Truth in Translation, Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament,
by Jason David BeDuhn, University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland, 2003.
Available at www.amazon.com
|About the Author|
Jason David BeDuhn is an associate professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff. He holds a B.A. in Religious studies from the University of Illinois, Urbana, and M.T.S. in New Testament and Christian Origins from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. in the Comparative Study of Religions from Indiana University, Bloomington. He is the author of many articles in the areas of Biblical Studies and Manichaean Studies, and of the book, The Manichaean Body: In Discipline and Ritual (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), winner of the "Best First Book" prize from the American Academy of Religion.
|Quoted from Truth in Translation: Introduction|
Thousands of biblical researchers in America have [the three necessary credentials to do Bible translation. That is, they have the ability to accurately evaluate: (1) linguistic content, (2) literary context, and (3) historical and cultural environment as the basis for valid assessment of Bible translation.] And I am one of them. That is why I feel somewhat justified in writing this book. But just as importantly, I have an attitude that puts me at a distinct advantage to write a book such as this. I am a committed historian dedicated to discovering what Christians said and did two thousand years ago. . . . If you are looking for my bias, I guess you could say that I have a bias in favor of historical truth, the accurate reconstruction and comprehension of the past.
Truth in Translation evaluates the subject of bias in English New Testament translations. After defining New Testament translation bias, the author uses selected passages from nine well-known English versions as examples of translation bias.
The source of translation bias:
No two languages are identical in structure (grammar) or vocabulary. This is equally true between New Testament Greek and modern English. Therefore, every translation must make some accommodation to the differences between two languages. In the case of the New Testament, the translation is biased if those accommodations are used to promote a particular doctrinal viewpoint. For example, the Greek used in the original New Testament manuscripts did not use lower case letters, whereas English uses both upper and lower case letters. The original manuscripts (autographs) therefore did not make a distinction between "God" and "god," or between "Spirit" and "spirit." A translation may [*] introduce a theological bias in its use of capitalized English words since the use (or absence) of a capital letter may be the difference between an inanimate object and a person. Bias can also be introduced when difficult Greek sentences are interpreted for the English reader or when English words are added which are not found in the Greek text.
[*] Or, "must" since capitalization of proper nouns cannot be avoided.
Truth in Translation is an excellent book. It is well worth reading. BeDuhn has done an outstanding job of explaining and illustrating translation bias in the New Testament.
However, this book will certainly polarize ones of Jehovah's Witnesses and evangelical Christians. BeDuhn makes a number of favorable comments regarding the New World Translation's handling of specific verses in contrast to the same verses in Bibles favored by evangelical Protestants. As a result, evangelical Protestants will (often, without merit) be suspicious of Truth in Translation.
The Watch Tower Society will want to selectively quote BeDuhn's book because he compliments portions of the New World Translation. On the other hand, considering what Truth in Translation also says about the New World Translation in areas of its weakness, the Watch Tower Society will need to proceed cautiously when quoting Truth in Translation. BeDuhn devoted an entire appendix (The Use of "Jehovah") to the 237 occurrences of "Jehovah" in the New World Translation Greek Scriptures (New Testament). In that appendix he essentially denies the most prominent feature of the New World Translation's Greek Scriptures when he disputes the appropriateness of using Jehovah in the New Testament. We will consider that subject in the Appendix comments.
In spite of my high praise for Truth in Translation, I do not agree with everything BeDuhn says. He also stumbles on his own bias in several places. I will comment on that where it is appropriate. I think it is fair to say this. On a first level, the translation principles BeDuhn describes are objective and are of extreme value. His academic qualifications demand that he be taken seriously. All of us from any theological persuasion need to carefully consider what he has to say regarding these translation principles.
On a second level, BeDuhn chooses a number of passages to use as illustrations. Until I read the last chapter in which he explains his purpose for that choice, [*] I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable that he selected the passages in order to defend his personal view of Jesus and the Spirit (spirit). We need to pay careful attention to what the author says on this second level because he can teach us a great deal. This is where the theoretical meets the everyday application in the English New Testament translation we use. Nonetheless, because this second level involves considerably more subjective material, all of us as readers have the responsibility of cautiously weighing his comments before reaching our final conclusion.
[*] In Chapter 13, BeDuhn says, "I could only consider a small number of samples in this book. Another set of samples might yield some different configurations of results. But the selection of passages has not been arbitrary. It has been driven mostly by an idea of where one is most likely to find bias, namely, those passages which are frequently cited as having great theological importance, the verses that are claimed as key foundations for the commitments of the belief held by the very people making the translations. Choosing precisely those passages where theology has most at stake might seem deliberately provocative and controversial. But that is exactly where bias is most likely to interfere with translation. Biblical passages that make statements about the nature and character of Jesus or the Holy Spirit are much more likely to have beliefs read into them than are passages that mention what Jesus and his disciples had for lunch." (p. 165)
Finally, there is a third level in which BeDuhn is merely reflecting his own belief. As a reader, we are free to accept, modify or reject his point of view, but there is still much he can teach each of us in this final area also.
May I suggest that Truth in Translation is a superb book. If both opponents and proponents of the New World Translation would apply the author's principles to their own translation selection, we would all reap the benefit of reading Bibles which better reflect the intended message of the New Testament authors.
Our web site (www.tetragrammaton.org) is devoted to a study of the presence (or absence) of the Tetragrammaton [*] in the New Testament autographs. As such, our site is not a forum for discussing theology or even Bible translations. However, it does discuss the New World Translation Greek Scriptures (New Testament) at great length because of the Watch Tower Society's claim that the Tetragrammaton was used in the New Testament autographs. Based on this claim, the New World Translation is their vehicle for introducing Jehovah into the Greek Scriptures 237 times. For that reason, we have been drawn into this debate on New Testament translation bias because many of BeDuhn's examples are taken from the New World Translation.
[*] The Tetragrammaton is the four letter Hebrew word (????) designating the divine name. Transliterated into English letters, it is written YHWH. Jehovah is a translation of ???? and Yahweh (among other possibilities) is a common English transliteration.
From Truth in Translation's introduction:
People are quick to charge inaccuracy and bias in someone else's Bible. On what basis do they make such charges? Charges of inaccuracy and bias are based upon the fact that a translation has deviated from some norm of what the translation should be. So what is the norm? It seems that for many the norm is the King James Version of the Bible. . . If a translation differs from the standard, clearly it must be wrong. . . But the fact that the general public does not have access to a valid norm does not mean that one does not exist. In fact there is such a norm that is available to anyone who is willing to take the trouble to learn how to use it: the original Greek New Testament. . .
By claiming to be a translation, an English Bible is being put forward as an accurate communication of the meaning of the original text. . . .The important thing in judgments of accuracy is that the translators have found English words and phrases that correspond to the known meaning of the Greek, and put them together into English sentences that dutifully follow what the Greek syntax communicates.
Accuracy in Bible translation has nothing to do with majority votes; it has to do with letting the biblical authors speak, regardless of where their words might lead. . .
Accurate, unbiased translations are based on (1) linguistic content, (2) literary context, and (3) historical and cultural environment.
Major topics by chapter:
Chapter 1: The Origins of Modern English Bibles. This chapter gives a brief history of the New Testament as a written document and the composition of translation committees.
Chapter 2: The Work of Translation. According to this chapter, the processes of translation includes "Formal Equivalence," "Dynamic Equivalence" and "Paraphrase."
Chapter 3: Major English Translations. The translations used in this chapter include the 1) King James Version (KJV), 2) New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), 3) New International Version (NIV), 4) New American Bible (NAB), 5) New American Standard Bible (NASB), 6) Amplified Bible (AB), 7) Living Bible (LB), 8) Today's English Version (TEV), and 9) New World Translation (NWT) [*] are each categorized by translation type.
[*] Throughout Truth in Translation, BeDuhn designates the New World Translation as NW. However, to maintain uniformity with other pages on our web site, we have altered this to NWT without further notation.
Chapter 4: Bowing to Bias. This chapter states the necessity of an accurate definition of Greek words as the foundation for trustworthy English translation. The Greek word proskuneo is used as the example. In Jesus' time, proskuneo meant to prostrate one's self before another of higher rank or one who might grant a request. (In that context, the translation is to do obedience.) Therefore, in the Gospels when individuals are prostrating themselves before Jesus, the use of the Greek word proskuneo is merely stating that they were on their knees in supplication. In these examples, BeDuhn favors the New World Translation's (NWT) use of "obedience" rather than the more frequently used word "worship."
On page 42 BeDuhn says,
The verb proskuneo is used fifty-eight times in the New Testament. When the King James translation was made, the word picked to best convey the meaning of the Greek word was "worship." At that time, the English word "worship" had a range of meaning close to what I have suggested for the Greek word proskuneo. It could be used for the attitude of reverence given to God, but also for the act of prostration. The word was also used as a form of address to people of high status, in the form "your worship." So the King James translation committee made a pretty good choice.
But modern English is not King James English, and the range of the meaning for the word "worship" has narrowed considerably. Today, we use it only for religious veneration of God, so it no longer covers all of the uses for the Greek verb proskuneo, or of the English word in the day of King James. For this reason, it is necessary that modern translations find appropriate terms to accurately convey precisely what is implied by the use of proskuneo in the various passages where it appears. If they fail to do this, and cling to the old English word "worship" without acknowledging its shift of meaning since the days of King James, they mislead their readers into thinking that every greeting, kiss, or prostration in the Bible is an act of worship directed to a god.
BeDuhn then gives examples where proskuneo is used in the Gospels while pleading before man (Matthew 18:26). These verses are translated in most versions as "prostrated himself before," "fell on his knees," and "fell down before." Following these illustrations before man, BeDuhn gives a list of verses which place the individual before Jesus using the same word proskuneo. He says,
But in other passages, translations revert to the KJV's "worship" inappropriately. They do so primarily because the gesture of prostration is directed to Jesus, and in that circumstance they translate differently under the pressure of theological bias. (p. 44)
BeDuhn does not take us to verses in which "worship" is directed toward "God" because they are not part of his discussion. However, from his previous comments, we could assume that he would not find fault with that use of the word "worship" because it was directed to a god (or God). (We will come back to this later.)
BeDuhn makes this comment,
Rendering a single Greek word into more than one English alternative is not necessarily inaccurate in and of itself. Since Greek words such as proskuneo have a range of possible meanings, it is not practical to insist that a Greek word always be translated the same way. . . . But in our exploration of this issue, we can see how theological bias has been the determining context for the choices made by all of the translations except the NAB and NWT. There are passages where many translators have interpreted the gesture referred to by the Greek term proskuneo as implying "worship." They then have substituted that interpretation in place of a translation.
I am not going to enter into a debate over interpretation. It is always possible that the interpretation of the significance of the gesture may be correct. But the simple translation "prostrate," or "do homage," or "do obeisance" is certainly correct. So the question is raised, why depart from a certain, accurate translation to a questionable, possibly inaccurate one?
The answer is that, when this occurs, the translators seem to feel the need to add to the New Testament support for the idea that Jesus was recognized to be God. But the presence of such an idea cannot be supported by selectively translating a word one way when it refers to Jesus and another way when it refers to someone else. . . . They might argue that the context of belief surrounding Jesus implies that the gesture is more than "obeisance" or "homage." It's not a very good argument, because in most of the passages the people who make the gesture know next to nothing about Jesus, other than that it is obvious or rumored that he has power to help them.
RESOLVING THE PROSKUNEO PROBLEM
We cannot uniformly translate proskuneo with the English word worship. Few would disapprove when used of God. No one would approved when used of man. And, the opinion would be divided when used of Jesus.
Behind the debate regarding the present-day English word worship is the notion that the being before whom the homage is performed is deity. Thus, there is an element of motive in the present day English word worship. The one worshiping is doing obeisance while at the same time expressing recognition of the divine. But we cannot see motivation unless there is some other observable act (such as giving praise) which verifies it.
There is an immediate solution to this translation dilemma raised by motive. Both sides of the theological debate should always translate the word proskuneo as doing obeisance. In this way, the word will always be used to describe an observable physical act. Homage is a true description whether it is before man, before Jesus or before God because it describes an observable physical posture rather than an unseen motive.
The translator must then let the New Testament author qualify proskuneo with any other word he chooses. If the description is of individuals around the throne of God, and they are described as singing praise, we as readers of that translation will understand that their obeisance includes adoration. If an individual is doing obeisance before a magistrate and no other qualification is given, we as readers might wonder if there is hatred, fear, or other human emotion, but we at least know that he or she is kneeling. If an individual is described as doing obeisance before Jesus, we can let the context determine the necessary qualification, if there is any. In the process, the translators will do far less damage to the intent of the Gospel writer.
In this area, BeDuhn must be taken seriously by those of us holding to the deity of Jesus. It is entirely appropriate that we use Scripture to defend our position. However, our translators must discipline themselves in order to avoid theological bias. They must translate proskuneo as obeisance (or an equivalent term) rather than worship. They cannot selectively use terms like kneel before to designate man, and worship to identify Jesus or God.
The NWT has chosen a less biased word in using obesience of those kneeling before Jesus. Yet, if they use worship of those kneeling before God, they have introduced a theological bias. It is not that we would expect obedience before God to be anything other than adoration. But it would mean that the translator editorialized the translation to imply a difference in status between Jesus and God which the Gospel writers did not make. [*] BeDuhn himself said, But the presence of [the idea that Jesus was recognized to be God] cannot be supported by selectively translating a word one way when it refers to Jesus and another way when it refers to someone else. (p. 48)
[*] This would be especially true considering the writing of John in both his Gospel and Revelation. John uses proskuneo in both cases.
However, I believe BeDuhn has stumbled a bit on his own bias at this point. He has effectively pressed his point that there is frequent translation bias in Protestant New Testaments in which proskuneo is translated as worship when applied to Jesus. Yet he allows an opposite but equal bias if the same word is translated as obeisance when applied to Jesus, but worship when applied to God. Does he show his own bias that it would be appropriate to translate proskuneo as worship when speaking of God because he is divine, but that it would be inappropriate to apply it to Jesus because he is not? Bias is bias irrespective of which end of the theological spectrum an individual may be on. Neutrality demands that proskuneo be translated with no more—or no less—sense of the divine for either Jesus or God.
Translating proskuneo as obeisance rather than worship makes the reading less precise. It adds obscurity. In fact, it forces the English reader to determine the meaning of a less precise word just as the original writer forced his first century Greek readers to grapple with the same lack of precision. Do you remember BeDuhn's statement earlier in which he said,
The important thing in judgments of accuracy is that the translators have found English words and phrases that correspond to the known meaning of the Greek, and put them together into English sentences that dutifully follow what the Greek syntax communicates. . . . Accuracy in Bible translation has nothing to do with majority votes; it has to do with letting the biblical authors speak, regardless of where their words might lead.
If BeDuhn does not require this lack of precision in the translation of the word proskuneo, he has abandoned his statement that the Bible authors must be allowed to speak today.
Chapter 5: Grasping at Accuracy. This chapter evaluates the difficult Philippians 2:5-11 passage. The teaching point of this chapter is to show that the choice of English words used to translate a passage must come from the meaning of the Greek words within the passage. To do otherwise puts the translator in a position of interpreting the passage according to a theological bias.
BeDuhn demonstrates how the meanings of the key words in this passage are determined from lexical sources. His appropriate argument is that the meaning of a word must come from the entire literature of the Koine Greek of the day rather than being confined to biblical uses of the word.
This chapter will be difficult for those of us from conservative, evangelical Protestant backgrounds because we are accustomed to reading Philippians 2:5-11 with our own theological bias. Nonetheless, it is profitable for us to openly evaluate what a scholar with BeDuhn's qualifications has to say regarding the need for the translator to confine the English translation to the meaning of the words in the Greek text.
Look at the passage in the New World Translation.
5 Keep this mental attitude in YOU that was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although he was existing in God's form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. 7 No, but he emptied himself and took a slave's form and came to be in the likeness of men. 8 More than that, when he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake. 9 For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every [other] name, 10 so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, 11 and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 NWT)
We will not spend additional time with this passage. However, I am including a brief citation which will give you the tone of BeDuhn's argument and his recognition of the New World Translation in this verse.
The New World Translation translators, on the other hand, have understood harpagmos accurately as grasping at something one does not have, that is, a seizure. Christ did not even think of grabbing at equality with God, but instead humbled himself to self-sacrifice. (p. 61)
I am not endorsing the New World Translation's rendering of these verses, nor am I agreeing with BeDuhn's evaluation. Nonetheless, I am in full agreement that the choice of English words must come from the meaning of the Greek words within the passage. However, I will add nothing to the debate regarding the word seizure from Philippians 2:6 in the New World Translation. I will have more to say about the "[other]" addition in verse 9 under the heading Chapter 7: Probing the Implicit Meaning.
Chapter 6: When is a Man Not a Man? This chapter is dealing with gender issues. If the reader is not familiar with this topic, it is one that has been debated frequently in today's Bible translation field. First century Greek used predominantly male terminology such as "man" rather than "human." A modern translator must determine whether or not the translation will use a current English vocabulary recognizing both men and women or will adhere literally to the Greek male gender wording.
Chapter 7: Probing the Implicit Meaning. In the chapter's introduction, the author says, One of the greatest challenges in any translation is finding the right words in English to carry all of the meaning of words in the original language. Since . . . [one word in Greek seldom has an exact corresponding word in English] translators often find themselves using several words together to communicate the full meaning of only one word in the original language of a text. . . . The problem is what we call the issue of implication, that is, what is implied in the original Greek, and how much are we responsible to make what is implied visible and clear to Bible readers. (p. 75)
As we will see in this chapter, the challenge to the translator is when to use a simple translation of one word in English representing the most prominent meaning of the Greek word, or where to add additional words in English to include a fuller meaning of the Greek word in the text. In some instances this is a necessary part of translation. In other passages, however, it allows an abuse wherein the translator's theological bias is introduced and interpretation is included in the translation.
BeDuhn then uses Colossians 1:15-20 to illustrate the problem of implicit meaning in translation. You should read the entire chapter from Truth in Translation. At very best, I will only be able to summarize BeDuhn's main arguments before adding my own commentary. I must include the commentary, however, because I believe BeDuhn has again stumbled against his own biases in this chapter.
I will quote two of the nine translations from Truth in Translation in their entirety. This will include the added words which BeDuhn has italicized. Brackets [ ] are used in the New World Translation to show added words.
15 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 upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter 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, 18 and he is the head of the body, the congregation. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that he might become the one who is first in all things; 19 because [God] saw good for all fullness to dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile again to himself all [other] things by making peace through the blood [he shed] on the torture stake, no matter whether they are the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens. (Colossians 1:15-20, NWT)
15 Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things. 16 For through him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities. God created the whole universe through him and for him. 17 Christ existed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place. 18 He is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body's life. He is the first-born Son, who was raised from death, in order that he alone might have the first place in all things. 19 For it was by God's own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God. 20 Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son's blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven. (Colossians 1:15-20, TEV)
On pages 83-87, BeDuhn says,
Yet in many public forums on Bible translation, the practice of these four [we are showing only two of the four] translations is rarely if ever pointed to or criticized, while the NWT is attacked for adding the innocuous other in a way that clearly indicated its character as an addition of the translators. Why is that so? The reason is that many readers apparently want the passage to mean what the NIV and TEV try to make it mean. That is, they don't want to accept the obvious and clear sense of firstborn of creation as identifying Jesus as of creation. Other is obnoxious to them because it draws attention to the fact that Jesus is of creation and so when Jesus acts with respect to all things he is actually acting with respect to all other things. But the NWT is correct. . . .
All is commonly used in Greek as a hyperbole, that is, an exaggeration. The other is assumed. In one case, Paul takes the trouble to make this perfectly clear. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul catches himself saying that God will make all things subject to Christ. He stops and clarifies that "of course" when he says "all things" he doesn't mean that God himself will be subject to Christ, but all other things will be, with Christ himself subject to God. There can be no legitimate objection to other in Colossians 1 because here, too, Paul clearly does not mean to include God or Christ in his phrase all things, when God is the implied subject, and Christ the explicit agent, of the act of creation of these all things. But since Paul uses all things appositively (that is, interchangeably) with creation, we must still recon with Christ's place as the first-born of creation, and so the first-born of all things.
It is ironic that the translation of Colossians 1:15-20 that has received the most criticism is the one where the added words are fully justified by what is implied in the Greek. . . .
The decision whether or not to make something implicit explicit is up to the translators, and cannot be said to be either right or wrong in itself. Accuracy only comes into it when assessing whether something made explicit in the translation really is implied the Greek. If it is, then it is accurate to make it explicit. In Colossians 1:15-20, it is accurate to add other because other is implied in the Greek.
Producing complete and readable sentences is another problem encountered by the translator. Thus, there is a constant pressure to complete thoughts when they might otherwise lack sufficient information to do so. This will be particularly true when the Greek words themselves lack precision or state more than the English translation would seem to allow. This passage has several examples.
First, we note the Greek phrase that includes the word prototokos which is translated firstborn. Commenting on three translations, BeDuhn says,
In the NIV, the translators have first of all replaced the of of the phrase firstborn of creation with over. This qualifies as addition because over in no way can be derived from the Greek genitive article meaning of. The NIV translators make this addition on the basis of doctrine rather than language. Whereas of appears to make Jesus part of creation, over sets him apart from it.
Secondly, the NIV adds his to the word fullness, in this way interpreting the ambiguous reference in line with a specific belief about Christ's role in the process being described. The NRSV, likewise, adds the phrase of God to fullness, for the same purpose. Both translations are inserting words to lead to the same doctrinal conclusion that the AB spells out in one of its interpretive brackets, that "the sum total of the divine perfection, powers, and attributes" are to be found in Christ. Whether it is true or not, and whether this is one of the ideas to be found in Paul's letters or not, it certainly is not present in the original Greek wording of this passage.
The TEV goes even further than the previously considered translations in substituting theologically-motivated interpretation for a valid translation. One of the most unfortunate things it does is artificially separate phrases in such a way as to create a whole new meaning not found in the Greek. "His is the first-born of creation" becomes in the TEV "He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things."
TAKING A CAREFUL LOOK AT COLOSSIANS 1:15-20
I agree with BeDuhn that too many words have been added to this passage. In many cases, what translators have seen as necessary implicit words have been biased attempts to make the passage agree with their own theology. They have resorted to interpretation rather than mere translation.
Of course, lack of interpretation will sometimes result in less precision or clarity of the translated English verses. When appropriate, further explanations can be made in footnotes. In many cases, however, the best course of action would be to leave imprecision in the English verses at the same level as the Greek author left it in the autograph.
Sadly, the suggestion of paragraph 2 above is futile. The majority of English Bible readers today want a translation which is easy to read and are happy to have the translator interpret the ambiguities as long as it does not upset their theology.
I believe BeDuhn stumbles on his own bias in two issues in this chapter. The first issue is less certain, but it still must be mentioned considering the source from which the information is taken.
There is probably no more comprehensive definition of Greek words for the English reader than the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), edited by Gerhard Kittel. Referring to Volume VI under the heading prototokos, prototokea (1968 edition, page 871), TDNT states in the opening paragraph,
1. prototokos, "firstborn," is rare outside the Bible and does not occur at all prior to the LXX. Better attested and earlier (Homer) is the active form prototokos, "bearing for the first time," of animals and men.
B. The Word Group in the New Testament." found on pages 876 to 879, TDNT makes further comments regarding prototokos.
1. Luke 2:7 says of Mary, "And she gave birth to her son, the first-born." [*] This is the only instance in the NT where . . . prototokos refers unequivocally to the process of birth, and this in the natural sense. . . . One may conjecture that the stress on the fact that Jesus was the firstborn son of His mother is related to the emphatic reference to the virginity of Mary in 1:27. (p. 876)
5. The description of Christ as "the firstborn of all creation" [*] in Colossians 1:15 obviously finds in the "because" [*] clause of verse 16 its more precise basis and explanation: Christ is the Mediator at creation to whom all creatures without exception own their creation. Hence "the firstborn of all creation" [*] does not simply denote the priority in time of the pre-existent Lord. If the expression refers to the mediation of creation though Christ, it cannot be saying at the same time that He was created as the first creature. The decisive objection to this view, which sees in the "of all creation" [*] a partitive genitive, is that it would demand emphasis on the "born," [*] whereas with the exception of Luke 2:7 which refers to literal birth, the "born" [*] is never emphasized in the New Testament in passages which speak of Christ, especially Colossians 1:18. A further point is that this view would bring "born" [*] into tension with "creation" [*] (and "created" [*] in 1:16), for creation and birth are different concepts. . . . The only remaining possibility is to take prototokos hierarchically. What is meant is the unique supremacy of Christ over all creatures as the Mediator of their creation.
[*] Kittle quotes the passage in Greek. I substituted an English text (or word) from the New World Translation or the Kingdom Interlinear Translation.
I introduced this lengthy quotation simply to show the reader that in the best lexical material available, the word prototokos (firstborn) may also refer to supremacy of rank just as it does to origin in birth. Since that is true, BeDuhn should include this possibility in his translation criteria. At the very least, a translator could bias the translation toward one possibility while acknowledging the second in a footnote.
The second issue is, I think, quite clear. I believe BeDuhn has also stumbled on his own bias by allowing the use of "all [other]" in the NWT Colossians 1 passage. He says that, " All is commonly used in Greek as a hyperbole " and that " The 'other' is assumed. " This would be true in many cases as he has given in the example of "the fig tree and all the trees" from Luke 21:29. (p. 84) As he points out, since the fig is also a tree, the second reference must be to all the other trees. But hyperbole cannot be assumed in all cases. In reading Acts 4:24 we could not rightly exclude anything in heaven, earth or sea as not being made by the Sovereign Lord. The same construction is used when the group prayed, " Sovereign Lord, you are the One who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all the things in them. " All of us would object to a reading which said, " you are the One who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all the [other] things in them. " as if there was something which he did not make.
BeDuhn clearly shows his bias when endorsing the use of "[other]" in Colossians 1. He would be correct that "[other]" is appropriate if Jesus is a created being. But he would be incorrect if Jesus is eternal. However, aside from his reference to the "firstborn" which—as we have seen above—could be either a statement of origin or supremecy, Paul does not tell us in this passage if Jesus is created or eternal.
Therefore, by BeDuhn's guidelines for unbiased translation, the translator must not include interpretation into the text. Inserting "[other]" into the text removes the possibility that Jesus is eternal. It is therefore unmitigated interpretation rather than translation. Because Paul did not make this qualification, neither is the translator at liberty to do so.
Would we expect Paul to qualify this passage with his own "all other things" if Jesus was not eternal and the all was to be understood as hyperbole? As we saw above, BeDuhn says, " In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul catches himself saying that God will make all things subject to Christ. He stops and clarifies that "of course" when he says "all things" he doesn't mean that God himself will be subject to Christ, but all other things will be, with Christ himself subject to God. " So apparently we could expect Paul to qualify a statement which had this magnitude of importance. However, contrary to the pattern 1 Corinthians 15 seems to suggest, BeDuhn uses this as an argument for permitting "[other]" in Colossians 1.
The same argument applies to the New World Translation's use of "[other]" in Philippians 2:6 when it says, " For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every [other] name. " There are two interpretations of this passage. One is that Jesus' name is above every name but Jehovah's. Adding [other] asserts this first interpretation. The second interpretation is that Jesus was given the name "Lord" from the Septuagint which Jews of the day understood to mean Jehovah. Thus, Jesus was given "the name that is above every name," that is, Jehovah. Both of these are interpretations, though in all probability, only one is true. However, the passage must be translated without using additional words to bias the translation toward one or the other interpretation. [*] Thus, the addition of [other] in this passage biases the translation because it asserts only one possible interpretation. If the passage as Paul wrote it is imprecise in regard to these two possible meanings, it must remain imprecise and not be interpreted for the English reader.
[*] With the addition of a single word in brakets, another translation could bias the interpretation of this verse by reading, "For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name [Jehovah] that is above every name." The first bias justifies its use of [other] by claiming that "every" is hyperbole. The second bias justifies its use of [Jehovah] by acknowledging that Jehovah is the name "above every name."
As a brief comment, we do see Paul making an interesting qualification in this passage. Why is Paul so intent in qualifying the things created? He describes them as being the " things . . . created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. " It would seem as though Paul wants his readers to understand that everything was included in what Jesus created. He not only created the physical universe, but also the invisible universe, as well as the entire infrastructure that holds society together. The tone of the passage does not appear to be exclusive. As clearly as he can, Paul seems to be saying that Jesus created everything.
The better course for all English translations would be to remove the bias from this passage. Evangelical Protestant translators should certainly remove the terminology which is not implicit in the text which they use to define Jesus according to their theology. That would be an important step toward insuring that their translations were more accurate (in other words, less biased). Removal of that bias will, of course, produce a translation of Colossians 1 which describes the person of Jesus with only the intensity intended by Paul.
Equally, the New World Translation should remove its bias of the bracketed [other]. Again, removal of that bias will produce a translation of Colossians 1 which describes the person of Jesus with the intensity intended by Paul.
Chapter 8: Words Together and Apart. This chapter is dealing with words in the context of a sentence wherein the meaning is determined by grammar. BeDuhn uses Titus 2:13 to show meaning differences between translations. Each group of translators supposedly choose wording which best fits its own bias.
I will quote the New World Translation and only three other translations. The distinction in the examples is whether Jesus and God are the same or different subjects.
the . . . glorious manifestation of the great God and of [the] Savior of us, Christ Jesus. (NWT)
the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus. (NASB)
the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior (Or of the great God and our Savior), Jesus Christ. (NRSV)
when the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (or the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ) will appear. (TEV)
BeDuhn summarizes the chapter by saying,
The NRSV and TEV offer their readers the two alternatives, and this is the best policy. We have no sure way to judge which translations correctly understand the verse and which ones do not. . . . [In reference to other verses he used as examples in the chapter, he says,] There is no legitimate way to distinguish the grammar of Titus 2:13 from that of Titus 1:4 and 2 Thessalonians 1:12, just as there is no way to consider 2 Peter 1:1 different in its grammar from 2 Peter 1:2. This is a case where grammar alone will not settle the matter. All we can do is suggest by analysis of context and comparable passages, the "more likely" and "less likely" translations, and leave the question open for further light. (p. 94)
Chapter 9: An Uncertain Throne. This chapter demonstrates the uncertainty of translating a Greek sentence which does not require a verb into an English sentence which requires the verb. In the case of Hebrews 1:8, the translator's placement of the verb "is" will change the meaning of the sentence. BeDuhn says,
In Greek, the verb "is" often is omitted as unnecessary. There are other elements in a Greek sentence, such as noun cases, that usually allow the sentence to be understood even without a simple verb like "is." Since it is implied, it does not need to be said explicitly. When we translate from Greek into English, however, we supply the implied verb. . . . The problem in Hebrew 1:8 is that we are not sure where the verb "is" belongs in the sentence, and where it belongs makes a big difference in the meaning of the verse. . . . In Hebrews 1:8, we have two nouns in the nominative form: "throne" and "God." The verb "is" might go between the two nouns, as it does in dozens of cases of saying "x is y" in the New Testament. If that is so, then the sentence reads: "Your throne is God, forever and ever." This is the way the sentence is read by the translators of the NWT. . . .
But there is another possible way to translate Hebrews 1:8. The phrase ho theos is sometimes used to say "O God" in Greek. . . . In [Hebrews 10:7], "O God" [was translated from] ho theos. So it is obvious that the author of [Hebrews] can use ho theos to mean "O God." At the same time, the same author uses ho theos dozens of time to mean "God," the usual meaning of the phrase. These facts make it very hard for us to know which way to translate this phrase in Hebrews 1:8. . . . But the translators of most of the versions we are comparing have chosen the rarer, less probable way to translate ho theos. By taking it to mean "O God," and by putting "is" after the two nouns ("throne" and "God") and before the prepositional phrase "forever and ever," they read the verse as, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever." . . . In my opinion, the NRSV, TEV, and NWT have done the right thing by informing their readers that there are two ways the verse can and has been translated.
Chapter 10: Tampering with Tenses. John 8:58 uses the first person of the verb "to be" in its emphatic form. BeDuhn takes exception to the use of the present tense "I am" in a majority of these translations. In his opinion, it is not a grammatical necessity but theological bias which prompts the use of the present tense. (In an interesting note, he refers to John 9:9 which says, "Others were saying, 'This is he,' still others were saying, 'No, but he is like him.'" Then the blind man answered using the same Greek construction for the word "I am." John says of the blind man, "He kept saying, 'I am the one.'") BeDuhn believes the LB (Living Bible) has the best translation with the NWT as next best. The translations he reviews say,
Before Abraham was, I am. (KJV) and (NRSV)
Before Abraham was born, I am. (NASB) and (NIV)
Before Abraham was born, I Am. (TEV)
Before Abraham was born, I AM. (AB)
Before Abraham came to be, I AM. (NAB)
Before Abraham came into existence, I have been. (NWT)
I was in existence before Abraham was ever born! (LB)
Chapter 11: And the Word was . . . What? This chapter brings us to the great debate between ones of Jehovah's Witnesses and almost everyone else from those who are less-than-qualified apologists to well-trained Greek scholars. We are looking at John 1:1. Let me quote the first part of the verse from all of the translations BeDuhn is citing.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (KJV) (NASB) (NAB) (NRSV) (NIV)
In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god. (NWT)
In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God Himself. (AB)
Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God, and he was the same as God. (TEV)
Before anything else existed, there was Christ, with God. He has always been alive and is himself God. (LB)
I think the best solution in reviewing this chapter is to let BeDuhn speak for himself, even though it will be lengthy. He says,
Greek has only a definite article, like our the; it does not have an indefinite article, like our a or an. So, generally speaking, a Greek definite noun will have a form of the definite article (ho), which will become "the" in English. A Greek indefinite noun will appear without the definite article, and will be properly rendered in English with "a" or "an." We are not "adding a word" when we translate Greek nouns that do not have the definite article as English nouns with the indefinite article. We are simply obeying the rules of English grammar that tell us that we cannot say "Snoopy is dog," but may say "Snoopy is a dog." For example, in John 1:1c, the clause we are investigating, ho logos is "the word," as all translations accurately have it. If it was written simply logos, without the definite article ho, we would have to translate it as "a word."
Similarly, when we have a form of ho theos, as we do in John 1:1b and 1:2, we are dealing with a definite noun that we would initially ("lexically") translate as "the god"; but if it is written simply theos, as it is in John 1:1c, it is an indefinite noun that would normally be translated as "a god." To complete our translation into English, we need to take into consideration the fact that English has both a common noun "god" and a proper noun "God." We use the proper noun "God" like a name, without either a definite or indefinite article, even though a name is a definite noun. As a definite noun, "God" corresponds to the Greek ho theos (lexically "the god"), which also is used often as the proper noun "God" in both the New Testament and other Greek literature from the same time. So in John 1:1b and 1:2 it is perfectly accurate to drop the "the" from "god" and say that the Word was "with God" (literally "with the god"). But what about the indefinite theos in John 1:1c? This does not correspond to the English definite proper noun "God," but to the indefinite noun "a god."
In Greek, if you leave off the article from theos in a sentence like the one in John 1:1c, then your readers will assume you mean "a god."
. . . Having introduced "God" and "the Word," John would use the definite article to help his readers keep track of the fact that he is still talking about the same God and the same Word. But having mentioned "God" once in 1:1b ("the word was with God"), John does not use the definite article again with theos until 1:2 ("this one was with God"), skipping right over the theos of 1:1c ("the word was a god"). This middle theos, we are left to conclude, is not exactly the same thing as the "God" of 1:1b and 1:2.
If John had wanted to say "the Word was God," as so many English translation have it, he could have very easily done so by simply adding the definite article "the" (ho) to the word "god" (theos), making it "the god" and therefore "God."
BeDuhn then cites some of the many attempted explanations, including Colwell's Rule, at length. We will not attempt to summarize this material. The reader should be aware, however, that in spite of BeDuhn's objection, there are a large number of well respected Greek scholars who have defended the wording "and the Word was God."
However, BeDuhn makes another statement which we will follow up on later. It is very significant, and I think that ultimately it helps in resolving the conflict. However, it is not a new argument. He says,
This brings us back to John 1:1. [John Harner, in his article, "Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1," 1973, pp. 85 and 87] suggests that John was not interested in definiteness or indefiniteness, but in character and quality. [*] . . . I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded a definite. . . . So if the meaning of "the Word was a god," or "the Word was a divine being" is that the Word belongs to the category of divine beings, then we could translate the phrase as "the Word was divine." The meaning is the same in either case, and is summed up well by Harner as "ho logos...had the nature of theos" (Harner, page 87). (pp. 123-124)
[*] Harner further states "Perhaps the clause could be translated, 'the Word had the same nature as God.' This would be one way of representing John's thought, which is, as I understand it, that ho logos no less than ho theos had the nature of theos." (Harner, Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns:, p. 87)
BeDuhn says more on John 1:1, but I need to leave that to serious readers who will obtain their own copy of Truth in Translation. Let me simply close with his summary paragraph. He says,
Bias has shaped most of these translations much more than has accurate attention to the wording of the Bible. The NWT translation of John 1:1 is superior to that of the other eight translation we are comparing. I do not think it is the best possible translation for a modern English reader; but at least it breaks with the KJV tradition followed by all the others, and it does so in the right direction by paying attention to how Greek grammar and syntax actually work. No translation of John 1:1 that I can imagine is going to be perfectly clear and obvious in its meaning. John is subtle, and we do him no service by reducing his subtlety to crude simplicities. All that we can ask is that a translation be an accurate starting point for exposition and interpretation. Only the NWT achieves this, as provocative as it sounds to the modern reader. The other translations cut off the exploration of the verse's meaning before it has even begun. (p. 133)
REFLECTIONS ON THE JOHN 1:1 DEBATE
I have no expertise which allows me to compare BeDuhn's thesis against that of other Greek scholars who insist that the English wording "and the Word was God" is correct So, for the sake of argument, let's assume that BeDuhn's analysis of John 1:1 is correct.
He presents a powerful argument declaring the deity of Jesus. If we will recall, the debate regarding the nature of Jesus in the early centuries centered on whether or not He was "of the same substance as the Father." Or, said in another way, the debate centered on whether Jesus was divine or whether he was other than divine.
Of course, we understand that when John uses "a god" in the sense of the English adjective "divine," he is not using it in the colloquial English sense of "delightful." He is using it in a sense which restricts it to the Almighty. That was the sense of the early assertion that Jesus was "of the same substance" as the Father.
Therefore, a very literal translation of John 1:1 using this English adjective would say,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was divine.
I agree with BeDuhn that I do not want my translation interpreted for me. But I would understand the above translation to be saying,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was of the same substance as God.
Again, for the sake of argument, let's present the case as though BeDuhn's thesis is the more accurate.
John is powerfully declaring that Jesus has the nature of God because he uses terminology which identifies Jesus' qualitative character as that of the Almighty.
We should not resort to bias in any area of our English translations; we should allow the biblical author to speak for himself. Let our translators not bias John 1:1 with "and the Word was God." Let them use the word "divine" (or another equally descriptive English adjective) to translate John's written expression to the English reader today.
There should be uniformity in the English language when this Greek construction [*] is used. Unless there are other factors to consider (such as the impostor "god" in 2 Thessalonians 2:4), the subjects of each reference must be given similar rank. In most cases, this may require the use of footnote explanations.
After we have first corrected our own biased English translations, then we can expect the New World Translation translators to correct theirs. According to what BeDuhn is telling us, the Greek construction kai theos en ho logos ("and god was the word") means something substantially different from that which is implied using the lower case English words "a god." This form does not suggest the highest rank of divinity in normal English. By being mechanically literal, the New World Translation has achieved a biased translation which substantially reduces the impact of John's statement. As noted in paragraph 3 above, it is incumbent on the New World Translation translators to consistently render this construction in English in a way which similarly identifies any to whom this Greek form applies. [*] It must be used to describe the Word in the same way it is used in other areas of the New Testament to describe the true God.
[*] This construction is found in these verses: "He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living." (Mark 12:27 NWT); "He is a God, not of the dead, but of the living." (Luke 20:38 NWT); "No man has seen God at any time." (John 1:18 NWT); "God is the One who declares [them] righteous." (Romans 8:33 NWT); "There is no God but one." (1 Corinthians 8:4 NWT); "The God of all comfort." (2 Corinthians1:3 NWT); "God is not one to be mocked." (Galatians 6:7 NWT); "For God is the one that, for the sake of [his]good pleasure, is acting within you." (Philippians 2:13 NWT); and, "And I shall be his God." (Revelation 21:7 NWT). One verse is describing a false god; "He is set in opposition and lifts himself up over everyone who is called "god" or an object of reverence." (2 Thessalonians 2:4 NWT)
Chapter 12: The Spirit Writ Large. This chapter is concerned with the way in which the Greek word pneuma (spirit) is translated into English in the New Testament.
The reader is undoubtedly aware that the written Greek used in the autographs consisted of only upper case letters. Thus, the New Testament writers could not use upper case letters to make a distinction between "Spirit" and "spirit" in order to identify the subject as a person or an object. To complicate translation further, the word pneuma has a number of meanings. It could mean "wind," "breath" or "life-spirit," "a level of reality," or "spirit creatures." Thus, each occurrence of the word pneuma in the New Testament forces the English translators to make choices which require interpretation.
The word "spirit" in the New Testament is, therefore, a ready made arena for translation-bias debates. BeDuhn says,
Later [*] Christian theology also applied the technical status of a "person" on the Holy Spirit, which has lead modern translators and readers to think of the Holy Spirit in human terms as a "who," even a "he," rather than as an "it" that transcends human measures of personhood.
As a result of these conditions, many modern translators read the Holy Spirit into passages where it does not actually appear, verses where "spirit" is used to refer to other "spiritual" things. At the same time, they confine the Holy Spirit within human concepts of personhood by altering the meaning of Greek pronouns from neuter to masculine. The real danger here is that the Holy Spirit as it is actually found in the New Testament will be misunderstood and distorted by adding to it qualities it does not have and attributing to it acts that the biblical authors actually ascribe to other kinds of "spirit." (p. 136)
[*] The word "later" is neither explained nor defended. It is an apparent bias of the author that the "spirit" in the New Testament does not represent a divine person.
BeDuhn then analyses a number of biblical passages from the above perspective. Needless to say, because the New World Translation avoids any recognition of "personhood" of the spirit, BeDuhn strongly favors its wording when translating "spirit" or "holy spirit."
I must simply leave the reader to make his or her own judgment on this chapter after reading it carefully in Truth in Translation.
RECOGNITION OF THE "SPIRIT" TRANSLATION PROBLEM
Many readers of Truth in Translation will feel that BeDuhn has brought a strong personal, theological bias to this chapter. Yet, he does raise an interesting problem in translating New Testament Greek into English. The absence of upper case letters in Greek, and the grammatical necessity of identifying proper nouns in English with capitals, will force every English translator to produce a "biased" translation. Yet it is an entirely unjust accusation to say that a capitalized "Spirit" is always biased, and a lower case "spirit" is not. It is more correct to say that anytime the word pneuma occurs in which a meaning such as "wind," "breath," etc. is not clear, and in which case the word "spirit" or "Spirit" could be used, that either translation is equally biased. Bias in this case is unavoidable for any translation from Greek to English.
Of course, this does not permit improper translation of personal pronouns and the like. Nor would it completely exclude a scheme using only all upper case letters (SPIRIT) each time the word pneuma occurs. Even with that, however, one word in upper case letters in a lower case sentence tends to bias in one direction, whereas all lower case letters clearly biases in the other.
I must simply leave it at that. Every English translation will be biased in the translation of the word pneuma. That is just as true of the New World Translation as it is of any other translation.
Is there any solution? Maybe. But it is difficult to read and I am not giving it as a serious suggestion. I frequently read the English portion of a Greek / English interlinear New Testament. That translation (the English portion is, after all, still a translation) has an awkward solution to this problem. It uses nothing but upper case letters for the entire text. There is no bias favoring "Spirit" or "spirit." Romans 12:10-11 reads,
WITH BROTHERLY LOVE TO ONE ANOTHER LOVING DEARLY, IN HONOR ONE ANOTHER PREFERRING, IN ZEAL NOT LAZY, IN SPIRIT BURNING, THE LORD SERVING, IN HOPE REJOICING, IN TRIBULATION ENDURING, IN PRAYER PERSEVERING.
Chapter 13: A Final Word. In his final chapter, BeDuhn gives a thought provoking analysis of translation bias. He says,
It is natural, I think, for people to assume that translations produced by individuals, or by members of a single religious group, would be more prone to bias than translations made by large teams of translators representing a broad spectrum of belief. . . . But our assumptions also have been challenged. Translations produced by single denominations can and do defy our expectations of bias. Let's review the outcome of our investigation. (p. 161)
BeDuhn: In chapter Four, we saw that the NWT and NAB handle the Greek word proskuneo most consistently, accurately translating it as "give homage" or "do obeisance" rather than switching to "worship" when Jesus is the recipient of the gesture. (p. 161-162)
Comment: The word proskuneo is used of individuals prostrated before man, before Jesus and before God. We can excuse any translation for not using "worship" when homage before man is described. Yet, it is no more, or no less, bias if that same translation then uses "worship" with either one or both Jesus and God. It is equally a bias when a translation selects between Jesus and God to use "homage" (or "obeisance") with one and "worship" with the other. Thus, the New World Translation is just as biased as any other translation in its use of the word "obeisance" in reference to Jesus. In the New World Translation, the translators have interpreted proskuneo as though Jesus is not divine but God is. In most other translations, the translators have interpreted proskuneo to mean that both Jesus and God are divine. The only unbiased translation which would be free of interpretation would use "homage" (or "obeisance") with both Jesus and God and then let the context interpret the word to the reader. In many of these passages, the Bible writer described actions which are consistent with worship, including giving praise and glory. But that determination should be left to the reader and not be interpreted by the translator.
BeDuhn: In chapter Five, the NWT was shown to have the most accurate translation of harpagmos, offering "seizure" consistent with its handling of other words derived from the verb harpazo. The NAB and NASB offer the acceptable "grasp." None of these three translations deviate from the accurate meaning of morphe ("form"). (p. 162)
BeDuhn: In chapter Six, the NAB and NRSV (with the TEV as not too far behind) emerged as the most conscientious translations when it comes to avoiding the inherent male bias of many. (p. 162)
BeDuhn: In chapter Seven, it could be seen that the NWT, NAB, KJV, and NASB refrain from adding material to Colossians 1:15-20 that changes its meaning or interprets its ambiguities. The other translations, which (along with the NAB) do not indicate additions to the text in any way, slip interpretations and glosses into the text. (p. 162)
Comment: We cannot allow BeDuhn to side-step the seven "[other]" references in this New World Translation passage as being anything other than unmitigated bias. As BeDuhn infers, an absence of the word [other] places Jesus outside of creation (page 84). Since Paul does not qualify his "other" statements, the translator must not do that for him. To do otherwise is interpretation. That is particularly true when the passage is read in context, seeing how forcefully Paul describes Jesus as the creator of everything. The notion of "[other]" is contrary to the otherwise all-inclusive tone of the passage when the New World Translation says, " all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. " As an admittedly facetious statement, were the second "[other]" permissible in the quotation above, Paul would be saying that God created Jesus and therefore Jesus was God's. But Jesus created everything else and therefore, everything else belongs solely to Jesus. In other words, God owns Jesus, but Jesus owns the cosmos because it was created "for him." I don't think that is what the New World Bible Translation Committee wanted us to understand!
BeDuhn: In chapter Eight and Nine, no translation could be judged inaccurate, since either way of translating the passages is possible. But the weight of probability in chapter Nine favored the NWT's way of handling the verse discussed there. (p. 162)
BeDuhn: In chapter Ten, it was revealed that only the NWT and LB render the verbal expression ego eimi [I am] into a coherent part of its larger context in John 8:58, accurately following the Greek idiom. (p. 162)
BeDuhn: In chapter Eleven, I demonstrated at length that only the NWT adheres exactly to the literal meaning of the Greek clause theos en ho logos [god was the word] in John 1:1. The other translations have followed an interpretive tradition that ignores the nuance in John's choice of expression. (p. 162)
Comment: If we assume that BeDuhn's statement is true, we are then confronted with Harner's statement, "that ho logos no less than ho theos had the nature of theos." This would change John 1:1 from saying "the Word was God" to "the Word had the nature of God." Certainly it changes the wording of the English translation but it makes no substantive change in the meaning. We also commented that the New World Translation introduced their own bias by importing a word-literal Greek sentence structure in "a god" when this same word-literal form is not translated similarly in other verses referring to God in the New World Translation.
BeDuhn: In chapter Twelve, no translation emerged with a perfectly consistent and accurate handling of the many uses and nuances of "spirit" and "holy spirit." The NWT scored highest in using correct impersonal forms of the relative and demonstrative pronouns consistently with the neuter noun "holy spirit," and in adhering to the indefinite expression "holy spirit" in those few instances where it was used by the biblical authors. (p. 163)
Comment: However, the Greek of the New Testament autographs used only upper case letters whereas English requires that a lower case letter be used for a common noun and an upper case letter be used for a proper noun. It is therefore impossible for any English translation to entirely avoid bias because either adding or eliminating the capital "S" on spirit biases the translation. It cannot be said, therefore, that the New World Translation is less biased because it does not capitalize the word "spirit." It merely means that it has chosen one of two necessary biases for an English translation.
BeDuhn's argument regarding relative and demonstrative pronouns is considerably stronger in categorizing the bias of the translations he evaluated.
BeDuhn makes an interesting observation in his summary of this chapter.
While it is difficult to quantify this sort of analysis, it can be said that the NWT emerges as the most accurate of the translations compared. Holding a close second to the NWT in its accuracy, judging by the passages we have looked at, is the NAB. Both of these are translations produced by single denominations of Christianity. . . .
I have pondered why these two translations, of all those considered, turned out to be the least biased. [*] I don't know the answer for certain. The reason might be different in each case. But, at the risk of greatly oversimplifying things, I think one common element the two denominations behind these translation share is the freedom from what I call the Protestant's Burden. . . .
[*] Does BeDuhn assume that Paul could not have meant what he wrote in Colossians 1:15-20 and that the addition of "[other]" was the only possible meaning for an unbiased translation? In addition—as we will see in discussing the appendix—does he assume that replacing the word "Lord" to distance 237 passages from Jesus when there is no ancient New Testament textual support of any kind is not a translation bias of the highest order?
You see, Protestant forms of Christianity, following the motto of sola scriptura, insist that all legitimate Christian beliefs (and practices) must be found in, or at least based on, the Bible. That's a very clear and admirable principle. The problem is that Protestant Christianity was not born in a historical vacuum, and does not go back directly to the time that the Bible was written. . . .
For the doctrines that Protestantism inherited to be considered true, they had to be found in the Bible. And precisely because they were considered true already, there was and is tremendous pressure to read those truths back into the Bible, whether or not they are actually there. . . .
Catholicism, while generally committed to the idea that what the Church believes can be proven by and is grounded in the Bible, maintains the view that Christian doctrine was developed, or brought to more precise clarity on key points, by the work of theologians over time. It is not necessary, from the Catholic point of view, to find every doctrine or practice explicitly spelled out in the Bible. . . .
The Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, are more similar to the Protestant in their view that the Bible alone must be the source of truth in its every detail. So you might expect translators from this sect to labor under the Protestant Burden. But they do not for the simple reason that the Jehovah's Witness movement was and is a more radical break with the dominant Christian tradition of the previous millennium than most kinds of Protestantism. This movement has, unlike the Protestant Reformation, really sought to re-invent Christianity from scratch. Whether you regard that as a good or a bad thing, you can probably understand that it resulted in the Jehovah's Witnesses approaching the Bible with a kind of innocence, and building their system of belief and practice from the raw material of the Bible without predetermining what was to be found there. [*]
(pp. 163 - 165)
[*] See my comments below regarding the New World Translation's textual apparatus.
For those of us who come from this Protestant tradition, let's take a break and talk about some of the issues that we face in translation bias. I think BeDuhn makes a valuable observation regarding that which has formed our expectations of our own Bible translations. We do want the Bible to include verification of everything we believe. There is nothing wrong with that as long as we put the Bible in first place and let our theology follow. But we need to be extremely careful that we do not let our expectation take us beyond what the Scripture writers actually said. That is true in both the development of our theology and in our demand for new Bible translations.
There is an interesting corollary to the above paragraph. For a number of centuries, the western mind has searched for "truth" rooted in empirical data. We want to be "scientific" and base our lives on verifiable information. (In fact, we compliment ourselves much too highly. In very little of life do we actually live that way.) Yet, the development of religious thought within conservative Protestantism strongly reflects this empirical ideal. We want a chapter-and-verse foundation for every doctrine. As a result, we have developed "systematic theology."
Unfortunately for our western frame of mind, the New Testament authors did not necessarily comply with our desire for a systematic theology. It is true that Paul gives a fair amount of "theology" in his writing, but his epistles are much more than pure theology. They are, after all, personal letters. More to the point, the Gospel writers (including Acts) frustrates us most because where we want crisp doctrinal teaching surrounding the life of Jesus, they are content to give us narrative.
With our "systematic theology" approach to the Bible, we have gone to both the Old and New Testaments to "prove" that Jesus is God and that "holy spirit" is "the Holy Spirit." This is why we are so reluctant to see BeDuhn challenging the "I Am" notion of John, or the "firstborn" reference of Colossians 1, or the "he" and "him" references to the "Spirit" (written, of course, with a capital "S"). Why did the original writers not make this clear? Why did the question wait for several hundred years before the "deity of Jesus" was reduced to a theological equation?
In other areas of this web site I make reference to a two year study from the Kingdom Interlinear Translation in which I compared the 714 occurrences of Kurios (Lord) in the New Testament with their immediate context and, when applicable, with their Old Testament references. I saw an amazing development. The writers of the New Testament were irrefutably identifying Jesus in the New Testament with Jehovah (Yahweh) of the Old Testament. But they were not doing it with theology. They were doing it with narrative. They were quoting Old Testament passages which could be understood only of Jehovah (Yahweh) Himself, and then applying those same attributes or prerogatives directly to Jesus. The message was perfectly clear to first century Jews. That same narrative "proof" was carried directly to the Gentile world with only a slight amount of "theology" added.
Now we can close the loop. Why was it so important to the New World Bible Translation Committee that 237 references to "Lord" in the New Testament be changed to "Jehovah"? It was important because this was the very foundation on which the first century Christians viewed the person of Christ.
I strongly disagree with BeDuhn's statement that, " The Jehovah's Witnesses [approached] the Bible with a kind of innocence, and [built] their system of belief and practice from the raw material of the Bible without predetermining what was to be found there. " (p. 165) Their Christian Greek Scriptures was the first portion translated. The translation work took place between 1947 and 1949 with a public release in 1950. However, when that edition of the Christian Greek Scriptures was first released, the entire system of "J references" and footnotes to the Hebrew versions was fully intact. [*] There is every indication that the "J reference" textual apparatus [**] was a necessary prerequisite for producing the New World Translation Greek Christian Scriptures. They simply could not translate many of the 237 verses as "Lord" without verifying the deity of Jesus. Nathan Knorr, and especially Fredrick Franz, could not have missed that obstacle to producing their own translation. Their theology demanded that a majority of these 237 passages read "Jehovah" rather than "Lord." They could explain-away the wording of the King James Version they were then using, but they could not publish their own translation and use wording such as "Lord God Almighty" in Revelation 11:17.
[*] I assume that the "J reference" catalog was fully intact because the 237 Jehovah citations in the 1950 New World Translation exactly duplicate their publication in the 1969 Kingdom Interlinear Translation (which combines both the "J references" with the Westcott and Hort Greek text).
[**] A Textual Apparatus is the citations for the New Testament Greek text which establish probability. In certain instances, a given passage will have alternate wording possibilities from assorted ancient manuscripts. The textual apparatus will cite alternate wordings as an aid to the translator in selecting the most probable word(s) used by the original writer. Hebrew versions are not, in fact, part of a textual apparatus for the New Testament. Nonetheless, the "J references" have been incorporated into the translation of the New World Translation Christian Greek Scriptures with that weight.
Before I continue, I must warn my readers that the following paragraphs are pure conjecture on my part. To my knowledge, aside from Ray Franz's brief account of the translation process in Crisis of Concience, there is no record of the inside events leading up to the publication of the New World Translation. Therefore, give the following conjecture no more weight than it merits.
Do not underestimate the importance of the "J reference" textual apparatus, nor the time it must have taken to develop it. To begin with, it was a fresh idea. To my knowledge, the entire system of textual support for "Jehovah" citations in Hebrew versions had never before been suggested. No matter what anyone may think of the outcome, developing the "J reference" tool required the highest caliber of innovative genius. It must certainly have been the work of Fredrick Franz the recognized Watch Tower Society intellect of the time. Then, developing the initial idea into a system of references to thousands of citations in Hebrew versions required a huge number of man hours in the days prior to computer searches. Probably no such search of rare Hebrew versions has ever been undertaken before or since. Fortunately for the New World Bible Translation Committee, New York was an ideal place for them to work. But as any new idea, it was not a simple matter of looking up prescribed verses in Hebrew Bibles. The idea must have required constant revision as it was developed. Hence, it simply could not have been done quickly. Yet, by the time the New World Translation Christian Greek Scriptures was completed in 1949, the entire "J reference" textual apparatus was entirely functional. (Though it certainly may have been edited and perfected prior to its first publication in the 1969 Kingdom Interlinear Translation. The "J references" were expanded somewhat for the 1985 Kingdom Interlinear Translation edition.)
This work all needed to be complete before the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures could be published. On this basis alone, it would be impossible to maintain that the New World Translation Christian Greek Scriptures simply emerged as an unbiased translation from the Greek text.
I leave this chapter with a final observation:
Irrespective of whether or not we agree with his examples, I believe BeDuhn has made valuable observations regarding the need to produce translations of the New Testament which are as unbiased as possible. Our objective should be to determine what God actually said in His word. That should be true even when it will remove the "bias" from our translations which makes it easier for us to understand our own point of view. BeDuhn's warning should be taken to heart by all of us who read the New Testament, Witnesses and non-Witnesses alike.
Appendix: The Use of "Jehovah" in the NWT. Any who attempt to cite Truth in Translation as vindication of the New World Translation's freedom of translation bias must also realize that BeDuhn equally removes the legitimacy of the New World Translation's claim that the Tetragrammaton was used in the autographs. As a result, even though Truth in Translation is an important ally of the New World Translation regarding translation bias, in this appendix BeDuhn completely discredits the New World Translation's most important claim that the name Jehovah has been appropriately restored in the Christian Scriptures.
I am uncomfortable in quoting so much material from Truth in Translation in this section. However, I also do not want to distort what the author has said by eliminating important statements. Therefore, hopefully with both his and the readers' understanding, this will give the author the opportunity to state his argument and avoid taking what he says out of context.
BeDuhn: Having concluded that the NWT is one of the most accurate English translations of the New Testament currently available, I would be remiss if I did not mention one peculiarity of this translation that by most conventions of translation would be considered an inaccuracy, however little this inaccuracy changes the meaning of most of the verses where it appears. I am referring to the use of "Jehovah" in the NWT New Testament. "Jehovah" (or "Yahweh" or some other reconstruction of the divine name consisting of the four consonants YHWH) is the personal name of God used more than six thousand times in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament. But the name never appears in any Greek manuscript of any book of the New Testament. So, to introduce the name "Jehovah" into the New Testament, as the NWT does two-hundred-thirty-seven times, is not accurate translation by the most basic principle of accuracy: adherence to the original Greek text. (p. 169)
Comment: If it stood alone, I would take great exception to the statement which says, " I would be remiss if I did not mention one peculiarity of [the New World Translation], . . . however little this inaccuracy [of adding "Jehovah" in the Christian Scriptures] changes the meaning of most of the verses where it appears. " It is my contention that this "one peculiarity" radically changes the meaning of most verses in which it occurs. However, the author's sentence must be taken in the greater context of the Appendix as a whole. At the end of the Appendix, BeDuhn partially answers my objection in regard to Old Testament quotations. However, the majority of the 237 Jehovah citations in the New World Translation Christian Greek Scriptures do not come from Old Testament quotations. The majority represent verses such as Revelation 1:8 mentioned above which juxtapose Jesus with some quality or attribute which can only be ascribed to Jehovah. In these cases, the alteration most certainly does change the meaning of the verse in question.
BeDuhn: Of course, "Jehovah" also appears throughout the NWT Old Testament. In this case, the NWT is the only accurate translation of the nine we are comparing, since all of the other translations replace the personal name of God, in over six thousand passages, with the euphemistic title "Lord" (given by many of these translations in all capitals as "LORD" . . .). YHWH does appear in the original Hebrew of these passages, and the only accurate translation is one that renders the name into some pronounceable form. The NWT rightly does this; the others do not. As a result, the NWT had "Jehovah" consistently in both its Old and New Testaments, while the other translations consistently have "Lord" in both their Old and New Testaments. Both practices violate accuracy in favor of denominationally preferred expression for God.
This problem arises because the Bible itself is not consistent in the way all of these translators want it to be. The Old Testament authors regularly use "Jehovah" as God's personal name, and the New Testament authors never do so. To cover over this inconsistency, translators harmonize the two testaments, that is, they make them read the same even though originally they do not. To harmonize the Bible is to change one part to make it match another. This is not a legitimate part of the translator's task.
Comment: Thank you Mr. BeDuhn for your clear comments regarding the error of our Protestant Old Testaments which substitute LORD for the divine name. Thank you, too, for your recognition that in this, the Old Testament portion of the New World Translation is entirely correct, and that the translators should be commended by all who review the New World Translation.
BeDuhn: All of the books now contained in the New Testament were written originally in Greek. Even when the authors of these books quote the Old Testament, they do so in Greek. Since "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" is not found in the original Greek New Testament, even when passages from the Old Testament that contain YHWH are quoted, it would seem that the New Testament authors followed the general Jewish custom of not using God's personal name. Even if these authors were using copies of the Greek Septuagint that preserved the divine name in archaic Hebrew letters, they were careful in their own writings to substitute the accepted euphemism "Lord" (kurios).
This makes perfect sense, since the New Testament authors were writing works that would be read aloud in Christian communities. Many of these Christian communities contained Gentiles as well as Jews, and these Gentiles would be mystified by the peculiar practices around the name of God. In the interests of reaching the broadest possible audience with their message, the New Testament authors use universal titles such as "God" and "Lord," rather than the specifically Jewish name for God, which Jews themselves did not want spoken aloud, anyway. How do I know all this? Because the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament—all of them—use kurios, the Greek word for "lord," in every single place where an Old Testament verse that contains YHWH in the original Hebrew is quoted.
When all of the manuscript evidence agrees, it takes very strong reasons to suggest that the original autographs (the very first manuscript of a book written by the author himself) read differently. To suggest such a reading not supported by the manuscript evidence is called making a conjectural emendation. It is an emendation because you are repairing, "mending," a text you believe is defective. It is conjectural because it is a hypothesis, a "conjecture" that can only be proven if at some future time evidence is found that supports it. Until that time, it is by definition unproven.
The editors of the NWT are making a conjectural emendation when they replace kurios, which would be translated "Lord," with "Jehovah." In an appendix to the NWT, they state that their restoration of "Jehovah" in the New Testament is based upon (1) a supposition concerning how Jesus and his disciples would have handled the divine name, (2) the evidence of the "J texts," and (3) the necessity of consistency between Old and New Testaments. . . .
The first basis for using "Jehovah" is a matter of theological interpretation. It is an assumption about how individuals would have acted in accordance with values the editors believe they held. . . . I might simply note that this first line of reasoning used by the editors of the NWT provides a sweeping principle that the name of God was used by the early Christians; it does not and cannot establish that the name of God was used in particular verses of the New Testament (since the editors readily acknowledge that "Lord" appears legitimately in many passages of the Bible.)
The second basis for using "Jehovah" relies upon a set of texts that similarly employ a form of "Jehovah" in particular passages of the New Testament. The NWT cites various texts of this sort, referred to with a "J" followed by a number. . . . These "J texts" are mostly . . . Hebrew translations of the Greek . . . made in the last five centuries for the use of Jewish converts to Christianity. But the fact that their missionary translators chose to use the Jewish name for God in some passages of the New Testament does not constitute any sort of evidence about the original form of those passages.
What the NWT editors are actually doing in these notes is citing other translations. . . . This kind of citation of another translation does not prove anything; it merely indicates how the choices of the translator is similar to that made by another translator at some time. . . .
Since one-hundred-sixty-seven of the occurrences of "Jehovah" in the NWT New Testament are based solely upon these "J texts," and the "J texts" offer evidence only about other translations, not about the original Greek New Testament, the use of "Jehovah" is not sufficiently justified in these verses.
The New Testament quotes the Old Testament quite often, and many of the quoted passages in their original Hebrew version have the name of God. . . . The editors of the NWT reason that if the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament they will, of course, quote it accurately. If the original Hebrew of the Old Testament passage contains YHWH, an accurate quote of it would also include that name. So there appears to be a serious discrepancy between New Testament quotes of the Old Testament and the original Old Testament sources of those quotes when the former reads "Lord" while the latter has "Jehovah."
But it is not the job of translators to fix or correct the content of the biblical text. So when it comes to New Testament quotes of the Old Testament, we are constrained to translate what the New Testament author has given. . . . To do otherwise runs the risk of undoing something important that the New Testament authors wished to convey by the way they quote the Old Testament.
In a small number of cases, it seems to be likely that a New Testament author is consciously changing the referent of the Old Testament passage from Jehovah . . . to Jesus Christ. . . . In other words, once an Old Testament passage was read as referring to "the Lord," rather than specifically "Jehovah," it was possible to apply what the passage said to Jesus. . . . With this fact in mind, modern translators must be careful not to undo the work of the author by "restoring" God's name in a place where a New Testament author may not intend it.
BeDuhn concludes the Appendix by citing verses in which the New World Translation is inconsistent with its own translation policy. He lists eight verse in this category, though as the footnote will explain, five of these verses are not objectionable.
But in five of the verses . . . the NWT has "God" rather than either "Jehovah" or "Lord" (Romans 11:2; ll:8; Galatians 1:15; Hebrews 9:20; 1 Peter 4:14). I cannot say why the NWT editors abandoned their principle of conjectural emendation in these five cases; it makes no difference in the meaning of the text. [*] (p. 174)
[*] The New World Translation was consistent with its translation policy in these verses. The Westcott and Hort text (which is reproduced in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation) from which the New World Translation was made uses theos (God) rather than kurios (Lord) in each of these verses.
Then there are three more verses where, by the principles applied by the NWT editors, "Jehovah" should be used, and yet is not: 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Peter 2:3; and 1 Peter 3:15. These three passages present a serious problem for the NWT translators. . . . The fact that they do not, and apparently cannot, have "Jehovah" in these three passages underscores the problem with the whole idea of using "Jehovah" in the New Testament.
[In 2 Thessalonians 1:9] Paul quotes Isaiah 2:21, which includes YHWH in the Hebrew version and "Lord" in the Septuagint. There is no reason for the NWT not to have "Jehovah" here according to its own principles. But in the context of 2 Thessalonians 1, Jesus is the primary subject. . . . This may be an instance of a New Testament author reapplying an Old Testament passage about YHWH to Jesus because the word "Lord" is ambiguous in its reference. In such a circumstance, the NWT editors shy away from using "Jehovah."
Likewise, in 1 Peter 2:3 and 3:15, the NWT translators have deviated from the principles by which they use "Jehovah,": and they have done so quite obviously because of bias. In both passages, by taking advantage of the ambiguity of the Greek kurios ("Lord"), Peter reapplies to Jesus an Old Testament statement that was originally about YHWH.
The inconsistency of the NWT translators in not using "Jehovah" in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Peter 2:3, and 1 Peter 3:15 shows that interpretation rather than a principle of translation is involved in deciding where to use "Jehovah." If the NWT translators stick consistently to using "Jehovah" whenever an Old Testament passage containg God's name is quoted in the New Testament, that is a translation principle of a sort (whether one agrees with it or not). But if in such cases they sometimes use "Jehovah" and sometimes revert to "Lord," then they are interpreting the reference of the biblical author. Once we recognize that interpretation is involved, and see three examples where this interpretation has led the translators not to use "Jehovah," we must wonder if they have been correct to use it in all seventy of those other occurrences. Couldn't there be other passages among them where, as apparently in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Peter 2:32, and 1 Peter 3:15, the reference of the verse has been redirected to Jesus? By moving beyond translation of the Greek to an interpretation, the translator ventures from the bedrock of the text to the shifting sands of opinion.
Thank you Mr. BeDuhn for a book which should cause all of us who read the Bible to raise our expectations regarding Bible translation. Of course, not all of us will agree with every illustration you used. But hopefully, as a result of reading Truth in Translation, we will more knowledgeably follow the advice "buyer beware" when purchasing our next English translation.
That leads to the final question, "What kind of English translation do I want?"
Of course, at times I want to pick up an English translation which is easy to read. However, for my English study New Testament, I would like it to include many of the qualities Mr. BeDuhn described. It would need to be quite word-literal. Among other things, that would include accurate English definitions of biblical words. Our English translations present numerous biases to accommodate vested interests. The word eklesia is typically translated church because that connotes an institution which is useful to those wanting to control. The word should be translated "assembly" in reference to a gathered group of people. The word baptidzo is transliterated baptize because that avoids the conundrum of translating it with its Greek meaning "to immerse." The word koinania is translated fellowship because we prefer the fictitious meaning of "social gatherings" to its primary New Testament meaning of "sharing material goods" with those in need, or its secondary meaning of "sharing the adversity of another." And the list could go on and on. So, of course, I favor Mr. BeDuhn's comment on proskuneo (to worship), though I would insist that it always be translated as "do obeisance" or "do homage" and let the context alone interpret when the New Testament writer is describing "worship," even when it is homage before God.
When the New Testament writers gave clear statements without qualification, I want my English translation to give the same statement without interpretation. That is true even when that clear statement challenges my personal theology. On the other hand, when the Greek language of the New Testament writer was ambiguous, I want my English study translation to give me the same ambiguity as the autographs gave to their original readers. The word kurios should always be translated "Lord." Since the authors could not identify either "Spirit" or "spirit," I would prefer that my New Testament leave me with the struggle to determine the intent of the passage even though I acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is a person.
I would welcome the unbiased New Testament Mr. BeDuhn is defending in principle. (Though I do not agree with all of his examples.) I want a New Testament which conveys to me the same meaning understood by the original readers. My purpose for reading my Bible is not to reinforce a particular group's biases. (That is true even when it is the group with which I am most familiar.) My purpose in reading my Bible is to determine what God is saying today.
And then reality sets in. In the market driven economy in which our English Bible publishers operate, my ideal Bible will never be sold.
(Mr.) Lynn Lundquist