Letter to Steve Parks:
October 18, 2000
Christian Research Institute
Rancho Santa Margarita, California 92688-2124
This letter responds to your letter to me dated September 12, 2000. In it you essayed to demonstrate a deficiency of language skills or, at least, a doctrinal bias of the New World Translation Committees' rendering of the Old Testament. Very likely you know that I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses and a Hebrew language instructor for the San Diego Community College. I have taught both Classical and Modern Hebrew. Perhaps, that positions me to address your comments. And, I suppose I should mention that I was formerly a Baptist with strong feelings against Jehovah's Witnesses; that obviously is not the case now. A number of us had occasion to interact with Dr. Walter Martin before his death; we were unhappy with his frequent misrepresentations that no Witnesses were willing to respond to his criticisms. We honestly found that to be unChristian. Perhaps, things have changed. Now, to the matter at hand.
In your letter you wrote: "While many examples could be marshaled, I'll provide you with what may be one of the more obvious errors. In the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, Numbers 2:2 reads as follows: 'The sons of Israel should encamp each man by his [three-tribe] division, by the signs for the house of their fathers. Round about in front of the tent of meeting they should encamp.' I would like to draw your attention to what the translators of the NWT render as '[three tribe] division.' In the Hebrew, the words are על־דגלו, which is taken from the Hebrew root דגל which should be translated as 'standard' or 'banner' (Francis Brown, THE BROWN-DRIVER- BRIGGS HEBREW AND ENGLISH LEXICON [Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999] p. 186. Now obviously, this poses an insurmountable problem for The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, since they had elsewhere emphatically stated that the use of banners, or flags, constitutes the use of 'an idolatrous symbol ... There are Christians today who feel similarly regarding national flags. They are Jehovah's Witnesses ... they decline to participate in flag ceremonies' (AWAKE! 9/9/71, P.14). So how is this problem solved? Simply make the text say something it does not say. This is essentially the same tactic used by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society when it comes to those texts explicitly teaching the deity of Jesus Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity." Please review your letter to assess whether or not I have taken your comments out of context.
I am going to assume that you picked up this criticism from someone else because it does not show a serious, critical review of the question. A number of Witness scholars have seen this in material coming out of your center. Let me show you what I mean. First let us look at some other translations of Numbers 2:2:
NEW ENGLISH BIBLE: "The sons of Israel are to pitch their tents, every man by his own standard, under the banner of his patriarchal House. They are to pitch their tents all round the Tabernacle of the Testimony, at a measured distance."
PENTATEUCH & HAFTORAHS: "The children of Israel shall pitch by their fathers' houses; every man with his own standard, according to the ensigns; a good way off shall they pitch round the tent of the meeting." With footnote reading: "'With his own standard'. Or, 'with his own division'. The Heb. degel may mean the larger field-sign of every division of three tribes, or the corps itself. The latter is the meaning attached to the word in the recently discovered Jewish papyri at Elephantine."
TANAKH: "The Israelites shall camp each with his standard, under the banners of their ancestral house; they shall camp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance."
LEESER: "Every man by his own standard, by the ensigns of their family division, shall the children of Israel pitch their tent; at some distance round the tabernacle of the congregation shall they encamp."
THE BIBLE IN LIVING ENGLISH: "The sons of Israel shall encamp each by his own division by family ensigns; they shall encamp off and around the Tent of Meeting."
Perhaps, you are beginning to see the problem with your criticism. If not, let
us probe deeper. In your reference library, you may wish to investigate the
following comments from Koehler and Baumgartner in LEXICON IN VETERIS TESTAMENTI
LIBROS under "'1": "banner ... division (of tribe) Nu 1,52 2,2 f.10.17f etc."
When we consult William Wilson's OLD TESTAMENT WORD STUDIES under the same we
discover: "דגל m. a flag, banner, standard i.e. of a larger kind, carried about
with the army, which may be seen afar off glistening and waving in the air;
serving for three tribes together; the smaller flags being called אחאח: Numb
1,52; 11.2,3 etc." And in Keil and Delitzch's COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT,
volume I, page 17: "דגל,
a standard, banner, or flag, denotes primarily the larger field sign, possessed
by every division composed of three tribes." Jehovah's Witnesses publish a Bible
reference work entitled INSIGHT ON THE SCRIPTURES. This work comments on this
issue stating in volume I, page 397:"'signs for the house of their fathers' were
provided to help a person find his proper place in the camp (Nu 2:2). Since the
Hebrew expression de'ghel rendered 'three-tribe-division', also means 'banner'
as in Ca 2:4), it is possible that there were tribal markers as well as family
ensigns. The Bible gives neither the numbers nor a description of these signs."
Just a little research on your part would have spared you the mistake of taking issue with the Witness translation of Numbers 2:2. And had you researched the Witness exegesis found in INSIGHT ON THE SCRIPTURES, it may have given you pause in making the accusation in the first place. Already on shaky grounds, you forged ahead to make a curious link of Numbers 2:2 with the Witness stand on national flag salutes. You committed what has to be an obvious error of confusing the social ritual towards national flags with ensigns/flags representing a community and for which we have no evidence involved any social or even religious ritual. This argument too was unresearched on your part. And, you said this matter was "an insurmountable problem for the The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society"; your statement is, at least, from a scholar's point of view unwarranted. I do not mean this to be unkind but to be honest with you.
I was once a Trinitarian; I now believe that Jesus is the Son of the Living God and that God is his head--and his God. And, I notice that even on this score you had not done your homework. Witnesses do not believe that Yahweh is Jesus but they always have believed in the deity of Jesus. Notwithstanding, your suggestion to the contrary. Isaiah 9:6 clearly calls the promised Messiah the "Mighty God."
Would you mind critiquing just one paragraph of any Hebrew language WATCHTOWER
to demonstrate Witness ineptness with this language?
If you care to respond, I am at your service.