Bible Study – Chapter 4 Par. 7-15
The Proper View of the Importance of God’s Name
Regarding the Bible Students’ early years, The Watchtower of March 15, 1976, noted that they gave “overbalanced importance” to Jesus. In time, though, Jehovah helped them to discern the prominence that the Bible gives to God’s personal name. – par. 9
This excerpt summarizes the points being made in the first part of this week’s congregation Bible Study.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses are now giving God’s name the importance it is due, and;
- It was Jehovah himself who revealed what this balanced view was to be.
These points—along with pretty much every point made in this week’s study—come to us as raw assertions, free of supporting scriptural and historical references. We must, in good conscience and on general principle, question any such unsubstantiated claim. This particular study has more than its fair share.
Is it accurate to say that the emphasis Jehovah’s Witnesses place on the divine name reflects a balance founded in Scripture? Are we doing it the way Jehovah wants it done?
It seems to be in the nature of human society to go to extremes. For example, from the April 1, 2009 The Watchtower, page 30, under “Vatican Seeks to Eliminate Use of the Divine Name”, we have this:
THE Catholic hierarchy is seeking to eliminate the use of the divine name in their church services. Last year, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments sent instructions on this matter to Catholic bishops’ conferences worldwide. The step was taken “by directive” of the pope.
This document, dated June 29, 2008, decries the fact that despite instructions to the contrary, “in recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel’s proper name, known as the holy or divine tetragrammaton, written with four consonants of the Hebrew alphabet in the form יהוה, YHWH.” The document notes that the divine name has variously been rendered “Yahweh,” “Yahwè,” “Jahweh,” “Jahwè,” “Jave,” “Yehovah,” and so forth. However, the Vatican directive seeks to reestablish the traditional Catholic position. That is to say, the Tetragrammaton is to be replaced by “Lord.” Moreover, in Catholic religious services, hymns, and prayers, God’s name “YHWH is neither to be used or pronounced.”
Witnesses argue that if the author sees fit to insert his name thousands of times in his own book, who are we to remove it? This is a valid argument…but it swings both ways. If the author sees fit not to use his name in any part of his writings—as is the case with the Christian Scriptures—who are we to insert it where it doesn’t belong?
Just as the Catholic Church chooses the extreme of eliminating God’s name entirely, have Witnesses gone to an extreme of their own? Before we answer this question, let us go to the second assertion. The book we are studying claims that our view and usage of God’s name has been revealed to us by Jehovah God himself.
How did Jehovah prepare those early Bible Students to become bearers of his name? – par. 7
In looking back at the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, we see how Jehovah gave his people a clearer understanding of important truths related to his name. – par. 8
In time, though, Jehovah helped them to discern the prominence that the Bible gives to God’s personal name. – par. 9
Now, Jehovah’s time had come to give his servants the honor of publicly bearing his name. – par 15
How did “Jehovah prepare those early Bible Students”? How did ‘Jehovah give his people a clearer understanding’? How did ‘Jehovah help them discern’?
When you stop to think about it—very few Witnesses ever have—you arrive at a startling realization: Virtually all the doctrines that define us as Witnesses come from the Rutherford era. Whether the 1914 presence of Christ or the 1919 appointment of the faithful slave or the 1914 start of the last days or the “this generation” calculation or the emphasis on Jehovah’s name or adopting the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses” or the creation of the Other Sheep class or the door-to-door preaching work—all are the children of J. F. Rutherford. With the exception of the “No Blood” doctrine, which also had its roots in Rutherford’s time, there have been no major new doctrines to define us. Even the 2010 Overlapping Generations doctrine is just a redefining of the pre-existing interpretations of Matthew 24:34. It seems that Jehovah did all his revealing to J.F. Rutherford.
Exactly how did that come about?
Why not let J. F. Rutherford, the Editor in Chief of The Watchtower and “Generalissimo” of the Organization until his death in 1942, tell us himself?[i]
Here is an excerpt from an excellent article written by Apollos [Underline added]:[ii]
First let us consider the correct channel of enlightenment according to our Lord:
“But the helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you.” (John 14:26)
“However, when that one comes, the spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own initiative, but what he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things to come. That one will glorify me, because he will receive from what is mine and will declare it to you.” (John 16:13,14)
Very clearly Jesus said that the holy spirit would be the guiding force in teaching Christians. This evidently began at Pentecost 33 C.E. There would appear to be no scripture indicating that this arrangement would change before the end of the Christian era.
Rutherford however, thought differently. In the Watchtower of September 1st 1930 he released an article entitled “Holy Spirit”. John 14:26 (quoted above) was used as the theme scripture. The article starts off well enough, describing the role of the holy spirit in pre-Christian times and then how it would act as advocate and comforter for Jesus’ followers once he was no longer with them in person. But from paragraph 24 the article takes a sharp turn. From here Rutherford claims that once Jesus had come to his temple and gathered his chosen ones (an event that supposedly had already occurred according to Rutherford) then “the advocacy of the holy spirit would there cease”. He continued:
“It would seem there would be no necessity for the ‘servant’ to have an advocate such as the holy spirit because the ‘servant’ is in direct communication with Jehovah and as Jehovah’s instrument, and Christ Jesus acts for the entire body.” (Watchtower Sept 1st 1930 pg 263)
Next he moves on to the role of angels.
“When the Son of man arrives in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit down on his glorious throne.” (Matt 25:31)
Since Rutherford interpreted this scripture as already having been fulfilled (a doctrine that would mislead the organization for decades), he used it to support his view of the role of angels at the time.
“If the holy spirit as a helper were directing the work, then there would be no good reason for employing the angels … the Scriptures seem clearly to teach that the Lord directs his angels what to do and they act under the supervision of the Lord in directing the remnant on earth concerning the course of action to take.” (Watchtower Sept 1st 1930 pg 263)
Rutherford therefore believed that the bridge between God, his Son and himself was no longer the holy spirit as helper, but rather direction from angelic messengers. We must ask why he would think this unless he personally felt that he was being communicated to in such a way. To publish this in 1930 would have meant that he felt that such communication had been in operation for over a decade. The passage of scripture cited in support of the claim that “the Scriptures seem clearly to teach” this is Rev 8:1-7. Bearing in mind that Rutherford believed that the seven angels blowing the trumpets were being fulfilled through his own declarations and resolutions at conventions, it would seem that he was convinced that he was receiving this information directly from spirit creatures.
The 1931 book “Vindication” bears this out:
“These invisible ones the Lord uses to put in the hand of his ‘faithful servant’ class, that is, the man clothed with linen, the fiery message of his Word, or judgements written, and which is to be used as directed. The resolutions adopted by conventions of God’s anointed people, booklets, magazines, and books published by them, contain the message of God’s truth and are from the Lord Jehovah and provided by him through Christ Jesus and his under-officers.” (Vindication, 1931, pg 120; also published in Watchtower May 1st, 1938 pg 143)
That in itself is surely cause for concern, unless of course you also believe that God really did have the angels communicate new truths directly to Rutherford.
He certainly didn’t lose his conviction that the angels were communicating with him.
“Zechariah talked with the angel of the Lord which shows that the remnant are instructed by the angels of the Lord” (Preparation, 1933, pg 64)
“God uses angels to teach His people now on the earth.” (Golden Age, Nov 8th 1933, pg 69)
It is of note that Rutherford claims that those in the organization “were able to see afar off” from 1918 onwards as a result of this communication, while others outside of the organization were in darkness.
We have clear Bible direction—as Apollos shows above—as to how the holy spirit works to reveal truths found in God’s word to all Christians. Additionally, we are warned about angelic revelations. (2Co 11:14; Ga 1:8) Furthermore, there is no evidence that Christians are still getting angelic visions such as occurred in the first century. (Re 1:1) Nevertheless, even if that should occur, the criteria used to identify an angel of the Lord from one sent by Satan is adherence to Bible truth itself.
Jesus, God’s own son, always spoke by referencing Scripture. “It is written…” are words he often used. What man or group of men have the right to make bald-faced, unsubstantiated assertions, expecting other humans to accept them prima facie?
With that in mind, consider this sampling from just one paragraph of this week’s study:
Faithful early Bible Students viewed the ransom arrangement as the Bible’s main teaching. That explains why the Watch Tower often focused on Jesus. For example, in its first year of publication, the magazine mentioned the name Jesus ten times more than the name Jehovah. Regarding the Bible Students’ early years, The Watchtower of March 15, 1976, noted that they gave “overbalanced importance” to Jesus. In time, though, Jehovah helped them to discern the prominence that the Bible gives to God’s personal name. – par. 9
Let’s break it down.
Faithful early Bible Students viewed the ransom arrangement as the Bible’s main teaching.
How do we know it is not the main teaching? How do we know the early Bible Students thought it was?
That explains why the Watch Tower often focused on Jesus.
An unsubstantiated assumption. It could well be that The Watch Tower focused on Jesus because he is our Lord, our King, and our Leader. It could also be that it followed the example of the first century writers who focused on Jesus. We have to bear in mind that while Jesus’ name appears about 1,000 times in the Christian Scriptures, Jehovah’s name does not appear even once!
For example, in its first year of publication, the magazine mentioned the name Jesus ten times more than the name Jehovah.
A statement that to the doctrinally prepped mind of the average JW will imply something negative. Now the reverse is true. For example, in the current study issue (WT Study Issue of Sept. 2016) the ratio is about 10 to 1 favoring “Jehovah” (Jehovah = 106; Jesus = 12)
Regarding the Bible Students’ early years, The Watchtower of March 15, 1976, noted that they gave “overbalanced importance” to Jesus.
The Governing Body is not even being true to their own teaching about God’s progressive revelation of truth. If his name appears in the older Hebrew Scriptures (HS) thousands of times, but in the newer Christian Scriptures (CS) not even once, while Jesus’ name goes from zero occurrences in the HS to about a thousand in the CS, should we not be following suit? Or are we to accuse the the apostles John, Peter, and Paul of giving “overbalanced importance” to Jesus?
In time, though, Jehovah helped them to discern the prominence that the Bible gives to God’s personal name.
Based on the foregoing, would you agree that it was really Jehovah doing the revealing?
Exalting God’s Name
At this point, we do well to pause so that we can analyze a premise upon which all this is based.
“I have made your name known to them and will make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in union with them.”” (Joh 17:26)
This is something that all Christians should do. Admittedly, the Catholic policy of hiding the divine name is wrong. However, Jehovah’s Witnesses in their zeal to undo the work of the church hide the divine name in a far more damaging way.
We know that Jesus only preached to the Jews. We know that the Jews knew the name of God. So he wasn’t declaring a name (a word, label, or appellation) that was unknown to them. Like the Jews in the time of Moses who also knew God’s name, they didn’t know God. Knowing a person’s name is not the same as knowing the person? Jehovah made his name known to the Jews of Moses’ day, not by revealing it as YHWH, but by powerful acts of salvation that freed his people from slavery. However, they only came to know Jehovah God a little. That changed when he sent his Son to walk among us and we saw a view of God’s glory “such as belongs to an only-begotten son”, one “full of divine favor and truth”. (John 1:15) We came to know God’s name by knowing him who “is the reflection of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of his very being.” (He 1:3) Thus, Jesus could say, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 16:9)
So if we really want to make the name of God known, we start by revealing the name (appellation) itself, but quickly move on to focus on the one through whom God himself has declared his name, Jesus Christ.
The de-emphasis placed on Jesus’ name and role in the publications inhibits our students from a fuller understanding of all that God’s name represents, because the divine person is revealed in the Christ.
Our over-focus on God’s name has turned the preaching work into a numbers game and made “Jehovah” into some sort of talisman. Thus it is not uncommon to hear it used anywhere from 8 to 12 times in a single prayer. To put this into perspective, let’s say that your father’s name is George and you are writing a letter to him. Here you are, your father’s son, addressing him not as “dad” or “father”, by his given name:
Dear father George, I want to express my love for you George, and I know that many others also love you, George. George, you know that I am weak and need your support. So please hear this petition, George, and do not hold back from giving me your help. If I have offended you in any way, please forgive me, George. Also, bear in mind my brothers, George, who also need your help. There are some who reproach your good name, George, but be assured that we defend you and uphold your name, so please remember us with fondness, our father George.
This may seem silly, but replace “George” with “Jehovah” and tell me that you haven’t heard prayers just like this from the platform.
If you feel that we are incorrect in this assessment that exalting God’s name has become a numbers game, then please consider the box which is part of this week’s study titled, “How The Watchtower Has Exalted God’s Name”.
Notice that exaltation of God’s name is directly tied to how often it is spoken or written. Thus, to a JW, the proper balance is to use “Jehovah” far more often than “Jesus” in writing and in speech. Do that and you exalt God’s name. Easy peasy.
The Right Understanding of the Work Assigned By God
Paragraph 11 states:
Second, true Christians acquired the right understanding of the work assigned by God. Shortly after 1919, the anointed brothers taking the lead were moved to examine the prophecy of Isaiah. Thereafter, the contents of our publications underwent a change in focus. Why did that adjustment prove to be “food at the proper time”?—Matt. 24:45. – par. 11
This paragraph ignores the truth that in 33 C.E., Jesus Christ received from God all the authority there was to be had over all things in heaven and on earth. (Mt 28:18) So it was up to him, not God, to assign the work that was to be done. Was the work to bear witness? Yes indeed, but of whom? Jesus said as a parting instruction before ascending to heaven:
“But you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Ju·deʹa and Sa·marʹi·a, and to the most distant part of the earth.”” (Ac 1:8)
The study paragraph disagrees with this, however. Rutherford had to go back to Israelite times to find a metaphor that had nothing to do with any kind of Christian preaching work, and then use it to justify changing the express command given to us by Jesus himself.
But soon after 1919, our publications began to pay attention to that Bible passage, encouraging all anointed ones to share in the work Jehovah had assigned to them—that of witnessing about him. In fact, from 1925 to 1931 alone, Isaiah chapter 43 was considered in 57 different issues of The Watch Tower, and each issue applied Isaiah’s words to true Christians. Clearly, during those years, Jehovah was drawing the attention of his servants to the work they had to do. Why so? In a way, so that they could be “tested as to fitness first.” (1 Tim. 3:10) Before they could rightly bear God’s name, the Bible Students had to prove to Jehovah by their works that they truly were his witnesses.—Luke 24:47, 48. – par. 12
We know that as Editor in Chief, Rutherford prepared the Bible Students for six years with articles in 57 different Watchtower issues—about six per year—for a new work he had in mind. This work was based not on any command found in the Christian Scriptures, nor in the rest of the Bible either. This work countermanded a direct order from our Lord Jesus to bear witness to him. This work would change the nature and direction of the good news. In addition to this, we’ve just learned that by his own hand, Rutherford declared he was being guided by angels. With that in mind, how should we view the current situation in light of Paul’s warning:
“However, even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond the good news we declared to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, I now say again, Whoever is declaring to you as good news something beyond what you accepted, let him be accursed.” (Ga 1:8-9)
The Importance of the Sanctification of God’s Name
More unfounded assertions are made in the concluding paragraphs of this week’s study. Specifically that “the sanctification of God’s name is the most important issue to be settled.” – par. 13.
By the late 1920s, Bible Students understood that the primary issue was, not personal salvation, but the sanctifying of God’s name. (Isa. 37:20; Ezek. 38:23) In 1929, the book Prophecy summed up that truth, stating: “Jehovah’s name is the most vital issue before all creation.” This adjusted understanding further motivated God’s servants to witness about Jehovah and to clear his name of slander.
While the sanctification of God’s name is a vital issue, to claim it is the most vital one requires some Bible support. Yet, none is provided. What is provided is Isaiah 37:20 and Ezekiel 38:23. These are used to “prove” that sanctification, not personal salvation, is the primary issue. It seems that God is more concerned about his own reputation than the welfare of his children. Yet, when we read the context of these verses, we see that in each case it is speaking of an act of salvation by God on behalf of his people. The message is that by saving his people, God sanctifies his name. Again, the Organization has missed the mark. There is no way for Jehovah to sanctify his name outside of the arrangement for the salvation of humankind. The two are inextricably intertwined.
Given all the above, why does the Organization continue to focus on God’s name—not his character, his reputation, his person, but the appellation itself, “Jehovah”? Why does frequency of usage constitute name exaltation to the JW mindset? The answer is actually quite simple and obvious: Branding! By using the name as we do, we brand ourselves and distinguish ourselves from all other religions in Christendom. This helps us to remain separate, but not in the sense of John 15:19, which is a reasonable degree of separation. What is being sought here is isolationism or Milieu Control. This branding of the organization and its members has recently reached new heights with the now-ubiquitous JW.ORG logo.
All of this is done under the umbrella of “sanctifying God’s name”. But it has not resulted in sanctification. Why? Because we are choosing to worship God our way instead of his. At the transfiguration, Jehovah said “This is my Son, the beloved, who I have approved; listen to him.”
You want to talk about how God has communicated with the Organization to reveal truths, then talk about that revelation. That was no angel, but Jehovah himself speaking. The command was simple: Listen to Jesus Christ.
If we are ever to sanctify God’s name, we have to start by doing it God’s way and by his own words, his way is for us to listen to Jesus. So we need to stop shifting the focus away from the one the Bible calls “the Perfecter of our faith.” (He 12:2)