Saturday, January 5, 2008

NWT and Bias

A couple of posts ago, I shared that the charge that our modern English New Testaments resulted from biased translation is a non-issue among scholars. I also argued that this is because there are many Greek experts with no theological axe to grind who can assess the English translation in question. In passing, I mentioned that there is one exception, one version that fails the bias test--the New World Translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

This mention generated a number of comments from at least three defenders of the NWT. I have enjoyed the interaction with them, and have found them generally courteous and gracious. In that regard, our discussion has been much better than some I've had with evangelicals with whom I have had differences of opinion.

While I'm at it, I might also mention that I find among Jehovah's Witnesses some very bright folks and some thoughtful writings. Two issues of their AWAKE! magazine come particularly to mind, one (September 2007) whose lead article was "Is God Responsible for Natural Disasters?" and another (from a few months earlier) on creation. Each of these articles was quite well-written and the difficult issues in question were addressed with intelligence, insight, and scriptural integrity that far surpassed much of the evangelical writing I have seen on these same subjects.

Nonetheless, I and the Jehovah's Witnesses will always have significant disagreements, areas in which clear reasoning seems impotent in moving them from the beliefs they have been taught by the Watchtower Society. The central such issue is, of course, the question of Christ's deity or divinity. And it is on this very issue that their NWT can be seen to be biased.

So when I say that the NWT is recognized as biased by Greek experts from across the theological spectrum, I am not suggesting that the entire translation is flawed or even that its anonymous editors made more mistakes (wrong choices) in translation than did the editors of other English versions. Rather, what I am claiming is that it is easily seen that its editors systematically mistranslated many of the passages that in the Greek most clearly proclaim Jesus' deity.

It might be worthwhile to note here that the JW denial of Jesus' divinity does not come from, but precedes the NWT. For years, they promulgated that denial from door to door even when carrying the King James Version as their Bible. But far too many folks were conversant enough with the Bible to point out any number of passages that (in the KJV or other modern English version) explicitly claim divinity for Jesus. So the NWT, produced first in 1951, translated many (though not all) of such passages in ways that changed, hid, or softened the very high Christology of the Greek. This, of course, is why the charge of biased translation has always stuck like glue to the NWT. (I'll share some of those passages in an upcoming post.)

But here we find ourselves at an impasse. Christians--those who accept the deity of Christ and acknowledge the Trinitarian view of God found throughout the New Testament--ridicule the NWT as biased. Jehovah's Witnesses, for their part, claim that the bias is the other way around--that the editors of all the other English versions (and the critics of the NWT) have had a Trinitarian and Christological bias that prevents them from seeing what the Scriptures actually say about God and Christ. As one of those commenting on a previous post wrote,
As for the scholars who condemn the NWT, they are almost, if not entirely, Trinitarian in their own outlook, presupposition, and bias, and the verses they find fault with are mostly the ones that bear on the Trinity. So, how really objective are such scholars?
But this argument misses the very specific point of my original claim and ignores a good deal of available evidence. So my original point again was this...

There is one very good reason that we can be confident that almost all modern English translations are unbiased and that the NWT of the JWs is, in fact, biased. And that is because objective Greek scholars from across the theological spectrum--including especially those who have no particular stake or interest in the theological debates about Jesus' divinty--recognize in the NWT (and in no other modern English version) a sytematic misrendering of the Greek into English in the passages most clearly addressing the identity of Jesus.


Anonymous said...

I've really enjoyed reading the dialog with you and simply biblical. I think it's through this medium of forthright, intelligent discussion that these issues can be discussed and hopefully in one's faith personally affirmed.

In reading the commentary from both sides, it seems the real point of the debate boils down to the translation of the Bible into English from the original text. It's not about what the JW's web site is trying to say or about whether or not a particular scholar is qualified or not in helping to write a certain biblical version.

The bottom line is does the NWT, or any other version for that matter, translate the original texts that comprise the Bible accurately? I think you'll find that language experts in Greek, regardless of what their personal religion or faith happens to be (unbiased), would point out that the NWT and it's translation does indeed inaccurately translate the original Greek text in a strict, literal word for word and textual translation.

If this can be agreed on, it would seem the discussion of the Trinitarian view or the JW view could more rapidly progress and the points in the Bible that support this claim could be debated.

Rick Gerhardt said...


I'm glad you're enjoying the discussion. I agree with you completely, and intend to share some specific examples, places where anyone who understands NT Greek can see that the anonymous translators of the NWT took liberties to make their version less clear about Jesus' deity.

Thanks for reading.

hayhauler said...

The issue of the Trinity was not an issue in any theolgy of the Isrealites or the early Christian congregation. It became an issue when Arius and Athanasius made it an issue of controversy.

Who were they? Let my old friend, a good old dictionary tell us who they were:

Arius ~

Main Entry: Ari·us
Pronunciation: \ˈer-ē-əs\
Function: biographical name
circa a.d. 250–336 Greek theologian

& from his name we find this

One entry found.


Main Entry: 1Ar·i·an
Pronunciation: \ˈa-rē-ən, ˈer-ə-\
Function: adjective
Date: 14th century : of or relating to Arius or his doctrines especially that the Son is not of the same substance as the Father but was created as an agent for creating the world
— Ar·i·an·ism \-ə-ˌni-zəm\ noun

& now

Athanasius ~

Main Entry: Ath·a·na·si·us
Pronunciation: \ˌa-thə-ˈnā-zh(ē-)əs, -sh(ē-)əs\
Function: biographical name
Saint circa 293–373 Greek (Egyptian-born) church father.

& from his name we get~

Main Entry: Ath·a·na·sian
Pronunciation: \ˌa-thə-ˈnā-zhən, -shən\
Function: adjective
Date: 1586
: of or relating to Athanasius or his advocacy of the homoousian doctrine against Arianism.

So one can see that their was the issue being a controversy long ago but the Isrealites and early Christian congregation and it's Governing body in Jersalem said this regarding new theology or doctrinal change from what the Isrealites belived and were in expectation of the Messiah at Acts 5:28 & 29 stating and this is quoted from the MWT but I invite you to comparemany versions of the Holy Scriptures:

"28 For the holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to YOU, except these necessary things, 29 to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication. If YOU carefully keep yourselves from these things, YOU will prosper. Good health to YOU!_________________
Italics and boldness addes by hayhauler

Well this is a start and we'll continue a very good discussion.

Warm Christian love,

:D :D :D :D

Anonymous said...

Jason David BeDuhn in his book Truth in translation compares the NWT of the greek scriptures with eight others translations. He finds the NWT the most accurate even in the rendering of John 1:1 and also the nature of the Holy Spirit. BeDuhn has no theological axe to grind and argues the in fact the NWT corrects theological bias incorporated into earlier translations particularly the King James Version.

Roy said...

Mr. Gerhardt,

Perhaps you could select a text you hold to be universally translated one way yet differently in the NWT alone? I think you might find that a daunting task, perhaps even impossible.

But, nevertheless, why not pick the most obvious one, John 1:1?
Although there are scores of translations other than the NWT that read "a god" in 1:1c, your position appears to be that the NWT only translated the indefinite sense due to its internal bias, and not grammar.

However, there are 53 instances of a predicate nominative preceding the copulative verb in the book of John. The type of noun selected at John 1:1c is a grammatically bounded singular unqualified noun. Of the 53 nouns in John the other grammatically bounded singular unqualified nouns are translated as "indefinite", in nearly every English language translation. The controversial exception claimed by some "experts" is John 1:1c, where either a definite or qualitative essence is asserted. Here are some of these examples.

John 4:9, 19; 6:70; 8:34, 44, 48; 9:8, 17, 24, 25 28; 10:1, 13, 33, 12:6; 18:26, 35, 37.

In all of these grammatically parallel cases with John 1:1c each predicate nominative is translated as indefinite, as "a Jew, a prophet, a slave, a liar, a Samaritan, a beggar, a sinner, a disciple, a thief, a hired man, a man, a relative, a king.

The relevant comparisons are that the noun is a predicate nominative, that it is pre-verbal, is singular, is bounded and is unqualified. The other pre-verbal predicate nouns do not fit this grammatical and semantic parallel.

Therefore, what is the theological bias that influences the NWT to "incorrectly" translate John 1:1c as indefinite given these many grammatical examples in John in parallel with this verse?

simplybiblical said...

Hello Mr. Gerhardt;

And beyond Roy's fine comments here, which clearly demonstrate that John, in his gospel account at least, always intended an indefinite sense for anarthrous (lacking the article) bounded pre-verbal predicate nominatives this way.

If we ignore Trinitarian presuppositions for the moment, and simply let the text speak for itself. What other logical translation of Jn. 1:1c would truly fit the context than the NWT and others "…the Word was a god?"

I mean, to state the matter simply, how can Christ be one in the same "God" John stated he was "with," in the immediate context at Jn. 1:1b and 1:2, that the traditional definite rendering "…the Word was God" would mandate?

Is John claiming that God is somehow *with* himself?

In spite of the special pleadings of Trinity advocates, there are really only two ways to go on this Mr. Gerhardt. As Roy states, the term "QEOS" ("God" or "god") is "bounded," which makes it countable. That is to say it refers to a enumerable entity. And as such it is either definite or indefinite.

Any degree of qualitativness in such situations is seen as only an *additional* attribute to the noun in question. But never to the total exclusion of its count sense, even if the author's intent is to focus primarly on the noun's qualitative aspect.

The positing of a third distinct category for a solely qualitative sense of "QEOS" by Trinitarian scholars which functions as a pure adjective such "QEIOS" or maybe "QEOTES," is not based on any evidence from a 1st century or prior understanding or use of the term. But is an unfortunate attempt to impose later 4-5th century Nicene-Chalcedonian theology upon a 1st century text.

So in conclusion, unless John is teaching some form of ditheism with an "a God" interpretation. Where does that honestly leave us for another appropriate choice than those of the NWT's "...the Word was a god" rendition?


simplybiblical said...


Perhaps I should have qualified my remarks a little better in my earlier comments, in that as far as a *literal translation* of the Johnanine text.

What other more logical rendering is there for Jn. 1:1c, that is both theologically neutral and will genuinely fit with the context than the NWT and others "…the Word was a god" for the reasons I cited previously?

Roy said...

Mr. Gerhardt,

Well, do you intend on writing an answer to my question,
sir, no impoliteness intended? If the “experts” are so expert
and clear about certain alleged Greek grammar an adequate
response might seem but a simple task for you.

However, I should point out to you an example of “expert”
ruling later abandoned and revised by your cited “experts”.
Colwell’s Rule was once defined and used by all in your
world of “experts” to prove beyond a question that QEOS at
John 1:1c was “definite”. Perhaps the greatest of then Greek
scholars, Dr.Bruce Metzgar, even cited the rule as absolutely
decisive. However, only years later was the rule absolutely
redefined in use to show that it had no power whatsoever to
determine that such noun constructions as it named were
definite. Then the construction was revised to stipulate an
alleged “qualitative” value.

So, Mr. Gerhardt, was there a contrite apology from your world
of “experts”, a humble admission that they had made a mistake?
They had confidently quoted the old interpretation of the rule to
intimidate those of the “a god” position that the only authority that
counted was that of your experts, that the rule was absolutely
decisive as determined by the experts and was not to be successfully
challenged. There was never an apology, never a show of
humility that the experts could be mistaken. Not to this very day, sir.

What say you?

And in the end, the so-called “qualitative” value of this construction
of nouns is equally challenged. What your “experts” are calling a
qualitative value is in reality an “intensional orientation” of a bounded
noun. And ALL such constructs are “indefinite”; they are one and
all intensional orientations of indefinite nouns. So what is the semantic value of the nouns I presented to you in John?

So again, do you have a response? Or do you simply take the word
of your “experts” as decisive absent any knowledge of your own as to
whether your confidence in them is justified or misplaced?