Although Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t object to you using your favorite version of the Bible, the only one they really trust is the Watchtower’s New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT).
Despite the fact that Witnesses consider the Watchtower version to be the most accurate translation of the Hebrew and Greek texts, many times the verses have been rewritten to support Watchtower doctrines.
As Christians who are trying to get through to Jehovah’s Witnesses, we need to know how to deal with this reality.
In my opinion, there are four strategies you can use to do this successfully.
When you are going to engage in Bible discussions with Jehovah’s Witnesses, try to agree in advance on what topics you will be discussing.
Then look up the relevant scriptures in the NWT so you will know in advance what translation differences you may be facing.
With each of the approaches in my book, Getting Through to Jehovah’s Witnesses: Approaching Bible Discussions in Unexpected Ways, I make the reader aware of relevant translation differences and give specific suggestions on how to address them.
If you are preparing for a discussion and the passage isn’t covered in my book, you can look up the NWT rendering free of charge at the Watchtower’s website.
Strategy #1: Avoidance
Sometimes I recommend avoiding discussion of specific scriptures because their persuasive value gets lost as the conversation degenerates into quibbling over whose translation is right.
One example of this is John 1:1, usually a favorite verse of Christians who want to show from the Bible that Jesus is God.
Almost every recognized translation renders it this way: “In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
But because it teaches that Jesus is a created angel and not God, the Watchtower renders John 1:1 as follows: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” (emphasis added).
You might choose to do things differently, but I personally avoid using John 1:1 in talking with Witnesses in order to avoid getting sidetracked into discussions about Greek syntax and grammar.
I discussed my reasoning in detail in an earlier post.
Strategy #2: Engagement
Perhaps you want to engage Witnesses in a discussion of translation issues.
In the next post , I will give examples of how you can show Witnesses where the Watchtower’s English rendering of specific verses doesn’t match the Greek text by using its own Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures.
My point is that you need to be aware of the translation differences and decide in advance whether to engage the Witnesses on those issues or bypass them altogether.
Strategy #3: Absence
Sometimes you can make use of the absence of a key word or phrase in the NWT to make important points.
An example of this involves the name “Jehovah.”
The Witnesses will tell you that Jesus believed the name “Jehovah” was of critical importance, and therefore we should also.
They may assert that God’s name “was clearly of crucial importance to him since he mentioned it repeatedly in his own prayers.”
Here, a knowledge of the New World Translation can be very helpful.
Ask the Witnesses to show you one passage where Jesus actually begins one of his prayers by addressing God as “Jehovah.”
They won’t be able to find one.
Instead, he addressed God as “Father” (Matthew 11:25; 26:39,42; Luke 10:21; 22:42; 23:34,46; John 11:41; 12:27-28; 17:1,5,11,21,24-25) or, when he was dying, as, “My God, my God” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)—never as “Jehovah,” not even in the Watchtower’s own New World Translation.
The Watchtower asks:
How important is God’s name? Consider the model prayer that Jesus Christ gave. It begins this way: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” (Matthew 6:9)… Clearly, God’s name is of the utmost importance.
In response, using the NWT, you can point out that in this very model prayer, Jesus instructed his disciples to address God as “Father.” (Luke 11:2)
Apparently, “sanctifying God’s name” did not require them to address him as “Jehovah.”
Strategy #4: Affirmative use
If you familiarize yourself with the New World Translation, you can sometimes use it to make important points in ways you couldn’t have done with other translations.
Example: A footnote about Cornelius
If you are discussing the issue of whether it is permissible for Christians to serve in the military, you might want to mention the example of Cornelius.
You can have one of the Witnesses read aloud Acts 10:1-2: “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.”
A useful New World Translation footnote that accompanies this passage explains that as a centurion Cornelius was in command of 100 soldiers and that the Italian unit was a cohort or a Roman army unit of 600 soldiers.
Example: Calling themselves “Jehovah’s Witnesses”
In the NWT, Acts 11:26 reads as follows: “After he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year they assembled with them in the congregation and taught quite a crowd, and it was first in Antioch that the disciples were by divine providence called Christians.”
You can ask the Witnesses what “divine providence” means.
Establish that it indicates that God decreed that something should happen.
Then you can ask the Witnesses, “Why did God decree that Jesus’ followers should be called ‘Christians’? What is the significance of the fact that he did not decree that they should be called ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’?”
Example: Praying to Jesus
Jehovah’s Witnesses pray only to Jehovah, never to Jesus.
Yet the Watchtower’s rendering of Acts 22:16 teaches otherwise in the important area of obtaining forgiveness of sins: “And now why are you delaying? Rise, get baptized, and wash your sins away by your calling on his name.’”
The key to dealing with the New World Translation is awareness.
Whether you learn of translation issues from my book or from your own online investigation into the peculiarities of the NWT, your knowledge and preparation can help you significantly as you develop your strategies for getting through to Jehovah’s Witnesses.