Posted January 17, 2020
The Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) of the Watchtower Tract and Bible Society claim that the Christian Church has colluded in removing the name "Jehovah" from the Bible, and that they alone confess the true name of God. They say that over 7,000 times the name Jehovah (Yahweh, the tetragrammaton, YHWH) has been changed in the King James Version (KJV) to LORD. Since their New World Translation (NWT) retains the original name Jehovah, they, so the claim goes, must be the true followers of God.
The Hebrew word Yahweh, four Hebrew consonants, is translated Jehovah in a few places in the KJV in the Old Testament (Gen. 22:14, Ex. 6:3, 17:15, Judg. 6:24, Ps. 83:18, Isa. 12:2, 26:4). In every other place in the Old Testament, it is translated LORD, and will be in all upper case letters. The word Jehovah does not appear at all in the KJV New Testament.
The issue is not the translation of the four letters which make up the name YHWH, but the meaning of the name itself. For example, a person might confess the word, Jesus, and sing enthusiastically, "JESUS, he's the one for me," but if that person does not believe that Jesus is the only, complete, all sufficient, effectual Savior of his people (Matt. 1:21), he does not really believe in Jesus at all. Alternatively, a person might say of Jesus, "Lord, Lord," but unless by Lord he means Master, Owner, Redeemer, and lives in submission and obedience to that Lord, his using the word "Lord" is vain hypocrisy (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46).
What, then, does the name YHWH, or Jehovah mean? God himself explained it to Moses in Exodus 3:14. The KJV says, "I AM THAT I AM: thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel. I AM hath sent me unto you." The JWs' translation, the NWT, translates it this way, "I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE." The Hebrew is a form of the common verb hayah which means to be. The verb form is the qal imperfect and is translated invariably I am, I shall be or I was. In the Greek translation, the Septuagint (LXX, used by the Jews in Christ's day, and quoted by the Apostles in the New Testament), the form is translated ego eimi, which means I am. "I shall prove to be" is therefore hardly a smooth or an accurate translation.
That God identifies himself with the name derived from the verb to be, best translated I am, teaches us important truths about the being of God. First, God is absolutely independent. He derives his being from himself, and maintains his being of himself. He needs nothing outside of himself (Rom. 11:33-36). Second, God is eternal, or timeless. God is. No creature can say, "I am." To be accurate, every creature must say, "I am becoming." In the few minutes that you have taken to read these lines, an unknown number of cells in your body have died and are being replaced, your blood has circulated around your body, and the air in your lungs has been exchanged for a fresh supply. That is not true of God. He does not need air, food or anything else, and his divine essence never changes. Third, the name JHWH, I AM, tells us that God is absolutely dependable and reliable. He never reneges on his promises. He is the God we can trust, whose purposes are always the same. Thus he could come to Moses at the burning bush and declare that the lapse of over 400 years had not caused him to forget or change his promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. One Watchtower publication says of the name YHWH that it means "He can become whatever he pleases in order to fulfill whatever role is necessary." The same publication says that God is a God of "innumerable roles." This is not the meaning of Jehovah, Yahewh, I AM, YHWH or ego eimi.
Now, JWs claim to believe in the divine, verbal inspiration of the Old and New Testament. They complain that God's name has been removed from the Old Testament thousands of times, and they claim that they have restored the word to its proper place. Here is a startling fact: the word Jehovah, YHWH, never appears in the New Testament Greek, even when the writers are quoting from the Old Testament where the Hebrew text has the word YHWH. Every time the writers of the New Testament Scriptures quote the Old Testament they use the word, kurios, which means Lord. If the Holy Spirit thought that the name Lord was an unacceptable translation for the word YHWH would he have not "corrected" that in the New Testament? After all, there are times when the writers of the New Testament modify the Septuagint translation from which they quote (the Septuagint translation is not inspired, you know). Why, then, did the Holy Spirit not have the New Testament writers substitute the word Jehovah for kurios, as the JWs' translation, the NWT, has done?
Let me give some examples. In Matthew 4:10 Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 and says (KJV), "Thou shalt worship the LORD, thy God." The Hebrew of Deuteronomy has YHWH, the Septuagint has kurios (Lord). What does Matthew write, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Kurios, Lord, not Jehovah! In Acts 2:21, Peter quotes Joel 2:32, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord (KJV). The Hebrew of Joel has YHWH, the Septuagint has kurios (Lord). What does Luke, the human writer of Acts, write, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Kurios, Lord, not Jehovah! In Romans 10:16, Paul quotes Isaiah 53:1, "Lord, who hath believed our report?" The Hebrew of Isaiah has YHWH, the Septuagint has kurios (Lord). What does Paul write, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Kurios, Lord, not Jehovah! If the word Jehovah must be used, why does the Holy Spirit never use it in the New Testament?
Moreover, the JWs' translation, the NWT, adds to the NT the name Jehovah, even when the Old Testament is not being quoted. For example, the NWT translates kurios (Lord) as Jehovah in the following passages: II Peter 3:9, "Jehovah [kurios] is not slow respecting his promise ...;" Acts 13:48, "... they began to rejoice and to glorify the word of Jehovah [kurios];"I am the Alpha and the Omega, says Jehovah [kurios] God." Other examples could be given. In the book of Revelation alone, Jehovah is added at least ten times (4:8, 11; 11:17, 15:3-4, 16:7, 18:8, 19:6, 21:22, 22:5-6). However, when kurios refers to Jesus Christ, it is never translated Jehovah (e.g., Phil. 4:5; I Thess. 4:15-17; II Thess. 2:8; II Tim. 4:17; James 5:7-8; Rev. 14:13, 19:16, etc,). This shows the bias of the NWT version. I Thessalonians 4 is a particularly interesting example. Here it is in the NWT: "For this is what we tell you by Jehovah's [kurios] word that we the living who survive to the presence of the Lord [kurios] shall in no way precede those who have fallen asleep in death, because the Lord [kurios] himself shall descend ... be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord [kurios] in the air and thus we shall always be with the Lord [kurios]" (vv. 15-17). Notice, the first kurios is translated Jehovah, but the other examples of kurios in the same context are translated Lord. Why? Because clearly they refer to Jesus Christ and the JWs will not recognize that Jesus Christ is Jehovah God!
In addition, JW's claim that Jesus went around Israel teaching the name of God, and teaching the people to pray that God's name be hallowed or sanctified. They appeal to John 17:26, "I have declared unto them thy name." Does that mean that Jesus taught them the secrets of the Tetragrammaton, the YHWH? They already knew that. They were Jews! It means he taught them who God is, what kind of God he is, because the name of God is the revelation of who God is. To know God's name is not to know the consonants and vowels which make up the address of God, but to know God himself, to know his attributes, his wonders, his works, his promises, and to have a relationship with him in Jesus Christ. Besides, never in the Gospels, do we read of Jesus ever addressing God in prayer with the name Jehovah, YHWH or Yahweh. Even in John 17, the greatest of Christ's recorded prayers, he addresses God as "Father" (vv. 1, 5, 21, 24), "Holy Father" (v. 11) and "Righteous Father" (v. 25). And in the prayer which he taught his disciples, he taught them to address God in these words, "Our Father which art in heaven." Why not Jehovah, if that is the preferred, if not the only acceptable, name of God?
The name "I AM" does appear in the New Testament. Four times, Almighty God is addressed in these words, "which is, and which was, and which is to come" (Rev. 1:8) or "which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8) or "which art, and wast, and art to come" (Rev. 11:17) or "which art, and wast, and shalt be" (Rev. 16:5). These are clearly allusions to Exodus 3:14 and the name YHWH in the Old Testament. These phrases refer to the unchangeable eternity and faithfulness of God.
But there is one other place where the name YHWH jumps out of the New Testament text. It is, however, deliberately obscured by the JWs' translation, the NWT. In John 8, Jesus claims that Abraham had rejoiced to see his day, to which the unbelieving Jews retort in scorn, "Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?" (v. 57). Christ's response is so shocking to the Jews that they pick up stones to put him to death on the spot for blasphemy. Here is the NWT version of what Jesus said, "Most truly, I say to you, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been" (John 8:58, NWT). Here is the KJV. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am." The Greek is ego eimi. Why would the NWT translate ego eimi, I have been, instead of I am? Because the JWs refuse to believe that Jesus is Jehovah and they want to sever the obvious link between John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14, where ego eimi is used in the Septuagint (LXX) version! In addition, Jesus frequently had the words ego eimi on his lips, and not only in the famous I AM sayings (John 8:24, 18:5-8, etc.).
The name of God is important. But the New Testament does not contain the name Jehovah. Or does it? In fact, the word Jehovah, the root of YHWH, is written large all over the New Testament. It is found in the name Jesus. Jesus means Jehovah-salvation, Jehovah is salvation or Jehovah Savior. That is why Peter can say in Acts 4:9-12, "If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." That, too, is why Paul can write, in obvious allusion to Isaiah 45:23 ("I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear"), "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
Jehovah's Witnesses may use the word Jehovah in prayers, worship, in their Bible version and in their proselytizing, but they do not confess the name Jehovah, because their Jehovah is not the sovereign, unchanging, faithful, Triune God of scripture. It is Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), not Christians, who are guilty of taking God's name in vain.
Rev. McGeown is missionary-pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland stationed in Limerick, Republic of Ireland.