I never try to talk Jehovah’s Witnesses out of calling God “Jehovah.” The problem is that the Watchtower claims that we must use that name and address him as “Jehovah” whenever we pray to him.
But is that really true?
The online Watchtower No. 3, 2016 article “What Does the Bible Say? Does God have a name?” makes several claims. Let’s look at three of them and see how we might respond.
Watchtower Claim #1: “Knowing God’s name can be the first step to having a friendship with him.—James 4:8.”
Never assume that the Bible verses the Watchtower cites actually teach what it claims they do.
Here is what James 4:8 actually says: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (NIV)
What does that verse say about the importance of using the name “Jehovah”? Absolutely nothing. But if you point this out to Jehovah’s Witnesses, they will say something like this, “Have can you draw near to someone if you don’t use his name?”
The Watchtower book What Does the Bible Really Teach? (2005, p. 196) puts it this way: “In replacing God’s name with titles, Bible translators make a serious mistake. They make God seem remote and impersonal, whereas the Bible urges humans to cultivate ‘intimacy with Jehovah.’ (Psalm 25:14) Think of an intimate friend of yours. How close would you really be if you never learned your friend’s name? Similarly, when people are kept in ignorance about God’s name, Jehovah, how can they become truly close to God?”
If they make this argument, I recommend that you ask, “Is use of someone’s personal name the most intimate way to address them? My children don’t call me [insert your name]. They call me ‘Dad/Mom.’ In a similar way, isn’t it more intimate to address God as “Father” than as ‘Jehovah’?”
Does using a more formal term imply lack of intimacy? How did Jesus’ closest friends refer to him?” Have one of the Witnesses read John 13:13 aloud. There Jesus said that it was proper for his disciples to address him as “Teacher” and “Lord.” Even his inner circle of disciples—Peter, James, and John—addressed and referred to him in this way. (Matthew 14:28-30; Luke 9:54).
You can follow up by asking, “If Jesus’ closest friends properly called him by titles of respect like ‘teacher’ and ‘lord’ instead of by his name—Jesus—why would it be wrong to refer to his Father as ‘God’ or “Lord’ instead of using the name ‘Jehovah’?”
Watchtower Claim #2: “Jesus knew and used God’s name.—John 17:25, 26. God invites us to address him by that name.”
In Jesus’ high priestly prayer set out in John 17, Jesus prayed the following (verses 25-26): “O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me; and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (NASB)
The Watchtower uses this statement to “prove” that Jesus told his disciples that God’s name is “Jehovah” and that they should use that name when they refer to him and whenever they address him in prayer.
In response, have them look at the context of Jesus’ statement. Point out that nowhere in John 17 does Jesus actually use the name “Jehovah.” In fact, all six times he addresses him in that chapter, he calls him “Father.”
If it is critical that we address our prayers to “Jehovah” by that name, why didn’t Jesus do it?
If the Witnesses point out that Jesus called God “Father” because he had a unique relationship with him, point out that in his model prayer, Jesus told his disciples to address God as “our Father.” (Matthew 6:9). Most likely, they will respond by telling you Jesus’ told them to pray that God’s name would be sanctified. They’ll ask, “How can you sanctify God’s name if you never use it?”
I recommend that you respond by asking, “Does making God’s name known or sanctifying God’s name mean using the word ‘Jehovah’ or does it mean proclaiming and reverently showing what God is like—the greatness of his person and character? If praying that God’s name would be sanctified really means they were always supposed to use the name ‘Jehovah,’ wouldn’t Jesus have instructed his disciples to direct their prayers to ‘Jehovah’ rather than to ‘Father’?”
You can also use a personal illustration by saying, “If you ask me what my father’s name is, and I tell you, ‘His name is [give your father’s name]’, have I told you much of consequence about him? Would I be `honoring his name’ by using his name frequently and encouraging other people to do so? Wouldn’t it be far more important for me to tell you what he is like and to exhibit all his good qualities and teachings in my own life? Likewise, it seems to me that this is what Jesus was talking about—extolling and demonstrating the great qualities of his Father. If so, it is God’s character—not the uttering of the name ‘Jehovah’—that is important.”
Watchtower Claim #3: “God’s enemies try to make people forget his name.—Jeremiah 23:27.”
Jeremiah 23:27 says, “They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship.” (NIV)
The Watchtower’s argument is clear. Because your church doesn’t use the name “Jehovah” they are making people forget his name. They are just like God’s enemies.
Once again, direct the Witnesses’ attention to the context of the passage. Have them read aloud Jeremiah 23:16-17 in the Watchtower translation. God indicts his enemies—the false prophets—this way: “This is what Jehovah of armies says: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are deluding you. The vision they speak is from their own heart, not from the mouth of Jehovah. They are saying again and again to those who disrespect me, ‘Jehovah has said: “You will enjoy peace.”’ And to everyone who follows his own stubborn heart they say, ‘No calamity will come upon you.’”
So the fault of these enemies of God was not that they were making people forget God’s name by failing to use it. They were using the name “again and again” and putting words in his mouth that he never spoke.
Ask, “How would using the name ‘Jehovah’ again and again in such a fashion make God’s people forget his name?” The answer is that God’s “name” means God’s character. They actually invoked the name “Jehovah” over and over but they dishonored it by proclaiming error in his name.
The Witnesses may insist that God’s enemies—the Pharisees—superstitiously refused to use the divine name and that Jesus defied them by using and proclaiming the name publicly.
If they press that point, ask, “Wouldn’t we expect that if Jesus used the divine name frequently in public, the scribes and Pharisees would have accused him of blasphemy for violating their interpretation of the Third Commandment? After all, they accused him of everything else they could think of, including trivial things like allowing his disciples to eat with unwashed hands in violation of their tradition.”
Ask the Witnesses to show you anywhere in the Scriptures where any such confrontation occurred. Point out that the religious leaders did accuse Jesus of blasphemy but they never accused him of doing so because he uttered the divine name or instructed his disciples to do so.
Ask, “If Jesus used the divine name in public and emphasized its use as of crucial importance, wouldn’t we expect to see him rebuking the scribes and Pharisees for giving in to fear and superstition by their refusal to use it?”
Invite them to show you any such confrontation in the Scriptures. He rebuked the religious leaders for many things, but never for failing to speak the divine name.
Have you ever been at a loss as to what to say when Witnesses claim that we must call God “Jehovah” if we are to know him and honor him? Do you find the suggestions in this post to be helpful?
Share your thoughts in the comments.