“All scripture is inspired of God.” These words of 2 Timothy 3:16 identify God, whose name is Jehovah, as the Author and Inspirer of the Holy Scriptures. How satisfyingly delightful the inspired Scriptures are! What an amazing fund of true knowledge they provide! They are indeed ‘the very knowledge of God’ that has been sought after and treasured by lovers of righteousness in all ages – Proverbs 2:5.” (All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial, 7).
The above statement comes from a textbook written by anonymous authors of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS), the official corporation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Most evangelical Christians would find little or nothing to dispute about it. Indeed, Christians historically have affirmed the full inspiration and authority of the 66 books comprising the Protestant Bible.
The WBTS concurs:
“The sacred Scriptures, as a collection from Genesis to Revelation, form one complete Book, one complete library, all inspired by the one supreme Author…The sixty-six Bible books, all together, form the one library of the Holy Scriptures” (All Scripture, 11).
Evangelical Christians furthermore affirm the Bible as the authority for believers in all matters of faith and practice. Once again, the WBTS, in principle, assumes the same authority for the Bible: “The Scriptures are God’s incomparable gift to mankind, a storehouse of spiritual treasures whose depth of wisdom is unfathomable, and whose power for enlightening and stimulating to righteousness exceeds that of all other books ever written” (All Scripture, 8).
The discerning Christian, however, must ask, “Is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ claim of biblical authority accurate?” Actually the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ assertion to be totally biblically based must be questioned at two major points. One concerns the WBTS’s interpretation of the Bible, and the other is regarding the WBTS’s translation of the Bible.
Interpretation of the Bible
The WBTS claims that its Governing Body, its highest administrative authority, is the “faithful and discreet slave” mentioned in Matthew 24:45 (New World Translation). It considers itself the only legitimate channel of divinely inspired leadership and the only totally correct interpreters of Scripture in the world today. Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain that only WBTS literature is reliable and can be trusted to interpret the Bible correctly.
Jehovah’s Witnesses regard all Christian churches, their teachers, writers, and preachers as part of the evil world system, under the control of Satan. Their biblical interpretations are likewise dismissed as flawed, corrupted, and distorted, and are never consulted except to confirm WBTS teachings. Evangelical Christians, however, argue that no one church or organization can claim exclusive authority to interpret the Bible. All Christians are capable, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and with proper training, of understanding the Bible.
Translating the Bible
Christians affirm the inspiration and authority of the Bible. However, the original texts of the biblical books were not written in English. The original Biblical authors wrote in Hebrew, Koine Greek, and, in a few instances, Aramaic. Thus, we do not affirm the same level of inspiration for any translation as we do for the original autographs in the original languages. Bible translators are obliged to carefully review the best extant texts in their original languages when doing their work. Translation is a difficult task and rarely is there universal satisfaction with the final outcome. Revisions and corrections of translations are expected. Only the original Greek and Hebrew texts are invariable.
The WBTS would probably agree, in principle, to the above statement. However, at this point we find one of the most significant differences between Jehovah’s Witnesses and nearly every other Bible-believing movement in the world.
In their movement’s early years Jehovah’s Witnesses used various Bible versions in their studies. In 1950, however, the WBTS published its own English version of the New Testament, which it called The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Old Testament books were subsequently released as the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Finally, in 1961, the entire set of WBTS translations was published as The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT). Some revisions have been made since that initial edition, but the NWT essentially remains as it was originally published.
Jehovah’s Witnesses regard the NWT as the best, if not the only, reliable Bible translation. It is this critical issue that concerns us here. Is the New World Translation a truly reliable rendering of God’s Word? Our contention, in agreement with most of the world’s foremost biblical scholars, is that it is not. We will now examine several specific reasons why we hold this position.
The NWT Translation Committee
In an article on the NWT, one WBTS book states that it is… “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).
One might naturally ask, “If that is so, just who were the translators on the committee who were so qualified as to make the audacious claim to be ‘anointed?’” Surprisingly, in the same book, in direct answer to that question, the following statement is made: “When presenting as a gift the publishing rights to their translation, the New World Bible Translation Committee requested that its members remain anonymous. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania has honored their request” (Reasoning, 277).
The truth is that nowhere in the NWT or any WBTS literature are the names of the translators revealed. Furthermore, the WBTS will not send the names to curious inquirers upon written request.
So, do we know who the NWT translators were? Raymond Franz (1922 – 2010), a former member of the WBTS Governing Body who resigned from the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1980, provided the answer in his book, Crisis of Conscience. He stated that the translation committee consisted of then Governing Body members George Gangas (1897 – 1994), Albert Schroeder (1911 – 2006), Fredrick Franz (1893 – 1992), and then WBTS President, Nathan Knorr (1905 – 1977).
“Fred Franz (Raymond Franz’s uncle, who later became WBTS President), however, was the only one with sufficient knowledge of the Bible languages to attempt translation of this kind. He had studied Greek for two years in the University of Cincinnati but was only self-taught in Hebrew” (Crisis of Conscience, 50).
The fact is, none of the members of the NWT committee, including Fredrick Franz, were qualified to make a scholarly translation from the original languages. No one on the committee had more than a rudimentary familiarity with Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. This lack of expertise is clearly revealed in the poor and biased quality of the NWT’s renderings of many key biblical passages.
The Name of God
Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that God is a unitary being who created the universe. They state correctly that God revealed His personal name to Moses in the Old Testament. That name in Hebrew consists of four Hebrew consonants called the Tetragrammaton by Jewish and Christian biblical scholars. In Hebrew it is written HWHY. (Note: Hebrew is read from right to left.)
Many attempts have been made to transliterate the Tetragrammaton in English and other languages. None are adequate since exactly how it was originally pronounced it is not known. Most biblical scholars believe that “Yahweh” is closest to the original pronunciation.
The WBTS, however, traditionally has maintained that the best English transliteration is rendered “Jehovah.” Thus, in the NWT, 6,974 times where the Tetragrammaton appears in the Hebrew text (Old Testament), it renders the name of God as “Jehovah”.
Most Hebrew scholars find no serious fault with this NWT usage in the Old Testament. Indeed, some older English translations did likewise, including the once popular American Standard Version (1901). The King James Version translators used “Jehovah” in only four instances (see Ex. 6:3; Ps. 83:18; Isa. 12:2; 26:4). They, like most modern translators, preferred to render the Tetragrammaton by the capitalized designation LORD in keeping with ancient Jewish tradition to avoid pronouncing (or mispronouncing) the sacred name of God.
Consider this statement from the “Principles of Translation” found in the preface of the New American Standard Bible:
In the Scriptures, the name of God is most significant and understandably so. It is inconceivable to think of spiritual matters without a proper designation for the Supreme Deity. Thus the most common name for the Deity is God, a translation of the original Elohim. One of the titles for God is Lord, a translation of Adonai. There is yet another name which is particularly assigned to God as His special or proper name, that is, the four letters YHWH (Exodus 3:14 and Isaiah 42:8). This name has not been pronounced by the Jews because of reverence for the great sacredness of the divine name. Therefore, it has been consistently translated Lord. The only exception to this translation of YHWH is when it occurs in immediate proximity to the word Lord, that is, Adonai. In that case it is regularly translated God in order to avoid confusion. It is known that for many years YHWH has been transliterated as Yahweh, however, no complete certainty attaches to this pronunciation (NASB, iv).
The Jehovah’s Witnesses criticize this practice as Jewish and Christian attempts to obscure the sacred name of Jehovah God from people. They argue that it demonstrates the satanic nature of modern religious practice.
Granted, some Christian scholars acknowledge that the use of LORD instead of the sacred name is unwarranted and that perhaps Yahweh or Jehovah should be the English transliteration. The Holman Christians Standard Bible, for instance, uses Yahweh often in its Old Testament version.
That being said, the WBTS contention that the Tetragrammaton is somehow the exclusive sacred name of God is unwarranted. In fact, in the Old Testament, several other common names for God are used in Hebrew including Elohim (a generic word for God); El (a shorter form of Elohim); and other combinations of terms such as El-Elyon (God Most High) and El-Shaddai (God Almighty).
Jehovah’s Witnesses make a reasonable case for using the sacred name in the Old Testament. However, in the WBTS’s translation of the New Testament, which they call The Christian Greek Scriptures, is a grievous and presumptuous error. The NWT inexplicably translates the common Greek words for Lord (kurios) and God (Theos) as “Jehovah” 237 times in the New Testament. This unwarranted substitutionary use of the Old Testament name of God is made, however, only when kurios is used in the context of a reference to God in a generic sense, or when used in a passage that quotes from the Old Testament. Never do they translate kurios as “Jehovah” in the nearly 400 times in the New Testament when it is applied as a title to Jesus Christ. There is no legitimate textual or linguistic basis for making that distinction. The word kurios should always be accurately translated, according to context, as “Lord” or “Master”, and the word Theos as God, but neither should ever be translated as “Jehovah.”
The reason for the NWT committee’s placement of this name of God in the New Testament is obvious to anyone cognizant of Jehovah’s Witnesses theology. Jehovah’s Witnesses, since their inception over a century ago, totally reject the Christian doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the full deity of Jesus Christ. As a result, in its literature, and especially in its translation of the Bible, the WBTS has sought to obscure the clear New Testament teachings of those truths. This deliberate concealment is obvious when one compares the NWT to the word-for-word translation of the Westcott and Hort Greek Text in the WBTS’ own book The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures.
The use of Jehovah to translate kurios (Lord) or Theos (God) 237 times in generic reference to God, but never as a title of Jesus, is clearly done to reinforce the distinction between God and Jesus in the minds of uninformed Jehovah’s Witnesses. The truth is that the New Testament writers, following Jewish tradition in the Greek Septuagint’s translation of the Old Testament, understood the term kurios (Lord), in most cases, to be a reference to deity in the fullest sense. Thus, when New Testament writers called Jesus “Lord,” they were identifying Him with the God of the Old Testament (Yahweh or Jehovah).
The WBTS’ denial of Jesus’ deity is evidenced in numerous biased and inaccurate renderings of key passages by the NWT translators. Consider the following examples:
∙ John 1:1
The NWT renders this verse: “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” Nearly every other English translation agrees with that of the NASB: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
∙ John 8:58
The NWT renders this verse: “Jesus said to them, ‘Most truly I say to you, before Abraham came into existence, I have been.’” The NASB renders it, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.’” The term “I am” is a definite allusion to the Old Testament name of God (YHWH), which is a derivative of the word for “I am.”
∙ Acts 10:36
The NWT translates this verse: “He sent out the word to the sons of Israel to declare to them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ: this One is Lord of all [others].” The NASB renders it: “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all).”
∙ Titus 2:13
Rendered in the NWT: “While we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus.” The NASB, in agreement with nearly all other versions, says: “Looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.”
Each of the above biblical examples, as well as many others, demonstrate the conscious effort by the NWT translators to deny the full deity of Jesus Christ in accordance with Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine.
Jehovah’s witnesses maintain that their English translation of the Bible, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, is the best version ever produced. The evidence does not bear that conclusion. Actually, the consensus of expert opinion is that the NWT ranks as one of the most unscholarly and biased Bible versions ever produced.
Unfortunately, millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are required to consult the NWT exclusively. Thus, only the doctrinal biases and distortions of the WBTS are absorbed by faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Christians must help them understand why the NWT cannot be trusted. Christians need to explain the problems of the NWT and point to clear biblical teachings from accurate Bible versions. This is especially critical when addressing key doctrines such as the nature of God, the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation.
All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial. Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1963, 1983.
Franz, Raymond. Crisis of Conscience. Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1983. New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1984.
Reasoning from the Scriptures. Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1985.
Books for Further Reading
Bowman, Robert M. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.
Lundquist, Lynn. The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek Scriptures. 2nd ed. Portland, OR: Word Resource, Inc., 1998. Available online at www.tetragrammaton.org.
Martin, Walter, The Kingdom of the Cults. Rev. ed. Edited by Ravi Zacharias: Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2003.
Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning From the Scriptures with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, Inc., 1993.
© 2011 Tal Davis