Questions From Readers
● Is not the use of the term “cubit” at Matthew 6:27, New World Translation, wrong since a life span cannot be measured by a cubit?—J. B., United States.
Matthew 6:27 reads: “Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his life span?” The Greek word here is peʹkhus, which literally means the forearm, on which the cubit was based, and is therefore the Greek word for cubit. Luke used the same word when recording these words of Jesus, and John used it in describing how far the disciples were from shore when they got the great catch of fish when Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection. The same word he also used in giving the measurements of the holy city, Jerusalem.—Luke 12:25; John 21:8; Rev. 21:17.
Obviously, then, the thought of peʹkhus is that of length. In making use of this term Jesus, in his sermon on the mount, was not discussing the stature of one’s body or its height or tallness, for that is not a common source of anxiety. Rather, he was referring to the prolongation of one’s life. Life is measured by its length, as indicated by the use of the phrase “life span” in the New World Translation. Therefore a measure of length, namely, a cubit, which was eighteen inches long, is very appropriate and, compared with the length of life, it would certainly be very short. This was the point that Jesus was making: by being anxious you cannot increase your life span even eighteen inches. But to add eighteen inches to one’s height would be phenomenal, making one a giant, as compared to others.
It is very interesting to note that An American Translation, by Smith and Goodspeed, renders Matthew 6:27 as follows: “But which of you with all his worry can add a single hour to his life?” The Revised Standard Version of 1952 renders the verse: “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” The Roman Catholic Spencer Version reads: “Yet who among you, by anxious thought, is able to add a single span to his life?” A modern American version by C. Williams freely translates Jesus’ words thus: “But which of you by worrying can add a single minute to his life?” A footnote states: “The word means size or time; here time.” And the Diaglott, an interlinear Greek version reads: “Besides, which of you, by being anxious, can prolong his life one moment?” Its interlinear, word-for-word translation reads: “Which and by of you being over careful is able to add to the age of him span one?”
Clearly, in view of all the foregoing, Matthew 6:27 is properly rendered in the New World Translation.
● In 2 Thessalonians 3:6 the Moffatt translation reads in part: “instead of following the rule you received from us.” Other versions read “direction,” “commandments,” “teaching,” and “instruction.” Why does the New World Translation give preference to the word “tradition” in this text as also at 2 Thessalonians 2:15?—J. D. Canada.
The New World Translation endeavors to be consistent in its renderings. In keeping with the rule noted in the Foreword of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, as far as possible it uses just one English word to render one original Greek word into English. The Greek word here is parádosis, which has the thought of a transmitted precept. It is the same word as is used at Matthew 15:6, where Jesus told his religious opposers that they made the Word of God void by reason of their tradition. While the word “tradition” is frequently used in contrast to Bible truth handed down in writing, it is not limited to such precepts. The use of the word here as well as at 2 Thessalonians 2:15 shows that there is a valid tradition by the apostles, which tradition was committed to writing under inspiration. This, of course, differs from uninspired tradition, tradition that invalidates God’s Word.
Thus the New World Translation, in rendering parádosis “tradition” at 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 2Th 3:6, has remained faithful to its rule. It has not let the opprobrium usually attached to the term “tradition” by sincere and enlightened Bible students cause it to use another word in this and its related text. This is in contrast to the Diaglott, which has been so influenced. In the interlinear translation It uses the word “tradition” in both verses, but in its English text it chose to use the word “instruction.” The Revised Standard Version, however, uses the word “tradition,” even as does the American Standard Version.
● Please tell me how to explain 1 Corinthians 14:2.—J.M., United States.
The verse in question reads: “For he that speaks in a tongue speaks, not to men, but to God, for no one listens, but he speaks sacred secrets by the spirit.” This text is to be understood in the light of 1Co 14 verses 13-19 of the same chapter, which read:
“Therefore let the one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may translate. For if I am praying in a tongue, it is my gift of the spirit that is praying, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is to be done, then? I will pray with the gift of the spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding. I will sing praise with the gift of the spirit, but I will also sing praise with my understanding. Otherwise, if you offer praise with a gift of the spirit, how will the man occupying the seat of the ordinary person say Amen to your giving of thanks, since he does not know what you are saying? True, you give thanks in a right way, but the other man is not being built up. I thank God, I speak in more tongues than all of you do. Nevertheless, in a congregation I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might also instruct others verbally, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
In other words, anyone that speaks in a tongue speaks to God rather than to men if he has no one to interpret the meaning of his speech to men who are listening. The speech is meaningless to the listeners who do not understand the foreign language of the message as given by the miraculous power of God’s holy spirit. For that reason the apostle Paul says, “No one listens,” because no one understands. It may be also that even the speaker of the foreign tongue does not understand his own message; otherwise why would the apostle Paul state that one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may translate? He, then, would not even understand what he himself is saying by spirit without another to translate it for him.
So without anyone to translate or interpret his message he certainly would be speaking only to God rather than to men. That is why the apostle Paul says that if interpreters are not present, then the one who speaks in a foreign tongue should pray that he may also translate and thus by his translation be able to speak also to men in an edifying manner and to the praise of God.
How different the apostle Paul is from the modern sects that claim to be able to speak in tongues! They are not at all interested in having their hearers understand what they babble but merely want them to be impressed by their unintelligible speech. Further, Paul foretold that “whether there are tongues, they will cease.” And so they have. The miraculous gift of tongues was needed, together with other miraculous manifestations of the holy spirit, to establish the Christian congregation. The Christian congregation having reached maturity, it has “done away with the traits of a babe.”—1 Cor. 13:8, 11.