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In an ongoing effort to help people understand how to answer cultists at the door, this edition of Jude's Journal brings to you an article written by one Rachel D. Ramer which comes from the Christian Research Institute in southern California. She writes about her discussions with Jehovah's Witnesses who come to her door, and the manner in which she gets across to them a point for them to think about. This is key...what you and I want is for the Witness at our door to leave with a problem which will vex them for days and cause them to look up answers. As the Watchtower condemns individual thinking and programs it's members to cease thinking for themselves, getting a Witness to begin thinking and questioning the organization is difficult at best. However, once they begin to question, the Holy Spirit goes to work on them, as many ex-Jehovah's Witnesses have testified. Getting the individual JW to this point should be our goal.
by Rachel D. Ramer
Would you trust a medical doctor who, in the name of humility, refused to reveal where he or she went to medical school? Of course not. So why do Jehovah's Witnesses trust the "translators" of the New World Translation (NWT) who are so "humble" that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society won't reveal their names or credentials? In technical fields such as medicine, engineering, and translating, lack of training can cause physical - or spiritual - death. Displaying credentials is not pride, but accountability.
Nevertheless, Jehovah's Witnesses read in the foreword of NWT (1984 edition) these seemingly comforting words: "It is a very responsible thing to translate the Holy Scriptures from their original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into modern speech....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."
With such a statement, why should Jehovah's Witnesses question their translation? Yet, observant Christians can help them do just that.
Although it is essential for translators to know the languages they are translating, this doesn't mean we have to know Greek or Hebrew to catch the differences in translations. Simple observation can be powerful.
Observing the Difference
Jehovah's Witnesses will often refer to NWT's John 17:3, "This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ" (emphasis added). In response, say to the Jehovah's Witnesses, "That sounds different to me." Then read the verse in a credible translation such as the King James Version (KJV), the New International Version (NIV), or the New American Standard Bible (NASB), all with a close variation of "that they may know You." Read all three if the Witnesses doubt the consistency. Mere agreement among translations bears weight.
Discuss the difference between knowing a friend or taking in knowledge of someone, like studying Abraham Lincoln. Then read Jesus' words in John 5:39,40: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (NIV).
In NWT's Matthew 10:32,33, Jesus says, "Everyone, then, that confesses union with me before men, I will also confess union with him before my Father," instead of "confesses me before men." This takes the emphasis off of Jesus and puts it on something Jesus represents. Witnesses will insist there is no difference. Ask them what it means to confess Jesus & what is its purpose? It is primarily to acknowledge who He is - not what He stands for - the very issue the Watchtower wishes to cloud!
Only the Context Knows for Sure
When two visiting Witnesses emphasized the importance of the name Jehovah, they brought to my attention the verse: "Everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved" (Rom. 10:13, NWT). I responded, "I've read that the Old Testament word for Yahweh or Jehovah is never used in the New Testament. Why would your translation say `Jehovah'?"
"It's only common sense," one answered, "to use the name Jehovah since this is a quote from the Old Testament referring to Jehovah" (see Joel 2:32).
"Except," I countered, "in Romans, Paul was just referring to the `Lord Jesus' specifically. When he used the term "Lord" in verse 13, he meant Jesus. He knew he was quoting the Old Testament. He was equating Jesus with Jehovah."
Most Jehovah's Witnesses are fooled by their organization's use of Greek lexicons or expository dictionaries. William Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words was appealed to 52 times in their encyclopedia, Insights on the Scriptures, even though Vine strongly disagreed with their teachings.2 From sources such as these the Watchtower can sometimes obtain an altered wording for a critical passage and feel justified.
It is advisable to point out to Jehovah's Witnesses the critical importance of context in Bible translation. The context may show that the wording the NWT chose, though technically possible, is senseless. Hebrews 1:8 reads, "But about the Son he [the Father] says `Your throne, 0 God, will last forever and ever...'" (NIV). Yet NWT says, "But with reference to the Son: `God is your throne forever and ever....'"
Dr. Ron Rhodes explains, "We must acknowledge that the Watchtower translation `God is your throne' is grammatically possible from Greek text. But - as scholars unanimously agree - it is entirely foreign to the context."3
The word "but" at the beginning of verse indicates a contrast to the previous verse, where angels are discussed, and implies that the Son is distinct from angels. If the correct translation is "God is your throne," how is that distinct from angels?
This repeated conflict between other translations and the New World Translation should eventually become disturbing for the Witnesses. You can then ask them about their translators. They will not be able to obtain names or credentials. (This information has been published through the writings of former Witnesses who once worked at the Watchtower headquarters. Discussing former Witnesses - or any source that opposes their theology - with your visitors might usher them to the door since they are warned to steer clear of this information. The longer they stay, the more influence you may have.)
What about Those Scholars?
While they may never learn the names of their translators, they may be given the names of scholars with quotes favorable toward NWT. Edgar J. Goodspeed, who contributed to the Revised Standard Version, stated in a letter to the Watchtower, dated 8 December 1950, "I am...much pleased with the free, frank, and vigorous translation (NWT). It exhibits a vast array of sound, serious learning...."4
Yet, when Bill Cetnar from the Watchtower headquarters visited Dr. Goodspeed in 1954 to elicit his full endorsement, Dr. Goodspeed had other comments. Cetnar writes, "Dr. Goodspeed was asked if he would recommend the translation for the general public. He answered, `No, I'm afraid I could not do that The grammar is regrettable. Be careful on the grammar."5 Nevertheless, the Watchtower still uses Dr. Goodspeed's letter as an endorsement.
Robert M. McCoy and Dr. S MacLean Gilmour from the Andover Newton Quarterly are quoted with what sounds like enthusiastic reviews until the context and entirety of their words are read.6 Similarly, Thomas N. Winter from the University of Nebraska gave a glowing endorsement in 1974,7 but on 3 October 1980 he wrote, "I am not happy with the use now being made of the review," and he went on to note a few problems, such as Jesus' words in John 8:58 (which NWT translates as "I have been"). Winter commented, "No way to go here but 'I am.' "8
A more recent endorser is Dr. Jason 0. BeDuhn, who used the interlinear version of NWT in his course, "The Development of the Jesus Tradition," at Indiana University. In a letter to the Watchtower Society, dated 12 May 1997, he stated that "it is the best interlinear New Testament available," and "it gets past traditional renderings that harmonize, gloss, and over-interpret passages in light of later dogma."9 In other words, NWT appeals to scholars who consider the deity of Christ a later, inserted doctrine.
Yet Dr. BeDuhn makes note, "I am sure you are aware of historical objections to the (re)insertion of ‘Jehovah' into the translation. Of course, no Greek Gospel manuscripts support this, but I will not quibble with you about that"10 (emphasis added).
Dr. Benjamin Kedar also endorses the NWT. He made it clear to the Watchtower, however, that he no longer wishes to answer questions concerning his stance.11 His comments are limited to the Old Testament and are not influential concerning the identity of Jesus. Other names produced by the Watchtower are not names of scholars.
Perhaps BeDuhn and Kedar are unaware of the lack of credentials that plague this organization's translators. Bill Cetnar explained that of the supposed translators, only F. W. Franz, fourth president of the Watchtower, had any schooling in this area, and his abilities to translate were proven inadequate in a Scottish Court in November 1954.12
Each Encounter Is Fragile
Recently, when two more Witnesses came to my door, I told them I would love to study the Bible with them. Yet I had told them I had discovered, through other visitors, that the New World Translation was very different from the translations I already had. Could they check on the credentials of the translators? If not, could we have a Bible study without that translation?
They insisted it was not different so I gave examples. This provided a dilemma for them. Essentially, they had an assignment: find out about the translators. The burden of proof is with the Watchtower Society.
How we relate to Jehovah's Witnesses can quickly scare them away or can invite further discussion. Notice, I did not say NWT is inaccurate, but different. Since I am not a scholar, I don't claim to decipher the Greek and Hebrew, but I can read. I can tell that NWT is unlike the other translations. This gives them a second assignment read other translations. Jehovah's Witnesses, most likely, are not going to change their minds in our living rooms. Yet if they become uneasy about their "translation" - if they open the pages of accurate translations out of curiosity - truth gains a foothold.
Rachel D. Ramer is a freelance writer, who lives in Richmond, Indiana.
2 Gary Busselmen, "New Light from Old Books end Dead Opposers," Free Minds Journal, March-April 1996. (return to text)
3 Rhodes, 93. (return to text)
4 Edgar J. Goodspeed, in a letter to a member of the Watchtower Society's headquarters staff, dated 8 December 1950. (return to text)
5 Bill Cetnar, Questions for Jehovah's Witnesses Who Love the Truth (Kunkletown, PA: w. I. Cetnar, 1983), 69. (return to text)
6 Detailed quotes are included in Ian Croft's article, "The New world Translation and Its Critics," Bethal Ministries Newsletter, September-October 1988, 28. (return to text)
7 Thomas N. Winter, The Classical Journal (April-May 1974): 376. (return to text)
8 Thomas N. Winter, in a letter to M. Kurt Goedelman of Personal Freedom Outreach, dated 3 October 1980. (return to text)
9 Jason 0. BeDuhn, in a letter to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 12 May 1997. (return to text)
10 Ibid. (return to text)
11 Benjamin Kedar in a letter dated 16 February 1996; addressee is blacked out (return to text)
12 Cetner, 68-69. (return to text)
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