Printing and Distributing God’s Own Sacred Word
ON THE outside of the principal factory complex at their world headquarters, Jehovah’s Witnesses have for decades displayed a sign that urges everyone: “Read God’s Word the Holy Bible Daily.”
They themselves are diligent students of God’s Word. Over the years they have made use of scores of different Bible translations in an endeavor to ascertain the exact sense of the original inspired Scriptures. Every Witness is encouraged to have a personal program of daily Bible reading. In addition to their topical study of God’s Word, they progressively read and discuss the Bible itself in their congregation meetings. Their objective is not to search out texts to support their ideas. They recognize the Bible as God’s own inspired Word. They realize that it gives reproof and discipline, and they earnestly endeavor to conform their thinking and conduct to what it says.—2 Tim. 3:16, 17; compare 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
Because of their conviction that the Bible is God’s own sacred Word and because they know the glorious good news that it contains, Jehovah’s Witnesses are also zealous publishers and distributors of the Bible.
A Bible-Publishing Society
It was in 1896 that direct reference to the Bible was officially included in the name of the legal corporation then being used by the Bible Students in their publishing work. At that time Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society became legally known as Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.a The Society did not immediately become a printer and binder of Bibles, but it was an active publisher of them, working out specifications, providing valuable supplementary features, and then arranging with commercial firms to do the printing and binding.
Even prior to 1896, the Society was doing much as a Bible distributor. Not for commercial gain but as a service to its readers, it drew attention to various Bible translations that were available, bought them in large quantities so as to obtain good rates, and then made them available for a price that was sometimes only 35 percent of the list price. Included among these were numerous editions of the King James Version that were easy to carry and use, also larger ‘Teachers’ Bibles’ (King James Version with such helps as a concordance, maps, and marginal references), The Emphatic Diaglott with its Greek-to-English interlinear rendering, Leeser’s translation that placed the English text alongside the Hebrew, Murdock’s translation from ancient Syriac, The Newberry Bible with its marginal references that drew attention to occurrences of the divine name in the original language as well as other valuable details reflected in the Hebrew and Greek text, Tischendorf’s New Testament with its footnote references to variant readings in three of the most complete ancient Greek Bible manuscripts (Sinaitic, Vatican, and Alexandrine), the Variorum Bible with its footnotes that set out not only variant readings of ancient manuscripts but also various translations of portions of the text by eminent scholars, and Young’s literal translation. The Society also made available such helps as Cruden’s Concordance and Young’s Analytical Concordance with its comments on the original Hebrew and Greek words. In the years that followed, around the globe Jehovah’s Witnesses frequently obtained from other Bible societies many thousands of Bibles in whatever languages were available and distributed these.
As early as 1890, according to available evidence, the Society arranged for a special printing, bearing its own name, of the Second Edition of The New Testament Newly Translated and Critically Emphasised, as prepared by the British Bible translator Joseph B. Rotherham. Why this translation? Because of its literalness and its endeavor to benefit fully from research that had been done to establish a more accurate Greek text and because the reader was helped by devices employed by the translator to identify which words or expressions were given special emphasis in the Greek text.
In 1902 a special printing of the Holman Linear Parallel Edition of the Bible was made by arrangement of the Watch Tower Society. It contained wide margins in which were printed references to places in Watch Tower publications where various verses were explained, also an index listing scores of subjects along with Scripture citations and helpful references to the Society’s publications. This Bible contained the wording of two translations—the King James rendering above that of the Revised Version where there was any difference. It also included an extensive concordance that alerted the user to various meanings of original-language words.
That same year, the Watch Tower Society came into possession of the printing plates for The Emphatic Diaglott, which includes J. J. Griesbach’s Greek text of the Christian Greek Scriptures (the 1796-1806 edition) along with an English interlinear translation. Alongside this was the rendering of the text by British-born Benjamin Wilson, who had taken up residence in Geneva, Illinois, U.S.A. Those plates and the sole right of publication had been purchased and then given as a gift to the Society. After copies already in stock had been sent out, arrangements were made by the Society for more to be produced, and those became available in 1903.
Four years later, in 1907, the Bible Students Edition of the King James Version was published. The “Berean Bible Teachers’ Manual” was bound with it, as an appendix. This included concise comments on verses from all parts of the Bible, along with references to Watch Tower publications for fuller explanation. An edition with an enlarged appendix was published about a year later.
These Bibles were ordered from the printers and binders in lots of between 5,000 and 10,000 at a time, in order to keep the cost down. The Society was desirous of making a variety of Bible translations and related research tools readily available to as many people as possible.
Then, in 1926 the Watch Tower Society took a major step forward in its involvement in Bible publishing.
Printing the Bible on Our Own Presses
It was 36 years after it first undertook publishing Bibles that the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society printed and bound a Bible in its own factory. The first one thus produced was The Emphatic Diaglott, the plates for which had been owned by the Society for 24 years. In December 1926 this Bible was printed on a flatbed press in the Society’s Concord Street factory in Brooklyn. To date, 427,924 of these have been produced.
Sixteen years later, in the midst of World War II, the Society undertook the printing of the entire Bible. To this end, plates for the King James Version with marginal references were purchased in 1942 from the A. J. Holman Company, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This translation of the complete Bible into English was produced, not from the Latin Vulgate, but by scholars who were able to compare earlier translations with the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. A concordance, prepared by more than 150 collaborating servants of Jehovah, was added. This was specially designed to help Jehovah’s Witnesses find appropriate texts quickly when in the field ministry and thus use the Bible effectively as “the sword of the spirit,” to cut away and expose religious falsehood. (Eph. 6:17) In order to make the Bible available to people everywhere at a low cost, it was printed on a web rotary press—something that had never been attempted by other Bible printers. As of 1992, a total of 1,858,368 of these Bibles had been produced.
The desire of Jehovah’s Witnesses went beyond getting copies of the Bible, the book itself, into the hands of people. The Witnesses wanted to help people to get to know the personal name, as well as the purpose, of its divine author, Jehovah God. There was a translation in English—the American Standard Version of 1901—that used the divine name in the more than 6,870 places where it appeared in the sources from which the translators worked. In 1944, after a number of months of negotiations, the Watch Tower Society purchased the right to make a set of key plates for this Bible from plates and type supplied by Thomas Nelson and Sons, of New York. During the next 48 years, 1,039,482 copies were produced.
Steven Byington, of Ballard Vale, Massachusetts, U.S.A., had also made a modern-English translation of the Bible that gave the divine name its rightful place. The Watch Tower Society came into possession of his unpublished manuscript in 1951 and acquired the sole right of publication in 1961. That complete translation was printed in 1972. Down till 1992, there had been 262,573 produced.
In the meantime, however, another development was taking place.
Producing the New World Translation
It was early in October 1946 that Nathan H. Knorr, who was then the president of the Watch Tower Society, first proposed that the Society produce a fresh translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Actual work on the translation got under way on December 2, 1947. The complete text was carefully reviewed by the entire translation committee, all of them spirit-anointed Christians. Then, on September 3, 1949, Brother Knorr convened a joint meeting of the boards of directors of the Society’s New York and Pennsylvania corporations. He announced to them that the New World Bible Translation Committee had completed work on a modern-language translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures and had turned it over to the Society for publication.b This was a fresh translation from the original Greek.
Was there really need for another translation? Already at that time, the complete Bible had been published in 190 languages, and at least part of it had been translated into 928 additional languages and dialects. Jehovah’s Witnesses have at various times used most of these translations. But the fact is that most of these were made by clergymen and missionaries of Christendom’s religious sects, and to varying degrees their translations were influenced by the pagan philosophies and unscriptural traditions that their religious systems had inherited from the past as well as by the bias of higher criticism. Furthermore, older and more reliable Bible manuscripts were becoming available. The Greek language of the first century was becoming more clearly understood as a result of archaeological discoveries. Also, the languages into which translations are made undergo changes over the years.
Jehovah’s Witnesses wanted a translation that embodied the benefits of the latest scholarship, one that was not colored by the creeds and traditions of Christendom, a literal translation that faithfully presented what is in the original writings and so could provide the basis for continued growth in knowledge of divine truth, a translation that would be clear and understandable to modern-day readers. The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, released in 1950, filled that need—at least for that part of the Bible. As Jehovah’s Witnesses began to use it, many were thrilled not simply because they found its modern-day language easier to read but because they realized that they were getting a clearer understanding of the sense of God’s inspired Word.
One of the outstanding features of this translation is its restoration of the divine name, the personal name of God, Jehovah, 237 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. This was not the first translation to restore the name.c But it may have been the first to do it consistently in the main text from Matthew through Revelation. An extensive discussion of this matter in the foreword showed the sound basis for what was done.
Thereafter, the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into English and were released progressively, in five separate volumes, beginning in 1953. As had been done with the Christian Greek Scriptures, care was exercised to convey as literally as possible what was in the original-language text. Special attention was given to making the renderings uniform, conveying accurately the action or state expressed in the verbs, and using simple language that would be readily understood by modern-day readers. Wherever the Tetragrammaton appeared in the Hebrew text, it was appropriately rendered as the personal name of God, instead of being replaced by some other term as had become common in many other translations. Appendix articles and footnotes in these volumes enabled careful students to examine the basis for the renderings used.
On March 13, 1960, the New World Bible Translation Committee completed its final reading of the text of the portion of the Bible that was designated for the fifth volume. That was 12 years, 3 months, and 11 days after actual translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures had begun. A few months later, that final volume of the Hebrew Scriptures, in printed form, was released for distribution.
Rather than disband after that project was completed, the translation committee continued to work. A comprehensive review of the entire translation was made. Then, the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a revised edition in one volume, was published by the Watch Tower Society in 1961. It was made available for distribution for just one dollar (U.S.) so that everyone, regardless of his economic situation, would be able to obtain a copy of God’s Word.
Two years later a special students’ edition was published. This combined under one cover all the original individual volumes, unrevised, with their thousands of valuable textual footnotes, as well as foreword and appendix discussions. It also retained the valuable cross-references that directed readers to parallel words, parallel thoughts or events, biographic information, geographic details, fulfillments of prophecies, and direct quotations in or from other parts of the Bible.
Since the one-volume edition of 1961 was published, four additional up-to-date revisions have been issued. The most recent of these was in 1984, when a large-print edition with an extensive appendix, 125,000 marginal references, 11,400 enlightening footnotes, and a concordance was published. The features of this edition help students to understand why various texts need to be rendered in a certain way in order to be accurate, as well as when texts can be correctly rendered in more than one manner. The cross-references also help them to appreciate the interlocking harmony between the various Bible books.
As part of the earnest effort of the New World Bible Translation Committee to help lovers of God’s Word to get acquainted with the contents of the original Koine (common Greek) text of the Christian Greek Scriptures, the committee produced The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures. This was first published by the Watch Tower Society in 1969 and then updated in 1985. It contains The New Testament in the Original Greek, as compiled by B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort. At the right-hand side of the page appears the New World Translation text (the 1984 revision in the updated edition). But then, between the lines of Greek text, there is another translation, a very literal, word-for-word rendering of what the Greek actually says according to the basic meaning and grammatical form of each word. This enables even students who cannot read Greek to find out what is actually in the original Greek text.
Was this work on the New World Translation going to benefit only those who could read English? In many places Watch Tower missionaries were finding it difficult to obtain enough local-language Bibles to distribute to people who longed for a personal copy of God’s Word. It was not uncommon, in some parts of the world, for these missionaries to be the principal distributors of Bibles printed by other Bible societies. But that was not always viewed favorably by religious personnel who represented those Bible societies. Further, some of these Bibles were not the best of translations.
Translation Into Other Languages
The year that the complete New World Translation first appeared in a single volume, that is, 1961, a group of skilled translators was assembled to render the English text into six other widely used languages—Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. Retranslation from English, supplemented by comparison with the Hebrew and the Greek, was possible because of the literal nature of the English translation itself. The translators worked as an international committee in association with the New World Bible Translation Committee, at the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. In 1963 the Christian Greek Scriptures was printed and released in all six languages.
By 1992 the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was available in 12 languages—Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Slovak, Spanish, and Swedish. The Christian Greek Scriptures was available in two more languages. That meant that this translation was available in the native tongues of some 1,400,000,000 persons, or upwards of one fourth of the world’s population, and many more were benefiting from it through the translation of excerpts from it into 97 other languages in The Watchtower. Those reading these 97 languages, however, were anxious to have the full New World Translation in their own tongue. As of 1992, arrangements were already under way to produce this translation in 16 of those languages and to complete the Hebrew Scriptures in the 2 languages that had only the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Since the publishing of these Bibles was done in the Society’s own factories by volunteer workers, it was possible to make them available at minimal cost. In 1972 when an Austrian Witness showed a bookbinder the New World Translation in German and asked him how much he thought it would cost, the man was amazed to learn that the suggested contribution was only one tenth of the price he named.
Some examples illustrate the impact of this translation. In France the Catholic Church had for centuries prohibited possession of the Bible by the laity. Catholic translations that had become available were relatively expensive, and few homes had these. The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was released in French in 1963, followed by the complete Bible in 1974. By 1992 a combined total of 2,437,711 copies of the New World Translation had been shipped out for distribution in France; and the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in France increased 488 percent during that same period, reaching a total of 119,674.
The situation was similar in Italy. The people had long been forbidden to have a copy of the Bible. After the release of the Italian edition of the New World Translation and down till 1992, there were 3,597,220 copies distributed; the vast majority of these were the complete Bible. People wanted to examine for themselves what God’s Word contains. Interestingly, during that same period, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy rose sharply—from 7,801 to 194,013.
When the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was made available in Portuguese, there were just 30,118 Witnesses in Brazil and 1,798 in Portugal. During the following years, down till 1992, a total of 213,438 copies of the Christian Greek Scriptures and 4,153,738 copies of the complete Bible in Portuguese were sent out to individuals and congregations in these lands. What were the results? In Brazil, over 11 times as many active praisers of Jehovah; and in Portugal, 22 times as many. Tens of thousands of people who had never had a Bible were grateful to get one, and others appreciated having a Bible that used words they could understand. When the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References was made available in Brazil, the news media pointed out that it was the most complete version (that is, with more cross-references and footnotes) available in the country. It also noted that the initial printing was ten times as great as that for most national editions.
The Spanish edition of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was also released in 1963, followed in 1967 by the complete Bible. There were 527,451 copies of the Christian Greek Scriptures published, and thereafter, down to 1992, a total of 17,445,782 copies of the complete Bible in Spanish. This contributed to an outstanding increase in the number of praisers of Jehovah in Spanish-speaking lands. Thus, from 1963 to 1992, in predominantly Spanish-speaking lands where Jehovah’s Witnesses carry on their ministry, their numbers grew from 82,106 to 942,551. And in the United States, in 1992, there were another 130,224 Spanish-speaking Witnesses of Jehovah.
It was not only in the realm of Christendom that the New World Translation was enthusiastically received. In the first year of publication of the Japanese edition, the branch office in Japan received orders for half a million copies.
As of 1992 the printing of the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, in the 12 languages then available, numbered 70,105,258 copies. In addition to that, 8,819,080 copies of portions of the translation had been printed.
Making the Bible Available in Many Forms
Computerization of the Watch Tower Society’s operations, starting in 1977, has assisted in Bible production, as it has in other aspects of publishing activity. It has helped translators to achieve greater consistency in their work; it has also made it easier to print the Bible in a variety of forms.
After the full text of the Bible was entered into the computer, it was not difficult to use an electronic phototypesetter to print out the text in a variety of sizes and forms. First, in 1981, came a regular-sized edition in English with a concordance and other helpful appendix features. This was the first edition to be printed by the Watch Tower Society on a web offset press. After the benefits of revision had been incorporated into the text stored in the computer, a large-print edition in English was issued in 1984; this included many valuable features for research. A regular-size English edition of that same revision was also made available that year; cross-references and a concordance were included, but not footnotes; and its appendix was designed for field ministry instead of for deeper study. Then, for the benefit of those who wanted a very small pocket edition, this was published in English in 1987. All these editions were quickly published in other languages too.
In addition, attention was given to assisting those with special needs. To help those who could see but who needed very large print, the complete English-language New World Translation in four large volumes was published in 1985. Soon that same edition was printed in German, French, Spanish, and Japanese. Before that, in 1983, the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, in four volumes, had been made available in grade-two English Braille. Within another five years, the complete New World Translation had been produced in English Braille in 18 volumes.
Would some people be helped if they could listen to a recording of the Bible? Definitely. So the Watch Tower Society undertook the production of this too. The first audiocassette recording was The Good News According to John, in English, released in 1978. In time the entire New World Translation in English was made available on 75 audiocassettes. What began as a small operation soon mushroomed into a major project. Quickly, it became available in other languages. By 1992 the New World Translation, the whole or part, was available on audiocassettes in 14 languages. At first, some of the branches had the work done by commercial companies. Down till 1992, on their own equipment, the Watch Tower Society had turned out over 31,000,000 of such audiocassettes.
The benefits from the Bible audiocassettes and the uses to which they were put far exceeded original expectations. In all parts of the earth, people were using cassette players. Many who could not read were helped in this way to benefit personally from God’s sacred Word. Women were able to listen to the audiocassettes while doing their housework. Men listened to them on tape decks while commuting to work by automobile. The teaching ability of individual Witnesses was enhanced as they listened regularly to God’s Word and took note of the pronunciation of Bible names and the manner in which passages of Scripture were read.
As of 1992, various editions of the New World Translation were being printed on the Society’s presses in North and South America, Europe, and the Orient. A total of 78,924,338 volumes had been produced and made available for distribution. In Brooklyn alone, there were three huge high-speed web offset presses largely devoted to Bible production. Combined, these presses can produce the equivalent of 7,900 Bibles per hour, and at times it has been necessary for them to run an extra shift.
However, Jehovah’s Witnesses offer people more than a Bible that might simply be put on the shelf. They also offer to anyone who is interested in the Bible—whether he obtains a copy from Jehovah’s Witnesses or not—a free home Bible study. These studies do not continue indefinitely. Some students take to heart what they learn, become baptized Witnesses, and then share in teaching others. After some months, if reasonable progress is not made in applying what is learned, studies are often discontinued in favor of other people who are genuinely interested. As of 1992, Jehovah’s Witnesses were providing 4,278,127 individuals or households with this free Bible study service, usually on a weekly basis.
Thus, in a manner unmatched by any other organization, Jehovah’s Witnesses are publishers and distributors of the Bible and are teachers of God’s sacred Word.
a As shown by the Watch Tower of July 15, 1892 (p. 210), the name Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society had been used for a number of years before that name was legally registered. A tract published in 1890 in the Old Theology series identified the publishers as Tower Bible and Tract Society.
b This translation was assigned to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania for publication, with the request that the names of the translators never be published. They wanted all honor to go to Jehovah God, the Divine Author of his inspired Word.
c Some earlier translations into Hebrew, German, and English restored the divine name in the Christian Greek Scriptures, as did many missionary versions.
[Box on page 609]
A Fresh Translation
When the first volume of the “New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures” was published, Alexander Thomson, a British Bible critic, wrote: “Original renderings of the Hebrew Scriptures into the English language are extremely few. It therefore gives us much pleasure to welcome the publication of the first part of the New World Translation [of the Hebrew Scriptures], Genesis to Ruth. . . . This version has evidently made a special effort to be thoroughly readable. No one could say it is deficient in freshness and originality. Its terminology is by no means based upon that of previous versions.”—“The Differentiator,” June 1954, p. 131.
[Box/Picture on page 610]
“A Text With Instant Vocabulary”
In “The Classical Journal,” Thomas N. Winter of the University of Nebraska wrote a review of “The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures” in which he said: “This is no ordinary interlinear: the integrity of the text is preserved, and the English which appears below it is simply the basic meaning of the Greek word. Thus the interlinear feature of this book is no translation at all. A text with instant vocabulary more correctly describes it. A translation in smooth English appears in a slim column at the right-hand margin of the pages. . . .
“The text is based on that of Brooke F. Westcott and Fenton J. A. Hort (1881, repr.), but the translation by the anonymous committee is thoroughly up-to-date and consistently accurate.”—April-May issue of 1974, pp. 375-6.
1969 and 1985 editions
[Box/Picture on page 611]
The Opinion of a Hebrew Scholar
Regarding the “New World Translation,” Professor Dr. Benjamin Kedar, a Hebrew scholar in Israel, said in 1989: “In my linguistic research in connection with the Hebrew Bible and translations, I often refer to the English edition of what is known as the ‘New World Translation.’ In so doing, I find my feeling repeatedly confirmed that this work reflects an honest endeavor to achieve an understanding of the text that is as accurate as possible. Giving evidence of a broad command of the original language, it renders the original words into a second language understandably without deviating unnecessarily from the specific structure of the Hebrew. . . . Every statement of language allows for a certain latitude in interpreting or translating. So the linguistic solution in any given case may be open to debate. But I have never discovered in the ‘New World Translation’ any biased intent to read something into the text that it does not contain.”
[Graphs on page 613]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Growth of Witnesses Since Publication of “New World Translation”
1963 1970 1980 1992
1963 1970 1980 1992
Portugal and Brazil
1963 1970 1980 1992
1963 1970 1980 1992
[Pictures on page 604]
A Few of the Translations Used by Early Bible Students
Young’s literal translation
Leeser’s translation (English alongside Hebrew)
Tischendorf’s “New Testament” (with variant readings from Greek MSS)
Murdock’s translation (from Syriac)
“The Emphatic Diaglott” (Greek to English)
Variorum Bible (with various English renderings)
“The Newberry Bible” (with valuable marginal notes)
[Picture on page 605]
Introduction to the edition of Rotherham’s “New Testament” printed for Watch Tower Society c. 1890
[Picture on page 606]
Holman Linear Parallel Edition of the Bible, as published by arrangement of Watch Tower Society in 1902
[Picture on page 606]
Watchtower edition of “King James Version,” with specially designed concordance (1942)
[Picture on page 607]
“American Standard Version,” a translation that uses the divine name, Jehovah, over 6,870 times; Watchtower edition (1944)
[Picture on page 607]
Byington’s translation (1972)
[Pictures on page 608]
“New World Translation,” first released in English in six volumes, from 1950 to 1960; later combined in a special students’ edition
Published as a compact single volume in 1961
Large-print edition, with references for study, published in 1984
[Picture on page 612]
Progressively the “New World Translation” has been made available in more languages
[Picture on page 614]
“New World Translation” in very large print
. . . in Braille
. . . on audiocassettes
. . . on computer diskettes