Questions From Readers
◼ Why is the phrase “which is in heaven” omitted from John 3:13 in the New World Translation and some other versions?
In older translations of the Bible John 3:13 reads something like this: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” (Authorized Version, italics added) But it has been debated whether Jesus actually uttered the expression printed in italics.
Contextually, Jesus was explaining that it was difficult for the Jewish ruler Nicodemus to understand about heavenly things. However, Jesus himself understood these matters, having come down from heaven. Do you think it is reasonable that Jesus would then have said that he ‘was then in heaven’?
Persons who believe that Jesus was part of a triune deity have held that this expression fits here and merely reflects Jesus’ two natures, human and divine. This would imply that while Jesus was on earth as a man he was still part of a heavenly godhead. And persons holding such a view might point to some ancient Greek manuscripts, or early versions that include the words, as serving as the basis for including them in newer translations too.
However, many ancient Greek manuscripts do not include this phrase. These include the respected Sinaitic Manuscript and the Vatican Manuscript No. 1209, both of the fourth century. Thus, the questionable words were rejected by scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort in preparing their master Greek text, upon which the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was based. Similarly, the words are omitted from The Greek New Testament (3rd edition, 1975) by the United Bible Society. Commenting on this fact, Dr. Bruce M. Metzger writes: “The majority of the Committee, impressed by the quality of the external attestation supporting the shorter reading [which omits the phrase], regarded the words [“which is in heaven”] as an interpretative gloss, reflecting later Christological development.” That is to say, the words evidently were added by a copyist at a later time, perhaps after the doctrine of a triune god had been absorbed from non-Christian religions.
With good reason, then, many modern translations of the Bible omit the words or relegate them to a footnote. Examples of these are: Today’s English Version, The Riverside New Testament, New American Standard and Revised Standard as well as the translations by James Moffatt, Edgar J. Goodspeed, R. A. Knox and J. B. Phillips.
◼ Was Paul referring to the Jews or to the Gentiles when he said at Romans 1:25 that some “rendered sacred service to the creation rather than the One who created”?
This description could apply to either Jews or non-Jews, for both had been guilty of this. Yet the apostle Paul’s argument in Romans chapter one was particularly about apostate Israel of old.
Creation abundantly testified to the existence of an Almighty God and Creator. It would have been inexcusable even for Gentiles to worship images made in the likeness of some animal, but God had specifically warned the Israelites against idolatry and thus they were more inexcusable.—Romans 1:18-23; Deuteronomy 4:15-19; 5:8, 9.
Still, the Israelites often ignored the truth they knew about God and worshiped “the creation rather than the One who created.” (Romans 1:24, 25) For example, they sinned with the goddess Ashtoreth (represented as a nude female with exaggerated sex organs) and with golden calves. (1 Kings 11:5, 33; 12:26-28; 2 Kings 10:28, 29) This even led them into degraded sexual practices and ungodly dispositions. Hence, these apostate Israelites who knew “the righteous decree of God” about such sins were clearly reprehensible and needed to exercise faith in Christ’s ransom.—Romans 1:26-32.