Among the reasons the Watchtower society gives for inserting the name Jehovah in the New Testament is the following:

"In Greek, is the definite article missing from before Kyʹri·os (Lord), where it would normally be expected grammatically, thus indicating that a proper name may originally have appeared in the Greek text? (For example, Mr 13:20)" (New World Translation appendix c)

How valid an argument is this? It would seem that in order for this to happen the copyists would have to have been ignorant of Greek grammar.

  • 1
    The article is sometimes present and sometimes not present in front of κυριου in the New Testament scriptures. This is for conceptual reasons in the context. The article is a matter of identification (see Daniel B Wallace).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 10:24
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    @NigelJ Is it grammatically incorrect for kyrios in Mark 13:20 to be anarthrous?
    – Jerome
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 12:58
  • Jerome, is the New World Translation appendix c the quote starting "In Greek, is the definite article missing...?" I can't see any New World Translation appendix c in my old Kingdom Interlinear Translation.
    – Lesley
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 17:41
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    The New Testament writers themselves did not seem to place any particularly great importance on the Hebrew word, otherwise they would have certainly used it within the Greek text, as is the case with other Hebrew personal names mentioned throughout the New Testament.
    – Lucian
    Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 10:54
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    I prefer to use YHWH in speaking, so that is my bias: but it must be admitted by any honest reader that the tetragrammaton is missing in the LXX and NT. The only time it is seen, is in names and praise "Alleluia" ' IA' JA or YA. However, if we consider the meaning of YHWH, "...for he that cometh to God must believe that he is " (HEB 11:6) , this type of reference may show that the NT writers may have preferred to express GOD's reality as his name's meaning applied to kurios and theos taught the Gospel more than preserving the Hebrew. Ex 3:14 I AM THAT I AM... I AM hath sent me unto you.
    – Lowther
    Commented Dec 29, 2019 at 2:11

5 Answers 5


Luke 3:4 is one of the 237 instances where the New World Translation (NWT) uses Jehovah:

just as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of Jehovah! Make his roads straight. (NWT)

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (ESV)

As stated John the Baptist has quoted Isaiah:

A voice of one calling out in the wilderness: “Clear up the way of Jehovah! Make a straight highway through the desert for our God. (Isaiah 40:3 NWT)

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3 ESV)

קֹול קֹורֵא בַּמִּדְבָּר פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה יַשְּׁרוּ בָּעֲרָבָה מְסִלָּה לֵאלֹהֵֽינוּ

The ESV renders the name יְהוָה as LORD. This is a convention which the NWT disputes, believing the Name should be translated. Scholars do not agree on the correct pronunciation, but the NWT states it is "Jehovah" and translates accordingly.1 Thus, the NWT is consistent in treating both the verse in Isaiah and it's citation in Luke by using "Jehovah." Moreover, about 200 years before John, Isaiah had been translated into Greek:

φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου εὐθείας ποιεῗτε τὰς τρίβους τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God. (LXX)

As the NWT notes, no definite article was used: יְהוָה was translated simply as κυρίου and so far as the Name is concerned, one could say the use of "Jehovah" in Luke 3:4 is justified. However, this fails to consider whether John quoted the Greek version of Isaiah and said: "ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ." In other words, John could have done the same thing the LXX translator did: he avoided using the Name and said "κυρίου." In this case, John simply used the convention established by the LXX and the correct translation is "Lord."

The Greek Isaiah
The New Testament supports understanding John was quoting from the Greek translation of Isaiah. First, the Hebrew Isaiah has מְסִלָּה which means highway (singular). Yet all New Testament witnesses2 have the plural of τρίβος, which means a beaten path. The NWT fails to accurately reflect John's use of Isaiah:

NWT: Prepare the way of Jehovah! Makes his roads straight.
ESV: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

The NWT Study Bible explains the choice of "roads:"

May allude to the custom of ancient rulers to have men prepare the way before the royal chariot by removing large stones and even building causeways and leveling hills.3

This is accurate for the Hebrew Isaiah, but not for the Greek which John used. According to all New Testament writers, John used the plural "τρίβος" for Isaiah's singular "highway." This reflects the Greek Isaiah, which incorrectly rendered מְסִלָּה (a singular highway) as τρίβους (plural paths):

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God.
φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου εὐθείας ποιεῗτε τὰς τρίβους τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν

"Path(s)" is the better choice as can be seen in Psalm 119 [118]:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (119:105 ESV)
Your word is a lamp to my foot, And a light for my path. (119:105 NWT)
נֵר־לְרַגְלִי דְבָרֶךָ וְאֹור לִנְתִיבָתִֽי

Thy law is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths.
ιδʹ νουν λύχνος τοῗς ποσίν μου ὁ λόγος σου καὶ φῶς ταῗς τρίβοις μου [LXX 118:105]

As all three translations show, it is the Hebrew נָתִיב (not מְסִלָּה of Isaiah) which is more accurately rendered into Greek as τρίβους. (Note as in Isaiah, the LXX changed the singular to plural.)

The LXX translator of Isaiah (undoubtedly using Greek logic) recognized the incongruity of "a voice calling in the wilderness to prepare a highway" and made a logical change to use τρίβοις, paths. While a translator pondering the meaning might struggle how best to convey the passage in Greek, John would have no difficulties with either language. The fact he used "plural paths" shows John quoted from the Greek translation of Isaiah not the Hebrew.

In Luke there is a second example showing John used the Greek Isaiah:

Every valley must be filled up, and every mountain and hill leveled; the crooked ways must become straight, and the rough ways smooth; and all flesh will see the salvation of God.’”
(Luke 3:5-6 NWT)

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:5-6 ESV)

Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:4-5 ESV)

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low: and all the crooked shall become straight, and the rough plains. And the glory of the Lord shall appear, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God: for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 40:4-5 LXX)

From Luke 3:5, it is clear John is quoting from the LXX:

Every valley must be filled up...(Luke 3:5 NWT)
Every valley shall be filled...(Luke 3:5 ESV)
Every valley shall be filled... (Isaiah 40:4 LXX)

Every valley shall be lifted up... (Isaiah 40:4 ESV)

As with a "highway in the wilderness", the LXX translator made another logical change from the Hebrew text: valleys should be "filled" or "filled up" not "lifted" or "lifted up."

Another example where the NWT ignores the Greek text of the New Testament when quoting the Old Testament is seen in the book of Hebrews:

And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” (2:13 ESV)
And again: “I will put my trust in him.” And again: “Look! I and the young children, whom Jehovah gave me.” (2:13 NWT)

The second part of the verse in Hebrews is also taken from Isaiah:

Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. (8:18 ESV)
Look! I and the children whom Jehovah has given me are as signs and as miracles in Israel from Jehovah of armies, who resides on Mount Zion. (8:18 NWT)

As with John the Baptist's use of Isaiah, the NWT looks to the Hebrew Isaiah and renders the name יְהוָה as Jehovah when translating both books.

However, as in the case of John the Baptist, the writer of Hebrews is quoting from the LXX:

Behold I and the children which God has given me: and they shall be signs and wonders in the house of Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in mount Sion. (LXX)
ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ καὶ τὰ παιδία ἅ μοι ἔδωκεν ὁ θεός καὶ ἔσται εἰς σημεῗα καὶ τέρατα ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ Ισραηλ παρὰ κυρίου σαβαωθ ὃς κατοικεῗ ἐν τῷ ὄρει Σιων

The LXX translator chose to use ὁ θεός not κυρίου. Thus the NWT's use of "Jehovah" is not only inaccurate, it is even more egregious because the Greek has the definite article, which according to their position, does not mean the Name.

The New Testament writers use of Isaiah in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and Hebrews is from the LXX which the Jehovah Witness translation replaces "Lord" and "(the) God" with "Jehovah" for reasons apart from their stated translation philosophy.

These examples do not speak directly to the use in Mark 13:20 or other places where the NWT elected to use "Jehovah;" however, it does demonstrate two aspects of the New World Translation:

  • It contains deviations from a correct rendering of the Greek texts
  • These deviations appear to be driven by a position on the Hebrew name יְהוָה, which is at odds with New Testament writers use of "Lord" and "God".4

Since the NWT does not apply a consistent textual standard for the decision to render the Greek κύριος as Jehovah, I conclude this is done selectively to create a New Testament which follows a predetermined position rather than an attempt to objectively translate the New Testament.

1. There is no "J" letter or sound in Hebrew. יְהוָה begins with "yod" and a phonetically accurate rendering would use the English "Y" - Yahweh or Yehovah, for example.
2. Matthew (3:3) and Mark (1:3), the only times τρίβος is used in the New Testament.
3. Notes from Matthew 3:3 New World Translation Study Bible
4. Overall, it seems the NWT is intent on producing a New Testament which is complete agreement with their position regarding the Name. In both the case of John the Baptist's use of the Greek Isaiah and Hebrews "God" the deviation from the Hebrew could have been explained in a footnote.

  • Where is John the Baptist explicitly quoting Isaiah as per Isaiah 40? These are narrative comments about who John the Baptist was, and therefore are not examples of John the Baptist quoting the LXX(e.g. Mark 1:1-3 intro) Secondly, Luke himself, it seems, is giving an extended quote of Isaiah regarding John the Baptist; one place that Luke does not exactly quote the scripture as well as the others would be Luke 11:29-30(no mention of three days). Also, I'd say John the Baptist being the Levite he was would likely not be depending on the LXX. Or maybe Zachariah quoted LXX too? Luk 1:76/Mal 3:1.
    – user21676
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 9:39
  • What there is is John 1:22-23, but this is somewhat a rephrasing of Isaiah 40:3; so deducing what he said is not strictly confined to the synoptics.
    – user21676
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 12:19
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    @user21676 The fact remains the NT is using the Greek Isaiah, not the Hebrew. Therefore, there is no textual basis for replacing "Lord" or "the God" with what is presumed to be the correct rendering of the Name from Hebrew. The correct approach is to translate what is actually written and footnote the OT reference with an explanation the NT writer used the Greek OT. Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 16:33

Regarding Mark 13:20, there is the matter of Divine Person.

If Deity, as such (that is to say divine nature) is being referred to, then an article may not be suitable, since there is no identification of Person.

But if a specific Divine Person is in view, then the article may be suitable. That may well be the reason for the article sometimes to be used and sometimes not (as you point out in Mark 13:20).

And I have to add that if there be a misunderstanding of the nature of Deity and of the matter of Person within Deity, there will also be a misunderstanding of why the Greek is presented to us, by the Apostles of Jesus Christ, in the way in which it is presented.

There needs to be a sensitivity to the Lord himself, his nature and his being and his Person, in order to appreciate what has been done with Greek grammar in order to represent invisible things with visible words.

Daniel B Wallace has 85 pages on the article (it is not 'the definite article', it is 'the article') in his book 'Beyond the Basics'. The italics are his, not mine :

One of the greatest gifts bequeathed by the Greeks to Western civilization was the article. [p207.]

The function of the article is not, primarily, to make something definite. [p209.]

The article intrinsically has the ability to conceptualize. [p209]

... whatever is conceived by the mind - so it would appear - becomes a concept as a result of one's faculty to call it by name. [p209.]

... in terms of predominant function, it identifies. [p209.]

Concept and identification are what is being drawn attention to, I note.

That which can be named, says Wallace, is in view, conceptually.

Thus the absence of article does not pre-suppose a copyist error and the necessity of adding a name to the text, without authorisation. Quite the opposite, the absence of article indicates that a name is unsuitable (conceptually).

And thus Nature is in view, not Person.

If the article be absent, then Deity is being drawn attention to, in a unified composite way. No identification of a particular Person is being made.


Valid enough to prove what this footnote says, but insufficient to warrant wholesale changing of every other instance of Kyrios in the New Testament to "Yahweh."

In this one verse (or a few others at most) an allusion to the Old Testament may be intended. But an intended, "read this Kyrios as Yahweh" doesn't give liberty or justification for haphazardly rendering Kyrios as Jehovah whenever they personally feel its referent is Yahweh.

The passage Jesus is alluding to seems to be:

Isaiah 1:9 Except the Lord of hosts had left us seed, we had been as Sodom, and we should have been like to Gomorrha.

Clearly "the Lord of Hosts" (Yehowah saba'ot) is an absolutely unambiguous reference the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So if Mark wanted to convey that Jesus used the word "Yahweh" here (retaining this possible allusion for his readers) he definitely could have used an anarthrous "Kyrios" to do so, since Jews were accustomed to reading Kyrios for the Hebrew Yahweh in Greek translations of the Bible, and other Greek writings to do with their God.

It's been argued that Mark's Gospel was penned in Latin and not Greek, too, which is also another possible explanation (although this might just as well be explained by the fact that according to unanimous tradition, Mark was written with a Roman audience in mind, who would have been familiar with a mixing of the languages of Latin and Greek in daily life).

It's highly unlikely that a Latin writer copying Greek wasn't aware that Greek has articles, and virtually impossible that a Greek writer doesn't, so that's out the window as an explanation.

  • Thank you @sola gratia. This is very helpful
    – Jerome
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 22:34
  • You're most welcome. Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 22:34

“That throughout the first five books of the Greek Bible kyrios is employed as a proper noun was shown long ago by Huber,37 Debrunner,38 and Baudissin39 and has been reiterated since. As a proper noun, a divine name, and in complete conformity with other personal names in these books, it is more often unarticulated than articulated. This basic fact holds true for all five books. Articulation, however, is well attested in all but Deuteronomy, especially in some of the oblique cases, a fact which demonstrates that, if perchance the original text read the tetragram, this was construed in every respect as a Greek personal name and was not treated as a foreign element. Furthermore, a basic rule in the Pentateuch is that kyrios is unarticulated in the nominative case, the genitive, as object of a preposition and as subject of an infinitive. Kyrios is articulated most often in the dative when rendering Hebrew le- prefixed to the tetragram. It is in this construction that differences among the five books are most noticeable. Thus, to kyrio appears twice in Genesis as against five unarticulated instances, in Exodus twelve times against twenty-three without articulation, in Leviticus seventy-two versus twenty-one, in Numbers four as against fifty-four, and not at all in Deuteronomy. Since most often kyrios is unarticulated, the articulated instances naturally attract special attention. Why, for instance, the translator of Leviticus chose to render YHWH approximately three times out of four by to kyrio, while the Numbers translator did so in a mere four occurrences out of fifty-four, is an interesting question. (DE SEPTUAGINTA. Studies in Honour of John William Wevers on his sixty-fifth birthday (ed. Albert Pietersma and Claude Cox.) Benben Publications: Mississauga, 1984. pp. 94-95)

  • The NWT footnote for Mark 13:20 offers an explanation as to why they have replaced ‘Lord’ with ‘Jehovah’. The footnote says "20 - Jehovah, J7, 8, 10, 13, 16-18; the Lord #BA." This indicates that they are claiming manuscript support for 'Jehovah' in Hebrew translations of Mark's gospels, while the # indicates Aleph, the uncial Greek Sinaitic MS of the 4th century in codex form. To my knowledge there are no Greek MSS that say 'Jehovah'. The Greek has kyrios (Lord) without any definite article (the) and it seems they have made an excuse out of that for inserting 'Jehovah' in Mark 13:20.
    – Lesley
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 17:43
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    Correct! There are no Greek manuscripts that contain the Tetragrammaton or a Greek equivalent. The J references are not manuscripts but translations of the Greek into Hebrew. None of them are earlier than the 14th century. Some even as late as the 20th century. They only cite them when they support the society.
    – Jerome
    Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 19:57
  • I'm glad we've got that cleared up! Excellent conclusion from Revelation Lad but I believe Nigel J provided a gem of an answer based on what you asked. Thank you for posting this question.
    – Lesley
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 9:05

The Bauer-Danker-Arndt -Gingrich Greek Lexicon (BDAG) specifically lists Mark 13:20 as an example which would normally grammatically have the article like the LXX where YHWH was replaced with κύριος. That reference also lists Blass-Debrunner-Funk (BDF) a stellar grammar.

Thus there really is no question that there is ample scholarly evidence, both lexical and grammatical, for the NWT rendering. See BDAG below:

α. as a designation of God (for this custom, which has its roots in the Orient, s. the references in Ltzm., Hdb. exc. on Ro 10:9; Bousset, Kyrios Christos2 1921, 95-98; Dssm., LO 298f [LAE 353ff]; s. also SEG XXXVI, 350 and add. ins cited by DZeller, DDD 918f; LXX (where it freq. replaces the name Yahweh in the MT); pseudepigr.; Philo, Just.; Hippol. Ref. 8, 17, 1; Orig., C. Cels. 1, 35, 6.—FDoppler, D. Wort ‘Herr’ als Göttername im Griech.: Opusc. philol. v. kath. akad. Philologenverein in Wien I 1926, 42-47; MParca, ASP 31, ’91, 51 [lit.])ὁ κ. Mt 5:33; Mk 5:19; Lk 1:6, 9, 28, 46; 2:15, 22; Ac 4:26 (Ps 2:2); 7:33; 8:24; Eph 6:7 (perh. w. ref. to Christ); 2 Th 3:3; 2 Ti 1:16, 18; Hb 8:2; Js 1:7; 4:15. Without the art. (on the inclusion or omission of the art. s. BWeiss [θεός, beg.]; B-D-F §254, 1; Mlt-Turner 174), like a personal name (οὐδένα κύριον ὀνομνάζουσι πλὴν τὸν θεόν Hippol. Ref. 9, 26, 2) Mt 27:10; Mk 13:20; Lk 1:17, 58; Ac 7:49; Hb 7:21 (Ps 109:4); 12:6 (Pr 3:12); (Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon, pp. 576-577)

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    I believe what this lexicon is saying is that in the Septuagint, kyrios is treated as a personal name and as such does not break any rules of Greek grammar when it appears without the article. In fact it is more often unarticulated than articulated. "Furthermore, a basic rule in the Pentateuch is that kyrios is unarticulated in the nominative case, the genitive, as object of a preposition and as subject of an infinitive. Kyrios is articulated most often in the dative when rendering Hebrew le- prefixed to the tetragram." (Albert Pietersma) This is not the Watchtower society's argument.
    – Jerome
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 3:15

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