Sunday, November 30, 2008

WHAT'S IN A NAME? (Dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses, Pt. 1)

Occasionally, the Mrs. and I get that knock at the door.  

Barring one recent visit with some Mormon "elders," we're usually greeted by Jehovah's Witnesses handing out Watchtower literature, and spreading the message of their organization.  I imagine most people respond with a "no thanks" and promptly close the door.  Myself - this is one instance where I have no qualms about going the extra mile.  The pump's already primed, you know?  They're obviously hungry for spiritual truth... you just have to plant some doubt concerning their current (false) beliefs, give them the Truth, then pray for God to do the rest.  I mean - not to be flippant, but - that's more-or-less what we do with everyone on some level.  Right?

Current case in point:  I had a discussion yesterday with a Jehovah's Witness (JW) which covered the topic of God's "name."  That's a pretty important topic to JW's... after all, they call themselves by that name, right?  Well... not exactly; but I digress.

The "name" of the LORD is revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, when Moses asked the Lord His name for when he spoke to the Israelites.  This was a special, supremely revered name.  This was the special name of the One True God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In fact, the command, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11), specifically refers to this name.

So what is this name?  Depending on era and dialect, it looks something like the following (sorry if this offends anyone!):

The top name is written in Paleo-Hebrew (3,000-year-old Hebrew), the second in Aramaic (old Semitic language adopted under Medo-Persian empire), the bottom in Modern Hebrew (in use for the last 2,000+ years).  It's spelled (goin' with modern Hebrew, read right to left) yod-he-waw-he; so the best English transliteration would be YHWH.

One popular form of the name is Jehovah.  This was formulated by taking the vowels from the Hebrew word for 'lord' (adonai) and imposing them upon the Modern Hebrew Name; since Hebrew was originally written without 'vowels,' and no one is completely certain how "YHWH" was originally pronounced (though many scholars suggest 'Yahweh').  

JW's, interestingly, don't dispute this origin of "Jehovah," but still insist upon it's strict usage by English-speakers.  As if it's a marker of true spirituality:  using God's correct Name.  

While speaking with my JW visitor yesterday, we read a great deal from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society publication, What Does the Bible Really Teach?, which he used to facilitate the discussion.  On page 195, the third paragraph reads:

How important is God's name?  Consider the model prayer that Jesus Christ gave.  It begins this way:  "Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified." (Matthew 6:9)  Later, Jesus prayed to God:  "Father, glorify your name."  In response, God spoke from heaven, saying: "I both glorified it and will glorify it again." (John 12:28)  Clearly, God's name is of the utmost importance.  Why, then, have some translators left this name out of their translations of the Bible and replaced it with titles?

On page 196:

In replacing God's name with titles, Bible translators make a serious mistake.  They make God seem remote and impersonal, whereas the Bible urges humans to cultivate "intimacy with Jehovah." (Psalm 25:14)

Interesting points, to say the least.

With their position in mind, do you notice anything about the scriptures they quote on page 195 above?  How about the fact that JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF is honoring His Father's Name, and yet doesn't use it at all.  Not in the "model prayer" (Matthew 6), nor in the prayer before the crowd in which He was 'answered' from heaven (John 12).  The Watchtower is using these verses to prove their 'point,' and yet "Jehovah" is not used therein.

In fact, God's "Name" (in any translation of YHWH) is not used in the ENTIRE New Testament.  The reason isn't because modern translators "left this name out of their translations of the Bible and replaced it with titles."  The reason is because translators from the 3rd to the 1st century BCE left it out.

The New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek.  When you read a portion of the New Testament which quotes the Old Testament (or Tanakh), it's quoting from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures.  Guess how many times the name "Jehovah" appears in the Septuagint?


And yet no New Testament writer had a problem quoting from the Septuagint, which substituted the word 'LORD' (Greek: kurios) for God's special covenant name, YHWH.  It was understood that YHWH was being referenced, which took nothing away from the message of the apostles.  

Furthermore, the name "YHWH" is not found anywhere else in New Testament Greek manuscripts.  Greek-speaking Jews (certainly) and Christians (most likely) wouldn't have used the name.  No apostles used the Name, at least in writing:  Not Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude - none of them.  Doesn't exist in the New Testament.

Yet, JW's have the audacity to put into print a statement like, "In replacing God's name with titles, Bible translators make a serious mistake."  Were the Septuagint scholars making a mistake?  The apostles?  We only have God's word concerning His Son's life, death, resurrection and subsequent ministry through His apostles - because of His apostles.  

Would the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society have the consistency and courage to say of the apostles that "They make God seem remote and impersonal"??  They certainly didn't use "Jehovah" (or even YHWH) in any of their writings!  

This is just one, somewhat minor inconsistency within JW theology.  It just happened to be one I dealt with very very recently, and found rather incredible.

The 'good news' is, I can offer this visitor from the Kingdom Hall something much better than what he can offer me.  If JW's are truly concerned with cultivating intimacy with Jehovah, then they must become His sons, through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  This happens only through faith, and faith alone in Christ Jesus: God in the flesh.

This intimacy - true intimacy - isn't created by "using the correct name."  This intimacy is created because of a new birth: rebirth into the family of God.  See, I know my earthly father's name.  I'm very familiar with it, and I even know how to pronounce it correctly.  Nevertheless, because the of 'intimacy' of being his son, I don't call him by his name.  I call him something much more special, much more intimate.  I call him "dad."

Because of the what Christ accomplished in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension - I can call God the Father my Father.  And what's more intimate than that?

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

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