From:  Theology’s Impact on Translation:  KJV to NRSV            Return to Home         

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2013

 

 

 

[Page 9]

 

 

 

Chapter 1:

The Sectarian Fringe

 

 

            Some Bible “translations” are so outlandish that they are more likely to provoke a laugh than a denunciation.  In this chapter we will examine a few of these and phrase into a consideration of other translations that are far more deserving of consideration in this context than in the company of serious and responsibly scholarly endeavors.

 

 

 

 

 

1.  Kabbalistic-Assisted Translations

 

           

             Medieval kabbalism placed a heavy stress on converting the letters of the Old Testament text into their “numerical equivalents” and reconverting these numbers into new, previously hidden “insights” and “truths.”  Strange as this approach to spiritual matters is to most of us, it is far from dead.  For example, in the late 1980s it began to enjoy a considerable resurgence in contemporary Israel.

            The newspaper writer Calev Ben-David explained to his reading audience in these words the technique of one such contemporary kabbalist:  “[Stan] Tenen does advanced mathematical analysis of the Book of Genesis, searching for hidden meanings in the patterns of its Hebrew letters.  ‘What I’ve found,’ says Tenen, ‘is that these patterns correspond to the numerical patterns of some of the basic geometrical forms found in the physical world, for example, the double helix, which is the form of the DNA molecule.’   (N. 1)  

            This “technique” has not only been used to deduce “truths” from the Bible, but also, it seems, to establish the text itself that is translated.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, F. W. Grant published his multi-volume Numerical Bible; Being a Revised Translation of the Holy Scriptures with Expository Notes Arranged, Divided, and Briefly Characterized According to the Principles of Their Numerical Structure.  (N. 2)

[Page 10]                     Grant claimed that “the Lord led me into the discovery of a numerical structure every-where pervading Scripture” (page 8).  He considered this to be a decisive rebuttal of unbelief:  “It confronts the deniers of the complete inspiration of God’s book, and much more the rationalist and the infidel, with an argument they can never meet.  It shows the one mind of the Spirit in all these various writings of so many men of so many generations” (page 10).   

            He provides this concise summary of the “numerical” approach, beginning with a premise most would more or less agree with and then carrying it where few would ever dream:

 

                        The numerals of Scripture all students of it believe to have (in many cases

at least) definite meaning,--as, for instance, in the number 7 we have

completeness.”  The view that I am advocating simply applies this symbolism to

such a series as we have here and affirms that Genesis, which stands first among

these, has for its special line of truth that which would be suggested by the

number one, Exodus, similarly, a line connected with the number two, Leviticus

with number three, Numbers, with four, Deuteronomy with five.

            To take of these, perhaps the simplest, the number four stands as the

number of the world, and the symbol for “weakness” (which comes out in

failure), “trial,” “experience,” and so the book of Numbers will be found to be

characterized by these thoughts.  It is, in fact, the testing and failure of Israel in

the wilderness—the type of our own pathway of trial in the world, and the

characters implied in the number are found in it throughout.

            Now this is not only true of the books as a whole.  Each one, we find,

when we come to examine it, readily parting into similar divisions, and these

again into subdivisions, and so to be divided again and again, and in the case of

each division, whether smaller or larger, the same rule applies.  The number of

each in its series is an indication of the line of truth contained in the division to

which it is attached (page 8).

 

            The reader can quickly grasp why this can be labeled a kabbalistic/mystical approach to the Scriptures!

            Note the presence of the same technique of prediction utilized by astrology:  making the predictive element (stars or numbers) represent such a broad constellation of ideas that “fulfillment” is virtually assured to any reasonably creative mind.  For example “four” can mean trial or experience or weakness or the world.  That gives one a wide range of ideas that are readily malleable to product the results that the observer knows “must” be there.

            Another obvious objection lies in the problem of identifying the boundaries of the supposed subdivisions of the text:  “We have to discover these divisions in most cases for ourselves.”  Since he has the prerogative of both determining the supposed numerical meanings of the terms and the textual boundaries of each unit within which they operate, he claims the prerogative to “juggle” divisions and meanings to fit his fancy.  Naturally, the text “confirms” his conclusions—he claims the right to do whatever necessary to guarantee that result.

[Page 11]                     Perhaps the most obvious giveaway that he is building his theory on soft and wobbly sand, is Grand’s dividing of the Pentateuch into five parts.  We divide the Pentateuch into five books; the Jews treated the entire Torah as one book.  Why then wouldn’t the entire “five” books of Moses have the numerical value of one?

            In Ezra and Nehemiah’s day we read that the divisions into priests and Levites were described “in the Book of Moses” (Ezra 6:18; NKJV).  Note the singular “book.”  They read “from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people” that no Ammonites or Moabites were to be admitted into Jewish worship (Nehemiah 13:1; NKJV).  That singular “book” rather than “books” is found in 2 Chronicles 35:12, in describing the source of the regulations about burnt offerings.  All this would seemingly refer—in modern terms—to Leviticus.

            In contrast the command not to execute children for the sins of their fathers (or vice versa) is quoted as coming from “in the Law in the Book of Moses” (2 Chronicles 25:4; NKJV).  The text quoted in found in Deuteronomy 24:16.  In 2 Kings 14:6 the same passage is quoted as coming from “the Book of the Law of Moses.”

            Hence, even though practicality required five scrolls to contain it all, these passages give a strong indication that the singular “book” (equaling “one” numerically, doesn’t it), was the way that the Torah was regarded for centuries after its composition.  If one can not even get the “numerical value” of the Pentateuch correct, are any conclusions built upon the theory likely to be sound?

            Oddly, Grant presents the Numerical Bible as essentially a revision of the King James Version, most of his unique contribution consists of his “numerical” commentary on the text.  He is conspicuously silent—at least in the introduction to volume one—as to what impact the theory had on the wording of the translation itself. 

            Furthermore, his great stress on the certainty and undeniable validity of numericalism would surely put overwhelming psychological pressure upon the translator to adjust the translated text as well as the commentary to bring out “with greater clarity” the “insights” and “validity” of his approach.

            As of September 2012 all seven volumes are still available in print and electronic form.

            We cite the Numerical Bible not as a serious translation or commentary but as a piece of “trivia” to put us on our guard:  because it is presented to the world as the result of much “scholarly” labor is no guarantee that true insight underlines the translation.  Nor are sweeping claims as to a translation and note’s “absolute” reliability a guarantee that the translator or its advocates are correct.  If claims were the criterion of acceptance each of us would be preaching from the Numerical Bible!

 

 

 

 

 

2.  The Jesus-Translated Bible

 

 

            In 1861 Leonard Thorn published his The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as Revised and Corrected by the Spirits (“published by the [Page 12]  proprietors,” New York City).  We would call this a “spiritualist” revision of the New Testament except its claims are even more audacious—it was revised by Jesus Christ personally or the inspired authors who originally committed the records to papyri!

            The introduction “tells it all”—and serves as its best indictment:  

 

 

            INTRODUCTORY REMARKS AND EXPLANATIONS BY THE SPIRIT OF

JESUS CHRIST

           

                        I was born about 1861 years since in the town of Bethlehem, in Judea.  I

lived about 34 years in the flesh.  I was of the lineage of David, as the prophets

foretold.  My father’s name was Joseph.  My mother’s name was Mary.  I was

about thirty years and four months old when I began to preach.

                        I preached about three years and a half.  I was crucified by the mistaken

Jews.  My body was laid in the sepulchre.  My spirit only arose, and on the third

day I was seen.  The watchmen were entranced by a spirit, and then the spirits

took my body away.

                        There were errors in all of the Books of the New Testament, and those

errors came from different causes:  First, there were many errors from improper

translations.  Second, also from the variation of the phrases of the times.  Third,

many errors had found their way into that book by designing men.  And from

these and other causes, many of the sayings, doings and writings of Christ and his

Apostles have been misunderstood.  It therefore made it important that the book

should be revised and corrected.

                        The question will undoubtedly be asked, “Why did Christ correct the four

Evangelists and the Revelations, instead of the writers themselves?”  Because I,

Jesus, knew how to correct them better than any other spirits, even the writers of

those books.

                        Paul came personally in the spirit and corrected the Acts of the Apostles,

and all of the other books in this testament which are also called Paul’s writings.

                        James, Peter, John, Jude, all came in the spirit personally, and revised and

corrected their own books.

                        We have long sought for an opportunity to accomplish this work, and now,

through a superior medium, by the direction of God, the Father, we have

accomplished the work, and blessed be His holy name that He enabled us to

accomplish it (page 3).

 

           

            So Jesus provided the Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jude the real truth so that through the spirit they could now correct the mistaken record that now exists.  The exclusion of the Synoptic Gospel authors would seemingly indicate that Jesus personally saw to the correction of these particular works. 

Why would these writers and Jesus, for that matter, permit these records to circulate in a brazenly incorrect form for 1700-plus years?  If this were really Jesus, would He have waited so long to correct the allegedly atrocious situation?  Really?

[Page 13]                     The claim that “many errors have found their way into [the New Testament] by designing men” reflects both personal lack of knowledge and reveals how widespread was that frame of mind in the middle of the Nineteenth Century—at least among those consumed by an extremely anti-Catholicism or who desperately needed an excuse to introduce new un- and anti-Biblical doctrines. 

It was not something confined to the fantasies of Mormonism.  What the multitudes of full and partial manuscripts now available conclusively prove is how hollow this claim of massive intentional corruption really was.  Accidental changes even well intended “corrections” where the actual text didn’t seem to make sense—yes; massive internal alterations no.

            Furthermore, the Jesus pictured here is certainly not the Jesus of the Scriptures:  A resurrection of the “spirit only” flies in the face of the obvious reading of the gospel texts.  Thomas felt the wounds (John 20:24-29) and the risen Lord even ate with the disciples (John 21:1-11).  A physical body was there!

            And—shades of infidelity!  We find the body being stolen.  Though here it is “spirits” who do it, not the disciples or the enemies of the Lord.  (Which raises the perplexing question of how a spirit moves a physical body and what it plans on doing with it.)

            The Jesus pictured here is a rather ignorant one, one who could not even have been an intelligent mortal much less deity incarnate.  He doesn’t even know the basic facts about Himself.  “I was born about 1861 years since . . . I lived about 34 years . . . I was about thirty years and four months old when I began to preach.”  Surely He could have remembered at least some of this data!  But then He’s pictured in the New Testament as supernatural and Deity:  Shouldn’t He have accurately remembered all this data?  Of such foolishness are “inspired” translations reduced to!    

 

 

 

 

 

3.  Joseph Smith’s “Inspired” Version

 

            Thorn’s Jesus and apostle “inspired” New Testament has blissfully sunk into the oblivion that “miraculous” translations amply deserve.  Alive and with us, however, is Joseph Smith’s “Inspired Version.”  (In case the reader should have doubts, the cover tells us that is what it is.)

            Upon hearing of this, individuals sometimes think we are alluding to one of Smith’s wider known—and circulated—writings:  The Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Book of Mormon—if the last be his work at all.  No, this is the Bible as we know it (more or less) and claims to represent the true and original texts of both testaments, translated under the guidance of God.  The Reorganized Latter Day Saints recognize it as fully authoritative; the Utah Mormons don’t reject it but usually have a far more reserved attitude.  They aren’t about to repudiate it, but they don’t push for its widespread adoption either.

            Non-Mormons have generally considered this differing attitude to be a matter of denominational rivalry or snobbishness:  The Reorganized Mormons had the complete [Page 14]  manuscripts in their hands while the mainstream (Utah) group did not.  The two competing Mormonisms had their daggers out at each other—the Reorganized “Saints” never practiced polygamy, for example.  To embrace the translation would be to give unwanted prestige to the “heretical” Reorganized sect.

            The mainstream (i.e., Utah) Mormons, of course, expressed a different set of public objections.  Especially important was the fact that they did not have access to the manuscripts to verify that the printed text fully and faithfully represented the written version.  That objection is no longer viable.

            In the 1970s “Utah” Mormons had had the opportunity to verify the accuracy of the English published text versus the manuscripts.  Robert J. Matthews has written a mammoth 468 page analysis of the IV (“Inspired Version” and concludes:  “Comparison of the printed Inspired Version with the original manuscripts of the translation shows that the printed editions are accurate and faithful to the manuscript in almost every detail” (N. 3).

            To critics of their system, it is amusing that they should claim possible inaccurate printing of the manuscripts as an objection to the reliability and acceptable of the “translation” when their own Utah denomination of Mormonism has grievously reworded the original printing of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants in a multitude of ways.  But this well documented fact has given them no pause at all.  One suspects it’s a case of “whose ox is being gored!”

            Another objection concerned whether the translation was “finished” or not.  Actually it both was and wasn’t contradictory as that may sound.  As Matthew (N. 4) observes:  “Although the Prophet stated in a letter of 2 July 1833 that he had that day ‘finished’ the translation of the Bible, it is evident that he did more to it later and did not consider the manuscript ready for publication at that time.”

            Actually this begs the point:  If truly inspired, then it would have been fully accurate and ready for publication at least in those parts that had been already revised.  And Matthews indicates that Smith considered the entire work completed.  How then do we explain the further work?  Inspired translation would not require inspired “correction,” would it? 

            The next time you are perturbed at the Jehovah Witness translation of John 1:1, you might want to remember the even more “creative” rendering by Joseph Smith:  “In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son.  And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God.”

            It is hard to take seriously such fantasy.  The Jehovah Witnesses will go round and round in an effort, however futile, to justify their eccentric rendering of John 1:1, but for the rendering Smith has made there simply is no Greek text to tamper with!  It represents imagination unhindered and unrestrained by the need for hard, real, genuine manuscript evidence.

            Our second objection is that not only was Smith unconcerned with whatever textual evidence existed to back his rendering, he also didn’t consider it necessary to translated from the original Biblical languages.  The Mormon scholar Matthews concedes (N. 5):  “So far as we have any evidence, Joseph Smith did not use Biblical languages and manuscripts in the translation.  His learning of Biblical languages came after his initial translation and may have been employed by him in making some of the revisions and corrections in the manuscripts between 1834 and 1844.”

[Page 15]                     There was a tradition among the Jews, that the Septuagint was translated by direct Divine guidance into the Greek, but even they believed it was done by men well versed in the original language of Hebrew and who worked from actual original language manuscripts!  Smith attempted to bypass both the necessary scholarship in the original tongues and the use of original language manuscripts.

            In the abstract, one must admit that God could have inspired a man to accurately render the Scriptures into his own native tongue though he lacked all knowledge of the original one and had not a single original language manuscript to work from.  But in such a case it would not be a matter of true “translating” at all but of penning the received revelation of the translation.  Furthermore, if God had so blessed Joseph Smith then we would expect his translation to, essentially, match what the best of contemporary scholarship can produce.

            It doesn’t require a lot of knowledge of comparative Bible translations to recognize that Smith has presented strange and exotic renderings that even those scholars who are the most antagonistic to the fully inspiration of the Scriptures have never dared suggested.  The meager defense that Matthews can come up with is that in “some passages” there are “similarities” to the readings found in modern translation (N. 6).

            Even among the fanciful apocryphal writings there are only “some” (his expression) that “show a similarity in content to some of the passages of Joseph Smith’s translation” (N. 7).  After this hemming and hawing, he finally says it outright:  “In the overwhelming majority of passages there are no parallels to the work of Joseph Smith in supplying new materials and information to the Bible” (N. 8).

            Inspiration would guarantee absolute accuracy; it would not result in repeated renderings so incredibly different from that which contemporary scholars arrive at.  They know the original languages.  They have access to multitudes of partial and nearly complete manuscripts of the various parts of the Bible in diverse languages.  Uninspired though they be, they have done the “home work” that requires their efforts to be taken seriously.  Joseph Smith did not.

            Our third objection to the IV is that a truly inspired writer would have no need to revised his inspiration translation yet Matthews informs us that is just what Smith did:  “It has been noted several times throughout this work that the original manuscripts give evidence that some passages were revised more than once by the Prophet Joseph Smith.  The effect of a second or third revision was generally to (1) add information, (2) delete information, or (3) to give a passage a different emphasis” (N. 9).

            Matthews calls this “the ongoing nature of revelation” (N. 10), but this is not revelation—not inspiration—as the Bible knows of it.  Biblically inspiration is a revelation of pure, correct, uncorrupted truth (John 16:13-15).  Something that has to be corrected after being “revealed” is a confession of error or falsehood—self-delusion of inspiration, if you wish.

            Furthermore, in true revelation and inspiration, God is His own way assured that even the words utilized were somehow the correct ones (1Corinthians 2:6-13; especially verses 12-13).  God isn’t very likely to choose the wrong words, is He?  Yet if Smith’s IV was inspired, God made just such blunders--repeatedly!

            What we have here is an incredibly weak doctrine of inspiration, one that the Scriptures in no way uphold.  In disputation with outsiders, Mormons speak in terms of authoritative, final, completely reliable revelation whose validity and truth can in no way [Page 16]  be doubted.  Yet in discussing such matters as this one—the nature of Smith’s “inspiration”—we find “revelation and inspiration” to be something far different:  tentative, probing, full of error, and needful of major correction later. 

And if that isn’t enough to discredit reliance on the IV, think about this for a minute:  Smith was murdered before the final revisions of the IV were completed; he was still working on it at the time of his death.  Hence, the Mormon doctrine of “inspiration” allows to the very realistic possibility that there remain uncorrected errors in Smith’s own “Inspired” Version.

Although these observations should be sufficient to dismiss this pseudo-translation, the reader may still be intrigued by some of the other peculiar theological and other “twists” that Smith has introduced.

The account of creation is changed from a third person (“God did such and such”) to a first person narrative:  “I, God. Say;” “I, God, called;” “I, God, saw;”

            The Song of Solomon is entirely omitted from the IV, Smith considered it “uninspired Writing” (N. 11).  A Victorian-type fear of its “sensuality” could understandably cause an individual to question that book’s canonicity.  But Smith was at the opposite extreme—a practicing polygamist, which makes the rejection of “sensuality” odder still.

            In the Inspired Version’s Genesis 3:1-7 (and there is nothing like this in any one else’s translation of the text), the eternal existence of Satan is asserted:  “That Satan . . . is the same which was from the beginning” (verse 1).  After God speaks to Moses in the burning bush, the IV would have us believe that Satan appeared to attempt Moses to worship him.

            In the IV of Genesis 6:67-71, Adam’s baptism is described.  Salvation through repentance and baptism was available beginning in those days (Genesis 5:1-2, 44-45)!

            We are even provided a specific chronological age of accountability:  “And I will establish a covenant of circumcision with thee, and it shall be my covenant between me and thee, in their generations, that thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old” (Genesis 17:11).

            According to Matthews (N. 12), this particular passage was translated between December 1, 1830 and April 5, 1831.  Although such an explicit, datable prior reference is rare, Matthews uses this example to argue that Smith’s translation endeavors often prepared him to study subjects and pray for guidance on matters that became “revelations” in the Doctrine and Covenants—on polygamy, church organization, etc (N-13).  Hence his theologically bent Biblical readings served either as premonitions (so to speak) or justifications of the distinctive doctrines and practices to be introduced later among Mormons.  And here’s proof they are right:  they are “in Scripture,” in the conveniently altered text of the IV.

            In the KJV, RSV, etc., of Genesis 6:6-7, it is “the Lord” who “repented” of making man; the parallel account in the IV (Genesis 8:13), the text is altered to read, “It repented Noah, and his heart was pained, that the Lord had made man.”  Similarly, God “repenting” of making Saul king (1 Samuel 15:11) is changed to God lamenting that Saul had not repented.

            Whether mankind’s souls “existed” before the creation of the earth is certainly not asserted in the Genesis text we are acquainted with.  But in the IV (Genesis 2:4-6) the doctrine is spelled out:  “For I, the Lord God, created all things . . . spiritually before they [Page 17]  were naturally upon the face of the earth. . . .  And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men, and not yet a man killed the ground, for in heaven created I them.”

            In Matthew 18:10-11 Christ rebukes those who would be unkind to children.  In the IV, He adds, “These little ones had no need of repentance, and I will save them.”  In Matthew 19:13 the disciples rebuke those bringing children to Jesus.  In the IV of that verse the nature of the rebuke is spelled out (and one would never have guessed it from the KJV text):  “The disciples rebuked them, saying, there is no need, for Jesus hath said, such shall be saved.”     
  

 

 

 

 

4.  The New World Translation

 

 

            No discussion of sectarian translations would be complete without attention being given to the New World Translation, published by the Jehovah Witnesses.  Although Smith’s “Inspired Version” is little known outside the LDS community, the NWT has been circulated in massive printings throughout the world.

            That there are scattered renderings here and there that are fine or even exceptionally so, most writers on the subject will willingly concede.  But they are just that—the unusual, the abnormal.  (And occasional flashes of genuine insight will occur in almost any translation.)  Over all, the translation merits little confidence outside the Jehovah Witness movement itself.  A blatant willingness to “slant” and “bend” the text is repeatedly obvious.

            Witnesses have sometimes attempted to counter this prevailing low opinion through an appeal to Professor E. C. Colwell’s What Is the Best New Testament?  The Professor listed 64 texts from the gospel of John and compared various translations with the Greek original.  The Witnesses claim a perfect score of accuracy when using his list.

            Of course, if one were to choose a different set of comparison texts one might well produce a different set of “winners” and “losers.”  Also note that the comparison was limited to texts from one gospel account rather than being based upon a wider selection of passages.

            The doctrinally significant passages would naturally be greatly reduced by reliance upon one gospel alone—not to mention excluding those in the epistles.  And it is among such doctrinal texts that the NWT receives some of its severest criticism.  In other words, if you don’t consider texts where the special biases of the Witnesses are involved, one is bound to consider the translation better than it would otherwise be rated.

            Furthermore, the “best” translation according to Colwell, was Goodspeed’s.  Although this is a well respected translation, it is also a modern speech translation, in which concerns for strict accuracy are willingly sacrificed in the interest of (supposed) better communication.  When Goodspeed is judged the best translation, more conservative students of the Bible will question the criteria being used by the evaluator!

[Page 18]                     Michael Van Buskirk adds an additional argument that will be of importance to those who reject modern “critical” texts:  Colwell’s evaluation is based upon the Greek text of Westcott and Hort; hence any translation that deviates from that underlying text will automatically be considered a less accurate translation than one that adheres, for example, to the Majority Text.  Similarly, one that conforms to the “critical” text will automatically be considered a more liable version.

            It strikes me that he may go a step too far, however, when he contends, “What received the perfect score was the Greek text utilized by the New World Translation Committee, not the English translation they produced” (N. 14).

            Buskirk (N. 15) also challenges the JW claim that Colwell’s book, published in 1952, could be considered an evaluation of the NWT since it consisted of lectures delivered in 1947, three years prior to the release of the Witnesses’ translation.  Burskirk notes that the preface is dated September 4, 1951—“thirteen months after the release of the NWT”—and that, quoting the book itself, that it “is a rewriting and enlargement” of the earlier lectures.  In short, even if one applies Colwell’s approach to the NWT, the result is, at most, an application of his principles rather than a direct analysis of Colwell’s view of the NWT.

            Before we examine some of the notorious distortions of the Witness “translation,” attention should be drawn to the fact that the identity of the translators was kept a zealously guarded secret.  The probable identities have been suggested by external critics and by a high level defector from the group.  The latter’s list included five men, four of whom had no special training in either Hebrew or Greek and the Hebrew language capacity of the fifth seriously challenged.

            The Witnesses continue to downplay in 2012 the question of who translated the work, arguing that this reflects their desire to be humble and concentrate attention on the translation itself.  They note the desire of the New American Standard Bible to not reveal who did their revision and how the NASB prefatory matter points to the need for attention to be centered on the translation itself and not on these secondary matters  (N. 16).  Hence they argue that there is an inconsistency bordering upon hypocrisy by certain of their critics.

            Whether emphasized by the NASB or not, you can find the list if you wish to.  (N. 17).  Even if the inconsistency be granted, would that really justify the practice?  Especially when the translation results are, to put it mildly, quite controversial?          
            I attempted to get JWs to grasp this point in the 1970s and 1980s by two approaches.  I tried to use their admitted secrecy as a teaching tool, to breach their thick shell of self-confidence and make them think.  “Won’t you concede that the NWT has what, at the least, would be considered unusual and unexpected translations that you would be hard put to find anywhere else?  (John 1:1, for example.)  When translations are that different from others, don’t you believe we should be told the credentials of the translators and their names so we can judge for ourselves whether to take their translation seriously?”  (I even had one Witness attempt to secure the names for me—unsuccessfully.)

            Or another approach:  “Isn’t it odd that the Society still refuses to reveal the names?  I have here a copy of Joseph Smith’s translation—it even has ‘Inspired Version’ on the cover.  Your Society won’t even reveal who translated the NWT while this one not [Page 19]  only tells us who translated it but even claims what you don’t—outright inspiration.  So why should I give credibility to your translation and throw away this one?”

            These challenges remain just as relevant today as they were back then.

            Although much more could be said about the NWT, we will limit ourselves to an analysis of one recurring error and the folly found in their rendering of two specific verses.

 

            A.  The unexpected appearance of “Jehovah” in the New Testament.

            “Jehovah” is one rendering of a Hebrew word.  We would not expect to find it in the translation of the Greek New Testament.  Nor do we find it in any of the widely circulated translations readily available—except the NWT.  Robert H. Countess notes that:  “In the body of the NWT, ‘Jehovah’ has been inserted 237 times, and ‘Jah’—the abbreviated form—four times” (N. 18).

            Countless points out that there is no Greek manuscript of the New Testament with “Jehovah” in it.  The Witnesses respond that “Lord” was substituted as an act of deliberate textual corruption.  A “corruption” so pervasive that it has totally swept away all “Jehovah” manuscripts!  By such reasoning we could argue for the addition of any doctrine or phrase we wished. 

One might also wish to consider the rationale for any suppression by the Roman Catholic Church:  What could have possibly offended it?  It affected none of their own doctrinal “peculiarities” or practices.  Where was the reason to act—not here and there but to manage nothing less than a universal suppression?  And if the use of that name were regarded as somehow heretical—why else repress it?—why aren’t the creeds and church canons of antiquity full of denunciations of its use?  One would, historically speaking, expect these two phenomena to go hand in hand.     

The Witnesses argue that Jesus and the writers of the New Testament would have used “Jehovah” in their spoken discourses and, therefore, it would naturally have been included in the written records of these conversations, our “four gospels.”  The normal assertion of scholars (liberal or conservative) is the exact opposite:  that the tetragrammaton (i.e., God’s name, “Jehovah”) was considered so holy that it was neither written nor spoken.  To refute this, appeal is made to one manuscript of Deuteronomy—note carefully the number—in which the Greek translation does have “Jehovah.”  Hardly a sufficient number to justify the rejection of all the others that lack it!

The famous Bible translator Jerome is appealed to.  Once he wrote, “We find the four-lettered name of God in certain Greek volumes even to this day expressed in the ancient letters.”  Note that he does not claim these to be texts of scripture.  He uses a very different term, “certain Greek volumes.”  Furthermore he uses the limiting termcertain Greek volumes,” as if they were few or (very?) limited in number.  Unquestionably a minority as distinguished from the majority.

And, of course, not the slightest hint that these manuscripts included any of the New Testament.

Then there is the argument that since Jesus rejected the unscriptural traditions of the Jewish leadership, He would have rejected their refusal to use the name of “Jehovah.”  But that assumes what needs to be proved—that it was regarded by Him as an unscriptural tradition. 

[Page 20]  And, if memory falters here forgive me please, is there any case in which Jesus challenged their reliability in preserving the text of Scripture?  Is not every case we encounter of Jesus denouncing unscriptural traditions, cases of where either it contradicted or undermined what the Scriptural text itself said?  Is that not something dramatically different than changing the text itself?    

As to verbal use of “Jehovah,” where was the abuse in avoiding its use?  It was motivated (so far as we can tell) out of respect and honor.  Excessive perhaps, but respect and honor none the less.  How was there anything in the non-use that would raise the rebuke of Jesus? 

Indeed, if its non-use was as subversive of the Divine will as we are told why are we lacking a specific rebuke of it?  This was a fundamental of their religious practice that Jesus must have encountered time after time and day after day.  Jesus’ silence seems inexplicable if the practice were actually sinful.

In defense of rendering “Jehovah” in the New Testament, appeal is made to Matthew having been written first in Aramaic and then being translated into Greek.  Even granting the validity of this theory, their assumption would not necessarily require that “Jehovah” would be used.  No early Aramaic Matthew has survived. 

Because God’s “name” is so important it would have had to be included, goes another argument.  But that was also true in Old Testament days as well—and yet the manuscript evidence refutes the thesis for “Jehovah” is never found in the Greek translation-manuscripts (with one solitary exception).

On such flimsy “evidence,” the Witnesses feel free to alter the New Testament text 237 times!

The theological motive to ignore the evidence is not hard to find:  After all, the group’s name is “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

The Witnesses have endured additional rough sailing in recent decades as scholars have vigorously knocked the air out of their “Jehovah” sails:  Are the vowels that are added to the Hebrew letters, thereby producing our word “Jehovah,” the correct ones?

A very large body of scholarly opinion now holds that the proper rendering would be “Yahweh!”  Although Witness books conspicuously fail to stress this, some of them do admit the popularity of the proposed substitute and even concede that it might be right.  When a group that has made a virtual fetish out of the essentiality of God’s people being called Jehovah’s Witnesses have to concede that Yahweh’s Witnesses might well be the correct name, one is forced to smile at their discomfort!

As for me, I’ll stick with “Jehovah” most of the time, except in my very scholarly writings and, even there, I’m not above using the older term.  It was the one I grew up with and I am quite comfortable with.  It may not be the most correct rendering, but everyone knows who we are talking about.  Not so with the name “Yahweh.”

B.  John 1:1.

If one single verse is to be pointed out as the hub of allegations of doctrinal slanting in the New World Translation, it would surely be John 1:1:  “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god”—note both the lower case “god” and the addition of “a.”  The works already cited by Countess and Buskirk deal in detail with the scholarly arguments pro and con.

[Page 21]  “The Greek” is always a handy hiding place for special pleading since most don’t know it—including the vast majority of Witnesses!  Selective citation of “authorities” can be woven together to prove just about anything one pleases if one’s ethics are sufficiently flexible.  The Witnesses have been scalded time and again over utilizing this type of approach to “vindicate” their substitution of “a god” for “God” in John 1:1.

But rather than crawl into the complexities of the Greek, let’s approach it from a standpoint that is both easily usable and understandable—a line of reasoning that can be used without any Greek knowledge at all:

“What is there in this verse that a righteous pagan could not have said about Jesus?”  I have asked that question more than once and have never received much in reply.  And it’s easy to understand why:  In a society where emperors were often deified by the Roman Senate after death (sometimes, and more controversially, while still alive), pagans would have had no difficulty in accepting Jesus as “a god.”  The problem arose when He was linked in Deityship with the one unique God of Judaism;; this allowed no room for Jesus being mere “a god.”

Furthermore, if John meant “a god,” as the NWT would have it, then he was writing nothing offensive to paganism.  He was writing nothing that would have made Christianity a persecuted religion, he was writing that which would have made Christianity an acceptable Judeo-pagan cult.  Hence unless John was writing a form of Judaized paganism, he had to mean more of Jesus than that He was merely “a god.”

For this common sense reason alone, the NWT rendering has to be wrong. 

 

C.  Luke 23:43.

To illustrate how a little “creativity” can distort the intended meaning of a text, few better examples can be given than Christ’s promise to the thief on the cross:  “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, NASB).

Christ is telling the thief:  You are not going to cease to exist though you die a physical death.  You are going to survive that death.  You are going to be with Me this very day in Paradise.  (Which also rejects the theory that man’s soul does not leave the body till several days after death.)

This passage is clearly an embarrassment to the Witnesses:  To them once you are dead you are dead all over like Rover.  (To swipe the atheist jibe at believers.)  Witnesses believe man is totally material, nothing of us survives death except the memory of us in God’s mind.

By producing their own translation they possessed the means to “solve” the inconvenience of this text.  Unlike John 1:1, they don’t mistranslate it.  Oh, nothing so crude or outlandish!  They merely change the punctuation:  “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise” (NWT).

Note that the comma is moved over by one little word, thereby altering the entire meaning!  Instead of asserting that the thief would be with the Lord in Paradise “today,” Jesus is made to say that “Today I am saying this to you.”  When else would He be saying it to him—yesterday, before they had even met?  Forgive the sarcasm, please.

For the reason just noted, the rendering is utterly improbable.  Lewis points out further evidence against it (N. 19):

 

[Page 22]

            Hence the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ bias clearly comes through.  The

antithesis between the thief’s indefinite, “When you come in your kingdom,” and

Jesus’ “Today you shall be” is destroyed.  Furthermore, the formula “Truly I say

to you” in other New Testament settings (Matthew 5:26; John 1:51; 3:3; etc.) is so

used that what follows is always part of the statement and not part of the formula. 

The Witnesses can claim the Curetonian Syriac and the church father Theophylact

on their side of the issue, but the whole affair was perhaps best characterized by

Henry Alford as “something worse than silly.    

 

 

 

 

Notes

 

N. 1     --         Calev Ben-David.  “Mysticism for the Masses.”  Jerusalem Post (International Edition, September 26, 1987).  Page 12.

 

N. 2     --         Specifically volume 1:   The Books of the Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy).  Third Edition.  New York:  Loizeaux Brothers, 1899.

 

N. 3     --         Robert J. Matthews.  “A Plainer Translation:  Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible—A History and Commentary.  Provo, Utah:  Brigham University Press, 1975.  Page xxviii.

 

N. 4     --         Ibid., page xxviii.

 

N. 5     --         Ibid., page xxx.

 

N. 6     --         Ibid., page xxxii.

 

N. 7     --         Ibid.

 

N. 8     --         Ibid.

 

N. 9     --         Ibid., page 215.

 

N. 10   --         Ibid.

 

N. 11   --         Ibid.

 

N. 12   --         Ibid., page 260.

 

N. 13   --         Ibid., pages 253-261.

 

N. 14   --         Michael Van Buskirk.  The Scholastic Dishonesty of the Watchtower.  Santa Anna, California:  Caris, Inc., P.O. Box 1783, 1976.  Page 23.

 

N. 15   --         Ibid.

 

N. 16   --         [Anonymous.]  “Why Did the Translators of the New World Translation Bible Choose to Remain Anonymous?”  Dated:  January 2, 2012.  Part of the Defend Jehovah Witnesses website.  At:  defendingjehovahswitnesses.blogspot.com/2012/01/ why-did-translators-of-new-world.html#ds.  [September 2012.]

 

N. 17   --         [Anonymous.]  “Translators of the New American Standard Bible.”  Part of the Wholesome Words website.  At:  http://www.wholesomewords.org/nasbtran.html.  [September 2012.]                     

 

N. 18   --         Robert H. Countess.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New Testament.  Phillipsburg, New Jersey:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1982.  Page 24.

 

N. 19   --         Jack Lewis.  English Bible.  Page 231.