We all know, of course, that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate Christmas. Indeed, they don’t celebrate much of anything, and I am reminded of the old joke about the Saducees in the New Testament not believing in the resurrection, which is why they were sad-you-see. Like the Saducees, Jehovah’s Witnesses think they have a serious outlook on the world but, like the Saducees, they are not so much serious as grim. I wondered what a Kingdom Hall nativity would look like if one was ever to come about.
Reading the nativity in Matthew and Luke in the 2013 ‘revised’ New World Translation, and comparing it with other translations, it first becomes clear that it would be ugly. It has never been a particularly ‘lovely’ religion but some of the so-called translation work is excruciatingly painful to read. One wonders what they were thinking. Especially since they have the same resources available to everyone else. It doesn’t even seem to have crossed their mind to ask, ‘how can we make this less clunky and say the same thing.’
‘But this is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. During the time his mother Mary was promised in marriage to Joseph, she was found to be pregnant by holy spirit.’ (Mt.1:18 NWT)
Other Translations give us ‘the Holy Spirit’ or :
(NIV) This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.
(ESV) Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
(GNB) This was how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. His mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they were married, she found out that she was going to have a baby by the Holy Spirit.
(KJV) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
(MKJV) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was this way (for His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph) before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.[So, what’s wrong with, ‘with child’ by the way?]
The definite article ‘the’ isn’t there in the Greek but translators include it in English because Holy Spirit is a noun and calls for a definite article. A footnote in their Bible gives, [Or, ‘active force’] which explains a lot. To a Jehovah’s Witness, the Holy Spirit is not a person, but ‘God’s active force,’ ‘holy spirit.’ It is simply ugly!
As Doug Harris points out in Awake to the Watchtower, they actually prove from their own writings that the Holy Spirit is a person:
“Is the Devil a personification or a person?… these accounts relate to conversations between the Devil and God, and between the Devil and Jesus Christ. Both Jehovah God and Jesus Christ are persons. Can an unintelligent ‘force’ carry on a conversation with a person? Also, the Bible calls Satan a manslayer, a liar, a father (in spiritual sense) and a ruler… only an intelligent person could fit all those descriptions.” – Awake, 8 December 1973, p.27.
Personification proves the Devil has personality. Applying these same ‘rules’ to the Holy Spirit we will discover if the Holy Spirit has personality. First, the Society says the Devil has to be a person because he talks to other persons:
“… the spirit said to Philip…” – Acts 8:29, NWT
“… the holy spirit said…” – Acts 13:2, NWT
“… just as the holy spirit says…” – Heb. 3:7, NWT.
The Holy Spirit talks with other people; therefore, He cannot be an unintelligent force!
Look at how they translate Mt.1:23
“Look! The virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son, and they will name him Im·man′u·el,” which means, when translated, “With Us Is God.”
‘With us is God?’ Jedi Master translation it is! It may be cute and mysterious coming from Yoda, but in the Bible its awkward and ugly. I suspect this awkward phrasing is driven by preconceived beliefs, in this instance an attempt to avoid the Christian teaching that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Do they mean, ‘Immanuel, meaning, ‘God is on our side?’ This is the original meaning of the Isaiah text (Is.7:14) but by the time of Jesus it took on greater significance in that Jesus was literally, ‘God with us.’ (Heb.1:1-5)
‘After Jesus had been born in Beth′le·hem of Ju·de′a in the days of Herod the king, look! astrologers from the East came to Jerusalem, saying: “Where is the one born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when we were in the East, and we have come to do obeisance to him.”’ (Mt.2:1-2, NWT)
In their footnote for ‘do obeisance’ they have [or ‘bow down’] because, of course, they do not accept that Jesus is God and, therefore, he cannot receive worship. Strong’s gives us:
(meaning to kiss, like a dog licking his masters hand); to fawn or crouch to, that is, (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): – worship.
This is not ‘wise men’ of some stature and standing in the community coming to pay due homage to a better. This is prostration, adoration, ‘a dog licking his master’s hand’; this is worship. ‘Do obeisance’ is so inappropriate, and very ugly.
Even their quote from Micah comes out awkward and ugly:
‘And you, O Beth′le·hem of the land of Judah, are by no means the most insignificant city among the governors of Judah, for out of you will come a governing one, who will shepherd my people Israel.’” (Mt.2:6 NWT)
Governing one? Yet, in their own Old Testament (or, ‘the Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures’) it is much more appealing and accurate:
‘And you, O Beth′le·hem Eph′ra·thah, The one too little to be among the thousands of Judah, From you will come out for me the one to be ruler in Israel, Whose origin is from ancient times, from the days of long ago.’ (Micah 5:2)
How could they misquote their own Bible, and to such detrimental effect? Other translations are more consistent and, where they use ‘governor’ it is just that, not ‘governing one’; so unlovely.
In Luke’s account of the shepherds they have Jesus wrapped in ‘strips of cloth’ (swaddling clothes), ‘living out of doors’ (abiding in the fields) ‘a multitude of the heavenly army’ (heavenly host) and Mary ‘drawing her own conclusions in her heart’ (Mary treasured up these things and pondered them in her heart). Whatever else you might think about the qualifications of this translation committee (and they are singularly unqualified by any standard) there is not a poet among them.
Even Mary’s song, Mary’s song of praise to God in Luke 1:46-55 is presented as simply a part of the overall text, with no recognition that this is a song of praise, a psalm, the Magnificat, a recognising, in the form of a hymn, of God’s great glory. The same is true of Zechariah’s song later in the same chapter (vv 68-79). Such an unlovely offering, this Bible, to a God whose poetry, prose, and art are writ large across the expanse of Creation, and whose Scripture sings off the page when translated correctly.
But what of the greatest issue of all in these texts, the naming of God? Look at the translation of the shepherd’s story:
‘There were also in the same region shepherds living out of doors and keeping watch in the night over their flocks. Suddenly Jehovah’s angel stood before them, and Jehovah’s glory gleamed around them, and they became very fearful. But the angel said to them: “Do not be afraid, for look! I am declaring to you good news of a great joy that all the people will have. For today there was born to you in David’s city a savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this is a sign for you: You will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying: “Glory in the heights above to God, and on earth peace among men of goodwill.”‘ (Luke 2:8-14, NWT)
Even my spell-checker picked up on their spelling of ‘saviour’ with a lower-case initial (Luke 2:11). But the elephant in the room, of course, is the adding in of the name Jehovah to refer to God. Every time, in our Bibles, we read the words ‘the Lord’ they insert ‘Jehovah.’
What is curious is that the Greek has kyrios, which translates as ‘Lord.’ Indeed, you cannot get ‘Jehovah’ out of kyrios, however much you stare at it. God is also referred to as theos, such as in verse 14, “Glory in the heights above to God, and on earth peace among men of goodwill.” They get that right, so why make kyrios Jehovah? This is what happens when you ‘translate’ the text the way you think it ought to be translated. You begin with your ‘private interpretation’ – [surely, whenever God is referred to personally, it should say ‘Jehovah’] and bend the text to that.
So, we have a rule, if you will; when God is referred to personally, kyrios, you insert his personal name, right? Well, that depends, it seems, on what you want the text to say. You see, there is one place where they make kyrios what it should be, Lord.
‘For today there was born to you in David’s city a savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ (v 11)
So, when the Lord in question is ‘saviour’ (with a small ‘s’) then kyrios is no longer Jehovah, otherwise the text would read, ‘For today there was born to you in David’s city a savior, who is Christ Jehovah.’
There is no text in existence that could justify replacing kyrios with Jehovah, and the agenda of the Society is so obvious as to be embarrassing. One of the stock arguments Jehovah’s Witnesses bring is Jesus’ words in what we know as the Lord’s Prayer; ‘Hallowed be your name.’ Some years ago I had the following encounter.
Jesus and the Name
One day two Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mother and daughter, came to my door. Finding we were Christians they introduced the idea that the mission of Jesus was to make known the name of Jehovah, almost as though to dare me to disagree. They led with Matthew 6:9-13, emphasising:
“Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified” (NWT)
“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name” (NIV).
“You see”, the mother said “that Jesus’ mission was to ‘sanctify’ the name of Jehovah.”
“So you are suggesting” I replied “that Jesus routinely used the name of Jehovah in his conversation just as you do today?”
“Yes!” one replied while the other nodded.
“Can you show me examples?”
Now this presented them with a problem and my question became one of those “I will have to check it out and get back to you” affairs that we often encounter. However, it struck me as odd that they didn’t have a ready list of examples to illustrate such a basic Witness teaching. We pressed on.
“Where would you expect it most likely that Jesus would teach the use of Jehovah’s name?” I asked. As they looked at each other I answered my own question. “Surely when He was teaching His disciples?”
I asked them to read out the first line of the Lord’s prayer again. They did. And by now you should have too – and spotted something significant. That’s right, and I asked them what you would have surely have ask. Why didn’t Jesus pray to Jehovah God? They had no answer for me and soon there was a reason to leave and a promise to return with answers.
I didn’t really expect them to come back, cynic that I am, but the next week they were on my doorstep. They wouldn’t come in, they explained, but felt honour bound to bring me an answer and I admired that, especially when I got my answer. They had consulted authorities, looked it up in books, but found no reference to Jesus ever using the name of Jehovah.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not insist on this teaching because they find examples of it in the Scripture, but because they read passages that call on people to sanctify and make known the name of God and conclude that this means pronounce it. And yet, as I pointed out to my visitors, at the very moment when Jesus was teaching His disciples to sanctify in prayer the name of God, He did not use the name.
So, how would my Kingdom Hall Nativity have worked out? Well, I think it would have been clunky, with a script that sounds more like it was taken from a car manual than Scripture. It would have been unfamiliar since even non-church-goers would know familiar parts of the story, and I do wonder how mums and dads would feel about the little cherub playing Mary uttering the words, ‘sexual intercourse.’ There may be a frisson of excitement when a Yoda type character steps into the scene and utters those immortal words, ‘With us is God.’ More than anything else, it would have been misleading about who exactly this Jesus is since he is Lord but, despite Lord being God everywhere else, here he is simply – Lord. And he is ‘Immanuel’ meaning ‘God with us,’ but here meaning ‘God is on our side?’ I must ask the next Jehovah’s Witness that knocks my door.