Author: Mike Thomas
A few years ago a friend of mine gave me an ornament he had made in the shape of the name of God. It must have been about eight inches long, three inches high and perhaps half an inchdeep.The idea was that it should sit on the mantle piece, ready for when Jehovah’s Witnesses visit, in the hope that it would be the first thing they would spot on entering our sitting room. What a conversation starter! How could they now claim that we do not know or use “the Name”? Well, it worked – after a fashion.
The Witnesses calling on me that summer were charming people and we got along just fine. One of them was intrigued by the name of God sitting above the fire, and we discussed its origins and purpose. I explained that it served as a reminder of the God we serve and as a witness to the fact that we know Him by name. His wonder at the idea that I, a “born-again” Christian, should both know and use the name of God turned to astonishment when, saying that I knew how precious it might be to him, I made him a gift of the Name. This was outside his experience and understanding. A Christian familiar with the name of God? A Christian sensitive enough to know the value of that name to a Jehovah Witness, and generous enough to make a gift of the Name?
I say that it worked after a fashion. What do I mean by that? There is a story told to Jehovah’s Witnesses that tells of the ignorance of Christians regarding the name of God and involving a conspiracy by the church to eradicate “the Name”. While I made my friend wonder at what he had seen and heard, I don’t think I changed his mind regarding the ignorance of Christians or the conspiracy of the church. Since such teaching comes from Headquarters, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, it must be true. Perhaps he thought my efforts at witnessing were all part of the deception. There is no talking to a conspiracy theorist, that much is certain.
I recently related in the Reachout Quarterly the story of two Witnesses who visited my home with a similar picture of Christians being ignorant of the name of God. I invited them to call on all the Christian friends in my address book (the great majority of whom have nothing to do with Reachout) and ask them if they know the Name. I assured them that my friends did know. They declined my offer declaring that “on the doorstep” they had met Christians who, when told of the name of God, had expressed astonishment at this new knowledge. Ipso facto Christians do not know, much less use the name of God.
Now there are two things to say in response to these claims. First, Jehovah’s Witnesses, of all people, should know that many claim to be Christians, C of E, “Going to the church down the road”, just to get rid of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Anyone who knocks doors as part of their witnessing will know this. I came across it as a Mormon, and I have come across it as an evangelical Christian knocking doors (Yes Mr Witness, contrary to what your Society says, Christians do knock doors). I can only assume that they take these doorstep confessions of Christian faith at face value because it suits them to come across “Christians” who confirm their deepest suspicions.
The second point concerns another story (I do apologise but as you get older you do tend to accumulate these experiences). Many years ago I worked knocking doors for an insurance company. At one door I was invited in by a man who told me that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and who explained to me that, on the strength of his faith, he wasn’t interested in insurance beyond that required by law. We fell into conversation and he seemed eager to witness to me – a Mormon.
At that time I was, like many zealous young people, more prone to generate heat than light and so I reached into my pocket for a neat little notebook I carried. On two pages of this notebook I had listed key problems about the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I spoke of Beth Sarim, of the claims of Russell for his Studies in the Scriptures, of teachings based on the Great Pyramid, Miracle Wheat, etc. As I smugly related these facts I watched as his face registered horror. He looked at his wife who obviously was a more experienced Witness, and asked if all I had said was true. She confirmed everything and as I looked at his reaction I immediately regretted ever mentioning these things. He was about to go visiting and I had sent him out full of doubts, but with no hope. I had generated much heat, but had shown little light. Even now I cringe to think of how callous I was in my naivety and can only say that I have learned my lesson. This is no way to witness to anyone.
The point can still be made, however. Here was a Jehovah’s Witness who was ignorant of key historical facts from the brief history of his own movement. Does my experience of meeting such a man, who was otherwise obviously faithful in his witnessing, disprove the claims of the Witnesses? Of course it doesn’t. By the same token, the experience of a Jehovah’s Witness on the doorstep of even a genuine Christian who doesn’t know and understand all that they should, doesn’t prove the Witnesses’ claims to general ignorance among Christians. Indeed, I still maintain that evangelical Christians know and use the name of God much more routinely than Witnesses care to know or admit. I know because I go to an evangelical Christian Church and read Christian books. Sadly, the very evidence that would show this to be true is denied Witnesses, since they are forbidden to read such books or attend such churches.
I am bound to say that one lady who called on me with her daughter told me that when she was last in a Christian Church, before becoming a Witness, she heard no mention of the name of Jehovah. I asked her when she was last in a Church and she confessed that it was when she was thirteen. I don’t mean to be unkind but I am confident that, although I don’t know her age, I doubt if she will see fifty again. What has happened in those intervening years to colour her memory of Church? How often did she attend? How much attention did she pay? What does she remember and what does she imagine she remembers? On such doubtful testimony rests her conviction that Christians do not know the God they profess to serve.
Conspiracy in the Church
One Jehovah’s Witness I know was horrified when I suggested that the use of the word LORD in place of the name Jehovah was a convention and nothing more. He clearly felt that the name was too important to be reduced to a convention. I have some sympathy for his feelings. The name/s of God are crucial to our understanding of who He is and what is our relationship to Him. Why, then, do we not use it as Witnesses say we should, i.e. by pronouncing it each time we come across it? Well, the first thing to say is to reiterate that we do use it, as I have already testified. To deny this fact is to fly in the face of reason and evidence. However, peculiar as it may seem to some, the use of LORD in the place of the name in the Old Testament is a convention. The history of that convention is well attested to and clearly explained in many places, not least by Reachout Trust in books, articles and on our web site. Jehovah’s Witnesses choose to reject these explanations, believing instead a conspiracy theory in which the Christian Church has designs on eradicating God’s name. Is their claim true?
I have before me a copy of the NIV Study Bible. In the preface we read the following:
In regard to the name YHWH, commonly referred to as the Tetragrammaton, the translators adopted the device used in most English versions of rendering the name as “Lord” in capital letters to distinguish it from Adoni, another Hebrew word rendered “Lord”, for which small letters are used. Wherever the two names stand together in the Old Testament as a compound name of God, they are rendered “Sovereign LORD”.
If there is a conspiracy this seems to give the game away since it explains how we are to understand the convention of using LORD wherever the Tetragrammaton occurs (we not only use the name of God but we also know what a Tetragrammaton is). It is clear who this LORD is since the translators have explained as much.
In his book, The NIV, The Making of a Contemporary Translation, Editor Dr Kenneth Barker explains:
In the Hebrew Bible the Jews wrote the consonants of the Tetragrammaton as YHWH, but out of reverence for the sacred name of God (or out of fear of violating Exod 20:7;Lev 24:16), they vocalised and pronounced it as Adoni or occasionally as Elohim. It is unfortunate, then, that the name was transliterated into German and ultimately into English as Jehovah (which is the way the name is represented in the American Standard Version of 1901), for this conflate form represents the vowels of Adoni superimposed on the consonants of Yahweh and it was never intended by the Jews to be read as Yehowah (or Jehovah).(The NIV…p.144)
In their book Insight on the Scriptures, Jehovah’s Witnesses explain:
“Since certainty of pronunciation is not now attainable, there seems to be no reason for abandoning in English the well-known form ‘Jehovah’ in favor of some other suggested pronunciation. If such a change were made then, to be consistent, changes should be made in the spelling and pronunciation of a host of other names found in the Scriptures: Jeremiah would be changed to Yirmeyah’, Isaiah would become Yesha’-ya’hu, and Jesus would be either Yehoh-shu’a (as in Hebrew) or I-e-sous (as in Greek).” Insight, vol.2, p.7).
In other words, Jehovah’s Witnesses are only Witnesses of Jehovah by convention. The pronunciation of the name as Jehovah is probably the least authentic or, as Dr Barker explains, most “unfortunate”. However, the convention has stuck and the otherwise pedantic Jehovah’s Witnesses have shown how capable they are of appreciating a convention when it suits them, even when they know the true pronunciation of names, e.g. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jesus. Why do they not say Yehoh-shu’a? Perhaps because they feel it is enough that they explain the meaning behind the conventional “Jesus”.
But an objection may be raised at this stage. Reading on in the same explanation of the name Jehovah in Insight on the Scriptures we read the following:
“The purpose of words is to transmit thoughts; in the English the name Jehovah identifies the true God, transmitting this thought more satisfactorily today than any of the suggested substitutes.” (Insight, vol.2, p.7).
Might it not be argued that at least the Witnesses use the name and, despite the “unfortunately” inaccurate spelling, transmit the meaning? Do not Christians, by comparison, obscure the meaning of God’s name and the identity of God’s character?
It is Explained
Surely not since translators go to lengths to explain the convention of using the word LORD. Surely not since, in this writer’s extensive experience, the name/s of Jehovah are taught and explained in sermons, home groups, Sunday school classes, prayer meetings, books and journals throughout the evangelical Christian Church. The fact that, in reading Scripture or referring to God, we enunciate the name LORD does not detract from that teaching. But surely if we were to readmit the name into the text of our Bibles, understanding would be improved and knowledge increased?
The first thing to say is that the convention of using LORD is taken seriously by evangelical Christians for the reasons given. This is not an excuse for obscuring God’s name, but an expression of the sense of reverence passed on to Christians by those of the faith which is our source. I find myself impatient with the ease with which Witnesses see the worst in anyone who does not believe as they do. A little more respect and a little less derision on their part would not go amiss.
Second, it must be recognised that, were we to reintroduce the Divine name it would serve to draw the attention of readers to the name, but it would do nothing to improve people’s knowledge and understanding. As Jehovah’s Witnesses well know, the name/s of God need to be explained and expounded, whether people are familiar with it/them or not. When a Witness teaches a new contact it is never enough to explain that the name of God is Jehovah as though use of the name would cause a light to come on in a person’s mind the moment they hear it. Where does the name come from? What does it signify? What does it tell us about God? All these must be gone into if we are to understand the name. It might be argued that, given the lack of biblical knowledge in the general population, the use of the name “Lord” is both accurate in that it declares God’s Lordship over all creation, and more readily accessible in that more people would understand the word. In our teaching and speaking about God, however, Christians already do draw attention to the name of God and explain its meaning and significance. Allow me to illustrate from a sample taken from the modest collection of books I have on my shelves at home.
An Introduction to the Christian Faith is just what its title says, a basic introduction to Christianity. Under the heading “God Is”, the Christian theologian/teacher Jim Packer has the following to say:
In the Old Testament, God’s way of making himself known, particularly in his special relationship with Israel, is called his ‘name’. In the ancient Near East a person’s name declared his nature and function. For example, the name Abraham means ‘father of the multitude’, and Jesus means, ‘the Lord saves’. To ‘know God’s name,’ then, is to worship and trust God as he has shown himself to be. In the Old Testament God has several specific names, each proclaiming some aspect of what he is:
” El, Eloah, Elohim, ‘God’, designates him as superhuman and strong.
” Elyon, ‘God Most High’, means the exalted one.
” Adoni, ‘Lord’, Marks him out as ruler.
” Elshaddai, ‘God Almighty’, points to his gracious power.
” Yaweh, ‘the Lord’ (Jehovah, as it used to be rendered), God himself explains to Moses as meaning ‘I am what I am’ or ‘I will be what I will be’ – ‘I am’ for short. This most significant name, sometimes amplified as ‘the Lord of (angelic) hosts, is evidently meant to declare that God, like the bush which burned but was not consumed, is eternally self-sustaining and self-sufficient. It also indicates that God is unchangeably committed to his people. He will always keep his covenant promise; he will rescue and redeem his captive people.
(An Introduction to the Christian Faith, Lion Books, 1992, pp.91-92)
In an article written by Alec Motyer, one of the most respected Evangelical Bible teachers today, the same names are explained in The New Lion Handbook to the Bible, 1999 ed. P.162.
In the book already quoted above, The NIV, The Making of a Contemporary Translation, a whole chapter is given over to explaining the name of God and what we learn from it about God, as well as an explanation of how translations are arrived at.
And, as has already been illustrated, any good modern translation of the Bible will explain the use of the word LORD in translation. The NIV is probably one of the most popular Bibles in the world today, and so this knowledge is readily available to more people than would ever read the New World Translation.
I want to add something about Dr J I Packer’s observation above, to ‘know God’s name,’ then, is to worship and trust God as He has shown Himself to be. I think this is the key to the subject at hand. To know God’s name is to know the character, nature and purpose of God. I have a friend who, every time he meets me, uses my name repeatedly, to a point where he will, I am sure, wear it out one day. He ends virtually every sentence with my name, e.g. “How are you Mike? How is the family Mike? I saw your wife the other day Mike. She was looking well Mike. How is she Mike? I go to such-and-such a church now Mike. Its very good there Mike.” Of course it is very flattering to have someone use your name, but does his repeated use of mine indicate that he knows me well? No, he doesn’t know me well. Our friendship is not that deep and involved, although I value it greatly.
The same thing may be said of God. When it comes to the use of His name I am sure that no one uses it as much as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But merely knowing how to pronounce the name is not the same as knowing His character, nature and purpose. I contend that, despite the convention followed by evangelical Christians of pronouncing LORD, nevertheless, we know Him very well, use His name/s more often than Witnesses would credit, and know His character, nature and purpose better than Witnesses may think. Indeed, we are sure that the name of God affirms that He is “the Lord of hosts”. Furthermore, I can’t help but observe that whenever this subject comes up in discussion, either on the doorstep, or in correspondence, or on the Reachout Forum I know of no instance where a Christian has responded, “Jehovah? Jehovah who?” Surely an indication that, contrary to Witness myth, we know Him.
Jesus and the Name
I have already referred above to an article I wrote for the Reachout Quarterly in which I relate the story of two Jehovah’s Witnesses attempting to derive from the Lord’s Prayer the idea that Jesus used the name of Jehovah. I reproduce here the relevant part of the article.
Finding we were Christians they introduced the idea that the mission of Jesus was to make known the name of Jehovah, almost as though to dare me to disagree. They led with Matthew 6:9-13, emphasising
“Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified” (NWT); “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name” (NIV).
“You see”, the mother said “that Jesus’ mission was to ‘sanctify’ the name of Jehovah.”
“So you are suggesting” I replied “that Jesus routinely used the name of Jehovah in his conversation just as you do today?”
“Yes!” one replied while the other nodded.
“Can you show me examples?”
Now this presented them with a problem and my question became one of those “I will have to check it out and get back to you” affairs that we often encounter. However, it struck me as odd that they didn’t have a ready list of examples to illustrate such a basic Witness teaching. We pressed on.
“Where would you expect it most likely that Jesus would teach the use of Jehovah’s name?” I asked. As they looked at each other I answered my own question. “Surely when He was teaching His disciples?” They agreed.
I asked them to read out the first line of the Lord’s prayer again. They did. And by now you should have too – and spotted something significant. That’s right, and I asked them what you would have resolved to ask. Why didn’t Jesus pray to Jehovah God? They had no answer for me and soon there was a reason to leave and a promise to return with answers.
I didn’t really expect them to come back, cynic that I am, but the next week they were on my doorstep. They wouldn’t come in, they explained, but felt honour bound to bring me an answer. They had consulted authorities, looked it up in books, but found no reference to Jesus ever using the name of Jehovah.’
This story illustrates very well an observation made in an article by Robert Bowman in the Christian Research Journal, Autumn, 1989, Volume 12, Number 2.
“Ultimately, the JW belief in this matter rests not on…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).”
In other words, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not insist on this teaching because they find examples of it in the Scripture, but because they read passages that call on people to sanctify and make known the name of God and conclude that this means pronounce it. And yet, as I pointed out to my visitors, at the very moment when Jesus was teaching His disciples to sanctify in prayer the name of God, He did not use the name.
Now we cannot reasonably criticise the practice of drawing out the logical implications of a basic doctrine found in Scripture. After all, that is how we arrive at the Trinity, by drawing out the logical implications of what we see in Jesus’ ministry. However, as we compare Jesus’ conduct and teaching in relation to the name of God we find it is a model for the conduct and behaviour of the evangelical Christian Church. In other words, it is the Christian Church, and not the Jehovah’s Witnesses that follow more closely Jesus’ example.
In an Article titled, Did Jesus use the Name “Jehovah”
The following conclusions are drawn:
“…it is interesting to bring out the statistics from the Watchtower Society’s own CD Rom.
In Matthew’s Gospel, the name Jehovah is recorded as appearing 26 times – but only 18 of these are in the text – the rest being in footnotes. Of these, the words are put in Jesus’ mouth 8 times.
In Mark’s Gospel, the name Jehovah is recorded as appearing 9 times in the text. Of these, the words are put in Jesus’ mouth 8 times.
In Luke’s Gospel, the name Jehovah is recorded as appearing 36 times in the text. Of these, the words are put in Jesus’ mouth only 9 times.
In John’s Gospel, the name Jehovah is recorded as appearing 5 times in the text. Of these, the words are put in Jesus’ mouth 4 times.
Therefore, in all the words that Jesus spoke the Watchtower Society has Jesus saying the Name of Jehovah just 29 times. When we take out duplications – the same instance being recorded in different Gospels we only have 16 unique occasions. Of these 13 are Old Testament quotations that assume Jesus would use Jehovah. However as we have shown above this is very questionable.
We are left then with three times that the Watchtower Society can but the word Jehovah in the mouth of the Lord when it is not an Old Testament quotation. Three times in three and a half years of ministry is hardly, “making the name known.” That is no evidence to in anyway ‘prove’ that Jesus used the name at all.”
Even if we were to accept the 29 instances quoted by Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it is already shown that we cannot in all reason do that, this is still sparse compared to the other names Jesus used in referring to God. As Robert Bowman points out in his article, by comparison Jesus used the word “God” over 180 times and “Father” roughly 175 times. Even if we accept the Jehovah Witness figures, then, we still have a ratio of approximately 360 (other names) to 29. And that does not count names other than God and Father that are also legitimate. The picture we already have of evangelical Christians is a group of believers who follow the convention of substituting “LORD” for Jehovah. However, these same believers use the name of God in their conversations alongside other legitimate names for God. I suggest Christians have a Biblical sense of proportion on this subject.
I never did replace the ornament I mentioned at the beginning of this article – until today. As I was visiting my favourite Christian bookshop I saw displayed a rather lovely framed text carrying in large gold letters the name, Jehovah in a gothic script. Underneath was part of the text from Exodus 3:14-15 as follows, “I Am that I Am…The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” As I write it sits on my desk, although I have plans to put it in a much more prominent place, ready for the next Jehovah’s Witness that calls. Any Witness who might treasure such an object could pick one up at the same shop, although I doubt there will be a rush to buy since Witnesses tend not to frequent such places because they are convinced that Christians do not honour the name of God as Witnesses do.