A Bible in the Language of Everyday Life
“IF YOU believe that the Bible is God’s word to mankind, that means God is communicating with us. . . . If your religion affects the whole of your life, then [the Bible’s] language must be that of everyday life.” So wrote scholar Alan Duthie in his book Bible Translations: And How to Choose Between Them.
Lovers of God’s Word wholeheartedly agree. They fervently believe that “all Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) The Bible is anything but a book of outmoded religious platitudes. It is “alive and exerts power,” offering real solutions to the problems of everyday life. (Hebrews 4:12) For that sacred book to be understood and applied by its readers, though, it must be in the language of everyday life. After all, the so-called New Testament was written, not in the classical Greek used by philosophers like Plato, but in the common, everyday Greek called Koine. Yes, the Bible was written so that it could be read and understood by the common people.
To this end, a number of modern translations have been produced in recent years in various languages. The result has for the most part been quite beneficial. The Scriptures have been made more accessible to the public at large. Even so, many of these new versions fall woefully short when it comes to unbiased accuracy and consistency. For example, some tend to obscure the Bible’s clear teachings on the condition of the dead, the identity of the human soul, and the name of the true God.
Lovers of God’s Word therefore welcome the release of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures in American Sign Language. Jehovah’s Witnesses announced the release of this modern-day translation on July 1, 2005. Unshackled by religious creeds, it offers unprecedented accuracy in its renderings, making possible a depth of Bible understanding that was previously denied those unacquainted with the ancient languages. You may wonder, though, who is responsible for this remarkable translation?
Translators Who Glorified God
While the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures may be new to American Sign Language-speaking people, it has actually been around since 1950. At that time it was released in the English language by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society—an international Bible Society with a long history of Bible publishing. The title of this new translation—a bold departure from the traditional division of the Bible into “old” and “new” testaments—was just one of many ways in which it was to prove unique. The Watchtower of September 15, 1950, said: “The men who compose the translation committee have indicated their desire . . . to remain anonymous, and specifically do not want their names to be published while they are in life or after death. The purpose of the translation is to exalt the name of the living, true God.”
The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a one-volume edition of the entire Bible, was released in 1961. And while the names of its translators remain undisclosed to this day, there can be no question as to their motives or to the depth of their devotion. The foreword to the 1984 edition stated: “Translating the Holy Scriptures means rendering into another language the thoughts and sayings of Jehovah God . . . The translators of this work, who fear and love the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures, feel toward Him a special responsibility to transmit his thoughts and declarations as accurately as possible.”
Good intentions notwithstanding, were the committee members qualified to take on this task? Some disgruntled scholars argued that without a disclosure of the translators’ names and academic credentials, the work should be summarily dismissed as the work of amateurs. But not all scholars have taken such an unreasonable stance. Writes Alan S. Duthie: “If we know who the translators or the publishers of a particular Bible translation are, does it help us to decide whether that translation is good or bad? Not directly. There is no substitute for examining the characteristics of each translation itself.” *
Thousands of readers have done just that. To date over 170,300,224 copies of the New World Translation in whole or in part in 98 languages have been printed worldwide. What have its many readers discovered?
A Translation That Sanctifies God’s Name
At Matthew 6:9, Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified.” Yet, in most translations, God is a nameless entity, identified only by the title “God” or “Lord.” This was not the case originally, however. God was plainly identified nearly 7,000 times in the original Hebrew Scriptures by the personal name “Jehovah.” (Exodus 3:15; Psalm 83:18) In later years superstitious fears caused the Jewish people to cease using the divine name. Following the death of Jesus’ apostles, this superstitious viewpoint infected the Christian congregation. (Compare Acts 20:29, 30; 1 Timothy 4:1.) Copyists of the Greek portions of Scripture began replacing God’s personal name, Jehovah, with the Greek words Kyʹri·os and The·osʹ, which mean respectively “Lord” and “God.”
Happily, the New World Translation has taken the bold step of restoring the name Jehovah to the Christian Greek Scriptures (“New Testament”), that name appearing there 237 times. This restoration is based, not on the whim of the translators, but on sound, careful scholarship. For example, Luke 4:18 quotes the words of Isaiah 61:1. In the original Hebrew text, the name Jehovah appeared in that verse in Isaiah. * Appropriately, then, in the New World Translation, Luke 4:18 is rendered: “Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor.”
Such renderings also help readers distinguish Jehovah God from his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. For instance, most translations render Matthew 22:44 as saying: “The Lord said to my Lord.” But just who is speaking to whom? Actually, this verse is a quote from Psalm 110:1, which, in the original Hebrew text, contains the divine name. The New World Translation therefore renders this verse: “Jehovah said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet.’” Grasping the distinction the Scriptures make between Jehovah God and his Son is not academic. (Mark 13:32; John 8:17, 18; 14:28) It is crucial to one’s salvation. Says Acts 2:21: “Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.”
Accuracy and Clarity
There are additional outstanding features of the New World Translation. The highly refined Greek master text by Westcott and Hort was chosen as the main basis for this translation. Painstaking care was then taken to render the original Greek as accurately and as literally as possible in simple, modern language. Doing so not only preserved much of the flavor and color of the original Bible writings but also opened up a world of understanding.
For example, in one American Sign Language translation Matthew 5:29, 30 is rendered: “It is better to lose your eye or your hand than for your whole body to be thrown into hell fire.” This promotes the false religious teaching that God is cruel and punishes the wicked by making them suffer in a burning fire. However, according to the early manuscripts, the original Greek term is “Gehenna,” not “hell” and depicts a state of eternal destruction. *
The New World Translation also endeavors to convey the nuances of Greek verbs. In many modern languages, verbs are conjugated to convey the time of a verb’s action—that is, past, present, or future. In Greek the verbs also express what kind of action is involved—whether it is momentary, completed, or continuous. Consider Jesus’ words at Matthew 6:33. The Greek verb meaning “seek” conveys the idea of continuous action. The full impact of Jesus’ words are thus brought out in the rendering: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” Similarly, Matthew 7:7 is rendered: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you.”—See also Romans 1:32; 6:2; Galatians 5:15.
The New World Translation goes to extraordinary lengths to be consistent and uniform in its rendering of key terms. The Greek word psy·kheʹ, for instance, is translated “soul” in each of its occurrences. As a result, readers can quickly discern that, contrary to religious theories, the soul is not immortal. It can perish, die.—Matthew 2:20; Mark 3:4, Luke 6:9; 17:33.
Making God’s Word Available Worldwide
The release of the Christian Greek Scriptures in American Sign Language is only a beginning. Plans have been made to translate the entire Bible in due time. Can readers be sure, though, that the American Sign Language version will have the accuracy and consistency of its English counterpart?
Yes, indeed. This is because the work of translation has been closely supervised by the Watch Tower Society. Wisely, it was decided that foreign Bible translation would best be handled as a team effort. Bible translation teams were thus established in a number of lands throughout the world. A department called Translation Services was set up at the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society, in Brooklyn, New York, to meet the needs of those teams, to answer queries, and to ensure the harmony of the different language editions of the New World Translation. The Watch Tower Society has also developed a very useful tool, namely, a computerized system to aid Bible translators. Make no mistake: Translation work still requires much human effort. But computerization has greatly simplified the lofty goal set for Bible translation teams, which is to render the New World Translation with the same accuracy and consistency as the English version. Among other things, the translation system indicates how each Hebrew and Greek word is rendered in the English edition—a great aid to translators in selecting vernacular equivalents.
The success of these arrangements can be readily seen simply by looking at the results. We urge you to examine the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. You can obtain it from the publishers of this magazine. You will also enjoy its numerous special features: clear, readable type; running heads, which help you locate familiar verses more quickly; detailed maps; and fascinating appendix material. Most important, you can read this Bible with the confidence that it accurately transmits the very sayings of God in the language of everyday life.
^ par. 7 Interestingly, the jacket of the Reference Edition (1971) of the New American Standard Bible similarly stated: “We have not used any scholar’s name for reference or recommendations because it is our belief God’s Word should stand on its merits.”
^ par. 10 It is true that the Greek Septuagint translation served as the basis for Hebrew Scripture quotations in the so-called New Testament. Since later copies of the Septuagint do not contain the divine name, many scholars argue that the name should likewise be excluded from the Christian Greek Scriptures. However, the oldest extant copies of the Septuagint contain the name Jehovah—in its original Hebrew form. This gives strong support to the restoration of the name Jehovah to the Greek Scriptures.
^ par. 13 Matthew 10:28 also uses the term Gehenna. Regarding this text, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states: “Matt. 10:28 teaches not the potential immortality of the soul but the irreversibility of divine judgment on the unrepentant.”
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Features of the New World Translation:
Painstaking care was taken to render the original Greek as accurately and as literally as possible in simple, modern language
By courtesy of the Director and University Librarian, The John Rylands University of Manchester
The easy-to-read type makes reading a delight
Running heads make it easy to locate familiar Bible verses more quickly
Detailed maps help readers to increase their understanding of Bible geography
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Bible writers like the apostle Paul wrote in the language of everyday life
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The clarity of the “New World Translation” is of great benefit in the Christian ministry