“Please listen, and I will speak.”—JOB 42:4.
1-3. (a) Why are God’s language and communication superior to those of man? (b) What will we consider in this article?
THE eternal God created intelligent beings with whom to share life and happiness. (Ps. 36:9; 1 Tim. 1:11) The apostle John referred to God’s first companion as “the Word” and “the beginning of the creation by God.” (John 1:1; Rev. 3:14) Jehovah God communicated his thoughts and feelings to this firstborn Son. (John 1:14, 17; Col. 1:15) The apostle Paul speaks of ‘the tongues of angels,’ a heavenly form of communication superior to human language.—1 Cor. 13:1.
2 Jehovah has intimate knowledge of billions of intelligent creatures, earthly and heavenly. At any given moment, countless individuals may be praying to him in many languages. Not only does he listen to those prayers but he simultaneously gives direction to and communicates with heavenly beings. To accomplish this, his thoughts, language, and communication must be vastly superior to those of humans. (Read Isaiah 55:8, 9.) Clearly, when Jehovah communicates with humans, he simplifies how he expresses his thoughts so that man can understand them.
3 We will now consider how this all-wise God has taken steps to ensure clear communication with his people throughout history. We will also see how he adapts the means of communication according to the need and circumstances.
GOD’S WORD TO HUMANS
4. (a) What language did Jehovah use to communicate with Moses, Samuel, and David? (b) What does the Bible contain?
4 Jehovah communicated with Adam in the garden of Eden, using human language. God likely did so in an ancient form of Hebrew. He later made his thoughts known to Hebrew-speaking Bible writers, such as Moses, Samuel, and David, and they expressed these thoughts in their own words and style. Besides recording direct statements from God, they told of his dealings with his people, including accounts of their faith and love as well as those that revealed their failings and unfaithfulness. All this information is of great value today.—Rom. 15:4.
5. Did Jehovah insist that his people use only Hebrew? Explain.
5 As circumstances changed, God did not restrict his communication with humans to Hebrew. After the Babylonian exile, Aramaic became the everyday language of some of God’s people. Perhaps to indicate what was to come, Jehovah inspired the prophets Daniel and Jeremiah and the priest Ezra to record portions of their Bible books in Aramaic.—See the footnotes to Ezra 4:8; 7:12; Jeremiah 10:11; and Daniel 2:4.
6. How did God’s Word become available in languages other than Hebrew?
6 Alexander the Great later conquered much of the ancient world, and common, or Koine, Greek became an international language. Many Jews began to speak that language, leading to the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This translation, thought to have been done by 72 translators, became known as the Septuagint. It was the first translation of the Bible and one of the most important.a The work of so many translators resulted in varied translation styles, from literal to rather free. Nevertheless, the Septuagint was viewed as God’s Word by Greek-speaking Jews and later by Christians.
7. What language did Jesus likely use to teach his disciples?
7 When God’s firstborn came to earth, he likely spoke and taught in what the Bible calls Hebrew. (John 19:20; 20:16; Acts 26:14) First-century Hebrew was evidently influenced by Aramaic, so Jesus may have used some Aramaic expressions. However, he also knew the ancient Hebrew of Moses and the prophets, which was read each week in the synagogues. (Luke 4:17-19; 24:44, 45; Acts 15:21) In addition, Greek and Latin were spoken in Israel. The Scriptures are silent about whether Jesus also spoke those languages.
8, 9. As Christianity spread, why was Greek the primary language used among God’s people, and what does this indicate about Jehovah?
8 Jesus’ early followers knew Hebrew, but after his death, his disciples spoke other languages. (Read Acts 6:1.) As Christianity spread, much communication among Christians was in Greek. In fact, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which contain inspired records of what Jesus taught and did, were widely distributed in Greek. Thus, the language of many disciples was Greek rather than Hebrew.b The letters of the apostle Paul and the other inspired books were also distributed in Greek.
9 It is noteworthy that when writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures, they usually did so from the Septuagint. These quotations, which at times vary somewhat from the exact Hebrew wording, are now part of the inspired Scriptures. Thus, the work of imperfect human translators became part of the inspired Word of God, a God who does not favor one culture or language over another.—Read Acts 10:34.
10. What can we conclude about Jehovah’s making his Word available to people?
10 Our brief review of God’s communication with humans teaches us that Jehovah communicates according to need and circumstances. He does not insist that we learn a specific language in order for us to get to know him or his purposes. (Read Zechariah 8:23; Revelation 7:9, 10.) Jehovah directed the inspiration of the Bible, but he allowed it to be presented in different styles.
PRESERVATION OF GOD’S MESSAGE
11. Why have language differences not hindered God’s communication with people?
11 Has God’s communication with humans been hindered by the use of different languages and minor variations in translation? No. For example, we may be aware of only a few of the original-language words that Jesus used. (Matt. 27:46; Mark 5:41; 7:34; 14:36) However, Jehovah made sure that Jesus’ message was transmitted in Greek and, in time, in other languages. Later, Bible manuscripts were copied again and again by Jews and Christians, preserving the holy writings. These were translated into many more languages. John Chrysostom of the fourth/fifth century C.E. said that by his day, Jesus’ teachings had been translated into the languages of the Syrians, Egyptians, Indians, Persians, Ethiopians, and innumerable other peoples.
12. How was the transmission of the Bible opposed?
12 Producing the Bible in many languages thwarted the efforts of such men as Roman Emperor Diocletian, who in 303 C.E. ordered that all copies of the Scriptures be destroyed. There were countless attacks on God’s Word and on those who translated and distributed it. In the 16th century, William Tyndale set out to translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English, declaring to a well-educated man: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scripture than thou doest.” Tyndale had to flee from England to the European continent to translate and print his translation. Despite a campaign by the clergy to burn publicly all the Bibles that they could find, copies began to circulate in great numbers. Eventually, Tyndale was betrayed and was strangled and burned at the stake, but his Bible translation lived on. It was consulted extensively in the preparation of the widely distributed King James version of the Bible.—Read 2 Timothy 2:9.
13. What has the study of ancient manuscripts shown?
13 Granted, some surviving ancient copies of the Bible contain minor mistakes and discrepancies. However, thousands of fragments, manuscripts, and ancient translations have been compared and painstakingly studied by Bible scholars. This study validated the contents of the vast majority of Bible passages. The few verses about which there is a degree of uncertainty do not change the overall message. A study of ancient manuscripts convinces sincere Bible students that they have what Jehovah originally inspired Bible writers to record.—Isa. 40:8.c
14. To what extent has the Bible’s message become available?
14 Despite fierce opposition from enemies, Jehovah has seen to it that his Word is the most widely translated book in the history of mankind. Even at a time when many have little or no faith in God, the Bible remains a best seller and is now available, in whole or in part, in over 2,800 languages. No other work comes close to the Bible in breadth of distribution and availability. Some Bible translations are not as clear or as reliable as others. Still, it is possible to learn the Bible’s basic message of hope and salvation from nearly all translations.
NEED FOR A NEW BIBLE TRANSLATION
15. (a) How have present-day language barriers been overcome? (b) How has English proved to be a practical language for the dispensing of spiritual food?
15 When early in the last century a small group of diligent Bible students was appointed as “the faithful and discreet slave,” much of their communication with the “domestics” was in English. (Matt. 24:45) That “slave” has put forth great effort to make spiritual food available in more and more languages; the number has now risen to over 700. Like Koine Greek in the first century, English has been a practical base language for translation because it is widely used as a language of commerce and education.
16, 17. (a) What need was felt by God’s people? (b) How was this need filled? (c) What hope regarding the New World Translation was expressed back in 1950?
16 The basis of the spiritual food is the Bible. In the mid-20th century, the King James Version of 1611 was the most widely used English Bible. However, the language in it was largely outdated. And God’s name appeared only a few times in the text, whereas ancient Bible manuscripts contained the divine name thousands of times. That version contained some translation errors as well as spurious verses that were not found in authoritative ancient manuscripts. Other available English Bible translations likewise had shortcomings.
17 There was a need for a Bible that would accurately convey in modern speech the intent of the original writings. The New World Bible Translation Committee was formed, and over a ten-year period from 1950 to 1960, their translation was released in six volumes. When releasing the first volume on August 2, 1950, Brother N. H. Knorr told a convention audience: “More and more the need has been felt for a translation in modern speech, in harmony with revealed truth, and yet furnishing us the basis for gaining further truth by faithfully presenting the sense of the original writings; a translation just as understandable to modern readers as the original writings of Christ’s disciples were understandable to the simple, plain, common, lowly readers of their day.” He expressed the hope that this translation would spread its spiritual help to millions of people.
18. What decisions have sped up Bible translation?
18 That hope was realized in a significant way by 1963 when the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was produced in six more languages—Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. In 1989 the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses put in place a department at headquarters to facilitate Bible translation. Then in 2005, Bible translation was made a priority for the languages in which this journal is produced. As a result, the New World Translation is now available in whole or in part in over 130 languages.
19. What historic event took place in 2013, and what will the following article discuss?
19 As time passed, it became evident that the English edition of the New World Translation needed to be updated to reflect changes in the English language. On the weekend of October 5 and 6, 2013, an audience of 1,413,676 in 31 countries attended or were tied in to the 129th annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. All were thrilled to hear a member of the Governing Body announce the release of the revised New World Translation in English. Many were moved to tears as the attendants passed out copies of the revised Bible. As the verses were read from the revised text, the audience discovered that the rendering of God’s Word into English had never been better. The following article will discuss details about this revision, as well as its translation into other languages.
a Septuagint means “Seventy.” Translation reportedly began in Egypt in the third century B.C.E. and may have been finished by 150 B.C.E. This translation is still important, as it gives scholars insight into the meaning of certain obscure Hebrew words and passages.
b Some feel that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and that it was then translated into Greek, perhaps by Matthew himself.