“Please listen, and I will speak.”—JOB 42:4.
1-3. (a) Why are God’s thoughts and language superior to those of humans? (b) What will we learn in this article?
JEHOVAH wanted to share life and happiness with others, so he created angels and later created humans. (Psalm 36:9; 1 Timothy 1:11) Jehovah first created the one the apostle John calls “the Word.” (John 1:1; Revelation 3:14) Jehovah communicated with that one, Jesus, and expressed his thoughts and feelings to him. (John 1:14, 17; Colossians 1:15) The apostle Paul says that the angels also communicate and have a language, one that is very different from human language.—1 Corinthians 13:1.
2 Jehovah knows everything about the billions of angels and humans he created. He is able to listen to the prayers of millions of people at the same time, and he understands their prayers no matter what language they are spoken in. While he is listening to all those prayers, Jehovah is also communicating with the angels and directing them. In order to do all of that, Jehovah’s thoughts and language must be superior to the thoughts and language of humans. (Read Isaiah 55:8, 9.) So when he communicates with humans, he simplifies his message so that we can understand it.
3 In this article, we will learn how Jehovah communicates with humans in a clear way. We will also see how he changes the way he communicates depending on the circumstances.
GOD COMMUNICATES WITH HUMANS
4. (a) What language did Jehovah use to communicate with Moses, Samuel, and David? (b) What does the Bible contain?
4 When he communicated with the first man, Adam, in the garden of Eden, Jehovah probably used an ancient form of the Hebrew language. Later, Jehovah communicated with men such as Moses, Samuel, and David. Although they wrote down their own words in Hebrew and in their own style of writing, they were actually writing down God’s thoughts. They wrote down direct statements from Jehovah and also wrote about the history of God’s relationship with his people. For example, the Bible records their faith and love for God and also records their mistakes and unfaithfulness. All this information was written for our benefit.—Romans 15:4.
Bible writers wrote down direct statements from Jehovah and the history of God’s relationship with his people
5. Was Hebrew the only language God used to communicate with humans? Explain.
5 Jehovah did not always communicate with humans in Hebrew. By the time the Israelites were freed from Babylon, some of them spoke Aramaic in their daily lives. Perhaps that is why Daniel, Jeremiah, and Ezra wrote parts of the Bible in Aramaic.—See the footnotes to Ezra 4:8; 7:12; Jeremiah 10:11; and Daniel 2:4.
6. Why were the Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek?
6 Alexander the Great later conquered much of the world, and common, or Koine, Greek became the main language in many countries. Many Jews began to speak Greek, and eventually the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. This translation is called the Septuagint. It was the first translation of the Bible and one of the most important. Experts believe that the Septuagint was completed by 72 translators.* (See footnote.) Some translated from the Hebrew Scriptures word for word, while others did not. Still, Greek-speaking Jews and Christians believed that the Septuagint was God’s Word.
7. What language did Jesus use to teach his disciples?
7 When Jesus was on earth, he probably spoke Hebrew. (John 19:20; 20:16; Acts 26:14) He may also have used some Aramaic expressions that were common at that time. But he also knew the ancient Hebrew language spoken by Moses and the prophets, whose writings were read at the synagogues each week. (Luke 4:17-19; 24:44, 45; Acts 15:21) And although Greek and Latin were spoken in Jesus’ time, the Bible does not say whether Jesus also spoke those languages.
8, 9. Why did many Christians speak Greek, and what does this teach us about Jehovah?
8 The first followers of Jesus spoke Hebrew, but after his death, his disciples spoke other languages. (Read Acts 6:1.) As the good news spread, many Christians spoke Greek rather than Hebrew. Because Greek was the common language, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were distributed in Greek.* (See footnote.) Also, the letters of the apostle Paul and other Bible books were written in Greek.
9 It is interesting that when writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures, they often used the Septuagint. At times, those quotes were slightly different from the original Hebrew wording. So the work of imperfect translators became part of the Bible we have today. This teaches us that Jehovah does not view one language or culture as better than another.—Read Acts 10:34.
God does not expect us to speak a specific language to get to know him or his purposes
10. What have we learned from the way Jehovah communicates with humans?
10 We have learned that Jehovah communicates with humans according to the circumstances. He does not expect us to speak a specific language in order to get to know him or his purposes. (Read Zechariah 8:23; Revelation 7:9, 10.) We have also learned that Jehovah inspired the Bible writers, but he allowed them to write his thoughts in their own words.
GOD PRESERVES HIS MESSAGE
11. Why is the fact that humans use many different languages not a problem for Jehovah?
11 Humans use many different languages, but this is not a problem for Jehovah. How do we know? The Bible contains only a few of Jesus’ words in the original language he used. (Matthew 27:46; Mark 5:41; 7:34; 14:36) But Jehovah made sure that Jesus’ message was written and translated into Greek and, in time, into other languages. Also, because God’s Word was copied many times by Jews and Christians, God’s message was preserved. These copies were then translated into many more languages. About 400 years after Christ, John Chrysostom said that Jesus’ teachings had been translated into the languages of the Syrians, Egyptians, Indians, Persians, Ethiopians, and many other peoples.
12. How has the Bible been attacked?
12 Throughout history, there have been many attacks against the Bible and those who translated and distributed it. About 300 years after Jesus was born, the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered that all copies of the Bible be destroyed. About 1,200 years later, William Tyndale started translating the Bible into English. He said that if God allowed him to live long enough, he would make sure that even a farm boy would know the Bible better than a priest. Because of persecution, Tyndale had to flee from England to Europe in order to translate and print his Bible. Even though the clergy tried to burn all the copies they could find, Tyndale’s translation was distributed to many people. Eventually, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake. But his translation survived attacks from the clergy, and it was used to prepare a Bible translation called the King James Version.—Read 2 Timothy 2:9.
13. What has the study of old Bible manuscripts shown?
13 It is true that among some of the oldest copies of the Bible, there are small mistakes and differences. However, Bible experts carefully studied thousands of manuscripts, parts of manuscripts, and old translations of the Bible. After comparing them, they found that there are only a few verses that have small differences, and these are only minor. But the Bible’s message has not changed. Studies like these convince sincere Bible students that what they have today is Jehovah’s inspired Word.—Isaiah 40:8.* (See footnote.)
14. How available is the Bible today?
14 Despite the many attacks against the Bible, it has been translated into over 2,800 languages. That is more than any other book available today. Even though many people do not have faith in God, his Word continues to be the most widely distributed book in history. While some translations of the Bible are not so easy to read or are not very accurate, almost all of them give the simple message of hope and everlasting life.
A NEW BIBLE TRANSLATION WAS NEEDED
15. (a) How has our Bible literature changed since 1919? (b) Why is our literature first written in English?
15 In 1919, a small group of Bible students was appointed as “the faithful and discreet slave.” At that time, the faithful slave communicated with God’s people mostly in English. (Matthew 24:45) But today, Bible literature is provided in over 700 languages. Like Greek in the past, English is now common in business and education and is widely known. So our literature is written first in English and then translated into other languages.
16, 17. (a) What did God’s people need? (b) How was that need cared for? (c) What was Brother Knorr’s desire?
16 All our literature is based on the Bible. At first, God’s people used the King James Version, completed in 1611. However, its language was old and difficult to understand. God’s name was used only a few times, even though very old manuscripts used it thousands of times. That version also had translation errors and extra verses that were not found in the oldest manuscripts. Other English Bible translations had similar problems.
17 Clearly, God’s people needed a Bible translation that was accurate and easy to understand. So the New World Bible Translation Committee was formed, and the brothers on this committee released portions of the Bible from 1950 to 1960. The first of six volumes was released at a convention on August 2, 1950. At that convention, Brother Knorr said that God’s people needed a modern Bible translation that was accurate and easy to understand and one that would help them learn the truth more clearly. They needed a translation that was just as simple to read and understand as the original writings of Christ’s disciples. Brother Knorr’s desire was that the New World Translation would help millions of people come to know Jehovah.
18. What has helped Bible translation?
18 By 1963, Brother Knorr’s desire became a reality. The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was available in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. In 1989, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses formed a new department at world headquarters to help Bible translators. Then in 2005, permission was given to translate the Bible into languages in which The Watchtower was already being translated. As a result, the New World Translation is now available, in whole or in part, in more than 130 languages.
19. What important event happened in 2013, and what will we learn in the next article?
19 The English language has changed since the first edition of the New World Translation was released, so it became necessary to update its wording. On the weekend of October 5 and 6, 2013, an audience of 1,413,676 in 31 countries attended or was tied in to the 129th annual meeting of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. A member of the Governing Body announced the release of a revised New World Translation in English. The audience was thrilled, and many cried when they got their own copy of this new translation. As the speakers read verses from the revision, it was clear to all that the revised edition was easier to read and understand. In the next article, we will learn more about this revision, as well as how it is being translated into other languages.
Septuagint means “Seventy.” It seems that the translation began about 300 years before Christ and was finished 150 years later. This translation is still important today because it helps experts to understand difficult Hebrew words or entire verses.
Some feel that Matthew wrote his book in Hebrew and that it was then translated into Greek, perhaps by Matthew himself.