I love it when God shows up. There are times when God arranges things in such a way that it completely undermines the arguments presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Such was the case today. My Witness elder buddy and our other frequent guest showed up at our meeting place. We chatted for about 20 minutes before we got into our study.
One of the things my friend mentioned was that he had to leave by a certain time because his air conditioner recently went out. Although Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in hell, summer in south Texas is almost enough to get them to rethink their theology. I told him about a guy we used who recently fixed our air conditioner and gave him his name and phone number. I had no idea at the time that God was going to use that to get my friend’s attention.When we started our theological conversation, my friend asked, “What shall we talk about today?” I thought that was a strange question since I gave him a copy of my list of verses last week which detailed the use of the word “name” in the book of Acts. I had my copy sitting on the table. Before I could answer, he launched into a discourse about how important it is that we use the name Jehovah.
I felt like we were starting all over again. He restated a bunch of the same information that we covered last week. I figured that it was for the sake of the other Jehovah’s Witness who joined us today. He is a new Witness who was raise Catholic and was baptized as a Witness earlier this year. I have noticed that when the other Witness comes to our meetings, my elder friend tends to be a little less patient and a little more defensive.
He made mention of a question I asked him last week about what was more important, what we call someone or what their reputation is. He then stated that the two are inseparable. I took a mental note of that and wanted to address it later. As he continued talking, he gave me two illustrations. The first was of a patient in a hospital who is dying. If a friend came to that person and told the patient that at one time they had the same symptoms and then informed them about a doctor who had the skill to help them, had a wonderful bed-side manner and saved their life, obviously the patient is going to want to know the name of the doctor.
The second illustration was of a man wanting to introduce his girlfriend to his mother. The man is going to give extensive details about this girl to his mother and what is the first question the mother will ask? I answered, “What is her name?”
JW: That is correct. The mother will want to know who this person is who has those qualities.
KW: When you mentioned earlier that you can’t separate a name from a reputation, I agree with that to some extent, but I don’t think the two are interchangeable. When you gave me the illustration with the doctor…
I then stopped my point because our earlier conversation came to mind about my recommendation for someone to fix his air-conditioner. I switched gears.
KW: …let me get back to that. When I told you about the guy we used to fix our air-conditioner, I didn’t tell you his name until you were already impressed with his reputation. His name really doesn’t matter. It could be Chuck, Leroy or whatever. It really doesn’t matter. It is his reputation that we are more interested in because you want to know if he can do the job I said he could do and how he can save you money. It is his reputation that is on the line. What we call him really doesn’t matter.
“It is the same thing with the doctor. When you started with the illustration with the doctor, you start off with the reputation. This guy can help you because he is an expert in his field. The only reason I would ask for a name is so that I could identify that person. His name doesn’t make him any more of an expert.”
“When a man introduces his girlfriend to his mother, she only wants to know the name so that she can call her by something. If the man told his mother that he had a new girlfriend and the mother wants to know the name, she isn’t going to tell her son that he can’t date her simply because she didn’t like her name. She wants to know who the woman is. If the man told his mother that his girlfriend worked at the strip club down the road, the mother isn’t going to care what her name is. The point is, the reputation is more important than the name.”
“When it comes to God, I believe His name is Yahweh. I don’t know the correct pronunciation of it and I really don’t think He cares as long as I know who He is. I can’t picture God in heaven looking down on me and saying, “You have to call me ‘Jehovah.’” Like I mentioned last week, my kids were a couple of years old before they even realized I had a name. They just called me Dad and still do. If I were to change me name from Keith to Carl, it wouldn’t really matter to them because the content of my character has not changed. I am still who I am. I am their father who loves them and protects, provides for and has a relationship with them. So if it came down to one of the two, if I could only choose between one, I’d pick reputation over pronunciation every time.”
I don’t usually speak for extended periods of time when I am witnessing in a setting like this because I don’t want to dominate the conversation. I want to make sure that I remain in the student role and not come across like I am teaching. I took the liberty to speak more this time because I believe that God gave me an opportunity with the illustrations he gave me and particularly the point about the air-conditioner repairman. This is why I encourage people to spend a great deal of their witnessing time listening to the person you are trying to reach. Sometimes God gives you direction in what to say from the things that the Jehovah’s Witnesses say to you. This made quite an impact on my Witness friend because I could see his left eye twitching as I spoke. I have never noticed this happening before.
After I finished my sermon, my Witness buddy brought up Romans 10:13 which reads in the New World Translation, “For everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” He used the verse to prove that we have to actually verbalize the name Jehovah’s or we cannot be saved. Rather than get into the context of that passage and show them that this passage actually refers to Jesus, I just asked my friend if he had the Greek Bible that he has always brought with him. I asked because I have one at home myself and I know that the Greek word in the verse is “Lord” while the NWT translates it as Jehovah. He said he didn’t have it with him. I didn’t see if he had it in his book bag or not, but he has always brought that book with him in the past. I think he was either lying about it or purposefully did not bring the book just in case I asked about seeing it. I then asked him a question.
KW: I need to ask you a question about this concept to see exactly how far you are going with this. Are you saying that if someone looks at Romans 10:13 and calls upon the name of the LORD, but doesn’t use the pronunciation, ‘Jehovah,’ then that person cannot be saved?”
JW: That is part of it, yes.
KW: So it is that important that I use and English pronunciation of a foreign word? What is God’s deal with the English language?
My Witness buddy followed the Watchtower playbook and instead of answering my question, he presented a mini-sermon about how important it is that we use God’s name. He made reference to other verses, but continued to assume that whenever the Bible talks about God’s name, it is referring to a specific pronunciation. He also made the point that the Churches have done a lousy job of teaching people that God has a name by which He can be called. I agreed with him and stated that there are a lot of “baby Christians” who do not know what they need to know about what they profess to believe. I likened it back to my children, who at one point in their lives, didn’t know my name. I restated that my children know my name now, but they do not use it because it would be disrespectful. I again took great issue with the idea that I need to use an English pronunciation of a foreign word for “God’s name” if I want to be saved.
One of the things I like to do when getting into a conversation that could get contentious is to bring humor into the situation. Once I started joking about names and how some nicknames don’t make much sense, (Chuck for Charles, Dick for Richard, etc.) my two Witness buddies starting joking along with me. We completely got off the subject of God’s name, but it was good to reconnect with them on a human level and forget the religious stuff for a bit. Since they come from different cultures with another language, we joked around about names for close to 10 minutes. Without realizing it, both of them were agreeing with me that pronunciations are really nowhere near as important as a person’s reputation. This is another “Ace” I stuffed up my sleeve.
Once the jokes ran out, my elder buddy pulled out a Watchtower brochure titled, “The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever.” On page eight there is a short list of spellings for the name “Jehovah” in various languages. I have studied this publication before so I knew what was missing from that list.
KW: Why doesn’t this list include a Hebrew pronunciation?
JW: (Stunned) That would be nice. There is a congregation of Witnesses in Jerusalem and I would be curious about that.
KW: If a pronunciation is so important, then we should go with what they call God there.
JW: I am sure that the Witnesses in the congregation there use God’s name.
KW: How would we find that out?
JW: I don’t know.
I do know. When I was preparing for a presentation on the Divine Name at the Witnesses Now for Jesus Convention in 2007, I made a phone call to the branch office in Israel. I was told that they base their pronunciation of “God’s name” off of the English pronunciation of the word “Jehovah.” I was also informed that they do this with EVERY language. It is always based off of the English, never the Hebrew.
KW: I would think that if it were so important… here is my point. I am not saying that we shouldn’t use the name or that it isn’t important. I am saying that if it is so important that unless I use this name, I can’t be saved, then it should be the correct name. I should be using that name and not an English pronunciation of it.
“I really wanted to know what you thought about my study. If using the name “Jehovah” is so important, then why the de-emphasis of it in the book of Acts? What did you think about it?”
JW: Honestly, I didn’t read it.
KW: I really want to get your opinion on this because if it is so important, I don’t understand why in the book of Acts, “name” refers to Jehovah only three times, yet refers to Jesus 32 times. Why did the first century disciples put so much more of an emphasis on the name Jesus?
My elder buddy went into another damage control, mini-sermon which really didn’t address my question at all. He started showing me quotations and pictures from Watchtower literature showing the use of the name Jehovah. He even read a part of their literature which admitted that they really don’t know how God’s name was originally pronounced. I took another shot and again inquired about the insistence of using an English pronunciation for a foreign word we don’t know how to pronounce.
JW: Well, then why are you not consistent and use the correct pronunciation the names Jeremiah or Jesus?
KW: I’m not the one making a big deal out of it and saying that my salvation is in jeopardy unless I use a certain pronunciation. I’m fine with English, Spanish or any other pronunciation of it. It just doesn’t make sense to me that unless I use an English pronunciation of a foreign word, God will not accept me. I don’t get that at all.
(My buddy sighed out loud and was clearly frustrated.)
JW: Look, I am not saying that you do not have a relationship with God. I am just saying that you can have a closer one.
KW: So I can have a closer relationship with God if I use the magical pronunciation, “Jehovah?” I am sorry, but this is the word which comes to mind, idolatry. It would be easy for me to make an idol out of God’s name instead of worshipping the person the name represents. It goes overboard to say that I have to use an English pronunciation of a foreign word or I am damned. It just comes across to me as idolatry.
My Elder buddy needed to leave at this point because it was near the time he said he needed to go. I was surprised and a bit annoyed that he never bothered to look at my study. Hopefully by next week he will have studied it. Please pray with me that my two Witness friends will do some serious business with God about this issue.