The New World Translation On Trial
from the Christian Research Journal, Fall, 1989, page 28. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
The New World Translation (NWT) is the official translation of the Bible published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and used by all Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs). It has often been criticized for its biased renderings of crucial texts traditionally used by Christians to support the deity of Christ. Although study of such isolated mistranslations in the NWT is valuable, it can give the mistaken impression that the NWT is an otherwise acceptable translation with only a handful of verses in dispute. This is not the case, however.
As I explained in Part One, the purpose of this four-part series is to show that the JWs systematically distort the Bible to make it fit their preconceived beliefs. In the present article I will argue that the NWT itself reflects this systematic distortion in a vast number of texts relating to practically every area of biblical doctrine.
Space does not permit a discussion of who the translators were, what scholarly training they brought to their work, or what opinions non-JW scholars have expressed about the NWT. Another restriction for the sake of space is that the scope of this article will be confined to the New Testament, or "Christian Greek Scriptures," as JWs call it.
I should also clarify at the outset what it means to charge a translation with doctrinal bias. While all translations reflect their translator's doctrinal convictions to a certain extent, some translations are extremely biased to the point of severely distorting the meaning of the Bible. And so, though it is true that all translations reflect some biases, these are in most cases inconsequential compared to the bias of the NWT.
In this article there will be no extended discussion of individual texts. Instead, brief comments will be made concerning a large number of biblical passages. In most cases the reader can verify what is said by simply consulting the JWs' own Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (KIT). The KIT prints the 1984 edition of the NWT New Testament on the right side of the page. On the left side is the Westcott-Hort Greek text of 1881 with the Society's own 1969 word-for-word interlinear translation printed underneath the Greek words. The editors of the KIT explain the purpose of the volume: "The word-for-word interlinear translation and the New World Translation are arranged in parallel on the page, so that comparisons can be made between the two readings. Thus, the accuracy of any modern translation can be determined."
There are several types of mistranslations in the NWT. This article will draw attention only to some of the most common and unfortunate.
In Colossians 1:16-20 the word "other" is added four times in the NWT to make it appear that Christ is part of creation. Paul is thus made to say that "all [other] things" were created in and for Christ, as if Christ were one of the created things. It is, of course, legitimate for translators to add the word "other" where this does not change the meaning but simply makes for smoother English (e.g., Luke 11:41-42; 13:2,4). In Colossians 1:16-20, however, adding "other" substantially changes the meaning.
What is not so often recognized is that the NWT does this same thing in several other passages as well (Acts 10:36; Romans 8:32; Phil. 2:9). In Romans 8:32 ("....will he not also with him [Jesus] kindly give us all other things?"), the word "other" is not even placed in brackets, contrary to the work's stated practice. In each case, the intent is apparently to undermine the implication of the text that Jesus Christ is God.
There are several other texts where the NWT adds words without brackets which change the texts' meaning. Some of these have real doctrinal significance. In Romans 8:28 "all things" is changed to "all his works." This implies that God does not work "all things" together for good to those who love God, but only those things which He Himself does, over which He therefore has control. This allows for their belief that God does not have control over all things.
In Philippians 1:23-24 (NWT) several words are added without brackets that, along with some other changes, completely alter the structure and thereby the meaning of the text. The passage reads in the NWT (with the added words italicized), "I am under pressure from these two things; but what I do desire is the releasing and the being with Christ, for this, to be sure, is far better." There are other errors as well, but the additions indicated here clearly change the meaning. JWs translate it this way in order to avoid the text's implication that at death Paul would be with Christ. Such an implication would contradict their belief that death involves the annihilation of the soul.
Some of the additions in brackets with the NWT so clearly change the meaning that it is a wonder that more JWs do not question them. In 1 Corinthians 14:12-16 the expression "gift of the" is added in brackets five times, changing "spirit" to "[gift of the] spirit." The result is that Paul's contrast between his own personal "spirit" and his "mind" is removed, which again serves the JW doctrine that the spirit is not a distinct entity which survives death. To assure that this contrast is missed, the word "my" is also added in brackets before "mind" twice in verse 15. Thus the simple contrast between "the spirit" and "the mind" is changed to "the [gift of the] spirit" and "[my] mind."
The NWT also omits key words on occasion, when retaining them in the text would seem to contradict JW doctrine. The most glaring example is Romans 8:1, "Therefore those in union with Christ Jesus have no condemnation," which omits the word "now." This omission is evidently motivated by the fact that JWs do not believe anyone can claim to be free of condemnation now.
Also notable is the NWT rendering of Colossians 1:19, "because [God] saw good for all fullness to dwell in him." Here the little word "the" is omitted before "fullness." This is significant, because in the NWT rendering "all fullness" is ambiguous, whereas "all the fullness" clearly refers to the "fullness" of God's own being (cf. Col. 2:9).
John 14:14 should also be mentioned. In the NWT this reads, "If YOU ask anything in my name, I will do it." The Greek text in the KIT, however, has "me" after "ask." It therefore should be translated, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." It is true that some later Greek manuscripts omitted this word, but most of the earlier ones included it, and most modern editions of the Greek New Testament (including those used by the JWs in producing the NWT) include it. At the very least, the NWT ought to have mentioned this reading in a note.
The NWT is further guilty of mistranslating or paraphrasing words in a way which not only does a disservice to the text but betrays its prevailing doctrinal bias as well. It does this with words as small as prepositions.
Of course, it is possible to make too much of prepositions. Words like "in," "of," "into," and "with" really do not in and of themselves have doctrinal significance. Only as these words are attached to other words do they take on significance. It is also important to recognize that a preposition can have different meanings in different contexts. Yet -- though this is true -- prepositions do have recognizable functions and meanings and cannot be translated in whatever manner one chooses.
In violation of this, the NWT translates the simple preposition "in" (Greek, en) with unnecessary variations which often obscure or alter the meaning of the passage. This is illustrated in 1 John 5:20 where the NWT reads in part, "And we are in union with the true one, by means of his Son Jesus Christ." Reading this translation, one would never suspect that in union with and by means of translate the same simple Greek preposition. There is no sound reason for this variation. "And we are in union with the true one, in union with his Son Jesus Christ," would have brought out John's point that union with Christ is union with God.
Again, in Colossians 2:6-12 the preposition "in" is translated by the NWT using unnecessary variations. The Greek phrase en auto ("in him") is translated "in union with him" (v. 6b), "in him" (vv. 7a,9), and "by means of him" (v. 10). En ho ("in whom") is translated "by relationship with him" (vv. 11a,12a). These variations of "in" serve no useful purpose, undermine the unity of the passage, and obscure the point of the author which is that the Christian life consists of a supernatural relationship with Christ through faith.
There are many other passages where "in" is paraphrased in the NWT to avoid the otherwise clear meaning of the text. For example, in Matthew 5:19 "in" is translated "in relation to." This is done to avoid the passage's teaching that some who disobey the Law's commandments and teach others to do so will nevertheless be accepted "in the kingdom of heaven." (JWs believe the Kingdom will be restricted to 144,000 specially chosen and sanctified believers).
Another kind of mistranslation involves the word "believe." One of the most offensive teachings of evangelical Christianity to the JWs (and to many others as well) is that God reckons the sinner righteous on the basis of simple faith, or believing, in Christ. Of course, where "faith" or "belief" is reduced to mental assent to a doctrine, this is rightly rejected. But biblical justification is based on faith in Christ not faith in a doctrine. Nonetheless, even when this teaching is properly defined it is offensive to the JWs, as is evidenced by their attempt to obscure this truth in the NWT.
Most notable in this regard is the NWT rendering of the Greek word for "believe" (pisteuo) as "exercise faith" instead of "believe." As others have noted, to "exercise faith" implies more than to believe; it implies doing works on the basis of one's belief. The NWT almost always renders pisteuo as "exercise faith" when it concerns God's free pardon and justification of those who believe in Christ (e.g., John 1:12; 3:16-18 [but note v. 15]; Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:22).
It was noted earlier that in 1 Corinthians 14:12-16 the phrase "gift of the" is added in brackets five times, changing "spirit" to "[gift of the] spirit." The NWT elsewhere frequently paraphrases the simple word "spirit" -- especially when referring to the immaterial aspect of human nature -- in order to avoid the implication that such a spirit has a reality distinct from the body. For instance, in Hebrews 12:9 "the Father of spirits" becomes "the Father of our spiritual life." In Galatians 6:18 "your spirit" is paraphrased "the spirit YOU show."
Similar rewordings are introduced in passages where the simple translation "spirit" or "Spirit" might imply that God's Spirit is a person, contrary to their doctrine that "holy spirit" is God's "active force." So, Jude's description of certain men as "not having the Spirit" is rendered "not having spirituality" (Jude 19).
Even clearer is 1 John 4:1-6. John has just stated that we know our union with God is secure "owing to the spirit which he gave us" (3:24). The next sentence (4:1) in the NWT reads, "Beloved ones, believe not every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God..." (4:1a; emphases added). One would never suspect from this rendering that "inspired expression" translates the same Greek word (pneuma) as was translated "spirit" in 3:24 (see also 4:2,3,6). John's whole point is that although the Spirit's presence in us gives us assurance of God's love, we are not to believe every "spirit" that claims to be from God, but test them by the teachings which their prophets espouse, "because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (4:1b). The NWT obscures this point of God's Word in order to avoid its implication that His "Spirit" is a person rather than a force (just as the demonic "spirits" are personal entities and not impersonal forces, as JWs recognize).
The same doctrinal bias is seen in 1 Timothy 4:1 where the NWT reads, "However, the inspired utterance says...." A straightforward "the spirit says" would too obviously imply the personality of the "spirit."
Finally, the way in which the NWT most systematically distorts the teaching of Scripture is in its handling of the names and titles used for God. Two points must be made here.
First and most obvious is the appearance of "Jehovah" over 200 times in the NWT New Testament where the Greek text has kurios ("Lord"). Other writers have exposed the scholarly errors involved; I will not repeat their work here. Instead I wish to point out two ways in which this distorts the teaching of the New Testament.
The New Testament follows the practice of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament used by most Greek-speaking Jews in the first century) in substituting the word "Lord" (and occasionally "God") for the divine name "Yahweh" (or "Jehovah"). By so doing, the New Testament makes it clear that the use of "Jehovah" is not necessary for Christians, contrary to the JWs' claim.
Moreover, the substitution of "Jehovah" for "Lord" often obscures the meaning of passages relating to Jesus Christ. A good example is Romans 10:9-13, where Christ is called "Lord" (kurios) three times, concluding with verse 13, a quote from the Septuagint where the "Lord" is Jehovah. The NWT, by rendering kurios in verse 13 as "Jehovah" but as "Lord" in verses 9 and 12, has obscured the fact that in this passage Jesus is being identified as Jehovah by the use of the title "Lord."
The second way the NWT has systematically abused the divine names or titles is in its handling of texts in which Jesus is called God. There are nine texts where Jesus is definitely called God (Isa. 9:6; John 1:1,18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20; possibly also Acts 20:28). Of these, four are translated so that Jesus is not called God at all (Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1). Two are rendered so that he is "a god" or "god" (John 1:1,18). The remaining three texts (Isa. 9:6; John 20:28; 1 John 5:20) are interpreted so that either Jesus is not called God at all or he is called God only in some lesser sense. In short, wherever possible, the NWT has translated texts which in their natural reading plainly call Jesus God in such a way that they no longer make that identification.
Only a small sampling of doctrinally-motivated mistranslations in the NWT have been documented here. We have seen words added, words omitted, and words and phrases paraphrased improperly with a view toward transmuting the Bible into JW doctrine. We have seen that these mistranslations conveniently support the distinctive JW understanding of the name "Jehovah" and their denials of Christ's deity, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, the separableness of the human spirit from the body, spiritual life after the death of the body for Christians, God's absolute sovereign control over the world, the unity of God's people, and justification by faith. Were we to extend the study, we would see that every distinctive of the JWs has strategically been insinuated into the text of the NWT in a way that to the non-JW clearly shows doctrinal bias.
One possible criticism of this survey would be that it does not consider the arguments JWs would advance in defense of their controversial renderings in the NWT. In reply I must point out that to address such arguments would necessarily mean limiting the examples of mistranslation to just a few. But, it is my experience and doubtless that of many others that no JW will admit that there might be so much as one doctrinally-slanted verse in the NWT. To defend such a position, however, they must now satisfactorily explain all of the examples given here. In any case, the more in-depth treatment a specific text is given (including evaluation of arguments in its favor), the more evidence piles up that the JW renderings are wrong and biased.
In Part Three of this series, a specific passage of the Bible will be examined in-depth as a case in point. I shall argue that the methods and presuppositions of biblical interpretation used by the JWs are seriously flawed and lead them into error.
1 The New World Translation of the "Christian Greek Scriptures" was
first published in 1950, with the complete Bible appearing in 1961. All
citations from the NWT are from the New World Translation of the Holy
Scriptures: With References (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society,
1984), hereafter cited as NWT (1984).
2 "Watchtower Authority and the Bible," CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL 11 (Fall 1988):19-21.
3 "By Way of Explanation," in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, rev. ed. (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1985), 5.
5 NWT (1984), 7.
6 See Robert H. Countess, The Jehovah's Witnesses' New Testament: A Critical Analysis of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1982), 19-40, and especially Doug Mason, JEHOVAH in the Jehovah's Witnesses' New World Translation (n.p.: Doug Mason, 1987; hosted by Free Minds, Inc., PO Box 3818, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266).
7 On John 1:1 and 20:28, see my Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989). On Romans 9:5, see Bruce M. Metzger, "The Punctuation of Rom. 9:5," in Christ and Spirit in the New Testament: In Honour of Charles Francis Digby Moule, ed. Barnabas Lindars and Stephen S. Smalley (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 95-112.
End of document, CRJ0049A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"The New World Translation On Trial"
release A, March 25, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.
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