Part 2—Spiritual Gems From the Christian Greek Scriptures
The New Reference Bible
IN THE Watchtower issue of November 1, 1985, consideration was given to the 1984 edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References. It was shown that in this publication Jehovah’s anointed remnant, loyal to their stewardship of the Holy Scriptures, have provided a faithful translation of the Bible as well as supportive references for use in a worldwide spiritual education program. The first article dealt mainly with the Hebrew Scriptures. This second article will consider how the Reference Bible offers further choice spiritual gems in the Christian Greek section of the Bible.
In its introduction (page 7, column 1, paragraph 4) the Reference Bible says: “Special care was taken in translating Hebrew and Greek verbs in order to capture the simplicity, warmth, character and forcefulness of the original expressions. An effort was made to preserve the flavor of the ancient Hebrew and Greek times, the people’s way of thinking, reasoning and talking, their social dealings, etc.” Let us see how this is so.
Verbs of Continuous Action
The writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures were careful and precise in their choice of words. This is demonstrated in the account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Several times in the original, a form of the verb is used that indicates continuous action, and this is faithfully represented in the translation. Thus, at Matthew 6:33 the New World Translation renders the opening words in this way: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom.” The footnote to the verse suggests an alternative rendering: “Or, ‘Be you seeking.’ . . . The verb form indicates continuous action.”
Most other Bible translations ignore the continuous aspect of this verb. The King James Version, for example, renders it: “Seek ye first the kingdom.” However, such a translation fails to capture the precision of Jesus’ counsel. He did not imply that we should seek the Kingdom once or twice and then go on to other things. Rather, we should seek it continuously. It should always be first in our lives.
In Matthew 7:7 Jesus used this continuous form three times in this one verse, with emphatic meaning: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you.” These careful Bible renderings provide gems of truth that sparkle with consistency.
Skillful Use of Negatives
The Bible writers were skillful in their use of negatives. Notice in the New World Translation the careful rendering of Jesus’ further counsel in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:16 he is recorded as saying: “When you are fasting, stop becoming sad-faced like the hypocrites.” Most other translations render this expression by a simple negative: “When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance.” (KJ) This rendering implies ‘do not start looking sad.’ However, the Bible writer used here a negative command in the present (continuous) tense. In Greek, that has a specific meaning. The action is currently going on and must cease. The New World Translation observes this fine point, which is ignored by most other translations. Note some further examples of such careful translation: “Stop storing up for yourselves treasures.” (Matthew 6:19) “Stop judging that you may not be judged.”—Matthew 7:1.
While considering the subject of negatives, notice the use of negative commands where the Bible writers used the aorist tense. In Greek, this tense indicates that the actions are prohibited at any given moment or time. Hence, Jesus told his hearers: “So, never be anxious [that is, do not be anxious at any moment] about the next day.” (Matthew 6:34) Here again, most translations use some form of simple negative such as, “Do not be anxious.” (The New English Bible) However, such a translation misses the full force of the original. The Bible’s emphatic language is similarly preserved for us in the phrase: “Never be anxious and say, ‘What are we to eat?’” (Matthew 6:31) These are a few jewels of careful translation.
Participate in Christian Activity
Often the alternative renderings of verbs that are found in the footnotes of the Reference Bible reveal new shades of meaning in a Bible verse. Take for example Paul’s counsel to the Philippians found at Philippians 1:27: “Only behave in a manner worthy of the good news about the Christ.” This is similar to the rendering found in other translations. For example, the New International Version reads: “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And The New English Bible says: “Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” However, in the Reference Bible there is a footnote to the word “behave” that opens up a much deeper understanding of what that counsel would have meant to the Philippians. The footnote gives an alternative rendering of the word “behave”: “Or, ‘carry on as citizens.’”
The Greek word that is here translated “behave” is derived from a word meaning “citizen.” The Philippians were to participate as “citizens” in declaring the good news. It must be remembered that Roman citizens generally took an active part in the affairs of the State, and Roman citizenship was highly prized—particularly, as in the case of Philippi, by cities outside Italy whose inhabitants had been granted citizenship by Rome. So, as the Reference Bible footnote helps us to understand, Paul is here telling Christians that they must not be inactive, merely nominal Christians. They must also participate in Christian activity, thereby proving themselves worthy of the good news. This deeper understanding is in harmony with Paul’s later words to the Philippians: “As for us, our citizenship exists in the heavens.”—Philippians 3:20.
Abraham “Attempted to Offer Up” Isaac
As observed previously, a clearer understanding is possible when the Greek verbs are carefully rendered into English. Consider the important text at Hebrews 11:17. The King James Version renders this verse as follows: “Abraham when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he . . . offered up his only begotten son.” From that rendering, one would think that the verb “offered up” appeared in the same way in both instances in the Greek.
However, the Greek verb form differs in these two occurrences. In the first case, the verb “offer up” is in the perfect (completed) tense, whereas the second “offer up” is in the imperfect (past continuous) form. These verb tenses have many subtle meanings in Greek, and the New World Translation endeavors to bring them out by its rendering of the text: “Abraham, when he was tested, as good as offered up Isaac, and the man . . . attempted to offer up his only-begotten son.” There is a footnote to the first occurrence of the verb that gives an alternative rendering: “Or, ‘Abraham, when being tried, has (as it were) offered.’” And a footnote to the second verb suggests a second way that this verb in the imperfect form could be expressed: “Or, ‘proceeded.’” Thus, the verse could read: “The man . . . proceeded to offer up.” In this way, the Greek verb indicates that the action was intended or attempted but not carried out to completion. This is in harmony with what actually happened.—Genesis 22:9-14.
The “Wall in Between”
The footnotes in the Reference Bible also provide helpful information taken from other works of Bible scholarship. Consider, for example, Paul’s use of the term “wall in between,” found at Ephesians 2:14. The Reference Bible footnote reads: “An allusion to the wall in the area of the temple that fenced off the unsanctified Gentile worshipers from entering the inner courtyards that were open only to the sanctified Jewish worshipers. According to the Mishnah (translated by Danby, 1950, p. 592), the stone barrier was called ‘the Soreg.’ This wall was said to be 1.3 m (4.3 ft) high. See App 9F.”
Paul nicely argues in the context of Ephesians 2:14 that this “wall in between,” the Soreg in Herod’s temple of Jesus’ day, pictured the prior legal separation between Jews and Gentiles by reason of the Law covenant made through Moses. But now this wall that separates, the Law covenant, has been put away because of Christ’s sacrifice, which has sanctifying power to cleanse even Gentiles. (Colossians 2:13-15) Since 36 C.E., when believing Gentiles were joined to the congregation of Christian Jews, such Gentiles became anointed and sanctified ones as part of the spiritual “Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) These Gentiles, now cleansed, were also a part of the heavenly sanctuary class, pictured by those who walked in the inner courtyards of the temple. No more were the Gentile Christians handicapped in their relationship to Jehovah by being confined to the outer courtyard known as the Court of the Gentiles.
Declaring the Good News “From House to House”
Many have criticized Jehovah’s Witnesses for their global, effective house-to-house preaching work. Yet, there is a clear pattern set by the apostles and early Christians. In Acts 5:42, we read of their activity: “Every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news.”
There is a comment in the footnote of the Reference Bible about the phrase “from house to house.” Here is what it says: “Lit., ‘according to house.’ Gr[eek], kat’ oiʹkon. Here ka·taʹ is used with the accusative sing[ular] in the distributive sense. R. C. H. Lenski, in his work The Interpretation of The Acts of the Apostles, Minneapolis (1961), made the following comment on Ac 5:42: ‘Never for a moment did the apostles cease their blessed work. “Every day” they continued, and this openly “in the Temple” where the Sanhedrin and the Temple police could see and hear them, and, of course, also [kat’ oiʹkon], which is distributive, “from house to house,” and not merely adverbial, “at home.”’”
Helpful Marginal References
When reading the Scriptures, one often finds that the Bible writer is quoting a passage from another part of the Scriptures or making an allusion to another passage in the Bible. In such cases, the Reference Bible can be very helpful. Its system of marginal references directs the student to other places where the subject is mentioned.
Consider Jesus’ encounter with his Adversary, Satan, recorded at Matthew 4:3-11. In Mt 4 verse 4 Jesus counters Satan’s first temptation by saying: “It is written, ‘Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.’” The reference indicates that Jesus was here quoting a scripture, found in our Bibles in Deuteronomy 8:3. Satan presented Jesus with a second temptation, trying to support it by asserting: “It is written, ‘He will give his angels a charge concerning you, and they will carry you on their hands, that you may at no time strike your foot against a stone.’” Where did Satan find those words? The marginal reference directs the student to Psalm 91:11, 12. Yes, Satan was quoting scripture, acting as “an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14) Jesus replied, “Again it is written, ‘You must not put Jehovah your God to the test.’” This also was a scripture quotation, but correctly applied. From where was it quoted? The marginal reference points us to Deuteronomy 6:16. When tempted for the third time, Jesus again quoted scripture. From where? From Deuteronomy 6:13, according to the marginal reference. Many other similarly helpful services are rendered by the 125,000 marginal references found in the Reference Bible.
From these samples one can see that the new Reference Bible heightens the beauty of the New World Translation by revealing its many accurate renderings of spiritual truths.