We continue to look at the Name of God documentary being shown by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Since the last newsletter we have received an email from Rolf Furuli, one the experts in the film, commenting on the making of the film and these articles. You can find his email and my reply here.
The documentary is 60 minutes long and made to high production standards. It 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: 1) the concealment of God’s name, and 2) the pronunciation of God’s name. I have already addressed a third; 3) the question of this film’s ‘independence.’ As before time is placed down the left side of the page to mark at which point in the film I have stopped to comment.
The Ancient World
At this point there follows a long explanation of how the Name is found in the ancient world, something apparently no-one disputes. But if you whisper it against the backdrop of a presumed conspiracy in ‘Christendom’ to remove the Name it sounds as though they do. The archaeological and linguistic scholarship in the film is of a high standard, but the question is, how relevant is it given what it tells us is largely undisputed?
From the 14th century BC Amun temple in Sudan, through the 9th century Mesha Stele in the Louvre, to inscriptions on more modern, church, buildings, ‘clues’ are given to the existence and use of the name of God as though it was ‘hidden in plain site’ while studiously ignored by Christians.
Where are they getting all this information they dub ‘discoveries?’ Are they digging it up from obscure, difficult to access sources, or is it easily accessible material, available to every serious Bible student? I have before me three modern Study Bibles, the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and the New American Standard Bible. Each goes to some lengths to explain the Name in detail, as well as the translators’ policy regarding it. If the concerted aim is to obscure the Name, this is evidence of an embarrassing failure on the part of the conspirators.
Later in the film (19:40), we are told, ‘Notable scholars from previous centuries…almost exclusively used the name Jehovah.’ Now either there has been a conspiracy to hide God’s name or there hasn’t. If it has been known since pre-history, If notable scholars from previous centuries used the name and that scholarship is known to us, if church buildings carry the name, and if I sang Guide me, O, Thou Great Jehovah in church last week, there is surely something wrong with this narrative.
One Popular Translation
Here time is spent on pronunciation and up pops the Black Hebrew Tony Smith again with the same erroneous argument no respectable Christian scholar would agree with (they never tell you who he is). Our two experts, whose identity and expertise are emphasised, although their loyalty to the Watchtower is never mentioned, give us a basic lesson in Hebrew pronunciation, insisting Jehovah is to be preferred over Yahweh.
We then go to a theologian named Stephan Parks (I don’t know him but if anyone can shed some light) who reads in German (with translation) a note in ‘a widely distributed’ Bible, concerning the pronunciation. Its a familiar enough and established explanation of how the Greek Adoni, Lord, came to be combined with the Hebrew Tetragram to give Jehovah. Gerard Gertoux argues with this explanation, in doing so describing it as ‘often recorded in books.’ Again, from the expert’s own mouth, we have testimony to the familiar nature of God’s name and the attendant arguments,‘often recorded in books.’
The aforementioned Bible is the Elberfelder Bible. This is a German translation of the J N Darby Bible and you would be hard pressed to justify categorising it as either popular, or ‘widely distributed.’ I asked around the web about popular German translations and this one rarely comes up. When it did one reviewer helpfully commented:
‘Elberfelder makes it a point to reveal the Greek grammatical structure and use of vocabulary. This makes it an ideal translation for people who know Greek, but have German as their mother tongue and want to understand the text easily without having to translate it themselves.
For someone who wants to read a German Bible in order to improve their German, it might be less than ideal, since it is more Greek written with German words than plain German, in places.’
A helpful aid to understanding for German speaking Greek scholars then, but hardly popular or ‘widely distributed.’ Most people, most Jehovah’s Witnesses, would have no idea how to understand the significance of one Bible translation against another. How would the J N Darby/Elberfelder Bible with its particular study notes compare with a modern translation study Bible such as the NIV, ESV, or NASB?
The viewer is trusting in the integrity of the documentary-maker to explain these things, and he doesn’t. Instead he goes to a comparatively unknown source and argues with it as though well known without further comment. Of course, if they had gone to a truly ‘widely distributed Bible,’ it would have given much greater authority to the argument they were determined to disprove. Anyone familiar with Jehovah’s Witnesses will recognise this appeal to obscure sources.
They reach further into obscurity to find ‘a biblical scholar from Jerusalem’ who agrees with their argument. Nehemiah Gordon is indeed a biblical scholar, born in Chicago, now living in Jerusalem. He is a Karaite Jew, a Jewish sect that might be described as a minority within a minority, a sect that rejects the oral tradition of the Midrash and Talmud. He, of course, denies the deity of Jesus, insisting Jesus’ mission was simply to bring people to obedience to the Law of Moses.
Gordon makes a point about the pronunciation of God’s name, as he has understood it from his studies, coming to the conclusion Yehovah is correct. You may find this persuasive, convincing even, it is certainly very interesting and he is an expert, but it is what the film wants to make of it that is telling.
A Theophoric Name
Furuli and Gertoux go on to distinguish between the name of Jesus, who in Hebrew is Yeshua, meaning ‘The LORD saves,’ or, ‘Jehovah saves,’ and the name of God himself. Having established the unique nature of the Name, they separate Jehovah and Yeshua, the latter ‘containing’ the Name, the former being the Name. This has significance, they believe, in making their argument.
Yeshua, they remind us, is a theophoric name, that is, a name that contains the name of God. Jehovah, on the other hand, does not contain any other name, but stands alone. According to Gerard Gertoux, ‘Jesus incorporates the aspect of salvation through God, whereas the name of God contains nothing more. It is the only name that does not contain any other name.’ You can see where their thinking is leading. Once again, Jesus is no more than, ‘an exceptional person,’ an agent of salvation, which salvation is from Jehovah.
This proves a problem because the Bible makes very clear that salvation is in and through Jesus:
The angel told Joseph, ‘She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus (Jehovah saves) because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Mt.1:21)
The angels declared to the shepherds, ‘Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ (Lk.2:11)
Peter explained Jesus to Cornelius, ‘All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ (Acts 10:43)
Before the Sanhedrin Peter testified, ‘It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. he is
‘the stone you builders rejected
which has become the capstone.’
‘Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name given to men by which we must be saved.’ (Acts4:10b-12)
Is this the stone Jehovah’s Witnesses have rejected? These well rehearsed arguments concerning the Name are very familiar to Bible students and form part of the basis for answering the disciples’ question, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ (Mk.4:41) He is not an agent of salvation, he is salvation. This is the Lord of creation himself, the Creator of everything (Jn.1:3), the One who tabernacled with Israel in the Old Testament and tabernacled in the flesh in the New (Ex.40:34/35; Jn.1:14)
They are even more recondite when they go to ‘a well known Bible translation where we can read…’I SHALL PROVE TO BE WHAT I SHALL PROVE TO BE…’ (Exodus 3:14) emphasising the uniqueness of God’s Name. Other translations give the familiar ‘I AM WHO I AM…’ (NIV, GNB, KJV, NASB)
Again, the Name here expresses God’s character as the eternal, unchanging, dependable, and faithful God, who invites us to trust him because of who he is. ‘I shall prove to be…’ means the God who fulfils his promises through progressive action. I don’t believe there is any dispute here about God’s character and faithfulness as revealed in his name and his engagement with his people.
This is not the familiar translation we find elsewhere, however, so where did it come from? It is, of course, the New World Translation they are using. This is the revised 1984 edition, which reiterates the 1961 edition. So why not simply say they are using the New World Translation? Why so reticent?
Interestingly, the recent, 2013, edition reads differently:
‘So God said to Moses: ‘I will become what I choose to become.’ And he added: ‘This is what you are to say to the Israelites, I will become what I choose has sent me to you.”
Is there an element of becoming in God? Surely the earlier translation points to a constancy in God, a remaining?
This is all leading to a determined separation of Jehovah and Jesus, ‘two personalities,’ as they put it in the film. Of course, that is exactly what the doctrine of the Trinity tells us, but wishing to cause mischief, they portray this as a problem for Christians and Christian scholars. Hence there’s reference to a ‘Bible Translation Convention in Jakarta in 1952,’ in which, ‘Translator Rosen explained the following…’
‘It might be disrespectful and disobedient therefore to restore something God himself has demolished. It might mean that Jehovah would irrevocably become the strange God of the Old Testament, and that the cleavage between the two testaments might also rend apart the church. For are not Jehovah’s Witnesses anti-Trinitarians? We, therefore, feel that we should strongly advise against this transcription of YHWH in the translation of the Bible.’
Rolf Furuli goes on to comment, ‘And from this point on most Bible translations did not use the name of Jehovah, or Yahweh.’ The Name, we are told, was commonly replaced with the title LORD.
There is a lot of ground to cover here, inferences and assumptions are encouraged, and scant information to help the viewer. This leaves the casual viewer with nothing to do but trust the film maker for this quote. I have tried to track down a Bible Translation Convention in Jakarta in 1952 but so far failed. Little wonder given scant information to work with. Putting the full quote into a search engine I came up with – Rolf Furuli quoting Harold Rosen in a 1952 Bible Translation Convention, but no more. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen but, without basic information – when and where, who, for what purpose, in what context was this said, how are we to understand what was meant, who is ‘translator Rosen?’ – without these we cannot make anything of this characteristically brief quote.
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. Stoops is very expensive, especially shipping. Drei Linden allowed me to pay on receipt and is much cheaper.