Does the New World Translation Add
Words to Colossians 1:16, 17?
Do not add anything
or take anything away! (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Revelation
22:18, 19) Anyone who undertakes to translate God's Word
into another language must see this as a particularly
sobering warning. So it is important to consider the common
accusation made against the New World Translation
that it has added words to Colossians 1:16-20.
Typical of such
accusations is that made by the late Ray Stedman:
"If you look
carefully at the Jehovah's Witnesses' little green
translation of the Scriptures, you will notice that in
substantiate their lie about Jesus Christ, they've
inserted the word "other" in these phrases. "All
other things were created by him. In him all other
things were created." But there is absolutely no
warrant whatsoever in the Greek text for the insertion
of the word "other." This is a clear instance of the
kind of deceitfulness to which these people will stoop
in order to propagate their lies."
Leaving aside the
emotive language used by Stedman and his failure to allow
even for the possibility that the NWT translators might be
sincere in their efforts, the substance of this allegation
must be investigated. Has the word 'other' been inserted
arbitrarily, without foundation?
Understanding How Translations are Made
rendering the words and thoughts of a writer in one language
(generally referred to as the Source Language) into another
(called the Target Language). The process of translating
anything involves much more than simply substituting a word
in the source language for a corresponding word in the
As one textbook used
for training translators states:
meaning which are represented by several orthographic
words in one language, say English, may be represented
by one orthographic word in another, and vice versa.
... There is no one-to-one correspondence between
orthographic words and elements of meaning within or
across languages." (Italics added)
translators are obliged to use more than one word in English
to give a complete picture of what is being said in the
Greek text of the Bible. This happens constantly. For
instance, Colossians 1 in the original Greek has 551 words,
whereas the King James Version has 656 words, the
New International Version has 673, the New World
Translation has 766 and the Good News Bible (Today's
English Version) has 797. There is nothing unusual or
sinister about this. Often, the extra words are needed to
complete the sense in English.
What we have to ask
ourselves, then, is not whether there is a particular
word in Colossians 1:16 that means 'other' but whether
the idea of 'other' is found in the meaning of the
Greek Always Require the Use of a Word for "Other"?
Greek of the New Testament has a number of words that may be
translated as 'other'. These include among a number of
(loipos). Frequently, however, the concept of
'other' is not stated expressly, it is simply implied.
Instructive in this regard is the comment made by noted
scholars Blass, Debrunner and Funk, in their Grammar:
"Further ellipses: (1) The omission of the notion
'other, whatever' (§ 306 (5)) is specifically Greek."
other words, Greek sometimes takes it for granted that the
word 'other' is implied. This phenomenon is not unique to
Greek; it is sometimes encountered in English, which may
occasionally omit the word 'other' when there is little
chance of misunderstanding. But an examination of the New
Testament indicates that this type of structure is
encountered with much greater frequency in koine
example, the following phrases from the book of Acts. The
original Greek is followed by the King James Version
rendering in red and the New International Version in
αποκριθεις δε Πετρος και οι αποστολοι ειπον
[apokritheis de Petros kai oi apostoloi eipon]
Then Peter and the other apostles
answered and said
Peter and the other apostles replied
Καιαφαν και Ιωαννην και Αλεξανδρον και οσοι ησαν εκ
[Kaiaphan kai Ioannen kai Alexandros kai hosoi esan
ek genous archieratikou]
Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as
were of the kindred of the high priest,
Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men
of the high priest's family
Κατα δε το μεσονυκτιον Παυλος και Σιλας
προσευχομενοι υμνουν τον Θεον· επηκροωντο δε αυτων
[Kata de to mesonyktion Paulos kai Silas
proseuchomenoi hymnoun ton Theon; epekroonto de
auton oi desmioi]
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang
praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and
singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners
were listening to them.
It is evident that
in the above cases other is not expressed in Greek -
but it is implied. The Greek expression translated
literally as "Peter and the apostles" does not imply that
Peter was not an apostle. Likewise, Caiaphas was the
High Priest, and Paul and Silas were prisoners. The
New International Version has correctly supplied the
word 'other', which is implicit in the above sentences,
although it is not possible to point to a particular word in
the above sentences that is translated other. The
King James Version has done likewise in Acts 5:29, but
not in the other two instances, leaving it to the
intelligence of the reader to understand this.
Use of pas
to mean 'all other'
The omission of
words that express the notion 'other' is particularly common
with the Greek word pas (all). This may be seen by
comparing verses in the New International Version
where a form of the Greek word pas is translated by
'all other(s)' or some similar phrase. In the following
table, none of the verses cited use any of the Greek words
traditionally translated 'other'. The word is merely
implied by the context.
And all the other disciples said the same.
this poor widow has put more into the treasury than
all the others.
And all the other disciples said the same.
you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all
other kinds of garden herbs
Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners
than all the other Galileans because they
suffered this way?
do you think they were more guilty than all the
others living in Jerusalem?
Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to
all the others in his house.
1 Cor. 6:18
All other sins a man commits are outside his
body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own
2 Cor. 9:13
your generosity in sharing with them and with
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow
for each other and for everyone else
always try to be kind to each other and to everyone
In all of the above
occurrences, the New International Version has used
words such as 'other' or 'else' to complete the sense in
This does not mean that they are adding to God's word, they
are simply making explicit or clear what was already there
in the Greek text. Thus, it is by no means wrong to
translate pas as 'all other,' where that is what
is implied by the context.
Lesson from the Apostle Paul
The writings of the
Apostle Paul himself, who wrote the letter to the
Colossians, teach us that pas can have the meaning of
'all other things'. Consider what he writes in 1
γαρ υπεταξεν υπο τους ποδας αυτου οταν δε ειπη οτι
υποτετακται δηλον οτι εκτος του υποταξαντος αυτω τα
gar hypetaxen hypo tous podas autou. otan de eipe
hypotetaktai delon hoti ektos tou hypotaxantos auto
For he hath put all things under his feet. But when
he saith all things are put under him, it is
manifest that he is excepted, which did put all
things under him.
For he has put everything under his feet. Now when
it says that everything has been put under him, it
is clear that this does not include God himself, who
put everything under Christ.
For [God] "subjected all things under his feet."
But when he says that 'all things have been
subjected,' it is evident that it is with the
exception of the one who subjected all things to
Paul himself says that it is
delon, 'manifest, clear, evident' that the word
pas can have exceptions. In this case, when Scripture
says that "all things" (ta panta) are subjected to
Christ, Paul points out that the expression 'all things' has
an exception - it does not include God himself. For Paul,
this is obvious, as it should be to modern-day readers of
the Bible. None of the above-mentioned translations use the
word 'other', doubtless reasoning that it is so obvious as
to be superfluous.
That the word
'other' is often implicit in the Greek text is admitted even
by Robert Bowman, who is a critic of the New World
Translation. He acknowledges:
It is, of course,
legitimate for translators to add the word "other" where
this does not change the meaning but simply makes for
smoother English (e.g., Luke 11:41-42; 13:2,4).
However, Bowman then
1:16-20, however, adding "other" substantially changes the
In view of Bowman's
comment, we must ask whether the inclusion of the word
'other' changes the meaning of the original Greek text.
Rolf Furuli explains why this is not the case:
In NWT the use of
"all other" four times in Colossians 1 cannot be viewed as
bias, and it is not interpolation, since the very
words of 1:15 reveal that Jesus Christ is a part of
creation, which then implies the word "other" in these four
In view of the
statement in verse 15 that Christ is the "firstborn of all
Creation", the New World Translation has a very
strong case indeed for its translation.
Of course, it is
true that some would render the phrase in Colossians 1:15 as
"firstborn over all creation" (New International
Version; emphasis added) or even to paraphrase it -
incorrectly - as "firstborn son, superior to all created
things" (Good News Translation). This is referred to
by some as the "genitive of subordination".
It is true that prototokos can at times figuratively
refer to supremacy. However, leaving Colossians 1:15 aside,
there is no instance of prototokos being used
anywhere in the NT or the LXX with a 'genitive of
Furthermore, even if one accepts the extremely dubious
conclusion that Colossians 1:15 has a genitive of
subordination, that does still not rule out the possibility
of Christ's being a created being. Indeed, in view of the
information cited previously in this article, there is no
reason why prototokos pases ktiseos could not be
translated as 'firstborn over all other creation'!
Jason Beduhn makes
an further point in his book Truth in Translation:
So what exactly
are objectors to "other" arguing for as the meaning of
the phrase "all things"? That Christ created himself
(v. 16)? That Christ is before God and that God was
made to exist by means of Christ (v. 17)? That Christ,
too, needs to be reconciled to God (v. 20)? When we
spell out what is denied by the use of "other" we can
see clearly how absurd the objection is.
The point is
obvious: pas (all) does not always necessarily mean
every person, human or spirit, who is living, has ever lived
in the past or will ever live in the future. Common sense
must be applied.
Created 'by Christ' - In What Sense?
This brings us to
the exact meaning of the phrase used by Paul to say that
everything was created. We can compare the original Greek
text with a number of translations.
εκτισθη τα παντα
auto ektisthe ta panta]
εν τοις ουρανοις και επι της γης τα ορατα και τα
αορατα ειτε θρονοι ειτε κυριοτητες ειτε αρχαι ειτε
τα παντα δι αυτου και εις αυτον εκτισται [ta
panta di autou kai eis auton ektistai]
were all things created,
that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible
and invisible, whether they be thrones, or
dominions, or principalities, or powers:
all things were created by him, and for him:
all things were created:
things in heaven and on earth, visible and
invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or
all things were created by him and for him.
of him all [other] things were created
in the heavens and upon the earth, the things
visible and the things invisible, no matter whether
they are thrones or lordships or governments or
All [other] things have been created through
him and for him.
Concerning Colossians 1:16, Albert Barnes claimed: "There
could not possibly be a more explicit declaration that the
universe was created by Christ, than this."
But is this truly the case? If Paul had wanted to say that,
he could have said, for example: "αυτος
εκτισεν τα παντα." (autos ektisen ta panta; he
created all things) What he actually did say is something
here uses two prepositions with the Greek verb ktizo
He says that all (or all other) things were created en
αυτω) and di'
The preposition en literally means 'in' and the
preposition dia (shortened here to di')
literally means 'through'.
With regard to the
rendering of the expression en auto, the Revised
Standard Version and the American Standard Version
translate it 'in him.' The Good News Translation
(formerly Today's English Version) renders it
As for the expression di' autou, the same three
translations are unanimous in rendering it 'through him.'
When the King
James Version was produced in 1611, the word 'by' was
frequently used to indicate the means or agent by means of
which an action was performed. Thus, in Matthew 1:22, we
have "spoken of the Lord, by the prophet", where we today
would say "spoken by the Lord, through (or by means of) the
prophet." Or Matthew 12:27, "And
if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom your children
cast them out". So in the
King James Version, it is clear that the word 'by'
frequently has the meaning of 'through' or 'by means of'.
In the twenty-first century, however, a reader seeing the
word 'by', particularly after a passive verb, is likely to
conclude that reference is being made to the ultimate agent
of the verb. To us, a sentence like "The letter was sent by
John" is equivalent to saying "John sent the letter". You
would understand, not that John carried the letter on behalf
of someone else, but that he himself wrote it and sent it.
In other words, you would think that the letter came from
John, not through John (which is perhaps how
someone living in the 1600's might have understood it).
This is a significant difference between seventeenth-century
English and today's English.
The translators of the NIV clearly recognize this
principle, as is seen in their own translation of John 1:17,
"the Law was given through Moses". Here dia is
translated as 'through', not 'by'. Other translations, such
as the Revised Standard Version, American Standard
Version, Good News Translation and the New American
Standard Bible likewise use 'through' to translate
However, turning back to Colossians 1:16, we see that the
New International Version has translated both en auto
and di' autou as 'by him'. The problem with this
is that modern-day readers are likely to understand 'all
things were created by him' as meaning exactly the same as
'he created all things'. Now this is no doubt what the NIV
translators believe, and quite possibly what they want to
convey to their readers. But it is not what the Greek
says. The Greek says quite clearly through Christ,
in Christ or by means of Christ. Just as the
Law was given through Moses, not by Moses, in the
sense that Moses was simply an intermediary and not the
ultimate source of the Law, in the same way, creation was
accomplished through Christ, or by means of
him, without his being the ultimate source. Thus, the
Good News Translation correctly renders the first part
of Colossians 1:16: "Through him God created everything."
After a verb in the passive voice, the ultimate source of an
action in Greek is generally expressed by
(hypo) or occasionally by certain other prepositions
without a preposition by the dative case. In such cases,
the word after hypo may truly become the subject of
an active verb with exactly the same meaning. Thus, if Paul
(hyp' autou ektisthe ta panta) that would undoubtedly
have meant that Christ was the Creator.
But that is not what Paul wrote. What he did write is
consistent with the teaching that Christ - the Firstborn of
creation - was the one through whom God created
everything and everyone else.
The New World
Translation has not 'inserted the word other'
into Colossians 1:16ff, as Stedman asserts. The word
'other' is implied in the preceding word 'all'. It is
simply not true to say that "there is absolutely no warrant
in the Greek text whatsoever for the insertion of the word
It could well be
argued that the use of the word 'other', while a valid and
correct translation, is not actually necessary. As we have
stated above, English, like Greek, sometimes allows the idea
of 'other' to be implicit rather than expressed (although
nowhere near as frequently as Greek). Thus, if we say "God
created everyone", we don't mean that God created himself.
This appears to be the position taken by Rolf Furuli, who
feels that, as long as the preceding verse (Colossians 1:15)
is translated correctly, "the reader is hardly misled if
pas is translated 'all'."
Scholar Jason Beduhn,
however, sees the use of the word as valuable:
"Other" is implied
in "all" and the NW simply makes what is implicit explicit.
You can argue whether it is necessary or not to do this.
But I think the objections that have been raised to it show
that it is, in fact, necessary, because those who object
want to negate the meaning of the phrase "firstborn of
creation". If adding "other" prevents this misreading of
the Biblical text, then it is useful to have it there.
It is easy for
critics of the New World Translation to criticize
certain renderings without giving the full picture. And,
indeed, it is quite possible for them to persuade an
uninformed reader, using the Kingdom Interlinear or a
similar work, that the NWT has made an interpolation into
the text. Those critics who profess to know Greek should be
aware of the facts presented in this article. If they do,
they are being deceitful when they claim that the NWT adds
words. As for those critics who do not know Greek, it
should be obvious that their opinion on the quality of a
translation of the New Testament can hardly be trusted.
Thus, when Stedman
says that "there is absolutely no warrant in the Greek text
for the insertion of the word 'other'," what he is saying is
simply not true. The New World Translation has
neither added to, nor taken away from, God's inspired word.