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hebrew scriptures

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT) is a modern-language translation of the Bible published by Jehovah's Witnesses, published in 1961. It is not the first Bible to be published by the group, but is their first original translation of ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic Biblical texts. As of 2008, this Bible translation was available in whole or part in 72 languages with 143 million copies in several editions having been printed. It is also available in electronic format on the Watchtower Society official web site

History

Until the release of the NWT, Jehovah's Witnesses in English-speaking countries generally used the King James Version or American Standard Version of the Bible. In the literature they have produced, Jehovah's Witnesses have quoted liberally from the King James Version and many other translations of the Bible over the years.

According to the publishers, one of the main reasons for producing a new translation was that the majority of existing Bible versions in common use employed archaic language. The English language has changed significantly since 1611, when the Authorised (King James) Version was first published, and many words in the KJV are no longer in common use today, or are used in a sense different from that in which the translators intended them. The stated intention was to produce a fresh translation, free of archaisms.

Additionally, over the centuries since the King James version was produced, more copies of earlier manuscripts of the original texts in the Hebrew and Greek languages have become available. In the publishers' view, better manuscript evidence has made it possible to determine with greater accuracy what the original writers intended, particularly in more obscure passages. Additionally, they feel that certain aspects of the original Hebrew and Greek languages are better understood by linguists today than previously.

In October 1946, the president of the Watch Tower Society, Nathan H. Knorr, proposed a fresh translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Work began on December 2, 1947 when the "New World Bible Translation Committee" was formed. On September 3, 1949, Knorr convened a joint meeting of the board of directors of both the Watch Tower Society's New York and Pennsylvania corporations to announce that work on a modern-language English translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was completed and had been turned over to the Society for printing. It was assigned to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania for publication.

The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (New Testament) was released at a convention of Jehovah's Witnesses at Yankee Stadium, New York, on August 2, 1950. The translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) was released in five volumes in 1953, 1955, 1957, 1958, and 1960, and the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was released as a single volume in 1961. Since then, it has undergone minor revisions, most recently in 1984. The 1984 edition is in much the same style as previous editions, the primary difference being the revised marginal (cross) references. These had been included in the six volumes released between 1950 - 1960 but had not been included in the single volume editions from 1961 onward. The basic layout style much resembles the American Standard Version 1901 edition.

Translators and Editor

The New World Translation was produced by the New World Bible Translation Committee. This committee was originally formed sometime in or around 1947 and, according to Nathan Knorr, its members had multinational background. The New World Bible Translation Committee requested that the publisher, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, not publish names of its members. Former high ranking Watchtower staffers have proposed their identities, though the Watchtower organization has never confirmed or denied the details.

Editions and languages

As of 2008, the NWT has been published in 72 languages. Translation into other languages is based on the English text, possible because of the literal nature of the English translation itself, supplemented by comparison with the Hebrew and Greek.

The complete translation the Holy Scriptures is available in Afrikaans, Albanian, Arabic, Cebuano, Chinese (Standard, Simplified, Pinyin), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (also Braille), Finnish, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Igbo, Iloko, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (also Braille), Romanian, Russian, Serbian (Cyrillic and Latin scripts), Sesotho, Shona, Slovakian, Spanish (also Braille), Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tsonga, Tswana, Turkish, Xhosa, Yoruba, and Zulu.

The Christian Greek Scriptures (commonly known as the New Testament) is available in American Sign Language, Brazilian Sign Language, Armenian, Bulgarian, Chichewa, Cibemba, Efik, Ewe, Hiligaynon, Italian Braille, Kinyarwanda, Kirghiz, Kirundi, Lingala, Malagasy, Maltese, Ossetic, Samoan, Sepedi, Sinhala, Slovenian, Sranantongo, Thai, Twi, and Ukrainian.

Features of the translation

Various editions of the New World Translation have been published. The 1984 reference edition has more than 125,000 marginal references (cross references), running headings at the top of most pages to assist in locating texts, footnotes about translation decisions (which mention some 90 different manuscripts and other sources that are listed in a table of abbreviations at the start), a concordance, and an index of footnote words and "further word studies" (giving pointers about a certain topic). Some of the footnotes also add transliterations from the original languages. The pronoun "you" is printed in small capitals to indicate plurality, as are some verbs when plurality is not obvious. Square brackets [] are added around words that were inserted editorially (double brackets indicate dubious material).

The standard (not reference) edition is printed in smaller type on thinner paper, lacks the footnotes, and adds a "Bible Topics for Discussion" section that outlines where to find scriptures about various doctrinal points. An even smaller "pocket edition" also lacks the cross-references.

Many of the non-English translations lack the footnotes, and some add footnotes of their own regarding notes about the translation into the other language.

There are various appendices in the different editions published, including arguments for various translation decisions, extra data on certain aspects of manuscripts, conversion tables for weights and measures, an agricultural calendar, maps, and diagrams of the tabernacle and temple.

The translators use the terms "Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures" and "Christian Greek Scriptures" rather than "Old Testament" and "New Testament", saying the use of "testament" was based on a misunderstanding of 2 Corinthians 3:14. When referring to dates in the supplemental material, the abbreviations B.C.E. (before the common era) and C.E. (common era) are used rather than BC and AD.

Verbs indicating continuous or progressive action are consistently rendered as such in English, for example "proceeded to rest" rather than "rested" in Genesis 2:2, or "keep on asking" rather than "ask" at Matthew 7:7.

Critical Review

The New World Translation has received both commendation and criticism. In its review of bible translations released from 1955 to 1985, Harper's Bible Dictionary listed the New World Translation as one of the major modern translations.

Translation Committee qualifications

Critics have speculated that the translators of the NWT insisted to remain anonymous because they were not formally qualified for making a Bible translation. Among the names rumoured as possible translators, none of them has adequate academic training in Biblical languages. Responding, the Watchtower Society claims that "the particulars of their university or other educational training are not the important thing” and that the translation testifies to their qualification. Academic reviewers of the New World Translation have made statements in favour of the translators. Dr. Bruce Metzger stated for the NWT of the Greek Scriptures: "On the whole, one gains a tolerably good impression of the scholarly equipment of the translators.” Similarly, though critical, Samuel Haas, in his review of the first volume of the NWT of the Hebrew Scriptures, stated that “this work indicates a great deal of effort and thought as well as considerable scholarship.”. On the NWT New Testament, commentator Alexander Thomson writes, “The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing,” and the Greek scholar Dr. Edgar J. Goodspeed wrote in a letter to the Watchtower Society, “I am [...] much pleased with the free, frank, and vigorous translation. It exhibits a vast array of sound serious learning, as I can testify.”

Linguistic and theological review

Charles Francis Potter has stated about NWT: "Apart from a few semantic peculiarities like translating the Greek word stauros, as "stake" instead of "cross," and the often startling use of the colloquial and the vernacular, the anonymous translators have certainly rendered the best manuscript texts, both Greek and Hebrew, with scholarly ability and acumen.

Regarding the NWT’s use of English, Dr. Harold H. Rowley is critical of what he calls “wooden literalism” and “harsh construction.” He characterizes these as “an insult to the Word of God” and offers a few sample renderings from Genesis. Specifically he cites Genesis 15:5, 4:13, 6:3, 18:20, 4:8, 19:22, 24:32 and 24:66. Rowley concludes these criticisms by writing, “From beginning to end this volume is a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated.”

Commentator Alexander Thomson wrote, “We heartily recommend the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, published in 1950 by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.”

Various critics have accused the translators of rendering the NWT to conform "to their own preconceived and unbiblical theology. To support a view of theology overriding appropriate translation, Drs. John Ankerberg and John Weldon cite several examples, such as the NWT's use of "for all time" in Hebrews 9:27: “And as it is reserved for men to die once for all time, but after this a judgment.” Ankerberg and Weldon cite Dr. Julius Mantey on this text as saying, “Heb. 9:27, which without any grounds for it in the Greek, is mistranslated in the J. W. Translation… the phrase “for all time” was inserted in the former versions without any basis in the original for it.”

Dr. William Barclay concluded that 'the deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in the New Testament translation….It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest.'

In his review of 9 bible translations, Dr. Jason BeDuhn states that the NWT is a ‘remarkably good translation’. He also states, “While it is difficult to quantify this sort of analysis, it can be said the NW emerges as the most accurate of the translations ... judging by the passages we have looked at.”

Bruce Metzger cites NWT renderings as instances of translating to support doctrine. He references the NWT’s comma placement at Luke 23:43 as “In the interest of supporting the doctrine of "soul sleep" held by Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Another example Metzger offers is the insertion of the word “other” four times in Colossians chapter 1 “thus making Paul say that Jesus Christ is one among ‘other’ created things.” Of this insertion, Metzger states it is “In the interest of providing support of [Jehovah’s Witnesses’] Unitarianism” and that the insertion is “totally without warrant from the Greek”. Dr. Jason BeDuhn disagrees on this point by stating “‘Other’ is implied by ‘all,’ and the NW simply makes what is implicit explicit.” Dr. Bruce Metzger characterizes the NWT’s use of “Jehovah” in the New Testament as an “introduction.” He writes, “The introduction of the word ‘Jehovah’ into the New Testament text, in spite of much ingenuity in an argument filled with a considerable amount of irrelevant material (pp. 10-25), is a plain piece of special pleading.”

Reachout Trust writer Tony Piper concludes it is not a "faithful translation of the Scriptures…", giving as examples Acts 2:42, 46 and 20:7, 11 and he objects that “the NWT translates it to read that the church simply shared meals together” rather than using the phrase “breaking of bread [...] to disguise the fact that the early church celebrated the Lord's Supper more than once a year.”

Greek scholar Dr. Rijkel ten Kate notes in reference to the NWT that in rendering different Greek words (bre′phos, pai‧di′on, and pais) employed to describe the successive stages of Jesus’ growth “that there is actually one Dutch Bible in which the different use of the three Greek words bre′phos, pai‧di′on, and pais is rightly taken into account,” after having previously reviewed other Dutch translations and concluded that “not one Dutch translation has rendered this adequately, that is to say, completely in harmony with the original text.”

Thomas Winter considers the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (part of the NWT project) as “highly useful” toward mastery of biblical Greek. Winter relates that the translation "is thoroughly up-to-date and consistently accurate.”

A Case Study of Translation

One of the NWT's most controversial passages is John 1:1. The King James Version translation renders this verse:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The New World Translation renders the same verse:

In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

The NWT's translation is considered by many as a change to agree with the doctrines of Jehovah's Witnesses. Some reference books argue strongly that the Greek text must be translated, “The Word was God”, however not all agree. In his article, “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1”, Philip B. Harner said that such clauses as the one in John 1:1,

“with an anarthrous predicate preceding the verb, are primarily qualitative in meaning. They indicate that the logos has the nature of theos.”
He suggests:
“Perhaps the clause could be translated, ‘the Word had the same nature as God.’” (Journal of Biblical Literature, 1973, pp. 85, 87)
Thus, in this text, the fact that the word theos in its second occurrence is without the definite article (ho) and is placed before the verb in the sentence in Greek is significant. Interestingly, translators that insist on rendering John 1:1, “The Word was God,” do not hesitate to use the indefinite article (a, an) in their rendering of other passages where a singular anarthrous predicate noun occurs before the verb. Thus at John 6:70, The Jerusalem Bible and King James both refer to Judas Iscariot as “a devil,” and at John 9:17 they describe Jesus as “a prophet.”

Of the NWT’s rendering “…and the Word was a god” at John 1:1, Metzger states it “is not justifiable” and “entirely in accord with the Arian theology of the sect.”

Dr. Jason BeDuhn, states of the NWT that its “translation of John 1:1 is superior to” the other translations he considered. He continues, “It may well be that the NW translators came to the task of translating John 1:1 with as much bias as the other translators did. It just so happens that their bias corresponds in this case to a more accurate translation of the Greek. ... The NW translation of John 1:1 is superior to that of the other eight translations we are comparing. I do not think it is the best possible translation for a modern English reader; but at least it breaks with the KJV tradition followed by all the others, and it does so in the right direction by paying attention to how Greek grammar and syntax actually work.”

Several other bible translations render John 1:1 in a similar manner:

  • 1808 “and the word was a god” -The New Testament, in An Improved Version, Upon the Basis of Archbishop Newcome’s New Translation: With a Corrected Text, London.
  • 1864 “and a god was the Word” -The Emphatic Diaglott (J21,interlinear reading), by Benjamin Wilson, New York and London.
  • 1935 “and the Word was divine” -The Bible—An American Translation, by J. M. P. Smith and E. J. Goodspeed,Chicago.
  • 1950 “and the Word was a god” -New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures,Brooklyn.
  • 1975 “and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word”
  • 1978 “and godlike sort was the Logos"
  • 1979 “and a god was the Logos” -Das Evangelium nach Johannes,by Johannes Schneider,Berlin.

References

Further information

Online Edition

  • New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures - online edition available from Watchtower Society official web site. Also online in an increasing number of other languages: follow the language links from http://www.watchtower.org/ and see if there is a link to Online Bible from there, or if you know the Watchtower code of the language (usually the first letter) then place this before /bible, e.g. http://www.watchtower.org/f/bible for French

Supportive

  • Stafford, Greg: Jehovah's Witnesses Defended. [ISBN 0-9659814-7-9]
  • Furuli, Rolf: The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation: With a special look at the New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses, 1999. [ISBN 0-9659814-9-5]
  • Byatt, Anthony and Flemings, Hal (editors): ‘Your Word is Truth’, Essays in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (1950, 1953), 2004. [ISBN 0-9506212-6-9]
  • The Coptic Evidence

Neutral

Critical

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