reprint of the Sept/Oct. 1988 Bethel Ministries Newsletter
By Ian Croft, Western Australia
In the Awake! magazine dated March 22, 1987, an article appears which was
written by Nicholas Kip, who has been a lecturer in the Greek language since the 1960's,
and who became a Jehovah's Witness partly, it would seem, because he found that the New
World Translation agreed with many of his views on New Testament Greek.
"Since I did not learn Greek from a theologian who was teaching New Testament
Greek, I was probably much more objective about it. I could look at the words with fresh
eyes, free of the traditional, doctrinal notions. . . . . . . . . . . . . "...The
quality of Greek scholarship in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation Of The Greek
Scriptures, however, is very good....I feel it's one of the greatly under-appreciated
jewels of the Watchtower Society's publications."
At the foot of Kip's article, there appears a list of comments by "Greek
scholars" on the New World Translation Of The Christian Greek Scriptures. (The
Kingdom Interlinear Translation... is an interlinear version of the New World
Each of the comments will be dealt with separately:
1. Edgar J. Goodspeed, translator of the Greek New Testament in An American Translation. (in a letter, presumably to the Watchtower Society Headquarters, dated Dec. 8, 1950)
"I am interested in the mission work of your people, and in 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."
Bill Cetnar, who worked at Bethel (Watchtower Headquarters in New York) during the period when the New World Translation was being prepared, was sent to interview Dr. Goodspeed in March, 1954 to seek his comments on the first volume of the New World Translation Of The Hebrew Scriptures. Cetnar writes:
"During the two-hour long visit with him it was obvious that he knew the volume
well, because he could cite the pages where the readings he objected to were found. One
reading he pointed out as especially awkward and grammatically poor was in Judges 14:3
where Samson is made to say: `Her get for me....' As I left, Dr. Goodspeed was asked if he
would recommend the translation for the general public He answered, `No, I'm afraid I
could not do that. THE GRAMMAR IS REGRETTABLE. Be careful on the grammar. Be sure you have
Dr. Goodspeed was, of course, not speaking here about the Greek (New Testament)
Scriptures, but about the Hebrew (Old Testament) Scriptures, while his earlier, favorable
comments related to the Greek Scriptures. It is interesting to note, however, that Dr.
Goodspeed's comments were made in 1950, but are conspicuous by their absence from earlier
Watchtower records of quotes. For example, they do not appear in the article on the
subject in the WT book, All Scripture Is Inspired Of God And Beneficial,
published in 1963.
2. Alexander Thomson, described as a "Hebrew and Greek scholar", writing in The Differentiator, April, 1952, pages 52-7.
"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."
While Goodspeed's comments are noticeable by their absence from the article in the book, All Scripture..., it is to be noted that Thomson is the ONLY reviewer whose comments appear therein. In this instance, however, he is reviewing the same volume as that which attracted unfavorable comments from Dr. Goodspeed. In the light of the earlier comments, Thomson's are both interesting and revealing:
"Original renderings of the Hebrew Scriptures into the English are extremely few.
It therefore gives us much pleasure to welcome the publication of the first part of the New
World Translation [of the Hebrew Scriptures], Genesis to Ruth. This version has
evidently made a special effort to be thoroughly readable. No one could say it is
deficient in its freshness and originality. Its terminology is by no means based on that
of the previous versions."
In a technical sense, Thomson's comment would make the translation into a "pseudo-historical fraud." The Greek texts which form the basis of all competent translations come under the category of "previous versions." To be fair to Thomson, however, we are sure that he meant previous English versions. In a later issue of his magazine, (June, 1959) Thomson stated:
"Although on three occasions I have given in The Differentiator brief
reviews on parts of the New World version of the Bible, it must not be inferred that I
agree with the teachings of `Jehovah's Witnesses,' so called. On the whole the version was
quite a good one, even though it was padded with many English words which had no
equivalent in the Greek or Hebrew."
Thomson was co-editor of the magazine called The Differentiator. The magazine
is no longer published, but was issued bimonthly, and had a very small circulation.
According to his co-editor, Thomson "did not even formally study Greek or Hebrew in
any school." He was not a Hebrew and Greek scholar as claimed by Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Thomson was employed in a bank in Scotland and did not believe that Jesus was
a) Apparently, Thomson's comments were based on the English text of the New World Translation, if he was not competent to comment on the actual translation work.
b) Would not the opinion of a professional educator and Biblical scholar as to the quality of the grammar of the Bible be more valuable than that of a bank officer who is not a language expert?
3. Robert M. McCoy, writing in the Andover Newton Quarterly, January, 1963.
"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 full paragraph from which this quote comes reads:
"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. This translation, as J. Carter Swain observes, has its peculiarities and its
excellences. All in all, it would seem that a reconsideration of the challenge of this
movement to the historical churches is in order."
a) Discussing the translation of Matt. 5:9, he states, "One could question why the
translators have not stayed closer to the original meaning, AS DO MOST TRANSLATORS."
b) Regarding the translators' claim that they sought to avoid "the misleading
influence of religious traditions which have their roots in paganism", that is to
say, they sought to avoid doctrinal bias which they felt was evident in other
translations, McCoy writes, "In not a few instances the New World Translation
contains passages which must be considered as `theological translations.' This fact is
particularly evident in those passages which express or imply the deity of Jesus
4. S. MacLean Gilmour, in the Andover Newton Quarterly, September, 1966.
"The New Testament translation was made by a committee whose membership has never been revealed -a committee that possessed an unusual competence in Greek."
The full quote in the original reads:
"In 1950 the Jehovah's Witnesses published their New World Translation Of The
New Testament, and the preparation of the New World Old Testament translation is now
far advanced. The New Testament translation was made by a committee whose membership has
never been revealed -a committee that possessed an unusual competence in Greek and that
made the Westcott and Hort Greek text basic to their translation. It is clear that
doctrinal considerations influenced many turns of phrase, but the work is no crack-pot or
Dr. Gilmour's comments are to be found in an article entitled "The Use And Misuse of The Book of Revelation." Lest it should be thought that Dr. Gilmour is sympathetic to the JW religion, his reason for referring to them is made clear in the following quote (the article is the text of a lecture by Dr. Gilmour in 1966):
"Later in the lecture I spoke of the misuse of the Book of Revelation by
millennial sects over the centuries, and in particular of its misuse by the Jehovah's
Witnesses during the last one hundred years."
Dr. Gilmour was Norris Professor of New Testament at Andover Newton Seminary and editor of the Andover Newton Quarterly, and the author of a commentary on the Book of Revelation.
With all due respect for Dr. Gilmour, his statement regarding the New World
Translation is incorrect. The Jehovah's Witnesses did not publish, in 1950, or for
that matter at any time, a book entitled New World Translation Of The New Testament.
Rather, they published a book entitled New World Translation Of The Christian Greek
Scriptures. Perhaps Dr. Gilmour simply failed to notice that the name was unusual. A
more serious error, however, is his statement that "The New World Old Testament is
now far advanced." He wrote that article, as earlier stated, in 1966. In fact, the New
World Translation Of The Hebrew Scriptures was published in five volumes over the
period 1953 to 1960. It was completed some six years before Dr. Gilmour made his
statement, indeed a one volume edition of the whole Bible was published in 1961. Dr.
Gilmour could have checked this out easily, simply by picking up a copy of the Bible,
which leads one to wonder whether he had actually seen a copy. A footnote to the article
shows that the information regarding the New World Translation came from McCoy's
earlier article. Gilmour's article does not quote the New World Translation nor
does it gain a mention in his Bibliography. The only book which is noted therein relating
to the Jehovah's Witnesses is Horton Davies' The Challenge Of The Sects, concerning which
Dr. Gilmour comments, "Overmuch concerned with attacking the beliefs of the
"This is no ordinary interlinear: the integrity of the text is preserved, and the English which appears below it is simply the basic meaning of the Greek word.... After examining a copy, I equipped several interested second-year Greek students with it as an auxiliary text....The translation by the anonymous committee is thoroughly up-to-date and consistently accurate.... In sum, when a Witness comes to the door, the classicist, Greek student, or Bible student alike would do well to bring him in and place an order."
Regrettably, a copy of the original is at present unavailable and no comments can be made on it. It is included here lest we be accused of failing to show all of the evidence. The only information regarding the writer of the quote is that he is "of the University of Nebraska."
Three of the above-mentioned quotes mention the quality of the translators'
scholarship. As Dr. Gilmour points out, the WT translating committee has never revealed
its membership. According to the book, Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose,
"the one request of the translation committee was that its members remain anonymous
even after their death."
What do the critics have to say about the New World Translation Of The Holy Scriptures?
Edmund C. Gruss, Professor of History and Apologetics at Los Angeles Baptist College,
offers five main criticisms of the book:
Ray C. Stedman (internationally known author, Bible teacher, pastor, evangelist)
"A close examination, which gets beneath the outward veneer of scholarship,
reveals a veritable shambles of bigotry, prejudice, and bias which violates every rule of
Biblical criticism and every standard of scholarly integrity."
Walter Martin and Norman Klann (The late Dr. Martin was a leading Christian apologist, known internationally for his studies of the Jehovah's Witnesses and other groups.)
"Once it is perceived that Jehovah's Witnesses are only interested in what they
can make the scriptures say, and not in what the Holy Spirit has already perfectly
revealed, then the careful student will reject entirely Jehovah's Witnesses and the
These authors claim that the New World Translation lacks scholarship, and, in fact, reflects scholastic dishonesty.
"Their New World Translation of the Bible is by no means an objective
rendering of the sacred text into modern English, but is a biased translation in which
many of the peculiar teachings of the Watchtower Society are smuggled into the text of the
Dr. Hoekema was Professor of Systematic Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, U.S.A., and the author of one of the most highly regarded reference works on the Jehovah's Witnesses.
F. F. Bruce: (Dr. Bruce is Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis Emeritus, University of Manchester, England. He is a world renowned Biblical exegete who has issued his own translation of the the New Testament, and a number of scholarly works on New Testament themes. The Jehovah's Witnesses have quoted him as an authority on the New Testament on a number of occasions.)
"Some of its distinctive renderings reflect the Biblical interpretations which we
have come to associate with Jehovah's Witnesses....Some of the renderings which are free
from a theological tendency strike one as quite good..."
Bruce M. Metzger, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton
Theological Seminary, one of the world's leading authorities on the Greek language, and
recognized as such by the Jehovah's Witnesses who quote him on occasion in a favorable
way, wrote an article in 1950 pointing out the errors in many Christological passages in
the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
H. H. Rowley, an eminent Old Testament scholar from England, wrote regarding the first volume of the New World Translation Of The Hebrew Scriptures. His comments should be compared to those of Dr. Goodspeed quoted earlier:
"The translation is marked by a wooden literalism which will only exasperate any
intelligent reader -if such it finds -and instead of showing reverence for the Bible which
the trans lators profess, it is an insult to the Word of God.... "...this volume is a
shining example of how the Bible should not be translated."
The comments quoted above are but a sample of the many that have been written over the years. Many more are available in reference to specific details of the translation, especially the translation "...and the Word was a god." which appears in John 1:1c in the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Space precludes their inclusion in this paper.
This paper began by referring to Nicholas Kip. His sincerity and faith in the Jehovah's Witnesses religion is not in question, nor is his firmly established opinion regarding the quality of the translation work in the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. He is entitled to his opinion. Others have, however, expressed opinions at wide variance with that given by Mr. Kip, and as a scholar he would do well to consider these opinions. The support which the Awake! magazine gives for his stance has been shown to be nowhere as strong as the magazine (and presumably, by implication, Mr. Kip) would have the reader believe. Indeed, the volume of scholarly opinion against the New World Translation seems to far outweigh that in support of it.
Few scholars, Christian or otherwise, feel they can condemn the New World Translation out of hand. Their difficulties are not with the sincerity of the translation committee, but with certain aspects of the grammar used, and with the noticeable theological bias in the work. This comes out most strongly in the Christological (i.e., dealing with the person of Christ) passages. This is why comments relating to the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures) are limited almost entirely to the quality of the grammar. The fact is that scholars, both Christian and non-Christians, have roundly attacked the scholarship of the New World Translation which pushes a particular theological stance, and which has influenced the lives of millions around the world. Jehovah's Witnesses who are concerned for their own eternal life, as well as that of others, and who wish to worship the living and true God as He is revealed in the pages of His Word, will wish to give consideration to these facts, and ask themselves why it is that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society needs to show in its literature quotes purporting to support the scholarship of its writers, when that "support" has long since been proven to be unreliable and not as helpful as might be hoped. Why is it that support for the Society's translation of the Bible has been claimed from a scholar who has not read the book, could not get the name correct, and did not know that the translation work had been completed some six years before he made his incorrect statement? The answer is simple. It is because no stronger support can be found! This has been but one example of the many scholastic errors of the Jehovah's Witnesses. If this one can be so easily checked, so can many others. The Watchtower organization can be shown to be built on slender support, which could collapse at any time. The evidence demands a questioning of the Jehovah's Witnesses' faith. Could it be that the scholars who make up the vast majority of comment on the translation are correct, rather than the one (Kip) or possibly two, if Winter is found to be as useful to the Jehovah's Witnesses as they would hope? -oOo-
1. Kip, N., "How Knowing Greek Led Me To Know God," Awake! Mar. 22, 1987, 10-14
2. Kip, 13
3. Kip, 15
4. Cetnar, W.I. & J., Questions For Jehovah's Witnesses Who Love The Truth (Kunkletown, Pennsylvania: W.I. Cetnar, 1983) 64
5. All Scripture Is Inspired Of God And Beneficial (New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, 1963) 319-326
6. All Scripture... , 325
7. Thomson, A., The Differentiator 21:98, June, 1959
8. Cetnar, 53
9. McCoy, R.M., "Jehovah's Witnesses And Their New Testament" Andover Newton Quarterly, Jan. 1963, 31
The reference to J. Carter Swain is to p. 40 of his book, Right And Wrong Ways To Use The Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1963 10. McCoy, 24
11. McCoy, 29
12. McCoy, 29
13. Gilmour, S.M., "The Use And Abuse Of The Book Of Revelation," Andover Newton Quarterly, Sept.,1966, 26
14. Gilmour, 26
15. Gilmour, 27
16. Jehovah's Witnesses In The Divine Purpose (New York: Watchtower Bible And Tract Society Of New York, 1959) 258
17. "Pursuers Proof of Douglas Walsh vs The Right Honourable James Latham, M.P., P.C., Scottish Court of Sessions, November, 1954, p.92" as quoted in Cetnar, 64
18. Cetnar, 64
19. Cetnar, 65
20. Gruss, E.C., Apostles of Denial (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1970) 200ff Among Gruss's findings are: (as detailed in the text)
(a) While the translators claimed to give as literal a translation as possible, paraphrasing is frequently used to avoid any possibility of supporting the deity of Christ. For example, in John 1:1-15, the word "en" is translated "in" part of the time, and "in union with" the rest of the time. The latter is a paraphrase.
(b) In Col. 1:16-17 the word "other" is inserted, although it is not included in the Greek text. This happens four times in these two verses. A similar thing happens in other places also.
(c) While the translators have claimed to take the literal meaning of the words, they have not, on occasion translated on the basis of the meaning applied to certain words in the first century. For example, Mt. 25:46 renders the word "Kolasis" as "cutting off", whereas in all 107 known uses of the word in first century writings, all have the meaning "punishment", not "cutting off", while the word did have that meaning some centuries earlier (is used that way in the Septuagint and Apocrypha).
(d) For example, Col. 1:16-17 is footnoted to Lk. 13:2-4, to show a parallel. The two passages cannot, however, be shown to be parallels at all.
(e) In John 1:1, because of the lack of an article ("the"), the Word is called "a god". However, in Verse 18, which also has no article, the word "God" is capitalized. There are many examples of similar character.
21. Gruss, 211
22. Stedman, R.C., "The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures," Our Hope 50; 34, July, 1953. 30 as quoted in Gruss, 209
23. Martin, W., & Klann, N., Jehovah of the Watchtower, (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1974 161
24. Hoekema, A., The Four Major Cults (Exeter: Paternoster, 1963) 208-9
25. Bruce, F.F., The English Bible: A History of Translations (London: Lutterworth Press, 1961) 184 as quoted in Gruss, 210
26. Metzger, B.M., "The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures" The Bible Translator 15:152, July, 1964
27. Rowley, H.H., "Jehovah's Witnesses' Translation of the Bible" The Expository Times 67:107, Jan. 1956 as quoted in Gruss, 213 and "How Not to Translate the Bible," The Expository Times as quoted in Gruss, 212
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