Miscellaneous Questions about the New World Translation.
There are many specific renderings in the New World
Translation that have attracted the attention of
critics. Often these criticisms involve a comparison
of the interlinear reading in the Watch Tower Society's
Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures,
which has the original Greek text with a word-for-word
English interlinear reading, as well as the New World
Translation in a separate column on the right. On
this page, we will discuss some of the questions commonly
raised by critics of the New World Translation.
In the case
of an interlinear translation, it is important to remember
that the English word under each Greek word is only one
possible meaning of the Greek word. Frequently, for
the sake of consistency, the same English word is used each
time a Greek word appears in the text. Yet, the
standard New World Translation, taking into account
the context and the way the word is used in a sentence, will
use a different word or expression. Note
how this is so in the examples below.
'Now' in Romans 8:1- Is
The Kingdom Interlinear
Translation of the Greek Scriptures, published by
Jehovah's Witnesses, has the word 'now' in its interlinear
reading (page 696), but the word 'now' does not appear in
the NWT itself. Has the word been omitted from the
New World Translation, perhaps for doctrinal reasons?
Romans 8:1 in the Kingdom
Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures.
In this verse, the NWT hasn't
missed out the word 'now'; it has merely translated the
Greek expression 'αρα νυν, ara nun'
Lexicons: The renowned Greek-English Lexicon (Bauer -
Arndt - Gingrich - Danker) [BAGD] translates 'νυν,
nun' - among other possibilities - as "as far
as the present
situation is compared" or as "for now I tell you this."
Abbot-Smith's lexicon defines 'νυν,
nun' as "Now, presently...presently, forthwith,
...now, therefore, now, however, as it is..." Arndt and
Gingrich's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1957
edition, on page 547, under the word 'nun' says: "[nun] used
w. other articles...αρα νυν, ['ara nun'] so or thus now
Context: It is clear that the
'now' in the Greek of this verse has the sense of 'as it is'
or 'therefore'. Under the Law of Moses, God's
worshippers were subject to condemnation, now, however,
since Christ is the end of the Law, under Christ, there is
no such condemnation. - See Romans 7:6.
Translations: The New English
Bible translates the passage in question: "The conclusion
of the matter is this: there is no condemnation for those
who are united with Christ." Likewise, Goodspeed's
translation reads: "So there is no condemnation any more for
those who are in union with Christ Jesus." There are at
least a dozen other English translations that don't use the
word 'now' in this verse. Surely they haven't all
'deliberately missed out' the word!
In any case, the
omission or inclusion of the word 'now' in English makes no
real difference to the meaning. Since the verb is in the
present tense (there is) the reference is obviously to the
present time. Jehovah's Witnesses don't dispute that the
verse applies now, as some appear to think. Commenting on
this verse, one of our publications says: "They [Christians]
are no longer condemned sinners, in the way of death." (Insight
on the Scriptures, Volume 2, page 249)
What we learn: Before jumping to
conclusions about a particular rendering, it's good to look
the Greek words up in one or more authoritative lexicons.
We can spare ourselves much embarrassment that way, as
begin to realise that there is more than one way to
translate a particular word or expression.
Romans 8:6, the New World Translation renders the Greek word
'phronema' as 'minding' but in verse 27, as
'meaning'. The Kingdom Interlinear Translation defines
'phronema' as 'minding' in both cases. Why are
different words used in the English New World Translation to
translate the same original Greek word?
translations: First let us say that the
New World Translation is by no
means unique in using this expression. The New English
Bible (1960) and the Revised English Bible
(1990) both use the expression 'God knows … what the Spirit
means." William Barclay, in his New Testament, uses
does not necessarily require that the same English word be
used every time a particular Hebrew or Greek word is used.
Precisely the same phenomena are found in many other
translations. For example, the King James Version translates
the Greek word 'λογος, logos'
as account, cause, communication, intent, manner, thing,
question, reason, fame, rumour, tidings, saying, show,
speech, treatise, utterance, and word. I make that 17
different ways of translating the same Greek word! But
there is nothing particularly wrong with that. It all
depends on the context.
Context: In this case, the
same Greek word is used in different contexts. Verse 6 is
talking about human minds and what they think about. The
translation 'minding' is appropriate. But verse 27 is
God's spirit and its purpose or meaning. I understand this
passage to be saying that when we don't know what to pray
for, God's spirit makes it possible for us to pray
nonetheless, and God will understand the meaning or purpose
of our prayers, because of the spirit's help. As
commentator Heinrich Meyer puts it, "God would in every case
know the purpose of the Spirit."
It's obvious that
this rendering, while different from that of many other
translations, is legitimate.
What we learn:
Consistency in translation doesn't always mean one
English word for each Greek word.
God in Christ?
2 Corinthians 5:19, the interlinear rendering of the
Kingdom Interlinear Translation says "God was in
Christ," yet the New World Translation of the same verse
says "God was by means of Christ". Is this a
deliberate mistranslation to avoid the conclusion that God
dwells in Christ?
Lexicons: The Greek word in 2
Corinthians 5:19 that some feel should be translated as 'in',
rather than 'by means of', is 'εν,
en'. Liddell and Scott's
Greek -English Lexicon gives the following possible meanings
for the word 'εν, en': in,
at, on, upon, in the number, amongst, in the presence of,
before, within, according to, in accordance with, with, by,
by means of, etc (and that's just the abridged version!)
translations: Similarly, the King
James Version translates the Greek preposition 'en' as 'by'
in Matthew 12:24 ("by Beelzebub"), Luke 11:19 ("by whom"),
also as 'through' in John 17:17 ("through thy truth") - see
also John 17:19; 20:31, where the King James Version
translates 'εν, en' as
preposition 'en' can mean 'in', but it can just as well mean
'by means of', showing
It certainly doesn't have to mean that God was 'in' Christ
in the sense of residing in him or being inside him. It can
and does mean that God through Christ was working out his
will. As Romans 5:10 says: "we were reconciled to God by
the death of his Son".
Good News Translation (formerly
known as Today's English Version)
renders the verse: "God was making all human beings
his friends through Christ."
So the NWT is not
"deliberately mistranslating"; it is simply using a
different and equally correct rendering.
What we learn:
Critics who don't
know the original languages would do well to refrain from using expressions like
'deliberately mistranslating'. Otherwise they
risk giving the impression of being presumptuous and immodest.
Even for those who know the original languages, accusations
of deliberate mistranslation should be a last resort.
'Was' or 'Meant'?
1 Corinthians 10:4, the interlinear rendering of the
Kingdom Interlinear Translation says "the rock-mass ...
was the Christ." So why does the New World
Translation read "that rock-mass meant the Christ"?
Again, we have to
realise that words frequently have not just one meaning but
a range of meaning. The word translated 'meant' in 1 Corinthians 10:4 is a form of the
Greek 'eimi', literally meaning 'to be', but also, by
extension, meaning 'to stand for, mean, represent.' That is
the sense in which it is used in 1 Corinthians 10:1
Lexicons: A Manual Greek
Lexicon of the New Testament says under EIMI: "2.
Explicative, as in parable, figure, type, etc.: Mt 13:19ff;
1 Cor.9:2, 10:4, 11:25, Ga.4:24, Re.17:15". Note that 1
Corinthians 10:4 is here cited as a case where 'eimi' is
used in a figurative sense.
A look at the verses
cited in the above lexicon should be enough to convince us
that 'eimi' does not always literally mean 'to be'. A
person is not literally a seed; he/she is represented by a
seed. People are not literally a seal; they are like a seal.
A cup is not literally a covenant; it
stands for a covenant. The two women are not literally two
covenants; they represent two covenants. The waters are not
literally peoples; they stand for peoples, etc.
Look also at what
W. E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
says about 1 Corinthians 10:4. "PETRA...denotes a mass of
rock, as distinct from PETROS, a detached stone or boulder,
or a stone that might be thrown or easily moved. .....1
Cor.10:4 (twice), figuratively, of Christ." Note that Vine
describes the use as 'figurative'. So the word 'meant'
is a suitable translation for the Greek 'ην,
en' in 1 Corinthians 10:4.
Context: Christ is certainly not a literal piece of
rock, but he was represented by the rock mass from which the
Israelites drank in the desert.
Any connection to
Deuteronomy 32:4 is rather tentative. When Moses describes
Jehovah as 'the Rock', he is not referring to the incidents
when Israel drank water from a rock. 1 Corinthians 10:4, on the other hand, is referring to those incidents, when it says they
'drank' from the rock. They didn't drink from Jehovah
himself but from a literal rock mass.
What we learn:
It is enlightening to look throughout the New Testament to
get a feel for the range of meaning of a particular Greek
'I am' or 'I have been'?
According to the Kingdom Interlinear Translation
(interlinear reading), Jesus said at John 8:58, "Before
Abraham to become, I am". But the New World
Translation reads, "Before Abraham came to be, I have
been." Surely this is a mistranslation to avoid giving
the impression that Jesus is Jehovah, who identifies himself
in Exodus 3:14 as "I am".
Actually, "I am" and
"I have been" are legitimate translations of the Greek
εγω ειμι, ego eimi. Where we
would use the present perfect tense ('I have been'), Greek
uses the present tense. This isn't unique to Greek; the
majority of European languages do the same thing; it's
the 'odd man out'. When you talk about an action that began
in the past and continues into the present time, in Greek
you use the present tense. J. H. Moulton's Grammar of New
Testament Greek states: "The Present which indicates the
continuance of an action during the past and up to the
moment of speaking is virtually the same as Perfective, the
only difference being that the action is conceived as still
in progress (Burton
§ 17).It is frequent in the NT: Luke 2:48; 13:7;
15:29; Jn 5:6; 8:58; 14:9; 15:27; Acts 15:21; 26:31; 2
Cor.12:19,2 Ti.3:18; 2 Pt.3:4; 1 Jn 2:9;3:8."
Note that Moulton
includes John 8:58 in this category.
By the way, in John
14:9, the vast majority of translations, including the
King James Version, translate 'ειμι,
eimi' as 'have been'. With equal
justification, the New World Translation renders 'ειμι,
eimi' as 'have been' in John 8:58.
What we learn:
Greek is not English. They have different
grammatical structures and different tenses. One Greek
tense does not correspond to one English tense. You
have to consider the context.
'Cross' or 'Stake'?
The Appendix to the Kingdom Interlinear, on page
1150, presents an illustration taken from Justus Lipsius of the 16th century
of Jesus crucified on a stake or 'crux simplex'. The 1969
edition of the Kingdom Interlinear on page 1155
states: " We represent herewith a photographic copy
of his illustration on page 647, column 2, of his book De Cruce Liber Primus. This is the manner in which Jesus was
impaled." Is it proper to use
a picture so dogmatically? Furthermore, Lipsius also
has other pictures of executions on crosses (with cross
beams). Lipsius even said: "When a man, hands
stretched out, worships God with a pure heart he resembles a
cross." And in John 20:25, the word 'nails'
(plural) is used.
Interlinear does not say that Lipsius' drawing is intended as proof
of how Jesus died,
but only to illustrate the type of instrument used by the Romans
to execute him. It should be obvious that a 16th century
scholar can not be an authoritative source of information
about something that happened in the 1st century. All the Kingdom Interlinear says is that the method
in the photograph "is the manner in which Jesus was
impaled". In that context (a mere illustration rather than
a piece of evidence) Lipsius' own view is irrelevant.
Abundant evidence is provided in the Appendix that the
Greek word stauros originally meant 'stake. Indeed, that is
the basic meaning found in most lexicons.
We can not be dogmatic
about how many nails were used in Jesus' hands on the basis
of 'scripture alone'. True, John 20:25 mentions 'nails'
(plural) but that could refer to nails in his hands and
feet, not just his hands. (In Luke 24:39, he told his
disciples to look, not just at his hands but also at his
feet.) In any case, it is understood that illustrations in
our publications are just artists' impressions. None of us
were there at Jesus' execution, and the Bible doesn't
describe it in detail, so we simply don't know many of the
What is really
surprising is that some people think that the number of
nails used is a matter of sufficient importance even to
For a further
discussion of how the Greek word 'σταυρός,
stauros' should be translated,
please see the
Defence of the New World Translation website.
Qualified to Pass
In his book Truth
in Translation, Jason BeDuhn states:
In order to have
any ability to make a judgement about the accuracy of a
translation of the New Testament from its original Greek
into modern English, you have to know how to read Greek
... I am sure this seems obvious to you. Yet, amazingly,
the majority of individuals who publicly pass judgement on
Bible translations -- in print, on television and radio,
on the internet, and in letters they send to me -- do not
know how to read Greek.
Does that sound
familiar?! He continues:
question to be asked here is: then how can they tell what
is a good translation and what is not? The fact is that
they cannot. Their opinions are based not on the accuracy
of translating Greek words into English words, but on the
agreement of the final product with their own beliefs
about what the Bible must say ...
So the first
question you should ask anyone who claims to have the
credentials to speak about the translation of the New
Testament is: Do you know how to read Koine Greek? If
not, then you have no basis to render an opinion, other
than to rely on other people who do read Koine Greek. If
we Greek readers disagree among ourselves, then you must
examine our arguments and evidence and decide who has the
better case. (Page xvii)
Beduhn isn't a
Jehovah's Witness, and actually disagrees with a number of
translation decisions made by the NWT translation committee.
This book provides more accurate information than all
the sum of all the anti-Witness books and websites, which, as
you can see for yourself, are all too often prejudiced and plain wrong. If
Witness critics want to be taken seriously, they really do
need to be a lot more careful about using emotive expressions such as 'biased', 'missing out'
words, 'deliberately mistranslating', 'changing the Bible',
Beduhn's book is worth a read:
the New World Translation is different in certain
verses from some other translations doesn't make it