In a recent article entitled, “Breaking Through an Ancient Barrier” (Awake! No. 3, June 2016), the Watchtower organization states the following: “Some 2,500 years ago…under the rule of King Ahasuerus (likely Xerxes I), the Persians transmitted official decrees across the realm, ‘from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces, to each province in its own script and to each people in its own language.’
“Today, most organizations—even governments—would not attempt such a difficult feat. There is one organization, however, that has proved equal to the task. Jehovah’s Witnesses publish magazines, audio and video productions, and many books—including the Bible—in a combined total of more than 750 languages. This includes some 80 sign languages. The Witnesses also publish various versions of Braille for the blind.”
“After all,” it says, “in that sacred book, God, whose name is Jehovah, tells us that he wants his message to be shared with people of ‘every nation and tribe and tongue.’—Revelation 14:6.”
This gives the impression that the Watchtower’s Bible translation activity is incomparable and that it has made the Bible available in nearly every language.
Sometimes I just let claims like this go because they aren’t directly related to doctrine and salvation. However, sometimes it’s necessary to show Jehovah’s Witnesses that the Watchtower is not the reliable source of information that it claims to be.
Rather than arguing with them about the biased nature of the Watchtower’s New World Translation, let’s bypass that issue for now and look solely at the numbers.
What is the reality?
1. Watchtower literature translations far exceed Watchtower Bible translations.
Notice that the Awake! article speaks in terms of “a combined total of more than 750 languages.” What is being combined? “…magazines, audio and video productions, and many books—including the Bible.”
In the same issue there is a companion article entitled “Breaking the Language Barrier.” A subsection entitled “Benefits that Last a Lifetime” gives the specific breakdown.
- jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses… over 700 languages
- “Listen to God and Live Forever,” a Watchtower brochure… over 640 languages
- The Watchtower, a Watchtower magazine… over 250 languages
- Awake!, a Watchtower magazine… over 100 languages
If Jehovah’s Witnesses cite you these statistics, I recommend that you say something like this: “I notice something significant missing from that list. There’s no mention of the Bible! It seems to me that the Watchtower considers translating and distributing its own literature to be far more important than translating and distributing the Bible itself. I don’t understand that, given that only the Bible is infallible and inspired by God.”
Into how many languages has the Watchtower organization translated the Bible itself? You have to search elsewhere to find the answer. According to https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/activities/publishing/nwt-bible-mother-tongue/, the number is “more than 115 languages.”
In other words, it provides The Watchtower magazine in more than double the number of languages in which it provides the Bible! It has made its website available in 6 times the number of languages into which it has translated the Bible itself.
Witnesses will tell you that all Watchtower literature is based on the Bible and makes it more understandable. To that you can reply, “So Watchtower literature is superior to the Bible itself? It seems to have a much higher priority. How can people test what the Watchtower or any other group is saying if they don’t have the Bible in their own language?”
2. Wycliffe’s Bible translation and distribution far exceeds the Watchtower’s.
According to the same entry at https://www.jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/activities/publishing/nwt-bible-mother-tongue/, “Although billions of Bibles and numerous translations have been printed by various Bible societies, poverty and religious bias prevent many people from obtaining a Bible in their own language. Consequently, Jehovah’s Witnesses offer the New World Translation in more than 115 languages.”
Contrary to the Watchtower’s claims that its Bible translation and distribution is incomparable and that impoverished peoples are not getting Bibles elsewhere due to religious bias, you can show the Witnesses the 2015 statistics that come from one Bible translation society, Wycliffe (https://www.wycliffe.org/about/why):
- About 7,000 languages are known to be in use today
- More than 1,300 languages have access to the New Testament and some portions of Scripture in their language.
- More than 550 languages have the complete translated Bible.
- Up to 180 million people need Bible translation to begin in their language.
- Just under 2,300 languages across 130 countries have active translation and linguistic development work happening right now.
- Up to 1,800 languages still need a Bible translation project to begin.
- Wycliffe is committed to beginning the process of translating the Bible in every remaining language by 2025.
If the Watchtower wants to share its Bible translation with people “every nation and tribe and tongue” (Revelation 14:6), it has a lot more work to do. In fact, it has a lot more work to do simply to catch to with what Wycliffe has already done.
Have Jehovah’s Witnesses made claims like this to you in order to show that only the Watchtower organization is doing God’s will? In general, do you think it’s better to let that go or to challenge it as I have done here?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
(Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=612499)
(Photo: Robert de Jong. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ANew_World_Translation_of_the_Holy_Scriptures_in_various_languages_and_versions.jpg)