Studies on the Inspired Scriptures and Their Background
Study Number 8—Advantages of the “New World Translation”
A discussion of its modern language, its uniformity, its careful verb renderings, and its dynamic expression of the inspired Word of God.
1. (a) What trend does the New World Translation correct, and how? (b) In English, why is Jehovah used rather than Yahweh or some other form of the name?
IN RECENT years a number of modern Bible translations have been published that have done much to help lovers of God’s Word to get to the sense of the original writings quickly. However, many translations have eliminated the use of the divine name from the sacred record. On the other hand, the New World Translation dignifies and honors the worthy name of the Most High God by restoring it to its rightful place in the text. The name now appears in 6,973 places in the Hebrew Scripture section, as well as in 237 places in the Greek Scripture section, a total of 7,210 places all together. The form Yahweh is generally preferred by Hebrew scholars, but certainty of pronunciation is not now attainable. Therefore, the Latinized form Jehovah continues to be used because it has been in use for centuries and is the most commonly accepted English rendering of the Tetragrammaton, or four-letter Hebrew name יהוה. Hebrew scholar R. H. Pfeiffer observed: “Whatever may be said of its dubious pedigree, ‘Jehovah’ is and should remain the proper English rendering of Yahweh.”a
2. (a) Are there precedents for restoring the divine name in the Christian Greek Scriptures? (b) What doubt is thus removed?
2 The New World Translation is not the first version to restore the divine name in the Christian Greek Scriptures. From at least the 14th century onward, many translators have felt forced to restore God’s name to the text, particularly in places where the Christian Greek Scripture writers quote from Hebrew Scripture texts that contain the divine name. Many modern-language missionary versions, including African, Asian, American, and Pacific-island versions of the Greek Scriptures, use the name Jehovah liberally, as do some European-language versions. Wherever the divine name is rendered, there is no longer any doubt as to which “lord” is indicated. It is the Lord of heaven and earth, Jehovah, whose name is sanctified by being kept unique and distinct in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.b
3. By what means does the New World Translation help to convey the force, beauty, and sense of the original writings?
3 The New World Translation adds further to the sanctification of Jehovah’s name by presenting his inspired Scriptures in clear, understandable language that brings the intended meaning plainly to the reader’s mind. It uses simple, modern language, is as uniform as possible in its renderings, conveys accurately the action or state expressed in the Hebrew and Greek verbs, and distinguishes between the plural and singular in its use of the pronoun “you” and when using the imperative form of the verb where the context does not make it apparent. In these and other ways, the New World Translation brings to light in modern speech, as much as possible, the force, beauty, and sense of the original writings.
RENDERED IN MODERN LANGUAGE
4. (a) What noble purpose did one early Bible translator express? (b) What has become necessary with the passage of time?
4 The older Bible translations contain many obsolete words that belong to the 16th and 17th centuries. Though not understood now, they were readily understood then. For example, one man who had much to do with putting them in the English Bible was William Tyndale, who is reported as saying to one of his religious opponents: ‘If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do.’ Tyndale’s translation of the Greek Scriptures was easy enough for a plowboy to understand in his time. However, many of the words he used have now become archaic, so that ‘a boy who drives the plow’ can no longer clearly grasp the meaning of many words in the King James and other older versions of the Bible. Thus, it has become necessary to remove the shrouds of archaic language and to restore the Bible to the ordinary language of the common man.
5. In what language should the Bible appear, and why?
5 It was the language of the common man that was used in writing the inspired Scriptures. The apostles and other early Christians did not use the classical Greek of philosophers such as Plato. They used everyday Greek, that is, Koine, or common Greek. Hence, the Greek Scriptures, like the Hebrew Scriptures before them, were written in the language of the people. It is highly important, then, that translations of the original Scriptures should also be in the language of the people, in order to be readily understood. It is for this reason that the New World Translation uses, not the archaic language of three or four centuries ago, but clear, expressive modern speech so that readers will really get to know what the Bible is saying.
6. Illustrate the benefit of using current expressions in place of obsolete words.
6 To give some idea of the extent of change in the English language from the 17th century to the 20th century, note the following comparisons from the King James Version and the New World Translation. “Suffered” in the King James Version becomes “allowed” in the New World Translation (Gen. 31:7), “was bolled” becomes “had flower buds” (Ex. 9:31), “spoilers” becomes “pillagers” (Judg. 2:14), “ear his ground” becomes “do his plowing” (1 Sam. 8:12), “when thou prayest” becomes “when you pray” (Matt. 6:6), “sick of the palsy” becomes “paralytic” (Mark 2:3), “quickeneth” becomes “makes . . . alive” (Rom. 4:17), “shambles” becomes “meat market” (1 Cor. 10:25), “letteth” becomes “acting as a restraint” (2 Thess. 2:7), and so on. From this the value of the New World Translation in using current words in place of obsolete words can well be appreciated.
UNIFORMITY OF RENDERINGS
7. How is the New World Translation consistent in its renderings?
7 The New World Translation makes every effort to be consistent in its renderings. For a given Hebrew or Greek word, there has been assigned one English word, and this has been used as uniformly as the idiom or context permits in giving the full English understanding. For example, the Hebrew word neʹphesh is consistently translated “soul.” The corresponding Greek word, psy·kheʹ, is translated “soul” in every occurrence.
8. (a) Give examples of homographs. (b) How have these been handled in the translation?
8 At some places a problem has arisen over the translation of homographs. These are words in the original language that are spelled the same but that have different basic meanings. Hence, the challenge is to supply the word with the correct meaning when translating. In English there are homographs such as “Polish” and “polish” and “lead” (the sheep) and “lead” (pipe), which are spelled identically but are distinctly different words. One Bible example is the Hebrew rav, which represents distinctly different root words, and these are therefore rendered differently in the New World Translation. Rav most commonly has the meaning “many,” as at Exodus 5:5. However, the word rav that is used in titles, as in “Rabshakeh” (Heb., Rav-sha·qehʹ) at 2 Kings 18:17, means “chief,” as when rendered “his chief court official” at Daniel 1:3. (See also Jeremiah 39:3, footnote.) The word rav, identical in form, means “archer,” which accounts for the rendering at Jeremiah 50:29. Word experts, such as L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, have been accepted as authorities by the translators in separating these identically spelled words.
9. How did one Hebrew and Greek commentator appraise the New World Translation?
9 As to this feature of uniformity, note what Hebrew and Greek commentator Alexander Thomson had to say in his review on the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures: “The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing. The version aims to keep to one English meaning for each major Greek word, and to be as literal as possible. . . . The word usually rendered ‘justify’ is generally translated very correctly as ‘declare righteous.’ . . . The word for the Cross is rendered ‘torture stake’ which is another improvement. . . . Luke 23:43 is well rendered, ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.’ This is a big improvement upon the reading of most versions.” On the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the same reviewer made this comment: “The New World Version is well worth acquiring. It is lively and lifelike, and makes the reader think and study. It is not the work of Higher Critics, but of scholars who honour God and His Word.”—The Differentiator, April 1952, pages 52-7, and June 1954, page 136.
10. Illustrate how the consistency of the New World Translation upholds Bible truth.
10 The consistency of the New World Translation has won many a technical Bible discussion in the field. For example, some years ago, a society of freethinkers in New York asked the Watch Tower Society to send two speakers to address their group on Biblical matters, which request was granted. These learned men held to a Latin maxim, falsum in uno falsum in toto, meaning that an argument proved false in one point is totally false. During the discussion, one man challenged Jehovah’s Witnesses on the reliability of the Bible. He asked that Genesis 1:3 be read to the audience, and this was done, from the New World Translation: “And God proceeded to say: ‘Let light come to be.’ Then there came to be light.” Confidently, he next called for Genesis 1:14, and this also was read from the New World Translation: “And God went on to say: ‘Let luminaries come to be in the expanse of the heavens.’” “Stop,” he said, “what are you reading? My Bible says God made light on the first day, and again on the fourth day, and that is inconsistent.” Though he claimed to know Hebrew, it had to be pointed out to him that the Hebrew word translated “light” in Ge 1 verse 3 was ʼohr, whereas the word in Ge 1 verse 14 was different, being ma·ʼohrʹ, which refers to a luminary, or source of light. The learned man sat down defeated.c The faithful consistency of the New World Translation had won the point, upholding the Bible as reliable and beneficial.
CAREFUL VERB RENDERINGS
11. What dynamic feature of the original Scriptures is preserved in the New World Translation? How?
11 The New World Translation gives special attention to conveying the sense of the action of the Greek and Hebrew verbs. In doing so, the New World Translation endeavors to preserve the special charm, simplicity, forcefulness, and manner of expression of the original-language writings. It has thus been necessary to use auxiliary verbs in English to convey carefully the actual states of the actions. Because of the power of their verbs, the original Scriptures are so dynamic and so expressive of action.
12. (a) What is one way in which Hebrew differs from Western languages? (b) Explain the two states of the Hebrew verb.
12 The Hebrew verb does not have “tenses” in the way the term “tense” is applied to most languages of the West. In English, verbs are viewed particularly from the standpoint of tense, or time: past, present, and future. The Hebrew verb, on the other hand, basically expresses the condition of the action, that is, the action is viewed as either complete (the perfect state) or incomplete (the imperfect state). These states of the Hebrew verb may be used to indicate actions in the past or in the future, the context determining the time. For example, the perfect, or completed, state of the verb naturally represents actions in the past, but it is also used to speak of a future happening as if it had already occurred and were past, showing its future certainty or the obligation of it to occur.
13. Why is proper regard for the state of the Hebrew verb important in reaching a correct understanding of Genesis 2:2, 3?
13 Accurately conveying the state of the Hebrew verb into English is most important; otherwise, the meaning may be distorted and a completely different thought expressed. For an example of this, consider the verbal expressions in Genesis 2:2, 3. In many translations, speaking of God’s resting on the seventh day, expressions such as “he rested,” “he desisted,” “he had desisted,” “he then rested,” “God rested,” and “he had rested” are used. From these readings one would conclude that God’s resting on the seventh day was completed in the past. But note how the New World Translation brings out the sense of the verbs used in the passage at Genesis 2:2, 3: “And by the seventh day God came to the completion of his work that he had made, and he proceeded to rest on the seventh day from all his work that he had made. And God proceeded to bless the seventh day and make it sacred, because on it he has been resting from all his work that God has created for the purpose of making.” The expression in Ge 2 verse 2 “he proceeded to rest” is a verb in the imperfect state in Hebrew and so expresses the idea of an incomplete or continuing action. The rendering “he proceeded to rest” is in harmony with what is said at Hebrews 4:4-7. On the other hand, the verb in Genesis 2:3 is in the perfect state, but in order to harmonize with Ge 2 verse 2 and Hebrews 4:4-7, it is translated “he has been resting.”
14. Avoiding the mistaken view of the waw consecutive, what does the New World Translation endeavor to do as to the Hebrew verbs?
14 One of the reasons for inaccuracies in translating the Hebrew verbal forms is the grammatical theory today called waw consecutive. Waw (ו) is the Hebrew conjunction that basically means “and.” It never stands alone but is always joined with some other word, frequently with the Hebrew verb, in order to form one word with it. It has been, and still is, claimed by some that this relationship has the power to convert the verb from one state to another, that is, from the imperfect to the perfect (as has been done in many translations, including modern ones, at Genesis 2:2, 3) or from the perfect to the imperfect. This effect has been described also by the term “waw conversive.” This incorrect application of the verbal form has led to much confusion and to mistranslation of the Hebrew text. The New World Translation does not recognize that the letter waw has any power to change the state of the verb. Rather, the attempt is made to bring out the proper and distinctive force of the Hebrew verb, thus preserving the meaning of the original accurately.d
15. (a) With what care have the Greek verbs been translated? (b) Illustrate the benefit of presenting the continuative idea correctly.
15 Similar care has been exercised in the translating of the Greek verbs. In Greek the verb tenses express not only the time of an action or state but also the kind of action, whether momentary, starting out, continuing, repetitious, or completed. Attention to such senses in the Greek verb forms leads to a precise translation with the full force of the action described. For example, giving the sense of the continuative idea where this occurs in the Greek verb not only brings out the true color of a situation but also makes admonition and counsel more forceful. For instance, the continuing disbelief of the Pharisees and Sadducees is brought home by Jesus’ words: “A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign.” And the need for continuing action in right things is well expressed by the words of Jesus: “Continue to love your enemies.” “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom.” “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you.”—Matt. 16:4; 5:44; 6:33; 7:7.
16. By taking into account the Greek aorist tense, how is John’s comment on “sin” at 1 John 2:1 correctly expressed?
16 The Greek has an unusual tense called the aorist, which refers to action that is punctiliar, or momentary. Verbs in the aorist may be rendered in a variety of ways, according to their context. One way in which it is used is to denote one act of a certain kind, though not related to any particular time. Such an example is found at 1 John 2:1, where many versions render the verb for “sin” so as to allow for a continuing course of sin, whereas the New World Translation reads, “commit a sin,” that is, a single act of sin. This conveys the correct meaning that if a Christian should commit an act of sin, he has Jesus Christ, who acts as an advocate, or helper, with the heavenly Father. Thus, 1 John 2:1 in no way contradicts but only contrasts with the condemnation of the ‘practice of sin’ found at 1 John 3:6-8 and; 1Jo 5:18.e
17. Besides showing continuing action, what else may the Greek imperfect tense express? Illustrate.
17 The imperfect tense in Greek may express not only an action that continues but also an action attempted but not accomplished. Note how Hebrews 11:17 in the King James Version reads: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.” The verb “offered up” differs in form in these two occurrences in the Greek. The first occurrence is in the perfect (completed) tense, whereas the second is in the imperfect (past continuous) form. The New World Translation, taking into account the different tenses, translates the verse: “Abraham, when he was tested, as good as offered up Isaac, and the man . . . attempted to offer up his only-begotten son.” The completed sense of the first verb is thus retained, while the imperfect tense of the second verb indicates that the action was intended or attempted but not carried out to completion.—Gen. 22:9-14.
18. What has resulted from careful attention to the function of other parts of speech? Give an example.
18 Careful attention to the function of other parts of speech, such as to the cases of nouns, has led to the clearing up of apparent contradictions. For example, at Acts 9:7, in recounting the remarkable experience of Saul on the road to Damascus, a number of translations say that his traveling companions ‘heard the voice’ but did not see anyone. Then, at Acts 22:9, where Paul is relating this incident, the same translations read that although they saw the light, ‘they did not hear the voice.’ However, in the first reference, the Greek word for “voice” is in the genitive case, but in the second instance, it is in the accusative case, as it is at Acts 9:4. Why the difference? None is conveyed in the above translations into English, yet the Greek, by the change of case, indicates something different. The men heard literally “of the voice” but did not hear it the way Paul did, that is, hear the words and understand them. Thus, the New World Translation, noting the use of the genitive at Acts 9:7, reads that the men who were with him were “hearing, indeed, the sound of a voice, but not beholding any man.”
PLURAL “YOU” INDICATED
19, 20. (a) What has the New World Translation done as to sanctimonious forms of address, and why? (b) Illustrate how the singular “you” may be distinguished from the plural.
19 The older English forms of the second person singular, “thee,” “thou,” and “thy,” have been retained in some modern translations in cases where God is being addressed. However, in the languages in which the Bible was written, there was no special form of the personal pronoun for use in address to God, but the same form was used as when addressing one’s fellowman. So the New World Translation has dropped these now sanctimonious usages and employs the normal conversational “you” in all cases. In order to distinguish the second person plural “you” and verbs whose plural number is not readily apparent in English, the words are printed entirely in small capital letters. Often it is helpful to the reader to know whether a given Scripture text refers to “you” as an individual, or to “YOU” as a group of persons, a congregation.
20 For example, at Romans 11:13 Paul is speaking to the many: “Now I speak to YOU who are people of the nations.” But at Ro 11 verse 17 the Greek changes to the singular “you,” and the application is brought down pointedly to the individual: “However, if some of the branches were broken off but you . . . were grafted in . . . ”
NEW WORLD TRANSLATION IN OTHER LANGUAGES
21. (a) How has it become possible for more and more of earth’s population to enjoy the benefits of the New World Translation? (b) What is the total number of copies of the New World Translation printed by the Watch Tower Society by 1989?
21 In 1961 it was announced that the Watch Tower Society was proceeding to render the New World Translation into six more widely used languages, namely, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. This translation work was entrusted to skilled and dedicated translators, all working together at the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. They served as a large international committee working under competent direction. It was in July 1963, at the “Everlasting Good News” Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A., that the firstfruits of this translation work became available when the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was released simultaneously in the above six languages. Now inhabitants of the earth who speak languages other than English could begin to enjoy the advantages of this modern translation. Since then, translation work has continued, so that by 1989 the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures had appeared in 11 languages, with more than 56,000,000 copies having been printed.f
GRATITUDE FOR POWERFUL INSTRUMENT
22, 23. In what outstanding ways does this translation of the inspired Scriptures benefit the Christian?
22 The New World Translation is indeed a powerful instrument for demonstrating that “all Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial.” From the points discussed in this study, we can appreciate that it is accurate and reliable and that it can provide genuine enjoyment to those who desire to hear God speak to man stirringly in modern, living language. The language of the New World Translation is spiritually arousing, and it quickly puts the reader in tune with the dynamic expression of the original inspired Scriptures. We no longer need to read and reread verses in order to understand obscure phrases. It speaks out with power and clarity from the very first reading.
23 The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is a faithful translation of God’s Word, “the sword of the spirit.” As such, it is indeed an effective weapon in the spiritual warfare of the Christian, an aid in ‘overturning strongly entrenched false teachings and reasonings raised up against the knowledge of God.’ How well it enables us to declare with better understanding the things beneficial and upbuilding, the glorious things related to God’s Kingdom of righteousness—yes, “the magnificent things of God”!—Eph. 6:17; 2 Cor. 10:4, 5; Acts 2:11.
a Introduction to the Old Testament, Robert H. Pfeiffer, 1952, page 94.
b Kingdom Interlinear Translation, 1985 Edition, pages 1133-8.
d Reference Bible, appendix 3C, “Hebrew Verbs Indicating Continuous or Progressive Action.”
f Complete editions published in Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish (also in part in Finnish and Swedish).