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The New World Translation of the Bible was produced by the Jehovah's Witnesses. I'm wondering what specific scholarship is behind the translation.

Who were the translators? What Greek Manuscripts were used? What were the credentials of the translators and their training in Biblical Languages? Was the Latin Vulgate referenced? Was it intended to be a word for word translation or thought for thought?

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4 Answers 4

From the Watchtower Organization's own "Reasoning From the Scriptures":

"As a basis for translating the Hebrew Scriptures, the text of Rudolf Kittel's 'Biblia Hebraica' editions of 1951-1955, was used. The 1984 revision of the New World Translation benefited from updating in harmony with the 'Biblia Stuttgartensia' of 1977. Additionally, the Dead Sea Scrolls and numerous early translations into other languages were consulted. For the Christian Greek Scriptures, the master Greek text of 1881 as prepared by Westcott and Hort was used primarily, but several other master texts were consulted as well as numberous early versions in other languages."

So they used multiple sources in order to refine their translation to where they wanted it. Regarding the translators (also from "Reasoning From the Scriptures"):

"When presenting as a gift the publishing rights to their translation, the New World Bible Translation Committee requested that its members remain anonymous. The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania has honored their request. The translators were not seeking prominence for themselves but only to honor the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures."

Since the translators are anonymous, we cannot state whether it is a scholarly translation.

"It is an accurate, largely literal translation from the original languages. It is not a loose paraphrase, in which the translators leave out details that they consider unimportant and add ideas that they believe will be helpful."

Now this is the quote from the same book that all Jehovah's Witnesses have when they go door to door. I'd like to rebut the above quote -- The New Testament translation in the New World Translation has taken out the Greek words 'Theos' (God) and 'Kurios' (Lord) in over 60 places within the NT and replaced them with 'Jehovah'. Jehovah occurs nowhere in the Greek, in fact the word was only popularized in the 18th-19th century. It's extremely important to understand this point when considering if the NWT is 'true' to the original language.

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I've addressed your concern about the name "Jehovah" in the text of The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures at christianity.stackexchange.com/a/9405/214. (You're right: their justification does seem quite slim.) –  TRiG Mar 1 '13 at 17:48

The reference edition of the New World Translation is available online, and answers questions in this regard in the sections "Foreword", "Introduction", and "Appendix":

Other details are found in "Study 8" in the publication “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial”, found at the same web site:

Below follows a few excerpts from these and other sources.

The 750-page book "Jehovah’s Witnesses — proclaimers of God’s Kingdom", chapter 27 page 608, writes about the whish for a new translation:

"Jehovah’s Witnesses wanted a translation that embodied the benefits of the latest scholarship, one that was not colored by the creeds and traditions of Christendom, a literal translation that faithfully presented what is in the original writings and so could provide the basis for continued growth in knowledge of divine truth, a translation that would be clear and understandable to modern-day readers."

In the the Reference Bible, 1984-revision, Foreword, the translators tells the readers about their feelings beeing translators of the Bible:

"It is a very responsible thing to translate the Holy Scriptures from their original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into modern speech. ... The translators of this work, who fear and love the Divine Author of the Holy Scriptures, feel toward Him a special responsibility to transmit his thoughts and declarations as accurately as possible. They also feel a responsibility toward the searching readers who depend upon a translation of the inspired Word of the Most High God for their everlasting salvation. ... It was with such a sense of solemn responsibility that over the course of many years this committee of dedicated men have produced the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures."

The translators of the New World Translation, 2013-revision write about this edition in its Foreword:

"Recognizing the importance of the Bible’s message, we have undertaken the revision of this text with a profound respect for the content of the Bible. We feel the full weight of our responsibility to convey its message accurately. This revised edition has built on the fine foundation laid in previous editions of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a Bible that was first released more than 60 years ago. However, the English language has changed during the past half century. Such change prompted current members of the New World Bible Translation Committee to initiate this comprehensive revision. Our goal has been to produce a translation that is not only faithful to the original texts but also clear and easy to read."

The Reference Bible, 1984-revision, introduction, lists some of the manuscripts which is the basis of the translation; and the translation philosophi used:

"HEBREW TEXT: The Masoretic Hebrew text used for the preparation of the English text of the Hebrew Scripture portion of the New World Translation was the Codex Leningrad B 19A (of U.S.S.R.), as presented in R. Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica (BHK), seventh, eighth and ninth editions (1951-55). An update of this work known as Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS), 1977 edition, was used to prepare the footnote apparatus of this 1984 edition. Italicized words designated as “Heb.” are transliterated from BHS."

"GREEK TEXT: The basic Greek text used for the preparation of the English text of the Christian Greek Scripture portion of the New World Translation was The New Testament in the Original Greek, by Westcott and Hort (originally published in 1881). The Greek texts of Nestle, Bover, Merk and others were also considered. The Greek transliterations for the Christian Greek Scripture portion of the Bible, identified as “Gr.,” are from the Westcott and Hort text as reproduced in The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (1969). In the Hebrew Scriptures “Gr.” refers to transliterations from the Greek Septuagint (LXX), by A. Rahlfs, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, 1935. Other Greek sources have been indicated by their respective symbols."

"SYRIAC TEXT: “Syr.” indicates words transliterated from the Syriac Peshitta (Sy), S. Lee, 1826 edition, reprinted by United Bible Societies, 1979. Other Syriac versions are indicated by their respective symbols."

"LATIN TEXT: The edition of the Latin Vulgate (Vg) used was the Biblia Sacra, Iuxta Vulgatam Versionem, Württembergische Bibelanstalt, Stuttgart, 1975. “Lat.” designates words from this text. Other Latin versions have been indicated by their respective symbols."

"In the New World Translation an effort was made to capture the authority, power, dynamism and directness of the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures and to convey these characteristics in modern English."

"Paraphrases of the Scriptures are not offered. Rather, an effort has been made to give as literal a translation as possible where the modern-English idiom allows and where a literal rendition does not, by any awkwardness, hide the thought."

"Taking liberties with the texts for the mere sake of brevity, and substituting some modern parallel when a literal rendering of the original makes good sense, has been avoided. Uniformity of rendering has been maintained by assigning one meaning to each major word and by holding to that meaning as far as the context permits. At times this has imposed a restriction upon word choice, but it aids in cross-reference work and in comparing related texts."

"Special care was taken in translating Hebrew and Greek verbs in order to capture the simplicity, warmth, character and forcefulness of the original expressions. An effort was made to preserve the flavor of the ancient Hebrew and Greek times, the people’s way of thinking, reasoning and talking, their social dealings, etc."

"Note that some original-language words have been carried over into English, for example, “Sheol,” “Hades,” “Gehenna,” “Amen,” “manna” and “Messiah.”"

"The New World Translation makes every effort to be consistent in its renderings. For a given Hebrew or Greek word, there has been assigned one English word, and this has been used as uniformly as the idiom or context permits in giving the full English understanding. For example, the Hebrew word ne′phesh is consistently translated “soul.” The corresponding Greek word, psy·khe′, is translated “soul” in every occurrence."

"The New World Translation gives special attention to conveying the sense of the action of the Greek and Hebrew verbs. In doing so, the New World Translation endeavors to preserve the special charm, simplicity, forcefulness, and manner of expression of the original-language writings. It has thus been necessary to use auxiliary verbs in English to convey carefully the actual states of the actions. Because of the power of their verbs, the original Scriptures are so dynamic and so expressive of action."

"Appendix 1D - The Divine Name in the Christian Greek Scriptures" explains the basis for using the devine name "Jehovah" in the new testament. Here follows an excerpt:

"To know where the divine name was replaced by the Greek words Κύριος and Θεός, we have determined where the inspired Christian writers have quoted verses, passages and expressions from the Hebrew Scriptures and then we have referred back to the Hebrew text to ascertain whether the divine name appears there. In this way we determined the identity to give Ky′ri·os and The·os′ and the personality with which to clothe them. To avoid overstepping the bounds of a translator into the field of exegesis, we have been most cautious about rendering the divine name in the Christian Greek Scriptures, always carefully considering the Hebrew Scriptures as a background. We have looked for agreement from the Hebrew versions to confirm our rendering."

From "Study 8, Advantages of the New World Translation" in the publication “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial”:

"As to this feature of uniformity, note what Hebrew and Greek commentator Alexander Thomson had to say in his review on the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures: “The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing. The version aims to keep to one English meaning for each major Greek word, and to be as literal as possible. . . . The word usually rendered ‘justify’ is generally translated very correctly as ‘declare righteous.’ . . . The word for the Cross is rendered ‘torture stake’ which is another improvement. . . . Luke 23:43 is well rendered, ‘Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise.’ This is a big improvement upon the reading of most versions.” On the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the same reviewer made this comment: “The New World Version is well worth acquiring. It is lively and lifelike, and makes the reader think and study. It is not the work of Higher Critics, but of scholars who honour God and His Word.”—The Differentiator, April 1952, pages 52-7, and June 1954, page 136."

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Thank you for your answer Peter. However, just listing references to other sites is not really a good answer on this site. Can you summarize the points from these two sources? –  Narnian Oct 15 '13 at 14:58
    
If they ever move those pages, your answer will be gone; providing the information here helps ensure we don't lose your answer. –  Ryan Frame Oct 15 '13 at 14:59

The academic credentials of the translators is unknown since the committee choose to remain anonymous just like translators of some notable Bible translations. Any suggested names on the translators are pure assumptions since the publishers have never revealed it and most of the first edition translators are probably dead by now. And remember that not just the NWT - everything JWs published is anonymous.

As far as the qualifications, the New World Bible translation itself testifies its quality. If it was a bad Bible translations it would be none a reputed scholar who would have endorsed it. However note below what some scholars, Greek instructors and writers have said about it. Given that the majority of Christendom's scholars are Trinitarians and anything reading different from their traditional Bible is considered as heresy by most churches, these evaluations are surprising.

Commenting on the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, British Bible critic Alexander Thomson wrote:

“The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing.”—The Differentiator, April 1952, page 52

Professor Jason Beduhn from Northern Arizona University wrote a letter to the NWT publishers as below. He has published a book comparing different bible translations and concludes that New World Translation is the most accurate English Translation.

I know a quality publication when I see one, and your 'New World Bible Translation Committee' has done its job well. Your interlinear English rendering is accurate and consistent to an extreme that forces the reader to come to terms with the linguistic, cultural, and conceptual gaps between the Greek-speaking world and our own. Your 'New World Translation' is a high quality, literal translation that avoids traditional glosses in its faithfulness to the Greek. It is, is many ways, superior to the most successful translation in use today...Simply put, it is the best interlinear New Testament available...My students used [it] as one of the textbooks for the class. These small volumes were invaluable to the course and very popular with my students."

Professor Benjamin Kedar from Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote as below.

I find my feeling repeatedly confirmed that this kind of work reflects an honest endeavor to achieve an understanding of the text that is as accurate as possible...Several years ago I quoted the so-called New World Translation among several Bible versions in articles that dealt with purely philological [pertaining to the study/science of languages] questions(such as the rendition of the causative hiphil, of the particple qotel). In the course of my comparative studies I found the NWT rather illuminating: it gives evidence of an acute awareness of the structural characteristics of hebrew as well as an honest effort to faithfully render these in the target [English] language. A translation is bound to be a compromise, and as such it's details are open to criticism; this applies to the NWT too. In the portion corresponding to the Hebrew Bible, however, I have never come upon an obviously erroneous rendition which would find it's explanation in a dogmatic bias. Repeatedly I have asked the antagonists of the Watchtower-Bible who turned to me for a clarification of my views, to name specific verses for a renewed scrutiny. This was either not done or else the verse submitted ..did not prove the point, namely a tendentious [with a purposed aim/biased] translation.

Scholar Edgar J. Goodspeed, translator of the New Testament in An American Translation, wrote in a letter to the NWT publishers:

I am interested in the mission work of your people, and its world wide scope, and much pleased with the free, frank and vigorous translation. It exhibits a vast array of sound serious learning, as I can testify.

Professor Thomas Winter, an instructor of Greek at the University of Nebraska, considered the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scripture:

"to be a highly useful aid toward the mastery of koine and classical Greek," adding that the translation "is thoroughly up-to-date and consistently accurate." -- Review of New World Bible Translation Committee's The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (4-1-1974)

Despite noting what he felt were a few unusual renderings, author Charles Francis Potter said:

“The anonymous translators have certainly rendered the best manuscript texts, both Greek and Hebrew, with scholarly ability and acumen.”—The Faiths Men Live By, page 300.

Although he felt that the New World Translation had both peculiarities and excellences, Robert M. McCoy concluded his review of it by stating:

“The translation of the New Testament is evidence of the presence in the movement [Jehovah’s Witnesses] of scholars qualified to deal intelligently with the many problems of Biblical translation.”—Andover Newton Quarterly, January 1963, page 31.

Professor S. MacLean Gilmour, while not agreeing with some renderings in the New World Translation, still acknowledged that its translators

“possessed an unusual competence in Greek.”—Andover Newton Quarterly, September 1966, page 26.

Of course there would be critics, people who hate Jehovah's Witnesses who just want to hear what their ears need to be tickled with, but you have to see what many unbiased scholars have to say as shown above. The New World Translation is already published in more than 100 languages with print count about 20 million copies.

The only major change they made from the available Greek manuscripts is the replacement of the phrase LORD with JEHOVAH in new testament, especially when the name appears in old testament quotes on new testament(about 230 times I guess, of which about 70 times the quotes from Old testament where the name appears). Again this is based on their honest belief that the name was replaced by later copyists due to Jewish superstition of hiding God's name. However it does not change the meaning since the word LORD in new testament is mostly used to represent the father JEHOVAH God. However those critics should first criticize the removal of Gods name from old testament in most popular Bibles, while it is evident that it appears nearly 7000 times in available Hebrew and some Greek manuscripts. Jehovah could be pronounced as Yahweh as well, however exact pronunciation is unknown and it doesn't matter since even Jesus' original pronunciation is different in different languages. But the point is that its important to identify the name of God rather using a title like LORD or PRESIDENT.

Finally one word, it is naive to say that the JWs don't have enough scholars who can translate Greek or Hebrew, given they are called the publishing titans in the field of translation. They translate their Watchtower and Awake magazines simultaneously to nearly 200 Languages and had published Bible based literature for nearly 600 languages in the past century. All these translators are full time volunteers often serving their lifetime in their branch offices and headquarters dedicating their whole life. They have published the new world translation in over a 100 languages, with print count exceeding 200 million copies. Remember that many masterpieces in the past are from autodidacts, since they are motivated deeply by interest in subject rather than just a need or payed work.

One main problem many unbiased Bible scholars have said about NWT is that its highly literal nature making it sometimes awkward for a common reader. However after 60 years, a highly revised version was published in 2013. It is very easy to read with quality footnotes for a serious Bible reader, showing that they still have qualified people to handle the problem of translation.

Added two diagrams from Wikipedia (which is again a reconstruction from a JW publication on NWT) regarding the source used for NWT. Hebrew & Aramaic scriptures Greek scriptures

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Welcome to the site! This next has nothing to do with the quality of your answer, it's just standard to help new visitors avoid misunderstanding the site (as I did at first.) As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? This was nicely sourced, very good for a first post. –  David Stratton Nov 9 '13 at 3:25
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This is good information, but it doesn't really answer the question. The answer to the question seems to be "no one knows". There may be reasons to believe there is scholarship behind it, but the scholarship is unknown. –  Narnian Nov 12 '13 at 17:32

Quote from "Reasoning from the Scriptures" p 278:

Why is the name Jehovah used in the Christian Greek Scriptures? It should be noted that the New World Translation is not the only Bible that does this. The divine name appears in translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures into Hebrew, in passages where quotations are made directly from the inspired Hebrew Scriptures. The Emphatic Diaglott (1864) contains the name Jehovah 18 times. Versions of the Christian Greek Scriptures in at least 38 other languages also use a vernacular form of the divine name. The emphasis that Jesus Christ put on the name of his Father indicates that he personally used it freely. (Matt. 6:9; John 17:6, 26) According to Jerome of the fourth century C.E., the apostle Matthew wrote his Gospel first in Hebrew, and that Gospel makes numerous quotations of passages from the Hebrew Scriptures that contain the divine name. Others of the Christian Greek Scripture writers quoted from the Greek Septuagint (a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, begun about 280 B.C.E.), early copies of which contained the divine name in Hebrew characters, as shown by actual fragments that have been preserved. Professor George Howard of the University of Georgia wrote: “Since the Tetragram [four Hebrew letters for the divine name] was still written in the copies of the Greek Bible which made up the Scriptures of the early church, it is reasonable to believe that the N[ew] T[estament] writers, when quoting from Scripture, preserved the Tetragram within the biblical text.”—Journal of Biblical Literature, March 1977, p. 77.

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Welcome to the site. As a new visitor, I'd recommend checking out the following two posts, which are meant to help newcomers "learn the ropes": help page and How we are different than other sites? –  David Stratton Sep 2 '13 at 14:00
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Also, please don't take this as a discouragement... Citing quotes to support your own answer is a good practice, but submitting a quote as the entire answer isn't really what we're looking for here. Can you add your own summary? –  David Stratton Sep 2 '13 at 14:00

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