Updated: Aug 8, 2020
In recent decades many who say they belong to Christ have asserted that either the proper usage or correct pronunciation of God's name has a fundamental bearing on ones spiritual standing. Many view the usage of the name Jehovah as a practical English translation of God's name. Most all agree that no one knows for sure exactly how to pronounce the four Hebrew letters that form the Tetragrammaton (YHWH). However, it is generally accepted our best estimation would be Yahweh. Some have taken the position that because of God's supreme holiness his name should be pronounced as it was presented to mankind in the Hebrew language. Many who have adopted this view have likewise rendered Christ's name the same way, choosing to use Yeshua instead of Jesus.
“Jehovah's Witnesses” have obviously staked claim to the name Jehovah, incorporating it into their organizational identity. Their assertion of being God's chosen people and his only channel for communication with mankind today is largely based on their repetitive use, and bold proclamation of the name Jehovah. Text's such as Psalms 83:18, and Isaiah 43:11-12 are used ad nauseam, to connect their usage and association with the name Jehovah as evidence of their divine backing. On the other hand, some assert the improper usage of the divine name, rendering it as Jehovah instead of Yahweh, shows they are in fact displeasing God and therefore are not his people.
Those seeking the Lord's disposition on this matter may well ask: what is the truth? How does our one and only Teacher, Christ Jesus expect us to pronounce and use God's name? As with all things we must carefully examine the Scriptures so we can have the correct attitude and disposition. What do the Scriptures reveal as to the pronunciation and usage of God's name?
It is noteworthy that God's name is distinguished by means of two transitional periods in history. The first is when God put special emphasis on his name, Jehovah (Yahweh), through his servant Moses. Prior to the events that happened in Egypt approximately 35 centuries ago it seems that God's servants were familiar with the name Yahweh (Jehovah). However, at that particular time God glorified his name and exulted it above the names of all other gods. By means of the ten plagues Jehovah (Yahweh) was proven vastly superior to Egypt’s gods: Hapi, Heket, Geb, Khepri, Hathor, Isis, Nut, Seth, Ra, and Pharaoh. All of these Egyptian gods were identified by their names because the people living at that time acknowledged the existence of not just one divine being but many. They recognized and distinguished each by their unique name. So it was appropriate for the Hebrew God, Yahweh (Jehovah), to establish a testimonial for the superiority of his name and divinity.
For the next 15 centuries the Hebrew nation was known for their unique relationship with their God, Jehovah (Yahweh). Throughout that time Yahweh (Jehovah) testified to his relationship with the Hebrew nation as their one and only God. He consumed Elijah's sacrifice with superheated fire from heaven, wiped out the Assyrian juggernaut’s army of 185,000 by dispatching his angel, and commissioned a foreign power to discipline his people after they repeatedly committed spiritual adultery with other gods. The name Jehovah (Yahweh) distinguished the Hebrews' God as different and in no way associated with the gods of other nations. The name Yahweh (Jehovah) appears approximately 7,000 times in the sacred Hebrew texts.
There is however one more distinct transitional period in relation to the use of God's name. This is seen with the establishment of Christ's congregation. While it can be easily confirmed that the Hebrew writings contained the Tetragrammaton approximately 7,000 times, there is not one documented appearance of the divine name in the New Testament other than in its abbreviated form (Hallelujah - praise Jah.) at Revelation 19:1, 3, 4 & 6. Some theorize that this is a direct result of an adversaries scheme to prevent God's name from being spoken and used. They claim that the divine name originally appeared when these writings were first published, but that it was cleverly removed by unscrupulous translators. Is that simply a theory or is it proven fact?
Without acquiring a degree in archaeology we can still take a look at one of the oldest copies of a large portion of the New Testament in existence and draw some conclusions. Papyrus #46 can be easily accessed on the internet and has a decent synopsis on Wikipedia. This papyrus contains most of Paul’s writings and all of his letter to the Hebrews. It is generally agreed that this copy dates back to between 175-225 C.E. Some argue that it actually is from the year 80 C.E., but this is disputed. Paul’s later writings were composed in the year 60-61 C.E. So this papyrus was written somewhere between 20-165 years after Paul's original was composed. Nowhere in papyrus #46 or any other copy in existence does the divine name appear. Is it possible that a vast conspiracy emerged and proved successful in deleting the divine name within 20-165 years of Paul's writing, or is it more likely that he just didn't use it?
The loudest voice arguing that the divine name was removed from the New Testament is the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Their arguments are made in appendix A5 of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Nevertheless, within their own translation, where they have taken the liberty of inserting the divine name 237 times in places they felt it was appropriate, there are still seven books of the Bible from which the divine name is absent (Philippians, 1 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1st 2nd & 3rd John). So a reasonable question to ask is why did these apostles not use the divine name as frequently as the Watchtower publications do today? Why is there such an apparent change in the usage of the divine name in Judaism compared to The Way, (as Christ's disciples referred to their faith)?
The answer may not be as complicated or sinister as some may be persuaded to think. We understand that Christ's disciples were not ignorant of God's name and it's pronunciation. They were not afraid of incurring God's wrath by using the name. It is possible the omission of the divine name may not be a mistake that needs correcting but a clue into the changing relationship between God and the people who exercised faith in his son. When Christ Jesus came he introduced a new and special relationship his disciples were to have with God, and that is the answer to the change in usage of the divine name.
Rather than simply being God's servants or friends (as God referred to Abraham) they were now invited to enter into a very special familial relationship with him. After Jesus offered up his life there would be a legal basis to adopt individuals from among mankind into the Kingdom as God's sons. Jesus himself noted the distinction of those who lived and died prior to the inauguration of this institution and those who lived afterward and could take advantage of it's privileges. He told his disciples “there has not been raised up anyone greater than John the Baptist, but a lesser person in the Kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press” (Matthew 11:11,12)
Paul often emphasized this special new relationship. He told the Romans “all who are led by God’s spirit are indeed God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery causing fear again, but you received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out: “Abba, Father!” The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:14-16) Paul shows the spirit doesn't impel us to call out “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”, but rather we cry out “Papa, Father!” While there is certainly nothing wrong with using either of these names, what person calls their parent by their name? Do you call your father by his name, or do you call him dad? To refer to him as anything other than dad, father, papa, shows a relationship different than that of a child.
Christ's disciples know and are familiar with the divine name, but when we address God as Father it denotes our understanding the deep meaning of his name. The name is only representative of the person, and as followers of Christ we see the divine person as our Father. This explains why the divine name is absent from the apostles writings but the expression Father is everywhere.
Also with the change from Judaism, Jesus now becomes a central figure. He is the divinely appointed mediator, leader, and teacher for all mankind. The name “Jesus” appears over 900 times in the New Testament, and “Father” appears approximately 260 times.
Most importantly, how did Jesus tell us to address God? Jesus said, “You must pray, then, this way:“‘Our Father in the heavens,”. When Jesus himself prayed he address his Father saying “Holy Father, watch over them” We have no better example. So when individuals choose to debate whether to call our Father Jehovah or Yahweh don't get caught up in the debate, it's a distraction. As Christ's brothers God is our Holy Father and as his children that is how we have been instructed to address him.