Today I had my second conversation with a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my house. The one change was that the senior witness didn’t bring his assistant but instead brought his wife.
At the end of our last visit, we had talked a bit about God’s name (YHWH). I mentioned that I thought it was curious that the Tetragrammaton didn’t appear in our Greek New Testament. He promised to do some research.
He had mentioned last time that there were some Greek manuscripts with the Tetragrammaton in it but nothing was mentioned this time. His argument went in a different direction. He quoted for me:
The books of the Evangelists and the books of the minim they do not save from a fire. But they are allowed to burn where they are, they and the references to the Divine Name which are in them. Shabbat 13:5
This is taken from the Tosefta, a rabbinic work that was written around 300 AD. The argument is that the rabbis understood the Christian scriptures to have included YHWH at least by that time. At some point after, YHWH was removed from the texts and replaced with kurios (Lord). Shortly after the Tosefta was written brings us to the time of Constantine, the Roman emperor who legalized Christianity and who is blamed for most of Christianity’s problems.
Here is the problem, biblical scholars no longer rely on rabbinic sources for reconstructing what happened in early Christianity. The few traditions about early Christianity in the rabbinic texts are way off. Why would they Jehovah’s Witnesses believe this tradition and not the rabbinic tradition that Jesus’ father was a Roman soldier named Pantera?
Beyond this, we have Greek manuscripts before 300 AD. You can find a list of manuscripts before 200 AD here and going to 300 would only expand the list. If the New Testament originally included the Tetragrammaton, we know it based on the manuscripts we have.
The official website for the Jehovah’s Witnesses tackles this issue here. Their arguments are pretty weak. Notice that it says, “Since the Christian Greek Scriptures were an inspired addition to the sacred Hebrew Scriptures, the sudden disappearance of Jehovah’s name from the text would seem inconsistent.” Interesting.
Why isn’t the Tetragrammaton in the Greek New Testament? It is not as the website puts in the mouth of critics, “no one in the first century knew or used God’s name.” They definitely knew the name. It is likely that Jesus and the others, when quoting the Hebrew Scriptures, said adonai (Lord) when coming to YHWH out of respect for the Divine Name. In terms of the Gospels and Paul, they most often quote the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), which used kurios and so they followed that pattern.
The truth is that I have no problem with the Tetragrammaton and I believe God’s name is YHWH, even if I don’t think Jehovah is the best version of that name. This conversation was only a means to point out some of the problems with Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine.
This was only part of our conversation. For the rest of our visit, we talked mostly about the more important topic of the Kingdom of God. I will share that in the next post.
If you are interested, get my book The Watchtower and the Word.