Thinking Out Loud

July 20, 2020

A Bible Translation Update You May Have Missed

Filed under: bible, Christianity, cults — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:38 am

Every once in awhile I come in contact with someone who wants to get connected with a copy of the NIV-1984. Often it’s a replacement for a Bible they have used that’s falling apart. Or it’s based on some of the many bizarre rumors about the revised NIV circulating online.1

But for most people, an NIV is an NIV. The Bibles available for purchase today are technically called NIV-2011.

Similarly the NLTs sold today are Second Edition, or NLTSE. For Roman Catholics the NAB (New American Bible) editions on offer today are the Revised Edition, or NABRE.

For the most part, only Bible nerds and retailers use these terms. An NLT is an NLT, right?2

Last week, a series of unusual circumstances found me in a 40-minute discussion with a leader in the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in my area. (No, they didn’t come to the door, in fact, I was trying to get them to come to my door for a very specific reason, but the meeting was deemed unnecessary. It’s a long story…3)

For the record, the full title of their Bible is New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, with the words “Holy Scriptures” always in a larger font. If someone ever asks you if you’ve heard of the “Holy Scriptures” Bible, they may be thinking NWT.

I then learned that their exclusive Bible translation, the New World Translation had undergone an update in 2013. Wikipedia called it “a significantly revised translation.” Not moving in those circles, I suppose I had no way of knowing. This leader explained to me how the English language is always changing and Bibles need to keep up with that change.

If only he knew who he was speaking to. I told him he was preaching to the choir on that one. (I hope they understand that expression!)

[For the record, they completely removed the longer ending to Mark’s last chapter, and the entire narrative of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery. In fairness, even some Evangelicals wouldn’t argue with that edit, since the “oldest manuscripts” principle should be equally applied.4]

Later in the call he quoted John 3:16 NWT to me, and something about the phrasing got me curious to hear a few more.

So since the translation is on their website, I decided to try and see how it rendered a few of your favorite verses. Nothing too controversial, I promise. (Okay, we might do John 1:1 since you asked.) Some day you’ll thank me for this, as their online Bible server is as slow as molasses. (And the text has more embedded code than even BibleGateway.)

I’ve highlighted in bold face type the parts which stood out to me.

Also, I’m not necessarily being critical of these renderings, rather they give us something to consider, and some of them are quite good.

John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”

Romans 8:28 “We know that God makes all his works cooperate together for the good of those who love God, those who are the ones called according to his purpose.”

Phil. 4:13 “For all things I have the strength through the one who gives me power.”

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” 5

Matthew 28:19 “Go, therefore, and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit,”

Ephesians 2:8 “By this undeserved kindness you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing; rather, it is God’s gift.

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, in all Ju·deʹa and Sa·marʹi·a, and to the most distant part of the earth.”

2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,”

Romans 10:9 “For if you publicly declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and exercise faith in your heart that God raised him up from the dead, you will be saved.”  

And then there’s this, for which I provide three examples of many.

Colossians 2: 13b-14 “He kindly forgave us all our trespasses and erased the handwritten document that consisted of decrees and was in opposition to us. He has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake. [i.e. instead of the word cross.]

Hebrews 12:2 “as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus. For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Philippians 3:18 ” For there are many—I used to mention them often but now I mention them also with weeping—who are walking as enemies of the torture stake of the Christ. 6

Wikipedia7 documents many of the critiques of the (original) translation:

In 1963, theologian Anthony A. Hoekema wrote: “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 Bible itself.”

Julius R. Mantey, co-author of A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament and A Hellenistic Greek Reader, said about the New Testament of the NWT that it’s “a distortion not a translation.”

In 1982, Robert H. Countess in his critical analysis The Jehovah’s Witness’ New Testament wrote that the NWT “must be viewed as a radically biased piece of work.”

Theologian William Barclay concluded that “the deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in the New Testament translation. … It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest.”

Theologian John Ankerberg accused the New World Translations translators of renderings that conform “to their own preconceived and unbiblical theology.” John Weldon and Ankerberg cite several examples wherein they consider the NWT to support theological views overriding appropriate translation.

And that wasn’t even half of them.

Even the Unitarians have a go at the whole “stake” thing. My goodness, if you can’t please them, I think you’re in trouble. (Though they seem to like it overall.)

In 1954, Unitarian theologian Charles F. Potter stated about the New World Translation: “Apart from a few semantic peculiarities like translating the Greek word stauros as “stake” instead of “cross”, and the often startling use of the colloquial and the vernacular, the anonymous translators have certainly rendered the best manuscript texts, both Greek and Hebrew, with scholarly ability and acumen.”

…I don’t want this to be a discussion about Jehovah’s Witness doctrine, but simply wanted you to be aware of the new translation and explore some of the wordings used. I’ll leave comments open (for now) but try to focus on the issue of translation, and not on JW teaching.


1 On close observation, the NIV rumors are unfounded; coming from the same spirit which produced the KJV-only movement. Conservative Christians love conspiracies, don’t they?
2 As true as this is, people have the right to remain loyal to the wording they’ve been using. The NLT’s predecessor, The Living Bible is kept in print — now in 7 different editions — for this very reason.
3 The mission we collect used books for received a donation of JW materials from the 1920s and 1930s. I know many readers here would tell me to destroy them, but I couldn’t help but think, ‘What if the shoe was on the other foot?’ Plus I figured it would be an excuse for contact and hence bridge-building. However, JW materials are often superseded by later writings and I was given the green light to put all the books in recycling.
4 For the record, I support including the John 8 passage as well as its placement following John 7 (no humor intended, it has to do with the content of that chapter) for a few reasons. It certainly fits the character of Jesus, doesn’t it?
5 I did warn you that one was coming. Lots of material about this online if you’re unfamiliar with the issue concerning the NWT’s addition of the indefinite article.
6 I’ve never understood the JW obsession with this terminology. It might create a better mapping with the bronze snake story in Numbers 21, but oddly enough the NWT doesn’t use that at verses 8 and 9 (“Moses at once made a serpent of copper and put it on the pole…”)
7 Yes, I twice provided the hyperlink to Wikipedia, so why not to the NWT Bible online? I figure you can find it if you need to. Their website branding is probably among the best out there. The version online is their study Bible edition with notes in a right side-column, at least in the desktop version of the site.

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