The Future of the Tetragrammaton Debate
  1. In 1998 we published the first comprehensive study of ancient Greek manuscript evidence for the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the Christian Scriptures[*] in our book The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek Scriptures. Prior to that time, little attention had been given to the actual manuscript evidence supporting the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the Christian Scriptures. As a result of our book, a number of new books in English and other languages have been published promoting both sides of the debate; many websites in multiple languages are debating the topic; and the subject is frequently discussed in chat rooms. (See our responses to just a small portion of this debate: Debate with Greg Stafford, E-mail Debate, website Debate, and Review: 'Your Word is Truth'.) This discussion of manuscript evidence is becoming a topic of significant importance to those who use the New World Translation Bible.

    [*] At least one prior book was reportedly published on this subject, but we have not been able to locate the book, its title, or the author. It apparently had limited circulation. Numerous other books have mentioned the subject in passing.
  2. By manuscript evidence, we mean a study of ancient Greek Christian manuscripts themselves. Today, however, none of the original documents written by the apostolic authors remain. (The original documents are called autographs.) Therefore, the words used in the autographs must be reconstructed from copies which survived.

  3. Reconstructing the actual words written in the autographs is done by studying more than 5,000 ancient manuscript copies which are now available. For a more complete description of this process see the Textual Criticism link on this site.

  4. Watchtower Society publications frequently refer to the presumed presence of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the autographs. However, these discussions almost never refer to manuscript evidence. Rather, they refer to external supporting evidence such as Septuagint editions which used the Tetragrammaton, an assumed heresy involving the second and third century scribes, Hebrew versions which use the Tetragrammaton, and the like.

  5. In the same way, books and websites defending the New World Translation use similar arguments as evidence that the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) was used in the autographs. They also make limited reference to manuscript evidence. (For examples, see our review of Chapter 2: Use Of The Divine Name In The Christian Greek Scriptures by Hal Flemings in the book 'Your Word is Truth', or our book Jehovah in the New Testament which is a response to Matteo Pierro's book Geova E Il Nuovo Testamento [Jehovah in the New Testament]. Pay particular attention to Chapter 3 which is entitled "The Missing Chapter.")

  6. Logically, the majority of the external supporting evidence used by the references in paragraphs 4 and 5 above could be true even if the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) was not used in the autographs. (We now know that the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) was used in certain Septuagint versions, it is clear that Christians copied the Septuagint using "Lord", etc. But all of this could be true whether or not the autographs used the Tetragrammaton.[*] Use of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the autographs can only be established with verifiable manuscript evidence.)

    [*] For additional comments, see paragraph 12 below.

  7. This entire debate focuses on the 237 "Jehovah" references found in the Christian Scriptures of the New World Translation. For more information regarding the importance of this debate, read The Central Issue on this website.

  8. Yet, one must ask, "Why only these 237 references?" What would be the result if all references to יהוה (Jehovah) in Hebrew versions were translated as "Jehovah" in the New World Translation? See Contributions From Our Readers, A. Notes on Hebrew Versions #5 and #8.)

    There are three key elements in this debate:
    This debate attempts to define (or re-define) the essential nature of Scripture. That which we accept as Scripture must be defined in one of two ways: 1) The words of Scripture must be determined by the most probable reconstruction of the autographs. This reconstruction is based on the best preserved ancient manuscripts. Or, 2) Certain words of Scripture may be suggested by an assumed, and essentially unverifiable event in history (the removal of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the 2nd and 3rd centuries), merely because this supports a particular view-point.
    Refutation of the textual argument never uses textual information. When responding to the challenge that there is no evidence supporting the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the Christian Scriptures, the proponents of this theory always use arguments aside from manuscript evidence to support their position. There has never been a challenge to the material on this website using verifiable Christian Scripture manuscript evidence to show that the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) was used in the autographs.
    All arguments for the reliability of Scripture depend on the same principles which are dismissed in regard to the Tetragrammaton. Aside from the single issue of the Tetragrammaton,[*] the translators of the New World Translation Christian Scriptures strongly advocate adherence to the most probable reconstruction of the Greek text. Unlike most Protestant Bibles, the translators appropriately did not include the spurious passages from Mark 16:8 and following, John 7:53 to 8:11, and 1 John 5:7-8 (to name only three more prominent examples) for the very reason that these passages are not supported by the most reliable Greek manuscripts.[**] The reason the New World Translation translators used the Westcott and Hort Greek text was precisely because it was a better reconstruction of the text than the older Textus Receptus (King James) text. Thus, with only the exception of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) issue, the translators of the New World Translation have declared that the words of Scripture must be determined by the most probable reconstruction of the autographs. This reconstruction is based on the best preserved ancient manuscripts using accepted textual criticism principles.

    [*] This is true inasmuch as the "[other]" passages in Colossians 1 and similar unique qualities of the NWT are better defined as "interpretation" differences rather than "textual" difference.

    [**] The passages from Mark and John are added as footnotes for reference only.
        It is impossible to have a reliable Christian Scripture text if a single detail which is as important as the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) was removed from the earliest manuscripts without leaving any indication of its original presence in the autographs. If the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) was used in the autographs, yet cannot be substantiated with any manuscript evidence, then the entire science (and art) of textual criticism is faulty and we can have no confidence that the Christian Scriptures are trustworthy. On the other hand, if the Christian Scriptures are a faithful guide for life, then the same degree of reliability for the text as a whole must be applied to each of the 237 "Jehovah" instances which do not contain the Tetragrammaton.

  9. What to expect in the future. From the Watch Tower Society's perspective, it is forced to defend its position that the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) was included 237 times in the Christian Scripture autographs. This is true because the unique quality of the New World Translation is entirely dependent on it. Thus, the debate will continue because others who are not ones of Jehovah's Witnesses have high regard for Scripture as being the inerrant (error-free) Word of God. It is inconceivable to this latter group that the Watch Tower Society can claim that they follow a Christian Scripture which is reliable while at the same time they claim to "restore" the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) to the Christian Scriptures while admitting that there is no manuscript evidence for its use in the autographs.

  10. The debate will continue as it began. The challenge to the presence of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the Christian Scriptures will always appeal to manuscript evidence. The Watch Tower Society's rebuttal (whether in their own publications or through others) will always attempt to debate secondary issues and avoid dealing with a study of the manuscript itself. Pay attention to the criticism which will be directed toward this or other websites (and published books) which argue against the 237 "Jehovah" references in the New World Translation Christian Scriptures. The criticism will always be directed toward side issues[*] in order to destroy the credibility of that website or book. Beyond a superficial treatment of manuscript information (such as found in Chapter 2: Use of the Divine Name in the Christian Greek Scriptures in 'Your Word is Truth'), this rebuttal will never use substantial manuscript evidence in order to deal directly with the absence of the Tetragrammaton.

    [*] As any author discusses side issues, he or she must be held accountable for the accuracy of that information. Just because an author weighs in on the side of verifiable manuscript evidence, does not mean that everything else included in his or her book (or website) is accurate information.

    Editor's note: In a surprising article in the August 1, 2008 Watchtower magazine (Should the Name Jehovah Appear in the New Testament?) the editors published an article we did not expect to see. Though this article cites the brochure The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever which states the NWT translators' original reason for including "Jehovah" in the Christian Greek Scriptures, no reference is made to their original reason for doing so in this present article. It appears that since the translators' original stated reasons now require manuscript and historical evidence which has never been found, that the editors of the August 1, 2008 Watchtower magazine sidestepped this important issue, denying the very justification for publishing the NWT in the first place. In the website page The August 1, 2008 Watchtower article, we will evaluate the significance of the Watchtower Society's inability to justify the reason the NWT was initially produced.

  11. In paragraph 1 above, we listed the debates to which we have responded on this website. Read each debate carefully and you will see this pattern. There is not a single response which deals in any length (if at all) with manuscript evidence. Especially look at the link Review: 'Your Word is Truth'. If you were to read only the book 'Your Word is Truth', you would think that our book The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek Scriptures was primarily concerned with making "Lord" and "Jehovah" equivalent terms. Yet, not only do we not say that they are equivalent terms, that subject is only a secondary theme of our book which occupies a single chapter. The over-riding theme of our book is its study of manuscript and corroborating historical evidence for the use of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the autographs.

  12. There will be many variations of this theme in the continuing debate. (For an interesting example, see the E-mail Debate on this website.) There are some topics such as the use of the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in first century copies of the Septuagint which will never have a concise answer. As a result, side issues will be used to overshadow that of manuscript evidence. Both sides of the debate will inadvertently make comments which may have dubious support, or are highly dependent on subjective interpretation. However, we must always come back to the central issue. That issue will always be the verifiable manuscript evidence for Scripture.

  13. It is not the text itself, but a theological position which requires the presumed Tetragrammaton (יהוה) in the autographs. For almost 2,000 years, there has been little confusion to readers of a New Testament which did not contain the Tetragrammaton (or the divine name Jehovah). As a result, most New Testament readers understood Jesus to have an equal nature to God. The only ones who argue that the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) was used in the autographs are those with a theological position which requires that Jesus and Jehovah have a different nature.[*] (See Review: 'Your Word is Truth' for more on this topic.)

    [*] Over the past 2000 years, there have certainly been some readers of the New Testament who do not claim that Jesus and Jehovah have the same nature, though these readers have been a minority. Nonetheless, with the exception of those using the New World Translation since 1950, even this group of readers have never used the argument that the autographs contained the Tetragrammaton (יהוה). The statement above is only saying that those who argue that the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) was included in the autographs are those with a theological position which requires that Jesus and Jehovah have a different nature.