“From House to House”
ACTS 20:20, according to the New World Translation, reads: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.” Some persons contend that the foregoing rendering is a poor one by reason of containing the expression “from house to house,” and that it was used merely to support the house-to-house activity of Jehovah’s witnesses. What are the facts?
In the Greek text the word “houses” (oikous) follows the Greek preposition katá and is in the accusative case, plural. On the use of this preposition katá with the accusative case the book A Greek Grammar for Schools and Colleges, by Hadley and Allen, says on page 256, under katá: “with accusative . . . in distributive expressions: katá phyla by clans, each clan by itself, katà dyo by twos, two by two, kath’ hemeran day by day.”
Says the book A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, by Dana and Mantey, D.D., on page 107, under the heading Katá: “(3) With the accusative case: Along, at, according to. Luke 10:4, . . . ‘Salute no one along the road.’ Also in the distributive sense: Acts 2:46 kat’ oikon, from house to house: Luke 2:41 kat’ etos, from year to year; 1 Cor. 14:27, katà dyo, by twos. See also Luke 8:1; 13:32.”
Quoting from still another Greek authority, that of Handbook to the Grammar of the Greek Testament, by Samuel G. Green, D.D. (Revision of 1912 edition), on pages 248, 249, under katá, it says: “β. With the Accusative. . . . 4. Of place or time, distributively, from one to another. Mark xiii.8: seismoì katà tópous, earthquakes in diverse places. Luke viii.1: diódeue katà pólin, he was journeying from city to city. So kat’ étos year by year, Luke ii.41; kat’ oíkon, at different houses, Acts ii.46, v. Ac 2:42; katà pan sábbaton, every Sabbath, Acts xv.21;” and so forth.
To quote just one more authority, there is also the book A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, translated, revised and enlarged, by Joseph Henry Thayer, D.D.; on page 327, under the heading Katá, it says: “II. With the accusative: . . . 3. it denotes reference, relation, proportion, of various sorts: a. Distributively, indicating a succession of things following one another, α. in reference to place katà polin, in every city, (city by city, from city to city), Luke 8:1, 4; Acts 15:21; 20:23; Titus 1:5,” and followed by a number of other references. Other grammars could doubtless be referred to to substantiate the distributive use of the Greek preposition katá with the accusative case as found in Acts 20:20.
Not only does the New World Translation render the phrase in question “from house to house,” but so also do the following translations: King James Version, American Standard Version, English Revised Version, Revised Standard Version of 1952, Holy Bible from the Peshitta, by George M. Lamsa, the New Testament in an Improved Version based on Archbishop Newcomb’s new translation, the New Testament, by Charles Williams, the Holy Bible, by Monsignor Ronald A. Knox, the New Testament, by F. A. Spencer, edited by Callan-McHugh, the Spanish Moderna Version. Also the Englishmen’s Greek New Testament with an interlinear literal translation, which, unlike the Emphatic Diaglott, has under the expression kat’ oikous in Acts 20:20 the interlinear reading “from house to house,” also A New Translation of the Bible, by James Moffatt, D.D., the Catholic Confraternity Translation of the New Testament, the New Testament in the Westminster Version, by Cuthbert Latty, Jesuit, also the Riverside New Testament, by William G. Ballantine.
Of interest here is the reference to Paul’s ministry by A. E. Bailey, in Daily Life in Bible Times: “Paul’s general practice was to work at his trade from sunrise to 11 a.m., . . . then from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to preach in the hall, . . . and then lastly to make a house to house evangelistic canvass that lasted from 4 p.m. to far in the night.”
Will anyone endeavor to argue that all these Greek grammarians, these Bible translators and this historian were one and all biased because they themselves were doing evangelistic work from house to house? Hardly! Then neither can anyone rightly claim that the way the New World Translation reads at Acts 20:20 is due to the fact that the witnesses of Jehovah engage in house-to-house ministerial work. However, if any still want to take exception to the expression, then they are entitled to the secondary reading that is given in the footnote of Acts 20:20, which reads, “or, ‘and in the private houses.’”