As I noted in the previous post, “twisted translation” can be defined as follows: “The biblical text is retranslated, not in accordance with sound Greek scholarship, to fit the preconceived teachings of a cult.”
Last time, I looked at two of its mistranslations with regard to the identity of Jesus.
Today, I’m going to look at the fact that the Watchtower has inserted the name “Jehovah” into the New World Translation of the New Testament 237 times, despite the fact that the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) does not appear in any existing Greek New Testament manuscript. (It does appear in the Septuagint, but that is a Greek version of the Old Testament, not the New.)
The Watchtower’s stated translation principle
The Watchtower defends its rendering by arguing that, given the importance of the divine name, whenever the inspired New Testament writers quoted an Old Testament passage which contained the Tetragrammaton they would have been careful to quote it precisely and so would have included the Tetragrammaton (Jehovah) rather than using the words “kyrios” (Lord) and “theos” (God).
In an explanatory comment on pages 18-19 in the preface of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, the Watchtower asks:
How is a modern translator to know or determine when to render the Greek words kyrios and theos into the divine name in his version? By determining where the inspired Christian writers have quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures. Then he must refer back to the original to locate whether the divine name appears there. This was he can determine the identity to give to kyrios and theos and then he can clothe them with personality. Realizing that this is the time and place for it, we have followed this course in rendering our version of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Violations of its stated principle: Overview
Greek scholar Robert Countess examined the NWT to see how faithfully the Watchtower followed its own stated translation principle. He found that it was 95 percent faithful regarding appearances of the word “kyrios” in the Greek text and 56 percent faithful as far as the word “theos” is concerned.
That is, he found a number of instances in which the Watchtower did not use the name “Jehovah” even though the Old Testament reference was clearly referring to YHWH.
Conversely, he also found many occasions where the Watchtower inserted the name “Jehovah” even though there was no appearance of YHWH in the Old Testament to support it. In fact, in only 50 of the 237 times the Watchtower inserts the name “Jehovah” does YHWH appear in a corresponding Old Testament passage.
He comments, “One is compelled to ask the question, Why did not NWT follow its principle 100 percent of the time?”
The simple answer is that it left “Jehovah” out of passages where its insertion would show the full deity of Christ and inserted it in verses where it would otherwise appear that Jesus was doing things only God can do.
Here are some examples:
Inserting “Jehovah” in violation of its stated principle
- Ephesians 6:8 (NWT): “… for you know that whatever good each one does, he will receive this back from Jehovah, whether he is a slave or a freeman.”
- Consider the sweeping power the passage would be attributing to Jesus if the rendered this “receive back from the Lord,” as most versions do.
Colossians 3:13 (NWT): “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely even if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Just as Jehovah freely forgave you, you must also do the same.”
- In Watchtower theology, it is Jehovah who forgives sins, not Jesus.
Leaving “Jehovah” out in violation of its stated principle
- Isaiah 45:22-23 (NWT): “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth, For I am God, and there is no one else. 23 By myself I have sworn; The word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness, And it will not return: To me every knee will bend, Every tongue will swear loyalty.”
- Philippians 2:9-11 (NWT): “For this very reason, God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, 10 so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend—of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground— 11and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
- In Isaiah, although “Jehovah” is not used in verses 22-23, it is clear that it is Jehovah that is speaking. If the Watchtower had followed its own translation principle, it would have rendered the passage in Philippians “… every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Jehovah to the glory of God the Father.” It was their ideology that caused them to violate their own rule.
- Psalm 102:24-27 (NWT): “I said: “O my God, Do not do away with me in the middle of my life, You whose years span all generations. 25Long ago you laid the foundations of the earth, And the heavens are the work of your hands. 26 They will perish, but you will remain; Just like a garment they will all wear out. Just like clothing you will replace them, and they will pass away. 27 But you are the same, and your years will never end.”
- Hebrews 1:8, 10-12 (NWT): “But about the Son, he says: “God is your throne forever and ever, and the scepter of your Kingdom is the scepter of uprightness. 9 You loved righteousness, and you hated lawlessness. That is why God, your God, anointed you with the oil of exultation more than your companions.”10 And: “At the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you will remain; and just like a garment, they will all wear out, 12 and you will wrap them up just as a cloak, as a garment, and they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never come to an end.”
- Despite the fact that the Old Testament addresses these words to God, the Watchtower shows verse 10 being addressed “O Lord,” not, “O Jehovah” because otherwise God the Father would be calling the Son “Jehovah,” and the full deity of Christ would be inescapable.
- Psalm 34:8a (NWT): “Taste and see that Jehovah is good…”
- 1 Peter 2:3-4 (NWT): “…provided you have tasted that the Lord is kind. 4As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen, precious to God…”
- If the Watchtower had followed its own translation principle here, Jehovah himself would be the living stone rejected by men but precious to God. In other words, Jesus as well as the Father would be identified as “Jehovah.”
No doubt the Watchtower would justify departure from its stated interpretation principle on the grounds that to follow it in those instances would wrongly make it appear that Jesus is God.
But that shows the problem.
The Watchtower starts with its dogma that Jesus is not God and then twists its own renderings of key verses to match its preconceived theology.
Things should work the other way around.
Bible passages should be translated according to established principles of interpretation and then we should examine all the relevant passages in establishing our belief system.
Combatting This Error
I do not recommend that you quote to Jehovah’s Witnesses Hebrew or Greek scholars who say that the insertion of “Jehovah” into the New Testament is wrong. The Witnesses will simply consider the Watchtower’s translators to be superior.
Instead, do what I have done here. Show the Witnesses that the Watchtower has to depart significantly from its own stated principle of translation in order to keep its doctrine secure.
As I said last time, clearly, something is wrong.
A Word of Caution
What I said in the last post also applies here: Many Jehovah’s Witnesses are not ready for this type of confrontation.
- It challenges one of their most deeply cherished beliefs.
- It shows that you have already done a great deal of research into Watchtower teachings, Hebrew, and Greek.
Because of this, addressing this topic works best in two situations
- When you are dealing with people who are genuinely looking for answers to the Watchtower’s teachings, such as:
- An ex-Jehovah’s Witness who is open to alternative to what they have been taught
- A current Witnesses who has disclosed to you that they have serious doubts about Watchtower doctrine
- Someone who is studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses who are looking for Christian answers to what the Witnesses are telling them.
- When you find yourself in discussion with Jehovah’s Witnesses who are coming on strong with regard to the name “Jehovah” and challenging you as to why your Bible systematically omits the name from the New Testament.
- Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible, James W. Sire (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1980), p. 155-156
- The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New Testament: A Critical Analysis , Robert H. Countess (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1982), p. 34.