« Main Search

Part 1: A Response to Alleged New World Translation "Errors"

This page contains a response to alleged "errors" in the New World Translation. The allegations are preceded by ">" and the response follows each allegation. These allegations are taken directly from the "Jehovah's Christian Witnesses" website:

> The New World Translation

>The following is a list of problems that we have found with the New world Translation. We do not claim this list to be complete, nor do we claim that all of the problems are doctrinally critical, but some are. In many instances the meaning of the Bible has been changed by apparently deliberate mistranslations. If anyone knows of any errors, mistranslations, loose paraphases, etc. that we have missed here, please let us know. As you read this list, please keep in mind what the Watchtower itself said in the 1984 brochure, The DIVINE NAME That Will Endure Forever on page 5:

I would recommend a book by Rolf Furuli entitled "The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation with a Special Look at the New Word Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses." Mr. Furuli is very helpful in explaining fundamental translation principles.

>"If someone deliberately changes or omits part of the contents of the Bible, he is tampering with the inspired Word."

I agree, if someone KNOWS that the translation that is being provided is wrong, he or she is definitely tampering with God's Word. However, the mere fact that a particular translation uses a different English word or phrase to translate a particular Greek word or idiom does not equate to this action.

>The list is followed by a short tract we wrote a few years ago about one problem we found with the NWT.

Who is "we"? What credentials and experience do "we" have? Is it your position that any other translation has less "errors"?

>Genesis 10:9 - Hebrew word "pawneh" (before) mistranslated as "in opposition to". - see Hebrew text and lexicons.

Yes, check the footnotes. There you will find that the translators understood that "pawneh" meant literally "in front of." The translators, however, understood that the word was used in the sense of "defiance of and opposition to, as in the case of the same expression in Nu 16:2; Jos 7:12, 13; 1Ch 14:8; 2Ch 14:10; Job 23:4."

In a letter that Israeli Professor Benjamin Kedar sends out to those who inquire about his views of the NWT, he states:

Several years ago I quoted the so-called New World Translation among several Bible versions in articles that dealt with purely philological questions (such as the rendition of the causative hiphil, of the participle qotel). In the course of my comparative studies I found the NWT rather illuminating: it gives evidence of an acute awareness of the structural characteristics of Hebrew as well as of an honest effort to faithfully render these in the target language. A translation is bound to be a compromise, and as such its details are open to criticism; this applies to the NWT too. In the portion corresponding to the Hebrew Bible, however, I have never come upon an obviously erroneous rendition which would find its explanation in a dogmatic bias. Repeatedly I have asked the antagonists of the Watchtower-Bible who turned to me for clarification of my views, to name specific verses for a renewed scrutiny. This either was not done or else the verses submitted (e.g. Genesis 4:13, 6:3, 10:9, 15:5, 18:20 etc.) did not prove the point, namely a tendentious translation.

Rolf Furuli states in his book (p. 297):

I myself have compared the entire Hebrew OT text with the English text of the NWT verse by verse, and it is evident to me that the translators have done a very good job.

>Numbers 1:52 - Hebrew word "degel" (standard, flag) replaced with "[three-tribe] division." - See Hebrew text and lexicons. [cut 2:2, 2:3, 2:10, 2:17, 2:18, 2:25, 2:31, 2:34, 10:14, 10:18, 10:22, 10:25)

Interesting, the New American Bible must also be biased because it translated this verse, and others using "degel," as:

While the other Israelites shall camp by companies, each in his own DIVISION of the camp . . .

>Deuteronomy 9:23 - Word "exercise" is added. – See Hebrew text and lexicons. John 1:12 - The English word "exercising" is added with no basis in the Greek text - See Kingdom Interlinear Translation, Greek text and lexicons. [Cut of other verses reiterating the same argument]

I am not sure that I understand your point here. All translations make use of one or more English words to translate Hebrew and Greek words. The fact that the Hebrew or Greek word does not literally equate to a single English word proves nothing. The real test is whether the translation conveys the same thought or idea. Here, the meaning of the texts are not changed by the addition of "exercises" or "exercising."

>Psalms 56:4 - Hebrew word for "in" paraphrased as "in union with". - See Hebrew text and lexicons. Matthew 10:32 - Greek word "en" ("in") paraphrased as "in union with" (twice). – See Kingdom Interlinear Translation, Greek text and lexicons. [Cut of other verses reiterating the same argument]

This type of argument is more commonly encountered with the KJV-Only crowd. It seems to go something like this: there is only one Greek Hebrew or Greek word at this place, therefore there should only be one English word used to translate it. The insinuation is that any other translation is somehow suspect if it uses more than one word to translate the singular Hebrew or Greek word.

This view ignores two important facts. First, all translations could be cited for the exact same violation in different areas. Second, context may demand a more realistic English equivalent to properly convey the Biblical writers presupposition pool. Some translations try to covey "what the text says" while others such as the NWT try to convey "what the text means." Further, I cannot understand why the NWT is compared with the KIT to imply that the NWT must be biased. The KIT is an INTERLINEAR TRANSLATION while the NWT is a literal translation. I would suggest that someone interested in comparison also compare the NASB with the Interlinear version by the Lockman Foundation. You might notice that there are many discrepancies between the two versions although they are published by the same group. Are these people also "biased"? Of course not, the two translations are made under different translation principles.

Coming back to the verses that use "in union with" instead of "in," it seems rather clear that Christians do not believe that Christ was literally "in" those who put faith in him. But that is what would be conveyed to a modern reader if "in" was used to translate the second instance of "en" at Matthew 10:32.

>Psalms 96:4 - Word "other" is added. – See Hebrew text and lexicons.

I see that you do not understand the translation principles involved here. The word "other" is added in BRACKETS to indicate that that while he is a member of the class "gods" he is above all of them.

It might be easier to give you a New Testament example to bring this point home. Read Luke 13:2. Here the Galileans in the subject are of the same class as PANTAS the Galileans. In English a translator might choose to use "other" to show that understanding and to smooth out the translation. And in fact other translations do this although the word "other" does not appear in the Greek text.

GNT Luke 13:2 kai apokriqeis eipen autois, Dokeite hoti hoi Galilaioi houtoi amartwloi para PANTAS tous Galilaious egenonto hoti tauta peponqasin;

NIV Luke 13:2 Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?

NAS Luke 13:2 And He answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?

NAB Luke 13:2 And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?

NRS Luke 13:2 He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?

NKJ Luke 13:2 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?

Are these versions also adding text that does not appear in the Greek?

>Jeremiah 10:10 - Hebrew phrase "Jehovah is the true God" paraphrased as "Jehovah is in truth God". – See Hebrew text and lexicons.

I have two points to make here. First, the Revised English Bible translates Jer. 10:10:

But the LORD is God in truth . . .

Is this translation also theologically biased in its translation?

Second, I cannot believe that a trinitarian would cite this verse in any argument. For the sake of argument, let's assume that "JEHOVAH IS THE TRUE GOD" is the best translation. Now compare this verse with John 17:3:

NASB: "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the ONLY TRUE GOD, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

KJV: "And this is life eternal, that they may know thee the ONLY TRUE GOD, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."

NIV: "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the ONLY TRUE GOD, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."

NLT: "And this is the way to have eternal life - to know you, the ONLY TRUE GOD, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth."

NCV: "And this is eternal life: that people know you, the ONLY TRUE GOD, and that they know Jesus Christ, the One you sent."

CEV: "Eternal life is to know you, the ONLY TRUE GOD, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent."

NKJV: "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the ONLY TRUE GOD, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

NAB: "Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the ONLY TRUE GOD, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ."

NRSV: "And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the ONLY TRUE GOD, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

Now using a bit of reasoning, if JEHOVAH is THE TRUE GOD and the ONLY TRUE GOD sent Jesus Christ, how can Jesus be the ONLY TRUE GOD or JEHOVAH? Of course you could always try to argue that one person of the "only true God" sent another person of the "only true God," but the text makes no such distinctions. Jesus is not in the category of "the true God" nor in the category of the "only true God." Perhaps you would like to explain this.

>Daniel 7:27 - Hebrew "will be" mistranslated as "were". - See Hebrew text and lexicons.

And what is your point? This is a vision by Daniel speaking of what is to occur in the future, but he is seeing it as if it had occurred. Therefore, whether "will be" or "were" is used in the first instance does not alter the meaning of the text. Also, you might notice that some translations insert another "will be" after "His kingdom" although the text does not contain the Hebrew for "will be." Are these versions adding to God's Word? Of course not.

>Daniel 7:27 - Hebrew "his" mistranslated as "their." - See Hebrew text and lexicons.

You are again wrong. Perhaps you would like to explain why the following versions translate the scripture thusly:

NRSV: "THEIR kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them."

REB: "THEIR kingly power will last for ever, and every realm will serve and obey them."

NAB: "WHOSE kingdom shall be everlasting: all dominions shall serve and obey him."

NJB: "WHOSE royal power is an eternal power, whom every empire will serve and obey."

KJV: "WHOSE kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him."

Are all of these versions also mistranslating "his" as "their" or "whose"? Do you understand why they are not? (Hint, it has to do with the proper reference).

>Zechariah 3:2 - Words "the angel of" added. - See Hebrew text and lexicons.

I think you need to take a course in bible translation. Compare these versions' translation of Zech. 3:2:

REB: "The angel said to Satan . . ."
NAB: "And the angel of the LORD said . . ."
NJB: "The angel of Yahweh said . . ."

The NWT as well as other translations note that the Syriac Peshitta of the 5th Century C.E. contain this rendering. Further, the context of Zech. 3:1-2 shows that Satan and John were standing before the angel of Jehovah, so using angel in 3:2 clarifies this meaning. Jehovah speaks through angels many times in the Scriptures.

>Matthew 1:20 - Greek word "Kuriou" ("of Lord," or "Lord's") mistranslated as "Jehovah's". - See Kingdom Interlinear Translation, Greek text and lexicons. [Cut further references concerning divine name in New Testament]

Yes, the NWT clearly explains the reason for doing this:

1D The Divine Name in the Christian Greek Scriptures

"Jehovah." Heb., (YHWH or JHVH) From App 1A and 1C it is evident that the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew characters (YHWH) was used in both the Hebrew text and the Greek Septuagint. Therefore, whether Jesus and his disciples read the Scriptures in either Hebrew or Greek, they would come across the divine name. In the synagogue at Nazareth, when Jesus rose and accepted the book of Isaiah and read Isa 61:1, 2 where the Tetragrammaton occurs twice, he pronounced the divine name. This was in accordance with his determination to make Jehovah’s name known as can be seen from his prayer to his Father: "I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world. . . .I have made your name known to them and will make it known." Joh 17:6, 26.

There is evidence that Jesus’ disciples used the Tetragrammaton in their writings. In his work De viris inlustribus [Concerning Illustrious Men], chapter III, Jerome, in the fourth century, wrote the following: "Matthew, who is also Levi, and who from a publican came to be an apostle, first of all composed a Gospel of Christ in Judaea in the Hebrew language and characters for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed. Who translated it after that in Greek is not sufficiently ascertained. Moreover, the Hebrew itself is preserved to this day in the library at Caesarea, which the martyr Pamphilus so diligently collected. I also was allowed by the Nazarenes who use this volume in the Syrian city of Beroea to copy it." (Translation from the Latin text edited by E. C. Richardson and published in the series "Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur," Vol. 14, Leipzig, 1896, pp. 8, 9.)

Matthew made more than a hundred quotations from the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. Where these quotations included the divine name he would have been obliged faithfully to include the Tetragrammaton in his Hebrew Gospel account. When the Gospel of Matthew was translated into Greek, the Tetragrammaton was left untranslated within the Greek text according to the practice of that time.

Not only Matthew but all the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures quoted verses from the Hebrew text or from the Septuagint where the divine name appears. For example, in Peter’s speech in Ac 3:22 a quotation is made from De 18:15 where the Tetragrammaton appears in a papyrus fragment of the Septuagint dated to the first century B.C.E. (See App 1C §1.) As a follower of Christ, Peter used God’s name, Jehovah. When Peter’s speech was put on record the Tetragrammaton was here used according to the practice during the first century B.C.E. and the first century C.E.

Sometime during the second or third century C.E. the scribes removed the Tetragrammaton from both the Septuagint and the Christian Greek Scriptures and replaced it with Ky'ri·os, "Lord" or The·os', "God."

Concerning the use of the Tetragrammaton in the Christian Greek Scriptures, George Howard of the University of Georgia wrote in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 96, 1977, p. 63: "Recent discoveries in Egypt and the Judean Desert allow us to see first hand the use of God’s name in pre-Christian times. These discoveries are significant for N[ew] T[estament] studies in that they form a literary analogy with the earliest Christian documents and may explain how NT authors used the divine name. In the following pages we will set forth a theory that the divine name, YHWH (and possibly abbreviations of it), was originally written in the NT quotations of and allusions to the O[ld] T[estament] and that in the course of time it was replaced mainly with the surrogate [cannot reproduce] [abbreviation for Ky'ri·os, "Lord"]. This removal of the Tetragram[maton], in our view, created a confusion in the minds of early Gentile Christians about the relationship between the ‘Lord God’ and the ‘Lord Christ’ which is reflected in the MS tradition of the NT text itself."

We concur with the above, with this exception: We do not consider this view a "theory," rather, a presentation of the facts of history as to the transmission of Bible manuscripts.

RESTORING THE DIVINE NAME

Throughout the centuries many translations of parts or of all the Christian Greek Scriptures have been made into Hebrew. Such translations, designated in this work by "J" with a superior number, have restored the divine name to the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures in various places. They have restored the divine name not only when coming upon quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures but also in other places where the texts called for such restoration.

To know where the divine name was replaced by the Greek words K¨rioV and Qe¬V, we have determined where the inspired Christian writers have quoted verses, passages and expressions from the Hebrew Scriptures and then we have referred back to the Hebrew text to ascertain whether the divine name appears there. In this way we determined the identity to give Ky'ri·os and The·os' and the personality with which to clothe them.

To avoid overstepping the bounds of a translator into the field of exegesis, we have been most cautious about rendering the divine name in the Christian Greek Scriptures, always carefully considering the Hebrew Scriptures as a background. We have looked for agreement from the Hebrew versions to confirm our rendering. Thus, out of the 237 times that we have rendered the divine name in the body of our translation, there is only one instance where we have no agreement from the Hebrew versions. But in this one instance, namely, 1Co 7:17, the context and related texts strongly support rendering the divine name. See 1Co 7:17 ftn, "Jehovah."

Following is a list of the 237 places where the name "Jehovah" occurs in the main text of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Supporting the rendering are various sources listed by their respective symbols. For an explanation of the symbols ("J" references), see the Introduction under "Textual Symbols."

The following list also indicates the Greek word to be found at these locations in the Westcott and Hort Greek text. Ky'ri·os, "Lord," and its various forms are designated by Ky. Similarly, The'os, "God," and its various forms are designated by Th. An asterisk (*) preceding either of these symbols indicates that the Greek word is accompanied by the definite article in the Greek text. A plus sign (+) following the verse citation indicates that there is additional information to be found in a footnote on that verse.

[List of verses omitted]

Following is a list of the 72 places where the name "Jehovah" occurs, not in the main text of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, but only in the footnotes.

[List of verses omitted]

"Jah," the shorter form of the divine name, occurs in the Greek expression hal·le·lou·i·a', a transliteration of the Hebrew ha·lelu-Yah', "Praise Jah, you people!" Re (4 times) Re 19:1, 3, 4, 6. See Ps 104:35 ftns.

Additonally consider what Rolf Furuli wrote on Greek-L:

George Howard (1977, The Tetragram in the New Testament, JBL 63-84) has argued convincingly that the tetragrammaton even occurred in the NT. Albert Pietersma (1984, Kyrios or Tetragram. A Renewed Quest for the Original Septuagint, in De Septuaginta Studies in Honour of John William Wevers on his sixty-fifth birthday, eds A Pietersma and C Cox.) also argued convincingly that the tetragrammaton was sunbstituted by KURIOS in the ORIGINAL LXX manuscripts. He took as his point of departure late manuscripts of the LXX with KURIOS and pointed out that hundreds of times in the Hebrew text we find LYHWH (preposition le (=to)+ tetragrammaton).

In the late LXX manuscripts we find KURIWi (dative) in these instances. If KURIOS was a later substitution how would those writing it know when the Hebrew text had le, to the effect that it should be written in the dative case.

In 4QLXXLevb we find IAW with the dative TWi preceding in LEV 3:11,14; 4:3; and in 8HevXIIgr we find TWi before the tetragrammaton in Zech 9:1. The publication of these manuscripts have shown Pietersma's argument to be wrong because KURIWi could be a substitution for either IAW or the tetragrammaton with TWi.

4QLXXLevb has been dated, as you say to the 1 century BC, or possibly even to the 1 Christian century. The occurrence of IAW strongly suggests that it was pronounced 200 years after the translation of the LXX started. This also lend credence to the view that the tetragrammaton in the other Greek manuscripts signaled pronunciation and not the opposite. It would be strange if IAW in some manuscripts would represent pronunciation and the tetragrammaton in other would signal KURIOS (or something else). In the fourth century BC Aramaic-speaking Jews lived in the Nile delta. There is manuscript evidence that they pronounced the tetragrammaton as IAHU or IAHO (See Elephantine Papyrii in The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible).

So one century before the translation of the LXX started, in the same area we find something similar to IAW.

BTW, there is absolutely no evidence proving that the tetragrammaton was not pronounced by some or many in the days of Jesus. The Essenes at Qumran did not pronounce it in the first century BC, but they did not use `adonai (equivalent to KURIOS) in its stead but `el (equivalent to theos).The Pharesees and other groups at the same time pronounced it.

Regards
Rolf
Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

Again, I think you must look a little deeper to discover the truth here. Some other sources to consult: George Howard, "The Textual Nature of the Old Hebrew Gospel of Matthew," JBL 105 (1986); W. G. Waddell, "The Tetragrammaton in the LXX," JTS 45 (1994).

Also, if you believe it is important for a translation to neither take away or add to the text, why do many versions that trinitarians support take away from God's Word by omitting the some 7,000 occurrences of the Tetragram in the Old Testament? Are these versions not mistranslating the Tetragram?

>John 8:58 - Greek words "ego eimi" ("I am") mistranslated as "I have been" - See Kingdom Interlinear Translation, Greek text and lexicons.

First, you may notice that all of these translations also make the same "mistake":

New American Standard Bible (NASB) (margin 1960-1973 editions): Or, "I have been."

The Living New Testament: "The absolute truth is that I was in existence before Abraham was ever born."

The 20th Century New Testament: "before Abraham existed I was."

The New Testament, An American Translation Goodspeed: "I tell you I existed before Abraham was born."

The Complete Bible, An American Translation Goodspeed: "I tell you I existed before Abraham was born."

New Believers Bible, New Living Translation: "I existed before Abraham was even born."

The New Testament, C. B. Williams: "I solemnly say to you, I existed before Abraham was born."

The Book, New Testament: The absolute truth is that I was in existence before Abraham was ever born."

The Living Bible: "I was in existence before Abraham was ever born."

The Four Gospels, Lattimore: "Truly, truly I tell you, I am from before Abraham was born."

The New Testament, From the Peshitta Text, Lamsa: "Before Abraham was born, I was."

An American Translation, In The Language of Today, Beck: "I was before Abraham."

New Testament Contemporary English Version: "I tell you.that even before Abraham was, I was, and I am."

The Living Scriptures (Messianic Version): "I was in existence before Abraham was ever born."

The Unvarnished New Testament: "Before Abraham was born, I have already been."

The New Testament, Klist & Lilly: "I am here-and I was before Abraham."

The New Testament in the Language of the People, Williams: "I existed before Abraham was born."

The New Testament, Noyes: "From before Abraham was, I have been."

A Translation of the Four Gospels, Lewis: "Before Abraham was, I have been."

The Syriac New Testament, Murdock: "Before Abraham existed I was."

The Curetonian Version of the Four Gospels, Burkitt: "Before Abraham came to be, I was."

The Old Georgian Version of the Gospel of John, Blake & Briere: "Before Abraham came to be, I was."

Nouvum Testamentum AEthiopice, Platt, Lepzip: "Before Abraham was born, I was."

The New Testament Or Rather the New Covenant, Sharpe: "I was before Abraham was born."

The 20th Century New Testament 1904: "Before Abraham existed I was already what I am."

The New Testament, Stage: "Before Abraham came to be, I was."

The Coptic Version the New Testament in the Southern Dialect, Horner: "Before Abraham became, I, I am being."

The Documents of the New Testament, Wade: "Before Abraham came into being, I have existed."

The New Testament in Hebrew, Delitzsh: Before Abraham was, I have been."

The New Testament in Hebrew, Salkinson & Ginsberg: "I have been when there had as yet been no Abraham."

The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Swan: "I existed before Abraham was born."

The New Testament (in German) Pfaefflin: "Before there was an Abraham, I was already there."

The Authentic New Testament, Schonfield: "I existed before Abraham was born."

Biblia Sagdrada, Roman Catholic: "Before Abraham existed, I was existing."

The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Noli: "I existed before Abraham was born."

The Concise Gospel and The acts, Christianson: "I existed even before Abraham was born."

A Translators Handbook to the Gospel of John, Nida: "Before Abraham existed, I existed, or.I have existed."

The Simple English Bible: "I was alive before Abraham was born."

The Original New Testament, Schonfield: "I tell you for a positive fact, I existed before Abraham was born."

The Complete Gospels Annotated Scholars Version, Miller: "I existed before there was an Abraham."

I think that this little Greek word study would help some better understand the Greek of John 8:58 and its relationship to the Hebrew of Exodus 3:14. I don't think that Kenneth McKay is a heretic, but you never know.

Kenneth McKay, 'I AM' in John's Gospel

------------------------------------------------------

Kenneth L. McKay, who graduated with honors in Classics from the Universities of Sydney and Cambridge, taught Greek in universities and theological colleges in Nigeria, New Zealand, and England, who taught at the Australian National University for 26 years, has written numerous articles on ancient Greek syntax, as well as authored a book on Classical Attic, Greek Grammar for Students, and A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek: an aspectual approach, provides the following in relation to the alleged "true parallel between Exodus 3:14 (LXX) and John 8:58"

------------------------------------------------------

'I am' in John's Gospel
The Expository Times, 1996, page 302
BY K. L. MCKAY, MA,
FORMERLY OF THE AUSTRALIAN UNIVERSITY
-------------------------------------------------------

It has become fashionable among some preachers and writers to relate Jesus's use of the words 'I am' in the Gospel according to John, in all, or most, of their contexts, to God's declaration to Moses in Exodus 3:14, and to expound the passages concerned as if the words themselves have some kind of magic in them. Some who have no more than a smattering of Greek attribute the 'magic' to the Greek words egw eimi. [1] I wish briefly to draw attention to the normality of the Greek in all such passages, and the unlikelihood of the words egw eimi being intended to suggest any special significance of this kind.

It is, of course, perfectly reasonable to draw attention to Jesus's claims about himself by noting the 'I am' element common to them: 'I am the bread of life' (6:35), 'I am the light of the world' (8:12), 'I am the gate/door' (10:7), 'I am the good shepherd' (10:11), 'I am the resurrection and the life' (11:25), 'I am the way, the truth and the life' (14:6), 'I am the true vine' (15:1). These statements give important insights into the identity and work of Jesus, and we can be challenged to decide whether the words 'I am' in them convey truth, delusion, deceit, or something else. In each case the Greek words used are egw eimi, the pronoun being emphatic (as is usually appropriate in beginning a startling fresh statement, answering a question of identity or personal activity, and in some other circumstances), and the verb, also slightly emphatic, [2] being the normal use of the verb 'to be' as a copula, the means of linking the subject with the significant words, 'bread', 'light', etc., which occur as noun complements. The same principle applies when the complement is an adjective or an adverb or adverbial phrase used adjectivally.

With variations of context the degree of emphasis may vary, and either the pronoun or the verb may be omitted. In the parallelism of 8:23 pronoun and verb are separated: humeis ek ton kato este, egw ek ton ano eimi, but in the immediately following parallel statement the introduction of a negative brings the verb forward (thus also giving extra emphasis to toutou): egw ouk eimi ek tou kosmou toutou. In 14:10 the verb is omitted, because it is understood from the rest of the sentence: egw en tw patri kai ho pater en emoi estin. [3] In 14:20 a development from the same statement, also in a hoti clause, omits the copula entirely: egw en tw patri mou kai humeis en emoi kagw en humin. In 10:36 the personal pronoun is not needed for emphasis, and is omitted: huios tou theou eimi. In 7:34 and 7:36 the clause structure demands the postposition of the subject: hopou eimi egw humeis ou dunasthe elthein.

Although the natural English translations differ, there are two contexts of this kind in which Jesus uses the words egw eimi alone to identify himself: in 6:20, where the disciples are afraid of the apparition they see walking on the water, and Jesus reassures them by identifying himself, quite naturally, with these words, which translate into English as 'It is I'; and in 18:5, while Jesus acknowledges that he is Jesus of Nazareth by speaking the same words, which are naturally translated into English as 'I am he'. The syntactic difference between them is that in the former egw is the complement, the unexpressed subject being something equivalent to 'what you see', and in the latter egw is the subject, the unexpressed complement being 'Jesus of Nazareth'. In both these passages egw eimi is the natural Greek response [4] in the circumstances, as may be seen in 9:9, where the man cured of blindness uses exactly the same words to acknowledge his identity. The dramatic reaction of the arresting party in 18:6 is readily explained if we note that the confident authority of Jesus's presence was such that he defeated the merchants in the temple (2:15), and he simply walked away when the crowd was intent on throwing him over the brow of the hill near Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30).

The verb 'to be' is used differently, in what is presumably its basic meaning of 'be in existence', in John 8:58: prin Abraam genesthai egw eimi, [5] which would be most naturally translated 'I have been in existence since before Abraham was born', [6] if it were not for the obsession with the simple words 'I am'. If we take the Greek words in their natural meaning, as we surely should, the claim to have been in existence for so long is in itself a staggering one, quite enough to provoke the crowd's violent reaction.

For the emphasis on the words 'I am' we need to look back to God's words to Moses in Exodus 3:14, 'I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: "I am has sent me to you".' The passage in its Hebrew form has been discussed by many commentators as something of a problem, with possibilities that the verb could mean 'I am', 'I will be', 'I become', or 'I will become', and the pronoun 'that', 'who', 'what', or even 'because'. Some see a need to emend the text, and some stress various critical principles as basic to its interpretation. A few refer to the Septuagint translation of the passage as relevant for understanding it. [7]

Now the Septuagint was the translation done for the benefit of the increasing number of Greek-speaking Jews a couple of centuries earlier, so naturally it is the version of the Old Testament that is normally referred to in the New Testament, and certainly the one most likely to be known to the early readers of John's Gospel. Its translation of Exodus 3:14 follows the sense (as understood by the Jewish translators) rather than the exact form of the Hebrew: egw eimi ho wn ... Ho wn apestalke me, which translates into English literally as 'I am the being one',' [8] and 'the being one has sent me'. Now the words egw eimi here are the emphatic pronoun and the copula as in most of the passages cited above; and ho an represents a relative clause which in its first occurrence would be hos eimi and in its second occurrence would be hos esti, [9] but the most natural translation into English of both would be 'the one who is (who really exists)',' [10] the verb having its basic meaning (and being so accented), and not being a mere copula In neither is there any possibility of inserting an emphatic egw. So the emphatic words used by Jesus in the passages referred to above are perfectly natural in their contexts, and they do not echo the words of Exodus 3:14 in the normally quoted Greek version. Thus they are quite unlikely to have been used in the New Testament to convey that significance, however much the modern English versions of the relevant passages, following the form of the Hebrew words, may suggest it.

-------------------------------------------------------

Footnotes:

[1] I have seen one such speaker try to impress his audience by writing the words on a blackboard, only to demonstrate that he was ignorant of even the simplest details of Greek.

[2] Its position is unemphatic, but the degree of emphasis could be reduced by its omission, which would make no difference to the meaning. The omission of the copula is quite common in Greek, especially, but not exclusively, in the third person.

[3] The fact that this is a reported statement, in a hoti clause, does not affect the grammar, but only the degree of emphasis.

[4] In translation, if as is likely, the original reply was the equivalent in Aramaic.

[5] Note that with this meaning the verb is differently accented in Greek ( E)GW\ E)MI/ instead of E)GW E)IMI ).

[6] For the construction see K. L. McKay, A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek: An aspectual approach (Peter Lang, 1994), 4.2.4.

[7] For extensive modern discussion of the problems of interpretation see Brevard S. Childs, Exodus: A Commentary (OTL, SCM, 1974) and John 1. Durham, Exodus (WBC 3, Word, 1987). See also Martin Noth, Exodus (OTL, SCM, 2nd ed. 1966); U. Cassuto, Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Magnes Press), 1. P. Hyatt, Exodus (NCB, Oliphants, 1971); Alan Cole, Exodus (TC, IVP, 1973); J. W. Wevers, Notes on the Greek Text of Exodus (Scholars Press, 1990).

[8] As Noth mentions in a footnote.

[9] Cf. the Vulgate translation of 14b: Qui est misit me ad vos.

[10] English has lost the full range of inflections, and the relative pronoun is now treated as if it were always third person.

Part 2.

    Previous Top
© 1999 - 2007 Jehovah's Witnesses United. All rights reserved. Terms of Service
home-icon.gif (1K) Home:
About
Congregations
General News
Human Rights
Theocratese
Bookshelf
Study Tools
Site Search
Web Search
Webring
Contact
genexe-icon.gif (1K) EXEGESIS:
General
Greek
Hebrew
Patristic
Translation
Discussion
Study Links
genexe-icon.gif (1K) GENERAL:
Legal
Holocaust
Freedom
resources-icon.gif (1K) Resources:
Official
Defense
Trinity
Bloodless
Businesses