"Jehovah's Witnesses and the Divine Name"
Written by: Bowman, Robert M. Jr. Posted on: 04/24/2003
Category: Cults / Sects / Non Christian Religions and Topics
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"Jehovah's Witnesses and the Divine Name," Part Four in a four-
part series on Jehovah's Witnesses and the Bible (an article from
the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1989, Volume 12, Number 2,
page 21) by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is
Do Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) understand the Bible rightly? In
the previous installments of this series I have argued that JWs
systematically distort the teachings of the Bible by viewing the
Watchtower organization as sole interpreter of the Bible and by
mistranslating and misinterpreting specific texts of the Bible.
This fourth and concluding article will show that JWs likewise
distort the Bible in their handling of its major doctrinal
themes. As a case study in point I will discuss the JWs' teaching
on the divine name.
*THE MEANING OF "JEHOVAH"*
There is no consensus among Bible scholars as to the meaning
of "Jehovah." According to the JWs, the divine name "actually
signifies 'He Causes to Become.' Thus, God's name identifies Him
as the One who progressively fulfills his promises and
unfailingly realizes his purposes." Similarly, the phrase in
Exodus 3:14, usually translated "I AM WHO I AM" (_'ehyeh asher
'ehyeh_), is in the NWT rendered "I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I
SHALL PROVE TO BE."
Other Bible expositors have argued for a similar
interpretation of the divine name, though the details of the
argument differ. The exact interpretation of the name,
however, is still a matter of debate, and we need not be
concerned here to settle on the one right view. Instead, I wish
to make a simple point that can be seen apart from an accurate
analysis of the Hebrew form of the divine name. The fact is that
most of the interpretations under serious consideration, if
related properly to the biblical view of God, actually imply one
Let us consider these views briefly. One view holds that
"Jehovah" means "He is," conveying that God simply is who He is
and cannot be defined because He is greater than the human mind
can completely comprehend. Another view also holds that "Jehovah"
means "He is," but understands this to mean that God is the One
who is self-existent; that is, eternal and dependent on no one
and nothing else for His existence. A third view takes "Jehovah"
to mean "He causes to be" and interprets this to mean that God
is the Creator: everything that exists besides God Himself was
created by God. A fourth view renders "Jehovah" as "He will
become" and takes this to imply that God will do whatever is
needed to fulfill His promises; this is essentially the JWs'
view, and that of others as well.
Whichever of these views is right, the truths about God which
they understand the divine name to be expressing all necessarily
imply one another. In order for God to be able to fulfill His
incredible promises to His people, He must be in complete control
of human history and indeed of the whole universe; but this
implies that He is the Creator and Sustainer of the world. That
God is the Creator of the world and the One who can guarantee
such amazing promises about matters thousands of years in the
future implies that He is not bound by time but is eternal; which
in turn implies that He is self-existent. Such an amazing God,
who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, who is beyond the
restrictions of time, is certainly beyond man's ability to
comprehend completely or exhaustively; which implies that He
cannot be simply and neatly defined as the pagans labeled their
many imaginary gods.
The essence of God's name "Jehovah," then, regardless of the
precise original meaning of the Hebrew form, is that He is
absolutely supreme and in control of everything. In short, the
name "Jehovah" reveals God as _Lord_ -- as the all-sovereign Lord
of creation, of history, and of His people. It would appear to be
no accident, then, and no mistake, that "Lord" has come to take
the place of "Jehovah" both in the New Testament and in most
translations of the Old Testament. That this conclusion is in
fact biblically sound shall be further demonstrated as we
consider the biblical teaching about the divine name.
One more point should be noted: the JWs do not really believe
in this Lord whose absolute sovereignty is revealed in the name
"Jehovah." JWs deny that God is incomprehensible except in the
same sense that the wonders of the universe are
incomprehensible. Strictly speaking, they deny that God is
eternal (that is, transcendent over time), maintaining rather
that God simply has always existed and will continue always to
exist. Thus they deny His perfect foreknowledge of the future.
The JWs' God is also not omnipresent, but has a body of spirit
located at some fixed point in space. Thus, their "God" is not
the absolute Creator of space and time, but is a relative entity
locked into the universe of space and time along with the rest of
us. Ironically, then, the very _name_ about which JWs make such a
fuss reveals God as being infinitely greater than their
_doctrine_ of Him admits.
*THE NECESSITY OF THE NAME*
According to JWs, it is essential that God's people use God's
name "Jehovah" regularly when praying to Him and talking to
others about Him. Only the name "Jehovah," they argue, applies
uniquely to the true God and to no other god. False gods are
called "God," "Lord," and even "Father"; such titles, then, are
not "distinctive" designations of the _true_ God.
These arguments, though they seem reasonable to JWs, are not
biblical. For one thing, it is not true that only the name
"Jehovah" applies uniquely to the true God. For example, the
expression "the God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob"
serves to identify the true God as well as does the name
"Jehovah." More importantly, the New Testament does not use
"Jehovah" once, but instead regularly uses "God" or "Lord"
("Lord" being the normal usage in quotations from the Old
Testament). Thus the New Testament, at least as it stands,
testifies by its lack of the name "Jehovah" that it is not
essential to use it.
Because the evidence of the New Testament is obviously at
odds with the JWs' teaching on the divine name, they have
inserted the name Jehovah 237 times in their NWT New Testament.
We need, then, to consider the arguments used by the JWs in
defense of "restoring" the name Jehovah to the New Testament.
*THE DIVINE NAME IN THE SEPTUAGINT*
The "Septuagint" (for which the abbreviation "LXX" is
standard) was a translation of the Old Testament ("OT") from
Hebrew into Greek that was produced in the third century B.C.,
and from which the New Testament ("NT") frequently quotes. In
most versions of the LXX (which have come down to us through
ancient manuscript copies), the word "Lord" (Greek _kurios_) is
used in place of the divine name, and this practice is also
followed in all the thousands of ancient NT Greek manuscripts
that have survived.
In order to counter this evidence, JWs argue that "Jehovah"
was used in the original LXX and NT manuscripts, and that the
versions which used _kurios_ were produced after the first
century by apostate scribes. They base this claim on some pre-NT
manuscripts of the LXX containing the divine name which have been
discovered in this century.
It is unnecessary here to discuss all the pros and cons of
this theory. Several recent studies have been done which show
that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the divine name
was used in the original LXX, though everyone admits that _some_
(not many) copies of the LXX did use it. These studies point out
that the manuscripts on which the theory is based all contain
signs that they were not typical examples of the LXX.
Furthermore, internal evidence from the LXX itself shows that
from the beginning it must have used _kurios_ in place of the
Even if it should turn out that the original LXX _did_ use
the divine name, that would not necessitate that the NT writers
used it when quoting from the OT, since they did not always
follow the LXX exactly even when quoting from it. The only way
we can know what the NT writers did is by examining the NT
*THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE DIVINE NAME*
Thousands of NT manuscripts (in either portions or its
entirety) written in Greek, its original language, have been
found. So far, none of these manuscripts, which date from the
second century and later, have contained the divine name. This
the JWs admit. All the manuscripts have regularly used
_kurios_ in places where the NT quotes from or alludes to an OT
passage which in the original Hebrew used the divine name. Thus
the NT, as it has actually been preserved in the manuscripts
which have come down to us, definitely _does not_ contain the
Despite this evidence, JWs argue that, like the Septuagint,
the NT must have _originally_ contained the divine name. They
contend, for example, that Matthew wrote his gospel originally
in Hebrew and would therefore have naturally employed the Hebrew
name "Jehovah." Although it is _possible_ that Matthew wrote
an earlier version of his gospel in Hebrew, this is not a certain
fact; no copy of it has survived. Moreover, even if Matthew had
used the divine name in a now-lost Hebrew gospel, this in no way
proves that the rest of the NT writers did the same in their
original Greek writings.
JWs also appeal to a large number of medieval translations of
the NT into Hebrew which frequently used the divine name in place
of _kurios._ However, since these manuscripts were translated
from the Greek, and were produced over a thousand years after the
NT was written, they cannot lend support to the theory that the
NT originally contained the divine name.
Ultimately, the JW belief in this matter rests not on these
textual considerations, but on their understanding of what the NT
actually has to say about the divine name. JWs argue that the
practice of using substitutes such as "Lord" and "God" for the
divine name was a superstitious practice which developed among
the Jews as a way of avoiding taking the name of Jehovah in vain.
Jesus, they reason, would not "have followed such an unscriptural
tradition," given His forthright condemnation of the Pharisees
for their traditions. They maintain that Jesus showed His
respect for God's name when He taught the disciples to pray, "Let
your name be sanctified" (Matt. 6:9 NWT), and by His statement in
prayer to the Father, "I have made your name manifest" (John 17:6
NWT). They argue on this basis that when Jesus read aloud in the
synagogue from Isaiah 61:1-2, which contained the divine name in
Hebrew, He must have spoken the divine name rather than a
substitute. The apostles are said to have continued Jesus'
teaching in this regard by their referring to Christians as "a
people for his name" (Acts 15:14-15 NWT).
This line of reasoning is mistaken at every step. First, the
practice of substituting "Lord" or "God" for the divine name can
be traced _as far back as the OT._ For example, Psalm 53 is
nearly identical word for word with Psalm 14, but four times
substitutes "God" in place of "Jehovah" (Ps. 14:2,4,6,7;
53:2,4,5,6). This one example proves that using substitutes
for the divine name is not an "unscriptural practice."
Second, Jesus evidently used various substitutes, as can be
seen from passages where He was not quoting the OT (e.g.,
"Power," Matt. 26:64; "Heaven," Luke 15:21).
Third, Jesus' references to God's "name" are striking in that
in the immediate context, even in the NWT, neither the name
"Jehovah" nor any substitute is used. Thus, the model prayer
which Jesus taught to His disciples addresses God not as
"Jehovah," but as "our Father" (Matt. 6:9; _see_ also Luke 11:2).
Not once in Jesus' long prayer in John 17 does He address God as
Jehovah, but always as "Father" (John 17:1,11,21,24,25). In these
passages God's "name" evidently stands for His _character_ and
_reputation;_ while Christians are to honor these, there is no
concern expressed that they _use_ the divine name.
In fact, even with the use of "Jehovah" in the NWT Jesus
appears to have used the divine name very sparingly. In the NWT
it occurs in 20 texts reporting the words of Jesus, most of which
are quotations from the OT (e.g., Matt. 4:4; Mark 12:29-30; Luke
3:35; John 6:45). By contrast, Jesus used the word "God" over 180
times and "Father" roughly 175 times.
Fourth, if Jesus had used the divine name in His speech and
when reading aloud from the OT, His doing so would have been
harshly condemned by the Jews (since they opposed doing so). Yet,
we never read of any controversy over His use of the divine name.
Fifth, the apostles' teaching likewise does not show any
evidence of concern for the use of the name "Jehovah." In Acts
15, when James speaks of a people for God's name, even in the NWT
James does not use the name "Jehovah" except when quoting from
the OT (Acts 15:17); elsewhere he speaks simply of "God"
(15:14,19). James's point is not that Christians are a people
who _use_ the name "Jehovah," but a people who _identify_
themselves with the true God and _honor_ what His "name"
As I have already explained, the essential significance of
the name "Jehovah" (YHWH), whatever its original precise meaning,
is that He is the Lord. Thus, however the practice of
substituting "Lord" for the divine name arose, in God's sovereign
purpose this practice reflected the true significance of His
Finally, the claim that the divine name was removed from the
NT by apostate scribes and an unscriptural substitute put in its
place, besides contradicting the Bible's own teaching and having
no evidence to support it, contradicts one of the JWs' own
teachings about the Bible. Repeatedly one finds in their
publications strong affirmations that "the Bible has not been
changed" through the process of copying and recopying over the
centuries. This affirmation is not only factually correct, it
is necessarily true if the Bible is to be believed as God's
unchanging Word (Isa. 40:8; 55:11; Matt. 5:18).
*JESUS IS JEHOVAH*
JWs deny that Jesus is Jehovah, maintaining instead that He
is a created angel. Although the NT does not say in just so many
words, "Jesus is Jehovah," in more than one place it does say
that "Jesus is Lord," which is the clearest way the NT _could_
affirm that Jesus is Jehovah (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil.
2:11). Elsewhere the NT calls Jesus "Lord" in contexts where it
is quoting or paraphrasing OT texts which in the Hebrew used the
divine name (e.g., Heb. 1:10-12; 1 Pet. 2:3; 3:14-15). Moreover,
when the apostle Paul uses the expression "one Lord" (e.g., 1
Cor. 8:6), it is clear from the context that he always has
_Jesus_ in mind, even though "one Lord" in the OT means "one
Jehovah" (Deut. 6:4).
The JWs have attempted to turn this evidence on its head by
arguing that the substitution of "Lord" for the divine name in
the NT resulted in "confusion" between the Lord Jehovah and the
Lord Jesus. They have recently found an ally in this claim in
Bible scholar George Howard, who also supports their claim that
the original Septuagint used the divine name.
The evidence from the NT, however, contradicts the JWs' (and
Howard's) theory. As already noted, the claim that the NT
originally used the divine name contradicts the manuscript
evidence and the teaching of the NT. Moreover, it can be shown
that if "Jehovah" is substituted for "Lord" in the NT selectively
in order to avoid Jesus being called Jehovah, the passages where
this is done become incoherent. This is especially clear in
Romans 10:9-13 where Paul's argument depends on the "Lord" of
verse 13 (who must be _Jehovah,_ since it is a quotation from
Joel 2:32) being the same as the "Lord" (_Jesus_) of verse 9.
*WHO IS ON JEHOVAH'S SIDE?*
JWs take great pride in their constant use of the name
Jehovah, even to the point of calling themselves "Jehovah's
Witnesses." Ironically, the passage of Scripture on which this
name is based indicates that they are not _faithful_ witnesses to
Jehovah, since it states that the primary truth to which those
witnesses were to testify was that Jehovah is the _only_ God and
Savior (Isa. 43:10-11). By their teaching that Jesus was a
created god and a divine savior _under_ Jehovah, the JWs prove
themselves unfaithful witnesses.
A faithful witness of Jehovah would not systematically
distort His Word, as this series has shown that JWs do. Nor would
such a witness diminish His greatness and deny His incarnation in
Christ. Though they mouth His name, JWs have demonstrated by
their perversions of His Word, the Bible, that they are not truly
"on Jehovah's side" (Ex. 32:26).
1 _The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever_ (New York:
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society [hereafter WTBTS], 1984),
2 On Exodus 3:14, especially as it relates to John 8:58, see
this author's _Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the
Gospel of John_ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989),
3 Charles R. Gianotti, "The Meaning of the Divine Name YHWH,"
_Bibliotheca Sacra_ 142 (Jan.-Mar. 1985):38-51.
4 _Reasoning from the Scriptures_ (WTBTS, 1985), 148-49, 425.
5 _Ibid.,_ 148-49.
6 On this and related points see Duane Magnani, _The Heavenly
Weatherman_ (Clayton, CA: Witness Inc., 1987).
7 _Aid to Bible Understanding_ (WTBTS, 1971), 885-86.
8 See especially Albert Pietersma, "Kyrios or Tetragram: A
Renewed Quest for the Original LXX," in _De Septuaginta:
Studies in Honour of John William Wevers on His Sixty-fifth
Birthday,_ ed. Albert Pietersma and Claude Cox (Mississauga,
Ontario: Benben Publications, 1984), 85-101, and Doug Mason,
_JEHOVAH in the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation_
(Manhattan Beach, CA: Bethel Ministries, 1987).
9 This may be verified by studying Gleason L. Archer and Gregory
Chirichigno, _Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament_
(Chicago: Moody Press, 1983).
10 _Divine Name,_ 23.
11 _Ibid.,_ 24.
12 _Ibid.,_ 27.
13 _Ibid.,_ 14.
14 _Ibid.,_ 15.
15 _Ibid.,_ 16.
16 Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, _In Search of God: The Meaning and
Message of the Everlasting Names,_ trans. Frederick H. Cryer
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 15, 209 (n. 2).
17 _Ibid.,_ 17.
18 _Reasoning from the Scriptures,_ 63-64.
19 D. R. DeLacey, "'One Lord' in Pauline Christology," in _Christ
the Lord: Studies in Christology Presented to Donald Guthrie,_
ed. Harold H. Rowdon (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press,
20 George Howard, "The Tetragram and the New Testament," _Journal
of Biblical Literature_ 96 (1977):63-83.
End of document, CRJ0031A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Jehovah's Witnesses and the Divine Name"
release A, December 1, 1993
R. Poll, CRI
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