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Advantages of the New World Translation:

Is it Grammar or Interpretation?

When translating the New Testament from its original Greek into any modern tongue there are terms that can be rendered in more than one way. How shall the right translation be determined? In such cases obviously something other than Greek grammar determines what wording the modern scholar will use in translating the original.

For instance, considerable controversy has centered around John 1:1. It reads, according to the Authorized Version of 1611: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ However, the New World Translation (1971) says in the latter part of this verse "the Word was a god." This rendering is strongly criticized by some, since it appears to make the Word (Jesus in his prehuman existence) a lesser god and not God Almighty himself These critics appeal to Greek grammar to try to dislodge this latter rendering.

Thus one theologian says regarding the New World Translation handling of this verse: "It overlooks entirely an established rule of Greek grammar which necessitates the rendering,’. . . and the Word was God."’ Another comments that the translation "a god" is "erroneous and unsupported by any good Greek scholarship.., rejected by all recognized scholars of the Greek language." And yet another notes that it shows ‘‘ignorance of Greek grammar.’’

To back up such strong language, reference is sometimes made to a rule of Greek grammar formulated by E. C. Colwell. Does his rule really prove their point? Consider what Colwell himself has actually said.

In 1933 he published an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature entitled: "A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testament." Toward the close of his article he discusses John 1:1. The latter part of this verse reads literally in the Greek: "AND GOD WAS THE WORD." Notice that a definite article "THE" appears before "WORD," while no "THE" appears before "GOD." Colwell’s rule regarding translation of the Greek says: "A definite predicate nominative [for example, "GOD" at John 1:1] has the article ["THE"] when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb." In other words, if always true, the rule says that at John 1:1 a "THE" before "GOD" is implied in the original language and should therefore appear in modem translations.

His rule appears to be true in some places in the Greek Bible. However, Colwell himself admitted that there are exceptions to the rule, that it is not absolute. (See, for instance, an interlinear rendering of Luke 20:33; 1 Corinthians 9:1, 2.) In fact, there appear to be so many exceptions that thirty years after his rule was formed, one Greek grammar book says that the rule may only reflect a "general tendency." Well, then, what about John 1:1? Would the rule apply there?

Colwell himself answers: "The predicate ["GOD"] .. . is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it." Notice, not any inviolable "rule," but context is the crucial factor. So in spite of the strong, assertive language on the part of some, Colwell’s "rule" of itself does not necessitate’ one rendering over another at John 1:1. Rather, how the translator interprets the surrounding verses and, indeed, the rest of the Bible-this is what would determine how he translates John 1:1.

That is why those above-quoted writers are so dogmatic in their statements. To them Jesus is God himself One of them refers to "Jesus Christ, who is truly God and truly man." Another observes that "Christ claimed equality with Jehovah. "Obviously, given a choice, would they not want John 1:1 translated to give apparent support to their own views?

On the other hand, a person who accepts Jesus’ plain statement that "the Father is greater than I am" will realize that Jesus is not equal to the Almighty Jehovah. (John 14:28) Yet this does not mean that Jesus cannot be referred to as "god" in some sense of the word. Recall Exodus 4:16; does not Jehovah there say to Moses, "And thou shalt be to [Aaron] instead of God"? (AV) But this did not make Moses God Almighty, did it? The term "god" is applied even to the Devil, since he is a mighty creature controlling the existing system of things. (2 Cor. 4:4) Certainly, then, Jesus, who has been exalted over all other creation and granted the exercise of great power in heaven and earth by his Father, can be referred to as "a god." Such a rendering conveys the dignity and respect Jesus is due while at the same time it avoids giving any reader the impression that Jesus is God Almighty himself.

The assumed grammatical "rule" in connection with John 1:1 is only one of many that is appealed to for apparent support of certain religious ideas. But it serves to illustrate the point: the real issue involves more than grammar.

Grammatical rules are necessary to understand a language. But they have limitations. As the Encyclopedia Americana states: "Everywhere we find grammar working upon a language already made. The office of grammar has been, not to fix what a language should be, or must be, but to explain what an already existing language is. Grammar is explanatory and not creative."

Accordingly, even with regard to living languages it should be remembered that, in the last analysis, their ‘grammar’ does not come from ‘grammar books.’ As a professor of English at the University of Chicago notes: "In the usage of native speakers, whatever is, is right." Those who speak a language, especially the ‘better educated’ people-not arbitrary rule makers-ultimately determine what is ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect.’

This same principle holds true with regard to the grammar of Biblical Greek. Its purpose is to explain how things are said and not to try to impose on the original language what the modem grammarian thinks should be said. Such ‘grammar’ must be drawn from what the Biblical Greek text itself actually says. Even other writings in the Greek language, but of a different age or from another part of the world, are of only limited value in arriving at an understanding of the Scriptures.

As prominent Greek grammarian A. T. Robertson Once put it: "What we wish to know is not what was good Greek at Athens in the days of Pericles, but what was good Greek in Syria and Palestine in the first century A.D." Yes, the Bible’s text itself in particular must reveal what is acceptable in the matter of its grammar.

Thus the person unschooled in the original Bible languages need not be overawed by those who cite grammatical rules. No rule of grammar will contradict the overall message of the Bible. Similarly, the honest Biblical teacher knows that it is the text of the Bible that is inspired. Grammatical rule books are not, though they are helpful.

Why do some Bible versions render Titus 2:13 as if it were referring only to one person, Jesus, calling him God and Savior?

In the New World Translation Titus 2:13 reads: "While we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus."

However, many Bible translators have rendered the last part of the verse as if it meant only one person, Jesus. For example, An American Translation says: ..... the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus." Such translators often claim that this sort of rendering conforms to a "rule" of Greek grammar. Yet the Trinity doctrine also inclines them toward such a translation.

A literal translation of the Greek phrase is, "glory of the great God and Saviour of us Christ Jesus." (The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, by Dr. Alfred Marshall) Observe that there is a single article (the) preceding two nouns (God, Savior) that are joined by the conjunction "and." Over a century ago, Granville Sharp formulated what is supposed to be a "rule" applying in such constructions. It asserts that, since the article (the) is not repeated before the second noun (Savior), the two nouns refer to the same person or subject. This would mean that "great God" and "Savior" would both be descriptive of Jesus, as if the meaning were ‘of Jesus Christ, the great God and our Savior.’

Persons inclined to believe in the deity of Jesus sometimes give the impression that the above position is demanded by proper Greek grammar. But that is not so. In fact, the validity of the "rule" being applied in Titus has been much debated by scholars.

For example, Dr. Henry Alford (The Greek Testament, Vol. III) says: "No one disputes that it may mean that which they have interpreted it" as meaning, but he adds that one needs rather to determine ‘what the words do mean.’ And that cannot be settled by grammatical rules.

A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Moulton-Turner, 1963) states about Titus 2:13: "The repetition of the art[icle] was not strictly necessary to ensure that the items be considered separately." What, though, about ‘Sharp’s rule’? Dr. Nigel Turner admits: "Unfortunately, at this period of Greek we cannot be sure that such a rule is really decisive." (Grammatical Insights into the New Testament, 1965) As to the Greek construction used, Professor Alexander Buttmann points out: "It will probably never be possible, either in reference to profane literature or to the N[ew] T[estament], to bring down to rigid rules which have no exception,... "—A Grammar of the New Testament Greek. In The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Dr. N. J. D. White observes: "The grammatical argument.. . is too slender to bear much weight, especially when we take into consideration not only the general neglect of the article in these epistles but the omission of it before" ‘Savior’ in 1 Timothy 1:1; 4:10. And Dr. Alford stresses that in other passages where Paul uses expressions like "God our Savior" he definitely does not mean Jesus, for "the Father and the Son are most plainly distinguished from one another." (1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3-5) This agrees with the overall teaching of the Bible that Jesus is a created Son who is not equal to his Father.—John 14:28; 1 Cor. 11:3.

Thus, Dr. White concludes: ‘On the whole, then, we decide in favour of the rendering of this passage, appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.’ A number of modern translations agree. In the main text or in footnotes they render Titus 2:13 as speaking of two distinct persons, "the great God" who is Jehovah, and his Son, "our Savior, Christ Jesus," both of whom have glory. (Luke 9:26; 2 Tim. 1:10) See The New American Bible, The Authentic New Testament, The Jerusalem Bible (footnote) and the translations by J. B. Phillips, James Moffatt and Charles K. Williams.

When Paul wrote to the Christian congregation at Colossae, he spoke of the need to have "accurate knowledge" and the ‘riches of the full assurance of our understanding.’ (Col. 2:2) The New World Translation has undertaken to draw its readers as closely as possible to the original divinely inspired writings. It merits serious study. Jehovah’s Witnesses are grateful to have this translation for use at their meetings, in their public preaching activity and for vital personal research. Yes, it really does matter which Bible translation you use.

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