BART EHRMAN answers my question

by TerryWalstrom 66 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • TerryWalstrom
    As a member on Bart Ehrman's Blog, I am able to ask him direct questions.


    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…


    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:

    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."

  • Finkelstein

    Most JWs aren't even aware of where and how the name Jehovah came to be, ironically it came from Christendom.

    (False Religion)

    WIKI ....

    Jehovah is a Latinization of the Hebrew יְהֹוָה, one vocalization of the Tetragrammaton יהוה (YHWH), the proper name of the God of Israel in the Hebrew Bible. This vocalization has been transliterated as "Yehowah", while YHWH itself has been transliterated as "Yahweh"

    יְהֹוָה appears 6,518 times in the traditional Masoretic Text, in addition to 305 instances of יֱהֹוִה (Jehovih). The earliest available Latin text to use a vocalization similar to Jehovah dates from the 13th century.

    Most scholars believe "Jehovah" to be a late (c. 1100 CE) hybrid form derived by combining the Latin letters JHVH with the vowels of Adonai, but there is some evidence that it may already have been in use in Late Antiquity (5th century).[5][6] The consensus among scholars is that the historical vocalization of the Tetragrammaton at the time of the redaction of the Torah (6th century BCE) is most likely Yahweh, however there is disagreement. The historical vocalization was lost because in Second Temple Judaism, during the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE, the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton came to be avoided, being substituted with Adonai ("my Lord").

    "Jehovah" was popularized in the English-speaking world by William Tyndale and other pioneer English Protestant translators, but is no longer used in mainstream English translations, with Lord or LORD used instead, generally indicating that the corresponding Hebrew is Yahweh or YHWH.

  • TerryWalstrom

    Today, I followed up with this response:

    walstrom March 10, 2015
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Thank you for covering this topic.
    I was a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses for twenty years and am conversant with all the arguments presented by the Watchtower organization bolstering their use of Jehovah in the New Testament.
    I’ll simply post three of these proffered arguments for your delectation in order to gauge your scholarly response.

    1. 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) Does it sound logical to you that James would make such a statement if nobody in the first century knew or used God’s name?
    2. When copies of the Septuagint were discovered that used the divine name rather than Ky′ri·os (Lord), it became evident to the (NWT) translators that in Jesus’ day copies of the earlier Scriptures in Greek—and of course those in Hebrew—did contain the divine name.
    Apparently, the God-dishonoring tradition of removing the divine name from Greek manuscripts developed only later. What do you think? Would Jesus and his apostles have promoted such a tradition?—Matthew 15:6-9.
    3.The AnchorBible Dictionary makes this comment: “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.” And 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.”
    Below are some examples of English translations that have used God’s name in the New Testament:
    A Literal Translation of the New Testament . . . From the Text of the VaticanManuscript, 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 Christian’s Bible—New Testament, by George N. LeFevre (1928)
    The New Testament Letters, by J.W.C. Wand, Bishop of London (1946)

    Is this merely a fetish on the part of Jehovah’s Witnesses to protect their ‘branding’?
    How arbitrary and out of step with the scholarly community is the Watchtower organization?

    Thank you very much!

  • Finkelstein

    Does anyone have any old WTS. articles that used Jehovah or relating to when and how the WTS started to use Jehovah ?

    Assuming that it was J Rutherford who started this usage to distinguish his religion from other mainstream Christian religions.

    Just curious.

  • OrphanCrow
    Finklestein: Does anyone have any old WTS. articles that used Jehovah or relating to when and how the WTS started to use Jehovah ?

    Charles Russell used the word 'Jehovah' when referring to God.

    In the January 1884 Zion's Watchtower, 'Jehovah' is used 61 times.

    All early Russell literature uses the word 'Jehovah'.

    However, I believe that it was Da Judge who made the use of the 'name' into what it is today.

  • Finkelstein

    Thanks OrphanCrow

  • Magnum
    Interesting, Terry. I hope he responds to your follow-up. If he does, please let us know.
  • OrphanCrow

    Finklestein, I think that the use of the word 'Jehovah', within the Millerite movement, was already well established by the time that Russell got his feet wet in the proverbial muck of bible prophecy.

    George Storrs published the Bible Examiner in 1843 until 1880. His text is liberally sprinkled with the word 'Jehovah'.

  • freemindfade
    Great read, I too have looked into all this in the past, when my wife just asked me last night if I could ever see myself learning to love 'Jehovah' I said you have to understand what the means to me when you say that, are you talking about El? Elohim? YHWH? Jehovah is a made up word, and not all to creative at that. Canaanites chief pagan god was 'El' and YHWH was one of their pantheon of gods, so I guess I am sort of like that ancient @$$hole Pharaoh when he said "Who is this Jehovah?".... no seriously, who is he? because no one could really say.
  • Finkelstein
    Just found some Studies in the Scriptures articles where he use Jehovah. ???

    What bible did he mostly use, that is Russell.

    I dont think the King James version used Jehovah ??

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