'I have a question I have asked Jehovah's Witnesses over the years and none seem able to answer it,' I said.
'What is that?' they asked, smiling. They were very polite and friendly.
'You are Jehovah's Witnesses?' I asked, and they looked at me from behind their JW.ORG emblazoned cart carrying copies of the Watchtower, as though my specialist subject was the glaringly obvious.
'Yes,' they replied patiently.
'Witnesses of Jehovah?' I continued.
'In Matthew 6 the disciples ask Jesus, 'Lord, teach us to pray.' Jehovah's Witnesses have, over the years, taken me to this passage to demonstrate that the mission of Jesus was to 'make known and hallow the name of Jehovah,' citing verse 9, 'hallowed be your name.'
They seemed to be familiar with the point so I pressed on.
'Then why did Jesus pray, 'Our Father...' and not, 'Jehovah-God,' as you might?'
'They would have known the name of God back then,' they replied, 'but the churches have removed that name and so we must make it known again.'
'How have the churches removed the name?' I asked.
'If you go back to earlier translations, back to the Middle Ages for instance, they contained the name where later translations removed it.'
'But surely it was taken out long before the Middle Ages?' I insisted.
A quick change of tack and, 'Yes,' they came back, 'it was removed as early as the 4th century.'
'Oh, Nicea,' I said, 'but the name of God was not discussed at Nicea. Nicea was all about the identity of Jesus, the LOGOS. It was removed long before that council.'
Now they looked puzzled, so I continued, 'The Jews stopped pronouncing the name in the Hellenistic period, in the centuries before Christ because they thought it was too sacred for every day use. Whatever we think of that, it is the history. The disciples would have had no idea how it was pronounced. Indeed, the only person on that hillside who would have known was Jesus.
In that situation, you might have said, 'Let us tell you about the name.' That being the case, and if the mission of Jesus was to 'hallow the name' or make it known, why would he not teach it? Indeed, why didn't he use it at all, and why do the disciples fail to use it throughout the New Testament record?'
The best form of defence being attack, they came back, 'Do you object to the name?'
Not at all,' I replied. 'The name is used in my church, indeed we sing 'Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah...' surely you sing that one?'
'No,' they replied still in attack mode, 'but that has been changed to 'Great Redeemer,'' as though recovering a point. (Another example of wicked Christendom meddling with God's purposes.)
'Yes,' I replied, 'but we do sing 'Jehovah' in one version. What is more, I hear the name of God used from the pulpit in the churches, and any good Bible translation carries an explanation of how the name has been used down the centuries and the substitution of 'Lord,' so if churches and translators have an agenda to remove the name they have singularly failed.'
'But what do you have against the name?' they demanded.
'Nothing,' I replied, ‘I know it and, as you can see, I am capable of having an intelligent conversation about it. But if there is no evidence of this being a priority for Jesus, for Jesus being a jehovah’s Witness, don't you think perhaps there might be other, more pressing priorities for Christian believers?'
'Such as the Fatherhood of God. Paul writes that by the Spirit we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Paul taught as Jesus taught. Such as 'your kingdom come, your will be done...' What is his will? Clearly it doesn't revolve around a noun but around a person - Jesus. There is salvation in no other name than the name of Jesus my Bible tells me. Maybe you should think about that.'
Of course, they were not going to follow me home and ask me to tell them more. But what an opportunity to plant a thought that will pop into their heads every time they read a Watchtower publication that blames the churches, or go to teach that Jesus' mission was to 'hallow the name...' By such small and thoughtful encounters are seeds planted and hearts touched by truth.