Part 1—Modern Stewardship of God’s Sacred Word
The New Reference Bible
JEHOVAH’S faithful servants in all ages have relied on the accurate recording and transmission of God’s inspired written Word. During the 1,500 years that the nation of Israel was under the Law covenant, about 30 Israelite penmen were used to record God’s Word in what became the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures. One of these penmen, Moses, indicated that these sacred ‘revealed things’ were entrusted to the Israelites as part of their divine education as God’s “holy nation.” (Deuteronomy 29:29; Exodus 19:6) Jesus alluded to the Jews as being the custodians of Scriptural knowledge when he said: “Salvation originates with the Jews.” (John 4:22; Luke 11:52) Paul the apostle confirmed that the Jews “were entrusted with the sacred pronouncements of God.”—Romans 3:2.
During the centuries preceding our Common Era, the Israelites were a literate people. Trained scribes among them produced scrolls containing highly accurate copies of the Sacred Scriptures that then existed, and these were widely distributed both in Palestine itself and among the Jews and proselytes scattered throughout the nations.—1 Chronicles 2:55; Acts 8:4, 27, 28.
A significant event worthy of being noted in the Divine Record occurred in 29 C.E., when Jesus was baptized and became Jehovah’s Anointed One, or Messiah. Thereafter, he proved to be the foremost publisher of sacred truth. (Matthew 4:4, 10, 17) Although Jesus personally did no Bible writing, his words were later written down on scrolls by his loyal disciples under inspiration of the holy spirit. (John 16:13) On the day of Pentecost of 33 C.E., after his resurrection and ascension, Jesus began to organize a new congregation made up of believing Israelites and proselytes. (Acts 2:1-11) Soon, Samaritans and Gentiles were invited to become part of it. Members of this growing international, yet united, congregation came to be called Christians and formed the new spiritual “Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16; Acts 11:26) This new organization was entrusted with publishing spiritual truth, and Jesus called it “the faithful and discreet slave.”—Matthew 24:45-47; Luke 12:42-44.
In time, eight Jewish members of this congregation were inspired to produce an additional 27 books, this time writing mainly in Greek. (2 Peter 3:15, 16) Thus, the Divine Library’s official catalog of Bible books increased to 66, penned by about 40 inspired natural Jews. Early Christians were eager to publish the Word of God, and Paul reports that in his day the good news had been “preached in all creation that is under heaven.” (Colossians 1:23) Paul also explained that Christians were the new stewards entrusted with “the greatly diversified wisdom of God”—referring not only to the inspired books themselves but also to their message.—Ephesians 3:10.
Bible translator Edgar Goodspeed, in his book Christianity Goes to Press (1940), showed that this zeal to publish lasted well into the second century of our Common Era: “All this presents a picture of the early Christians quite unlike that usually offered by historians. They were to an unusual extent a book-buying and book-reading people. They were also a translating and publishing people. . . . [In 140 C.E.] Christian publishers . . . resorted to the leaf-book form, the codex, and found it so practical . . . and convenient that it became their characteristic book form.”
What about spiritual Israel in our times? True to what Jesus said, his followers have been doing even greater works than he himself did. (John 14:12) Records show that from 1879 to 1984 Jehovah’s modern-day witnesses have distributed more than 8.8 billion tracts, pamphlets, magazines, Bibles, and Bible study aids, all containing spiritual instruction for the world public.
In what other way has the modern “faithful and discreet slave,” assisted since 1935 by “a great crowd” of “other sheep,” acted as the modern steward of the Sacred Scriptures? (Revelation 7:9, 10; John 10:16) Over the past hundred years, members of the anointed remnant have kept abreast of the discoveries of early Bible manuscripts. Eventually an anonymous committee of anointed Witnesses of Jehovah produced, between 1950 and 1960, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in English. This was a completely new translation, untouched and unfettered by Christendom’s religious traditions.
In this way the fine fabric of inspired words written thousands of years ago in languages not read by most people today was made available in a new, fresh way. The original printings of the New World Translation also contained helpful footnotes and appendixes, which the New Catholic Encyclopedia of 1967 described as “an impressive critical apparatus.” In time, the New World Translation was made available in several other languages to facilitate accurate Bible study internationally.
At the “Kingdom Increase” District Conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses, held in the summer of 1984, a new edition of the New World Translation with references was released in English. This contains not only a revision of the New World Translation text but also 125,000 marginal, or cross, references, as an aid in Bible study. Additionally, there are more than 11,400 enlightening footnotes, containing vital textual information as well as alternate renderings, that make this Reference Bible, in effect, a multiversion translation. There are indexes of Bible and footnote words, and 43 Appendix sections giving important information about the transmission of the text and Bible authenticity. Truly, this new Reference Bible makes up-to-date Bible scholarship available to the student of the Sacred Scriptures.
Earth wide, the Watch Tower Society has a large staff of loyal, careful translators who are busy at this time preparing versions of the Reference Bible in other principal languages. As a person makes use of its several reference systems, he will enjoy learning why various Bible texts need to be rendered in certain ways so as to be accurate. Consider some examples.
The Name Jehovah
The value of the footnotes and the appendix sections in the Reference Bible is seen in connection with the divine name, Jehovah. This name first appears at Genesis 2:4, and here is what a footnote to that verse says: “The first occurrence of God’s distinctive personal name, יהוה (YHWH); these four Heb[rew] letters are referred to as the Tetragrammaton. The divine name identifies Jehovah as the Purposer. Only the true God could rightly and authentically bear this name. See App 1A.”
Turning to Appendix 1A, we find the title: “The Divine Name in the Hebrew Scriptures.” Under this title, the appendix shows that the New World Translation renders YHWH as Jehovah all 6,827 times that it occurs in the traditional Hebrew text. It also adds 146 warranted restorations, making a grand total of 6,973 times that the name Jehovah appears from Genesis to Malachi. No other Bible translation gives this rightful place to Jehovah’s name. That alone makes the New World Translation superior to all others.
People of the Nations Must Make Active Response
The New World Translation gives serious consideration to preserving verb forms so as to increase accurate understanding. For example, in Genesis 22:18 we read: “By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” There is an asterisk beside the phrase “will certainly bless themselves,” referring us to a footnote that says: “The Heb[rew] verb is in the reflexive, or hith·pa·‘elʹ form.”
Most Bible translations render these words in a way similar to the King James Version, which says: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Incorrectly, such renderings convey the idea that Jehovah’s blessing will come automatically, whereas the Hebrew form here indicates that the people of the nations must “bless themselves.” They must make the effort to meet Jehovah’s requirements in order to receive his blessings through faith in the Messianic Seed, Jesus Christ.
This has great meaning for us today. Members of the “great crowd” must take positive steps in order to gain life. By means of actively exercising their faith in Jesus Christ, ‘they wash their robes in the blood of the lamb.’—Revelation 7:14.
The Numbering of the Ten Commandments
The New World Translation footnotes give helpful information as to why differences exist between it and some other translations and why its renderings are reliable. For example, what is the proper way of dividing the text of the Ten Commandments? These commandments are found in the Bible in Exodus 20:1-17. In the Reference Bible, each separate commandment is written as a separate paragraph. Thus, the first commandment takes in Ex 20 verses 2 and 3. The second is covered in Ex 20 verses 4 to 6. The third is found in Ex 20 verse 7, and so forth. Not all would agree with this way of dividing the commandments. Hence, how do we know that it is correct?
A footnote to Exodus 20:17 gives this explanation: “This division of the Ten Commandments, Ex 20 vss 2-17, is the natural division. It agrees with the first-century C.E. Jewish historian Josephus . . . who divide[d] off Ex 20 vs 3 as the first commandment, Ex 20 vss 4-6 as the second commandment and Ex 20 vs 17, which forbids all covetousness, as the tenth commandment. Others, including Augustine, consider Ex 20 vss 3-6 as one commandment but divide Ex 20 vs 17 into two commandments, the ninth against coveting a fellowman’s house and the tenth against coveting his living possessions . . . Augustine’s division has been adopted by the Roman Catholic religious system.” However, the New World Translation follows the “natural division” of Exodus chapter 20 as presented above. Thus the prohibition against making and bowing down to images receives due emphasis as the second commandment.
Added Portions From the Septuagint
In preparing the New World Translation, editions of the Greek Septuagint, the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate and several other early manuscripts were examined. For example, observe Habakkuk 2:4. In the second half of this verse, the main text reads: “But as for the righteous one, by his faithfulness he will keep living.” This represents what appears in the traditional Hebrew text. However, the footnote to these words indicates that the Greek Septuagint translation contains additional material not found in the Hebrew text: “If anyone shrinks back my soul . . . has no pleasure in him.” This is of interest when we note that the apostle Paul quoted from Habakkuk 2:4, writing in his letter to the Hebrews: “‘But my righteous one will live by reason of faith,’ and, ‘if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’” (Hebrews 10:38) Hence, Paul’s quotation included the additional words found in the Septuagint version.
This reminds us of the fact that Paul and other writers of the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures often used the Septuagint version when quoting from earlier inspired writings. Since this version varies in some places from the traditional Hebrew text, their quotations sometimes contain material that is not found in the Hebrew text (as in the above example). In using this variant material, the Christian Bible writers made it part of the inspired record, and in such cases the footnotes in the Reference Bible are an invaluable aid in identifying the sources of quotations.
The above are only a few examples of the thousands of footnotes available in the Hebrew Scriptures section of the new Reference Bible. All these references support the accuracy and clarity of the New World Translation and its value in promoting Bible education. In the next issue of The Watchtower, interesting footnote information taken from the Christian Greek Scriptures, as found in the new Reference Bible, will be presented. Truly, there proves to be a modern stewardship of God’s Sacred Word.