The Watchtower Society And The Name Of God
The Watchtower Society's Bible, The New World Translation, renders Exodus 3:15: "Then God said to Moses: 'This is what you are to say to the sons of Israel; Jehovah the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.' This is my name to time indefinite, and this is the memorial of me to generation after generation." The Society uses Exodus 3:15 to argue that it is the only group who properly calls God by his name, "Jehovah."
Originally, the text of the Hebrew Scriptures consisted of consonants without vowels. The divine name is represented in the consonantal text by four consonants, the Tetragrammaton (Greek for "the Four Lettered [Name]"), Y-H-W- H. In later Hebrew this name is termed the Shem HaMeforash, "the Explicit Name." Because of its extreme sanctity, the Tetragrammaton is never pronounced and, in fact, its exact pronunciation is unknown. In English, however, it is popularly pronounced "Jehovah." "Jehovah" is an anglicized misreading and not the correct pronunciation of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton Y-H- W-H.
The sanctity that the name of God was accorded by the Jews throughout the centuries is well known. Possibly it was more widely used before the destruction of the First Temple. However, during the period of the Second Temple, pronunciation of the Name, as it is written, was restricted in usage to the High Priest during the Day of Atonement service, and by the priests during the daily blessing of the masses in the Temple courtyard. Outside of the Temple, pronunciation of the divine name was prohibited (cf. Mishnah Sotah 7:6; Tamid 7:2). The one exception to this rule was during the final stage of a trial for blasphemy. In private, the chief witness was allowed to pronounce the divine name as used by the blasphemer. Confirmation of this general prohibition is also found in the writings of Flavius Josephus who wrote concerning the divine name, "Then God revealed to Him [Moses] His name . . . and of which I am forbidden to speak."1 In reading the Bible and in reciting the prayers, 'Ado-nai, "my Lord," is substituted for the Shem HaMeforash.2 When not used in prayer Hashem (the Name) is commonly used in substitution.
It is by this Four-Letter Name that God referred to Himself in His revelation to Moses. Thus, in Exodus 3:15 it is stated: "Hashem God of your fathers . . . this is My Name forever [le'olam], and this is My memorial for all generations." Since the Hebrew le'olam, "forever," is spelled deficiently (without the letter vav) in the unvowelized Torah scroll, le'allem, a possible alternative reading of the text exists, namely, "This is My Name to be concealed." This leads to the understanding that the phrase "and this is My memorial for all generations" indicates that although the pronunciation would be concealed, its meaning would still be known. On the basis of the spelling of the unvowelized consonants of lamed, ayin, lamed, mem the rule was established that the divine name is not to be read as written, its pronunciation is to be concealed because the consonants spell out the word "to conceal." Since the original text contains no vowels, it is only by virtue of the oral Jewish tradition that one may read it as "forever," but that very same tradition recognizes the validity of reading it as "conceal" as well. Both readings are compatible as they reflect the truth that while the divine name endures forever, it shall be at times concealed so that it will not be misused and abused by sowers of deceit and ignorance.
How does the Watchtower Society justify the pronunciation "Jehovah," or how does it dare attempt to vocalize the concealed Tetragrammaton itself? In discussing the divine name The Watchtower asks the questions: "Is it true that 'Jehovah' is not God's name and should not be in the Bible? Is it in the Bible that you use? Should it be there? Do you use a personal name for God?"3 The great importance of the divine name for the Watchtower Society is to be seen in that they have chosen for themselves the name "Jehovah's Witnesses." They shun the use of "Lord" in place of what they consider to be the divine name. The Watchtower states that ". . . Lord is a title, not a personal name. . . ."4 The Watchtower Society criticizes what it calls the Jewish superstition of not pronouncing the divine name.
Some say that this resulted from a fear of misusing the sacred name of God. It is true that the Ten Commandments said that his name was not to be taken up in a worthless way. (Ex. 20:7) That clearly ruled out any flippant or fraudulent use of the name. And Leviticus 24:16 commanded that any abuser of God's name, whether a native Hebrew or an alien resident, was to be put to death. But that meant abusing it, not to avoid using it.5
To avoid the type of abuse to which the Watchtower Society would put the divine name in promulgating their fraudulent beliefs is sufficient reason for the concealment of the true pronunciation today.
Labeling the Jewish practice of refraining from pronouncing the divine name "a superstitious idea"6 is camouflaging the real issue. The reason the pronunciation of the divine name was discontinued is not the issue. The real issue is the question: Whether, in the absence of a definite knowledge of the correct vocalization of the divine name, it is proper to employ a misconceived and misbegotten pronunciation of the name and to use it in a manner that suggests that it is the true pronunciation of the name of the God of Israel? It will not do to say that "Jehovah" is used because "'Jehovah is the best known English pronunciation of the divine name."7 It still amounts to a false teaching which deludes the uninformed person into believing that this is an accurate or acceptable construction of the name of God. To give credence to this attempt, the Watchtower Society claims:
Since certainty of pronunciation is not now attainable, there seems to be no reason for abandoning in English the well-known form "Jehovah" in favor of some other suggested pronunciation. If such a change were made, then, to be consistent, changes should be made in the spelling and pronunciation of a host of other names found in the Scriptures: Jeremiah would be changed to Yir·me yah', Isaiah would become Yesh·'aya'hu, and Jesus would be either Yehoh·shu'a' (as in Hebrew) or I·e·sous' (as in Greek). The purpose of words is to transmit thoughts; in English the name "Jehovah" identifies the true God, transmitting this thought more satisfactorily today than any of the suggested substitutes.8
While it is true that certainty of pronunciation is not now attainable, this gives no one the right to simply call God by any name and then, once the manufactured name is popularized, justify its continued use on the basis of that popularity. We are not dealing with just any name but with the most important name in existence, the name of God. If it would be disrespectful to intentionally mispronounce a person's name, how much more so in the case of God. In Bible usage, a name conveys meaning. God's name has profound significance. In the case of the Shem HaMeforash, the spelling connotes He was, He is, and He will be; it denotes the level where past, present, and future are merged and all are the same (Tur Orach Chaim 5). That is, God is Eternal and all time is united within Him. He exists eternally and His essence is immutable. The word "Jehovah" tells us nothing despite its common use in English to denote the God of Israel.
The Watchtower Society displays utter hypocrisy in its use of "Jehovah" to actually designate God's personal name. The manner in which the pronunciation "Jehovah" came into being is well known. It is a name of human manufacture which combines the consonants of the Shem HaMeforash with the vowels of 'Ado-nai. The first recorded use of the Latinized form "Jehova" is that by the Spanish monk Raymundo Martini in his book Pugio Fidei ("Dagger of Faith") published in the year 1278.9 This error is due to a simple misunderstanding. Originally, in some texts of the vowelized Bible, the Tetragrammaton was left unvoweled and on the margin the substituted kere ("reading") 'Ado-nai was noted. In other texts the Tetragrammaton was omitted altogether and the vowels of the intended substitution 'Ado-nai appeared. In still other texts, three letters (yodim) were used to carry the vowels of the substitution 'Ado-nai. Ultimately, to indicate that the ineffable Tetragrammaton is not to be pronounced and the substitute 'Ado-nai is to be read in its stead, the four consonants of the Tetragrammaton were preserved but supplied with the vowels of the intended substitution 'Ado-nai. Evidently, those ignorant of this last fact, erroneously thought that the vowels are meant to give the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton that they most certainly did not.10
The importance of a correct vowelization cannot be avoided in any attempt to vocalize the Shem HaMeforash. The addition of a different set of vowels to a set of consonants can give widely divergent meanings to those consonants. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that, if one were going to pronounce the Shem HaMeforash, he should have the correct vowelization so as to vocalize it correctly. Even the Watchtower Society admits that ". . . no one today actually can say with certainty how Moses, for example, pronounced the divine name."11 Efforts to approximate the actual pronunciation are not enough. In essence, the Watchtower Society insults God by referring to Him neither by His proper name nor even by a title but by willfully applying to Him a meaningless man-made name. The Watchtower informs its readers that:
Most languages have a customary way of spelling and pronouncing God's name, and it varies from language to language. . . . Why need anyone insist that all persons today should strive to imitate some ancient Hebrew pronunciation on which even authorities cannot agree?12
This same issue of The Watchtower says that the use of "Jehovah":
. . . allows persons to use a widely known pronunciation that still clearly identifies the Creator and God who urges us to use his name. (Isa. 42:8; Rom. l0:13) Many theologians, though, have, instead, chosen to quibble over technicalities and fallen into the trap of shunning God's name.13
It is absurd to excuse the use of the pseudo-name "Jehovah" by saying it is the most common well-known name of God in the English language. God did not give His divine name in English; He gave it in Hebrew. The Watchtower Society's insistence that "God's personal name [is] Jehovah"14 is completely erroneous. God's personal name is not, and cannot be, "Jehovah." That name has no true meaning or significance in English or in Hebrew. The pronunciation "Jehovah" is grammatically impossible. In form, it is a philological impossibility. There is no warrant for this misreading that makes no sense in Hebrew. Simply, there can be no viable reason for using an erroneous form to designate the name of God. The Watchtower disparages theologians by accusing them of having "chosen to quibble over technicalities" because it must justify the Watchtower Society's own use of a man-made name. The fact is that it is the Watchtower Society which has been "shunning God's name" by relying on this false name.
In an article entitled, "Identifying Marks of True Religion" the Watchtower Society lists five ways it believes one may establish which is the "true religion." Under the subtitle "Keeping God's Name Sacred" it writes: "Jesus also said in prayer: 'I have made your name known to them [the disciples] and will make it known.' (John 17:26) Certainly he made known the sacred name, Jehovah-Ps. 83:18."15 Obviously, the Watchtower Society teaches the falsehood that "Jehovah" may be used as the equivalent of the sacred name of God. The organization's use of the pseudo-name "Jehovah" goes beyond the claim that it is used merely as a convenient method that "clearly identifies the Creator and God who urges us to use his name." God did not declare, "Call Me by any man- made name, but be consistent." He was very specific in giving His own name, which He chose for Himself. In making this name known, God declared that it would be everlasting yet concealed for a period of time. In lieu of an exact knowledge of the pronunciation, even if one is willing to disregard the tradition restricting usage, it is better not to pronounce even one of the Hebrew approximations of the Name that are in vogue. This action gives credence to what is simply a pseudo-name of human manufacture.
The Watchtower Society claims divine direction. Watchtower Society usage of the word "Jehovah," as the Name of God, highlights the fallaciousness of its claim to divine influence in the formulating of its doctrines. Using a name for God does not guarantee that the users have the correct name of God. Indeed, even if they did have the correct Name of God would that of itself prove God approves them? Even a blasphemer knew the Shem HaMeforash in ancient times.
Indeed, the common use of what some believe to be the Hebrew pronunciation of the Shem HaMeforash, by not only Jehovah's Witnesses, but by various deviant, often violently anti-Jewish religious groups makes all the more poignant the wisdom of the Torah truth to conceal the name lest it be used by ignorant, evil, and blasphemous persons.
1 Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, II. 12. 4 .
2 See Rashi ad. loc.; Kiddushin 71a; Shemot Rabbah 3:9; Mishnah Sotah 7:6; Mishnah Tamid 7:2.
3 The Watchtower, May 1, 1978, p. 3.
4 The Watchtower, p. 4.
5 The Watchtower, p. 4.
6 Aid to Bible Understanding, and below] Brooklyn, N.Y.: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1971, p. 882.
7 Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 882.
8 Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 885.
9 A Dominican monk, he was present at the Disputation of Barcelona in 1263. In 1278, he composed the anti-Jewish Pugio Fidei, intended, like the Disputation, to demonstrate the truth of Christianity from Jewish literature.
10 See Jacob Lauterbach, "Substitutes for the Tetragrammaton," Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, vol. 2, 1931, pp. 39-67.
11 The Watchtower, May 1, 1978, p. 12.
12 The Watchtower, p. 12.
13 The Watchtower, p. 12.
14 The Watchtower, October 1, 1982, p. 8.
15 Awake! August 8, 1981, p. 4.
© Gerald Sigal 1999