Helping Christians Reach Jehovah's Witnesses
with the Gospel of Our Savior Jesus Christ
Examining Translations with Jehovah's
Would you trust a medical doctor who, in the name of humility, refused to reveal where he or she went to medical school? Of course not. So why do Jehovah's Witnesses trust the "translators" of the New World Translation (NWT) who are so "humble" that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society won't reveal their names or credentials? In technical fields such as medicine, engineering, and translating, lack of training can cause physical - or spiritual - death. Displaying credentials is not pride, but accountability.
Nevertheless, Jehovah's Witnesses read in
the foreword of NWT (1984 edition) these seemingly comforting words: "It is a
very responsible thing to translate the Holy Scriptures from their original
languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into modern speech....The translators of
this work, who fear and love the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures, feel
toward Him a special responsibility to transmit his thoughts and declarations as
accurately as possible."
Jehovah's Witnesses will often refer to NWT's John 17:3, "This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ" (emphasis added). In response, say to the Jehovah's Witnesses, "That sounds different to me." Then read the verse in a credible translation such as the King James Version (KJV), the New International Version (NIV), or the New American Standard Bible (NASB), all with a close variation of "that they may know You." Read all three if the Witnesses doubt the consistency. Mere agreement among translations bears weight.
Discuss the difference between knowing a friend or taking in knowledge of someone, like studying Abraham Lincoln. Then read Jesus' words in John 5:39-40: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (NIV).
In NWT's Matthew 10:32-33, Jesus says,
"Everyone, then, that confesses union with me before men, I will also confess
union with him before my Father," instead of "confesses me before men." This
takes the emphasis off of Jesus and puts it on something Jesus represents.
Witnesses will insist there is no difference. Ask them what it means to confess
Jesus - what is its purpose? It is primarily to acknowledge who He is - not what
He stands for - the very issue the Watchtower wishes to cloud!
When two visiting Witnesses emphasized the importance of the name Jehovah, they brought to my attention the verse: "Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved" (Rom. 10:13, NWT). I responded, "I've read that the Old Testament word for Yahweh or Jehovah is never used in the New Testament1 Why would your translation say `Jehovah'?"
"It's only common sense," one answered, "to use the name Jehovah since this is a quote from the Old Testament referring to Jehovah" (see Joel 2:32).
"Except," I countered, "in Romans, Paul was just referring to the `Lord Jesus' specifically. When he used the term "Lord" in verse 13, he meant Jesus. He knew he was quoting the Old Testament. He was equating Jesus with Jehovah."
Most Jehovah's Witnesses are fooled by their organization's use of Greek lexicons or expository dictionaries. William Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words was appealed to 52 times in their encyclopedia, Insights on the Scriptures, even though Vine strongly disagreed with their teachings.2 From sources such as these the Watchtower can sometimes obtain an altered wording for a critical passage and feel justified.
It is advisable to point out to Jehovah's Witnesses the critical importance of context in Bible translation. The context may show that the wording the NWT chose, though technically possible, is senseless. Hebrews 1:8 reads, "But about the Son he [the Father] says `Your throne, 0 God, will last forever and ever...'" (NIV). Yet NWT says, "But with reference to the Son: `God is your throne forever and ever....'"
Dr. Ron Rhodes explains, "We must acknowledge that the Watchtower translation `God is your throne' is grammatically possible from Greek text. But - as scholars unanimously agree - it is entirely foreign to the context."3
The word "but" at the beginning of verse 8 indicates a contrast to the previous verse, where angels are discussed, and implies that the Son is distinct from angels. If the correct translation is "God is your throne," how is that distinct from angels?
This repeated conflict between other
translations and the New World Translation should eventually become disturbing
for the Witnesses. You can then ask them about their translators. They will not
be able to obtain names or credentials. (This information has been published
through the writings of former Witnesses who once worked at the Watchtower
headquarters. Discussing former Witnesses - or any source that opposes their
theology - with your visitors might usher them to the door since they are warned
to steer clear of this information. The longer they stay, the more influence you
While they may never learn the names of their translators, they may be given the names of scholars with quotes favorable toward NWT. Edgar J. Goodspeed, who contributed to the Revised Standard Version, stated in a letter to the Watchtower, dated 8 December 1950, "I am...much pleased with the free, frank, and vigorous translation [NWT]. It exhibits a vast array of sound, serious learning...."4
Yet, when Bill Cetnar from the Watchtower headquarters visited Dr. Goodspeed in 1954 to elicit his full endorsement, Dr. Goodspeed had other comments. Cetnar writes, "Dr. Goodspeed was asked if he would recommend the translation for the general public. He answered, `No, I'm afraid I could not do that. The grammar is regrettable. Be careful on the grammar."5 Nevertheless, the Watchtower still uses Dr. Goodspeed's letter as an endorsement.
Robert M. McCoy and Dr. S MacLean Gilmour from the Andover Newton Quarterly are quoted with what sounds like enthusiastic reviews until the context and entirety of their words are read.6 Similarly, Thomas N. Winter from the University of Nebraska gave a glowing endorsement in 1974,7 but on 3 October 1980 he wrote, "I am not happy with the use now being made of the review," and he went on to note a few problems, such as Jesus' words in John 8:58 (which NWT translates as "I have been"). Winter commented, "No way to go here but `I am.'"8
A more recent endorser is Dr. Jason D. BeDuhn, who used the interlinear version of NWT in his course, "The Development of the Jesus Tradition," at Indiana University. In a letter to the Watchtower Society, dated 12 May 1997, he stated that "it is the best interlinear New Testament available," and "it gets past traditional renderings that harmonize, gloss, and over-interpret passages in light of later dogma."9 In other words, NWT appeals to scholars who consider the deity of Christ a later, inserted doctrine.
Yet Dr. BeDuhn makes note, "I am sure you are aware of historical objections to the (re)insertion of `Jehovah' into the translation. Of course, no Greek Gospel manuscripts support this, but I will not quibble with you about that"10 (emphasis added).
Dr. Benjamin Kedar also endorses the NWT. He made it clear to the Watchtower, however, that he no longer wishes to answer questions concerning his stance.11 His comments are limited to the Old Testament and are not influential concerning the identity of Jesus. Other names produced by the Watchtower are not names of scholars.
Perhaps BeDuhn and Kedar are unaware of
the lack of credentials that plague this organization's translators. Bill Cetnar
explained that of the supposed translators, only F. W. Franz, fourth president
of the Watchtower, had any schooling in this area, and his abilities to
translate were proven inadequate in a Scottish Court in November 1954.12
Recently, when two more Witnesses came to my door, I told them I would love to study the Bible with them. Yet I had told them I had discovered, through other visitors, that the New World Translation was very different from the translations I already had. Could they check on the credentials of the translators? If not, could we have a Bible study without that translation?
They insisted it was not different, so I gave examples. This provided a dilemma for them. Essentially, they had an assignment: find out about the translators. The burden of proof is with the Watchtower Society.
How we relate to Jehovah's Witnesses can
quickly scare them away or can invite further discussion. Notice, I did not say
NWT is inaccurate, but different Since I am not a scholar, I don't claim to
decipher the Greek and Hebrew, but I can read. I can tell that NWT is unlike the
other translations. This gives them a second assignment read other translations.
Jehovah's Witnesses, most likely, are not going to change their minds in our
living rooms. Yet if they become uneasy about their "translation" - if they open
the pages of accurate translations out of curiosity - truth gains a foothold.
Reproduced with the permission of CRI
CRI, P.O. Box 7000, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688
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