Revised New World Translation: Review by John Tancock

The Silver Sword

NWT 2013
NWT 2013

Known as the silver sword because of its colour, the latest edition of the JW Bible was launched at the October 5, 2013 Annual Meeting of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. This is not an update it is a new translation with a new translation philosophy and approach. We will look at various features of this edition and make comments from more than one perspective. First we will look at the translation history of the JW Bible.

Prior to 1950 Jehovah’s Witnesses used the King James Version. It was in October 1946 that a translation committee was formed at the behest of Nathan H Knorr, president of the Society, whose task was to produce the first JW translation of the New Testament. These ‘anointed’ men were hardly qualified to make such a translation.

Officially anonymous, they were led by Fred Franz, who was Society president from 1977, and included Nathan Knorr, Albert Schroeder, Milton Henschel (Society president from 1992), and George Gangas. Fred Franz was the only one with sufficient knowledge of Bible languages to even attempt a translation, having studied Greek for two years in the University of Cincinnati.

What Witnesses call the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was published in August 1950. The translation of what they call the Hebrew Bible was published in five instalments in 1953, 1955, 1957, 1958, and 1960. The complete New World Translation was published in 1961.

These days a Translation Services Department, established in 1989, oversees Bible translation work, overseen by the Writing Committee of the Governing Body, and aided by computers. It is out of this organisation the 2013 New World Translation (NWT) has come.

The Bare Facts

This edition has a sturdy but soft silver/grey cover, with the wording inset into the binding rather than printed on it. A new Watchtower invented font has been developed, apparently for copyright reasons, and the layout is crisp with even presentation. This is different to the old NWT which originally had uneven and untidy typesetting. Launched with a JW app which also includes other Bibles from the Watchtower, this NWT is not just a revision it is effectively a new translation.

Features of the Bible

It is a full Bible with centre references and a summary (outline of contents) of each book in advance. At the front is a section of 20 questions that people ask, with colour drawings and short answers. At the rear is a concordance and a glossary of terms. Following this are the usual various charts and maps with two important (for the JWs) chapters on the Divine Name in the Hebrew and Greek scriptures.

Differences Between the ‘Old’ and Revised NWT

The most significant difference is that the translation has moved on the scale from being like Youngs Literal Translation to something that approximates to the NIV, or perhaps the HCSB.

In the old NWT ‘one word in Greek/Hebrew is translated as one word in English’. This has gone, although it never really existed anyway. For example, when proskuneo refers to Jehovah it was always translated as worship (Mt.4:10) but when referring to Jesus it was translated as ‘do obeisance ‘ (Mt:2). Matt Slick over at CARM has produced a helpful chart showing all the instances where these differences can be found (The New World Translation and “Proskuneo”)

The old distinction for plural second person pronouns like YOU and YOURS has also gone. Many words have been modernised, for instance the use of ‘kidneys’ to translate literally the Hebrew has now been sensibly changed to expressions like ‘ innermost feelings.’

Make no mistake, this is no Good News Bible or New Living Translation, it is still not flowing, but it is an improvement on the past.

Wherever there is some textual uncertainty they have not indicated it in smaller print or footnotes or referred to it in any way, which is what translators usually do…..they have been omitted entirely!! That includes the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 and the ending of Mark’s gospel.

In the NIV Colossians 1:15-16 reads, “He is the image of the invisibe God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created; things in heaven and things on earth…”

The older edtions of the NWT added in square brackets the word [other] thus: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth…” This is there purely to reflect the JW belief that Jesus is not God but is a created being, therefore he created all [other] things. It is what they believe, and not what the text gives us.

The 2013 revised NWT leaves out the brackets, giving the impression that the added word belongs in the text when it clearly does not. You can read it for yourself online.

It is notable that there are no textual notes at all, such as, ‘Most early mss say…’ or ‘ A few late mss include…’, none of that at all. It is apparent that absolute certainty is what the Watchtower authorities require.

If the NWT wants to be taken seriously outside of its own circles they really should include some notes reflecting the complexity and reality underneath the text. It is apparent, however, that the organisation has spoken and that is the way it is.

If I was a JW……

I would think that this new NWT is a big improvement on previous editions. Great helps and references and the extra colour pages are a plus. However I think many JWs will struggle getting used to the non literal approach which is a massive change to previously.

The new JW app is easy to use, but may disturb many JWs as the translations included are the Old study edition of the NWT plus the ASV, Byingtons, Kingdom Interlinear, KJV and the new NWT. If a JW checks any contentious passages (Coll 1, Php 2, John 1v1, the use of Jehovah in the NT etc) with the app, the ASV , KJV and Byingtons will inevitably disagree with the NWT, as will the Interlinear part of the Kingdom Iterlinear (see John 14v14 as an example).

Mistake?

Eagle eyed reviewers will notice a typesetting or layout mistake as well, in Numbers 32:14-16 on page 266. Compare the header with thNumbers 35 to 33e reference on p277. For those who don’t have a hard copy see the picture (right). It would be easy to think I am being picky. But for a loyal JW convinced of the infallible nature of the Governing Body and their unerring leading this small error can be unsettling. It has caused a bit of a stir in some JW circles.

Same Old, Same Old?

All the usual errors are included in this translation. Notably the insertion of Jehovah into the pages of the NT is utterly unfounded. The article at the back of the translation shows pictures of OT passages in Hebrew and some editions of the Septuagint (LXX) the Greek Old Testament. This is misleading and is a bit of a smokescreen. It also shows a page from the Emphatic Diaglott and an Hawaiian translation! These of course are simply no evidence at all that ‘JEHOVAH’ should be in the text of the New Testament.

Let me repeat this…. There is not a single manuscript of the New Testament that has Jehovah or Yahweh (a more correct translation) or YHWH in it……zero, zip, zilch! The NWT stands utterly alone in this respect and even Jason Beduhn who in the past has made a few favourable comments about the NWT severely criticised the NWT for falsely inserting Jehovah.

Well, that is my brief review of the ‘new’ NWT. Parts of it will be translated into perhaps 300 languages by the Watchtower. What they don’t realise, or are perhaps not prepared to recognise, is that mainstream Christians have translated the Bible into 2000 languages with greater volume and distribution than the NWT. And, while JWs will consider the NWT to be the most accurate of all translations , the evidence decidedly shows otherwise.

John Tancock is a church leader in Swansea, and  a consultant to Reachout Trust. You can read more from John (JT) and learn more about him on his frequently updated, ever interesting (and provocative) blog JTs Blogspot

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