A Critique of the Jehovah's Witness New Testament

Under the Old Covenant, God revealed Himself by several names, the chief of them being YHWH. Today, Biblical scholars call this name the Tetragrammaton or Tetragram, a term which alludes to its four (tetra) Hebrew letters (grammaton). Although the original pronuniciation of YHWH is unknown, the Tetragram is usually translated into the English language as "Jehovah". Some English Bibles follow the convention of using the word LORD in all capital letters to translate the Tetragram.

Although this venerable Divine name has a place of honor forever in the Hebrew Old Testament, it is never used by the inspired authors of the New Testament, who wrote in Greek. The Divine plan of redemption was foreshadowed by the Old Covenant, and was documented by the Old Covenant Scriptures. The substance of the Divine plan of redemption came in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, and was documented by the New Covenant Scriptures. It is not surprising that Jesus' name - that is, the name of God incarnate - now occupies the place which the Tetragram once occupied. The name of Jesus is higher than ANY name. God the Father has bestowed on the formerly humiliated and now exalted Christ the name which only a Divine Person can bear. See Philippians 2:5-11; cf. John 17:5

The sect known as "Jehovah's Witnesses", however, inserts the Tetragram (rendered as Jehovah) 237 times into the New Testament part of its own version of the Bible, the New World Translation.. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that this insertion of the Tetragram not only reflects a breath taking bias in translation, but evidences a fatal failure to recognize the eternal Father's eternal Son for Who He is, and radically distorts the meaning of His gospel message which the eternal Holy Spirit has given by the New Testament. (Cf. Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:12)

A couple of examples will help make the point. The New World Translation (NWT) renders a statement in Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2:21, as follows:

"And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved".

Considered in context, this distorts Peter's whole point - that it is the name of Jesus upon which men must call to be saved, as even the NWT version of Acts 4:10-12 shows! The overall teaching of the Bible is that by calling on the Lord Jesus (the name Jesus means "Jehovah saves"), men are in fact calling on Almighty God, because that is Who Jesus is - God incarnate! By this rendering of Peter's key gospel statement, the NWT helps perpetuate the Watchtower's polytheistic doctrine that the Father alone is YHWH - the Almighty God - and that Jesus is a secondary god, an angelic being created by the Father.

Consider the NWT version of 1 Corinthians 10:21:

"You cannot be drinking the cup of Jehovah and the cup of demons; you cannot be partaking of the table of Jehovah and the table of demons"

Again, context must be considered. Paul is referring here to the ordinance of Christ commonly called "communion" by many Christians today. It is also called by other names such the Lord's Supper and the Eucharist. The Greek word [KURIOS] is the one translated as Jehovah by the NWT at this verse. It is translated as "Lord" by most English Bibles, and the same word is so translated elsewhere by even the NWT. The Lord to whom it refers is of course Jesus Christ! The NWT's use of Jehovah in this verse is completely arbitrary. The NWT has not translated Scripture, but edited Scripture here! What other than a spiritually callous, interpretive bias can account for such high-handedness with God's word?

A short glossary of terms pertinent to this discussion is offered before continuing:

1. Autograph - the author's original manuscript of a Biblical or other ancient writing. The plural is sometimes written autographa instead of autographs.
2. Manuscript - a hand written copy; an ancient codex, papyrus fragment, etc. which predates lithography. (Singular and plural abbreviations: ms. and mss., respectively)
3. Inspiration - An act of God the Holy Spirit whereby He caused a man to express His mind in written human language (2 Peter 1:20, cf.1 Corinthians 2:9ff). An inspired writing is infallible, without error, and possessed of holy purity due to the nature of the One inspiring it: God. Inspiration inhered in the autographs of the books of the Bible.
4. Old Testament - The inspired Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures of God's Old Covenant, divided into 39 books in English Bibles, abbreviated as O.T. It is assumed that the O.T. autographs no longer exist.
5. New Testament - The inspired Greek Scriptures of the New Covenant in Christ's blood (Luke 22:20), which Covenant is called New because it is the execution of all that the Testator of the Old Covenant foreshadowed and willed to future heirs (2 Peter 1:10-12, Hebrews 11:40). The New Testament, abbreviated N.T., consists of 27 inspired writings. It is also assumed that the N.T. autographs no longer exist.
6. The Septuagint, or LXX - A translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament into Greek. The LXX dates from the early part of the third century B.C. Its autographa are assumed to be lost or destroyed as well.
7. Preservation - The truth articulated by Jesus (Matthew 5:18, 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33, John 10:35), Paul (2 Timothy 3:16), and others that "Scripture cannot be broken". God preserves His Word despite copyists, translators, printers, and Bible software producers. They are not infallible and, being human and sinful, are inevitably biased though they be of the most sterling moral character - yet God protects His special, verbal revelation, the Scriptures!
8. Variants - Alternate readings for certain texts of Scripture based on their non-uniformity in different manuscript copies.

Items 7 & 8 present a challenge to students of textual science who believe in the inspired, inerrant, infallible, and fully authoritative nature of the Bible. How can variants exist if preservation is a reality? The answer is that variants are unable to destroy Scripture. Here is a hypothetical variant:

Reliable manuscript Q reads - they brought him to Jesus
Reliable manuscript R reads - they brought him to Him

How could we know which phrase faithfully represented the original? The context of "R" would indicate that Jesus is the One to whom someone was brought. Therefore, regardless of which variant faithfully represents the original, no information has been destroyed or lost. Most variants by far are of this nature. It is easy to see how God has preserved His Word in such cases. Other textual problems are more complex, but not insurmountable. Do any of these textual problems cast a shadow of doubt on the trustworthiness of the Bible? Not at all! Perhaps the following analogy will help explain.

When Adam received the breath of life from God on the day of his creation, he was a perfect, sinless man. Although we are his descendants, we cannot even imagine what his pre-fallen life was like. We hope for an even better resurrection, thanks be to our wonderful Savior!

When he fell into sin, Adam DID surely die as the Lord God said he would. Death in Scripture is not "cessation of existence". Death is worse than that, and the second death is the worst of all. Adam died a death right then and there - he immediately lost that life sustaining, pure, and uninterrupted fellowship with God which he had enjoyed up to the moment of his sin. Although Adam's bodily return to dust was delayed for some seventy years short of a millenium (Genesis 5:5), spiritual death and all the decay of the curse set in immediately.

How far did that decay advance during Adam's remaining days? He begot Seth at age 130. Evidently he was still in pretty good physical shape at that time. Noah begot Shem, Ham, and Japheth after his 500th birthday; there is no reason to believe Adam did not remain able of mind and body for centuries also. Although eventually his earthly tabernacle was destroyed, Adam was sufficiently preserved to carry out the earthly plan God had for him. His immediate family (everyone on earth!) would have recognized father Adam, the first man, to the day of his passing.

Adam may be compared to the Bible, another "organism" into which God breathed life. His inspiring breath gave it the nature of saving truth, the documentation of His saving work.

The autographs of the Scriptures were inerrant, God-breathed, absolutely pure words of truth. After they were given by inspiration, the autographs "fell into sin", so to speak. They were turned over to corrupt human hands. God has evidently not willed that the autographs remain in existence. As has been stated, the copies which descend from them are subject to "transmission decay".

Nevertheless - and this is crucial - in the case of Adam and in the case of the Bible, the decay occurs WITHIN CERTAIN LIMITATIONS FIXED BY GOD.

The Almighty God is sovereign over all manual, lithographic, and electronic copying! Adam would have been as without decay on his 930th "create-day" as on his first, had not sin entered the picture. (Adam had no BIRTHday). Had Adam not sinned, we justly infer that he would have lived perpetually without one iota of decay defiling his life and person. His fall into sin brought corruption. Because of sin, Adam's physiology would have shown some wear and tear after 930 years, though he was preserved in essence.

Similarly, God has not miraculously caused only perfect copies of the autographs to come down to us. However, He HAS willed that His Word be preserved through history. As there was in Adam's person, it is evident that there has been some iniquitous deterioration in the tranmission of the Bible. Iniquitous, because it must be acknowledged that it is man, not God, who is at fault for all degeneration! Sin is the ultimate reason that wrinkled skin, warfare, textual variants, and biased translations exist. God ruled over the grim march of dissolution in Adam. He likewise overrules the copying and re-copying of Scripture, and its translation. Those who engage in these didactic ministries bear a grave responsibility before Him, James 3:1...

That brings us back to the NWT (the "Witnesses" Bible). Contrary to the King James, New King James, American Standard, New American Standard and other faithful Bibles, the NWT has added the word Jehovah to the pages of the New Testament. The rather convoluted rationale for this, as communicated to this writer by various followers of Watchtower teaching, is summarized as follows:

1. A superstition (or charitably, an over-done reverence) about not writing or speaking the Tetragram, the Divine Name YHWH found in the inspired Old Testament Scriptures, existed before and during the earthly life of our Lord, and even beyond.

2. Old Testament passages containing the Tetragrammaton are quoted or paraphrased in the New Testament.

3. The ASSUMPTION is made that the New Testament writers would have retained the Tetragram at these passages, using it in their autographs.

4. It is ASSUMED that extant (still existing) New Testament manuscript copies of those autographs quote the LXX (Septuagint) at some of these passages. Extant Septuagint mss. have replaced the Tetragram, which appears in the Hebrew text, with the Greek words Kurios (Lord) and Theos (God).

5. The extant New Testament mss. are therefore ASSUMED to have been edited (through this process of copyists using the LXX), and the New World Translation has "restored" the true reading by putting Jehovah in (many, but not all) of these places.

It is also CLAIMED that even the Septuagint, in its autographs, did not render the tetragram by Kurios or Theos. In other words, according to the Watchtower, existing manuscripts of both the New Testament and the LXX are woefully corrupt regarding the use of the tetragram.

What's wrong with this picture? What happens when we assume?

In the first place, NO existing Greek mss. use a transliteration (like Yahweh or Jehovah in English), or an orthographic convention (like all caps LORD in English) for the Hebrew Tetragram. There is absolutely NO textual basis for believing that the Tetragram belongs in the New Testament. If there were at least SOME textual attestation, the Watchtower ASSUMPTION that it belongs there might have a leg to stand on. However, not ONE ancient Greek manuscript of any book or passage of the New Testament contains the Tetragram!

(The word (h)alleluia, occuring four times in Revelation chapter 19, is related to the tetragram, but this word is NOT the tetragram, any more than Hebrew names ending in or are themselves the tetragram. Alleluia is not a name, but a shout of praise, a "worship interjection", as the context in Revelation 19 shows. Perhaps a comparable word is the Hosanna shouted to Jesus during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem before His arrest.)

Since God preserves His Word, this absence of the Tetragrammaton in ALL the ancient manuscripts which Providence has preserved is a fact which by itself destroys the Watchtower position! But it is even less tenable...

In the second place, the New Testament writers may have simply rendered the Old Testament Hebrew in words identical to or similar to the LXX, which is, after all, a translation. That the inspired New Testament writers quoted or cited the LXX is reasonable and possible - but not necessary. In other words, an inspired apostle would have been capable of making his own Greek translation of an Old Testament Hebrew passage without referring to his friendly (?) neighborhood synagogue's copy of the Septuagint, if that synagogue even owned one.

(Scrolls and other forms of writing were not everyday possessions in those days before Herr Gutenberg! Consider 2 Timothy 4:13 and Colossians 4:16 in this connection.)

In the third place, if the New Testament writers DID quote the LXX, the non-inspiration or even textual corruption of the LXX is immaterial to its use by New Testament writers under inspiration! When an inspired writer quotes a source, that which is quoted becomes part of the fabric of the inspired writing, which is kept from error by God! Examples:

1. Numbers 21:14,15 - Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord, "Waheb in Suphah, and the wadis of the Arnon, and the slope of the wadis That extends to the site of Ar, and leans to the border of Moab."

2. 2 Samuel 1:17,18 - Then David chanted with this lament over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he told them to teach the sons of Judah the song of the bow; behold, it is written in the book of Jashar.

Neither the Book of the Wars of the Lord (?), nor the book of Jashar (?) are inspired. They don't even still exist, so far as is known! Either book may have been chock full of glaring errors and biases. Yet, when Moses quoted the "BWL" in Numbers, the quote became part of Moses' inspired writing! When the writer of 2 Samuel alluded to the content of the "BOJ", the allusion became part of the inspired writing! Those inspired, canonical writings are inerrant.

Even so, if a New Testament writer quotes or cites the Septuagint, a pagan poet, or any other work, what he quotes or cites becomes part of his inspired writing, regardless of the non-inspiration or character of its source.

(Aside: The truth that inspiration inheres in what has been WRITTEN bears upon any apparent conflict between the gospels regarding statements made by Jesus. If two gospels recounting His words spoken at the same time and place do not use the exact words in the same order, does this mean we do not know just what Jesus said? Not at all! It only means that two writers have written it down under Holy Spirit inspiration. One writer may provide a quote, one may paraphrase the Lord Jesus, or both may be inspired paraphrases. We have either a God-breathed translation, or a God-breathed paraphrase; in both cases we have WHAT JESUS SAID perfectly preserved!)

It bears mentioning yet again - inspiration inheres in the written autographs! This means that it is not any sources used by an inspired writer, nor any oral tradition, nor the "basic thought" of the Bible writer, but HIS VERY WRITTEN WORDS which we hold to be God-breathed, authoritative, infallible, inerrant...in short, Divine. The holy men who wrote Scripture were carried along by the Holy Spirit, says Peter (2 Peter 1:21). What they wrote under inspiration cannot be handled and judged in the same way that mere human writings are handled and judged...

"It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail", said Jesus. (Luke 16:17)

Some merely human writings of influence have been lost forever. They are known only by references to them in other works. Not so the Bible! No instance of textual variance in Scripture conditionalizes its truth. (Example: the Trinity does not stand or fall with 1 John 5:8A, a disputed passage.) The relatively tiny amount of variance among all extant mss. of Scripture is itself a testimony to the Bible's supernatural preservation. God's Word will never pass away from God's world. Throughout all future epochs, the trustworthy, infallible and inspired Bible will continue to exist. It will never become unrecognizable to the eternal Father's immediate family (all the true Church on earth!) or lose its breath of authoritative life, until heaven and earth pass away. (Matthew 5:18)

Death is the LAST enemy, to be destroyed when Christ returns (1 Corinthians 15:20ff). In the meantime, Christ's kingdom is advancing even in this present evil age. He is ever conquering the enemies that arise because of the curse, overturning their brief, proudly exultant victories...making their guns backfire and the stones they launch to roll back onto them. Even in these things He often tempers His most just wrath with tender mercy. He patiently chastens, that He may conquer many by making them love Him as Savior and Lord. Surely, all of satan's and man's malicious attempts to gainsay the Bible are among the most froward enemies. This is true of every vain philosophy that has ever brazenly challenged Scripture (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:5). It is true of every insidious heresy. It is true because the ultimate source of both is the perversity of sin.

the Watchtower's New World Translation, only a few decades old, is doomed to be but a curio to future Bible scholars. It is a moment of static in the ongoing transmission of the Bible through the centuries; an aberration like the false canon of the ancient heretic Marcion. Like Watchtower doctrine, it cannot possibly endure. The invincible Word of God, that living and active, sharp, two edged sword of the Spirit, towers over the corpses of its foes, strewn about on the field of history...

God works all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). He has preserved His written Word as an organic whole, and neither textual variance nor poor translations can obscure the way of salvation. Nothing can shroud the knowledge of all that God's children need for life and godliness. Variants, poor or interpretive translation, inaccurate paraphrases which dumb down the Bible's richness of meaning, bad preaching, and of course downright intentional "wresting" of the Scriptures are manifestations of sin's legacy of decay. God so restrained decay's advance in Adam that he remained a true man, a whole man, the image of God, until his earthly life was over. Until Christ returns to earth, God's people can be sure that He will overrule the effects of textual transmission upon Scripture, and infallibly preserve His Word!

The Watchtower's denials of the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, the Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit, et. al. are buttressed by this grievous error of the NWT translators (adding the tetragram to the New Testament). However, the anti-trinitarianism of "Jehovah's Witnesses" predates the publication of the NWT. The NWT has enabled this doctrinal error to flourish within their society. Their error would not be repeated again and again if a faithful translation were used by the organization. The name Jehovah is selectively added to the Greek Scriptures, the bracketed word [other] is added to Colossians 1 and Philippians 2, the absurd "Greber rendition" of John 1:1 is used. Why? Because apart from this pseudo-translational obscurantism, the identification of YHWH and the Lord Jesus Christ as one and the same becomes as plain as the Bright Morning Star on a clear, crisp dawn!

The New Covenant writers have illumined what was revealed by shadowy forms under the Old Covenant (Hebrews 10:1). They have brought forth from their treasuries both old things and new (cf. Matthew 13:52). Jesus' subsitutionary death, of infinite value, accomplishes all that the animal sacrifices pre-figured. His priesthood, made Divinely powerful by His own blood, surpasses and eclipses Aaron's. All prophecy is fulfilled in and by Him Whose testimony is the very spirit of prophecy. In Jesus, the Root and the Offspring of King David (Revelation 22:16), David's throne is eternally established, as Yahweh promised the giant-slaying son of Jesse (Cf. Isaiah 11:1ff).

The Tetragrammaton itself was part of the Old Covenant. Obviously, God did not find it necessary to include it in the Scriptures of the New Covenant. Instead, He inspired the apostles to powerfully develop and add to what that Name means, break down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, and show us that Jesus bears the Name above all names. The New Testament doesn't cling to the "4 consonant bud" - it displays the glorious, full blossomed flower, the long awaited realization of God's covenant with Abraham, even the Rose of Sharon, the One Who is the fairest of ten thousand! (Cf. Song of Songs). The ASSUMPTION that Jesus and the apostles used the Tetragram demonstrates a sad lack of comprehension of the relationship of the Old and New Covenants.

YHWH Himself DOES appear on the pages of the New Testament after all, although the Tetragrammaton does not! Yahweh suddenly came into His temple, preceded by His forerunner John the Baptist who came in the spirit and power of Elijah. Jehovah fully identified with His people, and came down not merely in a strangely burning bush or via an awesome theophany, but in the flesh. YHWH Himself came down as One of us - worthy of as much more glory than Israel's earthly deliverer Moses, as a builder is more worthy of honor than his architectural accomplishment. Yahweh became incarnate as the Light of the world, One greater than Solomon. He is Immanuel, the great I AM, Who came down to deliver His people from a bondage greater than Egypt's.

YHWH...Jehovah...Yahweh is Jesus Christ - our Lord and our God. Alleluia!

Pastor Keith Graham, November 1995

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