A Milestone for Lovers of God’s Word
In 1998 a significant milestone was reached for all lovers of God’s Word. During that year, the 100 millionth copy of the “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures” came off the press. It has thus become one of the most widely distributed Bibles produced in this century!
THIS feat is particularly remarkable considering that upon its release, this translation was subjected to severe criticism. Yet, it has not only survived but thrived, making its way into millions of homes—and hearts—all over the world! What is the origin of this unique translation? Who is behind it? And how might you benefit from using it?
Why a New Translation?
For over a hundred years, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the legal agency representing Jehovah’s Witnesses, has distributed Bibles. Why, though, did Jehovah’s Witnesses see the need to produce another version of God’s Word? The book So Many Versions?, by Sakae Kubo and Walter Specht, observes: “No translation of the Bible can ever be considered final. Translations must keep pace with the growth in biblical scholarship and the changes in language.”
This century has seen considerable growth in the understanding of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic—the languages in which the Bible was originally penned. Also, Bible manuscripts have been discovered that are older and more accurate than those used by previous generations of Bible translators. God’s Word can thus be rendered more accurately today than ever before! It was for good reason, then, that the New World Bible Translation Committee was formed to undertake the translation of the Bible into modern-day languages.
In 1950 the English-language version of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was published. The title itself was a bold departure from tradition, rejecting the designation of the Bible as made up of “Old” and “New” testaments. During the next decade, portions of the Hebrew Scriptures were published in installments. In 1961 the complete Bible in English was released in one volume.
Just who translated this remarkable Bible? The Watchtower of September 15, 1950, said: “The men who compose the translation committee have indicated their desire . . . to remain anonymous, and specifically do not want their names to be published while they are in life or after death. The purpose of the translation is to exalt the name of the living, true God.” Some critics charged that the work should be summarily dismissed as the product of amateurs, but not all took such an unreasonable stance. Writes Alan S. Duthie: “If we know who the translators or the publishers of a particular Bible translation are, does it help us to decide whether that translation is good or bad? Not directly. There is no substitute for examining the characteristics of each translation itself.”*
Millions of readers have done just that and have discovered the New World Translation to be not only readable but scrupulously accurate. Its translators worked from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages, using the best texts available.* Unusual care was also exercised to render the ancient text as literally as possible but in language that would readily be understood. Accordingly, some scholars praised this translation for its integrity and accuracy. For example, the Andover Newton Quarterly of January 1963 said: “The translation of the New Testament is evidence of the presence in the movement of scholars qualified to deal intelligently with the many problems of Biblical translation.”
The translators opened up a new world of Biblical understanding. Bible texts that had previously been only dimly understood became dramatically clear. For example, the perplexing text at Matthew 5:3, “blessed are the poor in spirit” (King James Version), was rendered in a way that made sense: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.” The New World Translation is also quite consistent and uniform in its rendering of key terms. The Greek word psy·kheʹ, for example, was translated “soul” in each of its occurrences. As a result, readers can quickly discern that contrary to religious theories, the soul is not immortal!—Matthew 2:20; Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9; 17:33.
Restoring God’s Name
An outstanding feature of the New World Translation involved the restoration of God’s name, Jehovah. In ancient copies of the Hebrew Bible, the divine name is represented by four consonants that may be transliterated as YHWH or JHVH. This distinctive name appears nearly 7,000 times in the so-called Old Testament alone. (Exodus 3:15; Psalm 83:18) Clearly, our Creator intended his worshipers both to know and to use that name!
However, superstitious fears caused the Jewish people to cease using the divine name. Following the death of Jesus’ apostles, copyists of the Greek Scriptures began replacing God’s personal name with the Greek words Kyʹri·os (Lord) or The·osʹ (God). Sad to say, modern translators have perpetuated this God-dishonoring tradition, eliminating God’s name from most Bibles and even concealing that God has a name. For example, at John 17:6 are Jesus’ words: “I have made your name manifest.” Today’s English Version, however, renders this: “I have made you known.”
Some scholars defend the elimination of the divine name because its exact pronunciation is unknown. However, such familiar Bible names as Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Jesus are routinely rendered in ways that bear little resemblance to their original Hebrew pronunciation. Since the form Jehovah is a legitimate way of rendering the divine name—and one familiar to many people—objections to using it ring hollow.
The New World Bible Translation Committee took the bold step of using the name Jehovah in both the Hebrew and Greek portions of Scripture. They had a precedent for this in early missionary translations for people in Central America, the South Pacific, and the Orient. Such use of God’s name is not merely of academic interest, however. Knowing God’s name is critical to coming to know him as a person. (Exodus 34:6, 7) The New World Translation has encouraged millions of readers to use his name!
Reaching Non-English Readers
Between 1963 and 1989, the New World Translation became available, in whole or in part, in ten additional languages. However, the work of translation was laborious, with some projects lasting 20 years or more. Then, in 1989 the Translation Services Department was established at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Under the direction of the Writing Committee of the Governing Body, this department set out to speed up Bible translation. A method of translation was developed that combined Biblical word study with computer technology. How does this system work?
Once the Writing Committee has approved the translation of the Bible into a new language, it appoints a group of dedicated Christians to serve as a translating team. Teams can produce more balanced translations than can an individual working alone. (Compare Proverbs 11:14.) Generally, each team member has had experience in translating the Society’s publications. The team then receives thorough training in the principles of Bible translation and in the use of specially developed computer programs. A computer does not do actual translation work, but it can give a team access to important information and help them to keep track of their decisions.
A Bible translation project has two stages. During the first stage, the translators are given a list of words and expressions used in the English New World Translation. Related English terms, such as “atone,” “atonement,” and “propitiation,” are grouped together, alerting the translators to subtle shades of meaning. They compile a list of vernacular equivalents. At times, though, a translator may have difficulty rendering a verse. The computer research system provides the translator with information on Greek and Hebrew terms and gives access to Watch Tower publications.
When the project moves into its second stage, the selected vernacular terms are automatically inserted into the Bible text. This builds considerable accuracy and consistency into the translation. However, the text resulting from this “search and replace” operation is hardly readable. Considerable work must be done to edit and rephrase Bible verses so that they read smoothly.
This translation system has proved to be remarkably effective. One group was able to translate the entire Hebrew Scriptures in just two years. Compare this to a group that worked on a related language without computer support. It took them 16 years. To date, the Christian Greek Scriptures have been printed in 18 additional languages since 1989. The New World Translation is now available, in whole or in part, in 34 languages. Thus over 80 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses have at least the Christian Greek Scriptures available in their mother tongue.
The United Bible Societies reports that of the world’s 6,500 languages, portions of the Bible are available in only 2,212.* Hence, some 100 translators are working to produce the New World Translation of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures in 11 and 8 languages respectively. God’s will is “that all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) The New World Translation will no doubt continue to play a major role in this regard.
We therefore rejoice that this translation has passed the milestone of 100 million copies, and we pray that many more millions will be produced in the future. We encourage you to examine it for yourself. You will enjoy numerous special features: clear type, page headings, an index that can help you to locate familiar verses, detailed maps, and fascinating appendix material. More important, you can read this Bible with confidence that it accurately transmits the very sayings of God in your language.
Interestingly, the jacket of the 1971 Reference Edition of the New American Standard Bible similarly stated: “We have not used any scholar’s name for reference or recommendations because it is our belief God’s Word should stand on its merits.”
The New Testament in the Original Greek, by Westcott and Hort, served as the basic Greek text. R. Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica was the basic text for the Hebrew Scriptures.
Since many people are bilingual, it is believed that the Bible, in whole or in part, is translated in enough languages to be read by over 90 percent of the earth’s population.
[Blurb on page 29]
“The translation of the New Testament is evidence of the presence in the movement of scholars qualified to deal intelligently with the many problems of Biblical translation.”—ANDOVER NEWTON QUARTERLY, JANUARY 1963
[Blurb on page 30]
“Translations must keep pace with the growth in biblical scholarship and the changes in language”
[Box/Picture on page 31]
SCHOLARS PRAISE THE NEW WORLD TRANSLATION
REGARDING the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, Edgar J. Goodspeed, translator of the Greek “New Testament” in An American Translation, wrote in a letter dated December 8, 1950: “I am interested in the mission work of your people, and its world wide scope, and much pleased with the free, frank and vigorous translation. It exhibits a vast array of sound serious learning, as I can testify.”
Hebrew and Greek scholar Alexander Thomson wrote: “The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing.”—The Differentiator, April 1952, pages 52-7.
Professor Benjamin Kedar, a Hebrew scholar in Israel, said in 1989: “In my linguistic research in connection with the Hebrew Bible and translations, I often refer to the English edition of what is known as the New World Translation. In so doing, I find my feeling repeatedly confirmed that this work reflects an honest endeavor to achieve an understanding of the text that is as accurate as possible.”