New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures
1. How was the first written translation of Scripture accomplished?
THE first written translation of the Holy Scriptures was from the Hebrew canon into the common Greek and came to be known as the Greek Septuagint Version (LXX).a The disciples of Christ, who wrote in Greek, quoted from this version in their inspired writings. The Greek Septuagint began to be made in the beginning of the third century before Christ at Alexandria, Egypt, a large percentage of which was then Greek-speaking Jews. The Hebrews at Jerusalem had developed a prejudice against written translations of the sacred canon of the Scriptures, thinking them too holy to suffer from misinterpretation which was naturally to be expected in a foreign translation. However, despite such Hebrew prejudice, the translation was carried on during three centuries, evidently by Alexandrian, and not Palestinian, Jews and with the patronage of the Egyptian ruler, and from Hebrew rolls possibly imported from Palestine. Though one religious tradition maintains inspiration for the Septuagint, there is no inside or outside evidence to prove that claim. This translation formed what may be called the pre-Christian Greek Scriptures. It proved very valuable to the Greek-speaking Christians of the first-century congregation and to translators of the Hebrew Scriptures themselves. This Greek translation, and not the Hebrew Bible itself, was the Scripture collection that was used in the march of Christian missionary work westward through Europe.
2. When was the Bible canon completed? When and how were its books collected and published?
2 By the end of the first century A.D. the official catalogue or canon of the inspired writings of Christ’s disciples was finished. As they were written in Greek, they form what may rightly be called the Christian Greek Scriptures. They are on an equality with the Hebrew (A·ra·maʹic) Scriptures as to inspiration, and they fill out those ancient writings, to compose the complete Bible. Thus the canon or official collection of inspired books of the Holy Bible was completed by the end of the first century A.D.b Written translation of the Holy Scriptures followed in due course along with the missionary effort of the early Christians in obedience to Christ’s command to make disciples out of all nations. The books of the Hebrew canon had already been collected at Jerusalem prior to its destruction A.D. 70, and now during the second century the collecting of the books of the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures took place, and translations proceeded. Translations in the Old Latin appeared. Portions of the Scriptures, such as the four gospel accounts and the letters of the apostle Paul, were brought together in codex form like books of our day, for convenient handling and use. The casing-in of books between lids in this style proved to be a marked specialty of the Christian congregation in the bookmaking industry, in that early second century.
3. What was the first Bible printed? Who made that translation?
3 Toward the end of the fourth century Eu·seʹbi·us Jer·omeʹ, commonly known as “Saint Jer·omeʹ”, entered upon his work as a translator. In 383 he produced his new Latin version of the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and in 405 he completed his entire translation of the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek into Latin. Despite widespread objection Jer·ome’sʹ Latin Version won out and became the Bible of Western Christendom for the next thousand years. It became known as the Latin Vulgate or “common Latin edition”. The first Bible to be run off a printing press by Joʹhann Guʹten·berg at Mainz, Germany, was this Latin Vulgate.
4. When Latin died out, what translations were needed? How was the need met?
4 But in time Latin died out as the language of the common people, and popular languages of Latin extraction and also Teutonic languages developed. The need for Bible versions in the people’s language became more insistent, and there were many handwritten or manuscript translations that were produced. Before printing was invented, about 1456, there were several German translations of the Bible or parts of it. The first Bible to be printed in a modern language was a German translation by an unknown author, and which was printed at Strassburg by Jo’hann Men’tel in 1466. But time fails to tell or even make mention of Bible production in all other languages.
UNSECTARIAN BIBLE SOCIETY
5. From its beginning, to what has the Watch Tower Society been devoted? How and why has it made use of Bible translations?
5 From the time of its organization the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society has used the King James Version of 1611 as its basic version for Bible study. Our chief aim has been to make clear to the people the pure Bible teachings in the light of unfolding prophecy. We seek to advance with the brightening light of truth and to rid ourselves of all the bedarkening traditions of men and pagan philosophies of this world. When first formed in 1881 it was called the Watch Tower Tract Society, to indicate its purpose to spread the revealed truths of the Bible. (The Watchtower, April, 1881) In 1884 it became incorporated as Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society, but in 1896 it was called Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. True to its name, it has engaged in distributing Bibles as well as publishing books, tracts, and other papers for disseminating Christian knowledge based on the rock-bottom teachings of God’s Word. Its Bible education for the people has been unsectarian, and this type of education alone allows a Christian the freedom to cut through religious tradition and worldly philosophy and get back to the “faith that was once for all time delivered to the holy ones”. So from the time of publication of the magazine The Watchtower in 1879 the English publications of the Watch Tower Society have till now quoted, cited and referred to more than seventy different Bible translations in English and other languages. Thus the Society has recognized the value of them all and has made use of the good in them all as needed for setting forth God’s true message and clearing away religious confusion.
6. When did the Society first become a Bible-printing Society? How?
6 In 1902 the Watch Tower Society came into possession of its first plates of a Scripture edition and could become a Bible-printing society. These were the plates of an emphasized translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures known as “The Emphatic Diaglott”. This had first been published by its author, Benjamin Wilson, a newspaper editor of Geneva, Illinois, in 1864, and who was never associated with the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. This emphatic translation had some notable features that made for a better understanding of the truth. However, it was not until December 21, 1926, that The Emphatic Diaglott was printed on our Society’s own presses and cased in at a printing plant of its own.
7. How did the Society come to print the whole Bible and release it?
7 This led eventually to the desire of the Society to print the complete Bible on its presses. World War II made the need for independent publication of the Bible itself even greater. In the throes of that global conflict the Society succeeded in purchasing plates of the complete King James Version of the Bible. On September 18, 1942, the New World Theocratic Assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses opened up, with its key convention-assembly at Cleveland, Ohio. There the Society’s president spoke on the subject “Presenting ‘The Sword of the Spirit’” and as a climax he released this the first complete Bible printed on our presses. In its appendix it had many helpful features added for use in Bible study. In America 35,000 copies were disposed of immediately, since which beginning 700,000 copies of this Watch Tower edition have been distributed in many lands.
8. Of what other Bible version did the Society next print and release an edition, and how?
8 An excellent Bible translation of the twentieth century is the American Standard Version. Besides being a great improvement over the King James Version it has the remarkable and commendable feature of rendering God’s name “Jehovah” at the 6,823 places where it occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures. After long negotiations and by a financial arrangement the Watch Tower Society was able in 1944 to purchase the use of the plates of the complete American Standard Version of the Bible for printing this version on its presses with a specially prepared Appendix of Bible-study helps. On August 10, 1944, at Buffalo, New York, the key city of 17 simultaneous assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses linked together by private telephone lines, the Society’s president delighted his vast audience by releasing the Watch Tower edition of the American Standard Version. Already 252,000 copies have been produced, and it has proved an additional instrument in sounding abroad God’s holy name and publishing the grand news of his kingdom of the new world of life and peace.
PREPARING AND RELEASING THE NEW
9. After use of all the various translations what need was felt? Why?
9 We acknowledge our debt to all the Bible versions which we have used in attaining to what truth of God’s Word we enjoy today. We do not discourage the use of any of these Bible versions, but shall ourselves go on making suitable use of them. However, during all our years of using these versions down to the latest of them, we have found them defective. In one or another vital respect they are inconsistent or unsatisfactory, infected with religious traditions or worldly philosophy and hence not in harmony with the sacred truths which Jehovah God has restored to his devoted people who call upon his name and seek to serve him with one accord. Especially has this been true in the case of the Christian Greek Scriptures, which throw light and place proper interpretation upon the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. More and more the need has been felt for a translation in modern speech, in harmony with revealed truth, and yet furnishing us the basis for gaining further truth by faithfully presenting the sense of the original writings; a translation just as understandable to modern readers as the original writings of Christ’s disciples were understandable to the simple, plain, common, lowly readers of their day. Jesus reminded us that our heavenly Father knows the needs of his children before they ever ask him. How has he made provision for us in this need which we now keenly feel?
10. How was another translation committee announced at a directors’ meeting, and what had it done?
10 Particularly since 1946 the president of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society has been in quest of such a translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. On September 3, 1949, at 8 a.m., at the Brooklyn headquarters (Bethel) the Society’s president convened a joint meeting of the boards of directors of the Pennsylvania and New York corporations, only one director being absent. After the meeting was opened with prayer the president announced to these eight fellow directors the existence of a “New World Bible Translation Committee” and that it had completed a translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. This it had turned over to the possession and control of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, Pennsylvania corporation, just the preceding day. He read the committee’s document by which it assigned the translation manuscript to the Society in recognition of the Society’s unsectarian work of spreading the sacred Word of God and of promoting the knowledge and understanding of its teaching among the people of every nation, kindred, people and language, and in order that the translation might be a new means toward the expanding of its Christian educational activities throughout the world.
11. What was done with the translation assigned? When and where was work on it begun for publication?
11 The president himself had read the manuscript of the entire translation, and on request he read to the meeting several entire chapters to let the directors see the nature of the translation. This reading was followed by favorable comments by all the directors present. One of the Pennsylvania corporation directors then moved the Society’s acceptance of the gift. This was seconded. The motion was unanimously adopted by all the directors of the corporation, and thus the translation became legally the property of the Society’s Pennsylvania corporation. But it had to be printed at the plant of the New York corporation here in Brooklyn, N. Y. On September 29, 1949, the president turned over the first of the manuscript to the Brooklyn factory force to start working on it.
12. How did the translation progress to publication and release?
12 With all the other work to be turned out by the factory and with all the features that the committee produced to accompany the translation, an immense amount of labor was involved to produce the completed publication. A group of 40 members of the Brooklyn headquarters (Bethel) family was organized to do extra proofreading and checking to insure accuracy of the publication’s features. On February 9, 1950, the New World Bible Translation Committee submitted to us its important Foreword of the translation. It long appeared a problem whether the work could be accomplished on schedule for the outstanding event in the summer of 1950. But Wednesday afternoon, August 2, 1950, when delivering his speech “Turning to the Peoples a Pure Language” at Yankee Stadium, New York city, the Society’s president had the extreme pleasure of releasing to the international Theocracy’s Increase Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. The translation was received with the greatest of enthusiasm and appreciation by the vast throng of many thousands drawn from 72 lands of earth. Tens of thousands of copies were eagerly taken up by the conventioners that very afternoon and many thousands more by the close of the assembly on August 6.
13. What about its name, the Greek text used, the style of language?
13 This new translation is a complete departure from the religious traditions of creed-bound Christendom. This is indicated even by its very name, as a translation of the “Christian Greek Scriptures”, instead of a traditionally so-called “New Testament”. It is unscriptural and misleading to call these 27 Christian books of the inspired Scriptures a “New Testament”. The translation is not a revision of any previous work, but is a brand-new rendering from the original Greek text, using the standard text prepared by the two recognized British scholars, Westcott and Hort. But Greek texts by scholars of other lands have also been consulted by the translation committee, with a sincere endeavor to give a translation in agreement with the teachings of the Scriptures in the original Greek. A literal translation has been striven for as far as the modern English idiom has made this possible without awkwardness. All old-fashioned or out-of-date style of spelling has been eliminated, even as the original Scriptures were written in the people’s natural way of talking to one another at the time. This makes for a better understanding and hence enjoyment of the translation.
14. What outstanding feature should stir up great controversy? What pronunciation have we followed, and why?
14 One outstanding feature that is bound to stir up great controversy among modern translators and religious leaders of Christendom is the use of God’s own given name in this English rendering of the Christian Greek Scriptures. The divine name is represented by a four-lettered Hebrew word, called a “tet·ra·gramʹma·ton” by the Latin translator Jer·omeʹ. The name occurs 6,823 times in the old Hebrew Scriptures, and, as far as the records show, this name has been read as “Jehovah” since the fourteenth century and has been popularized in that form in Christendom. Exactly how the name was pronounced is not now known. But, while recognizing the merits of the pronunciation “Yah·wehʹ”, the translation committee has used the form “Jehovah” because of its familiarity and because it preserves the four original letters of the Hebrew name. In God’s own time when He reveals the correct pronunciation of his holy name, we will gladly make the accurate correction.
15. In what way is the translation first to use the divine name thus?
15 The committee does not claim to be the first to render the sacred name in an English translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Almost a hundred years ago the author of The Emphatic Diaglott published his translation of Matthew’s gospel account and in it he used “Jehovah” 5 times, and the completed Diaglott (1864) contains the name 18 times from Matthew to Acts, but without any explanation for its use. But, to our knowledge, the New World Translation is the first to render the divine name consistently from Matthew to Revelation, 237 times all together in the main reading text, not to speak of 72 additional times where it occurs only in the marginal readings at the bottom of the page.
16. How did Matthew put the divine name in the Christian Scriptures?
16 “But you can’t do that!” said one critic to whom the manuscript of the translation was read for his comments. The committee, in its Foreword of twenty-nine pages, shows how it can be done on valid grounds; and it does so. English Bible translators have assumed that the divine name never occurred in the inspired writings of Christ’s disciples. But Jer·omeʹ, for one, informs us: “Matthew, who is also Levi, and who from a publican came to be an apostle, first of all the Evangelists, composed a Gospel of Christ in Ju·daeʹa in the Hebrew language and characters, for the benefit of those of the circumcision who had believed. . . . wherever the Evangelist makes use of the testimonies of the old Scriptures he does not follow the authority of the seventy translators [the Greek Septuagint], but of the Hebrew.” (Catal. Script. Eccl.) Hence where Matthew quoted in Hebrew from the inspired Hebrew Scriptures, he must have faithfully quoted the divine name and thus have put it in his Gospel account. The apostle Matthew was one of the men concerning whom Jesus said in prayer to God: “I have made your name manifest to the men you gave me out of the world. . . . I have made your name known to them and will make it known.” (John 17:6, 26, NW) Matthew would therefore know the name from Jesus and would have no conscientious qualms about using it properly in his history of Jesus’ life. If Matthew translated his own Gospel account from Hebrew into Greek, then he would follow the ancient practice of inserting the four Hebrew letters of God’s name into his Greek text where it belonged, possibly 18 times as it occurs in the New World Translation.
17. How did the Greek Septuagint warrant the disciples’ putting the divine name in their Greek writings? Why was tradition no deterrent?
17 Under inspiration Christ’s disciples quoted copiously from the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. In this translation the practice of old was to insert the Hebrew “tet·ra·gramʹma·ton” into the Greek text to correspond with where it occurred in the Hebrew Scriptures. Even in the fourth century Jerome tells us that in his day there were still copies of the Greek translation which contained the Hebrew “tet·ra·gramʹma·ton” where the divine name occurred in the text. What would the apostles writing in Greek do when they quoted from such a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures? Jesus did not follow Jewish tradition and he taught his disciples not to do so. The tradition of the Jewish religious leaders who opposed Jesus to the death was to substitute the title “Lord” for the divine name, a name which they professed not to take in vain by not pronouncing it but which they did profane in practice. The inspired Christian writers were not bound by Jewish tradition to substitute the titles “God” and “Lord” for the divine name, and the holy spirit that inspired those writers was not under any fear that the divine name would be profaned by causing it to be written in Hebrew characters in the Christian Greek Scriptures. The disciples were free to follow the practice of inserting the Hebrew letters of the divine name in their Greek text. Their original autograph writings have disappeared.
18. What were recent Hebrew translators obliged to do about the name?
18 Since the fourteenth century translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures have been made into the Hebrew tongue for the benefit of Jews. The committee in its Foreword lists 19 of such Hebrew translations, and all these together contain the divine name in 307 distinct instances. Where Jesus’ disciples quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures in verses where the tet·ra·gramʹma·ton occurs, these Hebrew translations were simply obliged to enter the divine name exactly as it is in the inspired original Hebrew text, the same as the apostle Matthew was obliged to do. Thus all these Hebrew translations have entered the divine name Jehovah in the Christian writings from Matthew to Revelation; and all modern translators are powerless to object. The lower marginal references of the New World Translation show where it has backing from all these 19 Hebrew versions.
19. In what other recent translations does the divine name appear?
19 More than that, the divine name is found, not only in such Hebrew translations, but also in vernacular form in many translations made by missionaries during the past two centuries. The committee’s Foreword lists 38 such translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures in which the name Jehovah occurs in twenty vernacular forms aside from the Hebrew and English translations. And as far as all these translations have the backing of the Hebrew Scriptures, they are correct in using the divine name Jehovah (Yah·wehʹ) instead of the indefinite title “Lord”, as is the practice of the King James Version.
20, 21. (a) Is this making the Divine Being a tribal God? (b) Why would modern translators reduce him to a nameless God? Why should not we?
20 This is not making the Divine Being a tribal God of the Jews in whom the people of the Gentile nations have no part. One modern Bible translator, who favors eliminating the name “Jehovah” or “Yahwehʹ” from translations of even the Hebrew Scriptures, is on record this year as saying: “Thus the tradition of the Jewish synagogue favors the practice of the King James Version, to which we are returning . . . There is an even stronger present reason. Neither Jews nor Christians worship merely a tribal deity, who has to have a proper name to distinguish him from other gods. We worship the one and only God of the universe.” Now how do you relish having a man of such views for your Bible translator, even though he is a university professor? Under the seemingly broad-minded idea of making the Supreme Person an international God he, like many others, would make him a nameless God.
21 But the Most High God has not chosen to remain nameless to the human family. He has given himself a name full of meaning to us. When asked by man what God’s name is, he gave it, and said to his prophet Moses: “I am Jehovah.” Through his prophet Isaiah he says: “I am Jehovah, this is My name.” (Ex. 3:13-15; 6:2, 3 and Isa. 42:8, Yg) Jesus Christ is the Greater Prophet foreshadowed by both Moses and Isaiah, and his very name “Jesus” means “Jehovah is salvation”. Jesus said: “I have come in the name of my Father.” He taught his disciples to pray: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” (John 5:43 and Matt. 6:9, NW) No, this Jesus, who sent the spirit helper by means of which the Christian Greek Scriptures were inspired, did not reduce his heavenly Father to a nameless God.
22. What does restoring the name to the Christian Scriptures accomplish?
22 The divine name restored to the Christian Greek Scriptures gives the heavenly Father a personality that distinguishes him from his Son Jesus Christ. Instead of following the King James Version, for instance, at Acts 2:34, where that version reads, “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,” the New World Translation, reads, in full harmony with the Hebrew Psalms: “Jehovah said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand’”; and at Ac 2 verse 21 it reads: “And then anyone that calls upon the name of Jehovah will be saved.” Oh, how much this valid translation makes the Bible text clearer to our understanding and subject to correct explanation at once! What a revealing light it throws upon Christendom’s traditional doctrine of the trinity! In like manner the New World Translation by its direct and consistent renderings exposes false religious traditions about the human soul, hell, earth’s destiny, God’s kingdom, and other doctrines of importance. But we must reserve it for articles in a later issue of this magazine to discuss the illuminating features of this translation of 1950.
SPREAD THE LANGUAGE
23. (a) What gathering now nears its final stage, and why? (b) What has Jehovah done in behalf of the language of the new world?
23 What shall we do now? Or what shall we say? The beginning of world sorrows in 1914 and all the fulfillments of Bible prophecy since then testify that we are certainly in the world’s “time of the end”. God’s approval and blessing are not upon this doomed world in any of its political, commercial and religious efforts for perpetuating this old system of things; but, instead, his righteous wrath and indignation. The gathering of the nations and the assembling of the kingdoms, with their United Nations and political blocs and pacts within the framework of that U.N. organization, are nearing the final stage. The time for the entire earthly system of things to be consumed in the fire of Jehovah’s zeal is drawing close. But not without warning from the God of love and mercy. In this time of the end he has kept his promise and turned a “pure language” to the peoples who long for truth and righteousness. He has not left himself nameless, but has revealed his identity in order that the peoples may know to whom to turn through Jesus Christ. Through the Theocratic organization of his anointed witnesses he has been clearing up the Bible truth more and more and thus purifying their speech. So now they talk and live in harmony with the language of the approaching new world. And here, in this year of 1950, his providence brings forth this New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures as a further purification of the speech of his people. He has graciously provided it as a further powerful means for turning to the peoples a “pure language”.
24. (a) Whose name is this new translation issued to honor? (b) How will this English translation benefit people of many other tongues?
24 Do not, then, let the prejudices, religious traditions and sectarian conceitedness of Christendom stumble you. Give this new English translation an openhearted welcome. It is issued to glorify or memorialize the names of no men. Therefore the men who compose the translation committee have indicated their desire to the Society’s boards of directors to remain anonymous, and specifically do not want their names to be published while they are in life or after death. The purpose of the translation is to exalt the name of the living, true God and spread the fragrant knowledge of his kingdom by Christ Jesus. Although published only in English, yet through publications of the Watch Tower Society which quote it and which are translated into upward of 90 languages, this translation will spread its spiritual help to millions of peoples of many tongues and nations. This translation, for its faithfulness, courage, and correctness, will commend itself to every honest searcher for the truth of the divine revelation.
25. What should those having this translation do with it, and in what work will they thus have a larger part?
25 Take this translation. Read it through, a thing that will be done with enjoyment. Study it, for it will help you to better your understanding of God’s Word. Put it in the hands of others. Help others to study it and the Scripture publications based upon it. By this course you will be perfecting your mastery of the “pure language”, the speech which talks understandingly of the new world in which God’s kingdom by Jesus Christ will rule supreme and without a rival. By this course, too, you will be having a part as a coworker with God in turning to the peoples this “pure language”. This will enable them all to “call upon the name of Jehovah” and to “serve him with one consent”, gathered unitedly in support of his kingdom. This is the only way they will be shielded during the outburst of the fire of his wrath and indignation at Armageddon and be spared for joyous living in the endless new world.
a The earlier “Samaritan Pentateuch” was mainly a transliteration of the Hebrew in Samaritan characters.
b The bishop of Alexandria wrote a letter each year to the congregations under his supervision to inform them about the date of “Easter”. In his 39th such Paschal letter, written A.D. 367, A·tha·naʹsi·us gave a list of the books of the “Old and New Testament”. That portion of his letter, translated from the Greek, reads:
“The books of the New Testament there is no hesitation about saying again, for they are these: Four gospels according to Matthew, according to Mark, according to Luke and according to John; and next after these Acts of the Apostles and seven so-called general letters of the apostles as follows: One of James, two of Peter, then three of John and after these one of Jude. In addition to these there are fourteen letters of Paul the apostle, written thus in order: The first one to the Romans, then two to the Corinthians, and next after these to the Galatians and thereafter to the Ephesians, then to the Philippians and to the Colossians and two to the Thessalonians and the one to the Hebrews; and then two to Timothy, but one to Titus. And one final one to Philemon; and again of John a Revelation.”
This is the first example of the catalogue of the books of the Christian Greek Scriptures as we have them today. This published list, known as “The Canon of A·tha·naʹsi·us”, preceded thus by 30 years the list published by the Council or Synod of Carthage, Africa, in 397 (A.D.).