reprint of the Sept/Oct. 1988 Bethel Ministries Newsletter

The New World Translation and Its Critics

By Ian Croft, Western Australia

In the Awake! magazine dated March 22, 1987, an article appears which was written by Nicholas Kip, who has been a lecturer in the Greek language since the 1960's, and who became a Jehovah's Witness partly, it would seem, because he found that the New World Translation agreed with many of his views on New Testament Greek. 1 Kip is part of what can be described as "the new wave of Jehovah's Witnesses Apologists", a growing number of JWs who are becoming competent in Biblical languages, and able to debate their beliefs in a scholarly fashion. Kip's comments on the New World Translation are as follows:

"Since I did not learn Greek from a theologian who was teaching New Testament Greek, I was probably much more objective about it. I could look at the words with fresh eyes, free of the traditional, doctrinal notions. . . . . . . . . . . . . "...The quality of Greek scholarship in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation Of The Greek Scriptures, however, is very good....I feel it's one of the greatly under-appreciated jewels of the Watchtower Society's publications." 2

At the foot of Kip's article, there appears a list of comments by "Greek scholars" on the New World Translation Of The Christian Greek Scriptures. (The Kingdom Interlinear Translation... is an interlinear version of the New World Translation.) 3

Each of the comments will be dealt with separately:

1. Edgar J. Goodspeed, translator of the Greek New Testament in An American Translation. (in a letter, presumably to the Watchtower Society Headquarters, dated Dec. 8, 1950)

"I am interested in the mission work of your people, and in its world wide scope, and much pleased with the free, frank, and vigorous translation. It exhibits a vast array of sound serious learning, as I can testify."

Bill Cetnar, who worked at Bethel (Watchtower Headquarters in New York) during the period when the New World Translation was being prepared, was sent to interview Dr. Goodspeed in March, 1954 to seek his comments on the first volume of the New World Translation Of The Hebrew Scriptures. Cetnar writes:

"During the two-hour long visit with him it was obvious that he knew the volume well, because he could cite the pages where the readings he objected to were found. One reading he pointed out as especially awkward and grammatically poor was in Judges 14:3 where Samson is made to say: `Her get for me....' As I left, Dr. Goodspeed was asked if he would recommend the translation for the general public He answered, `No, I'm afraid I could not do that. THE GRAMMAR IS REGRETTABLE. Be careful on the grammar. Be sure you have that right." 4 (emphasis added)

Dr. Goodspeed was, of course, not speaking here about the Greek (New Testament) Scriptures, but about the Hebrew (Old Testament) Scriptures, while his earlier, favorable comments related to the Greek Scriptures. It is interesting to note, however, that Dr. Goodspeed's comments were made in 1950, but are conspicuous by their absence from earlier Watchtower records of quotes. For example, they do not appear in the article on the subject in the WT book, All Scripture Is Inspired Of God And Beneficial, published in 1963. 5

2. Alexander Thomson, described as a "Hebrew and Greek scholar", writing in The Differentiator, April, 1952, pages 52-7.

"The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing."

While Goodspeed's comments are noticeable by their absence from the article in the book, All Scripture..., it is to be noted that Thomson is the ONLY reviewer whose comments appear therein. In this instance, however, he is reviewing the same volume as that which attracted unfavorable comments from Dr. Goodspeed. In the light of the earlier comments, Thomson's are both interesting and revealing:

"Original renderings of the Hebrew Scriptures into the English are extremely few. It therefore gives us much pleasure to welcome the publication of the first part of the New World Translation [of the Hebrew Scriptures], Genesis to Ruth. This version has evidently made a special effort to be thoroughly readable. No one could say it is deficient in its freshness and originality. Its terminology is by no means based on that of the previous versions." 6

In a technical sense, Thomson's comment would make the translation into a "pseudo-historical fraud." The Greek texts which form the basis of all competent translations come under the category of "previous versions." To be fair to Thomson, however, we are sure that he meant previous English versions. In a later issue of his magazine, (June, 1959) Thomson stated:

"Although on three occasions I have given in The Differentiator brief reviews on parts of the New World version of the Bible, it must not be inferred that I agree with the teachings of `Jehovah's Witnesses,' so called. On the whole the version was quite a good one, even though it was padded with many English words which had no equivalent in the Greek or Hebrew." 7

Thomson was co-editor of the magazine called The Differentiator. The magazine is no longer published, but was issued bimonthly, and had a very small circulation. According to his co-editor, Thomson "did not even formally study Greek or Hebrew in any school." He was not a Hebrew and Greek scholar as claimed by Jehovah's Witnesses. "Thomson was employed in a bank in Scotland and did not believe that Jesus was God." 8 He was a Universal Restitutionist, that is to say, he believed that all men would be saved regardless of their belief in, or their commitment to, God. In view of this background, two points seem relevant:

a) Apparently, Thomson's comments were based on the English text of the New World Translation, if he was not competent to comment on the actual translation work.

b) Would not the opinion of a professional educator and Biblical scholar as to the quality of the grammar of the Bible be more valuable than that of a bank officer who is not a language expert?

3. Robert M. McCoy, writing in the Andover Newton Quarterly, January, 1963.

"The translation of the New Testament is evidence of the presence in the movement of scholars qualified to deal intelligently with the many problems of Biblical translation."

The full paragraph from which this quote comes reads:

"The translation of the New Testament is evidence of the presence in the movement of scholars qualified to deal intelligently with the many problems of Biblical translation. This translation, as J. Carter Swain observes, has its peculiarities and its excellences. All in all, it would seem that a reconsideration of the challenge of this movement to the historical churches is in order." 9 McCoy's review of the translation, and indeed, of the Jehovah's Witnesses, is quite favorable; however, he does not give them total approval. He criticizes several points in the translation:

a) Discussing the translation of Matt. 5:9, he states, "One could question why the translators have not stayed closer to the original meaning, AS DO MOST TRANSLATORS." 10 (Emphasis added)

b) Regarding the translators' claim that they sought to avoid "the misleading influence of religious traditions which have their roots in paganism", that is to say, they sought to avoid doctrinal bias which they felt was evident in other translations, McCoy writes, "In not a few instances the New World Translation contains passages which must be considered as `theological translations.' This fact is particularly evident in those passages which express or imply the deity of Jesus Christ." 11 For his example, he takes the rendering "I have been" in John 8:58, pointing out that "on grammatical grounds alone, the rendering cannot be justified," and he also shows how the context disallows the "anti-deity" view this introduces. 12 Mr. McCoy was at the time of writing his review a graduate of Andover Newton Seminary (associated with the Baptist Church and the United Churches of Christ) holding the degrees of Bachelor of Divinity (1955) from the Boston University School of Theology, and Master of Sacred Theology from Andover Newton. He is not a "recognized" Greek scholar.

4. S. MacLean Gilmour, in the Andover Newton Quarterly, September, 1966.

"The New Testament translation was made by a committee whose membership has never been revealed -a committee that possessed an unusual competence in Greek."

The full quote in the original reads:

"In 1950 the Jehovah's Witnesses published their New World Translation Of The New Testament, and the preparation of the New World Old Testament translation is now far advanced. The New Testament translation was made by a committee whose membership has never been revealed -a committee that possessed an unusual competence in Greek and that made the Westcott and Hort Greek text basic to their translation. It is clear that doctrinal considerations influenced many turns of phrase, but the work is no crack-pot or pseudo-historical fraud." 13

Dr. Gilmour's comments are to be found in an article entitled "The Use And Misuse of The Book of Revelation." Lest it should be thought that Dr. Gilmour is sympathetic to the JW religion, his reason for referring to them is made clear in the following quote (the article is the text of a lecture by Dr. Gilmour in 1966):

"Later in the lecture I spoke of the misuse of the Book of Revelation by millennial sects over the centuries, and in particular of its misuse by the Jehovah's Witnesses during the last one hundred years." 14

Dr. Gilmour was Norris Professor of New Testament at Andover Newton Seminary and editor of the Andover Newton Quarterly, and the author of a commentary on the Book of Revelation.

With all due respect for Dr. Gilmour, his statement regarding the New World Translation is incorrect. The Jehovah's Witnesses did not publish, in 1950, or for that matter at any time, a book entitled New World Translation Of The New Testament. Rather, they published a book entitled New World Translation Of The Christian Greek Scriptures. Perhaps Dr. Gilmour simply failed to notice that the name was unusual. A more serious error, however, is his statement that "The New World Old Testament is now far advanced." He wrote that article, as earlier stated, in 1966. In fact, the New World Translation Of The Hebrew Scriptures was published in five volumes over the period 1953 to 1960. It was completed some six years before Dr. Gilmour made his statement, indeed a one volume edition of the whole Bible was published in 1961. Dr. Gilmour could have checked this out easily, simply by picking up a copy of the Bible, which leads one to wonder whether he had actually seen a copy. A footnote to the article shows that the information regarding the New World Translation came from McCoy's earlier article. Gilmour's article does not quote the New World Translation nor does it gain a mention in his Bibliography. The only book which is noted therein relating to the Jehovah's Witnesses is Horton Davies' The Challenge Of The Sects, concerning which Dr. Gilmour comments, "Overmuch concerned with attacking the beliefs of the sect." 15 If Dr. Gilmour has not even seen a copy of the New World Translation then he is surely in no position to make a value judgment on it. The article certainly gives no evidence that he has read it, the only comment about it being the paragraph quoted above. His comments are based on the review done by another man, and there is no suggestion that Dr. Gilmour is bringing his knowledge of the Greek language to bear on his statement. In summary, Dr Gilmour's comment is not worthy of being quoted in support of a book which (a) he does not appear to have read, and (b) he can't get the name of the title correct, and (c) he is not aware that it had been completed some six years earlier. For the Jehovah's Witnesses to use such a comment in this context reveals dishonest scholarship. 5. Thomas N. Winter, in The Classical Journal, April-May, 1974.

"This is no ordinary interlinear: the integrity of the text is preserved, and the English which appears below it is simply the basic meaning of the Greek word.... After examining a copy, I equipped several interested second-year Greek students with it as an auxiliary text....The translation by the anonymous committee is thoroughly up-to-date and consistently accurate.... In sum, when a Witness comes to the door, the classicist, Greek student, or Bible student alike would do well to bring him in and place an order."

Regrettably, a copy of the original is at present unavailable and no comments can be made on it. It is included here lest we be accused of failing to show all of the evidence. The only information regarding the writer of the quote is that he is "of the University of Nebraska."

Are They Bible Scholars?

Three of the above-mentioned quotes mention the quality of the translators' scholarship. As Dr. Gilmour points out, the WT translating committee has never revealed its membership. According to the book, Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose, "the one request of the translation committee was that its members remain anonymous even after their death." 16 When asked the reason for this in a Scottish courtroom, Frederick Franz, then Vice President of the Jehovah's Witness movement, replied, "Because the committee of translation wanted it to remain anonymous and not seek glory or honour at the making of a translation, and having any names attached thereto." The attorney who asked the question then commented, "Writers of books and translators do not always get glory and honour for their efforts, do they?" 17 While much has been made of the translators' claim to anonymity, workers at the Bethel Headquarters were aware of what was happening, and the translators made no attempt to keep themselves anonymous during the translation period. According to Bill Cetnar, who was present during this period, the five known members of the committee were: Nathan H. Knorr, then President of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society; Frederick W. Franz; Albert D. Schroeder; George Gangas; and Milton Henschel. All five men have been members of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Governing Body. Of these men, Franz alone is said to have had a University education, and even he dropped out after his second year. None of the members was a qualified Biblical language scholar. 18 Although Franz claimed under oath to be able to read both Hebrew and Greek, he was not able, when pressed, to translate from the Hebrew a passage which scholars stated should give no difficulty to a second year Hebrew student. 19 That the committee made a generally quite competent job of the translation, apart from the inadequacy of some grammatical points, and the introduction of theological bias, would seem to be due, not to the committee's knowledge of the original languages, but to an unquestionably high standard of research into the various translational tools available. Because of its claimed anonymity, the committee is not able to reveal how it did its work, nor can it respond to its many critics. The simple fact is, that for every quote which the committee can find to support its work, (for example from this paper, they could extract the following "favorable" review, "...The committee made a generally quite competent job of the an unquestionably high standard of research") there are dozens which are less than favorable.

The Critics Speak Out

What do the critics have to say about the New World Translation Of The Holy Scriptures?

Edmund C. Gruss, Professor of History and Apologetics at Los Angeles Baptist College, offers five main criticisms of the book: 20 a) The use of paraphrasing in contradiction to the stated purpose. b) The unwarranted insertion of words not found in the Greek. Alexander Thomson makes a similar comment in a statement quoted earlier. c) Erroneous rendering of Greek words. d) Deceptive and misleading footnotes and appendix. e) Arbitrary use and misuse of capitals when dealing with the divine name. (For details of criticisms see footnote 20.) Gruss concludes that the New World Translation Of The Christian Greek Scriptures, "although outwardly scholarly, is plainly in many cases, just the opposite. Its purpose is to bring the errors of the Witnesses into the Word of God. This translation carries no authority except to its originators and their faithful followers, and should be rejected as a perversion of the Word of God." 21

Ray C. Stedman (internationally known author, Bible teacher, pastor, evangelist)

"A close examination, which gets beneath the outward veneer of scholarship, reveals a veritable shambles of bigotry, prejudice, and bias which violates every rule of Biblical criticism and every standard of scholarly integrity." 22

Walter Martin and Norman Klann (The late Dr. Martin was a leading Christian apologist, known internationally for his studies of the Jehovah's Witnesses and other groups.)

"Once it is perceived that Jehovah's Witnesses are only interested in what they can make the scriptures say, and not in what the Holy Spirit has already perfectly revealed, then the careful student will reject entirely Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watchtower translation." 23

These authors claim that the New World Translation lacks scholarship, and, in fact, reflects scholastic dishonesty.

Anthony Hoekema:

"Their New World Translation of the Bible is by no means an objective rendering of the sacred text into modern English, but is a biased translation in which many of the peculiar teachings of the Watchtower Society are smuggled into the text of the Bible itself." 24

Dr. Hoekema was Professor of Systematic Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, U.S.A., and the author of one of the most highly regarded reference works on the Jehovah's Witnesses.

F. F. Bruce: (Dr. Bruce is Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis Emeritus, University of Manchester, England. He is a world renowned Biblical exegete who has issued his own translation of the the New Testament, and a number of scholarly works on New Testament themes. The Jehovah's Witnesses have quoted him as an authority on the New Testament on a number of occasions.)

"Some of its distinctive renderings reflect the Biblical interpretations which we have come to associate with Jehovah's Witnesses....Some of the renderings which are free from a theological tendency strike one as quite good..." 25

Bruce M. Metzger, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the world's leading authorities on the Greek language, and recognized as such by the Jehovah's Witnesses who quote him on occasion in a favorable way, wrote an article in 1950 pointing out the errors in many Christological passages in the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. 26

H. H. Rowley, an eminent Old Testament scholar from England, wrote regarding the first volume of the New World Translation Of The Hebrew Scriptures. His comments should be compared to those of Dr. Goodspeed quoted earlier:

"The translation is marked by a wooden literalism which will only exasperate any intelligent reader -if such it finds -and instead of showing reverence for the Bible which the trans lators profess, it is an insult to the Word of God.... "...this volume is a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated." 27

The comments quoted above are but a sample of the many that have been written over the years. Many more are available in reference to specific details of the translation, especially the translation "...and the Word was a god." which appears in John 1:1c in the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Space precludes their inclusion in this paper.

Watchtower Scholarship Remains Unsubstantiated

This paper began by referring to Nicholas Kip. His sincerity and faith in the Jehovah's Witnesses religion is not in question, nor is his firmly established opinion regarding the quality of the translation work in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. He is entitled to his opinion. Others have, however, expressed opinions at wide variance with that given by Mr. Kip, and as a scholar he would do well to consider these opinions. The support which the Awake! magazine gives for his stance has been shown to be nowhere as strong as the magazine (and presumably, by implication, Mr. Kip) would have the reader believe. Indeed, the volume of scholarly opinion against the New World Translation seems to far outweigh that in support of it.

Few scholars, Christian or otherwise, feel they can condemn the New World Translation out of hand. Their difficulties are not with the sincerity of the translation committee, but with certain aspects of the grammar used, and with the noticeable theological bias in the work. This comes out most strongly in the Christological (i.e., dealing with the person of Christ) passages. This is why comments relating to the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures) are limited almost entirely to the quality of the grammar. The fact is that scholars, both Christian and non-Christians, have roundly attacked the scholarship of the New World Translation which pushes a particular theological stance, and which has influenced the lives of millions around the world. Jehovah's Witnesses who are concerned for their own eternal life, as well as that of others, and who wish to worship the living and true God as He is revealed in the pages of His Word, will wish to give consideration to these facts, and ask themselves why it is that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society needs to show in its literature quotes purporting to support the scholarship of its writers, when that "support" has long since been proven to be unreliable and not as helpful as might be hoped. Why is it that support for the Society's translation of the Bible has been claimed from a scholar who has not read the book, could not get the name correct, and did not know that the translation work had been completed some six years before he made his incorrect statement? The answer is simple. It is because no stronger support can be found! This has been but one example of the many scholastic errors of the Jehovah's Witnesses. If this one can be so easily checked, so can many others. The Watchtower organization can be shown to be built on slender support, which could collapse at any time. The evidence demands a questioning of the Jehovah's Witnesses' faith. Could it be that the scholars who make up the vast majority of comment on the translation are correct, rather than the one (Kip) or possibly two, if Winter is found to be as useful to the Jehovah's Witnesses as they would hope? -oOo-

1. Kip, N., "How Knowing Greek Led Me To Know God," Awake! Mar. 22, 1987, 10-14
2. Kip, 13
3. Kip, 15
4. Cetnar, W.I. & J., Questions For Jehovah's Witnesses Who Love The Truth (Kunkletown, Pennsylvania: W.I. Cetnar, 1983) 64
5. All Scripture Is Inspired Of God And Beneficial (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1963) 319-326
6. All Scripture... , 325
7. Thomson, A., The Differentiator 21:98, June, 1959
8. Cetnar, 53
9. McCoy, R.M., "Jehovah's Witnesses And Their New Testament" Andover Newton Quarterly, Jan. 1963, 31
The reference to J. Carter Swain is to p. 40 of his book, Right And Wrong Ways To Use The Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1963 10. McCoy, 24
11. McCoy, 29
12. McCoy, 29
13. Gilmour, S.M., "The Use And Abuse Of The Book Of Revelation," Andover Newton Quarterly, Sept.,1966, 26
14. Gilmour, 26
15. Gilmour, 27
16. Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose (New York: Watchtower Bible And Tract Society Of New York, 1959) 258
17. "Pursuers Proof of Douglas Walsh vs The Right Honourable James Latham, M.P., P.C., Scottish Court of Sessions, November, 1954, p.92" as quoted in Cetnar, 64
18. Cetnar, 64
19. Cetnar, 65
20. Gruss, E.C., Apostles of Denial (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1970) 200ff Among Gruss's findings are: (as detailed in the text)
(a) While the translators claimed to give as literal a translation as possible, paraphrasing is frequently used to avoid any possibility of supporting the deity of Christ. For example, in John 1:1-15, the word "en" is translated "in" part of the time, and "in union with" the rest of the time. The latter is a paraphrase.
(b) In Col. 1:16-17 the word "other" is inserted, although it is not included in the Greek text. This happens four times in these two verses. A similar thing happens in other places also.
(c) While the translators have claimed to take the literal meaning of the words, they have not, on occasion translated on the basis of the meaning applied to certain words in the first century. For example, Mt. 25:46 renders the word "Kolasis" as "cutting off", whereas in all 107 known uses of the word in first century writings, all have the meaning "punishment", not "cutting off", while the word did have that meaning some centuries earlier (is used that way in the Septuagint and Apocrypha).
(d) For example, Col. 1:16-17 is footnoted to Lk. 13:2-4, to show a parallel. The two passages cannot, however, be shown to be parallels at all.
(e) In John 1:1, because of the lack of an article ("the"), the Word is called "a god". However, in Verse 18, which also has no article, the word "God" is capitalized. There are many examples of similar character.

21. Gruss, 211
22. Stedman, R.C., "The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures," Our Hope 50; 34, July, 1953. 30 as quoted in Gruss, 209
23. Martin, W., & Klann, N., Jehovah of the Watchtower, (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1974 161
24. Hoekema, A., The Four Major Cults (Exeter: Paternoster, 1963) 208-9
25. Bruce, F.F., The English Bible: A History of Translations (London: Lutterworth Press, 1961) 184 as quoted in Gruss, 210
26. Metzger, B.M., "The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures" The Bible Translator 15:152, July, 1964
27. Rowley, H.H., "Jehovah's Witnesses' Translation of the Bible" The Expository Times 67:107, Jan. 1956 as quoted in Gruss, 213 and "How Not to Translate the Bible," The Expository Times as quoted in Gruss, 212

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