Jehovah's Witnesses and the Divine Name
by Robert M. Bowman, Jr.
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 another.
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
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
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 divine
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 itself.
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 divine name.
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
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
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
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" represents.
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 name.
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), 6.
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), 121-29.
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
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, 1982), 191-203.
20 George Howard, "The Tetragram and the New Testament," Journal of Biblical
Literature 96 (1977):63-83.
This article is Part 4 in a four part series on Jehovahís Witnesses and the Bible, from the Christian
Research Journal, Fall 1989, Volume 12, Number 2. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research
Journal is Elliot Miller. Copyright © 1993 by the Christian Research Institute, P.O. Box 7000,
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688-7000. Faith and Reason Forum would like to thank CRI for
graciously allowing us to put this article on our website. This data may not be used without the
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End of document, CRJ0031A.TXT (original CRI file name), "Jehovah's Witnesses and the Divine
Name" release A, December 1, 1993, R. Poll, CRI. A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter
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