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The Divine Name in the Christian Greek Scriptures

Bible scholars acknowledge that God’s personal name, as represented by the Tetragrammaton (יהוה), appears almost 7,000 times in the original text of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, many feel that it did not appear in the original text of the Christian Greek Scriptures. For this reason, most modern English Bibles do not use the name Jehovah when translating the so-called New Testament. Even when translating quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures in which the Tetragrammaton appears, most translators use “Lord” rather than God’s personal name.

The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures does not follow this common practice. It uses the name Jehovah a total of 237 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. In deciding to do this, the translators took into consideration two important factors: (1) The Greek manuscripts we possess today are not the originals. Of the thousands of copies in existence today, most were made at least two centuries after the originals were composed. (2) By that time, those copying the manuscripts either replaced the Tetragrammaton with Kyʹri·os, the Greek word for “Lord,” or they copied from manuscripts where this had already been done.

The New World Bible Translation Committee determined that there is compelling evidence that the Tetragrammaton did appear in the original Greek manuscripts. The decision was based on the following evidence:

  • Copies of the Hebrew Scriptures used in the days of Jesus and his apostles contained the Tetragrammaton throughout the text. In the past, few people disputed that conclusion. Now that copies of the Hebrew Scriptures dating back to the first century have been discovered near Qumran, the point has been proved beyond any doubt.

  • In the days of Jesus and his apostles, the Tetragrammaton also appeared in Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures. For centuries, scholars thought that the Tetragrammaton was absent from manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Then, in the mid-20th century, some very old fragments of the Greek Septuagint version that existed in Jesus’ day were brought to the attention of scholars. Those fragments contain the personal name of God, written in Hebrew characters. So in Jesus’ day, copies of the Scriptures in Greek did contain the divine name. However, by the fourth century C.E., major manuscripts of the Greek Septuagint, such as the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, did not contain the divine name in the books from Genesis through Malachi (where it had been in earlier manuscripts). Hence, it is not surprising that in texts preserved from that time period, the divine name is not found in the so-called New Testament, or Greek Scripture portion of the Bible.

    Jesus plainly stated: “I have come in the name of my Father.” He also stressed that his works were done in his “Father’s name”

  • The Christian Greek Scriptures themselves report that Jesus often referred to God’s name and made it known to others. (John 17:6, 11, 12, 26) Jesus plainly stated: “I have come in the name of my Father.” He also stressed that his works were done in his “Father’s name.”—John 5:43; 10:25.

  • 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. About the middle of the first century C.E., the disciple James said to the elders in Jerusalem: “Symeon has related thoroughly how God for the first time turned his attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.” (Acts 15:14) It would not be logical for James to make such a statement if no one in the first century knew or used God’s name.

  • The divine name appears in its abbreviated form in the Christian Greek Scriptures. At Revelation 19:1, 3, 4, 6, the divine name is embedded in the word “Hallelujah.” This comes from a Hebrew expression that literally means “Praise Jah.” “Jah” is a contraction of the name Jehovah. Many names used in the Christian Greek Scriptures were derived from the divine name. In fact, reference works explain that Jesus’ own name means “Jehovah Is Salvation.”

  • Early Jewish writings indicate that Jewish Christians used the divine name in their writings. The Tosefta, a written collection of oral laws that was completed by about 300 C.E., says with regard to Christian writings that were burned on the Sabbath: “The books of the Evangelists and the books of the minim [thought to be Jewish Christians] 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.” This same source quotes Rabbi Yosé the Galilean, who lived at the beginning of the second century C.E., as saying that on other days of the week, “one cuts out the references to the Divine Name which are in them [understood to refer to the Christian writings] and stores them away, and the rest burns.”

  • Some Bible scholars acknowledge that it seems likely that the divine name appeared in Hebrew Scripture quotations found in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Under the heading “Tetragrammaton in the New Testament,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: “There is some evidence that the Tetragrammaton, the Divine Name, Yahweh, appeared in some or all of the O[ld] T[estament] quotations in the N[ew] T[estament] when the NT documents were first penned.” Scholar George Howard says: “Since the Tetragram was still written in the copies of the Greek Bible [the Septuagint] which made up the Scriptures of the early church, it is reasonable to believe that the N[ew] T[estament] writers, when quoting from Scripture, preserved the Tetragram within the biblical text.”

  • Recognized Bible translators have used God’s name in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Some of these translators did so long before the New World Translation was produced. These translators and their works include: A Literal Translation of the New Testament . . . From the Text of the Vatican Manuscript, by Herman Heinfetter (1863); The Emphatic Diaglott, by Benjamin Wilson (1864); The Epistles of Paul in Modern English, by George Barker Stevens (1898); St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, by W. G. Rutherford (1900); The New Testament Letters, by J.W.C. Wand, Bishop of London (1946). In addition, in a Spanish translation in the early 20th century, translator Pablo Besson used “Jehová” at Luke 2:15 and Jude 14, and nearly 100 footnotes in his translation suggest the divine name as a likely rendering. Long before those translations, Hebrew versions of the Christian Greek Scriptures from the 16th century onward used the Tetragrammaton in many passages. In the German language alone, at least 11 versions use “Jehovah” (or the transliteration of the Hebrew “Yahweh”) in the Christian Greek Scriptures, while four translators add the name in parentheses after “Lord.” More than 70 German translations use the divine name in footnotes or commentaries.

    God’s name at Acts 2:34 in The Emphatic Diaglott, by Benjamin Wilson (1864)

  • Bible translations in over one hundred different languages contain the divine name in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Many African, Native American, Asian, European, and Pacific-island languages use the divine name liberally. (See the list on  pages 1742 and 1743.) The translators of these editions decided to use the divine name for reasons similar to those stated above. Some of these translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures have appeared recently, such as the Rotuman Bible (1999), which uses “Jihova” 51 times in 48 verses, and the Batak (Toba) version (1989) from Indonesia, which uses “Jahowa” 110 times.

    God’s name at Mark 12:29, 30 in a Hawaiian-language translation

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 appeared in the original text.—Revelation 22:18, 19.