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The New World Translation:

The Watchtower Society's Corrupt Bible


By Ben Rast

Contender Ministries

Posted May 15, 2005


Dr. Walter Martin once said that the average Jehovah’s Witness can make a “doctrinal pretzel” out of the average Christian in about 30 seconds.  This does not mean Jehovah’s Witnesses are doctrinally correct.  There are a couple of reasons this is so.  First, the average JW gets exponentially more training in their doctrine than the average Christian gets in orthodox biblical doctrine.  This disparity must be corrected by pastors, teachers, and even the individual parishioners, who must take responsibility to educate themselves on sound, biblical doctrine (as well as attacks on that doctrine).  One other smaller (but still vitally important) reason is the reliance of Jehovah’s Witnesses on a biased and erroneous translation of the Bible – the New World Translation.  If you allow a JW to recite from the NWT without checking the verse in a more accurate translation – such as the NIV, NASB, or KJV – you may be relying on an erroneous translation of a verse.  While there are scores of examples of errors in the NWT, this article will focus on some of the primary mistranslations that affect doctrine.  We will discuss some issues of Greek and Hebrew grammar, but in a simplified manner. 

 

First, it’s important to look at the issue of translation in the greater context, and the background of the translation of the NWT.  The Bible manuscripts exist in three main languages.  Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, though portions of Daniel are in Aramaic.  The New Testament was written in Koine Greek – the Greek language widely spoken 2000 years ago.  This differs from Classical Greek and Modern Greek.  Even before the birth of Christ (by two or three hundred years), the Old Testament was translated into Koine Greek.  This translation became known as the Septuagint, and is represented by the Roman numerals LXX (seventy).  These Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic manuscripts were copied and distributed widely, with the copying and distribution accelerating in later centuries as new forms of script developed which made copying a faster process.  At various times, the manuscripts were compiled into full biblical texts.  It is from these manuscripts and compilations that the Bibles we read today were translated (for more information on this process, please see “A Primer on Bible Transmission”).  Because of this, it stands to reason that advanced training and knowledge in one or more of these languages would be a prerequisite for those who wished to perform translation work on a Bible translation committee.  However, this logic and reason was seemingly unimportant to the Watchtower Society and their translation committee for the NWT.

 

The Watchtower Society first published the New World Translation of the New Testament in 1950.  Their complete Bible was published first in 1961, with subsequent revisions published in 1970 and 1984.  The Watchtower was always quite secretive about the composition of their translation committee, claiming that credit should be given to God and the truth, rather than the translators.  In the October 22, 1989 issue of Awake!, the Watchtower Society’s magazine publication, the society recited the words of their founder Charles T. Russell, “It is the truth rather than its servant that should be honored…”  However, former members of the Society revealed the identities of the translation committee members as Frederick W. Franz, Nathan H. Knorr, George D. Gangas, Albert D. Schroeder, Milton G. Henschel, and Karl Klein.  A review of their qualifications is disturbing:

 

Translator

Qualifications

Franz, Frederick

Probably the only person to actually translate.  Franz was a liberal arts student at the University of Cincinnati:

  • 21 semester hours of classical Greek, some Latin.

  • Partially completed a two-hour survey course in Biblical Greek in junior year.

  • Self-taught in Spanish, biblical Hebrew and Aramaic

Gangas, George

No training in biblical languages.  Gangas was a Turkish national who knew Modern Greek.  Translated Watchtower publications into Modern Greek.

Henschel, Milton

No training in biblical languages.

Klein, Karl

No training in biblical languages.

Knorr, Nathan

No training in biblical languages

Schroeder, Albert

No training in biblical languages.  Schroeder majored in mechanical engineering for three years before dropping out.

 

I don’t want to seem derogatory to Mr. Franz, but his primary training was in Classical Greek, not biblical Greek.  He dropped out of a survey course on that topic.  He was self-taught in biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, which is commendable, but does it qualify him as a Bible translator?  I have a very limited knowledge of New Testament Greek attained through private study (no formal training).  Any person can take classes on New Testament Greek or do self-study in this area with the help of books and language dictionaries.  However, I would not presume to be qualified to serve on a Bible translation committee.  Mr. Franz seemed to lack the fluidity he claimed.  In a court of law in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1954, Mr. Franz failed a simple test on his Hebrew language skills.  On cross-examination, Franz was asked to translate a particular verse from Genesis into Hebrew.  He was unable to do so.  The person most capable among his peers to translate the Bible failed a simple test.  This calls into question the use of the word “translation” in the New World Translation.  As we will see, this “translation” is more likely a paraphrase that was heavily edited to introduce Watchtower bias.

 

Before we continue, let me make one important note.  Some legitimate translations (such as the King James Version) make use of brackets or italics to indicate words inserted for proper flow, but which are not found in the original language manuscripts.  In legitimate translations, this tool is only used for proper flow in English, or to indicate words that are found in some ancient manuscripts but not in others.  However, you will find the NWT goes further.  Not only do the NWT brackets show words included for flow, but also words not found in the manuscripts which, when included, result in a material change of meaning in the verse.  You’ll see examples of this below.  I will sometimes underline the disputed words or phrases, and a discussion will follow.

 

Genesis 1:1-2 

NWT:  In [the] beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth proved to be formless and waste and there was darkness upon the surface of [the] watery deep; and God's active force was moving to and fro over the surface of the waters.

NIV:  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

NASB: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

KJV: In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

DISCUSSION:  The Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the doctrine of the Trinity.  They believe in a non-triune God named Jehovah, they believe Jesus is “a god” subordinate to Jehovah, and they reject the notion that the Holy Spirit is a person of the Trinity.  They believe that the Holy Spirit is an extension of Jehovah – an “active force” He sends out.  The Hebrew words here are ruwach elohim, which are accurately translated as “Spirit of God.”  Ruwach can be translated as “wind” also, but when joined in context with God, it is a reference to the Spirit of God (as Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon states, “Spirit of God, the third person of the triune God, the Holy Spirit, coequal, coeternal with the Father and the Son”).  This is the first example of the NWT forcing its doctrinal bias into the text of Scripture. 

 

Zechariah 12:10

NWT: And I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of favor and entreaties, and they will certainly look to the One whom they pierced through, and they will certainly wail over Him as in the wailing over an only [son]; and there will be a bitter lamentation over him as when there is bitter lamentation over the firstborn [son].

NIV: And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

NASB: I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.

KJV: And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

DISCUSSION:  This passage is one of the most phenomenal Messianic prophecies, because God (Yahweh/Jehovah) is speaking in the first person about Him being the one who will be pierced through.  Obviously, Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize this as well.  The implications are clear.  Since this was God’s prophecy about what would happen to Him, and Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, then Jesus MUST be God.  In fact, in the NWT Zechariah 12:1 indicates these are the “words of Jehovah.”[1] The NWT translators apparently missed the inclusion in this verse of the Hebrew ayth, which Strong’s indicates it is a contraction of a word that gives the meaning of “self.” 

 

Mathew 14:33 (among others)

NWT:  Then those in the boat did obeisance to him, saying: “You are really God’s Son.”

NIV:  Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."

NASB: And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!"

KJV:  Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

DISCUSSION:  Throughout the New Testament we find people who worshiped Jesus.  Since worship is an action that should be reserved for God, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the deity of Jesus Christ, the NWT had to rectify these verses. The Greek word here is proskuneo.  While this word can be translated as doing obeisance (which is defined as giving reverence or homage), the giveaway is the Watchtower’s inconsistency in translating this word.  In every instance in the New Testament were proskuneo is given to Jesus Christ, it is translated as doing “obeisance.”  Where proskuneo is directed to the Father (“Jehovah” in the NWT), they rightly translate it as “worship” (as in John 4:20). 

 

John 1:1

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

NIV:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

NASB:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
KJV:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Here, every legitimate translation of the Bible reads the same – the Word (logos) was God (theos).  The NWT stands alone in its contention that the Word was a god.  This is to reinforce the JW doctrine that Jesus is not Jehovah, but is simply a subordinate god.  The last Greek phrase in its entirety is theos en ho logos, where ho is a definite article (the).  The Watchtower says that when theos is preceded by the definite article ho, it implies identity or personality.  Since the first use of theos in this verse is preceded by ho, it refers to God.  The second use of theos is not preceded by ho, making it an indefinite description or quality. This is simply wrong thinking.  It’s an important point to make that theos without the definite article ho is used elsewhere in the New Testament in reference to Jehovah God, and is translated appropriately in the NWT (such as in Luke 20:38).  They are inconsistent with this argument, positing the “indefinite quality” assertion only in reference to Jesus.

 

John 8:58

NWT:  Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to YOU, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”

NIV:  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!

NASB:  Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."

KJV:  Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

DISCUSSION:  There are deep doctrinal implications in the words of Jesus here.  “I am” speaks to his eternality.  It is also a name of God that He divulged to Moses.  Exodus 3:14 says, God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "  The Greek in John 8:58 is ego eimi, where ego means “I” and eimi is a first person singular present indicative, to “exist”.  The Septuagint provides ego eimi as the Greek words in Exodus 3:14.  The Hebrew word is hayah, which is derived from the same root as Yahweh.  The NWT seeks to distance Jesus’ claims to eternality or deity.  Thus, it stands alone in its gross mistranslation of this verse.

 

Acts 20:28

NWT:  Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed YOU overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own [Son].

NIV:  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

NASB:  Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

KJV:  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

DISCUSSION:  Some more grammatical games and bracket inclusions combine to once again pervert Holy Scripture in order to deny the deity of Jesus Christ.  Going through my collection of legitimate Bible translations (and some not-so good translations), I find the NWT stands alone in their mistranslation of this verse.  The verse speaks of God purchasing the church “with His own blood”.  This is obviously a reference to God the Son, Jesus Christ.  What a powerful biblical testimony to the deity of Christ, and what an anathema to the neo-Arian doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses!  In order to overcome this, a little mistranslation is made to completely change the meaning and deceive their followers.  Not a single extant Greek manuscript contains the word “son”. 

 

Colossians 1:16,17

NWT:  because by means 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 authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist,

NIV:  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

NASB:  For by Him all things were created, {both} in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

KJV:  For by him 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: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

DISCUSSION:  This is one of those passages that speak clearly toward the deity of Jesus Christ and His role as the Creator of all things.  It’s also one of those passages where the Watchtower Society is powerless to form an argument from the Greek, so they play the brackets game.  In order to deny the deity of Jesus Christ and to buttress their argument that Jesus was simply the first of God’s creations, they insert the word “other”.  The NWT reads that Jesus, as the first created being, created all “other” things.  Since the Greek word for “other” is not found in the Greek manuscripts, they bracket the word to indicate that they’re inserting a word that does not belong.  This additional word does not help the flow or clarity of the text, but is instead designed to attack the explicit biblical teaching of Christ’s deity and role as Creator.  Greek scholar and theologian Robert Reymond referred to the addition of “other” as “sheer theological perversity…”[2]  As an example of the deceptive practices of the Watchtower Society, the 1950 version of the NWT did not bracket the word “other,” making it appear that it was part of the Greek Text.  Only since 1961, when pressured to do so by Bible scholars, did they add the brackets.

 

Titus 2:13

NWT:  while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus

NIV:  while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ

NASB:  looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus

KJV:  Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

DISCUSSION:  This verse identifies our great God and our Savior Jesus Christ as being one and the same.  While an argument can be made that the KJV separates the two much like the NWT (by placing the Greek pronoun hemon, meaning “our,” in an improper location), the wording of the NWT and the additional bracketed definite article go beyond a disputed positioning of the Greek, and presents an inferior and erroneous translation that once again separates Jesus Christ from His deity. 

 

Legitimate scholars in the Biblical languages and manuscripts don’t think much of the NWT.  Dr. Bruce Metzger is a well-known scholar whose works are seminary standards.  He used the following adjectives when describing the NWT: “a frightful mistranslation,” “erroneous,” “pernicious,” and “reprehensible.”[3] British Bible scholar H.H. Rowley stated that the NWT is “a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated.”[4] He also referred to the NWT as “an insult to the Word of God.”[5] While this list could go on, let me conclude with the words of Dr. William Barclay who stated, “It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest.”[6]

 

It is clear that many are unaware of the dangerous differences found in the New World Translation.  We’ve received several emails from people who were confused by a verse shown to them by a Jehovah’s Witness.  Often the confusion results from the fact that the verse was like one of those in this article, and when we directed the person to a legitimate translation of that verse, their confusion lifted.  When conversing with a Jehovah’s Witness, never let them read a verse from the NWT without verifying the wording in a legitimate translation.  As Christians, our faith is supported by the God-breathed Scriptures.  We must be on guard against translations that attack our faith through corruption of God’s Word.

 

 

NOTES:

 

1.  The Hebrew name for God is YHWH – four consonants only.  Because of a nearly superstitious fear of taking the Lord’s name in vain, the Jews avoided using this name, and often used the name Adonai.  Eventually, the vowels from Adonai were included in YHWH to form Yahowah.  Today, this name is often spelled in English, Yahweh.  As a human contrivance, Yahowah mutated to Jehovah in some manuscripts.  Yahweh and Jehovah are considered synonymous, and mean “The LORD.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that Jehovah is the correct name for God, and He must be referred to as such.

2.  Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990), p. 248. 

3.  Bruce Metzger; cited in Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), p. 97.

4.  H.H. Rowley, “How Not to Translate the Bible,” The Expository Times, No. 1953, pp.41-42.

5.  Ibid.

6.  William Barclay; cited in Rhodes, p. 97.