Is there a translation bias in the Watchtower’s New World Translation? Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) tend to exclusively use their own New World Translation (NWT) of the Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) Scriptures though they do have the ASV, KJV, and The Bible in Living English on their website (jw.org).
The Foreword to the NWT tries to emphasise how accurate this translation is in stating that the translators had a ‘profound respect for the content of the Bible’ (Foreword to 2013 revised edition of the NWT). You can read a review of the latest edition of the NWT here. A look at the obscure translations they appeal to can be found here.
The WTS does not divulge the names of the members of the translation committee, claiming that they do not wish to give the glory to anyone but Jehovahi. This, of course, makes it very difficult to determine whether or not the members are qualified to make an accurate translation.
However, the names of the original translators were made known by ex-Governing body member Raymond Franz in his seminal whistle-blowing book ‘Crisis of Conscience’. It turns out that the level of language qualification of these men is minimal, which does not bode well for the accuracy of the work they completed. There is an excellent Wikipedia article on the NWT.
Of course, all Bible versions other than the original Koine-Greek /Aramaic translations will contain some level of interpretation by the translators. A direct, word-for-word version would be pretty meaningless to the average reader. However, in the NWT, there are a number of important departures from the original language which display a translation bias towards what the Watchtower Society (WTS) wants the Bible to say in order to make it fit their own theology.
The WTS also publishes an interlinear Greek version of the Bible (The Kingdom Interlinear Translation [KIT]) from where they claim to have taken the NWT. Many of the variations made in the NWT can be identified easily enough by reading what has been translated in the KIT. Usually the KIT has no translation bias and is accurate but the NWT does not always reflect this accuracy and faithfulness to the text. Both the NWT and KIT can be found on the jw.org website where the reader can judge for themselves the accuracy of the NWT.
Examples of Translation Bias
Below are a few examples of the translation bias that can be found in the NWT.
- ‘Jehovah ‘in the New and Old Testaments Of course, the NWT is famous for having added the name ‘Jehovah’ in to the Greek Scriptures (NT) 237 times where it does not appear in the original. There is no single manuscript of the over 5000 early works available which has a version of the Tetragrammaton (the divine name) and the WTS provides no credible evidence that it was ‘removed’ as they claim.
What is not so well known is that they have also added this name in to the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) some 140 times where it is also not in the original (thanks to Kathy Petersen for doing the investigative work to find the examples). In many cases they have simply replaced the Hebrew word ‘lord’ (adonai) with ‘Jehovah’. For example Genesis 18 v 3, 27, 30, 31. Cynically it could be said that this aversion to allowing the use of the word ‘Lord’ prevents any idea that the Scriptures are referring to Lord Jesus rather than Lord Jehovah!
- John 17 v 3 The WTS is keen to emphasise that salvation is not simply by faith but requires knowledge, and that knowledge can only be found from the WTS. To support this they often quote John 17 v 3 which states ‘This means everlasting life,their coming to know you,the only true God,and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.’ (NWT) (emphasis mine). However, if you read the KIT the word ‘means’ is not there, it is the word ‘is’, which completely changes the meaning of this passage.
This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ (ESV)
The passage is not telling you how to gain eternal life but describing what that eternal life is. If you should mention this to a JW who quotes this passage they may well respond by saying the two options actually mean the same thing – but of course they don’t.
- ‘Exercising Faith’ The WTS is so keen to avoid the concept that salvation is through faith or belief in the Lord Jesus Christ that they change the Greek word pisteuo meaning ‘to believe, also to be persuaded of, and hence to place confidence in, to trust, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence’ (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Bible Words (‘Belief’)) to read ‘exercising faith’ some 27 times in their Greek Scriptures.
A classic example of this mis-translation can be found in John 3 vs 15, 16 ‘so that everyone believing in him may have everlasting life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.’ (NWT)(Emphasis mine)
Both the word ‘believing’ in verse 15 and ‘exercising faith’ in verse 16 are translated from the same word in the Greek, pisteuo . Overall the KIT has the word pisteuo some 217 times and translates it directly as ‘belief’ 209 times and ‘exercising faith’ only once (though strangely enough, where the KIT translates it as ‘exercising faith’ in Luke 8 v 50 the NWT then retranslates it as simply ‘have faith’!)
- The Word ‘Other’ The WTS teaches that Jesus was actually Jehovah’s first creationii despite the assertion in Colossians 1 v 16 twice that Jesus created ‘all’ things (so could not have created Himself). To avoid this embarrassing claim the NWT adds the word ‘other’ twice in this verse so that it now reads:
‘…because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through himand for him.’(NWT)(Emphasis mine). The word ‘other’ does not appear in the KIT.
Additionally, the same trick is duplicated in Philippians 2 v 9 where in the NWT Jesus is said to have a name above every ‘other’ name to avoid any sort of comparison with the name of ‘Jehovah’. Again, the word ‘other’ does not appear in the KIT, where it reads, ‘…and he graciously gave to him the name the over every name…’
- ‘In Union With’ It is a key aspect of our life with Christ that He is IN us and we are IN Him, Jesus dwells within us to support us. 2 Corinthians 13 v 5 is a classic example of this declaration ‘Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?’ (NIV). However, the NWT translates this as ‘Or do you not recognize that Jesus Christ is in union with you? Unless you are disapproved’ (NWT)(emphasis mine).
They use the term ‘in union’ some 91 times where we are found to be ‘in’ Christ or Christ is ‘in’ us. The beautiful closeness of Christ’s communion with the believer is downgraded to simply being connected or ‘in union’ with Him in the NWT.
- Reigning ‘over’ the Earth The WTS teaches that the 144,000 as God’s kingdom (government) will rule from heaven over the peoples on the earth (the ‘Great crowd’ of Revelation 7). In Revelation 5 v 10 the NWT states that ‘…and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.’ (NWT) (emphasis mine).
The Greek word here is epi meaning ‘on’ or ‘upon’ which the KIT correctly translates. This verse tells us that these rulers will be ‘on’ the earth not ‘over’ it. Epi is used a number of times elsewhere in this same passage and on each occasion is translated in the NWT as ‘on’, not ‘over’.
- ‘Active Force’ The WTS teaches that the Holy Spirit is not a ‘person’ but simply an ‘active force’ not unlike electricity (jw.org ‘What is the Holy Spirit?’). This article points to Genesis 1 v 2 as proof of this conjecture where the NWT translates the Hebrew word ruach as ‘active force’.
This is the only instance in the NWT where this word is translated in this way; elsewhere it is translated as ‘spirit’. So, it is somewhat disingenuous to try and use this mistranslation as evidence that the Holy Spirit is an ‘active-force’.
- Denying we should pray to Christ As Jesus is not God (only ‘a god’) He should not be prayed to – so says the WTSiii. However, in John 14 v 14 Jesus tells us to “…ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”(NIV) (Emphasis mine), a clear admonition to pray to Him. To avoid this obvious command the NWT removes the word ‘me’ despite it being there in the KIT (above) so that their version now reads “If you ask anything in my name, I will do it” (NWT)
- By Reason of Faith The NWT uses another trick to muddy the waters about whether salvation is simply by faith and belief. In Romans 1 v 17, Galatians 3 v 11, and Hebrews 10 v 38 the Greek and the KIT have that word pisteuo’ again, meaning to ‘believe’ or ‘have faith’ but in these verses the NWT have the additional words ‘by reason of…’ added. The KIT correctly simply has ‘faith’
No Bible translation is perfect, but the WTS seems to have completely ignored its own translators and allowed significant bias to enter its NWT version. These are but a few of the mistranslations made by the NWT, but many require an understanding of the Greek and few JWs will have this so will be unwilling to discuss the mistranslations.
Few of us are Greek scholars either, but if you have a copy of the WTS’s KIT, or access it online via jw.org you can quickly point out to any JW willing to listen the discrepancies in their own Bible.
It is unlikely that the JW will honestly agree with you that their Bible has been altered, but you may well place a seed of doubt in their heart and maybe, just maybe, they will check what they are being taught in another version and see the deception.
You can point out that to use the KJV or the ASV is a valid option as these are available on the jw.org website. When reading WTS literature with a JW it is always wise to use a reputable version alongside the NWT to check out any other ‘mistranslations’!
If you would like a full list of the additions of the word ‘Jehovah’ in the Old Testament or any of the other multiple additions highlighted in this article please email the author who will be pleased to send them to you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Other articles on the Reachout website on the subject:
New World Mistranslations
- iWatchTower Magazine (WT) 15 Dec 1975 page 768
- iiWTS Book ‘Good News from God’ Lesson Four ‘Who is Jesus Christ’
- iiiWT 1 Jan 2015 page 14