Many Jehovah’s Witnesses are overwhelmed with excitement following the release of the revised New World Translation at the 129th Annual Meeting over the weekend.
A number have taken to social media to express their joy and appreciation at what is being viewed by many as a gift straight from Jehovah. Geoffrey Jackson, who announced the release of the new Bible, even suggested that Jehovah had manipulated weather conditions to better facilitate its printing.
The new Bible has been available online since Monday, giving us the chance to see how it compares with the original. We also now have opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the various features of the book and ponder the question: “Will it stand the test of time?”
More research tools
The new revision to the New World Translation boasts a number of research tools that were absent from the original. These include a glossary of Bible terms and two lengthy appendices. I am particularly impressed with the timeline of kings of Judah and Israel (A6), the chart showing biblical weights and measures (B14) and the much clearer Hebrew Calendar (B15). It is also nice to see footnotes on each page to show alternative terms, which (like the appendices) were previously only to be found in the Reference Bible.
The introductions to each Bible book with summaries of each chapter are also helpful, provided these are not used to mislead people (as I will touch on later).
The most obvious improvement to the New World Translation is that it is now written in English that most people will find easier to understand. This can only be a bonus for those who want to be able to read their Bibles more easily. The original edition, released in the 1950s, used language of the era that could at times be confusing. But with this revision it is much simpler to grasp the meaning of certain scriptures.
For example, expressions like “there proceeded to be” and “there came to be” are mostly gone, but not in such a way that the meaning is lost. And rather than being spelled out in words, numbers like 144,000 are simply expressed in digits. Because so many unnecessary words have been chopped from the text, this has resulted in a reduced total wordcount from approximately 907,000 words to 786,000 – a 13% reduction!
Another reason for the reduced wordcount has been the omission of a small number of bible verses now deemed spurious, namely the long and short conclusions to Mark, and John 7:53-8:11. As expected, this has not met with universal praise. One JWsurvey reader, author Robert Crompton, had this to say…
“I find it interesting that they have removed the alternative endings of Mark and the story about showing mercy in John 7:53 – 8:11. Usual translation practice is to include these with a note pointing out that they only appear in later (but nevertheless still early) manuscripts. That is, there is some, albeit limited, justification for referenced inclusion of these passages. And this limited justification is vastly greater than their justification for including the divine name which doesn’t appear in any NT manuscripts, only in late translations and other non-NT manuscripts.”
I would tend to agree with Robert on this. The fact that these texts were not in all of the earliest manuscripts does not necessarily mean that they shouldn’t have been. A more scholarly way of dealing with the problem would be to include the text with a clear indication of any reservations as to authenticity – as the original New World Translation did. To do otherwise is to risk omitting verses from the Bible that were intended to be in the original, and are therefore just as deserving to be considered as “inspired” scripture.
For those interested in researching this further, here are some interesting links on the omitted verses…
Better rendering of 1 Timothy 6:4
I must point out one significant improvement that has been made to one verse in particular that has caused considerable problems for thinking Witnesses – especially over the past two years. I refer to 1 Timothy 6:3-4, which used to read as follows (bold is mine)…
“If any man teaches other doctrine and does not assent to the healthful words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor to the teaching that accords with godly devotion, he is puffed up [with pride], not understanding anything, but being mentally diseased over questionings and debates about words. From these things spring envy, strife, abusive speeches, wicked suspicions.” – 1 Tim 6:3,4 New World Translation
This same verse now reads…
“If any man teaches another doctrine and does not agree with the wholesome instruction, which is from our Lord Jesus Christ, nor with the teaching that is in harmony with godly devotion, he is puffed up with pride and does not understand anything. He is obsessed with arguments and debates about words. These things give rise to envy, strife, slander, wicked suspicions.”- 1 Tim 6:3,4 Revised New World Translation
As you can see, the reference to apostates being “mentally diseased” has been removed and the verse translated more correctly to reflect the true intent of the writer. The footnote in the new Bible offers “an unhealthy fascination” as a further rendering, which is also notably different from how people today would consider the term “mentally diseased.”
Despite the obvious translation error in the original New World Translation, this did not stop Watchtower from recently using the term “mentally diseased” to berate those who disagree with organizational doctrine in the July 15, 2011 Watchtower. So loud was the uproar from the article that a journalist for the Independent wrote a piece on the “war of words” that the Society appeared to be waging against their dissenters. Seemingly unfazed by such exposure, the Governing Body had the phrase included recently in the outline for the “Human Apostates” talk at the 2013 District Convention.
Though it is to be applauded that the erroneous and offensive “mentally diseased” expression has finally been extracted from the New World Translation, it can be argued that the damage has already been done. The term “mentally diseased” is now cemented in Witness jargon when it comes to describing any who disagree with the Governing Body.
It remains to be seen whether future writings on apostates will be softened following this change, but I am personally doubtful that there will be any significant toning-down of hateful rhetoric against former believers and free thinkers in the organization.
And can we expect a printed apology for the mischaracterization of so-called apostates based on a previous flawed bible translation? Again, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
And now the bad news…
Poor communication and limited availability
It would not be fair to repeat myself too much on the manner of the book’s release, but I feel a few things should be reiterated in this review. I have already commented on a previous article that there was absolutely no reason for the Governing Body to leave ordinary brothers in the dark as to why there was a shortage of Bibles. The fact that congregations were left guessing as their Bible stocks dwindled suggests strongly that the Governing Body was more interested in having their ticker-tape release than managing the expectations of the brothers.
I have also learned of a very uneven state of affairs in the way the new Bibles are being distributed in some congregations.
According to one report, Witnesses in England have been instructed to start using the new Bibles immediately, even though only a privileged few who attended the Annual Meeting event (mostly elders and their wives) have received their new Bibles. Until new Bibles are delivered for all, the rest of the congregation must make do with their old Bibles for some weeks.
This is causing frustration at the apparent elitist distinction as to who is more favored or “exemplary” in the congregation. Those not privileged to attend the Annual Meeting events and receive new Bibles are left feeling unworthy and overlooked. This problem could easily have been avoided by releasing the new Bibles simultaneously at the District Conventions once there were enough copies for all (as with any other release). But again, this would not have sufficiently satisfied the Governing Body’s apparent lust for acclaim and recognition.
“Governing body” inserted in chapter summary
Before seeing the new Bible for myself I was apprehensive over one matter in particular. I feared that Watchtower would attempt to spuriously insert the phrase “governing body” in the six instances in Acts chapters 15 and 16 where the phrase “apostles and older men” appears. These verses are often highlighted by Watchtower in an attempt to prove that there was a First Century “governing body” when there was no such thing.
You can imagine my relief when I saw that Watchtower had NOT stooped to such a low. The six instances of “the apostles and the older men” (5 in Acts 15, 1 in Acts 16) have been tweaked only slightly to read “the apostles and the elders.”
But my relief was short-lived.
Though the Bible verses themselves have been left un-touched, someone drew my attention to the fact that Watchtower has very cleverly inserted “governing body” in the chapter summary for Acts (pages 1459-1460) as follows…
As I said, there was no such thing as a “governing body” in the First Century. Yes, Jesus appointed his 12 apostles, but even Watchtower doesn’t like to compare the apostles directly with the Governing Body because they know how ridiculous this would sound. They therefore zero-in on a passage of scripture in Acts, chapters 15 and 16, and insist that “the apostles and the elders” served as a “governing body.”
There are two major problems with this, namely…
- You cannot take the circumcision issue of Acts 15 in isolation and use it to extrapolate the idea of the apostles AND elders meeting together from that point onward to decide each and every issue that arose in the Christian congregation thereafter. To do so would be to assume something that is not found in the text.
- Most crucially, by super-imposing the phrase “governing body” OVER the phrase “apostles and elders,” you are adding to the scriptures. You are effectively telling Jehovah, “You are incapable of explaining yourself because you didn’t describe the apostles and elders under a collective noun similar to ‘governing body’, so we will do that for you.”
By stamping the collective noun “governing body” over the term “apostles and elders,” whether in the bible text itself or in bible commentary, Watchtower is going against 1 Corinthians, which says…
“Now, brothers, these things I have applied to myself and Apollos for your good, that through us you may learn the rule: ‘Do not go beyond the things that are written,’ so that you may not be puffed up with pride, favoring one against the other.” - 1 Cor. 4:6 Revised New World Translation
Shackled to the 1914 teaching
I opened this article by asking whether this revised New World Translation will stand the test of time, and I will now give the main reason why I believe it won’t.
A foundation teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses is the 1914 doctrine – the belief that Christ arrived in kingly power invisibly in 1914 and banished Satan to the earth for a “short period of time.” (Rev. 12:12) Well, that “short period of time” before Satan is abyssed and the Kingdom is established on the Earth is now 99 years and counting – certainly not a “short period of time” in any human context. And with each passing decade, it is becoming increasingly obvious that despite marking the beginning of World War I, 1914 held no significance in bible prophecy at all.
But with this new Bible, Watchtower is chaining itself to the 1914 teaching for decades to come – perhaps indefinitely. How so? Take a look at a detail from a page in Appendix B of the new Bible…
The above chart has clearly been produced by Watchtower with the firm belief that Armageddon is imminent. I can think of no other reason why Watchtower would marry itself to the idea of Armageddon and a cleansed Earth being only a “short time” from 1914. They must really be THAT deluded.
The trouble is, as previously stated, it is already obvious to many that 1914 was nothing more than a coincidence of history and a year with no prophetic meaning. As further decades tick by, the above chart will become more and more painful for Witnesses to open their Bibles and look at.
But that’s not the only time the 1914 teaching is referenced in this new Bible. I will now show a chart on page 1780 depicting Daniel’s immense image (to the right of the picture below). The new Bible shows the image with a caption at the bottom saying that the feet of iron mixed with molded clay began in 1914. Notice how similar Watchtower’s picture is to a detail from another chart (to the left), produced more than 170 years earlier.
The detail on the left is taken from a famous chart that was used by Second Adventist followers of William Miller to pronounce the year 1843 as heralding the second coming of Christ. When nothing happened in that year, Miller’s followers went back to the drawing board and decided that Christ was actually due on October 22, 1844.
That date went down in history as the “Great Disappointment,” because so many had sold their homes and property in expectation of a rapture that would never happen. It was likely this event that made Charles Taze Russell skeptical of Second Adventists, even though he eventually started to mimic the same fascination with date-setting after meeting Nelson H. Barbour.
It is easy to look back on the Adventist chart now, especially the part at the bottom (not shown above) where the date “1843” is inscribed in big bold letters, and smirk at how naive and misguided Miller’s followers were.
So just imagine how future generations of Witnesses will cringe with the same embarrassment when they dust off and open their old 2013 revised New World Translations and are reminded of the certainty with which 1914 was put forth as holding prophetic significance – and in a book that was printed sufficiently far from that date as to make it obvious that the prediction had already failed.
Of course there are bound to be Witnesses reading this who will be thinking: “Ah, you’re saying that now, but just you wait and see! Armageddon will arrive any moment and fully vindicate the 1914 teaching, and then you’ll be sorry!”
Well obviously you are welcome to think that way if it brings you comfort. But the simple fact is the 1914 teaching was already proved false some time ago when the generation that witnessed the events of that year fell asleep in death. With their passing, no longer could it be said by any reasonable stretch of the imagination that 1914 was a “short period of time” in the past. Instead, 1914 is now sliding ever deeper into the annals of history.
What fascinates me is that rather than recognizing their mistake, or acknowledging that they COULD be in error by keeping their options open, Watchtower is tying itself to the 1914 teaching for as long as this new Bible will be in use. And you can imagine it will be in use for many more decades. This is arguably the biggest problem with the new Bible, and one that will become increasingly obvious as the decades roll by. The sell-by date is simply too short.
- Article on release of new Bible at annual meeting
- Article on the Bible being announced as “sister proof” and provided by Jehovah