THIS IS THE SECOND OF A TWO-PART ARTICLE.
TO VIEW PART I, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
The New World Translation has been a topic of controversy for quite some time. The basic argument is whether this Bible version is a reliable tool for Bible study. This is partly because The New World Translation was put together by an anonymous committee of men who refused to be named. Frederick William Franz, then-vice-president of the Watchtower Society, oversaw this committee and its translation; this, in spite of the fact that Franz had absolutely no credentials in Biblical languages, which he admitted in the Walsh trial in Scotland, November 1954.
THE WALSH TRIAL
What was the Walsh Trial?
The Walsh trial centered around a Scottish Jehovah's Witness member, Douglas Walsh, who was selected to be a test case regarding enforced military service in Scotland. Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to perform military service, whether voluntary or enforced, on religious grounds. In Scotland, ordained religious ministers were exempt from enforced (a.k.a. conscripted) military service, therefore, Douglas Walsh, a Jehovah's Witness Pioneer ("Pioneers" are considered to be full-time ministers in the Jehovah's Witness religion) sought to receive exempt status based on his position in the Jehovah's Witness congregation. This matter ended up in court. After much questioning and deliberation the court finally decided that the Jehovah's Witnesses were, indeed, an official denomination, BUT that Douglas Walsh, and other Jehovah's Witnesses in his similar position, did not legally qualify as "ministers." During this trial the validity of the New World Translation came in to question. In summary, Frederick Franz not only lacked credentials in Biblical languages, but he continued to refuse to name the ones who did the actual translating. During this court interview Franz couldn't translate the Bible verse from Genesis 2:4 into Hebrew – an elementary task for someone who would be qualified to oversee the translation of Scripture.
So here we're starting with a team of unverifiable translators who were supervised by a man who possessed no credentials in Biblical languages.
To view detailed information regarding the Walsh Trial, please click here.
This is only the tip of the iceberg.
It is a known fact that the writing of the New World Translation was also influenced by spirit mediums; a practice heavily condemned by the Watchtower Society (Bearing Thorough Witness About God's Kingdom, book, 2009, p.163 para.15). One of these mediums was a former Catholic priest named Johannes Greber. Throughout the years, the Watchtower Society cited Greber's writings as support for their New World Translation, especially when it came to the support of the New World Translation's reading of the verse at John 1:1 which is worded as follows (underline ours):
In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.
Since the Watchtower Society teaches that the Trinity is a false doctrine, and Jesus is not a part of the Godhead, they ensure that this passage refers to Jesus, a.k.a. “the Word” as “a god,” instead of “God.” This is where Johannes Greber comes in:
In support of the New World Translation's wording of this verse in John 1:1, the Watchtower Society published the following statement (please be sure to read the original footnote, which I have included):
The Word, Who Is He According To John? p. 5, published in 1962
...Similar is the reading by a former Roman Catholic priest: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. This was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without it nothing created sprang into existence (*John 1:1-3)...
*The New Testament, A New Translation & Explanation Based on the oldest manuscripts, by Johannes Greber (a translation from German into English) edition of 1937.
They also used Greber to support another Bible verse, the one at Matthew 27:52-53 which reads in the New World Translation as follows:
(52 )And the memorial tombs were opened and many bodies of the holy ones that had fallen asleep were raised up (53) (and persons, coming out from among these memorial tombs after his being raised up, entered into the holy city,) and they became visible to many people
The Watchtower Society compares this to Greber's translation of this same passage, which reads:
Tombs were laid open, and many bodies of those buried there were tossed upright. In this posture they projected from the graves and were seen by many who passed by the place on their way back to the city.
Essentially, the Watchtower Society was relying on Greber's translation to support that an Earthquake of such great magnitude happened so that bodies were thrown out of their graves for passersby to see (The Watchtower, April 15, 1976, p. 231 "Event Clarifies Bible" ). This, in spite of the original Greek wording of this passage, which points towards an actual resurrection of these ones in the graves (ironically, taken from the Watchtower Society's own Kingdom Interlinear Translation, 1969 edition):
...and the memorial tombs were opened and many bodies of the having fallen asleep holy ones were raised up, and they having gone forth out of the memorial tombs after the being raised up of him they entered into the holy city and they were made apparent to many (Kingdom Interlinear Translation, original Greek rendering, 1969 edition).
The Watchtower, Bible, and Tract Society continued to cite Greber as a supporting resource until the early 1980s, when a reader of the Watchtower magazine questioned why the Watchtower Society no longer cited Greber's translation as a reference source. Part of the answer given to the reader included the fact that “in a foreword to the 1980 edition of The New Testament by Johannes Greber, this translator relied on “God’s Spirit World” to clarify for him how he should translate difficult passages...The Watchtower has deemed it improper to make use of a translation that has such a close rapport with spiritism.” (The Watchtower, Apr. 1, 1983, p.30). With this answer, the Watchtower Society discontinued using Greber as a resource after the 1980 edition of his New Testament showed that he wrote the translation based on communication with spirits. This heavily implies that the Watchtower Society was unaware of his link to spiritism before this information came to light. HOWEVER... this implication is quite deceitful because the Watchtower Society had previously published knowledge of Greber's spiritism and communication with spirits long before this question came up, as shown in their Watchtower magazine:
The Watchtower, Feb 15, 1956 p.p110-111 para. 10-11 ...ex-priest Greber says: “The most significant spiritualistic book is the Bible.” Under this impression Greber endeavors to make his New Testament translation read very spiritualistic...Very plainly the spirits in which ex-priest Greber believes helped him in his translation.
The Watchtower Society published these words decades before writing the answer to the above question in the 1983 Watchtower, indicating that they had known the entire time that Greber was a spirit medium!
Johannes Greber wasn't the only spirit medium whom the Watchtower Society relied on for the writing of the New World Translation; they also used John S. Thompson's translation as support for John 1:1 as shown in the Watchtower publication The Kingdom Interlinear Translation (1985 edition). On page 1139 of this publication, in Appendix 2A, the Watchtower Society lists Thompson's translation in support of their rendering of the Scripture at John 1:1 (“a god”): The Monotessaron; or, The Gospel History According to the Four Evangelists by John S. Thompson, published in 1829. [Thompson's rendering says “and the Logos was a god.”]
Thompson was also known to have direct contact with the spirit world, as shown in an article in The American Quarterly Review, September 1830, Volume 8, on pages 237-238, which directly quotes Thompson as follows (underline, emphasis, and footnote ours):
I will now proceed to relate things, just as I have before done, agreeably to the views and impressions I then had ; leaving every one to form his own opinion. I acknowledge, my mind was in a state of great excitement, at the time I had these extraordinary impressions; but it did not then seem to me, nor does it yet, that the degree of the excitement was adequate to the phenomena. I awoke, one night, and heard a considerable noise in my room. I listened carefully for some time, and the sound was that of a thousand pens, writing in great haste what was dictated. I heard a voice very distinctly, saying, - “In all your writings, be careful to represent Jesus* as only the instrument of God in all he does.” I immediately interrupted, by exclaiming,- “Silence! I’ll not believe one of you.” The noise immediately stopped; and I was often afterward sorry that I had interrupted the dictation. I examined; but there was no person in the room, the door being locked, and none had yet arisen in the house.
Not long after, sleeping in the same room, I awoke by pressure, which removed immediately on awaking. I began to reflect, whether it was a dream, or an external force applied to my body. Whilst I doubted, some being took hold of my hands, and pressed with violence, which excited in me great surprise. My hands were let loose, but, in one minute, they were again seized, with renewed violence. I then cried, - “Let me loose! I believe! Do not injure me! I am entirely satisfied of your existence!” The pressure on my hands was immediately removed, and I then felt greatly agitated, and tossed in my bed. In two minutes after, my hands were seized a third time : I then complained loudly, but, in a minute of time, I was again set at liberty. I leaped on the floor, determined that I would make full proof, whether any person had got into the room : though I believed that no man could apply so much strength as I had experienced on my hands. The first thing I did was to examine the door, which I found as I had left it, locked, with they key in the inner side. I took the key out of the door and again trying it, found it fast. I then groped all over the room, but found nobody. I retired to my bed, placing the key under me, and waiting for the light of day.
*Please take note of the bold emphasis; that these spirits were teaching that Christ was nothing more than an “instrument” of God; a teaching that could only serve to reduce Christ's position in the Heavenly realm.
Once the facts regarding this spiritism came to be known among the Jehovah's Witness membership, the Watchtower Society discontinued citing them. But this does not mean that they've discontinued using their spiritistic wordings in the New World Translation. No, instead the Watchtower Society began teaching newer reasons to keep the wording the same.
In their newer explanations, the Watchtower Society claimed that their wording for the passage at John 1:1 is supported by five German Bible translators who also used the phrase “a god,” with a footnote listing these translators as: Jürgen Becker, Jeremias Felbinger, Oskar Holtzmann, Friedrich Rittelmeyer, and Siegfried Schulz. They go on to further support this rendering by stating that Emil Bock renders the scriptures as “a divine being,” and then refers the reader to view other Bible versions such as Today's English Version, The New English Bible, Moffatt, and Goodspeed. Here is the Watchtower Society's exact words along with their footnote :
The Watchtower, March 1, 1991, p.28, first full paragraph
At John 1:1 the New World Translation reads: “The Word was a god.” In many translations this expression simply reads: “The Word was God” and is used to support the Trinity doctrine. Not surprisingly, Trinitarians dislike the rendering in the New World Translation. But John 1:1 was not falsified in order to prove that Jesus is not Almighty God. Jehovah’s Witnesses, among many others, had challenged the capitalizing of “god” long before the appearance of the New World Translation, which endeavors accurately to render the original language. Five German Bible translators likewise use the term “a god” in that verse*. At least 13 others have used expressions such as “of divine kind” or “godlike kind.” These renderings agree with other parts of the Bible to show that, yes, Jesus in heaven is a god in the sense of being divine. But Jehovah and Jesus are not the same being, the same God.
*Jürgen Becker, Jeremias Felbinger, Oskar Holtzmann, Friedrich Rittelmeyer, and Siegfried Schulz. Emil Bock says, “a divine being.” See also the English translations Today’s English Version, The New English Bible, Moffatt, Goodspeed.
Although the Watchtower Society is using these newer resources to support their translation, they have omitted key information regarding these resources. Therefore, the Jehovah's Witness Outreach Project has taken the liberty of filling in these missing pieces of information for you:
Jürgen Becker's reading of John 1:1 reads in the original German "Und ein Gott war der Logos.” (Translation: “and one [a] God was the Logos”) Although this initially seems to agree with the Watchtower Society's point of view, his own commentary on his translation freely admits that he regards Jesus Christ as an equal to God and not a created being, in contrast to Watchtower Society teaching. This is supported in that his Bible translation spells the word "Gott" [God] in this verse with a capital "G", not a lowercase one. Basically, Becker's rendering of the verse speaks out against Modalism while holding on to the doctrine of the Trinity (Das Evangelium Nach Johannes, p.72, Jürgen Becker). What is the difference between Modalism and the Trinity? In Modalism, the view is taken that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the same singular entity playing all three parts. In contrast, the Trinity views all three as separate entities who are unique from the angels, and who work together as one in purpose. Thus, Becker was revealing his denial of Modalism, not denial of the Trinity.
Jeremias Felbinger lived in the seventeenth century (1616-1690) and was a socinian writer, teacher, and lexicographer. What is "socinian?" Socinianism was a system of belief named after Faustus Socinus, an Italian theologian who lived in the sixteenth century (1539-1604) Socinianism taught many things which are in complete opposition to true Bible teaching, such as: Jesus Christ did not pre-exist in Heaven before His human birth; human beings would have been mortal even if they had not sinned, and that human free will is impossible. And, most significantly,because they believed Christ to be completely human, they also taught that His death had no redemptive value regarding our sins. Because of these beliefs, Felbinger's Bible version, "Das Neue Testament" renders the wording in John 1:1 as ."..a god" to address their belief that Christ was something less than from divine origin. Thus, although the Watchtower Society does not subscribe to Socinian teachings, they continue to use a rendering based on Socinian teachings to support their doctrine in the New World Translation.
Oskar Holtzmann was a German theologian and New Testament scholar who lived from 1859 - 1934. Although he attended University to study theology, as far as our sources could find he never earned a degree specifically in Biblical languages – a vital foundation in correctly translating the Bible. That being said, Holtzmann's Bible version, Das Neue Testament, renders the verse at John 1:1 as "und ein Gott war der Gedanke" (“and one [a] God was the Thought”). Does this agree with the original Greek rendering of the verse? No. When looking at the original Greek rendering of the verse, it literally translates into English as (Using the Watchtower Society's own Kingdom Interlinear Translation, 1969 edition): "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was toward the God, and god was the Word." As you can see, even the Watchtower Society's Interlinear Bible doesn't agree with "a god," even though they also translate it as such in the New World Translation. It is also notable that Oskar Holtzmann seemed to have had ties with the Unitarian Church, as the Unitarian Church frequently cited his works for their teaching (The Unitarian Review, Vol. 30: 1888, p.373; The Unitarian Register, Vol. 83. Jan. 7, 1904, p.15; Vol. 83, Sept. 15, 1904, p.1031; Vol. 83, Oct. 14, 1904, p.1141; The Pacific Unitarian, Vol. 14-15, 1905, p.81, etc.). The Unitarian Church is known for it's denial of the divinity of Christ and thus it denies the Trinity. Aside from these things, Holtzmann was also known to have some questionable beliefs regarding Christianity. For example, he insisted that Jesus was born in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem (The Incarnation and Recent Criticism, Richard Joseph Cooke, 1907, p.13 footnote), and that the scribes viewed Christ's good works as the guise of Satan to deceive men (The Theology of the Gospels, James Moffatt, p.181 footnote). In essence, Holtzmann should not be viewed as a reliable resource because he had no proper University credentials for translating the Bible and he didn't hold a proper view of scriptural information. His lack of education and his religious bias makes him a questionable source at best.
Friedrich Rittelmeyer (1872-1938) was a pastor who held credentials in theology and philosophy. In 1922 he founded “The Christian Community,” a religious movement which allows doctrines of Karma, reincarnation, the pre-existence of the human soul in Heaven, and immortality – all of which are in opposition to the the Bible as well as the Watchtower Society's doctrine. This denomination promotes that all people can be viewed as gods, and thus when they consider Jesus Christ to be “a god” instead of God, they aren't meaning what the Watchtower Society would have you think they mean. “The Christian Community” is not an extinct denomination, as it continues to exist today with most of its membership in Europe, though there are smaller congregations in North America.
Siegfried Schulz In his book, Das Evangelium nach Johannes he renders John 1:1 as “and a god (or, of a divine kind) was the Word” (translated from German) What do we make of this? In Schulz's own commentary he writes (underline ours): “The third phrase sets forth the basic premise concerning the pre-existent “Word”: “and God was the Word”. In verse 1c “God” stands in contrast to the clearly articulated divine concept in verse 1b emphasized at the beginning by lack of the article ... In so much as the last work of verse 1b was dealt with, the whole imparts a divine being to the “Word”. The obvious “and God” is the predicate and in no way identifies the Word with the latter “with the God.” Thereby “the Word” is identified as “God” just as the other one is, with which this “Word” stands in close association. The divinity/being [German: Gott-Sein] denotes the essence of the “Word” as it does God himself. The word “God” in the predicate of verse 1c is not the subject - as in Luther’s translation “God was the Word,” on the contrary it is the predicate. The “Word” is not “the God” (verse 1b) or God the Father. Likewise, Logos is a kind of God, divine essence, essentially equal to God, so that one has to translate them inter-relatedly: “and the Word was a kind of God.” The religious traditions of monotheism in the Old Testament and the late Jewish period are supported and honoured by this pre-Johannine, Hellenistic eulogy. In no way, however, as we have already stressed, is a simple interidentification to be had.” Clearly, Schulz is putting the emphasis upon the differentiation between the Father and the Son in denial of Modalism, not the Watchtower's denial of the divinity of the Son.
Aside from these five translators, note that the Watchtower Society also quoted from Emil Bock. Who was Emil Bock? Like Rittelmeyer, Bock was a German theologian and was one of the founders of The Christian Community; thus he subscribed to the same non-Biblical doctrines as Rittelmeyer. Ergo, his erroneous views on the rendition of John 1:1 matched Rittlemeyer's, whom we've already discussed.
What about the Bible versions the Watchtower Society cited? Okay, let's discuss those as well:
Today's English Version:
This Bible version has undergone quite an evolution: It was originally published in 1966 under the title “Good News For Modern Man: The New Testament in Today's English.” The Old Testament was added in 1976 and retitled “Good News Bible: The Bible in Today's English Version.” In 1979 the Apocryphal books were added. In 1992 it was revised with inclusive (a.k.a. politically correct) language, and in 2001 it was retitled “Good News Translation.” The rendering of the verse at John 1:1 reads (1992, second edition): In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The earlier version of the same Bible translation, before revising it with inclusive language, states: Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God, and he was the same as God. Since this version is stating that the Word was the same as God, it is a curious thing that the Watchtower listed this resource, as it is in opposition to the Watchtower Society's teaching.
The New English Bible:
The full version was published in 1970, and was revised and retitled in 1989 as the “Revised English Bible.” This version also contains the Apocryphal books as well. According to William Barclay; on the topic of John 1:1 he writes “But it is here that that NEB [New English Bible] has brilliantly solved the problem with the absolutely correct rendering: “What God was the Word was”” (William Barclay; Many Witnesses, One Lord, 1973, p23-24). Since Barclay is clearly pointing out that this Bible version says the Word is the same as what God is, again it doesn't actually support the Watchtower Society's teaching.
James Moffatt was the only translator for his translation – this should raise a lot of questions because takes a team of properly accredited Bible linguists to properly translate the Bible without personal bias. As regards James Moffatt, he taught at Union Theological Seminary, and his views towards the Bible included that miracles and supernatural accounts were merely myth and nothing more (Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament, James Moffatt, 1911, p.302-303). Moffatt's rendering of John 1:1, according to his The Bible, James Moffatt Translation With Concordance is: “The Logos existed in the very beginning, the Logos was with God, the Logos was divine.” Since his Bible version states that Christ, as the “Logos,” “was divine,” this could only mean that Moffatt recognized the divinity of Christ, a recognition that the Watchtower Society does not accept (The Watchtower, January 15, 1992, p.20-23). Again, the Watchtower Society is listing a version which does not support their doctrine.
Here they are referring to The Complete Bible, an American Translation, by Edgar Goodspeed and J. M. Powis Smith. This translation is only a two-man effort; again, not a full team of experts in Biblical languages. Goodspeed's version reads John 1:1 as: “In the beginning the Word existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was divine.” Again, by use of the word “divine” it supports a doctrine of the divinity of Christ, not the Watchtower Society's doctrine; so again, it is curious that they referenced this.