I am working on a paper for my Theology class and wanted to write about something that I could use for our ministry. I decided to write about the history and significance of the Divine name and then tweak it when I am done in order to use it for our work with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am also speaking about this subject this coming Sunday at Shavano Baptist church in San Antonio, TX and then again at the Witnesses Now for Jesus Convention in Pennsylvania. For more information, check out the calendar on our ministry web site.
During my research I came across this interesting quote from the Watchtower publication The DIVINE NAME That Will Endure Forever. On page 12 it states;
We can relate to Jesus when we use his name the way it is commonly
pronounced in our language. Similar comments could be made regarding all the
names we read in the Bible. We pronounce them in our own language and do not try
to imitate the original pronunciation… And the same is true with the name Jehovah.
Parts of this publication are included on the Watchtower’s website. You can read the above quote here.
Later, in the same brochure, the Watchtower states on page 25;
Additionally, substituting “Lord” for “Jehovah” removes something of pivotal
importance from the Bible: the personal name of God. The Illustrated Bible
Dictionary (Volume 1, page 572) states: “Strictly speaking, Yahweh is the only
‘name’ of God.
After reading the above quotes, I got to wondering what Jehovah’s Witnesses are called in Israel. If we are to follow the advice to use pronunciations that are common to our own language, and the only pronunciation of the name of God is Yahweh, then shouldn’t Jehovah’s Witnesses in Israel be called Yahweh’s Witnesses? I could only think of one way to find out. I called the Writing/Correspondence department of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society to find out.
I spoke with a man (who refused to give me his name) and asked him the question. As I figured, it was something he had never thought of and was curious about the answer as well. He had no idea how to figure out the answer so I asked him to check for Hebrew speaking congregations in the New York City area. He checked a number of his sources and kept coming to a dead end. There was nothing listed for Hebrew, Israeli, Jewish, Yiddish or any other name we could think of. I couldn’t help but point out to him the irony that there are no Hebrew speaking congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in an area that is filled with Jews.
He said he knew that the names of all Witnesses world wide were based on the English pronunciation of Jehovah, but could not find the pronunciation for the Hebrew language. There was nothing he could do to help me. His last suggestion was to call the branch office in Israel and see if I could find someone who spoke English. I did just that.
I spoke with someone who sounded like an Englishman and asked my question. He told me that when they go door to door, they introduce themselves as Yehovah’s Edei, or Jehovah’s Witnesses. I asked him if they have trouble using that pronunciation and he admitted that they did. He said that Yehovah (Jehovah in the English) is not a recognized usage of God’s name and that they have never heard it. He added that if people have heard the name, it is because they have heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses and not because it is used as God’s Name.
In order to be fair I asked if Jewish householders would recognize the Hebrew pronunciation of Yahweh and he said that they would not. The Jews have been told too many times that God’s name is too holy to pronounce so they would not recognize any pronunciation for God’s name.
It occurred to me after I got off the phone, don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses take pride in the idea that they are the “only ones” using God’s name and teaching people of all languages and cultures that God expects us to use His name? According to the DIVINE NAME brochure shouldn’t people use the pronunciation of God’s name in their own language? If this is all true, then why are Jehovah’s Witnesses using the English pronunciation of a Hebrew word in a Hebrew speaking country? Why aren’t they making God’s name known to the very people whom God chose for Himself and why aren’t they using the pronunciation that would be appropriate for Israel? It certainly does not seem consistent.