The fact of the matter is, there are no original copies of the gospels or any of the letters that were written to the congregations that comprise what we now call the New Testament. All that we have today are copies of copies of copies. That is not to say that someday an original might not be discovered in some clay pot in a cave or tomb, but for now there are none.
So, while on the one hand we cannot say with absolute certainty that the name appeared in the originals, on the other hand, neither can it definitively be said that it did not. However, there is anecdotal evidence that the name of God, represented with the Hebrew consonants YHWH, did in fact appear in the originals.
But before considering this question it is well to consider the bias of the questioner. To reveal the inherent bias in this type of question Jehovah’s Witnesses merely have to turn the question around and ask: Why have modern translators taken the personal name of God out of the Bible? Isn’t that playing with the text?
To be sure, there are numerous translations that use the name Jehovah or Yahweh. But the Bibles that most people prefer have no trace of the divine name. Even the King James Bible, which originally used the name Jehovah in a few places, has erased it from their most recent edition. The New International Version and the English Standard Version are also very popular among churchgoers, and neither do they contain a trace of the divine name in their pages. And the translators freely admit in their forewords that they didn’t feel that God’s name was important. So, this certainly reveals a troubling, deep-seated bias against the name of God.
Whereas, there is a question whether the divine name originally appeared in the New Testament, there is no doubt that it appears in the Hebrew, the so-called Old Testament. The Jewish scribes were very religious about transcribing the sacred Tetragrammaton when they produced copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. The YHWH appears in the Hebrew text almost 7,000 times. The Bearer of that name has declared it to be a memorial to himself for generation after generation, to time indefinite. When Jesus was upon the earth he taught his followers to pray that God’s name may be honored, or as it says in the old English: “Hallowed be thy name.”
But modern translators have treated the name with disrespect. They have removed the sacred name of the God from the very book he inspired. They never speak of his name, unless they are quoting from a Watchtower or New World Translation in a derisvie way. And although some admit that God has a personal name represented by the YHWH, they claim to prefer a more Hebrew flavored pronunciation; but even at that, they seldom use it.
So, what is the greater sin, expunging the name of God entirely from the Bible, and hence from the consciousness of men, or restoring it to places where it is apparent that unscrupulous copyists had erased it centuries ago, even though there are no extant manuscripts bearing the YHWH? Ultimately Jehovah will be the Judge, will he not?
For a long time scholars insisted that the divine name did not appear in the Septuagint. (The Septuagint was the first translation of the Hebrew into Greek, before Christ, because the Jews came to be under domination by Greece. Greek, like English today, was a “universal language,” – spoken by many peoples as their second language.)
But in recent years odd bits and fragments of ancient copies of the Septuagint have been discovered that predate Christ, wherein the YHWH appears. This is significant, because on many occasions Jesus quoted directly from the Jewish scriptures. On one occasion while in the synagogue he read from the scroll of Isaiah that had been handed to him, and scrolling to what we now refer to as Isaiah chapter 61, he read: “The spirit of the sovereign Lord Jehovah is upon me, for the reason that Jehovah anointed me to tell the good news to the meek ones.”
So, there within the span of one verse the divine name appeared twice in the original text. And regardless of whether Jesus was using the traditional Hebrew scroll or the Greek Septuagint, the divine name would have been there.
Apparently some time prior to Christ a superstition began to develop among the Jews that the name of God was too sacred to be uttered aloud. But that was a lie. Jehovah invited people to use his name in a respectful way. All the prophets spoke of Jehovah, and to Jehovah, speaking his name aloud – prophesying in his name. Interestingly, in the 23rd chapter of Jeremiah God condemned the false prophets because they were thinking of making God’s people forget his name. We would not be far off the mark to say that the clergy of Christendom are motivated by the same spirit.
But, the point is, it is unthinkable that Jesus would have followed an ignorant Jewish superstition regarding his Father’s name. He would have been faithful to the word of God. He most certainly would have spoken his Father’s name aloud. That being the case, why doesn’t your copy of the New Testament reflect the exact flavor of the testimony Jesus gave before the Jews in their synagogue?
The truth is, Jesus and his disciples who compiled the so-called New Testament, directly quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures 360 times and alluded to it an equal number of times. And many of the passages quoted or alluded to bear the name of God. If the Christians were true to God and lived up to God’s intention that they should be a people for his name, why did they neglect to copy the name of God from the Hebrew text that they quoted? Again, it is unthinkable that they would’ve done such a thing.
The Watchtower wrote an important article a few years ago, which is available in their online library. The article pointed out that in the Tosefta, which is a collection of commentary on Jewish law from the third century, the rabbis could permit book burning on the Sabbath. And it specifically noted that they burned the writings of the early Christians in the fire. In other words, the Jews were the original Bible burners. And in their record of these affairs they admit that what offended them most was that the Christians used the name of God in their writings. As a show of their mock piety and feigned respect for the name of God, before the Christian books were burned the name of God would be surgically cut out of the book, as if they were preventing the name of God from being burned.
Also, the same Watchtower article points out that the New World Translation was not the first to put the divine name into the New Testament. Here is their list of other translations where the name appears.
A Literal Translation of the New Testament . . . From the Text of the Vatican Manuscript, by Herman Heinfetter (1863)
The Emphatic Diaglott, by Benjamin Wilson (1864)
The Epistles of Paul in Modern English, by George Barker Stevens (1898)
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, by W. G. Rutherford (1900)
The Christian’s Bible—New Testament, by George N. LeFevre (1928)
The New Testament Letters, by J.W.C. Wand, Bishop of London (1946)
In the certain knowledge that neither Jesus nor his disciples would have avoided speaking the name of God or putting it to print, and given the tendency of translators to remove God’s name, along with the evidence from the Jewish Tosefta that the name was used in the writings of Christians, it seems most probable that the name of God originally appeared in the Christian writings. Jehovah’s Witnesses are, therefore, fully justified in inserting the name of Jehovah into texts that are direct quotations from the Hebrew where the name appears, and in other texts where the context warrants it.
Given the fact that the name of Jehovah is far removed from the consciousness of most people living today, we may better appreciate why the prophecy of Isaiah foretells that the name of Jehovah is coming from far away, burning in his anger.
“Look! The name of Jehovah is coming from far away, burning with his anger and with heavy clouds. As for his lips, they have become full of denunciation, and his tongue is like a devouring fire. And his spirit is like a flooding torrent that reaches clear to the neck, to swing the nations to and fro with a sieve of worthlessness; and a bridle that causes one to wander about will be in the jaws of the peoples. You people will come to have a song like that in the night that one sanctifies oneself for a festival, and rejoicing of heart like that of one walking with a flute to enter into the mountain of Jehovah, to the Rock of Israel.”
– Isaiah 30