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Series of Letters to Paul D. Wegner:

April 7, 2001

Paul D. Wegner
Professor of Bible
Moody Bible Institute
820 North LaSalle
Chicago, Illinois 60610

Dear Paul:

A close friend of mine, Dave Schuman, introduced me to your interesting work THE JOURNEY FROM TEXTS TO TRANSLATION. I was rather impressed by the overall approach and consequently I intend to purchase my own copy of your book shortly.

I am a convert to Jehovah's Witnesses from the Baptist Church. I also have taught Hebrew language courses at the college level for a number of years. [And, I have tutored in both Classical and Modern Hebrew] That does not make me unique; there are other Witnesses who teach Hebrew and still others who teach Classical Greek here and abroad. Obviously, all of us would have a special interest in your comments about the quality of the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. With your permission, let me make some observations regarding your report on this work.

On pages 363,364 you introduce the reader to the NWT with this statement: "This translation, so clearly flawed by its doctrinal biases, was prepared by the Jehovah's Witnesses and published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society... We mention this translation with the purpose of signaling its deficiencies and biases so that people will not be drawn into using it unaware." Now, over the years, from time to time, non-Witness scholars have made comments diametrically opposed to yours. Let me share with you just a few comments from them before I address each of your specific criticisms. Israeli professor Benjamin Kedar not long ago stated: "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." Thomas N. Winter of the University of Nebraska says this about the KINGDOM INTERLINEAR TRANSLATION OF THE GREEK SCRIPTURES, a document produced by the Witnesses with the NWT in the right column opposite the interlinear: "The text is based on that of Brooke F. Wescott and Fenton J.A. Hort (1881, repr), but the translation by the anonymous committee is thoroughly up-to-date and consistently accurate." -THE CLASSICAL JOURNAL, April-May 1974, pp 375,376. Recently, NT Greek scholar, Dr. Jason BeDuhn remarked: "I am a trained scholar of the Bible, familiar with the texts and tools in use in modern biblical studies, and, by the way, not a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses. But I know a quality publication when I see one, and your New World Bible Translation Committee has done its job well ... Your New World Translation is a high quality, literal translation that avoids traditional glosses in its faithfulness to the Greek. It is, in many ways, superior to the most successful translations in use today." In nearly all the cases of which I am aware, the difficulties and disputes over the NWT, in the end, emerge over theological differences not philological mistakes. Let us now look at your analysis as recorded in your book.

On page 364, you relate: "First, the Jehovah's Witnesses pride themselves on using the name Jehovah, which they believe is the proper name of God. We have seen, however, that this is a mistaken understanding of the medieval Jewish representation of the sacred name of God as a combination of two Hebrew words." Unfortunately, you have repeated a frequent mischaracterization of the facts here. Almost 50 years ago on page 10 of the Foreword of the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF THE CHRISTIAN GREEK SCRIPTURES, the NWT committee stated clearly: " The exact pronunciation of the name is not known today, but the most popular way of rendering it is 'Jehovah."' Later, on page 25, they added: "While inclining to view the pronunciation 'Yah-weh " as the more correct way, we have retained the form 'Jehovah' because of people's familiarity with it since the 14th century. Moreover, it preserves, equally with other forms, the four letters of the tetragrammaton JHVH."

What is remarkable to me is the increscent number of Hebraists who feel strongly that the Divine Name in Hebrew has
three syllables, not two. They reject the academic "Yah-weh'."  Hebrew scholar, Dr. George Wesley Buchanan is a member of this persuasion. As you may know, he lobbies rather cogently for the pronunciation "Yahowah." In his monograph INTRODUCTION TO INTERTEXTUALITY, page 9, footnote 15, he maintains: "The correct pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton is either Yahohwah or Yahuwah. This can be shown from the use of the name in poetry and proper names that include the Tetragrammaton, such as Yahu-nathan or Eli-Yahu. See further Buchanan, 'Some Unfinished Business with the Dead Sea Scrolls,' RQ 49-52 (1988): Memorial Jean Carmigmac, ed. F. Garcia Martinez and E. Peuch (Paris, 1988), pp. 411-20."

I know of no Witness of Jehovah who has a working knowledge of Classical Hebrew who is not well aware of the proposition that the form "Jehovah" arose out of "a combination of two words." Do you think that you will ever consider abandoning the form "Jesus" and adopt the Hebrew pronunciation or the Koine Greek pronunciation? Or, will you maintain that form "because of people's familiarity with it" and its common use in the English language?

Theology is injected into your next criticism: "The Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that Jesus is truly God but instead he is the first created being: Jesus is 'a god' but not 'the God.' As a result several passages of Scripture are incorrectly translated: 'In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. (John 1:1 NWT, emphasis added." Then to make your point, philologically, you referred to Colwell: "As early as 1933, E.C. Colwell argued against such a rendering: 'The absence of the article does not make the predicate indefinite or qualitative when it precedes the verb; it is indefinite in this position only when the context demands it. The context makes no such demand in the Gospel of John." How strong is this claim today?

There are some fairly serious problems with your criticisms here as we shall see. Let me deal with this issue in three parts: (1) How some nonWitness translations have rendered the passage in similar terms (2) How some contemporary scholars now view Colwell's rule(s) (3) What philologically works at John 1:1, theology aside.

First, let us list a few of the many translations that mirror the NWT at John 1:1:

1807....."and the word was [a] God."
Timothy Kenrick, AN EXPOSITON OF THE HISTORICAL WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, Vol.II.

1808....."and the Word was a god."
Thomas Belsham, THE NEW TESTAMENT IN AN IMPROVED VERSION.

1823....."and the Word was a God."
Abner Kneeland, THE NEW TESTAMENT--BEING THE ENGLISH ONLY OF THE GREEK AND ENGLISH NEW TESTAMENT.

1828....."and the Logos was a god."
John Samuel Thompson, THE MONOTESSARON: or THE GOSPEL HISTORY, ACCORDING TO THE FOUR EVANGELISTS

1854....."for a God the Command was to Become."
Herman Heinfeter, A LITERAL TRANSLATION OF THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. JOHN ON DEFINITE RULES OF TRANSLATION.

1865....."and a God ... was the Word."
Robert Young, LL.D., CONCISE COMMENTARY ON THE HOLY BIBLE, p.54

1879....."and Logos was a god."
Leicester Ambrose Sawyer, THE FINAL THEOLOGY, Vol 1 "Introduction to the New Testament, Historic, Theologic and Critical, p. 353.

1901....."and was a God."
Antonius Nicholas Jannaris Ph.D., (Classical Greek), Zietschrift fur die Neuterstamentliche Wissenchaft und die Kuknde Alteren Kirche Volz (1901), pp 13-25.

1911....."and [a] God was the Word."
George William Horner, THE COPTIC VERSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT IN THE SOUTHERN DIALECT.

1958....."and the Word was a God."
James Tomanek, THE NEW TESTAMENT OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS ANOINTED.

There are many more of these in English; this was just a sampling. The same is true in other languages. Take, for
example, German:

1660....."und di Rede war ein Gott."
Jeremias Felbinger, DAS NEUE TESTAMENT

1926....."und ein Gott war der Gedanke."
Oskar Holtzmann, DAS NEUE TESTAMENT

1979....."und ein Gott war der Logos."
Jurgen Becker, DAS EVANGELIUM NACH JOHANNES.

Bear in mind, some of the capable translators just identified are Trinitarians. Do you imagine people should be warned against these translations?

E.C. Colwell's views have come under some criticism by today's nonWitness Greek New Testament scholars. For example, on pages 183-184 of Dr. Nigel Turner's acclaimed A GRAMMAR OF NEW TESTAMENT GREEK, Vol III, Syntax, he vitiates much of the force of Colwell's argument that you used against the NWT. Then, on the heels of that, D.A. Carson in his popular EXEGETICAL FALLACIES, pp 86,86 adds: "It is a fallacy to argue, on the basis of the fact that a predicate noun preceding a copulative verb is anarthrous, that it is highly likely to be definite. Statistically, this is no more likely than the conclusion it is indefinite." There is more comment questioning Colwell but the puzzle is that the NWT at John 1:1 would be measured by Colwell.

There is more. If the critics of the NWT want to abide by Colwell, notwithstanding the attack on him by contemporary scholars, then they will have to answer for their failure to comply with Colwell in a host of scriptural citations. Take for one John 6:70. Do we leave Judas as "a devil" or do we make him "the devil"?

Yes, how should one translate the final clause of John 1:1? One scholar says: "There is no basis for regarding the predicate theos as definite... In John 1:1, I think that the qualitative force of the predicate [noun] is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite."--Philip Harner, JBL, Vol. 92:1, 1973, pp 85-87. Another writes: "John 1:1 should rigorously be translated 'the word was with the God (=the Father), and he word was a divine being."--John L. McKenzie, S.J., DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE, p 317. Still another: "In John 1:1...Theos en (was deity) ... The qualitative force is obvious and most important."--Alfred M. Perry, TRANSLATING THE GREEK ARTICLE, JBL, 1949, Vol. 168, p 331.

In the face of all the discussion on the translation of John 1:1--by non Witness scholars, some of whom opt for an "a god" translation and others "was divine", the criticism of the NWT translation of John 1:1 is unwarranted and abusive.

But what about your comments on John 20:28? Does not the theology of that verse shape the theology of John 1:1? As a former Trinitarian, I once thought so. Tomorrow, God willing, I will continue with a response to your reference to John 20:28.

In Christ,
Hal Flemings
 

 

April 11, 2001

Paul D. Wegner
Professor of Bible
Moody Bible Institute
820 North LaSalle
Chicago, Illinois 60610

Dear Paul:

This is my second letter to you centering on your review of the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.

After commenting on the NWT translation of John 1:1, you continued: "There are two other places in the Gospel of John where theology forces similar types of translation (John 1:18; 10:33), but it is surprising that Thomas's exclamation to Jesus, 'My Lord and my god' (John 20:28) is retained."

Let us first look at John 1:18 NWT, a translation you apparently question: "No man has seen God at any time; the only-begotten god who is in the bosom [position] with the Father is the one who has explained him." The footnote from this verse in the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION WITH REFERENCES says: "'the only-begotten god,' P75,Rc; P66RcBC, 'only begotten god';ACcItVgSyc,h, 'the only begotten Son."' Now, let us consult some other translations:

• "No one has ever seen God as he is. It is the Unique One, the Divine One, he who is nearest the heart of the Father, who has disclosed to us the mystery of God."--THE NEW TESTAMENT, William Barclay

• "No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son who abides at the Father's side has made Him known."--THE REVISED BERKELEY VERSION

• "No human eye has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the Father's bosom--He has made Him known.' Footnote reads: "The only Son] Or 'the only-born Son,' as in verse 14. V.L. 'the only-born God."' --THE NEW TESTAMENT IN MODERN ENGLISH, Richard Weymouth

Non-Witness translations, in some cases, admit that there is manuscript evidence for this translation "only begotten god" or "only born God."  But, to get to the point from a text critical perspective, consider this from page 198 of A TEXTUAL COMMENTARY ON THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT by Bruce M. Metzger, NT Greek scholar and trinitarian: "[John] 1:18 μονογενης θεος...With the acquisition of p66 and p75, both of which read θεος; the external support of this reading has been notably strengthened.  A majority of the Committee regarded the reading μονογενης υιος, which undoubtedly is easier than μονογενης θεος, to be the result of scribal assimilation to Jn 3.16, 18; 1 Jn 4.9." I must ask, Paul, what is wrong with the NWT at John 1:18?

I must move to another project. I plan to resume this communication tomorrow.

In Christ,
Hal Flemings
 

 

April 15, 2001

Paul D. Wegner
Professor of Bible
Moody Bible Institute
820 North LaSalle
Chicago, Illinois 60610

Dear Paul:

In this third missive, I intend to focus on John 20:28. You evidently had no wrinkles over how the NWT Committee translated the verse but you lifted it up to make a theological argument that stands in opposition to Christological views held by Jehovah's Witnesses. And, this was performed in your review of the translation.

In Herbert Weir Smyth's BEGINNERS' GREEK BOOK, page 27, we find: "The Greek has five cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and vocative." [I realize that some Greek scholars argue that there are more cases.] As you probably know, the cases are usually identified by their suffixes. For example: φιλος ("friend"-nominative); του φιλος ("of the friend"-genitive); τω φιλω ("to" or "for the friend"-dative); τον φιλον ("the friend"); φιλε ("friend"-vocative).

The vocative is the form of address. Throughout the NT when people addressed Jesus as "Lord", they used the vocative form "κυριε"-not the nominative form "κυριος." Consider the following sample using the REVISED STANDARD VERSION as the English base:

Matthew 7:21:    "Not everyone who says to me, Lord (κυριε), Lord (κυριε)"

Luke 5:12:    "Lord (κυριε), if you will you can make me clean."

John 6:68:    "Lord (κυριε), to whom shall we go?"

Acts 1:6:    "So when they had come together, they asked him, Lord (κυριε), will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

Rev. 22:20:    "Amen. Come Lord (κυριε) Jesus!."

Let us turn our attention to the NT Greek at John 20:28. Thomas says to Jesus: "ο κυριος μου και ο θεος μου"-"the God of me and the Lord of me." But, did you notice that if Thomas was addressing Jesus as THAT God THAT Lord, he used the incorrect cases? He did not say: "κυριε μου και ο θεε μου". Why does he use the nominative case, almost as though he is expressing an exclamation or confession to Jesus in response to his acknowledgment that the person in front of him is indeed the resurrected Christ? And, if NT word usage is the criterion for exegesis of this passage, you would be at a lost to make the case for the Trinity in this verse. Only theology can try to make the case for the Trinity here not philology. Look, if you page over to Revelation 7:14, you will find a "My Lord" expression in the vocative. There you see: "και ειρηκα αυτω κυριε μου..." Those last two words would have been the words chosen by Thomas had he meant that Jesus was the Lord and God about whom he emoted. I have raised this issue with NT Greek academics more than once and have yet to get a clear response.

I plan to return.

In Christ
Hal Flemings
 

 

April 16, 2001

Paul. D. Wegner
Professor of Bible
Moody Bible Institute
820 North LaSalle
Chicago, Illinois 60610

Dear Paul:

In this fourth communication, I intend to address your comments about Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1 as found in the NWT. On page 365, you state: "In other passages statements referring to Jesus' divinity are modified. For example, the phrases 'while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the Great God and of our Savior Christ Jesus' (Titus 2:13 NWT) and 'the righteousness of our God and [the] Savior Jesus Christ' (2 Pet 1:1 NWT) are translated so as to give the appearance of referring to two persons instead of one."

We will consider Titus 2:13 first. Is not it interesting ,.that many translations parallel the NWT? Take a look:

1869..."Of the great God and of our Saviour Jesus Christ."--THE NEW TESTAMENT, George R. Noyes, D. D.

1935..."of the great God and of our Saviour Christ Jesus."--A NEW TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE, James Moffatt

1969..."Of the Great God and of Jesus Christ our Savior."--THE NEW TESTAMENT IN MODERN ENGLISH, J.B. Phillips

1969..."Of our great God and the One who saves from the penalty of sin, Jesus Christ."--THE NEW LIFE TESTAMENT, Gleason H. Ledyard

1990..."Of our great God and the appearing of our Deliverer, Yeshua the Messiah."--JEWISH NEW TESTAMENT, H. Stern

Why would even some Trinitarian scholars translate Titus 2:13 like the NWT? Years ago, Sharp's Rule #1 was applied to Titus 2:13 to make the argument that the two entities were, in fact, the same entity. But, in the meantime, scholars have found serious problems with a strict application of Sharp. Note these conclusions:

"In Titus 2:13 manifestation of the glory of the great god and of saviour of us Jesus Christ [in Greek] for reasons which lie in the doctrinal system of Paul, I do not regard of saviour as a second predicate by the side of god, as if Christ were first styled the great god and then saviour."-- George Benedict Winer, A GRAMMAR OF THE IDIOM OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, (Luneman translation), 1893, p.130

"It is plain, then that the usage of the words 'God our Saviour' does not make it probable that the whole expression here is to be applied to the Lord Jesus Christ."-- Henry Alford, THE GREEK TESTAMENT, (revised by Everett F. Harrison), Vol III, pp 419,420

Other nonWitness scholar have made similar comments. Therefore you may want to modify your comments about the NWT on this verse.

We next turn the scope on 2 Peter 1:1. Even here, there is a long line of translations by both Trinitarian and nonTrinitarian scholars that are congruent with the NWT. Look at the KING JAMES VERSION, THE NEW TESTAMENT IN MODERN SPEECH by Weymouth, the JEWISH NEW TESTAMENT, the CONCORDANT LITERAL TRANSLATION just for a sampling.

I would like to make a recommendation. Recently, two Witness scholars have produced two books that address the
11 issues that you have raised--and others. Greek scholar, Greg Stafford has authored a 586 page work headed JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES DEFENDED--AN ANSWER TO SCHOLARS AND CRITICS (ISBN:0-9659814-8-7). And, Semitics professor and Witness, Rolf Furuli has weighed in with a 307 page book entitled THE ROLE OF THEOLOGY AND BIAS IN BIBLE TRANSLATION--WITH A SPECIAL LOOK AT THE NEW WORLD TRANSLATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES (ISBN:0-9659814-9-5). Both of these works address the issues you have raised in greater detail. They need to be in the Moody library so that researchers will not be consulting defective reports on the beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses.

I plan to continue.

In Christ,
Hal Flemings
 

 

April 18, 2001

Paul D. Wegner
Professor of Bible
Moody Bible Institute
820 North LaSalle
Chicago, Illinois 60610

Dear Paul:

In this fifth response, I am concentrating on your appraisal of how the NWT Committee translated Colossians 1:16,17.

On page 365, you relate: "In Colossians 1:16-17 the word other (noted here in brackets) has been added several times even though it does not appear in the Greek text, so that these verses can be brought in line with Jehovah Witness ;theology: 'because by means of him all [other] things were created ... All [other] things have been created through him... Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of ,him all [other] things were made to exist' (NWT)."

Now, I am going to assume that you agree that in a number of places in the Bible--both in the NT and OT- the word "other" should be added to convey the correct sense. Let me give you a few examples:

(1)    Luke 21:29 in the REVISED STANDARD VERSION says: "And he told them a parable: 'Look at the fig tree, and all the trees." Why do you imagine the NEW ENGLISH BIBLE adds "other"?: "He told them this parable: 'Look at the fig-tree, or any other tree." The original Greek does not have "other." Is the NEW ENGLISH BIBLE in error?

(2)    Hebrews 11:32 in the KING JAMES VERSION declares: "And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets." The NEW TRANSLATION adds the word "other." And what more shall I say? For the time will fail me if I go on to relate about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David as well as Samuel and the [other] prophets." The original Greek does not have the word for "other". Is the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION wrong?

(3)    Luke 13:2 in the KING JAMES VERSION reports: "And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things?" The NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION adds the word "other" although it does not appear in the Greek text: "Jesus answered, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?"' Do you feel that the NEW
INTERNATIONAL VERSION is in error for adding "other"?

Hosts of examples can be added to these upon request. Now, I am sure that it is transparent to you that a translator's task is to convey meaning while--in my view--staying as close as possible to the source language. Words, of necessity, will be 'added'; we know, for example, that the Classical Hebrew and Koine Greek had no "a" or "an" and therefore these words must be supplied in English. One cannot challenge addition of these words without a linguistic rationale or an argument resting on the overall context. Superficial attacks may be persuasive in non-Biblical languages but often palter when dissected in the source languages. The question is whether or snot the context demands the word "other" at Colossians 1:16,17. Let us see.

Even if I returned to the proposition that Jesus is not the Son of God but IS God, the translation adding "other" makes sense. Look at the REVISED STANDARD VERSION here: "for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or .principalities or authorities--all things created through him and for him." Assuming Jesus is Jehovah, would not Jesus be the exception to "all" the things in heaven? Did the Creator create all "other" things or "all things"? Did the Creator create Himself or is he an exception to things created? By the way, compare this thought path with Paul's statement at 1 Corinthians 15:27.

At Revelation 3:12 the resurrected Jesus in heaven tells us: "He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name."- REVISED STANDARD VERSION. According to this text, in heaven Jesus has a God. Does God hive a God? In verse 14, our Lord continues: "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: 'The words of the Amen, the Faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation [η αρχη της κτισεως του θεου]"' Witnesses contend that Jesus has a God and that he is the "beginning of God's creation." That would provide another reason for adding "other" in Colossians. Jesus is the "only begotten Son"; the other "sons" were created "by" or "through" him as the Greek text says. That makes him the medium rather than the source of creation. Note how Paul makes this distinction in the Greek at 1 Corinthians 8:6.

We are not through, I plan to return.

In Christ,
Hal Flemings


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