The New World Version & Translation

The Jehovah’s Witnesses and their official organization, The Watchtower, publish a version of the Bible called The New World Translation (NWT). In it, they make a series of notable differences, especially in key verses that mention the nature of Jesus. Apologetic literature has quite a bit of information on this issue, and it is readily available, but I will give but a summary here. The focus will be on John 1:1, John 8:58, and Jesus receiving worship.

When the first version of the NWT was published in 1950, it broke new ground by translating John 8:58 as “Before Abraham was, I have been.” Other English translations have something similar to “Before Abraham was, I am.” In the next verse, the Jews pick up stones to stone Jesus to death. Since He had committed no immediate crime deserving capital punishment according to the Mosaic law, they most probably were accusing Him of blasphemy, claiming to be God.

Researchers such as Walter Martin spent quite a bit of effort trying to figure out who was on the translating committe for the NWT, and later a Watchtower insider defected, and corroborrated that the NWT was written by Fred Franz, Nathan Knorr, Albert Schroeder, George Gangas, and Milton Henschel (1). Other than Franz, none of these men had attended college, and had no formal studies in languages. Unfortunately for Franz, he ended up under cross examination in official court in Edinburgh, Scotland, and when presented with a simple Hebrew text, could not read nor translate it. (2)

Later editions of the NWT tried to add credibility by quoting Greek scholars such as Julius Mantey, author of a standard Greek grammar. The NWT cited Mantey in support of its rendering of John 1:1, “the word was a god” which is different from all other English translations, which render it “the word was God” or “the word was divine” or similar. Mantey took offense, and on July 11, 1974, wrote a terse letter to the Watchtower demanding that his name be removed from the citation and explaining the NWT’s Greek errors. (see here)

The NWT’s footnotes often have lengthy explanations of nouns with and without the definite article (“the”). I am not a Greek scholar, but can cite the scholars and use the proper language tools to draw safe conclusions based on scholarly texts. If we define a Greek scholar as someone who has published a Greek text or grammar that is in use in an accredited university anywhere, then we can have an objective measure, for if the language texts are incorrect, then we can make no conclusion about the language whatsoever. If we were to say “all the Greek grammar texts are wrong” then we would have no means of making the statement, for the grammars define the language. Saying “all the grammars are wrong” is therefore a self-refuting statement.

In summary, no Greek scholar supports the NWT’s view. Not Dana & Mantey’s A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (p.140, 149-151), not Robertson & Davis A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament (p.279), not A. T. Robertson’s The Minister and His Greek New Testament (p.67), and not Wallace Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (p.266 ff.). These four Greek grammars specifically refute the NWT view, but more importanly represent a significant portion of modern language study. Again, if these are wrong, we can make no objective statement about the language, for we would have no basis from which to make the claim.

As further proof of the NWT’s mistranslation of John 1:1, Wallace quotes a double handful of instances in the first chapter of John where the NWT violates their own rule about indefinite nouns. But we do not need a grammar text to do so: merely check the nouns in John 1:2, 6, 12, 13, 18, etc.  Verse 6 even has God (theos) without the definite article, yet the NWT changes their rule on the very same page as where they make a big deal out of John 1:1. Wallace quotes R. H. Counteas, who counted 282 instances of the indefinite theos, and the NWT was only consistent with their rule 6% of the time, not surprisingly only in locations where the nature of Jesus is at stake.

As for Jesus being worshipped, if we can show that Jesus accepted worship, he would be God. The term for worship (proskuneo) is used about 55 times in the New Testament, about 15 of which are in reference to Jesus. With trifling general references excepted, the NWT is consistent in translating the word as “worship” in every instance except when it refers to Jesus, where they translate the word “obesience.” The pattern is conspicuously clear: they edited the English word so that Jesus did not appear to be receiving worship. For a good chart illustrating this, see here.

Think of the conclusions the Watchtower is trying to tell us: All other published Greek grammars are wrong, but they are right; all scholars on every English Bible translation committee are wrong, but they are right; 2000 years of church doctrinal statements are wrong, but they are right. Their position stretches beyond any sense of credulity.

Given that the Watchtower appears to have intentionally changed the word of God to fit their view, and the change is such that it affects a central point of doctrine, we can only conclude that their beliefs have them falling outside of Christianity.

(1) see Crisis of Conscience, p. 50; Jehovah of the Watchtower, p.176; The Challenge of the Cults, p. 94.
(2) Kingdom of the Cults, (1985), p. 73.

Note added 5/10/12: One comment below pointed out that the footnote in the original edition of the NWT actually used the phrase “rendered in” in reference to the John 8:58 verb, as if it was speaking of the English. With all of the inconsistencies the Watchtower has presented over the years with its citations, I will have to wait till I can get to a seminary library to verify the actual footnote. But meanwhile, I will assume the commenter was correct, and this makes my comment about the NWT footnote incorrect. However, if this was the original meaning of the footnote, it seems odd that they changed the note in the very next edition, and kept changing the note in several subsequent editions, mentioning different tenses. Nevertheless, though I stand corrected on this point, Mantey, Dana, Robertson, Wallace, and all published Greek grammars disagree with the NWT. –hs

Note added 6/2/13: I finally got around to finding a 1950 edition of the New World version, and the footnote for John 8:58 could indeed be referring to an English verb tense, not a Greek one. I have not researched Watchtower publications following the 1950 edition to see how they may have defended their statements, but they did remove the phrase in question from the footnote in subsequent editions. As such, I will hold the commenter below as accurate, and Walter Martin as mistaken on this point. I have therefore removed my statement about this phrase from the blog post, and I stand corrected. However, none of this says anything about the main thrust of the post, which is that John 8:58 is incorrectly translated in the New World version, and every published Greek grammar disagrees with the Watchtower on this.

 

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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10 Responses to The New World Version & Translation

  1. The NWT translation is so deeply flawed, when compared to greek and hebrew manuscripts many scholars testify it holds too many unnecessary variants and errors. Because of the faulty translation. When I did my own study on the history of the bible and translation the NWT came up as one the least reliable modern translations.

  2. Jerome D. says:

    Wow…..never knew information on the NWT translation so I’m glad that I read this blog/article and will try to review it again. May the Lord bless and keep you and the work you’re doing!!

  3. TJ says:

    Humblesmith,

    You seem to be more interested in jumping from argument to argument rather than having a real, honest discussion over the truth of any given matter. Are you having trouble answering the valid criticisms I offered in your other posts? I’m still wondering why the very same words said of Solomon and Jesus, in your view, somehow prove Jesus to be God…but not Solomon. I’ve asked that at least three times now with no response.

    “The original edition of the NWT contained a footnote explaining the rendering of John 8;58 as the ‘perfect indefinite tense (“I have been”) not “I am.”‘ When the scholarly community pointed out that the Greek language has no “perfect indefinite” tense…”

    You seem to be parroting a misunderstanding that likely started with Walter Martin. Let’s be clear, the NWT never claimed that the Greek language has the perfect indefinite tense, rather its footnote gives the rationale for rendering the *English* translation with that tense. Do you understand that difference clearly? Here’s what it actually reads: “I have been = [ego eimi] after the a’ortist infinitive clause [prin Abraam genesthai] and hence properly RENDERED IN the perfect indefinite tense” (emphasis added).

    It’s perfectly straightforward and proper translating to rearrange words and adjust verbal tenses from the source language to the target language in order for the intended meaning to be conveyed. This is what all translations do! Somehow though, I still sense you, even now, insisting that the NWT *must* be wrong because…’everyone’ says so.

    Pick out your favorite, ‘authorized’ translation and look up John 14:9 for example. The very same present-tense Greek verb (eimi) appears there that is present in John 8:58, and yet virtually all English translations put it into some variation of “I have been”! Were ALL of these translators ‘inventing’ a tense in Greek, humblesmith? Will you be humble enough to admit your misunderstanding, or is it on-to-the-next-argument? I’d be more than happy to give clear, solid answers to all of the points you’ve read in your anti-Witness books (if you think you have all the info, you’re sadly mistaken), but only on the condition that you show *some* evidence of sincerity. I have no interest in continuing to try to reason with someone uninterested in being reasonable.

    BTW, there are many English translations–yes, even ones you’d consider ‘mainstream’–that render John 8:58 in a manner similar to the NWT. Thanks for your time.

    • humblesmith says:

      I have said more than once now that there is a fundamental distinction between a relative sense of “savior” and a relative sense of “god.” This was the point of the first post, that there is no other sense of “god” that is good. I made this claim several times, and supported it with references to the numerous places in the OT which God tells us He will not allow competition of any sort. I further supported my claim by pointing out that God, by definition, is infinite and uncreated, and stated that a “god” that is created and finite is antithetical to the clear teachings of the Bible. Your response was to once again keep bringing up equivocations of “savior” and things that appear as god to others, which I had already responded to (and am doing again here). You did not deal with the fundamental distinction between God and all other creatures, just kept insisting that if “savior” can have two meanings, then God can have two meanings. Again, and finally, that there are two senses of “savior” does not show that a God who is infinite can also exist as finite, and do so in a true and good sense of the one true God. God cannot “delegate” (your term) infinite and uncreated to a finite creature, nor will He accept anyone who appears god-like to accept worship. You obviously do not accept my answer, but I have answered it.

      I also made the point, and will do so here again, that ‘having God’s glory’ is akin to participating in His nature, which is fundamentally different than Jesus telling sinners to seek something. You seemed to have not accepted this point, but nevertheless, it is a fundamental and clear distinction.

      You mentioned the Coptic translation as support for your view, claiming that it uses the indefinite article. This again is an instance of Watchtower sleight of hand, half quoting things to support a point that the original does not support, and one which language scholars know better. Yes, the Coptic translation does indeed have the indefinite article, but stopping there is a misrepresentation of the truth. The English version of the Coptic translation is that way because of the nature of the Coptic language, not because of the Greek. It also says “Because out of fulness we all of us took [a] life and [a] grace in place of [a] grace.” In the translation, it says that square brackets are words in the Coptic which are not required by the English. So it is not possible to present the Coptic articles as support of the English. The nicest thing I can say is that the Watchtower claiming this without clarification is less than forthright, for it is not a true representation of the languages. For a more detailed explanation, see the longer explanation here: http://www.forananswer.org/Top_JW/Scholars%20and%20NWT.htm

      You then mention Robert Young, author of “Young’s Literal Translation” and his “Concise Critical Comments.” Yet again, the Watchtower presents a partial truth as if it is fully representative of the whole truth. Yes, Young did indeed have a comment that included that phrase. However, he did not actually translate the passage that way, for his Bible translation renders the phrase, “the word was God.” And as Young was a passionate defender of the Westminster Confession, he would have summarily rejected Watchtower theology. Young did NOT hold to the NWT’s view of John 1:1 or 8:58. Once again, the nicest thing I can say is that the Watchtower is less than forthright, for it does not present the truth. For an excellent list of all of the numerous scholars that the Watchtower misquotes, and an accurate quote of what they actually say, see the link above.

      You have not dealt with the human and divine natures of Jesus, you have not dealt with the infinite nature of Jehovah; after several comments you have not supported your view with an accurate quote of a published Greek scholar; you have not responded to the claim that the Watchtower claims to be right and all other English translation committees wrong; you have not dealt with the fact that no one on the NWT writing team (for it was written, not translated) had any language training, as proven in a court of law; you did not deal with the inconsistent use of definite & infefinite articles in John in the NWT, which conspicuously single out John 1:1; you did not respond to my older post that documented the additional list of funny business surrounding the quotes from the Watchtower’s Should You Believe In the Trinity?”; you did not respond to the documentation of NWT’s conspicuous change in “worship” as it relates to Jesus; and you did not answer the original question, which was to find a place in the Bible that presents any good demi-god that is less than the one true God. What you have done has been to use a lot of bluster, which is a persuasion technique, and you repeat a lot of Watchtower misrepresentations. This is why Christian scholars do not take the Watchtower seriously.

      I have given you ample time and space to present your view, and it’s gotten repetitive. Therefore we will shut it off here.

  4. johnoneone says:

    With regard to your statement, “…there is no other sense of ‘god’ that is good. I made this claim several times, and supported it with references to the numerous places in the OT which God tells us He will not allow competition of any sort. I further supported my claim by pointing out that God, by definition, is infinite and uncreated, and stated that a ‘god’ that is created and finite is antithetical to the clear teachings of the Bible.”

    And so, on the question of how Jesus could be called “a god” within John 1:1c, when in discussion of Jesus’ own reference to others called “gods” (John 10:34, 35, quoting from Psalm 82:6), there is this:

    “The Hebrew for ‘gods’ (‘elohîm) could refer to various exalted beings besides Yahweh [or, Jehovah], without implying any challenge to monotheism,…”

    Taken from: Blomberg, Craig L. (b.?-d.?), Distinguished professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary, Colorado; Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. “The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues & Commentary.” (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, c2002), “The feast of Dedication” ([John] 10:22-42), p. 163. BS2615.6.H55 B56 2002 / 2001051563.

    Thank you, JohnOneOne.

    • humblesmith says:

      I’ll check out the reference when I get a chance, thanks. I’ll have to see the context before I can fully comment, but on the surface, it would appear that this is again merely pointing out that there are different senses of the term, which was never in question. Any good lexicon, such as BDB, or theological wordbook, such as Theological Wordbook of the OT (Harris, Archer, Waltke) will say this. So the definition of elohim was never in question, or its use as meaning more than YHWH. Instead, the question is whether in the context of the use of this term and others in the OT, is there a place where non-YHWH “gods” are used in a sense that YHWH considers as 1) actually existing as a separate being (e.g., not an appearance or representation of YHWH), and 2) good, to be held in higher esteem than a regular human. My statements have been to say God’s clear, repeated statements are to say He is the only God and there are no others.

    • humblesmith says:

      I replied to this in the post for today, 6/10.

  5. John says:

    Greetings humbledsmith,

    I have several post from your site over the last few days. It is interesting that your attack on the NWT, has shown very little research on your part. In dealing with footnotes in the NWT shows that,you really fail to understand the word “rendered” as it was being used in the footnote. It can mean only one thing, the word “rendered” can only be understood to mean, “to be translated into another language”. The Greek was translated into English “I have been”. In the interlinear part of
    the KIT used by Jehovah’s witnesses translated the words correctly as, “i am”.I would recommend too anyone that still questions the, “Perfect Indefinite Tense” as being an English tense, they, should do a google search of their ebooks, in there free books section. It will take them to English Grammar books of the 1800′s up to some used into the 1900′s.

    Sincerely,

    John

  6. reason that the indefinite article in the Coptic translation, of John 1:1, has a qualitative meaning. Many such occurrences for qualitative nouns are identified in the Coptic New Testament, including 1 John 1:5 and 1 John 4:8 . Moreover the indefinite article is used to refer to God in Deuteronomy 4:31 and Malachi 2:10 .

  7. Thomas White says:

    The only thing the NWT is good for is burning material

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