Papyrus 46, one of the oldest New Testament papyri

Papyrus 46, one of the oldest New Testament papyri

The name “Jehovah” comes from an English rendering of the Tetragrammaton—a name consisting of 4 letters (YHWH). This name appears more than 6000 times in the Hebrew Old Testament text. The Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament, also contains the name.

However, no New Testament manuscript contains this name at all, not even when the writers quoted Old Testament passages where the Tetragrammaton appeared. Instead, the Greek text substitutes the words kyrios (Lord) or theos (God).

The Watchtower admits that no existing New Testament Greek manuscript contains the Tetragrammaton. On page 11 of its Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, it states, “One of the remarkable facts, not only about the extant manuscripts of the original Greek text, but of many versions, ancient and modern, is the absence of the divine name.”

Despite this, the Watchtower’s New World Translation inserts the name “Jehovah” into the New Testament 237 times. How do they justify this?

They assume that it must have been there. The Septuagint translators included the Tetragrammaton, so why wouldn’t the writers of the Christian Scriptures have done likewise? Also, in view of the fact that James referred to God calling out of the nations “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14), the Watchtower deems it unlikely that it would have been removed by the Christian writers. Besides, “Jah” is an abbreviation of the divine name, and John included the term “Hallelujah” (“praise Jah!”) in Revelation four times.

On page 17 of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation, the Watchtower concludes “that the original text of the Christian Greek Scriptures has been tampered with… at least from the 3d century A.D. onward, the divine name in Tetragrammaton form has been eliminated from the text by copyists who did not understand or appreciate the divine name or who developed an aversion to it, possibly under the influence of anti-Semitism. In place of it they substituted words derived from the Greek words kyrios (usually translated ‘the Lord’) and theos, meaning ‘God.'”

Based on all these arguments, the Watchtower has “restored” the name 237 times in the New Testament.

There’s a major problem with this line of reasoning. If the original New Testament writings contained the Tetragrammaton but no existing Greek New Testament manuscripts contain it, then that would mean that the scribes who copied and transmitted it systematically tampered with the text 237 times by removing it.

If so, how can we trust the New Testament at all? What else did the scribes change that hasn’t been caught? Did they remove other things that it should contain? Did they add in things that shouldn’t be there?

Ironically, a recent article in The Watchtower undermines Jehovah’s Witnesses own arguments (“The Bible Survived Attempts to Alter Its Message,” The Watchtower No. 4, 2016). This article stresses that we can trust the Bible. It points out that by comparing Greek texts from all areas of the world, scholars can determine which copyist’s variants should be rejected as not accurately reflecting the original text.

With regard to the text of the New Testament, the Watchtower states:

“The Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, Ireland, features a collection of papyri that represents nearly every book of the Christian Greek Scriptures, including manuscripts dating from the second century C.E.—only about 100 years after the Bible was completed. “Although the Papyri supply a wealth of new information on textual detail,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary observes, “they also demonstrate remarkable stability in the transmission history of the biblical text…”

It cites with approval this statement about the Christian Greek Scriptures by Sir Frederic Kenyon: “No other ancient book has anything like such early and plentiful testimony to its text, and no unbiased scholar would deny that the text that has come down to us is substantially sound.”

But how could it be “substantially sound” if, as the Watchtower claims, ignorant or anti-Semitic scribes systematically tampered with it 237 times? And if they removed the divine name because of some misguided motive, why did they leave the four “Hallelujahs” of Revelation in?

In discussing this issue with Jehovah’s Witnesses, you can ask, “Don’t you believe that God has preserved his Word against attempts by its opponents to destroy or corrupt it? If the Tetragrammaton was in the original Greek text of the New Testament more than 200 times, then why isn’t there even one Greek New Testament manuscript that contains it?”

Aren’t the following points a far more likely explanation?

  1. The entire New Testament text can be trusted because God has preserved his Word from its enemies.
  2. Therefore, scribes did not systematically tamper with the New Testament text with regard to any matter.
  3. Comparison of Greek New Testament texts from all areas of the world provides a reliable way of determining what the original writings did or did not contain.
  4. No New Testament Greek text from anywhere in the world contains the Tetragrammaton.
  5. Therefore, the original Greek New Testament texts did not contain the Tetragrammaton.
  6. Although the Watchtower considers inclusion of the divine name in the New Testament to be highly significant, the original, inspired Christian writers did not consider it important at all.
  7. By adding the name “Jehovah” into the New Testament 237 times despite the fact that no Greek manuscript contains it, it is the Watchtower—not the scribes—that has tampered with the New Testament text.


Your turn:

Have Jehovah’s Witnesses told you that scribes took the divine name out of New Testament texts and that the Watchtower has restored it? If the scribes tampered with the text with regard to this matter, what else did they tamper with? Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses trust the New Testament at all? Who really tampered with the New Testament text—the scribes or the Watchtower?

 Share your thoughts in the comments.