“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.”
The Watchtower publishes its own version of the Bible, calling it “New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.” Jehovah’s Witnesses consider it to be the best translation of the Bible available. It is the only one they will really trust.
Unfortunately, key passages have been mistranslated in order to support Watchtower theology. There are many of these, but I’m going to restrict myself here to a few examples dealing with two important subjects: (1) the identity of Jesus and (2) insertion of the name “Jehovah” 237 times into the New Testament.
In this post, I’ll focus on the identity of Jesus. In the next post, we’ll look at the name “Jehovah.”
Who is Jesus?
The Watchtower insists that Jesus is not God in human flesh. Rather, it teaches that he is Michael the archangel—“a god” (mighty one) but not “the God” (Jehovah). In Watchtower theology, only the Father is Jehovah.
Here are two key examples of the Watchtower’s mistranslation:
Example #1: John 1:1 (NWT): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
- Undoubtedly, this is the most notorious of all the Watchtower’s mistranslations. It bases its “a god” rendering on the fact that there is no Greek definite article in front of the word “theos” (God) in John 1:1.
- Greek scholar Robert H. Countess examined the Greek New Testament and found 282 occurrences of “theos” without the definite article. Then he look up each of these references in the NWT and found that only 16 times did the Watchtower translate that as “a god,” “god,” “gods,” or “godly.” The other 266 times it rendered it as “God” despite the lack of the definite article.
- He cites specifically John 1:1-18, where “theos” appears 8 times (verses 1, 2, 6, 12, 13, 18) and only has the definite article twice (verses 1 and 2). Yet six times the NWT renders it “God,” once as “a god,” and once as “the god.”
- Countess comments, “Sixteen out of 282 means that translators were faithful to their translation principle only six percent of the time. To be ninety-four percent unfaithful hardly commends a translation to careful readers!” (emphasis original).
Example #2: “Colossians 1:15-17 (NWT): “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 because by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him. 17 Also, he is before all other things, and by means of him all other things were made to exist…”
- In the Watchtower’s rendering, the word “other” appears 4 times. It is not there in the Greek text any of the 4 times. The Watchtower inserted it to support its claim that Jesus is a created being, not God himself.
- “Firstborn” comes from the Greek word “prototokos,” which doesn’t mean “first one created”; rather, it means “preeminent,” which fits the context perfectly.
- The Watchtower has defended its rendering by pointing out that the translators of the King James Version inserted words into the English text to make the meaning plain. That is true, but they italicized them so the reader would know what was original and what was added. In earlier editions, the Watchtower placed the word “other” in brackets, but now the reader has no indication that anything has been changed.
- You can show Jehovah’s Witnesses that the Watchtower has done this by having them examine The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1969). The NWT rendering includes “other.” The Greek interlinear side does not.
Combatting This Error
I do not recommend that you quote to Jehovah’s Witnesses Hebrew or Greek scholars who say that key Watchtower renderings are 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 rule of translation or from the word-by-word rendering of its own Greek interlinear translation in order to “prove” its doctrine.
That way, it’s not our experts versus the Watchtower.
It’s the Watchtower versus the Watchtower!
Clearly, something is wrong.
A Word of Caution
Many Jehovah’s Witnesses are not ready for this type of confrontation.
- It challenges one of their most strongly held beliefs.
- It shows that you have already done a great deal of research into Watchtower teachings, and 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 alternatives 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 on these doctrinal issues and are pressing you to try to defend what you believe.
- 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), pp. 54-55