Issue #145 -------
September 7, 2004
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne --
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.
James Russell Lowell (1819-1891)
The Present Crisis
On occasion, in the course of this continuing reflective ministry, I will present a critical analysis of a popular translation or version of the inspired Scriptures. In past issues of my Reflections I have examined the King James Version (Issue #88) and the New International Version (Issue #86). At times it will also be to our benefit to examine prime examples of how not to translate the written Word of God. The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures -- hereafter referred to as the NWT -- is a perfect case in point.
The NWT is a version of the Bible prepared specifically by and for the religious sect known as the Jehovah's Witnesses. Prior to the compilation of their own version, the JW's had largely used the KJV, the ASV of 1901, and the Emphatic Diaglott (which is a noted Greek-English interlinear containing an English translation done by Benjamin Wilson). None of these older, well-accepted versions quite met the particular, and often peculiar, needs of the JW's, however. Some of their doctrines and practices were hard to justify from the existing translations, which were viewed as "corrupt." Thus, they perceived the need to produce their own version of the Scriptures ... one which would be more supportive of their teaching.
The NWT was prepared and circulated by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. It is purported to have been translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek manuscripts by a group of scholars who "wish to remain anonymous even after death." In the Foreword to the NWT, the translators write, "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."
The NWT is a perfect example of what textual scholars term -- a Tendentious Translation. The word "tendentious" simply means "advancing a definite point of view." The NWT most definitely fosters the very distinctive views of the particular religious sect which published it --- the Jehovah's Witnesses. "It is marred throughout by its very obvious bias in favor of the peculiar doctrines of the sect which produced it" (The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol. 1, p. 580). "This version (in many cases a perversion) demonstrates several attempts to support so-called 'Jehovah's Witness' doctrine through its erroneous translating and biased wording. Their translation is a biased translation of the Bible published to prove the peculiar teachings of the Watchtower Society, which they cannot prove by reference to the standard translations" (Garland Elkins, excerpt from a tract published in 1977 titled: The NWT Does Not Uniformly Teach Jehovah's Witness' Doctrine).
Some Strengths of the NWT
The NWT, as purported by its own translators, is not a revision of any previous version or translation of the Bible, but is a completely new effort to translate the Scriptures from the original language manuscripts. It is always encouraging to see such efforts to return to the actual biblical text, rather than merely revise the work of previous translators. In a good many places, where the translators have not obviously MIS-translated the text to promote their own peculiar theology, this version has done an excellent job of capturing and conveying the meaning of the authors of the original text. It has also made a conscious effort to show the fine distinctions in verb forms of the Greek language, something which few other translations have even attempted! In this respect it often leaves other translations "in the dust" by comparison.
The NWT also makes a clear distinction between the singular and plural in the 2nd person pronoun -- if the pronoun in the text is singular they write "you," but if it is plural they write "YOU." As we all know, in the English language the word "you" is both singular and plural. There is a clear distinction in the Greek language, however, and at times this is critical to one's interpretation of the text. Are certain commands, for example, given to an individual or to a group of individuals; to an individual Christian or to the church collective? The context will often help, but not always! The NWT, therefore, has employed this method in an attempt to preserve this distinction in the original language of the biblical text. For this contribution they are to be commended.
Like several of the well-known versions and translations on the market (including the RSV and NIV), the format of the NWT is "thought units." In other words, the text is formatted in paragraphs, rather than in individual and separate verses (as with the KJV, for example). Many feel this allows for greater ease of reading and understanding. The NWT also abandons the archaic language of some of the older versions (like the KJV), since people simply do not communicate in the same linguistic style today as they did hundreds of years ago! English is a flowing, living, evolving language, thus it is senseless to forever fix God's message to the style of the ancient past. There is nothing "holy" about Shakespearean English!!
The NWT also follows a practice (fairly common in more modern translations and versions) of indicating passages where there may be textual problems. Dr. Jack P. Lewis, in his evaluation of this translation, wrote that it is "one of the rare translations into any language which has rendered the Hebrew word Almah consistently in all of its seven occurrences in the Old Testament" (The English Bible: From KJV to NIV, p. 234). The NWT renders this word as "maiden," rather than "virgin" (the former being far more accurate than the latter).
The NWT is also to be highly commended for abandoning the horrid habit of the KJV of translating a number of separate words by the single word "Hell," thus preserving the vital distinction between the unique concepts of these separate terms (Gehenna, Hades, and Tartarus) in the original language. The failure of the KJV in this respect has led to some of the most confused theology in the church today regarding the nature of the final disposition of the wicked, and has opened the door for the inclusion of pagan myth into the thinking of Christendom. It is inexcusable! The NWT has made a significant contribution to righting this wrong! In similar manner, the NWT has corrected another interpretive blunder in most translations, and has rightly punctuated the text of Luke 23:43 thusly -- "Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise." By placing the comma after the word "today," instead of before it (as in most translations), the NWT has helped clear up an age-old misunderstanding concerning the so-called "intermediate state" of the dead.
Some Weaknesses of the NWT
H.H. Rowley, in The Expository Times, titled his review of the NWT --- "How NOT To Translate The Bible." Even though there are some very obvious strengths of this translation effort, and they are to be applauded for these positive contributions, nevertheless the NWT, overall, "is unsuited for the use of people who want to know what the Bible really teaches" (Dr. Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible: From KJV to NIV, p. 235). Although many examples of critical weaknesses could be given, and such published studies abound, we'll content ourselves with noting the following five:
ONE --- The Jehovah's Witnesses deny that God has established different covenants or testaments for His people. Thus, they oppose the idea of an "old" covenant (testament) and a "new" one. Much of their teaching is based in the writings we tend to characterize "the Old Testament" (as opposed to the New Covenant writings), simply because they do not believe a NEW covenant is in force. For this reason, they refuse to designate the two sections of the Bible as the "Old Testament" and the "New Testament." Instead, they refer to them as "The Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures" and "The Christian Greek Scriptures." It's interesting to note, however, that they have failed to be consistent in this stand even in their own translation. In 2 Cor. 3:14 the NWT speaks of "reading the old covenant." The phrases "new covenant" and "former covenant" both appear in Hebrews 9:15 in the NWT, and "mediator of a new covenant" appears in Hebrews 12:24 in the NWT, just to cite a few examples. Thus, their theology of the covenants seems a bit confused, even in the pages of their own translation.
TWO --- Even though the Jehovah's Witnesses readily acknowledge that the word "Jehovah" is a mispronunciation of the Tetragrammaton (which means "having four letters" -- a reference to YHWH), nevertheless they continue to insist this is God's true name and that it should be used exclusively. They declare the original Scriptures have been "tampered with" regarding the Divine Name, and they use only the name "Jehovah" in both the OT and NT writings. "YHWH" appears some 6828 times in the OT, but in the NWT the word "Jehovah" appears 6973 times (an additional 145 occurrences). "YHWH" never appears in the NT documents, yet the NWT uses "Jehovah" 237 times in the NT writings.
THREE --- With respect to the concept of the Godhead, the Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a person or being. In their notes, which appear at the end of the NWT, the translators write, "The holy spirit is not a person in heaven with God and Christ .... it is an active force, not a person." As a result of their conviction that the Holy Spirit is merely an "energy from God," rather than a divine being, the words "holy spirit" are never capitalized in the NWT.
FOUR --- The Jehovah's Witnesses also do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. They teach "the son of God was created, and only Jehovah was pre-existent." They further write, "The son is inferior to the Father both before and after coming to the earth." God and Christ are "one" only in the sense that husbands and wives are said to be "one." They are "always in complete harmony," but certainly not equal. This belief has found its way into the NWT in several places:
FIVE --- In the NWT the "cross" is referred to as a "torture stake" (Matt. 10:38; 27:32). Rather than being "crucified" upon a "cross," the NWT declares Jesus was "impaled" upon a stake (Luke 23:21) --- "Then they began to yell, saying, 'Impale him! Impale him!"
As one can clearly see from these few examples, and others could be cited, this is a translation of Scripture that is very much tendentious in nature. It promotes the peculiar doctrines of a particular sect, and is thus a manipulation of the text rather than a manifestation of the truth. Although it has qualities that are positive, and can thus be a good resource for the very careful, knowledgeable student, it nevertheless is a shameless promotion of several anti-Christian doctrines, and thus should only be consulted with great caution. There are far better, and certainly more honest, versions and translations on the market.
From a Reader in Tennessee:
Thanks again for another great Reflections! "The Sojourners" was great! I noted that one of your readers made the statement, "Ours is an old, well-respected church whose numbers are plummeting." If our preachers and elders would ever get a clue, and stop "religiously lecturing" their members and start "spiritually feeding" them, they wouldn't be speaking to empty pews in the future! Thanks for all your efforts, brother Al!
From a Minister in Tennessee:
We had a group of Sojourners come through not too long ago. We were happy to have them visit, and appreciate their spirit and work. It occurred to me that Paul and company carried the money, from each one of the churches that gave it, to the poor among the saints in Judea and Jerusalem. Some churches chose to use Paul and his party as their money carriers. Some even appointed someone from the congregation to travel along with the group and carry their bounty. That group of travelers was not any one congregation and was less than a congregation. Was it, per chance, another "organization" doing the work of the church?! Horrors! Paul and company were engaged in an "unauthorized" good work; a good work restricted only to a local congregation. But, shhhhhhh ... don't tell anyone!!
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Brother Al, Your writings have blessed me more than I can express with words. God has truly blessed you with an awesome "thinker" (that's what we used to call the mind to our children when they were younger). When you get a spare moment (Ha! Ha! Ha! -- OK, stop laughing), I would really love to know some of the books (besides The Book) that have really been a blessing to you. I'm always looking to improve my thinking with good books that challenge me. If you have some books that have helped stretch and mold your thinking, I would love to have a list. By the way, next to Richard Foster's "The Celebration of the Disciplined Life," your Reflections articles have been what is stretching me at present! May the Lord's richest blessings be with you continually. May He grant you good health for many years so that you might help many more people come out of bondage into His glorious freedom. KEEP ON WRITING!!!
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Al, Just wanted to pass along to you something a preacher friend said to me recently. I was reminded of this as I was reading the comments of three of your correspondents in your 9/2 Reflections. The Reader from Hawaii, the Minister from North Carolina, and the Reader from Alabama, all out of Non-Institutional or legalistic churches, wrote of their dissatisfaction with that way of teaching and thinking. My friend noted that as he goes across the country he is finding that many people are fed up with what the lady from Alabama calls the "shopworn" sermons and legalistic approach to the study of God's word. He said that he is finding that it is mostly just the preachers and leaders who hold to that way of thinking. As for myself, I began to realize about twenty years ago that there was something wrong with that concept when I would try to preach patternistic sermons which, for reasons I only later would understand, did not "ring true."
To that lady I would say, "Hang in there!" I know how discouraging it must be for you, but take courage in the fact that there are growing numbers out there who are becoming convinced that it is possible to be faithful to God in a way other than what you are being told by the preachers of those tired old sermons. Maybe one day some of them will realize that they (i.e., the preachers and their sermons) are the reason that numerous churches are dwindling and dying. The flock of God is literally starving to death, being offered only dry, noxious pasture upon which to graze by these patternists. There is nothing in legalistic, patternistic preaching that nourishes the soul. I commend you for staying where you are, sister. Continue helping others there in Alabama understand the wonderful, liberating gospel of God's grace.
From a Minister in New York:
When I saw the title of your article this week was The Sojourners, I thought you were taking a day off from tackling legalism and simply writing an article about the fine work they do. I never realized anyone could actually have a problem with them! When I was a young boy, a couple from our congregation (close friends of my grandparents) sold their home, bought an RV, and hit the road. They served as Sojourners for over 20 years. They were a great inspiration to our family and the church. My wife and I have discussed from time to time joining them in our own "retirement." I see in their service both the example of Jesus and the apostles, and also that of Paul and Barnabas as they traveled and evangelized and built up congregations. I would think there is certainly more found in the Scriptures to call us to imitate the example of the Sojourners, than there is to replicate our legalistic brothers' questioning of their service. God bless you for another great article!
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