Jehovah’s Witnesses are showing and talking about what is purported to be an independent documentary entitled The Name of God. Its 60 minutes long and made to high production standards. The film sets out its stall by observing that the thousands of gods in this world all have names, but in the Judaeo-Christian world God’s name is not used or known:
Since this prohibition has been persistent for about 2,000 years, and been broadly adopted by the churches of Christendom, a disturbing state has now been reached in which God’s name has almost been forgotten, and its pronunciation seems uncertain. This movie considers whether the concealment of God’s name is actually in harmony with Scripture and, furthermore, whether the correct pronunciation of the name can be found again.’
Two issues are addressed here. 1) the concealment of God’s name, and 2) the pronunciation of God’s name. I will address a third; 3) the question of this film’s ‘independence.’ A time is placed down the left side of the page to mark at which point in the film I have stopped to comment.
Stoops Manufacturing and Distribution Company, until recently, seems to have been the main distributor in the US. They closed their doors in August 2017 and their stock has been largely taken over by The Fig Tree Market Place, which is where the link will take you, but they don’t seem to carry this product. It is still worth noting that Stoops said of the film:
‘It will encourage an open minded person to ask; “Is God’s name important to me?”…Those who believe that God has a personal name will be fascinated by the archaeological proofs presented. This documentary is so intriguing you may want to watch it time and time again. It is being premiered in public forums and colleges all over the world to people with various backgrounds and beliefs.’
It is presented as a ‘non-denominational film,’ and Witnesses are being told, ‘If you know someone who says, “I will consider anything as long as it’s not from Jehovah’s Witnesses”, this video may be of interest to them. It is very easy to watch and informative video.’ Witnesses are also being discouraged from distributing and advertising it through Kingdom Halls. Clearly, to achieve maximum effect, they don’t want the film to be associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses. But how ‘independent’ is it?
The ‘independent’ company that produced the film, Drei Linden Film (Three Linden Film) is owned by Fritz Poppenberg, who also directed The Name of God. He is a German writer, director, cameraman, producer, and, although there is some speculation about his being a Jehovah’s Witness, he has been involved in making many films for and about Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Girl With the Purple Triangle is one example.
Production was underwritten by the Reibling Foundation. Lorenz and Laura Reibling are thought to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, although this is not confirmed. Their foundation, however, has major interests in Watchtower issues, property development – notably in Brooklyn Heights – as well as in a medical firm that produces blood substitutes. It has had a major role in the production of Witness films promoting various aspects of the organisation’s ideology and practices.
You can read here about their support for blood substitutes where we read, ‘The Laura and Lorenz Reibling Family Foundation is an active supporter of PBM [Patient Blood Management] research and welcomes the publication of the guides, hoping they will support the efforts of health authorities in the EU and improve the treatment of many patients in the future.’
‘THE WA Department of Health has paid almost $4 million to two Jehovah’s Witnesses, neither of whom is a medical doctor, to roll out a statewide program to cut blood transfusions to thousands of patients being treated in public hospitals.
The Sunday Times can reveal the two men, Axel Hofmann and Shannon Farmer – whose religion is vehemently opposed to blood transfusions – won the lucrative five-year contract in 2008, with an American associate, without having to bid for the job.’
The Name of God is ‘scientifically and academically supported by’ Rolf Furuli, of Norway, described as an orientalist, which he certainly is. Rof Furuli is also an academically qualified apologist for the Watchtower Society and a Jehovah’s Witness. In this letter to the British Medical Journal he defends the JW policy of refusing blood, describes Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘our brotherhood of believers,’ and himself as an elder.
Gerard Gertoux is the second expert. He is a physical engineer, teaching in the French secondary education system, whose interest in God’s name led him to pursue academic research in the subject in which he is now an expert. Gerard Gertoux is, by his own admission, an academic with Jehovah’s Witness associations. Ironically, he wrote in complaint about his academic work not being taken seriously because of his ‘religious affiliation with Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ Daniel Bodi of the Department of Hebrew Studies at France’s Institute National Langues et Civilisations Orientales, who originally agreed to supervise Gertoux’ work, told him:
‘The main problem with your work is to find a jury that agrees to sit on your defense. The jury you proposed to me is not ready to sit for this thesis. You have to find teachers who accept the fundamentalist positions you defend … Despite my goodwill I can not defend you because I do not share this view. I propose that you address the faculties of fundamentalist theology Baptist like Vaux-sur-Seine or the ultra-Calvinists of Aix-en-Provence. I am really sorry but I now understand the reaction of the doctoral committee of INALCO. My colleagues did not want INALCO to be labelled a fundamentalist school.’
Considering his willing association with this heavily biased documentary, I suggest the refusal of academics to sit for his thesis was prescient and wise.
Of course, the fact that these two men are Jehovah’s Witnesses does not, of itself, mean they have to be biased, unreliable, or wrong. They are, after all, the academics they are presented as being. But the fact that this film is being shared by Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘an independent, non-denominational production’ is scandalously dishonest. The fact that these two experts are happy to put their names to such a claim raises serious questions about their integrity.
There is a vox pop here in which people are asked if they know the name of God. Various answers are, ‘I don’t know,’ God has no name,’ His name is God,’ ‘Tolerance.’ This is such a JW thing to do. Ask a random group of tourists if they know God’s name, don’t indicate if they are Christians in any meaningful way, pick out the answers that make your point, and there you have what you set out to find. How often have I heard Jehovah’s Witnesses declare they have spoken to ‘Christians’ on the doorstep who don’t know the name of God? They fail to account, of course, for the fact that many will say they are Christians, often ‘CofE,’ just to get rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This tells us nothing.
The Name in Exodus 3:15
Here Rolf Furuli points out that in the Hebrew Bible the Tetragram (the four letters YHWH that make up God’s name in the Bible) appears more than 6,000 times. The commentary points out that the Name has been substituted through common titles, such as ‘LORD’ or ‘God,’ and asks, ‘Is this text alteration in unison with the Bible’s intention?’ ‘Absolutely not!’ insists Furuli. Using his copy of Biblia Hebraica, he quotes Exodus 3:15, ‘…this is my name forever, and this is my memory from generation to generation.’
Gerard Gertoux goes on to point out how common it was in the ancient world to name the name of a god. He says, ‘In Christendom the Lord’s prayer begins with ‘Hallowed be thy name.’ (Does it? Mt.6:9) This seems a strong basis for the Watchtower assertion that we should pay attention to using the name of God. Already, however, we see a familiar Jehovah’s Witness doorstep argument emerging from the film as Gertoux slips from his role as academic to his role as Jehovah’s Witness. It runs like this:
The Name in John 17
In Jesus’ prayer in John 17:6 we read, ‘I have made your name manifest to the men whom you gave me out of the world.’ (NWT 2013)
In The Lord’s Prayer we read, ‘…let your name be sanctified…’ (NWT)
The argument goes, Jesus taught his disciples to sanctify, or hallow, the name of God, and at the end of his earthly mission declared he had made God’s name known. It sounds convincing. But here is the curious thing, nowhere in the gospels does Jesus articulate the name of God. It seems inconceivable that the Lord and Saviour of mankind should come into the world, conquer sin and death, rising in victory from the tomb, and yet somehow fail to teach his followers who God is.
Indeed, he taught his disciples to call God ‘Our Father in the heavens…’ These are the words that begin the Lord’s Prayer (Jn.6:9 NWT) What is happening here? Other translations of John 17:6 give a clue:
‘You have given me some followers from this world, and I have shown them what you are like.’ (Contemporary English Version)
‘I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world.’ (English Standard Version)
‘I have made you known to those you gave me out of the world.’ (Good News Bible)
‘I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world…’ (King James Version)
‘I have revealed Thy perfections to the men whom Thou gavest me out of the world.’ (Weymouth New Testament)
The Name in the Ancient World
In the ancient world a name was more than a label, it identified someone’s qualities and character. To make your name known was to make known your reputation. Even today, we appreciate someone with ‘a good name.’ Jesus never uttered the name of God yet he made God’s name known because he made God known, ‘I have shown them what you are like.’ (CEV) Once we realise this we find God’s ‘name’ all over the New Testament (Mt.19:26; 22:36; Mk.10:18; 12:29; Jn.1:18; 3:16;4:24; Acts 12:24;Ro.3:4, 29; 4:17; 5;5; 6:23; 8:28; 9:18, etc)
We are instructed by Jesus to call God ‘Father‘ (Mt.6:9; 26; Jn.20:17), the Spirit has us call him ‘Father‘ (Ro.8:15), and John reminds us ‘our fellowship is with the Father‘ (1 Jn.1:3) The issue of God’s name is an important one, and it is wrong and misleading to suggest Christians don’t take it seriously. In researching for this article I have come across any number of people engaging directly and indirectly with the material presented by Furuli and Gertoux.
But it is also important to put the issue in the right context. Since we are to call God ‘Father,’ and his name in terms of who he is is very well known to Christians, his label becomes a second tier issue, behind our relationship with him as Father. Indeed, our devotion should be to him as Father, since this is what we are instructed to call him. Perhaps we should be asking Jehovah’s Witnesses why they don’t pray as Jesus taught his disciples to pray, call God Father as the Spirit wants us to do? And why did Jesus not name the Name?
Here the claim is made, ‘nowadays many Christian preachers and evangelists refuse to accept this form of pronunciation.’ A ‘Christian preacher,’ is seen explaining why he rejects the name Jehovah. He is Tony Smith, founder and one time leader of The Church of Yah, formerly known as The Way of God Church of the Lord Jesus. This church is part of the Black Hebrew Roots Holiness Movement. He doesn’t remotely represent preachers and evangelists in the Christian world.
This is a classic Watchtower ploy and would never be used in a respectable, independent documentary. They may as well have quoted Sun Myung Moon, Herbert Armstrong, or Joseph Smith, for all the significance this man has to the discussion. There is an irony here in that vertually all Black Hebrew Roots groups, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, reject the deity of Jesus. Read more here.
However, it serves the Watchtower’s purpose to have people believe Tony Smith is typical because he is so extreme and atypical, and this is how they want people to think of ‘Christendom.’ The film goes on to bring the charge, ‘others are convinced that the name of God isn’t Yah, or Jehovah, but Jesus.’ This, we are told, has led to ‘the unbiblical worship of Jesus…’ Now we come to it. Here is where they want to arrive, insisting Christians have put Jesus in Jehovah’s place. Clearly this is not simply about the name of God and its pronunciation, there is a Jehovah’s Witness agenda here.
It is not true that Christians wish to replace Jehovah with Jesus. The claim Jesus is God does not in the least imply Jehovah is not God. The Trinity doctrine explicitly declares:
‘There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory, although distinguished by their personal properties.’ (The Larger Catechism of the Westminster Assembly)
Disagree with it if you must but don’t misrepresent it, asserting you have disproved something you have not accurately described in the first instance. And consider:
Jesus received worship from Thomas (Jn.20:28/29), God’s angels are commanded to worship him (Heb.1:6), He is described as sinless (1 Pet.2:22), as the source of life (Jn.1:3/4; 6:35), the creator of all things (Jn.1:3), as one with the Father (Jn.10:30), and by Isaiah as ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace,’ (NWT Is.9:6). He is Lord (Is.40:3; cf Mt.3:3), the First and Last (Is.44:6; cf Rev.1:17), and he is Judge (Ecc.12:14; cf 1 Cor.4:5). I don’t think we are just talking about ‘The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived.’
Next time we look at evidence from the ancient world, ‘a widely distributed Bible translation’ you have probably never heard of, and the stone Jehovah’s Witnesses reject.
Note: If you wish to buy a copy of this film go to Drei Linden Films directly and translate the page to follow instructions for ordering. Drei Linden allowed me to pay on receipt.