Another egregious mistranslation in the NWT

by sir82 18 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • sir82

    Oh the fun you can have with an Interlinear...

    1 Corinthians 7:36:38 in the New World Translation:

    "But if anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virginity, if that is past the bloom of youth, and this is the way it should take place, let him do what he wants; he does not sin. Let them marry. But if anyone stands settled in his heart, having no necessity, but has authority over his own will and has made this decision in his own heart, to keep his virginity, he will do well. Consequently he also that gives his virginity in marriage does well, but he that does not give it in marriage will do better."

    1 Corinthians 7:36-38 from the New Revised Standard Version:

    "If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly towards his fiancée, * if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. 37 But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, * he will do well. 38 So then, he who marries his fiancée * does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better."

    Notice any difference?

    The passage from the NRSV seems pretty clear (other translations have the same thought), something along the lines of "Look, if you're a horndog and can't control yourself, better to get married than commit fornication. But it's better if you can wait a bit before getting married."

    Why is it "better"? Look at verse 39:

    "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives."

    That is, "Since marriage is a lifelong commitment, no 'escape', you ought to make sure you picked the right girl. But, if you just can't wait for sex, marriage is better than fornication."

    Now, compare that to the message as translated in the NWT:

    "It is much better to remain a virgin all your life. But if you are so horny you just can't help yourself, better to get married."

    A very different message, wouldn't you agree?

    The phrase translated "his virginity" in the NWT in those verses is, in the original Greek, literally "the virgin of him". The Greek word for "virgin" used in that phrase is identical to the word used by Luke to describe Mary in Luke 1:27.

    So the NWT, so proud of how consistently it always translates the words "psyche", "Hades", "Parousia", etc., chooses to be inconsistent when translating the Greek word for "virgin". Sometimes it is "virgin" (Luke 1:27) and sometimes it is "virginity" (1 Corinthians 7:36-38).

    Lest you think "well maybe Biblical Greek doesn't have a separate word for 'virginity' ", oh yes it does, and it is used at Luke 2:36.

    So why do you suppose the NWT deliberately translated 1 Cor. 7:36-38 that way? My thoughts in a later post (this one is long enough!)

  • UnConfused

    So you are saying that they really have taken the word in 1 Corth 7:36 from meaning "his virgin" e.g. "soon to be wife" to saying "virginity"

    I'm trying to decide how different that overall message is, but yes the NWT take on that seems more anti-sex / anti-marriage as opposed to being "selective in your marriage mate"

    What made you notice this by they way Sir83?

  • sir82
    What made you notice this by they way Sir83?

    The scripture is quoted in this week's "Revelation book" study - used to support the argument that the 144,000 being "virgins" is symbolic, not literal. (A whole 'nother topic for another day ).

    When I read that scripture, I was struck by the awkward structure of the sentences in the NWT, so I looked in the KIT to see the original Greek.

    I saw "the virgin of him" in the original Greek, not "the virginity of him", which led me to look up other translations, other uses of "virgin" and "virginity", etc.

  • TD

    ...paideueiV paV sofia ellhnwn

  • Narkissos

    This is but one common mistranslation of this passage (another being to interpret parthenos as "virgin daughter," i.e. fiancée to another man). The true reason imo is not any reasonable doubt as to the meaning of the text but the embarrassment as to the early Christian practice it implies, i.e. "spiritual unions" that ideally might never lead to marriage.

  • sir82

    So why do you suppose the NWT deliberately translated 1 Cor. 7:36-38 that way?

    Well, one can only speculate - no one here was in the room with Fred Franz when he convoluted that horribly awkward paragraph.

    But, in the late 1940's when that was written, what was needed? A great expansion in the printing work was about to start, and hundreds, eventually thousands of young men would be required to perform the manual labor in Bethel branches in the US and around the world. So why not work in a passage into your "authorized" translation that seems to commend a young man for chosing a lifetime of celibacy? Working at a Bethel back then was viewed as a lifetime commitment, and was not open to married individuals.

    Again, just speculation, but why else would you so horribly mangle the original thought - especially in view of the fact that the "standard" way of translating the passage does not present a message that is contrary to JW morality?

  • MsMcDucket

    My mom always said "it's better to wed than to burn". That's the Pentacostal version.

  • Narkissos


    I suppose I don't quite agree with you about the "original thought" of the passage. Imo it was not about "to marry now or later" (as the translation "fiancée" anachronistically suggests) but about "to marry (in the full sense of the term) or not" (period).

    In the perspective of the chapter marriage is only the lesser of two evils (as compared to porneia). What is recommended as the best way is not exactly "lifelong celibacy" but close to it.

    The difference lies in two points: (1) the perspective is not exactly "lifelong" as we understand that word, because the teaching is set in the context of short-term expectation of the "end" (ironically, this is also true of the WT interpretation, almost 1,900 years apart) -- see vs. 29ff; (2) the parthenos union is not exactly "celibacy" either, since it involves a male-female relationship (although most likely sexless and certainly childless, contrast the anti-Gnostic teaching of the Pastorals that the young widows should marry and bear children).

  • Leolaia

    I discussed the social status of the "virgins who are called widows" (i.e. women who remained unmarried and who received special support by the church) in the early Christian church in this thread:

    Think of the example of Thecla as an unmarried woman, an acquaintance of Paul, who elected to be a virgin permanently.

    Narkissos....The argument that the passage has in view the father giving his daughter in marriage seem to turn on the use of gamizón in v. 36, which elsewhere in the NT means to "give in marriage" (cf. Matthew 22:30, 24:38, Mark 12:25, Luke 18:27, 20:35), and the verb cannot have this sense in the text if the father isn't in view since it would posit the suitor has giving his fiancee in marriage to himself. But this argument I believe is far too restrictive (semantically) since the verb is plural in the passage and must refer to both marriage partners marrying each other, and it would also make the wording in v. 36 rather odd (i.e. lacking a reference to the father and by making the father act unseemingly towards his daughter).

  • sir82

    Points taken.

    You guys are light years ahead of me on this!


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