The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Scriptures

By Eric Francke

Did the early Christian believers use the Tetragrammaton, the sacred name of God? Or, as is represented in all of the existing Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, did they use "Kyrios" (Lord) and Theos (God) as an acceptable surrogate in place of the Tetragrammaton? This is a question that has a significant relevance for all of us as Christians.

What is at Stake:

This question is most seriously investigated in the events surrounding the publication of the New World Translation. The NWT has, in the words of the NWT committee, "properly restored" the sacred name, (although rendering it in its anglicized form Jehovah) to the New Testament. One reason why this is so important is that it has allowed them to distinguish the references to "Lord" (Gr. Kyrios) in the New Testament to refer to Jehovah, as opposed to the references to Jesus, whose name is frequently preceded by "Kyrios". To test the legitimacy of their actions, we need to investigate the use of the Tetragrammaton in the Christian Greek scriptures.

The earliest mention of the sacred name among the early Christians after the apostolic period is found in the writings of Origen (d. 250 AD). Origen mentions that in his studies, he found Greek scriptures of the Old Testament that used the Hebrew consonants "YHWH" in the text. Although this comment by Origen is considered as an evidence that some of the early Christian Greek writers still utilized the sacred name "YHWH", we will see how this single statement by Origen has been mishandled to lead to some erroneous presumptions. First, we need to become familiar with exactly what the Greek scriptures were and how they came to be.

The Septuagint.

The Septuagint (LXX) is the most common generic designation for the Old Testament in the Greek language. The name literally means "The Seventy" which, to follow the somewhat apocryphal story, is how many translators were employed to create the translation. According to story, the seventy translated the Hebrew scriptures in to Greek starting around 280 B.C, all worked independently, yet, in some miraculous fashion, all came up with the exact same translation. By the beginning of the Christian Era, we know that there were numerous Septuagintal works that had slight variations from each other. Textual evidence from the quotes offered in the New Testament demonstrates that, in many cases, even the apostolic writers relied upon some version of the Septuagint in their quotations from the Old Testament. Although none of the Greek Septuagintal scriptures varied in any great amount, the fact that no translation was received in a monolithic, universal fashion is significant to the subject at hand as we will see.

Regarding the Greek New Testament, we have some 5,000 documents or fragments. Some fragments are dated from early in the Second century. Moreover, we have quotes from both the Old Testament and select parts of the New Testament preserved in the writing of the early church fathers. Some of their writings originated in the late 1st century, at the end of the apostolic age. The amount of agreement between all of these fragments of the New Testament, plus all of the quotes from the fathers is somewhere around 97%. The difference is mostly minor textual variations. No Greek New Testament manuscript exists where the Tetragrammaton is used, nor is it found in any of the early church fathers who all profusely quote the New Testament.

The New World Translation

The New World Translation, first published as a New Testament in 1950, is generally considered the translation of choice for Jehovah's Witnesses. With respect to the Divine Name, The NWT took one of the most novel and innovative steps out of any major translation today. The NWT actually replaced the words "Kyrios" (Lord) and "Theos" (God) with the name "Jehovah" some 237 times in the New Testament. The following section is a direct quote from the forward of the original 1950 NWT. The forward section is one of the most interesting documents in Jehovah's Witnesses scholarship, since this is where they defend and explain the distinctives of the translation. It must be noted that the subsequent versions of the NWT after 1951 have removed the full forward, so very few Jehovah's Witnesses have ever read the original justification for this action.

From the Forward of the 1950 version NWT:

The original writings of the Christian Greek Scriptures, commonly called the New Testament, were inspired. No translation of these Sacred writings into another language, is inspired... The Greek text that we have used as a basis of our NW translation is the widely accepted Wescott and Hort text (1881) by reason of its admitted excellence. But we have also taken in to consideration other texts including that prepared by D. Eberhard Nestle and that compiled by the Spanish Jesuit scholar Jose Maria Bover and that by the other Jesuit scholar A. Merk..

Watch has been kept against taking liberties with the texts for the mere sake of brevity or short cuts and against substitution of a modern parallel, where the rendering of the original idea makes good sense. To each major word we have assigned one meaning and have held to that meaning as far as the context permitted...attention has been given to the tenses of verbs to bring out the intended action, position or state.

As one can see, the beginning promises a translation of great scholastic integrity. The Wescott and Hort Text (Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus) are favored over the other family of New Testament texts presumably because they are considered older and closer to the autographs. It is also claimed that there would be no substitutions from a "modern parallel" and that each major word would have one meaning, as much as the context permits. As we skip up to the section in the forward on the "Divine Name", there is an incredible reversal.

THE DIVINE NAME (pg 10 of 1950 version of the NWT)One of the remarkable facts, not only about the extant manuscripts of the original text, but in many versions, ancient and modern, is the absence of the divine name... a recently found papyrus roll of the LXX. (P. Fouad 266) This contains the second half of the book of Deuteronomy. Not one of these fragments shows an example of Kyrios or Theos used instead of the divine name, but in each instance the Tetragrammaton is written in Aramaic characters...In about 128 A.D. Aquila's Greek version had the Tetragrammaton in archaic Hebrew letters. About 245 Origen produced his famous Hexapla, this being a six column reproduction of the inspired ancient scriptures 1) in their Original Hebrew and Aramaic, accompanied by 2) a transliteration into Greek, and 3) Greek versions by Aquila, 4) Symmachus, 5) the Seventy (LXX), and 6) Theodotion. In the second column of the Hexapla, the Tetragrammaton was written in Hebrew characters, whereas columns 3 and 4 and 5...all represented the Tetragrammaton by the similar Greek characters.

Here we have an admission that the Tetragrammaton does not appear in any Greek New Testament manuscript. That is a fact that very few Jehovah's Witnesses have been told. Rather, we are offered two items for supporting why the Tetragrammaton should be there. One is a fragment from the book of Deuteronomy in Greek, which has the Sacred Name, and the other is Origen's comment on his "Hexapla". Keep in mind first of all, that both examples here cited are no longer extant versions of the Old Testament, whereas what is actually being defended is the insertion of the Tetragrammaton into the New Testament, so it is a moot point to begin with. Also, remember that the two allegedly supporting documents are translations, which the beginning of the forward made a point to relegate to the permanent status of uninspired literature.

What makes it even more difficult for the Watchtower in this matter is when we consider the sources there are citing. Origen clearly states that the Septuagint, which was by and large the Old Testament of the Christian church, did not have the Tetragrammation. Column 2, which did, he only refers to as an anonymous "transliteration into Greek". It was very likely a transliteration that was not at all accepted by the Christian church. This is particularly obvious considering that the columns 3 and 4, translations by Aquila and Symmachus, were actually created for the purpose of refuting the church's claim to fulfilled messianic prophecies. The text in Column 2 may also have been created for that purpose. This is also supported by Origen's comments that the appearance of the tetragrammaton in that text was "not in today's Hebrew [characters], but in the most ancient ones." The Name was not even in a contemporary Hebrew script. Rather it would appeared in proto-Hebrew characters. (It would have appeared as .) This delve into antiquity is reminiscent of Aquila's version, which, despite the fact that it was made in the 2nd century, tried to give the appearance that it was an ancient manuscript. It is possible that Column 2 was actually the working notes for Aquila's or Symmachis' translation. It could very well be the case that the Fouad papyri also falls into that category. Most scholars accept it as being a creation of the 2nd century, which means that it also could have be created as an "anti-missionary" tome, rather than an accepted document of the church. .

What we are left with then, is no Greek manuscripts of the New Testament at all, and no Greek translations of the Old Testament containing the Divine Name, save a few fragments of questionable origin. To use the Divine Name in the New Testament, therefore, one must deal with the contradictory evidence from over 5,000 Greek NT manuscripts and fragments, with not a single manuscript to support it. The insertion of the Divine Name by the NWT is presumption bolstered by faulty logic. The translators decided that if they could find an Old Testament text written in a Greek translation that preserved the Tetragrammaton, then they could be justified in disregarding what the New Testament texts clearly read.

The Alleged "Hebrew Versions"

Continuing on in the NWT Forward:

To avoid overstepping the bounds of a translator into the field of exegesis, we have tried to be most cautious about rendering the divine name, always carefully considering the Hebrew Scriptures. We have looked for some agreement with us by the Hebrew versions that we consulted to confirm our own rendering. Thus, out of 237 times that we have rendered the divine name in the body of our version, there are only 2 instances where we have no support or agreement. (Page 20)

Although this might sound very credible to the untrained ear, keep in mind what is actually being said. We are again talking about the 237 insertions of the Divine Name into the New Testament. The New Testament (with the possible exception of Matthew) was originally written in Greek. The support for their novel addition to the New Testament however, they say they found by "agreement with the Hebrew versions that we consulted". A sharp individual may quickly realize that there is no "Hebrew version" of the New Testament as an original language manuscript. What are these "Hebrew versions" that supported their insertion of the Divine Name? The original 1950 version NWT came with an abundance of footnotes that designated the various manuscripts that supported their readings. The Hebrew sources are designated in the NWT by the letter "J". When one is citing manuscript support, it is customary to use the accepted letter designation for each manuscript. Following are the images of the pages of the 1950 NWT that explained exaclty what those Hebrew versions were.

For manuscript support for the sacred Name in the New Testament, the New World Translation Committee could only cite "J" sources. No ancient manuscript would support their translation. 

Note, that all of the "J" sources themselves are all translations (read: uninspired according to the NWT committee) of the Greek New Testament into Hebrew. With respect to the Divine Name, they all disagree sharply with the Greek New Testament that we have today. Many of them were made by Jesuit priests, which is a strange source for the Watchtower to be preferring over the oldest Greek manuscripts in existence, since they have always held to the complete apostasy of the Roman Church.. The bottom line is this: The distinctive of the Divine Name in the NWT is a clear violation of laws of hermeneutics. It places medieval translations above the oldest extant Greek manuscripts in existence. To cite "J" sources, which are not sources at all, right along with the standard textual sources, is misleading at best. At worst, it is one of the most deceptive frauds ever perpetrated upon a religious denomination. What makes it even more bizarre is that when many of these "J" sources refer to Jesus as YHWH, such as Romans 10:9,10, the NWT suddenly chooses to ignore the "J" sources and ignore the sacred Name, preferring the word "Lord" instead of Jehovah. The Greek New Testament, as well as the early church fathers bear out that YHWH can aptly be called "Lord" (Kurios) or "God" (Theos).

For one to insist that the Divine Name was once there, but has now been removed is a dangerous position. Just imagine: If we are hypothesizing that the Tetragrammaton was completely expunged from thousands of New Testament manuscripts, and blotted out from the practice of the church within a generation of the end of the apostolic era, why should we trust any thing from these horribly altered manuscripts? Everything could very well be corrupt. Moreover, if the Divine Name could be substituted in the New Testament scripture so easily, why would anyone think that YHWH was an accurate representation of the Name God revealed to Moses? With so many fewer manuscripts in existence, a far longer period between the autographs and our extant copies of the Old Testament, we could be all but positive that YHWH is likewise just an artificial substitute for whatever the real name was.

Although this scenario may sound somewhat absurd, this isn't far from what is being suggested. Not only are all of the New Testament manuscripts considered "corrupt" by the NWT committee, but even the Old Testament texts are subject to the arbitrary opinions of the committee. In the appendix of the 1961 New World Translation (pg. 1452), the translators proudly proclaim that they changed the Hebrew word "Adonay" (Lord) into "Jehovah" 134 times without any Hebrew manuscript support. This was done on the basis that "Jewish Sopherim claimed they altered the Hebrew text". On page 1453, the committee takes credit for replacing "Elohim" with "Jehovah" seven times on the same grounds. Yet, they freely admit that they ignore the "Sopherim corruption" concept when it comes to another dozen texts that a Sopherim allegedly changed.

Lastly, on the same page, the committee mentions that they render the Hebrew letter 'I" (yod) as the sacred Name in Zechariah 6:8, even though "yod" means "my" (As every ancient and modern translation has rendered it) on the grounds that they feel "yod" is "understood to be an abbreviation of the divine name". So if, they desire, the letter "yod" can really be the divine name, even though the Septuagint, every subsequent translation and ancient Hebrew source thought it was the self-evident rendering, "my".

All of these changes due to alleged deliberate distortion of the text puts the translation committee in a precarious situation. They need to demonstrate that all of the manuscripts in existence have been unscrupulously altered, the evidence successfully covered up, yet somehow maintain that they are still trustworthy as "God's Word". The dilemma becomes startling clear when we read other Watchtower publications that examines the reliability of scripture. In "The Bible: God's Word or Man's" which was published in 1989 we read on page 59, it states under the heading "Is the Text Trustworthy?"

"Is it possible that these eyewitness testimonies were accurately recorded but later corrupted? … We have already seen that the text of the Christian Greek Scriptures is in better condition than any other ancient literature. Kurt and Barbara Aland, scholars of the Greek text of the Bible, list almost 5,000 manuscripts that have survived from antiquity down to today, some from as early as the second century C.E. The general testimony of this mass of evidence is that the text is essentially sound. Additionally, there are many ancient translations-the earliest dating about the year 180 C.E.-that help to prove that the text is accurate. … The text we have is substantially the same as the one that the original writers penned, and its accuracy is confirmed by the fact that contemporaneous Christians accepted it."

Could it be that the Watchtower writers do not even realize that the peculiarities of their own translation rests on the premise that the text is NOT the same as "originally penned"? It appears to be the case. Most witnesses have been falsely led to believe that he sacred Name is in the Greek New Testament. Whereas the 1950 NWT translation forward readily admits that the "Divine Name is absent" from the Greek new Testament manuscripts, later versions of the NWT have removed that admission, and suggest that it appears in the Greek scriptures. On page 1454 of the 1961 version of the NWT, the appendix says this about the 237 appearances of the name "Jehovah" in the New Testament.

"Below we give a concordance of all the places where the name "Jehovah" occurs in the Christian Greek Scriptures"

The 237 insertions are then documented, starting with Matthew 1:20. Which "Christian Greek Scriptures" are they talking about? Ten years earlier, the committee acknowledged that the divine name does not appear in the Christian Greek scriptures. Again, there is no Greek New Testament manuscript where the divine name is found. The statement of the 1961 NWT can be nothing else than a deliberate falsehood on the part of the committee overseeing the 1961 version.


The New World Translation has time and time again demonstrated that it is not really a translation. Although those on the committee understood that it is not a translators job to freely substitute words in that are not in the text, and ignore every ancient manuscript in favor of hand-picked translations that were chosen to support a preconceived doctrinal bias, that is exactly what they have done. To makes matters worse, they ignore the same sources they tout when those sources disagree with their own slanted position (ie. "J" sources that proclaim that Jesus is YHWH). The NWT cannot be trusted as an accurate rendering of any text, whether New Testament or Old. Items such as the 1961 version claim that "Jehovah" appears in the "Christian Greek Scriptures" are proof that the NWT was written to be a propaganda piece, and will tell a deliberate falsehood to bolster it's claims.

With respect to the original question of the sacred Name, the New Testament leaves us with a startling dilemma that confronts everyone who considers the claims of Christ. The Tetragrammaton is absent from the texts, but there is an emphasis clearly transferred to the name of Jesus. Old Testament texts that exalted the name Jehovah such as Isaiah 45:23: "That to me (Jehovah) every knee will bend down, and every tongue will swear" (NWT) appear in the New Testament, but now with Jesus Christ as the focal point.

" So that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue openly acknowledge that Jesus is Lord". (Philippians 2:10-11). Old Testament hymns that extol Jehovah as Creator, (Psalm 102:25-26) are now applied to the son as "Lord" (see Hebrew 1:10-12). Where we see texts affirming that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (Jehovah in NWT) will be saved, we find coupled to the declaration that everyone confessing Jesus is Lord will be saved. (see Romans 10:9-13).

The distinction by the NWT trying to distance the Name of Jesus from the Tetragrammaton of the Old Testament is a purely artificial construct. The Bible affirms in no uncertain terms, that Jesus is Lord, (Kyrios) and in light of the fact that the Greek Old Testament scriptures uniformly translates YHWH as "Kyrios" should be enough for us to understand the significance and identity of the sacred Name of God for us today. (EWF)

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