authors translated an Old Testament passage containing the Divine Name into Greek, what word did they use?3
Jay: Are you saying that the New Testament authors did not use God's Name? Didn't Jesus pray to His Father in John 17:26, "I have made your Name known to them and will make it known?"4
Chris: They may have used God's Name, I don't know. They were never recorded as doing so in the New Testament. But I was asking about the word the New Testament authors used for God's Name when they quoted the Old Testament.
Jay: We believe they originally used God's Name. Why wouldn't they? It was a later tradition that replaced God's Name with kurios, "Lord."
Chris: Jay, isn't the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures based on the very best available Greek manuscripts?5
Chris: And doesn't the Kingdom Interlinear have "Lord" for every Old Testament quotation containing the Divine Name?6
Jay: Yes. But there are scholars like George Howard who agree with us that the New Testament authors originally used God's Name.7
Chris: Before we talk about George Howard, you agree that the oldest and best manuscripts of the New Testament do not have the Divine Name, but instead translate it as "Lord."
Jay: The New World Translation has references to Hebrew translations of the New Testament that have the Divine Name.
Chris: Yes, but we talking about the oldest and best Greek manuscripts - the ones closest to the time of the New Testament authors.8
Jay: And there is very strong evidence that the Greek translation of the Old Testament - the Septuagint - originally had the Divine Name in Greek.
Chris: Yes, I'm familiar with this evidence, and I don't think it's as strong as you think, but again, we're talking about the New Testament manuscripts.9
Jay: Yes, and George Howard has proven that the Divine Name originally appeared in the New Testament manuscripts.
Chris: Have you read George Howard's article?
Jay: I've read some of it, yes.10
Chris: Then you know he was only proposing a theory. A theory he himself said was not supported by New Testament manuscript evidence. Do you know that he actually wrote a letter in which he complained that Jehovah's Witnesses were drawing the wrong conclusions from his study?
Jay: I have not heard that.
Chris: I can show you a copy of the letter, if you want - or you can find it yourself on the Internet. Anyway, the fact remains that as far as we know, based on hard evidence, not theories, the New Testament authors translated the Divine Name as "Lord" when they quoted the Old Testament. So, when you ask by what authority the NASB or other English Bibles translate the Divine Name as "LORD," I would say by the authority of the Apostles themselves.
Jay: Well, I'll have to go back and check Howard's article again.
Chris: Good! Be sure to look for his letter, too. I'm done with my car now and need to get going. But feel free to drop by anytime.
Jay: Thank you.
1. The Divine Name in the Old Testament is four Hebrew letters, represented in English as 'YHWH.' This is called the Tetragrammaton. Written Hebrew originally had no vowels, and thus it is impossible to know exactly how the Name was pronounced. Most modern scholars believe is was Yahweh, or something very similar (perhaps Ya-ha-weh). "Jehovah" is a term dating from the 19th Century. It was created by taking the vowels from the Hebrew Adonai ("Lord") and adding them to YHWH (or JHVH), producing JaHoVah. The Watchtower acknowledges that "Jehovah" is probably not the correct pronunciation of the Name, but contend that because it is the traditional representation of God's Name in English, it is acceptable to continue using it, even though it is technically inaccurate.
2. The section of the introduction to the New American Standard Bible dealing with God's Name in the Old Testament reads as follows: "In the Scriptures, the name of God is most significant and understandably so. In is inconceivable to think of spiritual matters without a proper designation for the Supreme Deity. Thus the most common name for the Deity is God, a translation of the original Elohim. One of the title for God is Lord, a translation of Adonai. There is yet another name which is particularly assigned to God as His special or proper name, that is, the four letters YHWH (Exodus 3:14 and Isaiah 42:8). This name has not been pronounced by the Jews because of reverence for the great sacredness of the divine name. Therefore, it has been consistently translated LORD. The only exception to this translation of YHWH is when it occurs in immediate proximity to the word Lord, that is, Adonai. In that case it is regularly translated GOD in order to avoid confusion." Notice that the Name has been translated LORD, according to the introduction.
3. The oldest and most reliable Greek New Testament manuscripts all have "Lord" (Greek kurios) whenever the author was quoting an Old Testament passage containing YHWH. The writers of the New Testament usually quoted the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint, or "LXX" for short), and the overwhelming number of LXX manuscripts also have kurios instead of YHWH. There are a handful of older LXX manuscripts in which the Divine Name appears in some form of four-letter translation or transliteration, but these manuscripts do not prove that the LXX originally contained the Name; they merely prove that some scribes favored a four-letter representation, while others preferred kurios. For more information, see The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek Scriptures, here. In any event, the New Testament authors consistently translated the Name kurios, as evidenced by the totality of ancient Greek manuscripts.
4. "That was his life and his 'food' (4:32): to make the Father known as he wanted to be known, to teach them the 'name' by which the Father wants to be invoked" (Ridderbos, The Gospel of John, p. 566). Jehovah's Witnesses assume this verse means that Jesus "made known" the Name, Jehovah. It would seem odd that Jesus would need to "make known" the Name YHWH to his disciples, who - like every devout Jew at the time - no doubt recited Deuteronomy 6:4 daily: "Hear O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is One." It would seem that something more significant is going on here, something closely related to the essential theme of Jesus' prayer in John 17. There is every reason to believe that the "name" Jesus refers to is "Father." As Ridderbos points out, Jesus' entire ministry - both past and future - is to bring His disciples into the same kind of intimate relationship with the Father that He Himself enjoys. The context of Jesus' prayer brings this out this point forcefully: "so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He taught them to address God as "Our Father," and in John 17, Jesus does not appeal to "Jehovah," but "Righteous Father" (v 25). In the New Testament, in a very real sense, the "name" of God is Father for believers, who by the Spirit cry out, "Abba, Father!" (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6; cf., Mark 14:36).
5. The Forward of the 1950 edition of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures reads: "The Greek text that we have used as the basis of our New Word translation is the widely accepted Westcott and Hort text (1881), by reason of its admitted excellence."
6. The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, published by the Watchtower, contains the Greek text with a literal English translation immediately below, and the New World Translation in a column on the right-hand side of the page. While the NWT text has "Jehovah" over 200 times in the New Testament, in each case, the Greek text reads kurios (kurioV), and the literal English translation beneath reads "Lord." This is not only significant with regard to proving that the New Testament authors translated the Divine Name as "Lord" when quoting the Old Testament, but also because the Watchtower has inserted the name "Jehovah" into the New Testament over 200 times without any manuscript evidence whatsoever. The Watchtower not only did this in passages containing quotations from the Old Testament, but in other verses that are not quotations of the Old Testament (according to Moulton and Geden, the Divine Name appears only 50 times in passages quoted by the New Testament writers; but the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures has replaced "Lord" with "Jehovah" 237 times).
8. There are 21 Hebrew translations of the New Testament prior to 1930, the earliest of which is 1385 (by contrast, the Greek manuscripts used by Westcott and Hort are one thousand years earlier). It is interesting to note that while the Watchtower says that it "confirmed" its own insertion of "Jehovah" by comparing the Hebrew translations to its own, the Hebrew translations collectively insert "Jehovah" 66 times more than the Watchtower has done. This may at first appear to be a measure of restraint on the part of the Watchtower, but such is not the case. When these 66 verses are examined, it becomes apparent that many, such as 1 Peter 3:15, would apparently contradict Watchtower Christology, were they to read "Jehovah" instead of "Lord" ("Sanctify Christ as Jehovah in your hearts..."). Thus, the Watchtower has done something far worse than it accuses others of doing. For while most English Bibles may translate YHWH as LORD, the convention is consistently applied and easily recognizable, even without consulting the original languages. On the other hand, the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures replaces the Greek kurios ("Lord") with "Jehovah" inconsistently and it is impossible for the average reader to determine where this has been done without reading the Greek text or an interlinear.
10. Selected quotations from Howard's article have been published in Watchtower literature, which is probably where most Witnesses have learned about him. The quotations do not indicate the tenuous nature of Howard's theory, which he himself admits in his article and in subsequent letters which have been made public. See note 7 for more details.