Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that the New Testament originally contained the Hebrew divine name יהוה (YHWH, usually spelled “Yahweh”) or some equivalent form, but that scribes in the second century systematically replaced it with the noun κύριος (kurios, “Lord”) or occasionally θεός (theos, “God”). To correct this alleged problem, they have inserted the name “Jehovah” into the New Testament portion of their official Bible, the New World Translation, some 237 times. The main reason for rejecting this claim is that the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament uniformly attest to the lack of the Tetragrammaton (the technical term for the four-consonant name Yahweh) or any equivalent form except for “Yah” in the expression “Hallelu-Yah” (“Praise Yah”) found four times in Revelation 19:1-6. Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to defend the implausible conspiracy theory that the second-century church, with no centralized authority or bureaucracy, completely eliminated all occurrences of the name Yahweh in all surviving manuscripts. Not only is this claim highly implausible, there are internal evidences in the New Testament text that confirm the accuracy of the manuscripts.
Here’s one fairly simple example. Consider Ephesians 6:1-9 in the NWT (2013 edition), shown below with expressions using the Greek word for “Lord” in brackets and the English wording emphasized:
1 Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord [κυρίῳ], for this is righteous.
2 “Honor your father and your mother” is the first command with a promise:
3 “That it may go well with you and you may remain a long time on the earth.”
4 And fathers, do not be irritating your children,
but go on bringing them up in the discipline and admonition of Jehovah [κυρίου].
5 Slaves, be obedient to your human masters [τοῖς κατὰ σάρκα κυρίοις],
with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your hearts,
as to the Christ,
6 not only when being watched, just to please men,
but as Christ’s slaves doing the will of God whole-souled.
7 Slave with a good attitude,
as to Jehovah [τῷ κυρίῳ] and not to men,
8 for you know that whatever good each one does,
he will receive this back from Jehovah [κυρίου],
whether he is a slave or a freeman.
9 Also, you masters [οἱ κύριοι], keep treating them in the same way, not threatening,
for you know that both their Master [ὁ κύριός] and yours is in the heavens,
and there is no partiality with him.
This entire passage presents a train of thought that depends on the use of κύριος (“Lord,” “Master”) five times in the singular to refer to the heavenly, divine Lord and twice in the plural to refer to earthly masters. This comparison is obvious in verse 9, even in the NWT, where “you masters” (literally “the masters,” or just “masters”) are reminded that their conduct will be judged by the heavenly “Master” of both the human masters and their slaves. It was impossible for the NWT to translate κύριός in verse 9 as “Jehovah” because of the possessive pronouns translated “their” and “yours” (in Greek, αὐτῶν καὶ ὑμῶν). Yet in three other places the NWT does translate κύριός as “Jehovah” (vv. 4, 7, and 8). Can this be justified?
One might imagine that the use or non-use of the Greek article (often translated in English with the definite article the) could be a factor, but this passage clearly shows it is not. The Greek noun κύριός has the article in verse 7 and is translated there as “Jehovah,” while it does not have the article in the two other places where it is translated “Jehovah” (vv. 4, 8). On the other hand, κύριός does not have the article in verse 1 but is there translated “Lord.” So the Greek article has no bearing or relevance with regard to whether the noun is being treated as a substitute for the divine name Yahweh.
The usual rationale that the Watchtower Society gives for using the name “Jehovah” rather than “Lord” (or “Master”) in New Testament occurrences of κύριός is that the occurrence in context is part of a quotation from the Old Testament in which the corresponding word in the Hebrew text is the name Yahweh. However, there is no such quotation in this passage in Ephesians. The closest is the expression “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (v. 4 ESV, NASB, NET, NRSV), which alludes to the Old Testament expression “the discipline of the Lord” (Deut. 11:2; Prov. 3:11; Isa. 50:5; see also Heb. 12:5). It is reasonable to understand Ephesians 6:4 to be alluding to this expression, perhaps more specifically to Proverbs 3:11 (where a father is exhorting his son to accept “the discipline of the Lord,” which is what Paul was telling fathers to do). Does this mean, though, that Paul originally used the name Yahweh in this text?
The answer to that question is No. The same interplay on the singular and plural forms of κύριός we see in verse 9 is also found in verses 4-5. After speaking of “the discipline and admonition of the Lord [κυρίου],” Paul immediately says, “Slaves, obey your human masters [κυρίοις].” The word “human” here translates the phrase κατὰ σάρκα, which literally means “according to the flesh.” This phrase is a distinctively Pauline expression (found in the Bible only in his epistles) and is sometimes used, as here, to qualify a term as referring to human beings or things associated with human beings. Here are other clear examples:
- “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3 ESV).
- “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?” (Rom. 4:1 ESV).
- “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3 ESV).
- “…whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 9:5 NASB).
In each of the above texts, Paul added “according to the flesh” to make explicit that he was speaking of human relations in contrast to relations with God. Jesus is descended, humanly speaking, from David, even though he is actually God’s Son. Abraham is our forefather because he was literally the ancestor of all Jews, though for believers ultimately God is their father. Paul was concerned for the salvation of those who were his kinsmen by physical relationship, as distinguished from those who as fellow children of God are his brothers in the faith. Christ came from the Jews, physically speaking, but again he is ultimately not from them but “is over all, God blessed forever.” Likewise, in Ephesians 6:5 Paul tells slaves to obey their masters “according to the flesh” in contrast to their real, ultimate Master. Having just referred to “the Lord” (κυρίου), Paul qualifies his reference to τοῖς κυρίοις (“the lords,” “the masters”) by inserting the qualifying phrase κατὰ σάρκα (“according to the flesh”). Notice how close the words are together in Greek:
…ἐν παιδείᾳ καὶ νουθεσίᾳ κυρίου. Οἱ δοῦλοι, ὑπακούετε τοῖς κατὰ σάρκα κυρίοις…
…in [the] discipline and instruction of [the] Lord. Slaves, obey the according-to-the-flesh masters…
Given this context and Paul’s usage elsewhere, it is reasonably certain that Paul adds the otherwise redundant expression κατὰ σάρκα to qualify τοῖς κυρίοις because he had just used the same noun in the singular (κυρίου) to refer to the divine Lord. So now we have contextual confirmation that the Greek manuscripts of Ephesians are correct here: Paul indeed originally wrote κυρίου, not some form of the name Yahweh. Having made this qualification once, Paul did not need to make it explicit in verse 9, where he again refers to “masters” in the plural in contrast to the heavenly Master or Lord of all.
The finding that Paul used κύριός throughout this passage, and not a form of the Tetragrammaton or any equivalent, has great significance for our understanding of the passage. It means that Christ is the divine figure to whom Paul refers throughout the passage. We can see this easily by simply listing Paul’s statements as they refer to the “Lord” along with his references to Christ:
- Children are to obey their parents in the Lord (v. 1).
- Parents are to bring up their children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (v. 4).
- Servants are to act with fear and trembling as though they were obeying Christ (v. 5),
- They are to obey even when men don’t see them because they are servants of Christ (v. 6).
- They are to serve as though they were doing their service for the Lord and not just for men (v. 7).
- They should serve that way because they know that they will receive their reward from the Lord (v. 8).
- Masters are to treat their servants well, knowing that they both have the same Master in heaven (v. 9).
The “Lord” or “Master” throughout this passage is clearly the same person twice referred to as “Christ.” Slaves or servants are to act as servants of Christ (vv. 5-6), as servants of the Lord (v. 7) from whom they will receive their reward (v. 8). Human masters and servants both have the same heavenly Master or Lord (v. 9). Attempting to make some of these statements refer to “Jehovah” but others not unravels the coherence of the passage.
Once we understand that Jesus is the person consistently called “Lord” in this passage, we can see that Paul is talking about Jesus in ways that treat him as Jehovah. As we already noticed, verse 4 does allude to the Old Testament expression “the discipline of the Lord,” but here the Lord is Jesus. The injunction to servants to do their service as for Christ, “with fear and trembling,” clearly recalls Psalm 2:11, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in him with trembling”:
- δουλεύσατε τῷ κυρίῳ ἐν φόβῳ καὶ ἀγαλλιᾶσθε αὐτῷ ἐν τρόμῳ (Ps. 2:11 LXX)
- …μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου…μετ᾽ εὐνοίας δουλεύοντες ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ καὶ οὐκ ἀνθρώποις (Eph. 6:5, 7)
There can be little doubt that it was to obscure these allusions to Old Testament texts about the Lord Jehovah in Paul’s statements about the Lord Jesus that the New World Translation has the name Jehovah in some but not all of the places where Paul used the singular κύριός in this passage. At the end of the day, this was the actual criterion used by the translators: If using “Lord” to translate κύριός would tend to support the view that Christ is the Lord Jehovah, then they will use the name “Jehovah”; if using “Jehovah” to translate κύριός would tend to support the view that Christ is the Lord Jehovah, then they will use the name “Lord” instead. More simply, the Watchtower’s translation principle was this: Wherever necessary and wherever possible, translate the Bible in such a way that it does not appear to identify Jesus as Jehovah.
Tags: Ephesians, Jehovah, Jehovah's Witnesses, Lord, New World Translation, Tetragrammaton, Watchtower, Yahweh