Other Worldviews

Jehovah’s Witnesses Can’t Consistently Affirm the Reliability of the New Testament

Author Tim Barnett Published on 01/15/2016

Jehovah’s Witnesses commonly refer to modern translations of the Bible as “Lord Bibles.” It is often used as a pejorative. They claim that so-called “Lord Bibles” remove the name of Jehovah more than 7,000 times and replace it with the word Lord. Only they have the true Bible, because their New World Translation (NWT) uses the name Jehovah. All other versions are rejected because they’re thought to be unreliable.

Even though Jehovah’s Witnesses make a big deal out of using the name Jehovah when referring to God, the New Testament writers never once address God as Jehovah. In fact, in the nearly 5,900 Greek New Testament manuscripts that have been discovered, none use the name Jehovah. Now think about this. If the name Jehovah was to be the sole name for God for all generations, why is the name not used a single time in the New Testament?

Jehovah’s Witnesses have a response to this. They assert that the scribes who copied the original New Testament documents deliberately changed the text. On their view, Jehovah’s name was in the originals, but the copyists took it out and replaced it with the word Lord [Greek: kurios]. Please try to understand the implications of this belief. This means that the manuscripts, or copies, that we have to reconstruct the New Testament do not contain what the apostles actually wrote.

What kind of evidence do Jehovah’s Witnesses provide to back up this extraordinary claim? First, they do not have any early textual evidence. As I have already stated, all of the manuscript evidence has the word Lord [Greek: kurios], not Jehovah. Furthermore, the New Testament authors even use the word Lord in their quotations of the Old Testament.

For example, in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes,

[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord [kurios] and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [kurios] will be saved” (Rom. 10:9–13).

Try to follow the flow of Paul’s argument. Specifically, look at how Paul explicitly uses the term Lord throughout this passage. Paul tells us that one must confess that Jesus is Lord to be saved. Next, he tells us that the same Lord is Lord of all. Paul is explicit that this not a different Lord; it’s the same Lord who is Lord over all. Given that he has just told us that Jesus is Lord, the only rational conclusion is that he is still talking about Jesus.

Furthermore, the Lord bestows riches on all who call on Him. Now he is going to back up this claim by giving a quote from the Old Testament. Paul says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13 ESV).

Jehovah’s Witnesses are quick to point out that this is a quote from the prophet Joel, which says, “And everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved” (Joel 2:32 NWT). Since Joel used the name Jehovah, they assume Paul must have as well. It is from this assumption that they assert that the early scribes intentionally changed Paul’s original words.

However, this reasoning completely misses the apostle Paul’s point in Romans 10:9–13. Every Greek-speaking Jew would have understood what Paul was doing. He had already said that everyone, whether Greek or Jew, must confess Jesus is kurios to be saved. Consequently, he backs this claim by citing the prophet Joel from the Old Testament. However, when Paul quotes Joel, he says, “Everyone who calls upon the kurios will be saved.” Therefore, Paul takes Joel 2:32 and applies it to Jesus. Joel tells people to call on Jehovah to be saved. However, Paul reveals that the name that everyone must call on to be saved is Jesus. There can be no mistake that Paul is intentionally applying a text about Jehovah from the Old Testament to Jesus because he believes that Jesus is Jehovah.

This conclusion is unacceptable to a Jehovah’s Witness. Therefore, the NWT changes Romans 10:13 to say, “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” But Paul doesn’t actually use the name Jehovah. It turns out that the NWT has inserted the name Jehovah into the New Testament over 270 times without any textual basis for doing so. Many of these unsupported insertions end up distorting the original intention of the biblical authors.

It seems to me that Jehovah’s Witnesses are caught in a dilemma. They cannot both affirm that the earliest scribes changed important texts of the New Testament without leaving any evidence of a change, and affirm the reliability of the New Testament.

They want to stress the importance of using God’s correct name. However, when you point out that the name Jehovah is never used in the New Testament, they are forced to assert that the name was actually in the originals, but removed from all copies. This is a direct attack on the reliability of the New Testament. Think about it. This means that all of the scribes were not faithful copyists. All were willing to allow their own bias to determine which words could and could not be in the text. Furthermore, all of the scribes conspired to deliberately change the name of God without leaving any trace of the original wording. But if this is true, what else could they have changed without leaving any trace of the original wording?

The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ unsubstantiated assertion is a double-edged sword. Consider the following illustration. What if I merely asserted that Romans 10:9 originally said, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Jehovah and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” My Jehovah’s Witness friend is likely to protest that we have no textual evidence that Paul wrote, “Jesus is Jehovah” in Roman 10:9. On the contrary, every manuscript says, “Jesus is Lord.” However, using the same logic as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I could reply that the copyist deliberately conspired to change the text without leaving any trace of the original “Jesus is Jehovah” wording. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Given their outlandish understanding of the transmission of the New Testament, Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot consistently affirm the reliability of the New Testament. Obviously, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ ultimate authority is not Scripture. Instead, the Watchtower dictates what Scripture says, even to the point where they will make up what it says by inserting and replacing words that are not in any manuscript.

Finally, when I’m derided for using a so-called “Lord Bible,” I point out that it was the New Testament writers themselves, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who chose to use the term Lord [kurios] for Jesus and Jehovah. Modern translators didn’t make this stuff up. So their complaint is not with modern Bible translators, but with the New Testament authors and God Himself.