A Strategy for Reaching Jehovah's Witnesses

Identifying the Greatest Need: Most of us would agree that if we could see but one change in the Watch Tower Society's theological position, it would be a reversal of their denial of the deity of Jesus. Almost all other major deviations from biblical theology would be either resolved or greatly improved as a result of their recognition of Jesus as co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.

Economy in Biblical Defence: It is my opinion that we can expend a great deal of effort with little result when arguing theological differences based on our hermeneutic (interpretation of Scripture). Just as we can deflect their teaching by applying what we believe to be a more accurate use of Scripture, they deflect our arguments against justification by faith, a new birth salvation, presence of all believers in eternity, and of course the deity of Jesus. There has certainly been fruit from pressing these biblical claims, but it is limited to the few individuals who will independently consider the information. To the larger number of Witnesses dependent solely on Kingdom Hall meetings and Watch Tower Society publications, a great deal of the impact of our theology will be neutralized when they discuss it among themselves. In no way do I limit the work of the Spirit in conviction. However, the use of a method which is dependent on subjective theological interpretation is limited.

The Greatest Obstacle to the Watch Tower Society's Translation Effort: Prior to 1947, the NWBTC (New World Bible Translation Committee) understood their vulnerability in producing the NT (New Testament) which the Watch Tower Society needed. It was the identification of the "Lord" of the NT with Yahweh (Jehovah) of the OT (Old Testament). Interestingly, in 1950 the conservative theological community did not understand why the Watch Tower Society's new translation was vulnerable, and they continue to largely overlook that vulnerability today.[1] Very simply, Yahweh (Jehovah) is undeniably the unique and sovereign God of the OT (Old Testament). Therefore, any Person identified with Yahweh as having His attributes and prerogatives must equally be God. This is precisely what the first century NT writers did by quoting (or alluding to) Old Testament passages and applying them to the "Lord." (If you have never done a study of all "Lord" occurrences in the NT which are quotations from the OT, I would strongly encourage you to do so for a new insight into the Person of Jesus.) In addition, many references in the NT which are not OT quotations include the "Lord" with titles or prerogatives of deity such as "Lord God Almighty." The NWBTC clearly understood that they needed to circumvent this monumental hindrance before they could proceed with a sectarian translation portraying Jesus as a created being.

[1] There is frequent criticism of the New World Translation by non-Witness authors. However, most of the criticism to date has focused on specific passages (such as John 1:1) or theological biases in translation. The vulnerability of the New World Translation regarding the Tetragrammaton's use in the autographs is a subject still in its infancy. However, as of this writing (the end of 2005), there is a groundswell of interest in this subject on internet chat rooms and websites. In time, the subject of textual (early manuscript) proof will boil over. The day will come when the Watch Tower Society will be forced to give a public answer in their Society publications. At that point, the debate will become an open forum. It is a potential debate which must haunt the Watch Tower Society leaders!

The "Jehovah" solution: It was imperative for them that certain verses not identify Jesus in the NT for the Bible they needed for their own people. Any verse in the NT that quoted (or alluded to) the name Yahweh (Jehovah) but used it of Jesus—or any statement in the NT which applied attributes or prerogatives of Yahweh (Jehovah) to Jesus—needed to be removed. For their purposes, many verses needed to be changed from reading "Lord" to "Jehovah." Though not all of the resulting 237 "Jehovah" verses in the NWT are equally important to the deity of Jesus, it will quickly be apparent to any reader that many of these verses could not read "Lord" and be consistent with the teaching that Jesus was a created being. However, to maintain the appearance of integrity and credibility, a scholarly tool was needed before the change from "Lord" to "Jehovah" could be made.

The New Claim for the New World Translation: The NWT was published in 1950 as the only translation which entirely restored the name of Jehovah to the New Testament. In the forward, the introduction of "Jehovah" into the NT is proclaimed as the NWT’s most distinctive feature. According to this claim, the original New Testament authors used the four Hebrew letters—the Tetragrammaton (יהוה) represented in English as YHWH—237 times in their original writing. However, because of a supposed heresy, the Christians of the Second and Third centuries removed the Hebrew letters YHWH and replaced them with the Greek word "Lord" (Kurios—Κύριος). But the NWBTC needed two tools to make this claim plausible.

The First Tool was the Ingenious Critical Apparatus: We certainly cannot agree with its point of view, but the critical apparatus developed by the NWBTC was sheer genius. Their Critical Apparatus is their compilation of so called "J documents" which ostensibly verify the existence of the Hebrew name for God in the NT. In effect, the critical apparatus and their interlinear Greek NT are inseparable in their Kingdom Interlinear Translation (KIT). (A copy of KIT is indispensable for this study and defense of the Version/Tetragrammaton idea.) This approach by the NWBTC has been so effective that for 50 years Jehovah's Witnesses have felt secure in its proffered veracity, and conservative Bible scholars have failed to expose the NWBTC's mortal weakness in print (notwithstanding the important contributions of Bruce Metzger, Robert Countess, and others).

The Second Tool was the Tetragrammaton Heresy: To buttress the Critical Apparatus, the Watch Tower Society also needed a plausible historical setting to account for the alteration of the Tetragrammaton to "Lord" in extant (existing) NT manuscripts. With the help of a verifiable early Church practice of altering the Tetragrammaton appearing in selected Septuagint manuscripts (the Greek OT translation) to Kurios ("Lord"), the Watch Tower Society was able to tentatively establish that the early Gentile Church altered OT Greek manuscripts containing the Tetragrammaton to the more readable "Lord" (Kurios). In other words, Greek manuscripts of the OT from this time period are available which use the Hebrew letters of the Tetragrammaton in an otherwise all Greek text while it is known that the early Church used a text with only the Greek word "Lord."[2] However, the Watch Tower then stated that the same alteration was made in the NT Greek manuscripts, thus "proving" that the Tetragrammaton presumably used by the NT writers was altered to “Lord” in the Second and Third Centuries. Of course, there is not a shred of manuscript evidence which suggests this change, nor are there any references in the writings of the early Church Fathers which indicate either the change or the ensuing debate had such a radical heresy taken place.

[2] We have avoided introducing numerous sub-topics in our books that would detract from our primary objective. Consequently, we have often repeated the Watch Tower's assertion that it was the Christians who changed the Tetragrammaton to "kyrios." In all probability, this frequently happened. In fact, it was more than likely the Jews who initiated the change in the Septuagint from "kurios" to the Tetragrammaton in the Second and Third Centuries after Christ. Notably, three OT "Septuagint" editions were produced in this post-Christian period by Jewish translators that used the Tetragrammaton—these were the translations by Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion. There was a strong reaction beginning in the First Century against the Christians' use of the Septuagint. This prompted the Jewish community's response of "de-christianizing" the Septuagint by introducing the Tetragrammaton into the Greek text. Thus, even though the Tetragrammaton appeared in some pre-Christian Septuagint copies, it was more than likely the work of reactionary Jews who re-introduced the Tetragrammaton into the text rather than Christians who removed it.

Our Strongest Objective Defense of the Deity of Jesus: For the purpose of an apologetic with Jehovah's Witnesses, we can step aside from theological arguments for the deity of Jesus. If we can merely establish that the writers of the NT used "Lord" (Kurios) in these 237 passages, then we can show that Jesus is given equal status as Jehovah of the OT.

The Version Claim: In my own study, I stumbled over this obstacle for several years before I saw the stark simplicity of the fabricated claim. The KIT lists 25 Hebrew versions as proof that the Tetragrammaton was used by the original NT writers. What are these versions? In almost every case, they are NT translations from Greek into Hebrew for Hebrew readers. (The exceptions are the Shem Tob tradition of Matthew. Shem Tob uses a circumlocution meaning "The Name" rather than the Tetragrammaton.) The oldest complete Hebrew version was published in 1599. The most recent Hebrew version was published in 1979 by the United Bible Societies. Why didn't I see it? All I needed to do was consult the Greek text from which the version was translated in order to determine whether or not the Tetragrammaton was used in the Greek text itself. Because most Hebrew versions were produced from the Textus Receptus, I simply needed to consult Erasmus' Greek text. The Tetragrammaton never appears! To verify the 1979 version I looked at the 1975 United Bible Societies' Greek Text. Again, no Tetragrammaton. (It is amazing to think that a 1979 Hebrew translation could be used to prove that the NT was written using the Tetragrammaton!) Why have we waited 50 years to ask the simple question, "Does the Greek text from which these Hebrew versions were translated use the Tetragrammaton"? Of course it doesn't. There is no way in which the Watch Tower Society can argue that it does. Objectively, we can appeal to manuscripts for evidence of the word "Lord" rather than the Tetragrammaton. This is a simple explanation which any Witness layman could understand. There is a reason why the Watch Tower has so carefully steered us away from this terribly sensitive debate. They can't defend it.

    (Note the response to this issue in Greg Stafford's JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES DEFENDED, Second Edition, page 12 to 36 where he evaluates the book The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek Scriptures. (See Greg Stafford's entire evaluation or his summary on page 35.) In an almost unbelievable summary on page 35, Stafford admits that 144 of the 237 NWT "Jehovah" references "do[es] not outweigh the testimony of the available NT witnesses." Stafford is saying that there is no evidence for "Jehovah" in 144 instances. His only justification for their use is that "Since the NWT translators have gone to great lengths to help their readers understand the basis for their use of the divine name in these 144 instances, providing all the relevant data for the material in footnotes, forewords and appendices, then they cannot rightly be spoken of as having attempted to deceive anyone. At most, it could be said that NWT did not clearly communicate the fact that not all uses of the divine name in NT were based on OT quotations or paraphrases." In other words, Stafford is admitting that there is no textual justification for 144 of the 237 "Jehovah" references. He is saying that replacing "Lord" with "Jehovah" can be justified with no indication of the Tetragrammaton in the Greek NT text because the translators used ample footnotes citing Hebrew version sources. Please understand the importance of Stafford's statement. He is saying that the Watch Tower Society cannot defend its claim in at least 144 instances. In Stafford's documentation, all of the Revelation and other key verses are in this 144 verse count. Why have we waited so long to press the Watch Tower Society in this area?)

The Tetragrammaton claim: This claim is more technical and must resort to textual criticism (the study of ancient manuscripts) and the writings of the early Church Fathers for an answer. However, it is still largely free from the subjectivity which generally clouds our debates with Witnesses. First, if the Tetragrammaton was used in the original NT autographs (the original document written by the NT writer), there should be abundant evidence of it in the oldest manuscripts. There is none. If, in fact, the Tetragrammaton was successfully removed from all of the Greek manuscripts of the time in three continents (which would be quite an undertaking considering that many still living had risked their lives for these Scriptures) there would certainly be evidences of change; not all manuscripts would include all 237 changes, nor would all manuscripts change the Tetragrammaton to the same word "Lord." However, there is no such evidence in any of the 5,000 extant Greek manuscripts that the Tetragrammaton was ever used, nor that any of these 237 passages ever went through this evolutionary textual development. In addition, the outcry of such an alteration would have given rise to immense debate among the early Church Fathers. It is inconceivable to think that the heresy could be so well planned that no one would object in writing. Yet, there is no indication that there was ever a debate which developed over this issue. Again, why have we let the Watch Tower Society perpetrate this early heresy notion without challenging it? The objective documentation of the Greek NT and the writings of the Church Fathers speak for themselves. They have skillfully kept us from this debate because, again, they know it is indefensible.

Consentrating our debate: There is no better place to concentrate our debate with the Watch Tower than on the textual issues supporting the 237 occurrences of "Jehovah" in the NWT NT. First, it is a more manageable debate to defend. Textual issues are less subject to subjectivity between us than theological interpretation. Secondly, the version issue is so necessary to their defense, and yet it is so easily shown to be fictitious. There is the added benefit that the version issue is easily understood by any Witness lay person. And finally, our purpose in debate is to bring them to the Savior. The entire "Jehovah" issue in their NWT NT was devised to side-step the deity of Jesus. When this barrier to His deity is removed, then all that Jesus is, and the Salvation He offers, will become apparent. Almost no debate will bring us closer to the essential issue of salvation by faith in Christ than that of exposing the false claim of "Jehovah" in the NWT NT. An added benefit will come from the perspective of those we are trying to reach who have not yet become Witnesses. They may be encouraged to fault us with arguing over theology, but the objective nature of manuscript evidence will incline them to more carefully evaluate what they are hearing from their Witness book study leader. See Using the Tetragrammaton Apologetic. (Note: We need to be very careful that we treat the Watch Tower fairly. The addition to the NWT NT of "Jehovah" 237 times in order to buttress a theological claim is a sacrilege to Scripture. On the other hand, what is the removal of YHWH 6,828 times from our English Bible? Do we not also have some very serious matters to attend to amongst ourselves? See the article LORD and Jehovah.)

What Can We Do Now? You may post any of the files on this CD or our website on your own website. Witnesses will often read articles on the web where they will not purchase a book. Making the Tetragrammaton and Hebrew Version material widely available to Witnesses now is an important first step. Secondly, use the Microsoft Word documents on this CD to write your own printed or website articles and books. Remember, none of our material is copyright protected. You are free to use it in any way you wish. We encourage you to use it as public domain information without reference to a publisher or author's name

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