How the Watchtower Society Has Kept Us From Honoring the Son
The first time my husband Nils and I attended a Bible study at a local church, we didn’t want anyone to know that we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. So we wore blue jeans, used aliases, and prominently displayed our King James Bibles. But in spite of all these covert actions, we apparently gave ourselves away within the first ten minutes of the study. As someone later told us, “We knew you must be Witnesses. You kept using the name Jehovah.” Well, why wouldn’t we? From the year 1931 when Joseph Rutherford plucked the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” out of the Old Testament (Isaiah 43:12 NWT), the Watchtower Society has written, spoken, revered, sung, and called upon the name Jehovah so many times that, to Jehovah’s Witnesses, it has become synonymous with eternal salvation and divine protection. On the other hand, the majority of Christians place the same significance upon the name Jesus. They quote John 5:23 where it says, “. . . in order that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. He that does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses definitely do not honor the Son as they honor Jehovah. They even boast about it in the 1988 edition of the Revelation book. There they say, in the songs they have sung over the years, they have consistently replaced an emphasis on Jesus with an emphasis on Jehovah until it is now a ratio of 4:1 (p. 36). They have even dared to alter the Bible itself 237 times in the New Testament, changing the word Lord (referring to Jesus) to Jehovah. Is this dishonoring of the Son in their New World Translation based upon solid, convincing scholarship, or has the Watchtower Society been deceptive in justifying their use of the name Jehovah? If the latter is true, then they may have kept us from having the right relationship with both the Father and the Son!
In order to appreciate how deceptive they’ve been, it would help to know a bit about Bible manuscripts. The oldest ones are considered to be the most accurate because they are closest to the original writings. When it comes to the New Testament, none of the original books and letters still exists. However, the oldest copies of them have been carefully preserved, catalogued, and dated. Some of the best known are the Sinaitic MS. (4th century), the Alexandrine MS. (5th century), the Vatican MS. No. 1209 (4th century), and the Latin Vulgate (4th century). Since these are the oldest, any translation of the New Testament in any language made after the fifth century would have to use these earliest manuscripts as a basis. None of these manuscripts listed above (or any others from that same time period) contains the name Jehovah. All of them say God or Lord.
So for over 1,900 years before the New World Translation (NWT) was published, the vast majority of Christians had been reading the New Testament and had given glory and honor to the Son when they read the word Lord. Honoring the Son was what made Christians different from the Jews who gave all honor to the Father. However, if Christians gave that same honor to the Son, they automatically honored the Father who sent him. (John 5:23; 1 John 2:23)
This emphasis on Jesus in the New Testament made it difficult for Jehovah’s Witnesses to disprove the trinity. What they needed was a Bible translation that would “restore” the name Jehovah to its “rightful” place in the New Testament. But how were they going to do that when none of the accepted, time-honored manuscripts used Jehovah?
One way was to make their own translation and insert the name Jehovah when the writer of the New Testament was quoting from the Old Testament. If the tetragrammaton (the Hebrew letters for God’s name) appeared in the Old Testament quotation, then the Society promised to be faithful and careful to insert it in the New Testament verse. As they said in the Foreword to the 1969 Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, p. 19: “To avoid overstepping the bounds of a translator into the field of exegesis, we have tried to be most cautious about rendering the divine name, always carefully considering the Hebrew Scriptures.”
How carefully, then, did they consider the Hebrew Scriptures when translating 1 Peter 2:3? The Psalmist had said, “Taste and see that Jehovah is good.” (Psalm 34:8, NWT) When Peter quoted that verse, the Society should have “cautiously” and “carefully” inserted Jehovah in the New Testament. But they didn’t! Instead, they have Peter say, “. . . provided you have tasted that the Lord is kind” (NWT). Why did they omit Jehovah here? Because the very next verse in 1 Peter, chapter 2 is obviously applying the scripture to Jesus. Verse 4 says, “Coming to him as to a living stone rejected, it is true, by men, but chosen, precious, with God.” (NWT)
By purposely omitting Jehovah from the quote, the Society did exactly what they promised NOT to do. They “overstepped the bounds of a translator into the field of exegesis”—protecting the reader from getting the wrong understanding according to Watchtower theology! If they have been deceptive here in picking and choosing where to use “Jehovah,” is this the only place they’ve done it?
Enter the “J” texts. It is upon the scholarship of these 21 translations that the Society justifies inserting Jehovah wherever they want to in the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. How reliable and accurate are these J texts? They are listed on pages 28-31 of the Foreword to the Society’s Interlinear translation. The oldest one is dated from the year 1385; the rest were translated between 1551 and 1864. All of them are obscure translations, mostly from Greek into Hebrew, where the translators took it upon themselves to add to the Word of God by inserting Jehovah, because the oldest Greek manuscripts used only Lord and God. And who were these translators?
Seven of them are admittedly Jewish. One of them (J2) was a man in 1385 who “wrote a polemical work against Christianity entitled Eban Bohan in which he incorporates Matthew in Hebrew as a separate chapter” (p. 28). Would this man, an outspoken opposer of Christianity, possibly be prejudiced against giving Jesus proper honor? Other J texts are simply revisions of previously listed J texts, yet the Society lists them as separate sources, giving the impression of numerous proofs.
If the illegitimacy of these J texts alone weren’t enough to invalidate the insertions of Jehovah in the NWT, the Watchtower Society openly admits they have even been inconsistent in their use of the J texts! Although the J texts use Jehovah 307 times, the translating committee of the NWT decided that 72 of those instances didn’t “warrant” insertion (Interlinear, p. 19). In other words, the Society uses the J texts when they want a verse to say Jehovah, but then they revert to the authority of the accepted manuscripts when they want another verse to say Lord.
Two good examples of this deceptive picking and choosing are found at Acts 7:59, 60 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16. When Stephen was being stoned to death, the NWT says, “And they went on casting stones at Stephen as he made appeal and said: ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then, bending his knees, he cried out with a strong voice, ‘Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.’” (Acts 7:59, 60) Why did the Society choose to cite J (17) (18) as their authority for using Jehovah here where the oldest manuscripts use Lord? Because they didn’t want Stephen praying to Jesus. To do so would be giving too much honor to the Son.
Yet, at 1 Thessalonians 4:16, they reject the J texts that use Jehovah and, instead, cite four accepted manuscripts (Sinaitic, Alexandrine, Vatican MS. No. 1209, and Latin Vulgate) as a basis for using Lord. The verse there says, “. . . because the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet, and those who are dead in union with Christ will rise first.” Why did the translating committee use Lord here instead of Jehovah? Because the verse is obviously talking about Jesus, and their interpretation of scripture requires Jesus to have the voice of Michael the archangel.
When I realized how deceptive the Watchtower Society had been in replacing the Lord with Jehovah in the New Testament, I decided to finally let the Bible speak for itself. Now when I read Romans 10:13, it says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (NIV)—speaking of Christ, not Jehovah. When Stephen prayed to Christ as he was dying, he didn’t suddenly switch gears and say, “Jehovah, do not charge this sin against them.” (NWT) Instead, he continued to pray to the “Lord Jesus” (Acts 7:59, 60). When Thomas fell at Jesus’ feet and called him “my Lord and my God” (John 20:28), Jesus didn’t rebuke him as the angel rebuked John at Rev. 22:9. Rather, Jesus accepted Thomas’s worship. And at last, I could let John 1:1 say that the Word was God and not be required to twist and turn the text to put the Watchtower spin on it.
So if you are questioning the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and struggling with how much honor to give the Son, it may be helpful to keep these two scriptures in mind:
“. . . no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:3
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26
Instead of reading the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, begin by reading accepted, approved translations of the New Testament where Jesus’ role in our lives is fully revealed. As promised, the Holy Spirit will teach you what it means to say, “Jesus is Lord,” and you will find yourself gradually learning how to honor the Son as you honor the Father who sent him.