A CRITICAL LOOK AT THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESS BIBLE
THE NEW WORLD TRANSLATION
by M. Kurt Goedelman
The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT) is the name of the Bible used worldwide by members of the Jehovah’s Witness sect. The Watchtower Society claims this work to have been made directly into English from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek languages.
This translation, they claim, was made by “a committee of anointed witnesses of Jehovah,”but the Society refuses to divulge the names and credentials of the men who comprised this committee.
The work was originally released in six volumes starting in 1950. In 1961 the entire Bible had been completely “translated” and thus released in a one volume publication. Since that time many additional editions of this Bible have rolled off the Watchtower’s presses, complete with changes and alterations.
Who Were the translators?
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has failed both the public and its own followers at this most crucial point, as they refuse to give the names and credentials of the translators of The New World Translation. The Watchtower’s Bible subject index handbook, Reasoning from the Scripture, states: “When presenting as a gift the publishing rights to their translation, the New World Bible Translation Committee requested that its members remain anonymous. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania has honored their request” (pg. 277).
The reason cited is because the “translators were not seeking prominence for themselves.” However, the fact is that the men who comprised this committee had no adequate schooling or background to function as skilled critical Bible translators.
The translation committee was headed by (then vice -president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses)Frederick W.Franz. Other members included Nathan H. Knorr (then president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses),AlbertD. Schroeder, Ceorge D. Gangas and Milton Henschel.
The information as to the identity of the translation committee was made known by former Jehovah’s Witness William Cetnar. (See further, We Left lehovah’s Witnesses, A Non-Profit Organization Edmond C. Gruss.) Cetnar was to supply this information as he worked at the International Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the time the translation was being prepared.
In addition, former member of the Watchtower’s Governing Body, Raymond V. Franz, in his book, Crisis of Conscience, lists the translators’ names as Franz, Knorr, Schroeder and Cangas. His list omits Henschel. Franz further acknowledges his uncle Frederick Franz as the “principal translator of the Society’s New World Translation” (Crisis, pg. 50).
Yet, Frederick Franz’s translation ability is open to serious question.
During a court trial held in Scotland in 1954 (during the same period that the New World Translation was being made) Franz was asked if he had made himself familiar with Hebrew. His reply was “Yes.” Healso acknowledged under oath that he could read and follow the Bible in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, German and French. The following day, during the same court trial, his linguistic abilities were put to the test.
He was asked to translate Genesis 2:4 into Hebrew. He failed the test as he was unable to do so. In fact he did not even try, but rather stated “No, I wouldn’t attempt to do that.”(See, Court of Session, Scotland – Douglas Walsh vs. The Right Honourable James Latham Clyde – November 1954.)
Is It Really a Scholarly Translation7
To this question the Watchtower has led its followers to believe that although the backgrounds of its translators are not made known, the translation will stand on its own. It does not.
The translation committee is guilty of inventing non-existent Greek grammar (and then follows these made up rules only when necessary to support the theology of the Watchtower) and inserting words into Scripture that change the meaning of God’s Word.
The 1985 edition of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures states for its readers the guidelines and goals endorsed by the translation committee. The Society claims that, “We offer no paraphrase ofScripture. Our endeavor throughout has been to as literal a translation as possible where the modern English idiom allows for it or where the thought content is not hidden due to awkwardness in the literal rendition” and that” To each major word we have assigned one meaning and have held to that meaning as far as context permitted” (pp. 9-10, 1985 ed.; pg. 10, 1969 ed.).
However, based on these claims for its translation of the Bible, the committee has failed miserably.
Considering the Watchtower’s first point, “We offer no paraphrase of Scripture,” one need only examine the NWT renderings of John 15:4,5; John 17:26; Galatians 1:16; Romans 8:10; Colossians 1:27 and 2 Corinthians 13:5 to find that the translation committee has paraphrased Scripture to deny the indwelling of Christ in the believer.
Each of the aforementioned verses speaks of Christ living within the Christian (“in him” or “in you”), yet these verses found in the NWT have been paraphrased to read in union with you (him)” (emphasis added).
Regarding the second point,”Our endeavor throughout has been to give as literal a translation as possible…,” this criterion likewise misses the mark of honest scholarship.
An examination of Colossians 1:16, 17 and Philippians 2:9 demonstrates through the addition of words that the committee has not presented “as literal a translation as possible. ”
In both verses cited one finds the word “other” added. (Christ created all “other” things, meaning he is also a creature, a created being.) Thus we find divine attributes of the Lord Jesus Christ removed, namely that He is the creator of all things and that He possesses the name that is above every name.
Finally, the third point, “To each major word we have assigned one meaning and have held to that meaning as far as context permitted,” fairs no better than the previous statements. The translation committee has again let their theological bias bend their rules for translating.
In Matthew 25:46, 2 Peter 2:9 and Acts 4:21 we find the Greek word kolaoontai that refers to punishment.
However, since the Watchtower denies the teaching of eternal punishment we find the committee rendering two of the passages, those in Matthew and 2 Peter (which refer to eternal punishment) as “cutting off” and the Scripture found in Acts (which refers to physical punishment) as “punish.”
Since the Kingdom Interlinear Translation provides a between the lines literal Greek-English Translation and the text of the New World Translation (located in the right hand column), we recommend its use for the documentation of the above Scriptural citations.
Why is the Name “]ehovah ” Used in the Christian Greek Scriptures?
The Watchtower Society leads its followers to believe that its translation is also superior on the basis that it has restored the divine name ]ehovah (Yahweh) to the pages of the Bible. The Watchtower’s publication, “The Divine Name That Will Endure Forever” announces that it was a “apostate” Christian church that removed the divine name and has substituted ” Lord” in its place.
However, they have based, in part, this erroneous idea on some guesswork published by Professor George Howard in an article in the March 1978 issue of Biblical Archaeological Review. Howard’s evidence was slim and in a more detailed article published the previous year in The Journal of Biblical Literature he sets forth what he proposes as “a theory.” The question that the Watchtower leaders never considered is whether Howard’s guesses are supported by the evidence.
This question was addressed by Dr. Albert Pietersma of the University of Toronto. Writing in De Sepuaginta, a collection of scholarly articles, by experts in Septuagint studies, Piertersma carefully reviews Howard’s use of the three Old Testament manuscript fragments. He finds that a careful examination does not support Howard’s theory.
Further the Watchtower’s Reasoning book announces, “The divine name appears in translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures into Hebrew, in passages where quotations are made directly from the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. This is merely a rephrasing of the “Restoring the Divine Name” concept found in the Forward of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (pp. 10ff).
The translation committee has set forth the proposition that a modern translator may render the Greek words Kyrios and Theos as the divine name Jehovah (Yahweh) when the inspired Christian writers have quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures where the divine name appears.
Regrettably, once again the translation committee has followed this rule only when it does not contradicttheir theology. Philippians 2:10,11 serves as a perfect example. Scripture is clear that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” However the Philippians passage is quoted from Isaiah 45:23 and here we are told that to Jehovah every knee will bow.
Therefore based on the Watchtower’s own translation rule, the Lord spoken of in Philippians is none other than Jehovah. Further it is of interest to note that the 1950 edition of the New World Translation of the Christian Scriptures, which contained marginal cross references, cited Isaiah 45:23 as a cross reference to the Philippians 2:11 passage.
Numerous scholars with true credentials in the Biblical languages have condemned the Watchtower’s New World Translation as a fatal distortion of God’s written Word. For example, see The Bible Collector (luly-December, 1971) issue which devotes three articles evaluating the Watchtower scripture.
Thus it has been demonstrated above that the Watchtower Society has, by its own standards, proven its Bible translation to be unreliable and untrustworthy. Those desiring a modern translation would do well to invest in either the New American Standard Version or the New international Version of Scripture to escape the theological prejudice and Biblical untruths found in the New World Translation.
If a Jehovah’s Witness Would Say…
“Our Bible is Reliable.” The Christian should respond that no reputable Greek or Hebrew scholar has given an endorsement of the New World Translation. The Society has at times used both out-of-context quotations from scholars and antiqued statements to make it appear that there are those who give credence to this translation, but this version is only used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to promulgate their doctrines.
You may also wish to note that it would be most beneficial if we could check out the scholarly abilities of the men who comprised the translation committee, but the Watchtower organization refuses to release their names or credentials. While some have stated that this is due to the humility of these men, others have made the claim that it is because these men have no qualifications to serve as accurate Bible translators.
Therefore the evidence found both within the Society’s own Kingdom Interlinear Translation and other non-Watchtower sources, the latter claim appears to be most true. Remember it is not a sin to “make sure of all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) nor to try “them which say they are apostles” (Revelation 2:2).
An additional suggestion: If a Jehovah’s Witness should ask who comprised the translation committee of the Bible you use, tell him you will be happy to find out. Inform the Watchtower follower that this information is available and accessible to those who desire to find it out. It is not hidden from nor denied to those who seek it. Some modern day versions of the Bible even include this information in the introduction section of the publication. The names and scholarly credentials for the translators of The New King James Version, The New International Version, The Revised Standard Version and The King James Version are all easily accessible.
The ]ehovah’s Witnesses have and do use this type of smoke screen to catch Christians off guard. When Christians respond by providing the names and credentials of the men who comprised the various translations of Scripture, it again demonstrates the deceptiveness of the Watchtower Society.
One note of exception: The Watchtower’s Reasoning book has cited the New American Standard Version as an example of a translation committee who refuses to divulge the identity of its members. While the Lockman Foundation, the publisher of the New American Standard Version, has, to date, not made known the names of its translation committee, it has provided its readers with numerous facts concerning the making of this translation as found in the preface.
Further, the Lockman Foundation has, over the past few years, increasingly made known more facts concerning the translation of the New American Standard Version. The Watchtower, unlike the Lockman Foundation, has consistently stated when challenged, that its translation will stand on its own. If the need arises the Christian may simply state that he (or she) will be happy to make use of a translation whose translation committee names are available — if the]ehovah’s Witness will find out the names of the NWT’s translation committee.
For additional information dealing with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation see: The lehovah’s Witnesses’New Testament by Dr. Robert Countess (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company) and Apostles of Denial by Edmond C. Gruss (Baker Book House).
Kurt Goedelman is director of Personal Freedom Outreach, A Christian research ministry in St. Louis, Missouri.