See God’s Name in Denmark

EVERY year, many of the thousands of tourists who visit Copenhagen are surprised to see God’s name, Jehovah, or its Hebrew counterpart, יהוה, inscribed on castles and other buildings in and around the capital. * For example, in the center of the city, the Dockyard Church (Holmens Kirke) has a gate that features God’s name in large gold letters. The name also appears inside the gate on a commemorative plaque dated 1661.

Within walking distance of the Dockyard Church stands a building called the Round Tower (Rundetårn). On the outer wall, the divine name appears in large Hebrew letters as part of a sign in Latin. Translated, it reads: “Let Jehovah direct right doctrine and justice into the heart of the crowned King Christian the Fourth.” How did God’s name become so well-known in Denmark?

The Protestant Reformation and Bible Translation

A major factor in the dissemination of God’s name was the Protestant Reformation. European Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Huldrych Zwingli made an earnest study of the Bible and its original languages​—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine, or common, Greek. As a result, they became familiar with God’s personal name. “This name Jehovah . . . belongs exclusively to the true God,” said Martin Luther in a sermon.

Nevertheless, when Luther translated the Bible into German, he adhered to the unscriptural tradition of rendering the divine name as “Lord” or “God,” thus using titles, not God’s name. Later, Luther asked an associate, Johannes Bugenhagen, to prepare a version of Luther’s Bible in Low German, the language  spoken in northern Germany and southern Denmark. In his preface to the 1541 edition (the first edition was published in 1533), Bugenhagen made several references to the divine name, including the statement: “Jehovah is God’s holy name.”

In 1604, a young theologian named Hans Paulsen Resen spoke to King Christian IV about certain errors in the Danish translation of Luther’s Bible. Resen then asked for permission to prepare a new translation based on the original Hebrew and Greek texts. Permission was granted. In a note on Genesis 2:4, Resen wrote that “Jehovah” is “the Supreme Being, the only Lord.” *

As the divine name became known, it began to appear in public places. For example, in 1624, after Hans Paulsen Resen had been appointed bishop, he ordered that a plaque be installed in the Bronshoj Church. At the top of the plaque, inscribed in gold, is God’s name in Danish, Jehova. Also, on many of his writings as bishop, Resen included with his signature the words “Jehovah beholds.”

Toward the end of the 18th century, Johann David Michaelis’ German translation of the Bible was published in Danish. This Bible too contains the divine name in many places. Likewise, in the 19th century, Bible translators Christian Kalkar and others incorporated the divine name in most of the places where it appears in the original text. Then, in 1985, Jehovah’s Witnesses released the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in Danish. Bible lovers were thrilled to see the name Jehovah faithfully rendered more than 7,000 times.

Jesus Christ said in a prayer to God: “I have made your name manifest.” (John 17:6) And in his model prayer, sometimes called the Our Father prayer, Jesus said: “Let your name be sanctified [made holy].” (Matthew 6:9) As the religious history of Denmark shows, many have taken those words seriously.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 2 These four characters, called the Tetragrammaton, are consonants and are read from right to left. They are usually transliterated YHWH or JHVH. In ancient times, the reader supplied the missing vowels, as is common today when abbreviations are read.

^ par. 7 Genesis 2:4 contains the first occurrence of God’s distinctive personal name in the original text of the Holy Bible. That name, which appears some 7,000 times in the original text, means “He Causes to Become,” thus identifying Jehovah as the One whose purpose is always accomplished. What he says happens.

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TYCHO BRAHE AND GOD’S NAME

In 1597, famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe left his native country after disagreements with the Danish nobility and King Christian IV. In a farewell poem to Denmark, Brahe wrote in Latin: “Foreign people shall act kindly towards me​—so is the will of Jehovah.”

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The Dockyard Church gate

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The Round Tower

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Hans Paulsen Resen

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Johannes Bugenhagen used God’s name in the preface of the Low German version of Luther’s Bible, 1541

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Hans Paulsen Resen and Tycho Brahe: Kobberstiksamlingen, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, København