Basis for the New World Translation
ALL flesh is green grass . . . The green grass has dried up, the blossom has withered; but as for the word of our God, it will last to time indefinite.” True to his promise, Jehovah God’s Word has lasted throughout the many, many centuries since it was first penned, and that in spite of all the efforts of God’s enemies to destroy his Word by ridicule and by persecution!—Isa. 40:6, 8.
In seeing to it that his Word was preserved, Jehovah could have performed a continuous miracle. He could have either preserved the original manuscripts or kept their copies free from transcribers’ and translators’ errors, but he chose to do neither. Rather, he saw fit to guide matters in such a way that, with few exceptions, no significant errors have crept into the text.
We can have confidence that the copies we have today are faithful copies of the original writings. This is to be seen from the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah. Authorities date this scroll as having been written before our Common Era. It bears eloquent testimony to the carefulness with which Bible copyists did their work. A comparison of it with the earliest Masoretic text, produced more than a thousand years later, shows that only very insignificant changes crept in during a thousand years of copying!
Many Bible lovers who have obtained copies of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures have wondered why they found differences between it and the Bible to which they had been accustomed, usually the King James Version. Why? As to the Christian Greek Scriptures, the differences are primarily because the New World Translation is based on the Westcott and Hort Greek text, whereas the King James Version was based on what is referred to as a Textus Receptus or “Received Text.”
As students of the Bible are well aware, the Christian Greek Scriptures were originally written in what is known as koiné or “common” Greek during the first century of our Common Era. However, it was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that a Greek “New Testament” was produced for general circulation. The printer of it was a man named Froben, of Basel, Switzerland. He commissioned Erasmus, a leading scholar of the time, to rush through a Greek “New Testament.” This Erasmus did in ten months, and it appeared in 1516. Because of the haste with which he worked, its text was filled with errors. Many of these were gradually eliminated in further editions that appeared in 1519, 1522, 1527 and 1535.
In the preface of his text Erasmus wrote: “I vehemently dissent from those [the Church of Rome] who would not have private persons read the Holy Scriptures, nor have them translated into the vulgar tongue,” that is, into the language of the common people. While in his editions he also made critical remarks about the Roman Catholic clergy, Erasmus never summoned up sufficient zeal or courage to give the common people of Europe the benefit of God’s Word by translating it into one of their own tongues.
THE “RECEIVED TEXT”
The text of Erasmus was a literary sensation. This, together with its reasonable price, resulted in its becoming the first Bible “best seller.” In fact, it might be said that his editions really started something, for then one publisher after another brought out his own editions. Among these were the Parisian Stephanus, the Swiss Beza and the Dutch Elzevir; none of whose editions, however, differed greatly from Froben’s Erasmus text. Luther used the 1519 edition of Erasmus for his own translation into German. Among the editions based on Erasmus’ text was one that became the Textus Receptus or the Received Text for Great Britain and the basis for many English versions including the Christian Greek Scripture portion of the King James Version.
How good was this Received Text? There was no question about its being the Word of God. However, it did leave much to be desired as far as accuracy was concerned, and that for more than one good reason. First of all, Erasmus was able to consult only a handful of Greek manuscripts.* Even more serious was the fact that all of these were of late origin. As a rule, the older a handwritten manuscript is, the fewer copying errors it is likely to have. Then there was also the matter of the haste with which Erasmus did his work. He himself admitted that his edition was “rushed through rather than edited.”
In spite of these unfavorable aspects of the editions by Erasmus, which applied with almost equal force to the Received Text, this text remained the standard for more than two hundred years. Among the first to bring out his own text was the German scholar Griesbach; although it is said that he did not rid himself entirely of the influence of the Received Text.
The first one to do so was Lachmann, a professor of ancient classical languages at Berlin University. As one authority put it, Lachmann “was the first to found a text, wholly upon ancient evidence; and . . . did much toward breaking the superstitious reverence for the textus receptus.” After him came Tischendorf, a truly outstanding scholar who discovered the Sinaitic Manuscript in a monastery on the Sinai Peninsula. While Tischendorf was busy in Germany, Tregelles did very fine work in England, bringing out a text that J. B. Rotherham used for the first two editions of his Emphasised Bible.
WESTCOTT AND HORT
All this activity of refining reached its peak in the labors of two British Bible scholars, B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort. Like Tischendorf and Tregelles, these men were firm believers in the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. This fact no doubt helped to account for both their zeal as well as their sound judgment.
Westcott and Hort worked on their Greek text for twenty-eight years, from 1853 to 1881. While working independently of each other, they continually compared notes. “They gathered up in themselves,” as A. Souter puts it, “all that was most valuable in the work of their predecessors.” They took every conceivable factor and every pertinent probability into consideration.
Their work has been termed “the most important contribution to the scientific criticism of the New Testament yet made.” Rotherham used it for his later editions, speaking of Westcott and Hort as “consummate masters of textual criticism.” Goodspeed states in the preface of An American Translation (1923):
“I have closely followed the Greek Text of Westcott and Hort, now generally accepted. Every scholar knows its superiority to the late and faulty texts from which the early English translations from Tyndale to the Authorized Version were made.” The text of Westcott and Hort also served as the foundation of the Greek Scripture portion of the American Standard Version (1901) and the Revised Standard Version (1946).
The translators of the Revised Standard Version also used a still later, very authoritative text, that of Nestle, which text the New World Bible Translation Committee also consulted. That Committee, as can be seen from their footnotes, made comparisons with many other fine texts, both in Greek and in other languages. For example, they consulted nineteen Hebrew versions of the Christian Greek Scriptures that served as a basis for their using the divine name Jehovah in many places in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
The Westcott and Hort Greek text is now available to all Bible lovers in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures. One of the latest products of the New World Bible Translation Committee, it was released in 1969 at the “Peace on Earth” International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
This scholarly work has on each page a wide column and a narrow one. In the wide column to the left there appears the Westcott and Hort text and under each Greek word the English equivalent, a word-for-word translation. In the narrow right-hand column appears an improved text of the 1961 New World Translation. This Kingdom Interlinear Translation also contains much valuable information in its introduction and appendix, and regarding the Greek language itself on the front and back endsheets.
The foregoing accounts for many of the differences between the New World Translation and the King James Version and other old versions. The more striking differences consist of things appearing in the older versions that are not found in the later ones or that are shown only in footnotes. Why is that? Because most copyists’ errors are additions to the text rather than omissions. Thus Bible scholars today agree that the last twelve verses of the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20) and the first eleven verses of the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John 8:1-11 were not part of the original writings. And neither were the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth,” which are found at 1 John 5:7, 8 in the Douay and the King James versions.
THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES
The Hebrew Scriptures were produced by God’s penmen from the time of Moses to Ezra’s time. Today none of the original writings are known to be in existence; only copies of copies. However, from the beginning great care was exercised in their preservation, including authorized copies of them.
Because the Jews became a widely scattered people, from the time of their return from Babylon there was an increased demand for copies of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. Such handwritten copies continued to be made particularly until the invention of printing from movable type in Gutenberg’s time. Today in various libraries of the world there are 1,700 handwritten copies of various parts of the Hebrew Scriptures. Until recently there were no copies, save a few fragments, older than the tenth century. But starting with the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, many far older Hebrew Scripture scrolls have come to light. The most valuable of these is the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, which, as already noted, experts date as being written before our Common Era.
The men who copied these manuscripts from the time of Ezra to the time of Jesus were the scribes or sopherim. These men felt compelled at times to make changes in the text, as when they thought the text implied some indignity to Jehovah God. Their successors were the Masoretes, the “lords of tradition.” These were exceedingly scrupulous and not only refrained from changing anything but were careful to restore the changes that the sopherim made, in particular restoring the divine name Jehovah. The earliest and most reliable Masoretic manuscript that has been made available to modern Bible scholars is the Ben Asher Masoretic text of about 930 C.E.
This is the text that one of the leading Hebrew scholars of the twentieth century, Rudolf Kittel, and his associates and successors used in producing the third and later editions of the Biblia Hebraica. Its 7th, 8th and 9th editions (1951-1955) were used by the New World Bible Translation Committee in producing their version of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Committee also consulted other fine Hebrew texts, especially that of the eminent scholar D. Ginsburg, following his text as the main reading in a number of places.
The New World Bible Translation Committee also used for purposes of comparison leading earliest translated texts. The most important of these is the Greek Septuagint. It began to be produced in 280 B.C.E., reputedly by seventy scholars, from which fact it got its name. It is the version that was mainly used by the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures, as can be seen from both their direct and indirect quotations.
The Committee also consulted the leading Latin version, Jerome’s Vulgate. He translated it from the original languages into the then common language of the people, for which reason it was called the Vulgate or “vulgar” version. Published at the beginning of the 5th century C.E., it also is referred to many times in the footnotes of the first and 1963 editions of the New World Translation.
Also consulted and deserving mention are the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Aramaic Targums. The Samaritan Pentateuch is actually a transliteration rather than a translation. That is, the Hebrew words were simply put in the characters of the Samaritan alphabet, making it possible for Samaritans to read but not necessarily understand it. It was produced during the fourth century B.C.E., although extant copies go back only to the tenth century C.E. The Aramaic Targums were the earliest translations, or more correctly stated, paraphrases of Bible books. But they were first put in writing at the beginning of the Common Era, until then being transmitted only by word of mouth.
The scholarly basis for the renderings found in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, as noted in the foregoing, gives confidence in the accuracy of this translation. Further giving us confidence in it is the fact that the members of the New World Bible Translation Committee firmly believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible, knowing that it is indeed the Word of God and that “the saying of Jehovah endures forever.”—1 Pet. 1:25.
Of these there may have been as few as five; at the most eight. These, however. did not consist of the complete Christian Greek Scriptures but rather of one or more sections into which these Scriptures were generally divided for copying by hand: (1) the Gospels, (2) Acts and the general letters of James through Jude, (3) the letters of Paul, (4) Revelation.