The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures: The Jehovah's Witnesses
By Tal Davis
"All scripture is inspired of God." These words of 2 Timothy 3:16 identify
God, whose name is Jehovah, as the Author and Inspirer of the Holy Scriptures.
How satisfyingly delightful the inspired Scriptures are! What an amazing fund
of true knowledge they provide! They are indeed "the very knowledge of God"
that has been sought after and treasured by lovers of righteousness in all
ages-Proverbs 2:5. (All Scripture is Inspired of God and
The above statement comes from a textbook written by anonymous authors of
the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WBTS), the official corporation of the
Jehovah's Witnesses. Most evangelical Christians would read it and find little
or nothing to dispute about it. Indeed, Christians historically have affirmed
the full inspiration and authority of the 66 books comprising the Protestant
The WBTS concurs:
"The sacred Scriptures, as a collection from Genesis to Revelation, form one
complete Book, one complete library, all inspired by the one supreme Author…The
sixty-six Bible books, all together, form the one library of the Holy
Scriptures" (All Scripture, 11).
Evangelical Christians furthermore affirm the Bible as the authority for
believers in all matters of faith and practice. Once again, the WBTS assumes
the same authority for the Bible, in principle: "The Scriptures are God's
incomparable gift to mankind, a storehouse of spiritual treasures whose depth
of wisdom is unfathomable, and whose power for enlightening and stimulating to
righteousness exceeds that of all other books ever written" (All
The discerning Christian, however, must ask, "Is the Jehovah's Witnesses'
claim of biblical authority accurate?" The reality is that the Jehovah's
Witnesses' assertion to be totally biblically based should be questioned at two
major points. One is regarding the WBTS's interpretation of the Bible, and the
other is regarding the WBTS's translation of the Bible.
Interpretation of the Bible
The WBTS claims that its Governing Body, its highest administrative
authority, is the "faithful and discreet slave" mentioned in Matthew 24:45
(New World Translation). It considers itself and its publications the
only legitimate channel of directly inspired leadership and the only totally
correct interpreters of Scripture in the world today. Thus, the Governing Body
says that only WBTS literature is reliable and can be trusted to interpret the
All Christian churches, their teachers, writers, and preachers are regarded
as part of the evil world system, under the control of Satan. Their
interpretations are thus dismissed as flawed, corrupted, and distorted, and are
never consulted except to confirm WBTS teachings. Evangelical Christians would
argue that no one church or organization can claim exclusive authority to
interpret the Bible. All Christians are capable, under the leadership of the
Holy Spirit, and with proper training, to understand the Bible.
Translating the Bible
Christians affirm the inspiration and authority of the Bible. However, the
original texts of the biblical books were not written in English. Biblical
authors wrote in Hebrew, koine Greek, and, in a few instances, Aramaic. Thus,
we do not affirm the same level of inspiration for any translation as we do for
the original autographs in their original languages. Translators are obliged to
carefully review the biblical texts in their original languages when doing
their work. Translation is a difficult task and there is rarely universal
satisfaction with the final outcome. Revisions and corrections of translations
are expected. Only the original Greek and Hebrew texts are invariable.
The WBTS would probably agree, in principle, to the above statement.
However, it is at this very point that we find one of the most significant
differences between The WBTS and nearly every other Bible-believing movement in
In 1950, the WBTS published its own English version of the New Testament,
which was called The New World Translation of the Christian Greek
Scriptures. Translations of various Old Testament books were subsequently
released as the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Finally, in 1961, the entire set of WBTS translations was published as The
New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT). Some revisions have
been made since that initial edition, but the NWT essentially remains as it was
Jehovah's Witnesses regard the NWT as the best, if not the only, reliable
Bible translation. It is this critical issue that concerns us here: is the NWT
a truly reliable rendering of God's Word? Our contention, in agreement with
some of the world's foremost biblical scholars, is that it is not. We will now
examine several specific reasons why we hold this position.
The NWT Translation Committee
In an article on the NWT, one WBTS book states that it is "a translation of
the Holy Scriptures made directly from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into
modern-day English by a committee of anointed witnesses of Jehovah"
(Reasoning From the Scriptures, 276).
One might naturally ask, "If that is so, just who were the translators on
the committee who were so qualified to make such an audacious claim to be
'anointed?'" Surprisingly, in the same book, in direct answer to that question,
the following statement is made: "When presenting as a gift the publishing
rights to their translation, the New World Bible Translation Committee
requested that its members remain anonymous. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract
Society of Pennsylvania has honored their request" (Reasoning,
The truth is that nowhere in the NWT or any WBTS literature are the names of
the translators revealed; and while it is true that some other Bible
translations such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB) do not
list their translators in their editions, only the NWT and the WBTS will not
send the names to curious inquirers upon written request.
So, do we know who the NWT translators were? The answer is yes, we do know,
despite the WBTS' refusal to release the names. Raymond Franz is a former
member of the WBTS Governing Body. In his book, Crisis of Conscience,
he states that the translation committee consisted of Governing Body members
George Gangas, Albert Schroeder, Fredrick Franz, and then WBTS President,
"Fred Franz (Raymond Franz's uncle, who later became WBTS President),
however, was the only one with sufficient knowledge of the Bible languages to
attempt translation of this kind. He had studied Greek for two years in the
University of Cincinnati but was only self-taught in Hebrew" (Crisis of
The fact is, none of the members of the NWT committee, including Fredrick
Franz, were really qualified to make a scholarly translation from the original
languages. No one on the committee had more than a rudimentary familiarity with
Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. This lack of expertise is clearly revealed in the
poor, biased quality of the NWT's renderings of many key biblical passages.
The Name of God
The WBTS teaches that God is a unitary being who created the universe. It
states correctly that God revealed His personal name to Moses in the Old
Testament. That name in Hebrew consists of four Hebrew consonants called by
biblical scholars (Jewish and Christian) as the Tetragrammaton. In Hebrew it is
written HWHY. (Note: Hebrew is read from right to left.)
Many attempts have been made to transliterate the Tetragrammaton in English
and other languages. None are adequate since it is not known exactly how it was
originally pronounced. Most biblical scholars believe that "Yahweh" is closest
to the original pronunciation.
The WBTS, however, traditionally has maintained that the best English
transliteration is rendered "Jehovah." Thus, in the NWT, 6,974 times where the
Tetragrammaton appears in the Hebrew text (Old Testament), it renders the name
of God as Jehovah.
Most Hebrew scholars find no serious fault with this NWT usage in the Old
Testament. Indeed, some older English translations did likewise, including the
American Standard Version (1901). The King James Version translators used
"Jehovah" in only four instances (see Ex. 6:3; Ps. 83:18; Isa. 12:2; 26:4).
They, like most modern translators, preferred to render the Tetragrammaton by
the capitalized designation LORD in keeping with ancient Jewish tradition to
avoid pronouncing (or mispronouncing) the sacred name of God.
Consider this statement from the "Principles of Translation" of the
In the Scriptures, the name of God is most significant and understandably
so. It is inconceivable to think of spiritual matters without a proper
designation for the Supreme Deity. Thus the most common name for the Deity is
God, a translation of the original Elohim. One of the titles for God is Lord, a
translation of Adonai. There is yet another name which is particularly assigned
to God as His special or proper name, that is, the four letters YHWH (Exodus
3:14 and Isaiah 42:8). This name has not been pronounced by the Jews because of
reverence for the great sacredness of the divine name. Therefore, it has been
consistently translated Lord. The only exception to this translation of YHWH is
when it occurs in immediate proximity to the word Lord, that is, Adonai. In
that case it is regularly translated God in order to avoid confusion.
It is known that for many years YHWH has been transliterated as Yahweh,
however, no complete certainty attaches to this pronunciation (NASB, iv). The
WBTS has criticized this practice as indicative of Jewish and Christian
attempts to obscure the sacred name of Jehovah God from its people. It argues
that it demonstrates the satanic nature of modern religious practice.
Granted, some Christian scholars acknowledge that the use of LORD instead of
the sacred name is unwarranted and that perhaps Yahweh or Jehovah should be the
standard English transliteration. That being said, the WBTS contention that the
Tetragrammaton is somehow the exclusive sacred name of God is also unwarranted.
In fact, in the Old Testament, several other common names for God are used in
Hebrew including Elohim (a generic word for God); El (a
shorter form of Elohim); and other combinations of terms such as
El-Elyon (God Most High) and El-Shaddai (God Almighty).
The WBTS makes a reasonable case for using the sacred name in the Old
Testament and criticizing those who do not. However, in the WBTS's translation
of the New Testament, which is called The Christian Greek Scriptures, there is
an even more grievous and presumptuous error. The NWT inexplicably translates
the common Greek words for Lord (kurios) and God (Theos) as "Jehovah" 237 times
in the New Testament. This unwarranted substitutionary use of the Old Testament
name of God is made, however, only when kurios is used in the context of a
clear reference to God in a generic sense, or when used in a passage that is a
quote from the Old Testament. However, not once do they translate kurios as
"Jehovah" in the nearly 400 times in the New Testament when it is applied as a
title to Jesus Christ. There is simply no legitimate textual or linguistic
basis for making that distinction. The word kurios should always be accurately
translated, according to context, as "Lord" or "Master", and the word Theos as
God, but neither ever translated as "Jehovah".
The reason for the NWT committee's placement of this name of God in the New
Testament is obvious to anyone who understands Jehovah's Witnesses theology.
The WBTS, since its inception over a century ago, has totally rejected the key
doctrines of the Holy Trinity and the full deity of Jesus Christ. As a result,
in its literature, and especially in its translation of the Bible, the WBTS has
sought to obscure the clear New Testament teachings of those truths. This
deliberate concealment is obvious when one makes a simple comparison of the NWT
to the word-for-word translation of the Westcott and Hort Greek Text in the
WBTS' own book The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek
The use of Jehovah to translate kurios (Lord) or Theos
(God) 237 times in generic reference to God, but never as a title of Jesus, is
clearly done to reinforce the distinction between God and Jesus in the minds of
uninformed Jehovah's Witnesses. The truth is that the New Testament writers,
following Jewish tradition in the Greek Septuagint's translation of the Old
Testament, understood the term kurios (Lord), in most cases, to be a
reference to deity in the fullest sense. Thus, when New Testament writers call
Jesus "Lord," they are identifying Him with the God of the Old Testament
(Yahweh or Jehovah).
The WBTS' denial of Jesus' deity is evidenced in numerous biased and
inaccurate renderings of key passages by the NWT translators. Consider the
• John 1:1
The NWT renders this verse: "In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was a god." Nearly every other standard English
translation agrees with that of the NASB: "In the beginning was the Word, and
the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
• John 8:58
The NWT renders this verse: "Jesus said to them, 'Most truly I say to you,
before Abraham came into existence, I have been.'" The NASB renders it, "Jesus
said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.'" The
term "I am" is a definite allusion to the Old Testament name of God (YHWH),
which is a derivative of the word for "I am."
• Acts 10:36
The NWT translates this verse: "He sent out the word to the sons of Israel
to declare to them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ: this One is
Lord of all [others]." The NASB renders it: "The word which He sent to the sons
of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)."
• Titus 2:13
Rendered in the NWT: "While we wait for the happy hope and glorious
manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus." The
NASB, in agreement with nearly all other versions, says: "Looking for the
blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ
Each of the above biblical examples, as well as many others, demonstrate the
conscious effort by the NWT translators to deny the full deity of Jesus Christ
in accordance with WBTS doctrine. For other examples, see the Apologetics
Evangelism articles "Jehovah's Witnesses" and "A Closer Look at the
Jehovah's Witnesses' View of Christ".
The WBTS maintains that its English translation of the Bible, The New
World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, is the best version ever
produced. The evidence does not bear that conclusion. Actually, the facts show
that the NWT ranks as one of the most unscholarly and biased Bible versions
Unfortunately, millions of Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide are required to
consult the NWT exclusively. Thus, only the doctrinal biases and distortions of
the WBTS are absorbed by faithful Jehovah's Witnesses.
Christians must help them understand the reasons why the NWT cannot be
trusted. Christians need to demonstrate the problems of the NWT and point to
clear biblical teachings from accurate Bible versions. This is especially
critical when addressing key doctrines such as the nature of God, the person
and work of Jesus Christ, and the way of salvation. Salvation comes only by
repentance of sin and receiving the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ
(see Eph. 2:8-9).
All Scripture is Inspired of God and Beneficial. Brooklyn:
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1963, 1983.
Franz, Raymond. Crisis of Conscience. Atlanta: Commentary Press,
1983. New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. Brooklyn:
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1984.
Reasoning from the Scriptures. Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society of New York, Inc., 1985.
Books for further reading
Bowman, Robert M. The Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel
of John. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.
Lundquist, Lynn. The Tetragrammaton and the Christian Greek
Scriptures. 2nd ed. Portland, OR: Word Resource, Inc., 1998. Available
online at www.tetragrammaton.org.
Martin, Walter, The Kingdom of the Cults. Rev. ed. Edited by Ravi
Zacharias: Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2003.
Rhodes, Ron. Reasoning From the Scriptures with Jehovah's
Witnesses. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, Inc., 1993.