The cover article of the January 15, 2011 issue of the Watchtower is entitled “Take Refuge in the Name of Jehovah” (3-6). The title is based on Zephaniah 3:12, which the article announces is “the yeartext for 2011” (6), that is, the theme verse for all Jehovah’s Witnesses for this year.
The article repeats some of the stock Jehovah’s Witness claims regarding the divine name Jehovah. It accuses “apostate Christendom” of “manifest hatred of God’s name” (4). Religious leaders have “hidden the identity of the true God from millions upon millions of worshippers” (5). By contrast, “Jehovah’s Witnesses honor and glorify the divine name” (5). This remains part of the mythology of Jehovah’s Witness religion in its demonization of practically every aspect of traditional Christianity. Anyone who has spent much time in evangelical churches, for example, knows this is a myth. The name Jehovah and such Old Testament (OT) compound forms as Jehovah-jireh are part of evangelical piety and hymnody (even in contemporary choruses). The American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 used Jehovah throughout its OT, and the Holman Christian Standard Bible, one of the newest evangelical English versions of the Bible, uses Yahweh in its OT.
Quoting Romans 10:13 in the New World Translation (NWT), “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved,” the article comments, “There is a connection between calling on Jehovah’s name and the resulting salvation by him” (4). What the article does not mention, and Jehovah’s Witnesses will not acknowledge, is that the original Greek text of Romans 10:13 certainly said, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord [Greek, kurios] will be saved.” The libraries and museums of the world house hundreds of manuscript copies of Romans in Greek, hundreds if not thousands more manuscript copies of Romans in other ancient languages (such as Latin), and none of them use any form of the Hebrew name YHWH; all of them say “Lord” in this verse. One of the earliest and most important of all New Testament (NT) manuscripts, the Chester Beatty papyrus (P46), dated about AD 200, contains Romans 10, and it has kurios just as do all of the other copies of that passage. The Greek NT consistently uses kurios (or occasionally theos, “God”), never YHWH in any form, when quoting OT texts that have YHWH in Hebrew. In context, Jesus is identified as this “Lord” (compare Romans 10:13 with Romans 10:9-12). Probably the main reason why the Watchtower uses “Jehovah” selectively in the NT portion of its NWT is to obscure the fact that in passages like this one Jesus is identified as the Lord Jehovah.
Ironically, despite its citation of Romans 10:13, nowhere in the article is anything said about faith in Jesus Christ or what he did for salvation. Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses do affirm (elsewhere) that they believe in Christ, but the omission is telling. The main point of Romans 10 is that faith in Jesus as Lord is the way to salvation that unbelieving Jews in Paul’s day missed. While belief in Jesus (or at least beliefs about Jesus) is in some sense part of the Jehovah’s Witness religion, salvation is essentially found by “calling on the name of Jehovah,” engaging in the “true worship” of Jehovah separate from that of “apostate Christendom,” and “serving as his Witnesses.” To serve as his Witnesses means “to preach the good news of the Kingdom” and “share with others the correct understanding of God’s Kingdom and how it will sanctify his name” (3-6). In short, one’s salvation is the result of being a practicing, active Jehovah’s Witness. This is “salvation” by religion.
The omission of any reference to faith in Christ or to what he has done for our salvation is all the more significant when one considers how the NT understands what it means to “seek refuge in the name of Jehovah.” The NT does not directly quote Zephaniah 3:12, but it has much to say that echoes what Zephaniah says about how people must respond to Jehovah. In particular, language and themes regarding Jehovah found in Zephaniah and other OT prophets are applied in the NT to Jesus Christ. This is sometimes less clear in the NWT because of its use of “Jehovah” in the OT and its selective use of that name in the NT, as is the case in Romans 10:9-13. However, the connections are often clear enough even in the NWT or in any other version:
(1) Zephaniah’s message is “the word of the LORD” (Jehovah, 1:1; 2:5). The message of the apostles was “the word of the Lord” Jesus (see Acts 8:25; 13:44, 48-49; 15:35-36; 16:32; 19:10; see also 1 Thess. 1:8; 4:15, cf. 4:16-17; 2 Thess. 3:1).
(2) Zephaniah, like the prophets Joel (1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14) and Isaiah (13:6, 9), spoke repeatedly of “the day of the LORD” (Zeph. 1:7, 14), a day of his wrath and anger against the wicked (1:18; 2:2). Paul understands this prophetic motif to speak of “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14), “the day of (Jesus) Christ” (Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16). This is what he understands to be “the day of the Lord” (see also 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:1-2).
(3) Zephaniah’s message was that God’s people could be saved from that Day of Judgment by turning to the Lord in faith: they “shall all call upon the name of the LORD” and “shall not be put to shame” (Zeph. 3:9, 11). These statements also echo the prophecies of Joel and Isaiah. Joel had prophesied, “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD [Jehovah] will be saved” (Joel 2:32), the very verse that Paul quotes in reference to Jesus in Romans 10:13 (see also Acts 2:21). Paul also describes Christians as those “who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). Isaiah had written that God was laying a foundation or cornerstone in Zion, “and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (Is. 28:16). Paul also applies this statement to the Lord Jesus (Rom. 9:33; 10:11; see also 1 Peter 2:6-7).
These three points show us that from a NT perspective, we are to interpret the message of Zephaniah in the light of Jesus Christ, as pointing forward quite specifically to him as the ultimate, eternal Savior and Judge. This is, of course, what we should expect based on Jesus’ explicit teaching that the whole OT pointed forward to him and finds its fulfillment in him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). Yet Christ is at most tangential to the Watchtower’s interpretation of the message of Zephaniah. Yes, judgment is coming, on those who are really apostates (who have abandoned faith in Christ) and on the whole unbelieving world. Deliverance from that judgment is to be found, however, in appealing to the Lord Jesus, calling on him for salvation, and trusting in his mercy. He is indeed the Lord on whose name we must call, the Lord in whom we must take refuge. To miss this is, according to the NT, to miss what the book of Zephaniah and the rest of the OT are really all about.