OVER the years, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures has been revised a number of times, but the 2013 revision was by far the most extensive. For example, there are now about 10 percent fewer English words in the translation. Some key Biblical terms were revised. Certain chapters were changed to poetic format, and clarifying footnotes were added to the regular edition. It would be impossible in this article to discuss all the changes, but let us consider a few of the main adjustments.
Which key Biblical expressions were changed? As was mentioned in the preceding article, the renderings for “Sheol,” “Hades,” and “soul” were revised. Additionally, though, a number of other terms were adjusted.
For example, “impaled” was changed to “executed on a stake” or “nailed to the stake” to avoid giving a wrong impression about how Jesus was executed. (Matt. 20:19; 27:31) “Loose conduct” was adjusted to “brazen conduct,” which conveys the contemptuous attitude embodied in the Greek term. The expression “long-suffering,” as previously used, could be misunderstood to mean suffering for a long time; “patience” better conveys the right sense. “Revelries” was replaced with “wild parties,” which would be better understood today. (Gal. 5:19-22) In place of “loving-kindness,” the thought is accurately rendered “loyal love.” That captures the meaning of a Bible term often used in parallel with “faithfulness.”—Ps. 36:5; 89:1.
Some terms that had consistently been translated with one expression are now translated according to context. For example, the Hebrew ʽoh·lamʹ, previously rendered “time indefinite,” can have the sense of “forever.” Compare how this affects the rendering of such verses as Psalm 90:2 and Micah 5:2.
The Hebrew and Greek terms translated “seed” appear often in the Scriptures, both in an agricultural sense and with the figurative meaning of “offspring.” Past editions of the New World Translation consistently used “seed,” including at Genesis 3:15. However, using the term “seed” in the sense of “offspring” is no longer common in English, so the revision uses “offspring” at Genesis 3:15 and related verses. (Gen. 22:17, 18; Rev. 12:17) Other occurrences are translated according to context.—Gen. 1:11; Ps. 22:30; Isa. 57:3.
Why have many literal renderings been adjusted? Appendix A1 of the 2013 revision says that a good Bible translation will “communicate the correct sense of a word or a phrase when a literal rendering would distort or obscure the meaning.” When the original-language idioms make sense in other languages, they are rendered literally. Following this approach, the expression “searches the . . . hearts” at Revelation 2:23 makes sense in many languages. However, in the same verse, “searches the kidneys” may not be readily understood, so “kidneys” was revised to “innermost thoughts,” thus reflecting the original sense. Similarly, at Deuteronomy 32:14, the literal idiom “the kidney fat of wheat” is rendered more clearly as “the finest wheat.” For a similar reason, “I am uncircumcised in lips” is not nearly as clear in most languages as “I speak with difficulty.”—Ex. 6:12.
Why are the expressions “sons of Israel” and “fatherless boys” now translated “Israelites” and “fatherless children”? In Hebrew, the masculine gender or the feminine gender usually identifies whether the reference is to a male or to a female. However, some masculine terms may include both males and females. For example, the context of some verses suggests that “the sons of Israel” included both men and women, so this expression is now usually rendered “the Israelites.”—Ex. 1:7; 35:29; 2 Ki. 8:12.
Along the same lines, the Hebrew masculine term meaning “sons” at Genesis 3:16 was translated “children” in earlier editions of the New World Translation. But at Exodus 22:24, the same word has now been revised to read: “Your children [Hebrew, “sons”] will be fatherless.” Applying this principle in other cases, “fatherless boy” has been changed to “fatherless child” or “orphan.” (Deut. 10:18; Job 6:27) That is similar to the rendering in the Greek Septuagint. This also resulted in the phrase “the days of your youth” instead of “the days of your young manhood” at Ecclesiastes 12:1.
Why has the rendering of many Hebrew verbs been simplified? The two main Hebrew verb states are the imperfect, denoting continuous action, and the perfect, denoting completed action. Past editions of the New World Translation consistently rendered Hebrew imperfect verbs with a verb and an auxiliary term, such as “proceeded to” or “went on to” in order to show continuous or repeated action.a Emphatic expressions such as “certainly,” “must,” and “indeed” were used to show the completed action of perfect verbs.
In the 2013 revision, such auxiliary expressions are not used unless they add to the meaning. For example, there is no need to emphasize that God repeatedly said, “Let there be light,” so in the revision the imperfect verb “say” is not rendered as continuous. (Gen. 1:3) However, Jehovah evidently called to Adam repeatedly, so this is still highlighted at Genesis 3:9 with the rendering “kept calling.” Overall, verbs are rendered in a simpler way, focusing on the action rather than on the incomplete or complete aspects reflected in the Hebrew. A related benefit is that this helps to recapture, to an extent, the terseness of the Hebrew.
Why are more chapters now in poetic format? Many parts of the Bible were originally written as poetry. In modern languages, poetry is often distinguished by rhyme, whereas in Hebrew poetry, the most important formal elements are parallelism and contrast. Rhythm is achieved in Hebrew poetry, not by rhyming words, but by the logical order of the thoughts.
Previous editions of the New World Translation formatted Job and Psalms in verse format to show that they were originally meant to be sung or recited. This format highlights the poetic elements for emphasis and serves as a memory aid. In the 2013 revision, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and many chapters of the prophetic books are also now in verse format to show that the passages were written as poetry and to highlight the parallelism and contrasts. An example of this is Isaiah 24:2, where each line contains a contrast, and one line builds on another to emphasize that no one would be excluded from God’s judgment. Recognizing such passages as poetry shows the reader that the Bible writer was not simply repeating himself; rather, he was using a poetic technique to emphasize God’s message.
The distinction between Hebrew prose and poetry may not always be clearly evident, so there are differences among Bible translations as to which passages are poetic. The translators’ judgment is involved in deciding which verses are printed as poetry. Some contain prose that is poetic in wording, freely using pictorial language, wordplay, and parallelism to drive home a point.
A new feature, the Outline of Contents, is especially useful in identifying the frequent change of speakers in the ancient poem The Song of Solomon.
How did study of the original-language manuscripts affect the revision? The original New World Translation was based on the Hebrew Masoretic text and the respected Greek text by Westcott and Hort. The study of ancient Bible manuscripts has continued to advance, shedding light on the reading of certain Bible verses. Readings from the Dead Sea Scrolls have become available. More Greek manuscripts have been studied. Much updated manuscript evidence is available in computer format, making it easier to analyze the differences between manuscripts to determine which reading of the Hebrew or Greek text is best supported. The New World Bible Translation Committee took advantage of these developments to study certain verses, resulting in some changes.
For example, at 2 Samuel 13:21, the Greek Septuagint contains the equivalent of the words: “But he would not hurt the feelings of Amnon his son, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.” Earlier versions of the New World Translation did not include these words because they are not in the Masoretic text. However, the Dead Sea Scrolls do contain these words, which are now included in the 2013 revision. For similar reasons, God’s name was restored five times in the book of First Samuel. Study of Greek texts also resulted in a change in the order of ideas at Matthew 21:29-31. Thus, some changes were based on the weight of manuscript evidence rather than on the strict adherence to a single master Greek text.
These are but a few of the changes that have enhanced reading and understanding for many who view the New World Translation as a gift from the God of communication.
a See the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References, Appendix 3C “Hebrew Verbs Indicating Continuous or Progressive Action.”