Prof. Jason BeDuhn letter on the NWT/KIT (part 2)

by bj 6 Replies latest jw friends

  • bj

    I'm adding all my correspondence with Prof. BeDuhn, including his second letter. All of this shows he's a honest person and give to each one what they deserve without no prejudice. Interesting is what he said on KYRIOS/Jehovah. My identity is also added to show that these are genuine and can be checked. Thank you once again for all your comments.

    Dear Prof. James BeDuhn,

    Some years ago, your name appeared in a journal published by Jehovah's Witnesses. As a researcher on this topic, I am familiar with their misquotations to mislead their readers. Therefore, the purpose of this e-mail is to check with you what was REALLY stated.

    The Watchtower - 1 February, 1998, p. 32 contained an article in which you praised THE KINGDOM INTERLINEAR OF THE GREEK SCRIPTURES as "La meilleure version interlinéaire du Nouveau Testament." (my copy is in french).

    1. Is this really what you said and think today about it?

    2. Have you read the scholarly book The Jehovah's Witnesses' New Testament by Dr. Robert H. Countess in which he discuss in depth various errors that exist in their Bible version?

    3. How can you call it the best version when it lack of consistency and dishonesty (example compare John 1:1 "god" with John 3:16, 17; 13:31; Acts 5:31, 32; 26:8; 2 Cor. 5:5; Heb. 9:20; James 1:13; 2 Peter 2:4 were the same word is translated "God")?

    4. Do you disagree with the following Bible Scholars? :

    Dr. William Barclay, (University of Glasgow, Scotland and a leading Greek scholar) : "The deliberate distortion of the truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translations John 1:1 is translated: 'the Word was a god,' a translation which is grammatically impossible. It is abundantly clear that a sect can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest."

    Dr. James L. Boyer, (Winona Lake, Indiana): "I have never heard of, or read of any Greek scholar who would have agreed to the interpretation of this verse [John 1:1] insisted upon by the Jehovah's Witnesses ... I have never encountered one of them who had any knowledge of the Greek language."

    Dr. F. F. Bruce, (of the University of Manchester, England): "Much is made by Arian amateur grammarians of the omission of the definite article with 'God' in the phrase 'And the Word was God.' Such an omission is common with nouns in a predicative construction ... 'a god' would be totally indefensible."

    Dr. Ernest C. Colwell, (University of Chicago): "A definite predicate nomitative has the article when it follows the verb; ... this statement cannot be regarded as strange in the prologue of the gospel which reaches its climax in the confession of Thomas, 'My Lord and my God.' (John 20:28).

    Dr. Stewart Custer, (Bob Jones University of Greenville) : "They [Jehovah's Witnesses]translate John 1:1 'the Word was a god.' To read this the Greek should have used the word for 'a god,' a semi-divine being (theios), instead of 'God,' (theos) which John used. The Greeks had a word for it!"

    Dr. Duane A. Dunham, (Western Conservative Baptist Seminary of Portland, Oregon): "In John 1:1 you are exactly correct in finding fault in the JW interpretation, inasmuch as it does not accord with Greek grammar or the sense of the passage. Anyone who has given time to the inductive study of the Greek language would agree with what I have written."

    Dr. Charles L. Feinberg, (La Mirada, California): "I can assure you that the rendering which the Jehovah's Witnesses give John 1:1 is not held by any reputable Greek scholar. Of course, the rule stated by Dr. Colwell is a valid one and recognized by anyone who has more than a minimum of Greek."

    Dr. J. J. Griesbach, (whose Greek text-not the english part is used in the Emphatic Diaglott): "So numerous and clear are the arguments and testimonies of scripture in favor of the true Deity of Christ, that I can hardly imagine how, upon the admission of the Divine authority of scripture, and with regard to fair rules of interpretation, this doctrine can by any manbe called in doubt."

    Dr. Everett F. Harrison, (Fuller Theological Seminary of Pasadena, California): "A Greek word does not necessarily required the article to be definite. In fact, God lacks the article in the opening statement of John 1:18, yet the Jehovah's Witnesses presumably would not think of failing to understand it as applying to the true God rather than being satisfied with the rendering 'a God.' Further, if John had intended to make the Logos a creature less than God, it is strange that he would incorporate the saying of Thomas in John 20:28."

    Dr. Anthony Hoekema, (in his appraisal of the entire translation): "Their New World Translation of the Bible is by no means an objective rendering of the sacred text into Modern English, but is a biased translation in which many of the pecuilar teachings of the Watchtower Society are smuggled into the text of the Bible itself."

    Dr. J. Johnson (California State University, he is neighter a Christian nor a Trinitarian): "No justification whatsoever for translating THEOS EN HO LOGOS as 'the Word was a god.' There is no syntatical parallel to Acts 28:6 where there is a statement in direct discourse, John 1:1 is direct."

    Dr. Paul L. Kaufman, (Portland,Oregon): "The Jehovah's Witnesses people evidence an abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar in their mistranslation of John 1:1."

    Dr. Glenn A Koch, (Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania): "theos is not to be translated 'a god.' Therefore, I agree with Colwell's rule."

    Dr. Julius R. Mantey, (who is misquoted in The Kingdom Interlinear of the Greek Scriptures pp. 1158-1159) : "A grossly misleading translation. It is neighter scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 'The Word was a god.' But all the scholars in the world, so far as we know, none have translated this verse as Jehovah's Witnesses have done."

    Dr. Walter R. Martin, (who does not teach Greek but has studied the language): "The translation ... 'a god' instead of 'God' is erroneous and unsupported by any good Greek scholarship, ancient or contemporary and is a translation rejected by all recognised scholars of the Greek language many of whom are not even Christians, and cannot fairly be said to be biased in favor of the orthodox contention."

    Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, (Prof. of NT Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary): "Far more pernicious in this same verse is the rendering ... 'and the Word was a god' with the following footnote: 'a god in contrast with the God'. It must be stated quite frankly that, if the Jehovah's Witnesses take this translation seriously, they are polythesists. As a matter of solid fact, however, such a rendering is a frightful translation."

    Dr. Samuel J. Mikolaski , (Zurich, Switzerland): "This anarthrous (used without the article) construction does not mean what the indefinite article 'a' means in English. It is monstrous to translate the phrase 'the Word was a god."

    Dr. Eugene A. Nida, (head of the Translation Department of the American Bible Society): "With regard to John 1:1, there is of course a comlication simply because the New World Translation was apparently done by persons who did not take seriously the syntax of Greek."

    Dr. H. H. Rowley, (University of Manchester, a most distinguished and able scholar who took the New World Translation to task for their duplicity): "They [JW] profess to offer a rendering into modern English which is as faithful as possible. In fact, the jargon which they use is often scarcely English at all, and it reminds one of nothing so much as a schoolboy's first painful beginnings in translating Latin into English. The translation is marked by a wooden literalism which will only exasperate any intelligent reader - if such it finds - and instead of showing the reverence for the Bible which the translators profess, it is an insult to the Word of God."

    Dr. Harry A . Sturz, (Chairman of the Language Department and Professor of Greek at Biola College): "Therefore, the NWT rendering: 'the Word was a god' is not a "literal" but an ungrammatical and tendential translation. A literal translation in English can be nothing other than : 'the word was God."

    Dr. B. F. Westcott, (whose Greek text is used in the JW Kingdom Interlinear): "The predicate (God) stands emphatically first, as in iv.24. It is necessarily without the article ... No idea of inferiority of nature is suggested by the form of expression, which simply affirms the true deity of the Word ... in the third clause 'the Word' is declared to be 'God' and so included in the unity of the Godhead."

    Professor BeDuhn, are we to simply ignore these eminent Greek scholars and continue insisting that Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Interlinear is the "best interlinear version of the New Testament"? I would be grateful if you give this matter your consideration and looking very foward for your answer.

    Yours sincerely,

    Mr. Joseph-Stephen Bonanno

    p.s. Some of the above scholars might since that time died or changed location.


    Dear Mr. Bonanno,

    Thank you for your message. It is always a good idea to check out your sources and confirm their accuracy. In this case, I was quoted accurately by the Watchtower. I stated in my letter the virtues of the KIT, and the combination of factors that makes it such a useful volume. Since that quote appeared, I have received many messages such as your own, which cite authorities against the NWT and point to specific passages where it is felt that the NWT has not translated accurately. I always check every such reference, because it is certainly possible that I might have overlooked
    something. I have recently completed a book prompted by all of this correspondence, called "Bible Wars: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament," which I hope will be published later this year.

    Through all of this work, I have found that the NWT is one of the most accurate translations currently available. Of course, it has its weaknesses, as every translation does. But on comparison, it does quite well.
    I have read Dr. Countess' book. While I found a few good points in it, its argument is mostly tendentious and disputable. You call attention to "lack of consistency and dishonesty" in the NWT handling of the word THEOS. Of course, lack of consistency does not necessarily entail dishonesty. I have found that all Bible translations are inconsistent in their handling of terms, particularly when those terms are theologically significant. Yet I do not think that all of these translators were necessarily dishonest -- that is, consciously distorting the meaning. I think most of these cases can be explained by bias, an unconscious expectation that a passage should read a certain way that conforms to the translator's beliefs.Unfortunately, you have been given bad information, since every single one of your examples for comparison are not relevant for John 1:1. All of the passages you cite for comparison have THEOS with the definite article HO,
    therefore it is perfectly correct to translate "God" in these verses. But in the third clause of John 1:1, THEOS appears without the definite article, and therefore the most likely translation is indefinite "a god," or in an adjectival function "divine."
    You ask if I disagree with a long list of my predecessors and colleagues in biblical studies. Of course, it is nothing unusual that people in this field disagree. But specifically . . .

    Barclay: This statement is false, the NWT translation of John 1:1 is not "grammatically impossible," and someone who says that it is either is ignorant of Greek grammar or themselves "intellectually dishonest."

    Boyer: This is a specious argument without substance.

    Bruce: This statement is in error. Omission of the article in predicative constructions with the nominative noun almost always have the indefinite, or at least categorical sense. Dr. Bruce's lnaguage reveals the theological, rather than linguistic, context of his remarks.

    Colwell (and appeals to Colwell's Rule by Feinberg): This "rule" is not a valid rule of Greek grammar. And even if it were valid, it would not establish the definiteness of THEOS in John 1:1. Colwell's rule presupposes definiteness, and seeks to account for the lack of an definite article, rather than itself proving definiteness. The same grammatical data used by Colwell has been explained much better by Harner.Colwell & Harrison (on John 20:28): Appeal to John 20:28 in discussion of John 1:1 involves an interpretation of John's overall thesis that is open to dispute. There is no denying what is said in John 20:28; the question is rather what is meant by it. A great deal is said between John 1:1 and John 20:28 that explains how and in what way it can be that when one looks upon Jesus one can say "my God." To simply juxtapose John 1:1 and 20:28 without taking the intervening material into account is to dramatically oversimplify the way John presents Jesus to his readers.

    Custer: This statement shows a complete misunderstanding of Greek vocabulary and grammar, or else a deceptive manner of argument. The Greek word for "god" is THEOS, not THEIOS. Anyone who reads ancient Greek literature would know that. No one has ever said that John called the Word a "semi-divine being."

    Dunham: I have given time to such study of Greek, and I don not agree with Dr.Dunham. The NWT translation of John 1:1 does accord with Greek grammar.Griesbach: This is a theological, not a linguistic argument.

    Harrison: While "a Greek word does not necessarily require the article to be definite," a word in its nominative form generally does. When such a nominative word lacks the definite article, it is most likely to be indefinite.
    Hoekema: There is nothing substantial in this statement. I have read the rest of Hoekema's discussion of the NWT and it has little value.

    Johnson: It is true that Acts 28:6 is not a valid parallel to John 1:1, because in the former verse the noun is accusative (THEON), not nominative(THEOS). However, there is plenty of justification for the NWT translation of John 1:1 in the dozens of passages in John alone that have the same gramamtical construction and in which the noun is clearly indefinite or categorical rather than definite.

    Kaufman: This statement is in error.

    Koch: This statement is circular. How does he know that "theos is not to be translated 'a god'"?

    Mantey: This statement is specious and without substance.

    Martin: Similar to many other statements already mentioned with fall into the logical fallacy of "no one I know translates it that way, so it cannot be translated that way." Even non-Christian scholars are influenced by literary tradition.

    Metzger & Mikolaski: "Pernicious," "frightful," and "monstrous" are not objective, scholarly assessments.

    Nida: This statement follows Nida's approach of first knowing what a passage says, and then translating it to match what you know it says. Such an approach begs the question: how do you know what a passage says before you translate it?

    Rowley: This statement has nothing substantial in it.

    Sturz: This statement is in error. A literal translation would, by definition read as the NWT has it, because those are the words on the page. There is still room for argument whether this is the best translation.

    Westcott: The language used in this statement shows that theological, rather than linguistic, argument dominates here. Westcott's reference to John 4:24 is relevant, since the clause is a good parallel to John 1:1, but Westcott's claim that it proves the definite sense of John 1:1 is an error. It rather proves the opposite. The correct translation of John 4:24 is "God is a spirit," where "spirit" is indefinite or categorical, just as "god" is in John 1:1.

    I hope you can see that I do not "ignore" these predecessors and colleagues, but rather find fault with their highly biased approach and surprisingly fallacious claims. I wish we could all approach this most important of issues with greater objectivity and desire for accuracy and truth, wherever it may
    lead us, rather than prejudging the outcome in advance of any attention and thought to the matter.

    I wish you all the best in your continuing researches.

    Jason BeDuhn

    Jason BeDuhn. Associate Professor of Religious Studies, and Chair Department of Humanities, Arts, and Religion. Northern Arizona University

    Dear Prof. Beduhn,

    Thank you very much for your answer. I admire people who take time to consider things and don't let their prejudice influence them.True, there are those who whatever JW do or say critise them. (John1:46)

    When it comes for their NWT I still have my OWN opinion. It would have been good for example that their Bible Committee would have revealed themselves instead hidding behind an excuse. Do you know who the translators are? (Did you met with any member of their Governing Body?) Another point, if it is a 'translation' how can KYRIOS be translated JEHOVAH?. I don't pretend to be a Bible scholar far from it but all my Bible versions render it LORD.

    In my previous e-mail I quoted some scriptures to show the inconsistency with John 1:1 (and they were all wrong, I apologise for the error) but what do you think of Mark 12:26-27 don't we also find there KAI THEOS?

    Is your book going to be financed in one way or another by JWs? Are you in contuct with Dr. Rolf Furuli or G. Staford? What ever the answer I wish you all the best and look foward to read it. (Did you read the work of Robert M. Bowman on John 1:1?)

    Another thing which you might know: the manuscripts 1518, and 2138 stand for what? (They have to do with a research I did on the Historical evidence that St. Peter went to Rome as JW deny this using arguments that goes back to the 16th Century. Intrestingly those MSS translate 'Babylon' in 1 Peter 5:13 'Rome')

    Looking foward for your message.

    Sicerely yours,
    Mr Joseph-Stephen Bonanno

    ps. I would like to ask you if I can circulate your previous answer.


    Dear Mr. Bonanno,

    Thank you for your message. I get many inquiries such as yours, and I do my best to answer each one. As for your new questions: I do not know who the translators of the NWT were. The translators of the NASB and the NKJB are also anonymous. Whether or not such anonymity is a good idea, it is not necessary to know the identity of translators in order to judge the accuracy of their work. And if you find a pattern of inaccuracy, you can usually identify a bias that has interfered with their task as translators. If a translation is accurate, any bias the translators may or may not have had is irrelevant, since accuracy in the result is what matters.You are right to raise questions about the use of "Jehovah" in the NWT New Testament. The Greek word in nearly all of the passages where the NWT NT has "Jehovah" is, as you say, KYRIOS, which means "lord." It would be most accurate to translate "Lord" in those passages. This is a case where I disagree with the choice made by the NWT translators. The JWs have a theory that the divine name was expunged from the writings of the New Testament when Christianity was trying to win over non-Jewish converts who had no appreciation for the Jewish name for God. They may or may not be right about
    that, but the current state of evidence does not prove their claim. There are a few dozen passages where the New Testament is quoting Old Testament passages where "Jehovah" (or "Yahweh" or however it was pronounced) is used, and one could make an argument that in those passages it would be reasonable to present the original wording, including "Jehovah." But that still leaves well
    over a hundred uses of "Jehovah" in the NWT that should be reconsidered in future editions.

    My book is not sponsored, endorsed, or financed by the JWs. It is a work of independent scholarship. I take that independence very seriously, which is one reason why I work for a state university, rather than a religiously-affiliated one. I have had some correspondence with Greg Stafford in the last couple of years, as we have become aware of each other's work. I have also had single contacts with Rolf Furuli and Robert Countess, both involving their kindness in sending me copies of their respective books. I am not familiar with Mr. Bowman's work.
    Mark 12:26-7 is an excellent passage to compare to John 1:1. In verse 26, we first have HO THEOS, and then two more uses of THEOS in series with the first.In this verse, then, the first HO carries over to all three. But in verse 27, which is a separate clause, THEOS appears without a definite article. Since THEOS is in its nominative form, the absence of an article suggests indefiniteness. And when we look closely at the sentence, we see how indefiniteness works here. The implied question is "What sort of god is God?"
    The answer is given: "He is not a god of the dead, but (a god) of the living." This use of the indefinite is what I mean when I refer to "categorical" meaning. Mark is writing in a culture where people were used to talking about gods. There was for them a god category. So you find passages in the New Testament where Paul and Barnabas are thought to be "gods," or where it is predicted of the Antichrist that he will try ot make himself "a god," or where the Old Testament is quoted to the effect that God promises to his people that "you shall be as gods," etc. So you can use the indefinite noun "god" to put individuals into the god category. And when you talk theoretically even about The God, you can discuss what sort of "god" he is, that is, what God's character may be, in this case, being a god of the living, not the dead. The same cateogrical use of the indefinite is foun in John 1:1.
    To make clear what I mean, I will step aside from linguistics to a more interpretive description of what seems to be going on behind the language of John. John's choice of an idefinite construct in John 1:1 is a clue to what he means to do in this passage. John is very carefully, one might even say
    tentatively, putting the Word into the god category. I use the word "tentatively" only in the sense that John is introducing a new idea to his readers. He certainly believes it with his whole heart, but he recognizes that it will be hard for his monotheistic audience to accept. For John, the other three gospels have fallen short of making clear the special identity of Jesus. John feels the need to emphasize that Jesus is more than a man, more than a messiah, that he is to be identified with God's creative, formative, perfecting will, his "Word." And since that "Word" is so intimately connected
    to God himself, it is, in some sense, within the same category as God, in the god category. John is sure of this, but he is not a philosopher or theologian, he is a gospel writer. So later, more pedantic minds had to work out the implications of this teaching, and that is how we get the development over time of ideas like the Trinity, trying to solve intellectually the problem of having two or three entities in the god cateogry while trying to maintain allegiance to monotheism.

    Finally, as you know, the numbers 1518 and 2138 refer manuscripts of the New Testament (or portions of it). These sort of number references are used of manuscripts of a certain kind, called "minuscules" after the kind of Greek script used in them. All such "minuscule" manuscripts are very late copies, from the 9th century or later, and therefore of only limited worth for reconstructing the original text of the New Testament. As a matter of fact, a quick check of a reference on my bookshelf turned up that manuscript 1518 is from the 15th century (its only a coincidence that the number starts with a 15)! Manuscript 2138 dates to the 11th century. The interpretation of "Babylon" as Rome is a long established one in the Christian tradition, due to the connection made between the two cities in Revelation. But we do not know for a fact that Peter means Rome by "Babylon" in his letter. There are two other possibilities. he could be literally in Babylon, in what is now Iraq. There was a thriving Jewish community in the area, and the trade routes between it and Palestine were actively travelled. He could have been in Babylon, Egypt. This was a new city in the eastern delta region that was a bustling center of manufacture and trade in Roman times, and a good place for missionary work. We will probably never know for sure where Peter was writing from.
    Thank you for the courtesy of asking my permission before posting our correspondence. You have my permission. It might serve other readers best if you interwove my comments with the quotes I am commenting upon. (And maybe you can take the trouble to correct my typos). I wish you all the best in exploring and building your own opinion on these interesting and important matters. Facts and opinions go naturally together, but not as competitors.
    The flower of opinion in its many varieties is only able to live when firmly planted in the facts.

    best wishes,
    Jason BeDuhn

  • bj

    to the top.

  • beroea

    Could you please mail me your part 1.


  • bj

    Please check in the other pages it shouldn't be that far.

  • slipnslidemaster

    What a neat letter. bj, nice work and my hat's off to the Professor.

    Slipnslidemaster: "I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves."
    - Ludwig Wittgenstein

  • Moxy

    i also think the prof sounds very fair. also, read his correspondance with ginny on the other half of this thread.

    it WOULD have been nice tho if you had followed the prof's suggestion and re-arranged his comments to go after the statements he was refering to. its hard to scroll up and down and find the right spot each time.

    thanks bj


  • bj

    MOXY you're right and I apologise for not following the suggestion I was in a hurry and thought it would be good to share the information with you all and perhaps someone less busy can do the work. Try to do better the next time.

Share this