11

The New World Translation transliterates the Tetragrammaton as “Jehovah”.

  • Why does this translation choose to transliterate the Tetragrammaton this way?
  • How was the choice made to use the transliteration Jehovah, rather than Yahweh or another?
  • Why would the name “Jehovah” convey the desired information?
  • In what way is the translators’ decision controversial?
2
  • 7
    Good translation is considered to be the one that saves as many possible meanings and connotations in the translation as there are in the original text. Sometimes, that, of course, is impossible. However, in case with the New World translation in many cases it was more than possible, yet the translators chose to render them as having only one possible meaning (using "Jehovah" to render the Greek κύριος is one such case in point). In the team of translators that I used to work before that would be considered highly unprofessional.
    – brilliant
    Commented Jun 23, 2013 at 4:25
  • 2
    I actually think this should be split into separate questions, as the question for the Hebrew text is merely about choices of transliteration, while the question for the Greek text is significantly more controversial.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 25, 2013 at 12:29

7 Answers 7

4

The understanding of the meaning of the word name (hebr. shem / gr. onoma) in general tends to be too narrow in the context of the modern use. In the ancient languages the word name meant the person. The name was semantically not a referent, at least not primarily.

Therefore the Name of YHWH is not the Tetragrammaton (neither it is Jehovah, nor Jahweh). The Name is the One Himself. The letters to the word have a meaning, but this is not the Name. The meaning was almost a chiffre: He Will Be. It was a promise. It may have been a threat to some. He did not reveal himself to Moses (through the angel) saying (in regard to the people): I shall be your Father. He said: hjh 'schr hjh. I shall be as I shall be.

Were they (scribes? priests?) right to speak and even write Adhonai and Elohim (and Kyrios and Theos) when they read these letters?

They may have been wrong in their reasons. Still they may have been right in the result: The revelation of God did not go backwards. It advanced.

Reintroducing the Letters after the coming of the Son of God would be like saying: Moses is more than the Teacher that would come after him. Going back to Moses' revelation would be like saying: There is no other to expect.

Introducing the transliterated Tetragrammaton with medieval vocalization to the NT texts is a decision that reveals a thorough disregard for the impact of the coming of Christ to the revelation of God. It is an attempt (as an overreaction to Trinitarian dogma) to separate Father from Son, to override the new way of speaking of God and Christ as shown by the Apostles in their letters.

I can appreciate some challenging element in this translational approach. With other translations it has in common that not every decision has been thoroughly thought through.

4
  • 4
    I cannot understand how you think this answers the question. The question is about the choices made by the translators of the NWT: you never even mention the NWT in this "answer". It looks like the question sparked off some semi-related thoughts in your head, and you decided to write them down. Good. But you shouldn't have written them down here. They're not relevant here. Go put this on your blog.
    – TRiG
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 17:13
  • 3
    Honestly, I'm having a hard time understanding what this response is even saying, let alone how it answers the question.
    – user2910
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 19:18
  • @TRiG Whether this is the "best" answer or not could be disputed but that it is an answer does't seem to be the issue here. In spite of not naming the translation it does address the issue that makes it controversial. See for example the second to last paragraph. That's what NWT did.
    – Caleb
    Commented Feb 5, 2015 at 10:19
  • This answer is entirely off topic, lacking in sources, and unhelpful Commented Apr 10 at 21:58
8
+500

In the Hebrew Scriptures

The Tetragrammaton appears multiple times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Many translations render this as LORD, following the Jewish practice of not pronouncing the Divine Name (though the Jews do write the name in their scriptures). The Jerusalem Bible renders the name as Yahweh, which is a scholarly “best guess” at the original pronunciation. The New World Translation uses Jehovah, which is almost certainly not the original pronunciation, but is the traditional rendering in English, found in both religious and secular books for many many years. Certainly including some form of the name is more accurate than bowdlerising it.

As for the decision to use that specific rendering: Why not? Names change from language to language. If we’re happy to see Rebecca, Solomon, and Jeremiah in our English translations, why not Jehovah?

So, the name is there, in the text, and the translation includes it. Translations which leave it out are the ones which need to explain themselves, not the ones which leave it in.

In the Christian Greek Scriptures

The New World Translation also uses the name Jehovah in the Greek Scriptures, although it is not found there in any extant manuscript. When the Greek text quotes the Septuagint, they reinsert the name (yes, reinsert, as they maintain that it was there originally). Certainly there do exist editions of the Septuagint which contain the untranslated and untransliterated Tetragrammaton, and others which render the divine name as Pipi, suggesting that they were copied from an earlier version which contained the original Tetragrammaton, the Hebrew letters of which look a little like the Greek letters for Pipi. So, where the Christian scriptures quote passages from the Septuagint, it is somewhat reasonable to assume that the Tetragrammaton, or some variant thereof, existed in the original text and was later lost.

Somewhat reasonable, yes. but only somewhat. The fact is that no form of the Divine Name exists in any extant manuscript of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the belief of the New World Translation Committee that it was there originally notwithstanding.

However, NWT includes the divine name in places where the Christian text is not quoting the Septuagint. Sometimes support comes from the existence of the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures (some of those Hebrew translations used for support are actually fairly recent, so any support they offer is tenuous at best). The name Jehovah occurs many times in the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, each time accompanied by a footnote and an explanation of the rationale in The New World Translation — with References.

7
  • Note: This answer was excerpted and very slightly rewritten from a something I wrote on Christianity Stack Exchange.
    – TRiG
    Commented Oct 26, 2013 at 21:02
  • 2
    Just a note about the parenthetical remark in the recently added 2nd paragraph: The reference to the tetragram in the name יִרְמְיָהוּ (yirməyāhû --> Jeremiah) is the , which is not represented by J in English. (Jehovah, if anything, obscures that reference (and many others), since the there’s no or even .)
    – Susan
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 23:35
  • 1
    Why not use the name? Out of respect. “Lord” is a term showing respect as “Mr. President” is. The fact those given the responsibility for teaching the Hebrew did so should carry some weight. YHVH is not just another name. Also, the Christian Greek Scriptures preserved this practice for those who believed Jesus was the Christ. When they used the OT, they often quoted the LXX verbatim. Therefore the inspired NT affirmed those passages as an inspired translation of Hebrew into Greek. To replace “Lord” with “Jehovah” is a deliberate distortion of the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures. Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 15:08
  • 2
    @RevelationLad. That seems like a strange choice for translators, who should be respecting the original text. You do you, I suppose, but I think that this choice of the NWT is fundamentally more honest than most other Bible translations are.
    – TRiG
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 22:10
  • 1
    Welcome back. I now somewhat echo (in my answer) what you have said in your answer and consequently, it's a much belated upvote from me. Hopefully, you can see your way to reciprocate. Commented Sep 28, 2023 at 22:36
5

The question asks for a positive justification for the use of that specific Latin-alphabet rendering. I don't see where a text-based justification is going to come from. That rendering is the result of a misunderstanding. In traditional Jewish pointed orthography, the four consonants of the name are written with those vowels -- not because anyone anywhere in the Masoretic tradition ever thought that the word was pronounced that way, but to serve as a reminder not to try for the original pronunciation. See https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/6063/947 and surrounding answers for plenty of detail. Later, non-Jewish readers mistook this for the actual pronunciation, and we were off for the races.

In making a translation, some think that it's important to make it clear where the different Hebrew deity-words appear. If some translator into English decided to uniformly use Jehovah for the four-letter name (where others choose LORD, or others put the Hebrew letters), and use other words for the other words, I suppose that's better than just picking words at random.

3

The question is, "How is the New World Translation's usage of 'Jehovah' controversial?" The concluding question is similar: "In what way is the translators’ decision controversial?" This logically refers to their decision to render the Tetragram as 'Jehovah' in their English translations.

However, the other three questions fitted in between those bookend questions risk skewing answers to deal with what is supposed to be directly connected to the main question, when they are not.

There is nothing controversial about why the NWT chose to transliterate the Tetragram the way it did. Others had previously done that, and their translations are not generally viewed as controversial for that reason.

There is nothing controversial about why the choice was made to use the transliteration 'Jehovah' rather than Yahweh or another word. Again, different translations have used Yahweh and nobody objects to that.

There is nothing controversial about why the name 'Jehovah' might be viewed as conveying the correct information (in and of itself, as long as it's not used as some sort of marketing device.)

Therefore, the only question that must be tackled head on, without any distractions, is why others may view the NWT as controversial, the way it uses the name 'Jehovah'. The Watchtower Society was not the first to come up with the word 'Jehovah' as an English representation of YHWH (in Hebrew). They did not invent that. So, no controversy can be found there. Nor is it controversial that they should choose to render it thus all of the nearly 7,000 times it appeared in the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. That is simply being consistent. A controversial point does arise, however, with inserting it 237 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. If the claim that the NWT had "restored" it to the original text was true, then it would have had to have been in there in the first place, being subsequently removed. Let me now quote from the author of The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek Scriptures who delved into this, and related matters, regarding the Divine Name:

"A translator cannot 'restore' a new word to his translation if that word is not found in the Greek text he is translating. The Watch Tower Society admits that there are no ancient Greek manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures which contain God's name in Hebrew letters [but claim their removal as a result of a great heresy in the second and third centuries C.E. - see link following.] We also know that there are no ancient Christian Scripture manuscripts which contain a transcription of the four Hebrew letters into Greek letters.

A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, United Bible Societies, 1971, lists no variant (an alternative reading which differs from the wording of a majority of Greek manuscripts) of God's name for any of the 237 NWT Jehovah verses. However, there are ancient Hebrew Scripture manuscripts (not Christian Scripture manuscripts) and other religious writings from the same time period that do contain God's name transcribed into Greek letters or into transcription-equivalent Greek letters (PIPI)." The Divine Name in the New World Translation, pp 3-4, Lyn Lundquist, http://www.tetragrammaton.org - free to download with no copyright.

The author then gives due consideration to the two New World Bible Translation Committee proposed translation guidelines, and a third hypothesis regarding the history of the early Christian congregations, used in combination to support their use of Jehovah in their Christian Scripture translations. The subject is massive, so those wishing to thrash the matter out need to read the literature involved. One of his conclusions is:

"Inasmuch as the Tetragrammaton is not used in the Greek Scriptures, all passages translated as Jehovah in the New World Translation Christian Scriptures must rightfully be translated as Lord where Kyrios is found in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation.

The translator must communicate the exact thoughts of the original writers to his reading audience. The translator cannot become a commentator, explaining what he (the commentator) believes the Scripture writer intended to say. A commentator may do that later, using properly translated Scripture passages. Even the translator may do that later. But the translator is not free to use his translation as a statement of personal opinion.

This does not ignore the fact that a translator must often make subjective choices when translating a word or a phrase from Greek into English. In many instances, that decision will involve the personal opinion of the translator regarding word meanings according to the context. Kyrios was a common secular word in the Greek language of Jesus' day. It is appropriately translated in the NWT as Sir (Mark 7:28), owner (Mat.21:40), master (Mat.25:26), a protocol form of address for an emperor (Acts 25:26), and slave master (Eph.6:5). However, this does not give the translator the privilege of substituting one known word for another with an entirely different meaning as would be the case in substituting the divine name for Lord.

...The author holds in high regard those translators who have made the effort to use a proper translation of [the Tetragram] rather than LORD. However, inasmuch as the Tetragrammaton is not found in any existing manuscripts of the Greek Scriptures, it is a violation of inspiration to insert the name where there is no evidence that the original Christian writers used it." (Ibid. p68)

That is one reason why some view the NWT use of 'Jehovah', to the extent that it does, as controversial. There is another controversial point, which has to do with what could be viewed as a 'vested interest' in taking the words of Almighty God to the ancient nation of Israel in Isaiah 43:12 and applying the phrase 'Jehovah's witnesses' to the early 1900s group that stuck with the Society's second president Rutherford. Their NWT came out more than two decades later, using the English word 'Jehovah' thousands of times, and since then the public has made a direct connection between that religious group, and the word 'Jehovah'. Thankfully, no religious group has a monopoly on the Divine Name, and nobody is trying to 'wrest away' the word 'Jehovah' from the Jehovah's Witnesses. They use it as they wish, and others use it differently, so avoiding the controversy that has become associated with the NWT.

(For clarity: I use the word 'Tetragram' where most other say 'Tetragrammaton'. When I quote, I have to stick to 'Tetragrammaton' in the text I quote from, but I revert back to 'Tetragram' for my own use. The author of the book I quote from did point out that 'Tetragram' is correct but that common usage is 'Tetragrammaton', which he has chosen to go along with.)

1

God's name has been used in the Scriptures since the Scriptures were written, so nobody should really be surprised that some still use it. I find it more sensational that most don’t.

The NWT translators knew about the LXX Fouad 266, a second or first-century B.C.E. Septuagint fragment where God's name occurs 49 times. Represented by the Tetragrammaton, written in Hebrew square letters (יהוה) not by χύριος - as later in Christian manuscripts of the Bible. Findings indicate that the divine name was used in Greek versions until well into the ninth century C.E.

The New World Translation - with References, has interesting info on this. See Appendix 1A; B; C; and D.
Appendix C, in the New World Translation, online Study Edition, has a lot of info on why the NWT translators use God's name in «the New Testament». Also take a look at Appendix A: 1, 4, and 5.

Nehemiah Gordon, a Jewish professor, writes and pronounces God's name as Yehovah. He tells a lot about it at Nehemiah’s Wall and in several videos on YouTube. A Greek bible scholar, Professor Pavlos Vasileiadis, has a very interesting lecture called "The Tetragrammaton in the Bible Text and Bible Translations".

Considering the question "How is the New World Translation's usage of 'Jehovah' controversial?", I find this enlightening.

5
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 3:58
  • Welcome to the site, Vahppus, and for your contribution with this answer. As the Q seeks to uncover any controversial element with the NWT use of 'Jehovah', going to their literature on the subject would not open up the controversial aspects. I know, because I've been there and seen what it says. Have you considered that using the Septuagint as support could, in itself, be controversial? Just a starting-point idea. If you could now add some controversial aspects, that would greatly improve your answer.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 11:02
  • @Anne Vahppus is debating on the side of the NWT's usage of the Divine name, within the NT, as being non controversial, and although short in itself here, is made longer when one takes into account his/her referrals. I, consequently find that collectively he/she makes a good argument. + 1. For you to say that he/she should have addressed the "controversial" to improve his/her answer, is made mute, when you yourself in your own answer - all points made with regard to the NWT's usage of the Divine name in the OT aside - clearly and solely support the "controversial" side of the debate. Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 17:11
  • @OldeEnglish Yes, I am aware of that and also that my own answer stuck to what might be viewed as 'controversial' with the NWTs use of Jehovah. After all, that is precisely what the OP's question sought - "How is the NWTs usage of 'Jehovah' controversial? ...In what way is the translators’ decision controversial?" I stuck to the remit and I'm encouraging Vahppus to have a go at doing that. TRiGs comment to the OP is pertinent here.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 17:53
  • @Anne - I, as it happens, gave my own answer here and I still stand by that, consequently, I don't need to argue in the comments section. I don't think Vahppus needs to say anything more than he or she has already said and made reference to. He/she stuck to the "remit" also IMO, but held to his/her own persuasion on the matter, just like you held to yours. TRiG's comment to the OP may well be pertinent. His lack of comment to me however, after I gave him a belated upvote, is just discourteous. But that's by the way. Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 19:28
0

This short, well done video does a great job of documenting what is a popular explanation of the evolution of the divine name from Exodus 3 to present day. However, since it provides no sources it and all explanations are, to my knowledge disputed it probably, like all explanations can't be taken as incontestable. It does, however, seem very convincing to my pea sized brain:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLrGM26pmM0

0

How is the New World Translation's usage of "Jehovah" controversial?

It can only be controversial if the name was never there in the original Greek manuscripts, as has already been said. But, what if the name was there in the original writings. None of these writings are "extant" anymore, so whose to say that the name wasn't there? We know the name, or at least the "tetragrammaton", comprising of four consonants (read from right to left), was indeed evident in the manuscripts that formed the basis of the OT writings, or Hebrew scriptures, that was then subsequently represented in many modern languages as YHWH or JHVH, from which (with seemingly appropriate vowels intertwined) the names YAHWEH or JEHOVAH were derived. Consequently, if these names, albeit somewhat contrived, proved acceptable in the OLD writings, then why not the NEW.

NB:- God's name appears no less than eight times in the original Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-17. Thus God Himself has revealed his name to man both verbally and in writing.

It is widely accepted that the book of Matthew, was written in Hebrew before it was translated into Greek. To think that Matthew would have shied away from the use of the divine name is unthinkable, especially when quoting from parts of the OT that contained the name. Other writers of the NT wrote in Greek and utilized the Greek Septuagint, rather than quote from the original Hebrew writings, and some very old fragments of the Septuagint Version that actually existed in Jesus' day have survived down to our day, and it is noteworthy that the personal name of God appeared in them.

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Volume 2, page 512) says:- "Recent textual discoveries cast doubt on the idea that the compilers of the LXX [Septuagint] translated the tetragrammaton YHWH by kyrios. The oldest LXX MSS (fragments) now available to us have the tetragrammaton written in Hebrew characters in the Greek text. This custom was retained by later Jewish translators of the OT in the first centuries AD."

Consequently, the New World Translation's usage of "Jehovah" should not be controversial at all. In fact the "usage" should be admired.

For a much more, and in depth, explanation as to why the divine name should forever be endured, one can go to jw.org and look up the pamphlet entitled The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever and read for one's self online.

2
  • God's name deserves a place in his own book. Others use pronunciation as one of the reasons why it was removed. If that were so, one wonders how sure are they that name Jesus or Joshua is pronounce correctly from the language it originated? God's name is embedded in Jesus' name. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 0:30
  • @AlexBalilo - God's name deserves a place in his own book. What a concept indeed. Thank you, Alex. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 5:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.