Bible Translation That Honors God
HONOR is due the Creator, Jehovah God. Why? Because of who he is and what he has done. As the Universal Sovereign, the Most High, the King of Eternity, the Creator of all things seen and unseen he is matchless, peerless, incomparable.
Fittingly, Jehovah God caused his Word, the Bible, to be written in such a way as to honor him; some of it in Hebrew, some in Aramaic and the rest in Greek. Since comparatively few persons today can read the Bible in its original tongues, it needs to be translated. To date the Bible, whole or in part, has been translated into 1,202 languages. Appreciating this need, the publishers of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in English have already translated the Christian Greek Scriptures of that translation into six other languages: Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.
Obviously, the better the translation, the more it honors God. What a weighty responsibility this places upon all who share in Bible translation! Unfortunately not all Bible translation is done with appreciation of this fact. For example, the most popular Bible version to date honors King James. It is popularly known as the King James Version, while its translators eliminated from its text the name of God in all but a few verses.
What is required of Bible translation for it to honor God? For one thing, it must be scrupulously honest. Secondly, it must be free from religious bias. Third, those doing the translation must have access to the best possible sources and be qualified as to both the language of the Bible manuscript and the one into which they are translating. Fourth, such translation must also be harmonious and consistent throughout. And fifth, since it is impossible for imperfect humans to be wholly objective, it follows that Bible translation that accepts the claims of the Bible to be God’s Word is far more likely to be correct than that which is based on the view that much of the Bible is pia fraus, that is, “a pious fraud.”
TRANSLATION THAT DOES NOT HONOR GOD
To the extent that Bible translation, because of religious bias, unduly exalts creatures, to that extent it does not honor God. Bible translation that lays itself open to this charge is that found in both the Douay (1610) and the Knox (1948) translations at Genesis 3:15. According to them the text reads: “She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” “She is to crush thy head, while thou dost lie in ambush at her heels.” Since both the Greek Septuagint and the Masoretic Hebrew text have these pronouns in the masculine, there can be no excuse for rendering this text in this way, with a view to exalting the “Virgin Mary.” Not only do Jewish and other non-Catholic translations recognize this fact but so do even certain Roman Catholic translations, such as the Catholic Confraternity, which reads: “He shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.”
Another example of Bible translation that, by exalting a human creature, Mary, does not bring honor to God is John 2:4 as rendered by the Catholic Confraternity translation: “Jesus said to her, ‘What wouldst thou have me do, woman?’” Clearly religious bias here resulted in a translation that does not honor God, for it represents the Son of God as still being tied to his mother’s apron strings upon his starting out on his ministry at the age of thirty years. A footnote trying to justify this rendering only makes the bias more apparent. Both the Catholic Douay and the Knox translations agree with non-Catholic ones that Jesus spoke to his mother in just the opposite vein: “Woman, what is that to me and to thee?” (Dy) “Nay, woman, why dost thou trouble me with that?”—Knox.
Then, again, there is reason for concluding that most of 1 John 5:7, 8, which is used to teach a pagan Babylonish concept of God, crept into certain of the Latin versions of the Christian Scriptures by mistake. However, be that as it may, it is patently dishonest, in view of all the evidence at hand today against its being a part of John’s inspired letter, to continue publishing Bibles that contain this spurious matter, which reads: “In heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.”—AV.
According to A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, this “is lacking in all Greek MSS except very late ones; in all ancient versions except the Latin; in about fifty Vulgate MSS, including the best, likewise in the majority of Greek and Latin Fathers. . . . It is now generally held that this passage, called the Comma Johanneum, is a gloss that crept into the text of the Old Latin and Vulgate at an early date, but found its way into the Greek text only in the 15th and 16th centuries.” Yet this verse is still found in many modern Catholic versions, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and so forth, as well as in some non-Catholic versions. To keep this spurious passage in the Bible does not honor God, for it robs him of his unique position as the Most High.
The Bible translation being done under the auspices of The Jewish Publication Society of America is also included among that which does not in all its renderings honor God. For one thing, it construes the third of the Ten Commandments to apply only to perjury, on the premise that to take the name of Jehovah in a worthless way is not of sufficient importance to be forbidden in the Decalogue. But if that is so, why did Jehovah invoke capital punishment upon one who did take his name in a worthless way in the days of Moses? (Lev. 24:10-23) This new translation would also rob God of the fame he gained for himself at the Red Sea by indicating that the Israelites crossed a sea of reeds rather than the Red Sea; as though Pharaoh and all his chariots, horses and cavalrymen perished in a reedy marsh! It is not surprising, therefore, that this kind of translation has been attacked by certain Orthodox rabbis.
By claiming to drop a lot of “nonsense” from the Bible the scholars working on the Hebrew Scripture portion of the New English Bible must also be charged with Bible translation that does not honor God. According to them the name “Jehovah” comes under such “nonsense.” But if, for the sake of argument, it is granted that Jehovah is not the most nearly correct way in which the four Hebrew characters יהוה, known as the tetragrammaton, could be rendered, is that any reason for robbing the one true God of a distinctive name? Then call him Yahweh, Javeh or Jave, as do various translations in differing languages, but do not hide his distinctive name under such a minor title as “Lord,” which may even be applied to the head of a family, even as when Sarah called her husband “lord.”
The term “leprosy” also is being dropped from this translation as just so much nonsense, and at times the term psoriasis is substituted for it. But, says an expert on skin diseases, Dr. Fred Levit, the writers of the Bible “were trying to detect leprosy in its earliest stages. It’s perfectly understandable they might have confused early cases of leprosy because of insufficient knowledge of the disease, but if you substitute the word ‘psoriasis’ for ‘leprosy’ in the Scriptures you’re not much better off.”
Included in Bible translation that does not honor God must also be abridgments that leave out the Ten Commandments and versions that put the Bible into the slang of modern teen-agers. Surely what is needed to get the Word of God across to these teen-agers is not reducing the Bible to slang but teaching them to understand and appreciate good language. Are textbooks that deal with the various sciences and arts reduced to slang for the benefit of teen-agers with moronic minds?
USING GOD’S DISTINCTIVE NAME
Bible translation that honors God must, above all, do justice to his distinctive name, which since as early as the year 1100 has been translated “Jehovah.” And so we read: “I am Jehovah. That is my name; and to no one else shall I give my own glory, neither my praise to graven images.” Now certainly it does not make sense to read, “I am the Lord, that is my name.” What is there distinctive, unique about “Lord”? It is not even a name but a mere title.—Isa. 42:8.
How seriously Jehovah took his distinctive name can be seen by the very number of times it appears in the Hebrew Scriptures, some 50 percent oftener than all other references to all deities, true and false, combined. Well did the translators of the American Standard Version state back in 1901: “This Memorial Name . . . designates God as the personal God, as the covenant God, the God of Revelation, the Deliverer, the Friend of his people, . . . the ever living Helper of those who are in trouble.”
While most Bible translations, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, fail to give God the honor of his distinctive name, there are other notable exceptions in addition to the foregoing. Among such are Young and Rotherham (Yahweh) in English; Elberfelder, Parallel Bible in German; Moderna, Valera, Bover-Cantera, Nácar-Colunga, Straubinger in Spanish. But most noteworthy of all in this as well as in many other respects is the New World Translation in all the seven languages in which it is printed.
THE “NEW WORLD TRANSLATION”
In addition to using “Jehovah” whenever the tetragrammaton appears in the Masoretic or standard Hebrew text, the New World Translation also gives it in those instances where the Jewish scribes for one reason or another took the liberty to drop the tetragrammaton. It even has the name Jehovah 237 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures (or the New Testament).
Why also in the “New Testament”? Because it has a right to be there. In the first place, since Matthew quoted directly from the Hebrew text, it follows that whenever he came across the name Jehovah he would carry it over into his Gospel. Further, in view of the emphasis Jesus put upon Jehovah’s name,a we cannot imagine either his or any of his apostles being influenced by Jewish tradition in this matter, especially in view of their lashing out repeatedly against Jewish traditions. Besides, earliest extant fragments of the Greek Septuagint show that, at the first, Jewish scribes also were not bound by this tradition, for they copied the tetragrammaton rather than using a substitute. It follows, then, that in the days of Jesus and his apostles Jehovah’s distinctive name was given the honor due in that it must have appeared in the original autographs of the Bible. Nor is the New World Translation singular in this. Jehovah’s name appears in nineteen Jewish as well as almost forty missionary versions of the “New Testament.”
Among the various other ways in which the New World Translation honors God is by keeping clear from trinitarian bias. That is why it renders the controversial phrase of John 1:1, “The Word was a god,”b even as other translations put in the article “a” in rendering a like passage at Acts 28:6, namely, “He is a god.” (New English Bible) And, of course, it does not include the spurious passage in 1 John 5:7, 8, for reasons above given.
Hebrews 1:8, which is addressed to the Son of God, can be rendered either, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,” or, “God is thy throne for ever and ever,” since there is no verb “is” in either the Greek or in the Hebrew at Psalm 45:6, from which this is a quotation. In keeping with its principles to honor God and remain consistent with the rest of the Scriptures, the New World Translation here reads: “God is your throne forever.”
Objection has been raised because the New World Translation at Philippians 2:9 states that “God . . . kindly gave [Jesus] the name that is above every other name,” because this implies that Jesus is inferior and a recipient of a favor. Yet this is but another example where the New World Translation honors God, for the Greek word here in question is charizomai, which means “to grant a favor, i.e., gratuitously, in kindness, pardon or rescue.” And while upward of twenty English versions read “given,” “bestowed,” and suchlike, there are a few that show that charizomai means more than simply “to give.” For example: “Freely gave,” Fenton, Diaglott; “favored,” Rotherham; “grace,” Verkuyl; “graciously bestowed,” Wuest.
Among other ways in which the New World Translation shows itself to be an outstanding translation is in its consistency and accuracy. For one thing, it distinguishes between gnosis (knowledge) and epignosis (accurate [full] knowledge); between makários, which means “supremely blest, . . . fortunate, well off,” and eulogetós, which means “blessed.”
The New World Translation also honors God by its accuracy in distinguishing between the various Greek words for “love,” “earth” and “world,” to mention but a few. In the same way it differentiates between the various Hebrew words for “man” and “death.”
Nor to be overlooked are the valuable aids the New World Translation has in its Appendix. Of the greatest value to Bible lovers is its 104-page concordance. Very useful also are its discussions of controversial subjects and texts, and its maps. It also gives interesting facts regarding each Bible book: writer, time of writing, place where written and time period covered.
Yes, for Bible translation to honor God it must be honest, informed, free from religious bias, harmonious and consistent, and must accept the Bible for what it claims to be, the Word of God. While many translations leave much to be desired in ever so many ways, it can truly be said that the New World Translation, in all the languages in which it has been published, honors Jehovah God.
a See Matthew 6:9; John 5:43; 12:28; 17:6, 11, 12, 26.
b An American Translation here reads, “The Word was divine.”