How firmly grounded in reality is the claim of Jehovah’s Witnesses that the ‘divine name’ (Jehovah) belongs in the New Testament?
So this is an interesting question, with several possible ramifications. At first I should explain that the divine name “Jehovah” doesn’t belong in *either* Testament, old or new, in the opinion of most critical scholars, outside the ranks of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. That’s because Jehovah was not the divine name.
So here’s the deal. In the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) God is given a number of different designations. Sometimes he is called God (the Hebrew word is El, or more commonly – by far – the plural form of that word, ELOHIM); or The Almighty (SHADDAI), or God Almighty (EL SHADDAI), or Lord (ADONAI), or – well, or lots of other things. But sometimes the God of Israel is actually given his personal name. Like everyone else, he has a name. And his name was יהוה (in English letters, that looks like YHWH).
Written Hebrew, as you probably know…
THE REST OF THIS POST IS FOR MEMBERS ONLY. If you don’t belong yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!?
Written Hebrew, as you probably know, does not use vowels, only consonants. When you speak, of course, you provide the vowels. But ancient Hebrew speakers did not need to see the vowels on the page to know what the vowels were supposed to be. And so only the consonants were written.
Later scribes realized that this made reading the texts very difficult for people who were not absolutely fluent in the language, and so they added vowels to the already written text. They could not very well insert new letters representing the vowels between the consonants, since the consonants were already written on the page and there was no room for letters between them. And so they developed a system of “points” that could be added above and below the consonantal letters to indicate which vowels were to be supplied with each consonant. And so there might be a small dot beneath a letter, or a dot next to a letter, or over a letter, or a small line under a letter, or three dots arranged like an upside down pyramid under a letter, or a small T shape under a letter, and so on – all representing different vowel sounds. You can see a list of Hebrew vowels in a number of places on the Internet, including here: http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Grammar/Unit_Two/Vowel_List/vowel_list.html
These “pointed” Hebrew texts are the texts that most of us trained in Hebrew in college or seminary or graduate school learned. I find it hard to read Hebrew in any event, but really really hard without the vowel points. I have colleagues, on the other hand, who read unpointed Hebrew like the newspaper. In fact, they read the newspaper in unpointed Hebrew!
So, back to the question. The original name of God, יהוה (YHWH – remember, Hebrew is written from right to left, so that in English transliteration the first letter Y refers to the Hebrew letter י that is furthest to the right, and so on), consists of four letters. It was consider exceptionally, extraordinarily holy. It was the name of God himself. It was so sacred, so distinct from every other word and name in the Hebrew language, that there came a time when Jews thought that it should never, ever even be pronounced.
The sacred name is sometimes called the Tetragrammaton – literally meaning, “the four letters.” Since it came not to be pronounced, scholars are not absolutely certain how it *was* pronounced back in the days when it was. It is usually thought, though, that when pronounced it was “Yahweh.” And so non-Jewish scholars typically refer to the personal name of God in the Old Testament as Yahweh. He was called “God” or “the Almighty” or the “Lord” – but his name was Yahweh.
What were Jewish readers supposed to do when they were reading a text that had the unpronounceable name YHWH in it? What were they supposed to say at that point? They couldn’t say the name. So were they just supposed to be silent? But how then would anyone know that the tetragrammaton was in the text at that point? Jewish scribes solved that problem when they started adding points to the unpointed Hebrew text. When the divine name occurred, instead of giving it its pronounceable vowel points, they gave it the points that belonged to the word for Lord, ADONAI.
When you add the vowels of ADONAI to the consonants of YHWH, it makes it very hard indeed to say. And this was a sign to a reader not to say the name Yahweh, but to say, instead, ADONAI. So they were reading the tretragrammaton, but they were speaking the word “Lord.”
When modern Bible translators were putting the Bible into modern European languages, they were confronted with this situation. There were various solutions devised to express the Tetragrammaton in English. In a lot of Bibles – you may have noticed this (or you may not have) – there is a difference in the Old Testament between the word “Lord” (first letter capitalized) and the word “LORD” (all four letters capitalized). The first word translates ADONAI and the second word translates the tetragrammaton YHWH. That’s how, when you’re reading a translation, you can tell if the tetragrammaton is being used.
But some translators took the tetragrammaton with the vowels of Adonai and created an English word for it. In some European languages the letters Y and J are equivalents (sound the same), as are W and V (think: German). If you spell the name YHWH as JHVH and add the vowels of ADONAI, you get JEHOVAH. That’s a made-up English word, not a Hebrew word (and not, before this, an English word).
People who claim that JEHOVAH is the divine name are kind of right but not really. The divine name was probably Yahweh. Technically speaking the name Jehovah doesn’t occur in the Old Testament.
And it certainly does not occur in the New Testament, which was not written in Hebrew, so that it never uses the tetragrammaton.
When the Old Testament came to be translated into Greek both Yahweh and Adonai were translated by the Greek word κυριος, which in English letters is KURIOS. It is the Geek word for “Lord.” It is a word that can be used to refer to your employer, your master, your superior, or to God, or … to the personal name of God. And so when the New Testament refers to God as “Lord,” it is not clear if it is calling him by his personal name or if it is designating him as the Lord. But in neither case, in my judgment, does it make sense to translate the term using the made up English word Jehovah."