I recently had a rather profound spiritual experience—an awakening, if you will. Now I’m not going all ‘fundamentalist revelation from God’ on you. No, what I’m describing is the type of sensation you can get on rare occasions when a critical piece of a puzzle is discovered, causing all the other pieces to fall into place at once. What you end up with is what they like to call these days, a paradigm shift; not a particularly Biblical term for what is really an awakening to a new spiritual reality. A whole gamut of emotions can sweep over you at moments like this. What I experienced was elation, wonder, joy, then anger, and finally, peace.
Some of you have already arrived at where I am now. For the rest, allow me to take you on the journey.
I was barely twenty when I started to take “the truth” seriously. I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover. The Hebrew scriptures were tough going in parts, particularly the prophets. I found the Christian Scriptures[i] were much easier and more enjoyable to read. Still, I found it challenging in places because of the stilted, often pedantic language used in the NWT.[ii] So I thought I’d try reading the Christian Scriptures in the New English Bible because I liked the easy-to-read language of that translation.
I quite enjoyed the experience because the reading simply flowed and the meaning was easy to grasp. However, as I got deeper into it, I began to feel like something was missing. I eventually came to the conclusion that the complete absence of God’s name from that translation had sapped it of something vital for me. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, use of the divine name had become a source of comfort. Being deprived of it in my Bible reading left me feeling somewhat disconnected from my God, so I went back to reading the New World Translation.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was missing out on an even greater source of comfort. Of course, I had no way of knowing that back then. After all, I had been carefully taught to ignore the very evidence that would lead me to this discovery. Part of reason for my failure to see what was before my eyes was our Organization’s myopic focus on the divine name.
I should pause right here because I can just see the hackles rising. Allow me to explain that I think the rightful restoration of the divine name in translations of the Hebrew Scriptures is most laudable. It is a sin to remove it. I’m not being judgmental. I’m merely repeating a judgment passed long ago. Read it for yourself at Revelation 22:18, 19.
For me, one of the great revelations of my journey to an awareness of God was understanding the rich and unique meaning of the name, Jehovah. I consider it a privilege to carry that name and make it known to others—though making it known implies much more than simply publishing the name itself as I had once believed. It was undoubtedly this respect, even fervor, for the divine name that had caused me and others so much consternation upon learning of its complete absence from the Christian Scriptures. I came to learn that there are 5,358 manuscripts or manuscript fragments of the Christian Scriptures in existence today, and yet, in not a single one does the divine name appear. Not a single one!
Now let’s put that into perspective. The Hebrew Scriptures were written from 500 to 1,500 years before the first Christian writer put pen to paper. From existing manuscripts (all copies) we have learned that Jehovah has preserved his divine name in almost 7,000 places. Yet, in the more recent manuscript copies of the Christian Scriptures, God has not seen fit to preserve a single instance of his divine name, it would seem. Sure, we can argue that it was removed by superstitious copyists, but does that not imply a shortening of God’s hand? (Nu 11:23) Why would Jehovah not act to preserve his name in manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures as he did in their Hebrew counterparts?
This is an obvious and troubling question. The fact that no one could provide a reasonable answer to it had bothered me for years. I only realized recently that the reason I couldn’t find a satisfying answer to the question was that I was asking the wrong question. I had been working on the assumption that Jehovah’s name had been there all along, so I couldn’t understand how it was that God Almighty would allow it to be eradicated from his own word. It never occurred to me that perhaps He didn’t preserve it because He never put it there in the first place. The question I should have been asking was, Why didn’t Jehovah inspire the Christian writers to use his name?
Re-authoring the Bible?
Now if you have been properly conditioned as I was, you might be thinking about the J references in the NWT Reference Bible. You may be saying, “Wait a minute. There are 238[iii] places where we have restored the divine name into the Christian Scriptures.”[iv]
The question we should be asking ourselves is, Have we restored it in 238 places, or have we arbitrarily inserted it in 238 places? Most would answer reflexively that we have restored it, because the J references all refer to manuscripts that contain the Tetragrammaton. That is what most Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. As it turns out, they do not! As we’ve just stated, the divine name does not appear in ANY of the extant manuscripts.
So what are the J references referencing?
Yes, that’s right. Other translations. [v] We are not even talking about ancient translations where the translator presumably had access to some now-lost ancient manuscript. Some of the J references point to fairly recent translations, far more recent than the manuscripts available to us today. What this means is that another translator using the same manuscripts we have access to, chose to insert the Tetragrammaton in lieu of ‘God’ or ‘Lord’. Since these J reference translations were into Hebrew, it may be the translator felt the divine name would be more acceptable to his Jewish target audience than Lord which points to Jesus. Whatever the reason, it was clearly based on the translator’s bias, and not on any actual evidence.
The New World Translation has inserted ‘Jehovah’ for ‘Lord’ or ‘God’ a total of 238 times based on a technical process called ‘conjectural emendation’. This is where a translator ‘mends‘ the text based on his belief that it needs fixing—a belief which cannot be proved, but is based solely on conjecture. [vi] The J references essentially amount to saying that since someone else has already made this conjecture, the translation committee of the NWT felt justified in doing the same. Basing our decision on another translator’s theories hardly seems like a compelling reason to risk messing with the word of God.[vii]
“…If anyone makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll; and if anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take his portion away from the trees of life and out of the holy city…” (Rev. 22:18, 19)
We attempt to get around the application of this dire warning as regards our practice of inserting ‘Jehovah’ in places it doesn’t appear in the original by arguing that we are not adding anything at all, but merely restoring what was wrongfully deleted. Someone else is guilty of what Revelation 22:18, 19 warns of; but we are just setting things right again.
Here is our reasoning on the matter:
“Without a doubt, there is a clear basis for restoring the divine name, Jehovah, in the Christian Greek Scriptures. That is exactly what the translators of the New World Translation have done. They have a deep respect for the divine name and a healthy fear of removing anything that appears in the original text.—Revelation 22:18, 19.” (NWT 2013 Edition, p. 1741)
How easily we toss out a phrase like “without a doubt”, never considering how misleading its use is in an instance such as this. The only way that there could be ‘no doubt’ would be if we could lay our hands on some actual evidence; but there is none. All we have is our strong belief that the name should be there. Our conjecture is built only on the belief that the divine name must have been there originally because it appears so many times in the Hebrew Scriptures. It seems incongruous to us as Jehovah’s Witnesses that the name should appear almost 7,000 times in the Hebrew Scriptures but not once in the Greek. Rather than look for a scriptural explanation, we suspect human tampering.
The translators of the latest New World Translation claim to have a “healthy fear of removing anything that appears in the original text.” The fact is, “Lord” and “God” do appear in the original text, and we have no way of proving otherwise. By removing them and inserting “Jehovah”, we are in danger of changing the meaning behind the text; of leading the reader down a different road, to a comprehension the Author never intended.
There is a certain presumptuousness about our actions in this matter that calls to mind the account of Uzzah.
” 6 And they came gradually as far as the threshing floor of Na′con, and Uz′zah now thrust [his hand] out to the ark of the [true] God and grabbed hold of it, for the cattle nearly caused an upset. 7 At that Jehovah’s anger blazed against Uz′zah and the [true] God struck him down there for the irreverent act, so that he died there close by the ark of the [true] God. 8 And David became angry over the fact that Jehovah had broken through in a rupture against Uz′zah, and that place came to be called Pe′rez-uz′zah down to this day.” (2 Samuel 6:6-8)
The fact is the ark was being transported incorrectly. It was to be carried by the Levites using poles specially constructed for the purpose. We don’t know what motivated Uzzah to reach out, but given David’s reaction, it is entirely possible that Uzzah acted with the best of motives. Whatever the reality, good motivation doesn’t excuse doing the wrong thing, especially when the wrong thing involves touching that which is sacred and off limits. In such a case, motivation is irrelevant. Uzzah acted presumptuously. He took it upon himself to correct the error. He was killed for it.
Changing the inspired text of God’s word based on human conjecture is touching that which is sacred. It is hard to see it as anything other than a highly presumptuous act, no matter how good one’s intentions may be.
There is of course another strong motivation for our position. We have taken the name, Jehovah’s Witnesses. We believe we have restored God’s name to its rightful place, declaring it to the world at large. However, we also call ourselves Christians and believe we are the modern renaissance of first century Christianity; the only true Christians on earth today. It is therefore inconceivable to us that the first century Christians would not have engaged in the very same work as we do—that of declaring the name, Jehovah, far and wide. They must have used Jehovah’s name every bit as often as we now do. We may have ‘restored’ it 238 times, but we really believe the original writings were peppered with it. It has to be so for our work to have meaning.
We use scriptures like John 17:26 as justification for this position.
”And I have made your name known to them and will make it known, in order that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them.” (John 17:26)
Revealing God’s Name or His Person?
However, that scripture makes no sense as we apply it. The Jews to whom Jesus preached already knew God’s name was Jehovah. They used it. So what did Jesus mean when he said, “I have made your name known to them…”?
Today, a name is a label you slap on a person to identify him or her. In Hebrew times a name was the person.
If I tell you the name of someone you do not know, does that cause you to love them? Hardly. Jesus made known God’s name and the result was that men came to love God. So he’s not referring to the name itself, the appellation, but to some more expansive meaning to the term. Jesus, the greater Moses, didn’t come to tell the children of Israel that God was called Jehovah any more than the original Moses did. When Moses asked God how to answer the Israelites when they asked him ‘What is the name of the God who sent you?’, he wasn’t asking Jehovah to tell him his name as we understand the term today. Nowadays, a name is just a label; a way to differentiate one person from another. Not so in Bible times. The Israelites knew God was called Jehovah, but after centuries of slavery, that name had no meaning to them. It was just a label. Pharaoh said, “Who is Jehovah so that I should obey his voice…?” He knew the name, but not what the name meant. Jehovah was about to make a name for himself before his people and the Egyptians. When he was finished, the world would know the fullness of God’s name.
The situation was similar in Jesus’ day. For hundreds of years, the Jews had been subjugated by other nations. Jehovah was again just a name, a label. They didn’t know him any more than the pre-Exodus Israelites knew him. Jesus, like Moses, came to reveal Jehovah’s name to his people.
But he came to do so much more than that.
“If YOU men had known me, YOU would have known my Father also; from this moment on YOU know him and have seen him.” 8 Philip said to him: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him: “Have I been with YOU men so long a time, and yet, Philip, you have not come to know me? He that has seen me has seen the Father [also]. How is it you say, ‘Show us the Father’? “ (John 14:7-9)
Jesus came to reveal God as Father.
Ask yourself, Why didn’t Jesus use God’s name in prayer? The Hebrew Scriptures are full of prayers in which Jehovah is named repeatedly. We follow that custom as Jehovah’s witnesses. Listen to any congregation or convention prayer and if you pay attention, you’ll be astonished at the number of times we use his name. At times it is so overused as to constitute a kind of theocratic talisman; as if frequent use of the divine name confers some protective blessing upon the user. There is a video on the jw.org site right now about the construction at Warwick. It runs for about 15 minutes. Check it out and while watching it, count how many times Jehovah’s name is spoken, even by the Governing Body members. Now contrast that with the number of times Jehovah is referred to as Father? The results are most telling.
From 1950 to 2012, the name Jehovah appears in The Watchtower a total of 244,426 times, while Jesus appears 91,846 times. This makes complete sense to a Witness—it would have made complete sense to me only a year ago. If you break this down by issue, that averages out to 161 occurrence of the divine name per issue; 5 per page. Could you imagine any publication, even a simple tract, where Jehovah’s name would not appear? Given that, can you imagine a letter written under inspiration of Holy Spirit where his name would not appear?
Look at 1 Timothy, Philippians and Philemon, and the three letters of John. The name does not appear once in the NWT, even factoring in the J references. So while Paul and John make no mention of God by name, how often do they refer to him in these writings as Father? A total of 21 times.
Now pick up any Watchtower issue at random. I chose the January 15, 2012 issue only because it was at the top of the list in the Watchtower Library program as the first Study issue. Jehovah appears 188 times in the issue, but He is referred to as our Father only 4 times. This disparity is made all the worse when we factor in the teaching that the millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses worshipping God today are not counted as sons, but as friends, making the use of ‘Father’ in these few instances a metaphorical relationship, rather than a real one.
I mentioned at the start of this post that the final piece of a puzzle had recently come to me and suddenly everything fell into place.
The Missing Piece
While we have speculatively inserted Jehovah’s name 238 times in the NWT 2013 Edition, there are two other more significant numbers: 0 and 260. The first is the number of times Jehovah is referred to as the personal father of any human in the Hebrew Scriptures.[viii] When Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or Moses, or the kings, or the prophets are depicted either praying to or talking with Jehovah, they use his name. Not once do they call him Father. There are about a dozen references to him as the Father of the nation of Israel, but a personal father/son relationship between Jehovah and individual men or women is not something taught in the Hebrew Scriptures.
In contrast, the second number, 260, represents the number of times Jesus and the Christian writers used the term ‘Father’ to depict the relationship Christ and his disciples enjoy with God.
My father is gone now—sleeping—but during our overlapping lifetimes, I do not recall ever calling him by his name. Even when referring to him while speaking to others, he was always “my father” or “my dad”. To have used his name would have just been wrong; disrespectful, and demeaning to our relationship as father and son. Only a son or daughter has the privilege of using that form of intimate address. Everyone else must use a man’s name.
Now we can see why Jehovah’s name is absent from the Christian Scriptures. When Jesus gave us the model prayer, he didn’t say “Our Father Jehovah in the heavens…”? He said, “You must pray…this way: “Our Father in the heavens…”. This was a radical change for the Jewish disciples, and for the gentiles as well when it came their turn.
If you want a sampling of this change in thought, you need look no further than the book of Matthew. For an experiment, copy and paste this line into the search box of the Watchtower Library and see what it produces:
Matthew 5:16,45,48; 6:1,4,6,8,9,14,15,18,26,32; 7:11,21; 10:20,29,32,33; 11:25-27; 12:50; 13:43; 15:13; 16:17,27; 18:10,14,19,35; 20:23; 23:9; 24:36; 25:34; 26:29,39,42,53; 28:19.
To understand just how radical this teaching would have been in those days, we have to put ourselves into the mindset of a first century Jew. Frankly, this new teaching was viewed as blasphemous.
“On this account, indeed, the Jews began seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath but he was also calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.” (John 5:18)
How shocked these same opposers must have been when later Jesus’ disciples started referring to themselves as God’s sons, calling Jehovah their own Father. (Romans 8:14, 19)
Adam lost sonship. He was expelled from the family of God. He died in Jehovah’s eyes that day. All men were then dead in God’s eyes. (Mat. 8:22; Rev. 20:5) It was the devil who was ultimately responsible for destroying the relationship both Adam and Eve enjoyed with their heavenly father, who would talk with them as a Father would his children. (Gen. 3:8) How successful the Devil has been over the centuries in continuing to destroy hope for a return to this precious relationship squandered by our original parents. Large segments of Africa and Asia worship their ancestors, but have no concept of God as a Father. The Hindus have millions of Gods, but no spiritual Father. For Muslims, the teaching that God can have sons, spirit or human, is blasphemous. The Jews believe they are God’s chosen people, but the idea of a personal father/son relationship is not part of their theology.
Jesus, the last Adam, came and paved the way for a return to what Adam had thrown away. What a challenge for the Devil this presented, for the idea of a personal relationship with God like that of a child toward a father is an easy concept to grasp. How to undo what Jesus had done? Enter the Trinity doctrine which confuses the Son with the Father, making them both God. Hard to think of God as Jesus and yet God as your Father and Jesus as your brother.
C.T. Russell, like others before him, came along and showed us that the Trinity is bogus. Soon, Christians in congregations around the world were again seeing God as their Father as Jesus intended. That was the case until 1935 when Judge Rutherford began to make people believe that they could not aspire to be sons, but only friends. Again, the father/child bond is broken by false teaching.
We are not dead to God as Adam was—as the world at large is. Jesus came to give us life as God’s sons and daughters.
“Furthermore, [it is] YOU [God made alive] though YOU were dead in YOUR trespasses and sins…” (Ephesians 2:1)
When Jesus died, he opened the way for us to be God’s children.
“For YOU did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but YOU received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: “Abba, Father!” 16 The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15, 16)
Here, Paul reveals a wonderful truth to the Romans.
As stated at the annual meeting, the guiding principle behind the latest release of the NWT is found at 1 Cor. 14:8. On the basis of not sounding an “indistinct call”, it strives to provide easy to understand cross cultural renderings such as ‘food’ instead of ‘bread’ and ‘person’ instead of ‘soul’. (Mat. 3:4; Gen. 2:7) Yet, for some reason, the translators saw fit to leave the esoteric Arabic term, abba, in place at Romans 8:15. This isn’t a criticism, though the apparent inconsistency is puzzling. Nevertheless, research reveals that this term is important for us to understand. Paul inserts it here to help his readers to comprehend something critical about the Christian relationship with God. The term, abba, is used to express tender endearment toward a Father as by a beloved child. This is the relationship now open to us.
An Orphan No More!
What a great truth Jesus was revealing! No longer is Jehovah simply God; to be feared and obeyed and yes, loved—but loved as a God not as a father. No, for now Christ, the last Adam, has opened the way for the restoration of all things. (1 Cor. 15:45) Now we can love Jehovah as a child loves a father. We can feel that special, unique relationship only a son or daughter can feel for a loving father.
For thousands of years, men and women had wandered like orphans through life. Then along came Jesus to show us firsthand that we were no longer alone. We could rejoin the family, be adopted; orphans no more. This is what is revealed by the 260 references to God as our Father, a reality missing from the Hebrew Scriptures. Yes, we know God’s name is Jehovah, but for us he is papa! This wonderful privilege is open to all humankind, but only if we accept the spirit, die to our former way of life and are reborn in the Christ. (John 3:3)
This marvelous privilege has been denied us as Jehovah’s Witnesses through the insidious deception that kept us in the orphanage, distinct from the select, privileged few who called themselves God’s children. We were to be content as His friends. Like some orphan befriended by the heir apparent, we were invited into the household, even allowed to eat at the same table and sleep under the same roof; but we were constantly reminded that we were still outsiders; fatherless, kept at arm’s length. We could only stand back respectfully, quietly envying the heir his loving father/son relationship; hoping that one day, perchance a thousand years from now, we might also attain to that same precious status.
This is not what Jesus came to teach. The fact is we have been taught a lie.
“However, as many as did receive him, to them he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name; 13 and they were born, not from blood or from a fleshly will or from man’s will, but from God.” (John 1:12, 13)
“YOU are all, in fact, sons of God through YOUR faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)
If we exercise faith in Jesus’ name he gives us the authority to be called God’s children, an authority no man—be he J.F. Rutherford or the current men making up the Governing Body—has the right to take away.
As I said, upon receiving this personal revelation, I felt elation, then wonder that such an incredible loving kindness could be extended to one such as I. This gave me joy and contentment, but then came the anger. Anger at being fooled for decades into believing I had no right to even aspire to being one of God’s sons. But anger passes and the spirit brings one peace through increased understanding and an improved relationship with God as one’s Father.
Anger over an injustice is justified, but one cannot allow it to lead to unrighteousness. Our Father will set all matters straight and will repay to each one according to his deeds. For us as children, we have the prospect of eternal life. If we have lost 40, or 50, or 60 years of sonship, what is that with everlasting life before us.
“My aim is to know him and the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings, submitting myself to a death like his, to see if at all possible I may attain to the earlier resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10, 11 NWT 2013 Edition)
Let us be like Paul and use what time remains to us to reach out for the earlier resurrection, the better one, so that we may be with our heavenly Father in the kingdom of his Christ. (Heb. 11:35)
[i] I’m referring to what is commonly called the New Testament, a name we eschew as Witnesses for arguable reasons. Another option, if we are looking for something to distinguish ourselves from Christendom, might be The New Covenant Scriptures, or NC for short, because ‘testament’ is an antiquated word. However, the purpose of this post is not to debate terminology, so we’ll let sleeping dogs lie.
[ii] New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[iii] This number was 237, but with the release of the New World Translation, 2013 Edition an additional J reference has been added.
[iv] Actually, the J references number 167. There are 78 places where our reason for restoring the divine name is that the Christian writer is referencing a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures where the divine name occurs.
[v] At the five day elders school I attended, we spent a considerable amount of time on the Reference Bible and the J references were well covered. I found it revealing from the comments made that all believed the J references pointed to Bible manuscripts, not to Bible translations. The instructors admitted privately that they knew the true nature of the J references, but did nothing to disabuse their students of their wrong notion.
[vi] On 78 occasions the justification is that the Bible writer is referencing a passage in the Hebrew Scriptures where we know from manuscript evidence that the divine name did appear. While this is sounder basis for inserting the divine name than that of the J references, it is still based on conjecture. The fact is, the Bible writers did not always quote from the Hebrew word-for-word. They often referenced these scriptures phraseologically and under inspiration may have inserted ‘Lord’ or ‘God’. Again, we cannot know for sure and making a change to God’s word based on conjecture is not something that Jehovah has allowed us to do.
[vii] It is of interest that the J references have been removed from the NWT 2013 Edition. It seems that the translation committee feels no further obligation to justify its decision. Based on what was said at the annual meeting, we are counselled not to try to second guess them but to trust that they know more than we do about Bible translation and to just be happy with the result.
[viii] Some will point to 2 Samuel 7:14 to contradict this statement, but in fact what we have there is a simile. As when Jesus said to his mother at John 19:26, “Woman, see! Your son!”. Jehovah is referring to the manner in which he will treat Solomon once David is gone, not that he would adopt him as he does Christians.