Questions From Readers
● Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, a member of the faculty of Princeton, New Jersey, Theological Seminary, writes: “In the New World Translation it is stated (page 9 of New Testament volume), ‘To each major word we have assigned one meaning and have held to that meaning as far as the context permitted.’ My question arises from the failure to abide by this self-imposed rule at Philippians 2:11, where the word kyrios, elsewhere rendered ‘Jehovah’ 237 times, is not rendered ‘Jehovah’ despite the clear allusion to Isaiah 45:23 and following where the word Jehovah appears. Could it be that the Arian theology of the translators overrode their expressed rule of translating?” Do you deem this inquirer’s question deserving of a sound and thorough reply?—U.S.A.
A number of Watchtower readers, evidently unacquainted with New Testament Greek, have written us a similar question, apparently inspired by the publicity that Dr. Metzger has given to a discussion of this matter. The doctor quotes from the second paragraph on page nine of the Foreword, where we read:
“To each major word we have assigned one meaning and have held to that meaning as far as the context permitted. This, we know, has imposed a restriction upon our diction, but it makes for good cross-reference work and for a more reliable comparison of related texts or verses. At the same time, in order to bring out the richness and variety of the language of the inspired writers, we have avoided the rendering of two or more Greek words by the same English word, for this hides the distinction in shade of meaning between the several words thus rendered.”
The theological doctor quotes part of the above and leaves his reader to imagine that the translators of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures were arbitrary, or self-determining, in their rendering of the Greek word kyʹrios (without the Greek definite article) by the divine name, Jehovah. But in its very Foreword the translators show that they were not acting arbitrarily in rendering the Greek word kyʹrios (without the definite article) into English as Jehovah. If Dr. Metzger has read the Foreword of the above volume through, then he should have learned on what basis the New World translators restored the divine name, Jehovah, to the English translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Beginning on page 19, he should have read the following:
“RESTORING THE NAME: What is the modern translator to do? Is he justified, yes, authorized, to enter the divine name into a translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures? Every Greek reader must confess that in the LXX the Greek words kyʹri·os and the·osʹ have been used to crowd out the distinctive name of the Supreme Deity. Every comprehensive Greek-English dictionary states that these two Greek words have been used as equivalents of the divine name. Hence the modern translator is warranted in using the divine name as an equivalent of those two Greek words, that is, at places where Matthew, etc., quote verses, passages and expressions from the Hebrew Scriptures or from the LXX where the divine name occurs.”
Then to that paragraph there is added a footnote of three paragraphs quoting from three different Greek-English lexicons to show that in the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew Scriptures the Greek words kyʹrios and theosʹ were used to substitute for the divine name, Jehovah.
Now on page 20 of the Foreword, paragraph one says: “How is a modern translator to know or determine when to render the Greek words Κύριος and Θεός into the divine name in his version? By determining where the inspired Christian writers have quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures. Then he must refer back to the original to locate whether the divine name appears there. This way he can determine the identity to give to kyʹri·os and the·osʹ and he can then clothe them with personality.”
This Foreword shows that in the course of time nineteen translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures, or of parts of them, have been made from the Greek into the ancient Biblical Hebrew, and that these Hebrew translators, including Professor Franz Delitzsch and also Dr. Isaac Salkinson and Dr. Christian David Ginsburg, used the name Jehovah or the Hebrew tetragrammaton (with vowel symbols) in translating the writings of Christ’s apostles and disciples, generally known as the New Testament. Thus, before the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures came along, these Hebrew translators put the divine name in the Christian writings officially called the New Testament.
Consequently on page 20 of the Foreword the New World Bible Translation Committee says in the second paragraph: “To avoid overstepping the bounds of a translator into the field of exegesis, we have tried to be most cautious about rendering the divine name, always carefully considering the Hebrew Scriptures. We have looked for some agreement with us by the Hebrew versions we consulted to confirm our own rendering. Thus, out of the 237 times that we have rendered the divine name in the body of our version, there are only two instances where we have no support or agreement from any of the Hebrew versions. But in these two instances, namely, Ephesians 6:8 and Colossians 3:13, we feel strongly supported by the context and by related texts in rendering the divine name. The notes in our lower margin show the support we have for our renderings from the Hebrew versions and other authorities.”
In view of the above we wonder why the faculty member of the Princeton Theological Seminary quoted only partially from page 9 of the above-mentioned Foreword, but left unquoted to you all the above information in the Foreword concerning how the translators determined upon the fitness of putting the divine name back into the Christian Scriptures. These portions, which the theologian fails to call to your attention, show why kyʹrios (without the definite article) is not always rendered as Jehovah in the New World Translation.
The theologian says that Philippians 2:11 clearly alludes to Isaiah 45:23 and following material. Let us see. These verses, as translated by the American Standard Version, read: “By myself have I sworn, the word is gone forth from my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Only in Jehovah, it is said of me, is righteousness and strength; even to him shall men come; and all they that were incensed against him shall be put to shame. In Jehovah shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.”
However, Philippians 2:9-11 in the American Standard Version reads: “Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [kyʹri·os], to the glory of God the Father.”
This is not the same as the Isaiah quotation. Philippians 2:11 does not say that every tongue should swear to Jesus. It says that every tongue should confess something concerning Jesus to the glory of God the Father. So this is not an allusion to Isaiah 45:23 such as would require Jesus to be identified with Jehovah.
Remember that “Jehovah” is a name, the divine name, but Philippians 2:9-11 says that the name of the Son of God is Jesus, not Jehovah; and the name Jesus really means “Jehovah is salvation” or “the salvation of Jehovah.” So what Philippians 2:11 says is that every tongue is going to confess the occupancy by Jesus of a certain titular office, to the glory of God the Father, namely, lordship. This title “Lord” in the Greek text is kyʹrios (without the definite article).
Anyone familiar with the New Testament Greek knows that this word kyʹrios (without the definite article) is used in places when addressing a person and hence does not mean Jehovah. It means Lord or Sir. That is the way the New World Translation and other versions render the anarthrous kyʹrios in the appropriate places. Also, when kyʹrios is used as a title it appears without the definite article, as in cases like that of Philippians 2:9-11.
All the English versions of Christendom, even those in Hebrew, show that in Philippians 2:11 the kyʹrios without article is used as a title, not as a personal name. That is the reason why the New World Translation renders Philippians 2:11: “Every tongue should openly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” No Christian has to confess that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, because that is not the truth. Jesus told us to pray for his Father’s name to be hallowed or sanctified, and every informed Bible scholar knows that the name of God the Father is Jehovah.
The apostle Paul at 1 Corinthians 8:5, 6, says: “For even though there are those who are called ‘gods’, whether in heaven or on earth, just as there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’, there is actually to us one God the Father, out of whom all things are, and we for him, and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are, and we through him.” So what Christians must confess is that Jesus Christ is Lord, or kyʹrios (without the definite article).
The word kyʹrios without the definite article is thus used also in 1 Corinthians 12:3. There in the Greek text the same expression occurs as in Philippians 2:11, namely, KYRIOS YESOUS. In both texts the Greek word kyʹrios is a title by which a person of a certain name is to be addressed. Hence it would be wrong, in fact ridiculous, to render that expression KYRIOS YESOUS “Jehovah Jesus.” None of the Hebrew translations render it “Jehovah Jesus,” but recognize the Greek word kyʹrios there as a title and hence use the Hebrew word Adón, meaning Lord, instead of the name Jehovah.
Hence the New World Translation is consistent, and it violates no general rule of action set forth in its Foreword when it renders the expression in 1 Corinthians 12:3, as well as in Philippians 2:11, “Jesus is Lord,” not “Jesus is Jehovah.” So the translators are not to be charged with being influenced by the theology of the antitrinitarian Arius for doing so.
A recent translation entitled “The Authentic New Testament” by a Jew named Hugh J. Schonfield, published in 1955, renders the expression as an address to Jesus, reading: “And no one is able to say, ‘Lord Jesus!’ except by the holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) This Jewish translator renders Philippians 2:11: “And every tongue acclaim Jesus Christ as Master, to the glory of God the Father.”
It is very easy for a trinitarian theologian of Christendom to carp at a Bible translation that does not agree with his trinitarian doctrine. But when he does so by concealing the basis upon which the criticized translation makes its consistent rendering, is he fair and scholarly? Or has he proved his point? We leave you to answer the question.