Questioning The Name Of God With A Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer

yhwhbible(A Continuation of the last post) After I finished describing my recent trip to Israel, my Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer friend transitioned our conversation to the “Teach” book. His wife was starting to look a little impatient that I had spent so much time talking about Israel and not getting into our study sooner. Little does she know, I could have spoken about that trip for hours. As we discuss different things from the book, I will continue to speak about my time in Israel. I’ve got lots of little truth nuggets I can use later.

JW1 had me read paragraph 11 from chapter one and then asked me the obligatory questions from the bottom of the book. He doesn’t know this yet and I am sure some of my new readers don’t know this either, but I have explained on this blog before how I prefer to ask my own questions instead of having them provided for me. The book has numbered every paragraph and then gives corresponding questions on the bottom of the page. No Bible is needed to answer any of the questions. All the reader has to do is look back up the numbered paragraph and give the answer you just read from the book.

I hate that. If someone asks me a question, I certainly don’t like the idea that not only have they provided me with questions, but they have also provided their answers. I make a conscious effort to give my own answers. I can think on my own, thank you very much.

I once had a two year Bible study with a man who came to Christ because his wife started studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses. We used a study book called “Fundamentals of the Faith” to go through the basic doctrines of Christianity. He was a critical thinker and asked, “What is the difference between us using this book in our study and my wife using a Watchtower publication in her study?” Good question.

I explained that the difference is that the questions in the Watchtower books point right back to their literature, but the questions in our study book point us to the Bible. Our study book doesn’t give the answers. It asks the question and then shows you where to get the answer from the Bible. Granted, there are scripture references in Watchtower publications, but you do not need to even open a Bible to know what it is the Watchtower is teaching. Not so with the guide we were using. We had to go to the Bible to get our answers.

I think JW1 is enjoying the fact that I give my own answers because he will often bring up different verses which agree with my answer. As of yet there aren’t really many differences between my answers and what is found in the Teach book, but my answers are more in-depth.

Things got much more interesting once I read paragraph 14. JW1 asked the question, “What is God’s name and why should we use it?”

KW: I have a different philosophy on this idea. I think we have talked about this before how American Indians have names which actually mean something, character qualities, etc.

JW1: Oh, yeah. How the names have a meaning.

KW: I think that is what the Bible is talking about when it talked about “the name of God.” It is referring more to His character qualities and not necessarily a pronunciation like “Chuck” or “Leroy.” Really? what does those names mean? Yehovah or Yahweh, what do those names mean?

JW1: That is an excellent question.

KW: I think God is more concerned about who He is as a being and like the American Indians did, naming them based on certain character qualities. So what is God trying to tell us about Himself through the many names and titles that He reveals about Himself? I think that is more important.

JW: That is an excellent point and the fact is, God’s name has meaning.

The book mentions an appendix on pages 195-197 which gets into more detail about “God’s name.” We spoke about that for a bit and then I started checking the Hebrew concordance in my Olive Tree Bible app. It comes in handy when my friends claims a certain word means something and then I can read the actual definition straight from the Hebrew or Greek. The Hebrew word “shem” is often translated “name,” but can carry much more of a meaning that just a mere succession of consonants and vowels used as an identifying marker for a person. The Vine’s expository dictionary on my app says of shem, “name; reputation; memory; renown… can be a synonym for ‘reputation’ or ‘fame.’” I read the definition to my JW friends to better establish my view.

We spent a good amount of time in Exodus 3:13-15 where JW1 was trying to prove that God has a personal nameand that He wants us to use it in the American sense of names. I had a hard time trying to explain my view to my previous JW elder friend and again I found myself having trouble. I am not discounting the idea that there is a certain name by which God’s reveals Himself, I am just uncomfortable with the emphasis that the Watchtower places on it. They treat it almost like a magical incantation to make sure God knows to Whom you are praying. It is hard to get my view across to them without them drawing wrong conclusions.

One of their arguments is that if God had his personal name written into the Bible almost 7,000 times, then we should use it because it is obviously important to Him. I asked a clarifying  question. In hopes of getting them to admit that their Bible has inserted it into the New Testament as well.

KW: In the Old Testament?

JW1: Um-hmm, and in the Greek Scriptures as well.

JW2: In the entire Bible almost 7,000 times.

KW: What?

JW1: The Divine name appears almost 7,000 times in the Old and New Testaments.

KW: “Jehovah” in the New Testament?

JW2: In both, yes.

KW: That’s odd.

JW1 made mention of the fact that I was just in Qumran so he wanted to show me pictures in His Bible of where the Divine name appears in the Dead Sea scrolls. I decided to let him make his point instead of ask about why a Hebrew word should be introduced into a Greek text. I’ll stuff that “ace” up my sleeve for later. (Click here to learn more about my tactic of “stuffing aces.”) JW1 continued.

JW1: If you wrote a book and you put you name in it 7,000 times, would that be an indication of whether or not that was important to you?

JW2 giggled as if she was proud of how clever her husband was in asking that question.

KW: Again, I am looking at it from a completely different mindset. I am not trying to minimize the “name,” I just look at it differently. I think the Hebrew mindset was more concerned about the meaning behind whatever particular pronunciation we are talking about. The thought behind it was more important that the word itself. If I can still convey the thought behind the word without actually using that word, I don’t think that is a bad thing.

JW1: Let me ask you a couple of questions about that.

KW: Sure.

JW1: Do you know of any other sentient creatures that don’t have a name?

KW: I’m not saying that God doesn’t have a “name.” What I am saying is that I believe the character behind the name is more important than whatever we choose to call Him.

JW1: Certainly, it is important to Him.

He went back to talking about Exodus 3 and how God’s “name” was a memorial to be used until time indefinite and that it was how He wanted to be remembered.

KW: Here is what I am trying to say. When I think “name” in the context of a Hebrew, I think the word “reputation.”

JW1: I understand, I get that.

KW: So when God says, “This is My memorial name,” I automatically hear, “This is My reputation, this is how I am to be remembered.”

JW1: But you said that God has a name.

KW: Yes, He has many names.

JW1: But only one of them appears 7,000 times in the Bible.

JW2: And all the others are titles.

JW1: There is one time where God’s name is said to be “jealous,” but compare that to 7,000 times…

KW: That’s a good point about “God’s name being jealous.” It is a quality that God is trying to communicate that He wants exclusive devotion and not allowing His people to worship false gods.

JW1: What about God’s commandment not to use God’s name in a worthless way?

KW: I hear “reputation” as soon as you say “name.”

JW1 laughed at that and then asked, “How can someone use a reputation in a worthless way?”

KW: Well, I think that is the only way you could do it because if I were to say, “Bob damn it,” that wouldn’t mean anything. But if I change it… you know what I’m saying?

Both JWs smiled, giggled and nodded their heads. They knew what I was saying. That gave me an idea of a question to ask, but I wanted to hold on to it for later. I decided to tell this story instead.

KW: Our pastor has said from the pulpit, “If you want to curse, use my name as a curse word, ‘Robert Emmitt!’ If you say if fast, it almost sounds like it anyway.”

Both JWs giggled again.

KW: The point is, who is He that I should curse by Him? One reason why people curse, or take the name of God in vain is because they try to take whatever is most holy and defame it, but I can’t really do that with “Bob,”  Robert,” or whoever. The irony here is that God is the only one you can do that with. Taking someone else “name in vain” doesn’t mean anything.

JW1 wanted to look at Exodus three again and kept insisting that God’s “name” is a certain pronunciation instead of a reputation and that is why Moses wanted to know God’s name so that he could inform the rest of the Hebrews.

JW1: It is in this context that Moses asks God for His name.  In verse 13 it says, “But Moses said to the true God: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your forefathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is his name?’ What should I say to them?”

KW: This context supports the idea of reputation much more so than just a mere label.

JW1: But they specifically asked, “What is His name?”

KW: That’s what it meant.

JW1: There is a different Hebrew word for “reputation” than there is for “name.”

I had never heard that before. JW1 had a look on his face that I had not seen before. I got the impression that he knew he was saying more than what he actually knew as fact. He was reaching so I asked him to verify his claim.

KW: What is the Hebrew word for reputation?

JW1: Um… Vine’s Expository dictionary should have it.

He knew I had that book included in my bible app so I started looking for it. The best I could come up with was what I have already discussed above. A person’s label and reputation are often times connected and it takes the context to figure out which word should be used. The problem is that when Jehovah’s Witnesses think of the word “name” in the context of God, they automatically stop thinking and just assume the Bible is talking about the English pronunciation of “Jehovah.”

I made a mistake and told him that I would look into this more when I got home. I should have asked him to look it up since it was his claim, but I got carried away into proving my point instead of insisting that he back up his own claim.  JW1 decided to look at another verse and asked me to read 1 Chronicles 29:13  from my translation.

KW: “Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name.”  The word “name” in the Hebrew is the same word we’ve been talking about, “shem.” My strong’s dictionary says, “byword, defamed, defames, fame, famous, memorial, name, names, named, renowned, report, repute.”

JW1: So you see the correlation there, just like what we have been talking about.

KW: This is exactly my point. In the mind of a Jew, names and reputation are sometimes synonymous. What I believe is more important in the case with God is the character qualities which the name reflects and not a mere pronunciation.

JW1: Yeah, it’s not like the name is some kind of talisman or something… yeah… your translation says, “we thank you and praise your glorious name.” How about Psalm 9:10?

KW: “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.”  It is the same Hebrew word, “shem.”

JW1: How about Psalm 79:9?

KW: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your name; And deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.” Yes, it fits perfectly with, “for Your reputation’s sake.”

JW1: Okay, how about Ezekiel 39:25?

KW: Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name. “

JW1: So how does God feel about His name?

I thought this was funny. We went to verse after verse and every one of them communicated the idea of God’s reputation over a certain pronunciation. He made no comment about those verses, but as soon as we came across one that he thought supported his conclusion, he sat back confidently in the booth and asks what he thinks is a trap question for me.

KW: You mean His reputation?

JW1: It says “name.”

KW: It does in the English.

JW1: (laughing) You can replace it if you want, but it says, “name.”

KW: I’m looking at the Hebrew. The same word is used here and has been used in all of the verses we have looked at. The idea of reputation fits this context much better than a simple pronunciation. I feel like you are trying to make a distinction between what we call God and who He is. I think that is a very American way to look at it when I’m sitting here looking at a Hebrew word which can give both ideas at the same time.

My Witness friend again made the point that the tetragrammaton appears in the Bible 7,000 times so it must be important.

KW: Do you know what it means to “beg the question?”

JW1: No.

KW: Begging the question is when you assume the conclusion within one of your propositions. It is a logic thing and is also called “circular reasoning.”

I didn’t get to finish my thought before he interjected.

JW1: Well that’s one way to look at it or another way is that there is only one answer to the question.

Thank you for making my point. Things started to get a little tense and I could see JW2’s frustration building so I decided to keep quiet and give a complete definition and example of begging the question later.

JW1: Do you think it is possible to have a close relationship to somebody without knowing their name?

KW: Absolutely.

They were dumbfounded.

JW1: Really?

KW: When did your children learn your name? My children were a couple of years old before they realized that I had a name. But they did know me by a title which is much more dear to me than my own name. There are only three people in the world who have the right to call me that. If some other kid calls me “Daddy,” I’m freaking out.

They both laughed at that.

JW1: Who calls God, “Daddy?”

KW: We are all supposed to if we have a relationship with Him.

JW1: If I brought someone with me to our next meeting and I told you that I was so glad that you could meet him because he is my best friend, but then didn’t know his name, what would you think of that?

KW: Sure, I see your point and I think it is a good one, I just don’t think it is always true. The reason why I say that is because of my friend, “Chip,” the guy that I went to Israel with. I knew him for years before I found out that his given name is Daniel. His real name isn’t important to me and I could care less because I have a relationship with him, he is my friend, I love him and he loves me back. The reason why the name “Chip” is special to him is because it is meant that he is just like his Dad. “He is a chip off the old block.” You’ve heard that expression.

JW1: Right, I see, but are you going to call him, “The guy I went to Israel with?”  Or are you going to call him Chip?

KW: I’m going to call him Chip.

JW: Right, because that’s what he wants to be called. What did Jehovah say He wanted to be called in Exodus chapter three?

KW: God said it was a “memorial name” and I’m sorry, but when I hear that, I still hear “reputation.” He wants us to remember who He is. If His name was Bob, Chuck or Leroy, those names wouldn’t mean anything. The whole reason why the Hebrews wanted to know God’s “name” was because they wanted to know who He was as an entity. It was what His name meant that calmed their fears. Not the pronunciation of it. Can you image Moses telling the Jews, “Don’t worry, Leroy is with us.” Leroy? Who is he and why should I be happy about him?

I do have a question for you though.

JW1: Sure.

KW: Why is this issue so important to you?

JW1: Because it is important to Jehovah.

He went on explaining How God was zealously defending His name and the fact that it is included in the Bible 7,000 times. The reason why I asked the question is because I wanted to switch the angle of our conversation. Jehovah’s Witnesses contend earnestly for what they believe is the English pronunciation of God’s name, but if God’s name, His actual name is so important to Him like they say it is…

KW: I know the Bible gives lots of names for God and there are various pronunciations for those names, so if God wants me to call Him by His actual name, then which pronunciation should I use and why?

JW1: What language do you speak?

JW2 has a habit of giggling when she thinks her husband gives a smart response. JW1 opened his Bible to page 1742 to show me a list of more than 120 languages where the Divine name appears in the main text of the Christian Greek Scriptures. I am guessing that this is a list of how the Watchtower has inserted “Jehovah” into their translations of these languages.

KW: Why is this list about the New Testament? If God’s name is important and He revealed it in Hebrew, then why wouldn’t we call him by His Hebrew name?

JW1: These are where God’s name is recorded in Greek Scriptures. When Jesus used it or Paul wrote it.

KW: So Jesus spoke Hebrew in the New Testament?

JW1: No, but He used God’s name.

KW: Which is a Hebrew word.

JW1: We have evidence of that. Do you see these manuscripts here?

He turned to page 1738 on his Bible and explained that it was the Greek Bible in Jesus’ day.

KW: Which was the Old Testament.

JW1: Right, even though the rest of the text is in Greek, God’s name is in Hebrew.

KW: So then, why don’t we do that today?

JW1: Leave it in Hebrew?

KW: If that is what they did then.

Both of them were stunned. JW2 had a panicky look on her face, It got worse as JW1 tried to answer the question.

JW1: Well… because…this is a Hebrew word…it doesn’t… that would be like…because it’s someone’s name…rather than an expression…

He was lost and he knew it. JW2 looked frightened. I couldn’t believe I have never thought about this point before. Actually, I didn’t think of it. It just sort of fell out of my mouth. I was almost as stunned at what I said as they were. It makes sense though. If the Watchtower provides Greek manuscripts of the Old testament and claim that God’s name is so important that the Hebrew tetragrammaton was included in a foreign language, then why not continue the same practice today? Why not use the original Hebrew characters for God’s name? If the first century Christians included the Hebrew word for God’s name, then shouldn’t we do the same thing today? Why should we have to settle for an English pronunciation?

KW: If they are using a Greek translation of the Old Testament, but they still use the Hebrew characters, then why don’t we use the Hebrew if it is that important of an issue?

JW1: Well, because… we don’t speak Hebrew.

KW: Neither did they. Those using the Septuagint spoke Greek.

JW1: This indicates that it is the name, not the expression that is important and that the name was made distinct from the rest of the text.

KW: Which is what we should be doing today then. If I am following your argument correctly, then if they, in the Greek,  wrote Hebrew characters into the Greek, then why don’t we have Hebrew characters in our English?

JW1: Well, that’s a question for scholars to answer, but we can go back to the 1800’s… for example…the Emphatic Diaglott? I don’t know if you are familiar with that…it’s a very famous… it translates it, “Jehovah.”

KW: I don’t see how that…

JW1 (Continues rambling and scrambling) …there’s a Hawaiian language translation…there’s a long standing policy to… translate it into the language that the people… uh, speak… that’s why there are 120 …things.

KW: I don’t see the consistency. If Jesus used the Hebrew while speaking another language, and that is the example we are supposed to follow, then we should be doing the same thing today. I mentioned that my pastor’s name is Robert. He doesn’t want to be called Rob, or Robby. He doesn’t like that. They are both forms of his name, but he prefers to be called Robert. Granted, he hasn’t told us 7,000 times in a book he has written. Obviously it isn’t as important to him as it supposedly is to God, but if God reveals to us His memorial name and He gives it to us in Hebrew… And then the Hebrew is written into other languages, then why are we using an English pronunciation of it? Why wouldn’t we also use the Hebrew?

JW1: That’s a good question. All I can say is that they have done this ever since they have been translating into Latin.

This gave me an idea.

KW: Let’s role play here for a second. Let’s say that I am a purist in the sense that we need to use the pronunciation, “Yahweh.” I could make the case that you are trying to make people forget God’s real name because you are insisting on an English pronunciation that didn’t even exist during the time of Christ. So, if we are really going to remember God’s name, His memorial name, which is so important that He used it 7,000 times, we should be using Yahweh because there isn’t even a “Jay” sound in the Hebrew language.

JW1: (laughing) Right.

KW: So, who is being faithful to God’s name and who is trying to get people to use a different name? Again, this is just role play.

JW2 looked uncomfortable again. She tried to play it off by smiling, but the rest of her body language was saying something different.

JW1: Let me ask you this. What name do we use for the Son of God?

KW: Jesus.

JW1: What’s His Hebrew name?

KW: Joshua or probably Yoshua or Yeshua.

JW1: Why don’t we call Jesus “Yeshua?”

KW: If you are going to be a purist, then you should, but I’m not the one making a big deal about His name.

My Witness friend saw my point, but tried to redeem himself by continuing to push an already lost argument. It was time for them to go as they mentioned earlier that they needed to leave by a certain time. As we began to wrap up our meeting, I emphasized the idea that I really want to understand their view and why this topic is so important to them. I also want them to think about the inconsistency. Both of them were stumped toward the end of our meeting and they definitely have a lot to think about.

Please pray for my Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer friends.

10 Thoughts on “Questioning The Name Of God With A Jehovah’s Witness Pioneer

  1. God bless you in your efforts! I am taking a course in inductive Bible Study — aka, learning to read the Bible and observe what the text says for myself rather than rely on others interpretation. All my life as a witness it was pressing your beliefs onto the text vs. letting the text speak to you before drawing your conclusions — amazing and eye opening!!!

  2. I have never heard this reasoning on God’s name before KW. You made some very good points, in particular, the circular reasoning, and beg the question. These are very common approaches for JW’s and glad you pointed this out in this discussion. As you know, JW’s argue that it does not matter whether the pronunciation of the word Jehovah is accurate or not, what’s important is that God is distinguished by a personal name. However, isn’t it incongruous that the word Jehovah mixes God’s name with the very superstition that caused it to stop being used in the first place?

  3. The ancient picture language for Yahweh is incredible. The Yood is a hand, the Hey is a window which represents or means to reveal, and the Vav is a nail, a tent peg. Yood, Hey, Vav, Hey. So the name Yahweh means: The hand revealed, the nail revealed.

  4. Brilliantly done! It perfectly illustrates God’s power to speak through the mouth of His instruments (Mark 13:11).

    One thing I would like to add to your reasoning is the concept of stewardship. When God speaks of His name in scripture, I agree with you completely that He’s regarding His reputation, His attributes, the essence of who He IS. That said, to “take His name in vain” wouldn’t be so much an utterance as it would be an action, sullying that reputation in some fashion.

    Take, for example, a stock broker. When you give the broker your money, you are giving him stewardship over your money, to view and manage your money not as “his” money but rather to manage it on the rightful owner’s behalf — yours. He is to manage your money under your authority. In your name.

    Similarly, when we pray something “in Jesus’ name” or do something “in God’s name”, we are operating under borrowed authority, as an act of stewardship regarding something that does not belong to us, but is nevertheless entrusted to us.

    In the same way, when the OT and NT speak of God’s name, just as it is referencing His identity and reputation, it is carrying a note of responsibility with it, a gravity that should warn the individual “taking” that name that it is BORROWED from the rightful owner, and should be exercised with stewardship.

    Just a thought. Again, brilliant blogpiece :)

  5. raymondaldridge on June 11, 2014 at 8:28 pm said:

    This is great Keith and I like your careful and tactical approach, as JW’s are keen to trip you up, or give reason to suggest you don’t have a valid point.One thing worked for me which might be in your methods, is to pull a JW to a line of reasoning where the punch line is waiting at the end, this way they have said so much that they can’t just back away from the conclusive point ( possible your trump card) and thereby almost forced to accept your point. I know this may sound sneaky but it is the only way to get a JW to carry on in the conversation, otherwise if said early on, they will fear this is a lost argument and then look to find a way out, as they hate to lose an argument.

  6. Isabella Botticelli on June 11, 2014 at 9:37 pm said:

    Great observation about the Hebrew name in the Greek transcripts!

  7. Great reasoning!!!

  8. sally on June 12, 2014 at 3:30 am said:

    Fantastic discussion with jw!! They are most adamant about the name, and this argument is difficult to win with them!! Great job!!

  9. Lisa Porter on June 13, 2014 at 11:43 am said:

    Another great question to ask would be, “What happens if I don’t call God ‘Jehovah’?”

    I’m trying to show a JW friend that God’s love for me is not conditionally granted only when I ‘show my appreciation’ through obedience to His commands. The greatest expression of love is always shown when it is unearned.

  10. As far as I know there is no Hebrew name for God in the Greek Scriptures….right?

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