Loyally Upholding God’s Inspired Word
“We have renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed, not walking with cunning, neither adulterating the word of God.”—2 CORINTHIANS 4:2.
IN HIS great prophecy regarding the time of his royal presence and the conclusion of the old system of things, Jesus Christ foretold: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” He also instructed his followers: “Make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20) The fulfillment of those prophecies involves much work in translating and printing the Bible, in teaching people what it means, and in helping them to apply it in their lives. What a privilege to share in such activity! Already by 1914 the Bible or some portion of it had been published in 570 languages. But since then hundreds more languages and numerous dialects have been added, and in many languages more than one translation has been made available.*
2. What varied motives have influenced the work of Bible translators and publishers?
2 It is a challenge for any translator to take material in one language and make it understandable to those reading and hearing another language. Some Bible translators have done their work with a keen awareness that what they were translating was the Word of God. Others have simply been fascinated by the scholastic challenge of the project. They may have viewed the contents of the Bible as merely a valuable cultural heritage. For some, religion is their business, and getting into print a book that bears their name as translator or publisher is part of making a living. Their motives obviously influence how they go about their work.
3. How did the New World Bible Translation Committee view its work?
3 Noteworthy is this statement made by the New World Bible Translation Committee: “Translating the Holy Scriptures means rendering into another language the thoughts and sayings of Jehovah God . . . That is a very sobering thought. The translators of this work, who fear and love the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures, feel toward Him a special responsibility to transmit his thoughts and declarations as accurately as possible. They also feel a responsibility toward the searching readers who depend upon a translation of the inspired Word of the Most High God for their everlasting salvation. It was with such a sense of solemn responsibility that over the course of many years this committee of dedicated men have produced the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.” The goal of the committee was to have a translation of the Bible that would be clear and understandable and that would hold so closely to the original Hebrew and Greek that it would provide a foundation for continued growth in accurate knowledge.
What Has Happened to the Name of God?
4. How important is the name of God in the Bible?
4 One of the principal objectives of the Bible is to help people come to know the true God. (Exodus 20:2-7; 34:1-7; Isaiah 52:6) Jesus Christ taught his followers to pray that his Father’s name “be sanctified,” be held sacred, or treated as holy. (Matthew 6:9) God had his personal name included in the Bible more than 7,000 times. He wants people to know that name and the qualities of the One who bears it.—Malachi 1:11.
5. How have various translators presented the divine name?
5 Many Bible translators have shown sincere respect for the divine name and have used it consistently in their work. Some translators favor Yahweh. Others have chosen a form of the divine name that is adapted to their own language while still clearly identified with what appears in the Hebrew text, possibly a form that is well-known through long use. The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures uses Jehovah 7,210 times in its main text.
6. (a) In recent years, what have translators done with references to the divine name? (b) How widespread is this practice?
6 In recent years, although Bible translators retain the names of such pagan deities as Baal and Molech, with increasing frequency they are removing the personal name of the true God from translations of his inspired Word. (Exodus 3:15; Jeremiah 32:35) In such passages as Matthew 6:9 and John 17:6, 26, a widely distributed Albanian version renders the Greek expression for “the name of you” (that is, the name of God) as simply “you,” as if those texts made no mention of a name. At Psalm 83:18, The New English Bible and Today’s English Version eliminate both God’s personal name and any reference to the fact that God has a name. Although the divine name appeared in older translations of the Hebrew Scriptures in most languages, newer translations often eliminate it or relegate it to a marginal notation. This is the case in English, as well as in many languages of Europe, Africa, South America, India, and the islands of the Pacific.
7. (a) How are the translators of some African Bibles dealing with the divine name? (b) How do you feel about that?
7 Translators of the Bible into some African languages are going a step further. Instead of just replacing the divine name with a Scriptural title, such as God or Lord, they are inserting names taken from local religious beliefs. In The New Testament and Psalms in Zulu (1986 version), the title God (uNkulunkulu) was used interchangeably with a personal name (uMvelinqangi) that Zulus understand to refer to ‘the great ancestor who is worshiped through human ancestors.’ An article in the magazine The Bible Translator, of October 1992, reported that in preparing the Chichewa Bible that is to be called Buku Loyera, translators were using Chauta as a personal name to take the place of Jehovah. Chauta, the article explained, is “the God they’ve always known and worshipped.” Yet, many of these people also worship what they believe to be spirits of the dead. Is it true that if people make petitions to a “Supreme Being,” then whatever name they use for the “Supreme Being” is a valid equivalent for the personal name Jehovah, regardless of what else their worship may involve? Definitely not! (Isaiah 42:8; 1 Corinthians 10:20) Replacing God’s personal name with something that makes people feel that their traditional beliefs are actually right does not help them to draw closer to the true God.
8. Why has God’s purpose to have his name made known not been frustrated?
8 All of this has neither changed nor frustrated Jehovah’s purpose to have his name made known. In the languages of Europe, Africa, the Americas, the Orient, and the islands of the sea, there are still in circulation many Bibles that include the divine name. There are also upwards of 5,400,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 233 countries and territories who collectively devote more than a billion hours a year to telling others about the name and purpose of the true God. They print and distribute Bibles—ones using the divine name—in languages spoken by some 3,600,000,000 of the earth’s population, including English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Dutch. They also print aids to Bible study in languages that are known by the vast majority of earth’s population. Soon God himself will take action in a way that will decisively fulfill his declaration that the nations “will have to know that [he is] Jehovah.”—Ezekiel 38:23.
When Personal Beliefs Shape the Translation
9. How does the Bible indicate the serious responsibility that rests on those who handle God’s Word?
9 A serious responsibility rests on those who translate God’s Word as well as on those who teach it. The apostle Paul said regarding his ministry and that of his associates: “We have renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed, not walking with cunning, neither adulterating the word of God, but by making the truth manifest recommending ourselves to every human conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2) To adulterate means to corrupt by mixing in something foreign or inferior. The apostle Paul was not like the unfaithful shepherds of Israel in the days of Jeremiah who were reproved by Jehovah because they preached their own ideas instead of what God said. (Jeremiah 23:16, 22) But what has taken place in modern times?
10. (a) How have motives other than loyalty to God influenced some translators in modern times? (b) What role were they improperly assuming?
10 During World War II, a committee of theologians and pastors cooperated with the Nazi government in Germany to produce a revised “New Testament” that eliminated all favorable references to the Jews and all indications of the Jewish ancestry of Jesus Christ. More recently, translators who produced The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version leaned in a different direction, endeavoring to purge all indications that the Jews bore responsibility in connection with the death of Christ. Those translators also felt that feminist readers would be happier if God was spoken of, not as the Father, but as Father-Mother and if Jesus was said to be, not God’s Son, but his Child. (Matthew 11:27) While they were at it, they removed the principle of subjection of wives to husbands and obedience of children to parents. (Colossians 3:18, 20) Producers of those translations clearly did not share the apostle Paul’s determination not to ‘adulterate the word of God.’ They were losing sight of the role of translator, taking the position of author, producing books that used the reputation of the Bible as a means to advocate their own opinions.
11. How do the teachings of Christendom conflict with what the Bible says about the soul and death?
11 The churches of Christendom generally teach that the human soul is spirit, that it leaves the body at death, and that it is immortal. In contrast, older Bible translations in most languages clearly state that humans are souls, that animals are souls, and that the soul dies. (Genesis 12:5; 36:6; Numbers 31:28; James 5:20) That has embarrassed the clergy.
12. In what way do some recent versions obscure basic Bible truths?
12 Now some newer versions obscure these truths. How? They simply avoid a direct translation of the Hebrew noun neʹphesh (soul) in certain texts. At Genesis 2:7, they may say that the first man “began to live” (instead of “came to be a living soul”). Or they may refer to “creature” instead of “soul” in the case of animal life. (Genesis 1:21) In such texts as Ezekiel 18:4, 20, they refer to “the person” or “the individual” (rather than “the soul”) as dying. Such renderings are, perhaps, justifiable to the translator. But how much help do they give to the sincere seeker of truth whose thinking has already been conditioned by Christendom’s unscriptural teachings?*
13. By what means have some Bible versions concealed God’s purpose regarding the earth?
13 In an effort to support their belief that all good people go to heaven, translators—or theologians who review their work—may also endeavor to conceal what the Bible says about God’s purpose for the earth. At Psalm 37:11, a number of versions read that the humble will possess “the land.” “Land” is a possible rendering of the word (ʼeʹrets) used in the Hebrew text. However, Today’s English Version (which has provided the basis for translations into many other languages) goes further. Although this version renders the Greek word ge as “earth” 17 times in the Gospel of Matthew, at Matthew 5:5 it replaces “earth” with the phrase “what God has promised.” Church members naturally think of heaven. They are not honestly being informed that, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ said that the mild-tempered, meek, or humble ones will “inherit the earth.”
14. What selfish motivation is evident in certain Bible versions?
14 Some translations of the Scriptures are obviously worded with a view to helping preachers to get a good salary. It is true that the Bible states: “The workman is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18) But at 1 Timothy 5:17, where it says that older men who preside in a fine way are to be “reckoned worthy of double honor,” the only honor that some of them view as worth mentioning is monetary. (Compare 1 Peter 5:2.) Thus, The New English Bible says that these elders “should be reckoned worthy of a double stipend,” and the Contemporary English Version says that they “deserve to be paid twice as much.”
Loyally Upholding God’s Word
15. How can we determine which Bible translations to quote?
15 What does all of this mean for the individual Bible reader and for those who use the Bible to teach others? In most of the widely used languages, there is more than one Bible translation from which to choose. Show discernment in the selection of the Bible you use. (Proverbs 19:8) If a translation is not honest about the identity of God himself—removing his name from his inspired Word on whatever pretext—might the translators also have tampered with other parts of the Bible text? When in doubt about the validity of a rendering, endeavor to compare it with older translations. If you are a teacher of God’s Word, favor the versions that hold closely to what is in the original Hebrew and Greek text.
16. How can we individually demonstrate loyalty in our use of God’s inspired Word?
16 All of us should individually be loyal to God’s Word. We do that by caring enough about what it contains so that, if possible, we spend some time every day reading the Bible. (Psalm 1:1-3) We do it by applying fully in our own lives what it says, learning to use its principles and examples as the basis for making sound decisions. (Romans 12:2; Hebrews 5:14) We show that we are loyal advocates of God’s Word by zealously preaching it to others. We also do it as teachers by using the Bible carefully, never twisting it or stretching what it says to fit our ideas. (2 Timothy 2:15) What God has foretold will unfailingly take place. He is loyal in fulfilling his Word. May we be loyal in upholding it.
United Bible Societies in 1997 listed 2,167 languages and dialects in which the Bible, the whole or in part, has been published. This figure includes many dialects of some languages.
This discussion focuses on languages that have the capacity to make the issue clear but in which translators choose not to do so. Available vocabulary severely limits what translators can do in certain languages. Honest religious instructors, then, will explain that even though the translator used a variety of terms or even if he used a term having unscriptural overtones, the original-language term, neʹphesh, is applied to both humans and animals and represents something that breathes, eats, and can die.
Do You Remember?
□ What motives have shaped the work of Bible translators in modern times?
□ Why have modern translation trends not frustrated God’s purpose regarding his own name?
□ How do some translations obscure Bible truths about the soul, death, and the earth?
□ In what ways can we show that we loyally uphold God’s Word?
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Which Bible translation should you use?