LORD and Jehovah

    It is appropriate that we challenge the Watch Tower Society's use of “Jehovah” 237 times in their New World Translation New Testament. "Jehovah," in these instances, was not simply an English word that a translator chose to give meaning to a Greek word. It was a deliberate attempt to alter the intended meaning of Scripture. There is no substantiated evidence that the Tetragrammaton was ever used in the New Testament writings.

    However, we must be equally critical of a similar alteration in our own English Bible. In the 1500s, Tyndale initiated the practice of using “LORD” in the English text in most instances where the Hebrew text used the Tetragrammaton—the four Hebrew letters designating the name of God which are transliterated YHWH. In some ways, this is a more difficult translation problem to deal with than that of the use of “Jehovah” in the New Testament. After all, devout Septuagint translators used the Greek word “Lord” in their authorized Jewish Greek translation.

    Fundamentally, our concern, whether it applies to the use of “LORD” in the English Old Testament or “Jehovah” in the New World Translation New Testament, is strikingly similar. In both cases, it is an intentional alteration of the meaning of a word, whether it is in the Hebrew or the Greek Scripture text. The greatest difference is merely in magnitude. We criticize the Watch Tower Society for replacing “Lord” with “Jehovah” 237 times. Why are we not equally disturbed that our own English tradition has replaced YHWH 8,828 times with the word "LORD?" (This is not a debate as to whether YHWH should be translated as "Yahweh," expressed by the traditional "Jehovah," or whether it should use another of the many forms which have been suggested. Rather, this regards the permissibility of replacing God's name with an English word which has an entirely different meaning.)

    We should be alarmed whenever the translated meaning of Scripture is altered either for sectarian reasons or merely in order to protect Bible sales because the English-reading audience is familiar with the word "LORD." Therefore, we also need to evaluate our own translation practice. We must be fair and demand no more from the Watch Tower Society than we are willing to demand from our own Bible publishers. The solution is not to ignore the Watch Tower's error in order that we can leave our own tradition intact. Rather, we must be willing to first correct our own Bible translation process and then to encourage the Watch Tower to correct theirs.

A PERSPECTIVE:  We criticize the Watch Tower Society because their alteration in the New World Translation is specifically directed at denying the Deity of Christ, whereas our replacement of YHWH with "LORD" is merely—as we would say—a matter of word choice based on a long-standing tradition.

    However, our improper translation of YHWH as "LORD" also undermines the Deity of Christ. The Jew of the First Century fully understood that Kurios (Lord) in his Septuagint Scripture stood for YHWH. He could equate Jesus with the "Lord" of the Greek Septuagint, recognizing that Jesus possessed the attributes of Yahweh. It was, to the Greek-speaking Jew, a powerful statement that Jesus possessed the same nature as Almighty Creator God.

    Today, however, few understand Tyndale's word "LORD" to be "Yahweh." Rather than allowing the Old Testament "LORD" (Yahweh) to define the New Testament "Lord," today's Protestant reverses the process. Without conscious intent, the human Jesus ("Lord") is allowed to define the "LORD" (Yahweh) of the Old Testament. Consequently, it is not Isaiah's awesome God Who is seen in the Temple. Rather, it is a familiar God who is defined primarily by the humanity of Jesus. (We could assume that most—encouraged by contemporary art and music—understand Jesus to be the Shepherd of Psalm 23. Similarly, most references to LORD in the Old Testament would be generally understood as references to Jesus rather than to the Godhead.) Lacking the view of the grandeur of the Old Testament God, we fail to understand the identification of the human Jesus with His eternal attributes as Yahweh.

    When quoting Old Testament passages, the New Testament writers intended the Old Testament "Yahweh" to define Jesus as "Lord." Today, however, by allowing the human "Lord" of the New Testament to define the "LORD" of the Old Testament, most Protestants have a greatly reduced understanding of the Deity of Christ. Disparaging the Deity of Christ by using "LORD" in our Protestant Old Testament was neither intentional nor sectarian, as was the use of "Jehovah" in the New World Translation New Testament. But the result is similar. The Deity of Christ is greatly undermined when YHWH is replaced with "LORD" in the Old Testament.

The Perspective of the New Testament Writers and Early Readers

Old Testament

YHWH is Almighty, Incomprehensible, and Sovereign God.

Kurios is Almighty, Incomprehensible, and Sovereign God.
New Testament

Jesus as "Lord" possesses the attributes of YHWH.  That which is true of YHWH is also true of Jesus.

The Perspective of today's English Bible Reader

New Testament

Jesus as "Lord" is most frequently understood from the perspective of His limited human embodiment.
Old Testament

The "LORD" of the Old Testament is associated with the limitations of the human Jesus.
New Testament

The identification of Jesus' essential nature as being equal to that of YHWH is largely lost.  When it does occur, Jesus is now perceived as having limited attributes as the "LORD" of the Old Testament.