Is the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation Trustworthy?
(This article is taken from a presentation I have done for several classes and other groups.
It is available for download here: Jehovahs Witnesses and the NWT
and in Spanish here: Jehovahs Witnesses and the NWT_Espanol)
Jehovah’s Witness (JW’s) have their own version of the Bible that contains several key changes to the English text in order to lend support for their heretical doctrines. The New World Translation (NWT) is defined by the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ parent organization (The Watchtower Society) as “a translation of the Holy Scriptures made directly from Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into modern day English by a committee of anointed witnesses of Jehovah” (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 276). The NWT is the anonymous work of the “New World Bible Translation Committee.” Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that the anonymity is in place so that the credit for the work will go to God. Of course this has the added benefit of keeping the translators from any accountability for their errors and prevents real scholars from checking their academic credentials.
The question dealt with below is whether or not the NWT is trustworthy. As will be shown, all that is needed to show that it is not trustworthy is found in the NWT’s own pages. If you are following along at home, you will want both a common New World Translation (available at pretty much every used bookstore in America), and a Kingdom Interlinear Translation – the Watchtower’s own presentation of the original Greek vs. the NWT’s English. If you really want the good stuff, a 1950 original NWT (it was published in two volumes – OT and NT) is also valuable, for it contains some of the more embarrassing material that has since been “corrected.”
*Note: A new edition of the NWT was released in 2013, for information on important changes see Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation 2013 Revision.
Several differences between the NWT and legitimate translations include the following: The NWT has the Greek term word “staurós” (“cross”) as “torture stake”. It leaves out the words “sheol,” “hades,” “gehenna,” and “tartarus”, where other translations translate some, or all, of these as “hell” (JW’s do not believe in hell). The NWT uses “presence” as for the Greek “Parousia” instead of “coming” (JW’s believe that Christ returned in the early 1900’s). In contrast with the translators’ stated goals, these differences clearly represent “sectarian religious coloration.”
These might be laughable except that the NWT goes much farther with its mistranslation than this. The most important of these is how God is treated.
The Divine Name
The most noticeable change in the Watchtower Bible, and one they cite as proving its superiority, is the insertion of the name “Jehovah” over 200 times in the New Testament. This word is allegedly a transliteration of the Hebrew tetragrammaton YHWH– although it does not appear in any Greek manuscripts. They claim that this “restoration” of the divine name (i.e., “Jehovah”) is required to worship God in truth (although Hebrew has no letters that would transliterate to a “J”!).
They excuse this practice by claiming to only do so when the New Testament is quoting from the Old Testament (KIT p.19), yet their own index shows that in hundreds of cases (checked below) this is simply not the case.
Further, although the word “Kurios” occurs over 40 times in 1‐2 Thessalonians alone, it is only replaced with “Jehovah” in six instances. Why? Because all but those six refer to Jesus Christ. As will be shown below, making Jesus out to be a mere man seems to be the most important feature of the NWT.
Is Jesus Christ God?
The more striking (if not the most immediately obvious) feature of the NWT is a consistent effort to remove any references to Jesus Christ as being God. None of these changes, however, arise out of any necessity in the Greek text (as admitted in their own literature – see below), rather they simply reflect the Watchtower’s aberrant theology. Several key problematic “translations” arising from this heretical theology are dealt with below.
JOHN 1 – “God” or “a god”?
The Greek behind John 1:1 clearly states that “the Word was God,” but the NWT of John 1:1 is as follows: “the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” While modern translations have “the Word was God,” the Watchtower sees fit to translate “theos” as “a god,” thus describing Jesus (the Word) as “godlike” rather than God Himself as the text plainly states. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ argument for translating “theos” (God) as “a god” centers on the use of the definite article (Greek “ton” or “the” in English) with the first occurrence of God in the verse and its absence in the second. From this they assert that “ton theon” must refer to the God (Jehovah), while “theos” by itself is only a description of the godlike characteristics of the Word. Below is presented the NWT’s own Interlinear showing the Greek text (highlighted in orange) in question. Two points will show that this is not a matter of correct translation but of reading one’s preconceived theology into the text rather than letting it speak for itself:
- There is no indefinite article in Greek (in English – “a” or “an”). So any use of an indefinite article in the English translation must be added in by the translator. This is grammatically acceptable in English, so long as it does not change the meaning of the text.
- There are over 20 uses of the definite article in Greek – some have equivalent usage in English (such as identifying one particular among many, i.e. “the man” rather than just any “man”). However, some usages do not have an English equivalent. Therefore the absence of a definite article may or may not have anything to do with what that absence would mean in English.
There is a perfectly good explanation for why “theos” has no definite article in this passage that does not result in the Watchtower’s conclusion. There are three general rules we need to understand to see why:
- In Greek, word order does not determine word usage like it does in English. We are used to the Subject – Verb – Predicate style sentence and we learn to recognize these parts of speech by their position in the sentence. Thus, “Harry called the dog.” is not equivalent to, “The dog called Harry.” But in Greek, a word’s function is determined by the case ending found attached to the word’s root. In this verse, we see two case endings for the root “theo” . . . one is “s” (theos), the other is “n” (theon). The “s” ending normally identifies a noun as being the subject of a sentence, while the “n” ending identifies a noun as the direct object.
- When a noun is functioning as a predicate nominative (in English a noun that follows a “being” verb such as “is”) its case ending must match the noun’s case that it modifies so that the translator will know which noun it is describing. Therefore, “theo” must take the “s” ending because it is modifying “logos” (the subject, as “logo” has the “s” ending). Therefore the sentence transliterates to: “kai theos en ho logos” See the problem here? Is “theos” the subject or is “logos”? Both have the “s” ending. The answer is found in the next rule.
- In cases where two nouns appear, and both take the same case endings, the author will often add the definite article to the word that is the subject in order to avoid confusion. John put the definite article on “logos” (the Word) instead of “theos.” So “logos” is the subject, and “theos” is the predicate nominative. In English we would read this verse as: “and the Word was God” (instead of “and God was the word”).
The most revealing evidence of the Watchtower’s bias is their inconsistent translation technique – just 3 verses down they translate another case of “theos” without the indefinite article as “God”. (Note that case endings such as “ou”, “on”, or “os” have to do with case usage in the sentence not whether or not “God” should be capitalized). [See The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scripturespg. 417.] (Note: the true Greek was not followed in the earlier version of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ interlinear, the Emphatic Diaglott.)
And this is not the only example of translating other cases of “theos” without the indefinite article as “God.” In Jn. 1:18 they translate the same term as both “God” and “god” in the very same sentence. [See The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures pg. 418-19].
The Watchtower, therefore, has no hard textual grounds for their translation – only their own theological bias. While Watchtower defenders might succeed in showing that John 1:1 can be translated as they have done, they cannot show that it is the proper translation nor can they explain the fact that they do not translate the exact same Greek phrases in the very same book in like manner. It is only their pre-conceived heretical belief that forces them to inconsistently translate the Greek text into their own particular English version thus allowing their error to gain some semblance of legitimacy to those ignorant of the facts.
John 8:58 – “I am” or “I have been”?
In what must have been an incredibly embarrassing admission, the 1950 NWT claimed in a footnote that that their translation was based on the “perfect indefinite tense.” However, scholars quickly pointed out that, as any first semester Greek student would know, there is no such tense in Koine Greek! In 1961 the footnote was changed to “the perfect tense,” but apparently this was also discovered to be incorrect – for the 1971 footnote says, “the perfect tense indicative.”
“Ego eimi” is the ‘present active indicative first person singular’ (“I am”), not the ‘perfect active indicative first person singular’ (“I have been”) as their own interlinear reports. [See The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures pg. 467]. It is clear that the Watchtower Society is not very well versed in Greek, and that they are simply desperate to get the clear declaration of Jesus that He is Yahweh (as the Jews recognized, see Ex. 3:14) out of this passage.
What is frightening about this attempt is that it is in a passage that directly seals with salvation. What one believes about Jesus’ statement here is determinative for eternal life. The Watchtower’s false understanding is inexcusable, therefore, on both linguistic and theological grounds.
“Worship” or “Obeisance”?
In Hebrews 1 the Son is worshiped – obviously a problem for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. So they changed it. The Greek term is from “proskuneo” which Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (the authoritative source on Koine Greek) gives this definition:
‘to kiss’ (used to designate the custom of prostrating oneself before persons and kissing their feet or the hem of their garment, the ground, etc.; the Persians did this in the presence of their deified king, and the Greeks before a divinity or something holy.) to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure, (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully . . .
The JW’s little apologetic text Reasoning from the Scriptures gives the same basic quote and admits that the term can be used for worship toward God. So neither view can simply argue from the word itself. However, their view is still mistaken and there are some easy ways to show it – using their own materials no less.
If one looks up the verse in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own “Kingdom Interlinear” one can see the Greek and English together. In it, Hebrews 1:6 is translated “worship” (in the 1969 edition at least – sometimes they catch their “mistakes” and “fix” them later – they at least missed this one on their first pass!). [See The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures pg. 965].
Second, even without the Greek it is easy to show that the Jehovah’s Witnesses interpretation is false. Hebrews 1:6 is a quote of Ps. 97:7 (as their own NWT footnotes will show), so whatever the phrase means in Ps. 97:7 it also means in Heb. 1:6. Ps. 97 is talking about Jehovah (that’s what it says). Oddly, the NWT’s own footnote cross references Hebrews 1:6 here (it is letter “Y” in my copy). This shows, in fact, that Jesus is Jehovah! Yet another fun thing happens when we look at Heb. 1:6’s footnotes in the NWT. They were clever enough not to reference the Psalm that it comes from – instead they reference Dt. 32:43 (where the same Greek term for “worship” is used in the LXX). But guess what? This is referring to Jehovah too (start reading from Dt. 32:36 and you will see this).
Another verse in Hebrews 1 that might sound odd to those familiar with standard translations is 1:8 in which Yahweh says to Christ, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” The NWT has “God is your throne forever and ever.” This translation is possible (both “thronos” and “theos” could be substituted for the subject in Greek). The NWT version is quite doubtful, however. In Hebrews Christ the Son is being shown to be better than any competitor for worship. In chapter 1 Christ is being shown to be better than the angels. God being His throne sounds odd, but could be seen as God the Father being the Son’s authority. But in what sense would this not also be said of the angels? This would not advance the thesis of the chapter. It would be like me saying that my brother is better than my sister because he is under my parent’s authority. Well, so is my sister.
In verse 10 Jesus is said to be the one who laid the foundation of the earth. But this verse is a quote from Psalm 102:24-25 which says that God (Jehovah) laid the foundations of the earth. In yet another instance of Watchtower inconsistency they correctly translate “kurios” as “Lord” here instead of “Jehovah” (which they do in all cases where they believe it refers to God the Father). So from the NWT itself we can see that Christ is Lord (“Jehovah” to JW’s) and did what only God could do (cf. Isa. 44)! [See the NWT Translator’s explanation about translating “Kurios” (“Lord”) as “Jehovah” in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures pg. 18, and the translating of “Kurios” (“Lord”) as “Jehovah” in Hebrews 12:6 versus NOT translating Kurios (“Lord”) as “Jehovah” in Hebrews 1:10 although it IS a quote from an OT text (Ps. 102) addressing Jehovah.]
“All things” or “All other things”?
The NWT has “By means of him all [other] things were created . . . ” in Colossians 1:16. here, and in other verses they insert, without justification from the Greek, the word “other. In the first chapter of Colossians Paul glorifies Christ by telling of His creative activity, thus showing that Jesus is God incarnate. This Biblical teaching flies in the face of Watchtower theology which teaches that Christ was Jehovah’s first creation – and thus not God. Not able to abide the text in question, the Watchtower has seen fit to add the word “other” into this section not once, but 5 times (1:16-20). They do this without warrant, as their own interlinear demonstrates. [See The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures pg. 896].
[Update: The 2013 NWT once again does not put the words “other” in brackets! See see Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation 2013 Revision.]
Is there any good reason to think that this addition is correct? The Watchtower attempt to escape the obvious implication of this passage is one of the plainest examples of reading into the text rather than from the text that could be offered. To purposefully add a word that changes the meaning of a Biblical text is so obviously wrong it is difficult to imagine how the Watchtower could defend itself, and their explanation shows that they recognize this. In Reasoning from the Scriptures, the JW apologetic handbook, they essentially point to “everything else the Bible says regarding the Son” for their justification. This is a perfect example of circular reasoning. They remove or distort the numerous passages that clearly show Jesus to be God and then point to those passages and say, “See? He’s not God!”
Amazingly, in their booklet titled Should You Believe in the Trinity? the Watchtower does not even treat this verse under the section dealing with Trinitarian proof-texts. They then use their own distorted version of Col. 3:15 as evidence that Jesus is not God! (pg. 26, also see pp. 23-28).
“In Him” or “By Means of Him”?
An additional issue is important here. Paul clearly states that all of creation was made in Christ (“en auto” – literally “in Him”). Everywhere else in this passage “en” is translated “in”. Yet once again this does not fit with Watchtower theology so they change it when it refers to Christ’s role in creation. Suddenly “in” becomes “by means of”. Why? Because the proper translation shows that Christ Himself was the creator. Watchtower theology tries to lessen the impact of verses like this by asserting that God merely created “through” or “by means of” Christ. For example, in John 1:3 “panta” is correctly translated. Why? Because the preposition “dia” is used with reference the Christ (which the Watchtower thinks saves their position).
Poor translation and grasp of creation theology notwithstanding, there is still a huge problem for the Watchtower. Yahweh specifically states in Isaiah 44:24 that He was all alone at creation. Thus, if Christ was there at creation then he must be Yahweh. (JW’s might quote Job 38 where “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” at God’s creation, but this gets them nowhere unless angels are not part of creation! Clearly creation was a process and angels were created prior to the earth. This is why the NWT must change Colossians, for it clearly states that Christ created the angels too – thus He was present prior to the first moment of creation and was therefore not part of it).
That “other” does not appear in the original document is without question. The phrase “ektisthe ta panta” literally translates: “it was created the all” or, to put it into proper English grammatical format, “all things were created.” This not only does justice to the original text, but allows the clear message of Christ’s deity to shine forth (in fact, Colossians was written as an attempt to stop the very heresy the Watchtower espouses! See vss. 1:15, 17, 18, 19, 2:9, 10, etc. which clearly point to Christ’s deity).
When Does “All” Mean “Some”?
The best the Watchtower can do is point to instances in the NT where “panta” is translated into English along with the word “other.” They may cite Luke 13:2 which reads, “all other Galileans.” It is interesting to note first that in the NWT the word “other” is inserted in this verse without brackets meaning that it is not considered to be an added word, but only one of clarification. This is acceptable here of course, because the word “other” does not affect the meaning of this sentence at all. Its presence or absence only makes the sentence (in English) more or less clear grammatically. But this is not the case with Colossians chapter 1. The insertion of the word “other” 5 times in this passage completely changes the meaning of the text.
It is also noteworthy that prior to the 1960’s the NWT did not enclose the word “other” in brackets in the this passage. Their dishonesty was pointed out and they were forced to admit their insertion. This has not stopped them from continuing the practice though, as can be seen from the deliberate insertion without brackets in Philippians 2:9 where “other” must be inserted to avoid Jesus’ name being higher than all. [See The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures pg. 885.]
Another problem for the Watchtower arises from a verse the editors missed while inserting terms needed to make their interpretation look more plausible. In Revelation 5:13 we are told that every (“pan”) creature in heaven and on earth bowed to Christ (here pictured as the Lamb of God). If Christ is a creature then how could every creature bow to Him? (Notice also that the same glory given to God the Father is given to Christ – although God will share His glory with no other! [Isa. 42:8]). [See The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures pg. 1090.]
It is the Watchtower’s pre-conceived theological errors that force them to dishonestly and inconsistently translate the Greek text into their own particular English version (otherwise why would they need it?). This attempt is not only illegitimate, but embarrassingly obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense and understanding of how languages work. Without knocking down the Watchtower’s authority, biblical arguments are usually not going to get you very far and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to read non-Watchtower literature. But showing things from their own Bible cannot be denied as easily.