My dialogue with some Jehovah’s Witnesses has continued as of late. After a couple of encounters, I sent my new friends an email with some questions and asked for their leaders to help me understand some discrepancies within the New World Translation.
When they showed up back at the house last week, they said they didn’t have adequate time to talk about my questions, but they promised me there were answers that addressed all of my concerns.
They then stayed for 90 minutes.
One of the things we discussed at length was the name of God.
As mentioned on their website’s FAQ’s:
Thus, our name Jehovah’s Witnesses designates us as a group of Christians who proclaim the truth about Jehovah, the Creator of all things. (Revelation 4:11) We witness to others by the way we live our lives and by sharing with them what we’ve learned from the Bible.—Isaiah 43:10-12; 1 Peter 2:12
Here’s the only problem. The name “Jehovah” is not in the Bible. It’s not in the Old Testament, and it’s definitely not in the New Testament.
What is God’s Real Name?
When Moses fled to the wilderness, he lived as a shepherd for 40 years. At the end of that time, he stumbled upon a burning bush one day. The bush was burning yet not consumed, and a voice from the bush was speaking to him. He decided to listen to this voice.
The voice was calling Moses to command Pharaoh to let the Israelites go and free them from slavery. Moses presented four reasons for hesitancy. The second reason was based on God’s identity. If Pharaoh and all of Egypt have numerous gods, what it the identity of this particular one?
Exodus 3:13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
Moses couldn’t just say “God told me for you to let them go.” Which god? Was it Ra, the god of the sun? Was it Anuket, the goddess of the Nile River? Was it Babi, the god of baboons? Or maybe it was Tawaret, the hippopotamus goddess who watched over childbirth and fertility? Which one? We need a name!
So, the voice in the middle of the bush gave a name:
Actually, Hebrew is read from right to left, so it actually would have been spelled:
Or in Hebrew:
You will notice that this name (in whatever form you prefer to read it) has no vowels but only possesses consonants. That’s because the Hebrews did not utilize vowels in their writings. It was only till years after the original writing did a group add vowel symbols to help with the pronunciation of these words.
In the original text, “YHWH” is given to designate the personal name of the God of the Israelites. This is referred to as the tetragrammaton. Since there are no vowels, there is discrepancy concerning how it was originally pronounced.
The Israelites were so fearful of taking God’s name in vain (Ex. 20:7; Lev. 24:16) that they basically quit saying it out loud altogether. They began to refer to God as Elohim which means “God” or Adonai which means “Lord.” Over time, the vowels from Adonai and/or Elohim found their way into the consonants of YHWH forming what we know as “YaHWeH.”
There are numerous vowel combinations that are possible but the most commonly used form is “Yahweh.”
Jehovah Could Not Be God’s Name
While this may shock many of you, one thing we are confident of is that the name Jehovah was never used from the burning bush or any Israelite.
While it has been used in English for years, there is no chance that Jehovah is God’s name for one simple reason: the Hebrew alphabet does not contain a “j” sound. They simply do not have it.
When I was in Japan serving as a missionary, the people could not call me “Travis.” In their language, their mouths are not used to making a “tr” sound combination, so my name became “Toe-davis.”
In Hebrew, they don’t use the “j” sound so there is no way that God’s name is Jehovah. Here is the Hebrew alphabet.
While I was sharing this fact with my Jehovah’s Witnesses friends, they pointed out that a significant word in the Psalms is the word “hallelujah” which contains God’s name in it. I agreed.
And how exactly do you pronounce that “j” in the word? You pronounce that “j” in English as “yah” just like you would pronounce Yahweh.
Jehovah was used first around the 16th century as a variant from Latin (which was not the original language of any part of the Bible). In this form, the “Y” is substituted with a “J” and the “W” with a “V” resulting in “JeHoVaH.”
So, when Moses heard this name, it may not have sounded exactly like “Yahweh,” but we do know it at least began with a “y” sound and not a “j” sound. There is no doubt among scholars concerning the consonants used.
Deeper than just the consonant formation, the name refers to God’s self existence. He is who he is. You can’t describe him like the Egyptians describe their gods. He is not just the god of the rivers or the god of the baboons. He is not defined by what he does – he is defined by who he is. He defines himself. Adjectives or associations fail to do him justice. He is self-existent and self-sufficient.
What About the New Testament?
In the New Testament, the word is never used. Neither of those forms are in the original documents.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses decided to create their own translation of the Bible, the word was added in the New World Translation 237 times from Matthew to Revelation.
Let me repeat: it is never used once in any manuscript of the New Testament.
Where the Greek uses theos for “God” or kurios for “Lord,” this translation substitutes those words 237 times for “Jehovah.”
That means, that with all the Jehovah’s Witnesses talk concerning biblical integrity, they have incorrectly changed the name of God in the Hebrew Old Testament and then substituted that incorrect name 237 times in the New Testament for another name that was actually used.
If You Really Care About God’s Name
We debated this point because the discussions, which had been pleasant conversations up to this point, had started to turn more condescending on their part. I was asked if my church really cared about mission, “where is the action? What are you doing about getting the gospel to the world?”
I will save that discussion for another date (understanding that this was still in the context of a 90-minute dialogue in which they did not have time to answer these questions).
The other accusation was that I “don’t care about the name of God.”
“Travis, the Bible repeatedly talks about making God’s name known. Don’t you think it is important to use his name? If you really care about God’s name, why do you read a translation that took his name out?”
He was saying that since my translation didn’t contain Jehovah but instead read “Lord,” I didn’t know God personally since I didn’t even use his name.
I explained that the “name of the LORD” implies more than just knowing the correct consonants and vowels but holds weight to the being it symbolizes.
I also informed them that the translation I use actually does designate the covenantal name of God faithfully (I normally use the ESV but many other evangelical translations do this as well).
Where Is Yahweh in My Translation?
Every time in the Old Testament, when Yahweh was used in the original text, it is written “LORD” with all capital letters compared to when Adonai is used in which the translators use “Lord” not having all of those letters displayed in capitals.
Here’s a great example from Psalm 16:1-2 that shows the different names and some great theology behind it:
Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.” -Psalm 16:1-2
If I were to write this verse in English using the original names, it would read:
Preserve me, O Elohim, for in you I take refuge.
I say to Yahweh, “You are my Adonai;
I have no good apart from you.” -Psalm 16:1-2
It has so much deep meaning behind it. Creator God, preserve me. I take refuge in you as the God who creates and preserves.
I say to you, personally, Yahweh, because I have a relationship with you and know your name, that you are my master (Adonai). There is no good I have besides you.
So, when you read through the Old Testament, there are all these beautiful moments when I see how “God” and “LORD” and “Lord” interact with one another.
Until I learned this, I never understood the reasoning for saying “the LORD my God.” I thought the phrase was repetitive, but it is not at all. It is saying, “Out of all of the gods out there, Yawheh, you are mine!”
Change the Stationary
As I shared this with them, they seemed genuinely informed by these pieces of information. Concerning the absence of “j” in the alphabet, they seemed very confused.
“How do you know this? Are you sure?”
“Have you ever studied Hebrew?” I asked.
“Well, I have. I’m not great at it, but I studied it enough because I am a skeptical person. I have to dig in deep for me to buy into something. So, I know enough to know key elements about the Bible like this. You are telling me that I don’t care about the name of God, and I have to disagree with you. I care about the name of God. So does my church. So does the translation that I use.
“But I hate to tell you but the name that you are using is not the actual name of God. I am all for the name of God being known among the nations. Let’s make his name known. But if that is truly the conviction of Jehovah’s Witnesses, then the whole organization is going to need to change the stationary.
You should be Yawheh’s Witnesses instead of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
For the first time, we experienced silence in the conversation.
Eventually, one of the guys said, “Well, is it that big of a deal if the real name is ‘Yahweh’ and we use ‘Jehovah?’ I mean, come on, is it that important?”
Internally, I wanted to scream, but I maintained composure, “You tell me. You guys have been telling me that I don’t care about the name of God in its truest sense, and now that you are aware you call an incorrect name, you don’t think it is a big deal? I’m all for the name of God being used. I use his name. I try not to use it in vain. But you offended me by saying I didn’t care about the name of my God. Especially in light of the fact that the name you have been taught is not even the correct name.”
“We have to go now.”
After a few more attempts at conversation concerning the gospel and Jesus, I trailed them to their car and asked for them to check into this information. As they drove off, I promised to send them this material so they could study it for themselves.
Before they left, I said, “I need you to know, I don’t think you are trying to deceive me. My fear is that you have been deceived. You have been deceived on this issue and many others where someone has changed the the words of the Bible to fit their purposes.”
As they left, I felt more burdened than before they came. I was overwhelmed by what they had been taught.
Should We Use Jehovah?
So, is it bad to use Jehovah?
Tons of studies have been done using this as the first name in a line of studies of how God’s names are used in the Bible.
I can’t say that is bad, but it does bring up a good point that you need to be careful to who you listen to, who you read, and who you download.
Versus swallowing everything you are fed, begin to prepare, cook, and digest some of this on your own.
Study the Word. Get some good resources.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. -2 Timothy 2:15
Interested in Learning More?
If you have always wanted to study world religions, I will be teaching a course on these topics at North Side in September. We will be able to study more in depth Jehovah’s Witnesses and other faith movements.
We have limited space so sign up soon. Also, you do not have to be a church member to join us. You can sign up here.