The Jehovah's Witnesses believe that their denomination is a restoration of the original, ancient form of Christianity. They claim to have rediscovered this form through principled biblical study and scholarship.

The Witnesses have even produced their own Bible translation, the New World Translation (NWT), which they claim more accurately reflects the intention of the original writers. While this translation has often been criticized for introducing a bias in favour of the denomination's pre-existing doctrines (and particularly for its use of the word "Jehovah" in the New Testament), it has also attracted praise for its scholarly methods and accuracy.

Let's put aside for now the question of whether the pre-existing doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses unduly influenced this translation. I am interested to learn whether the converse is true: Did the production of the New World Translation influence the doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses? After all, the Witnesses do claim that their beliefs are based on modern, ongoing Biblical scholarship. Did the NWT's translators claim to have gained any new insights on early Christianity, and if so, did these insights lead the denomination's leaders to change any of its previous interpretations and teachings, or to introduce new ones?

EDIT: The comments and answers so far indicate that there may be some confusion about what I am asking. So let me provide an example:

The Jehovah's Witnesses once believed and taught that Jesus was put to death on a cross. However, in the 1930s this doctrine changed due to what they claimed was a re-examination of the original Greek-language texts of the New Testament. They noted that these texts use the word σταυρός (stauros) to refer to the instrument of execution. In consulting the available evidence from historical records and from contemporaneous textual usage of the term, they concluded that the word σταυρός, as used in the Bible, refers to a simple stake without a crossbeam. This interpretation became part of the official teaching: Jehovah's Witnesses now state that Jesus was put to death on a "torture stake". The take-home message here is that in the 1930s they claimed that their scholars discovered a significant translation error which, when corrected, led to a change in their teachings.

The question is thus whether the Jehovah's Witnesses claim to have discovered and corrected any further major errors or omissions in translation or interpretation during the production of their New World Translation in the 1940s and 1950s. Did they ever say something to the effect of, "Until now, we Witnesses have mistakenly believed X. But thanks to the textual and historical evidence that was newly collected and analyzed in the preparation of the NWT, we understand now that we should actually believe Y."?

  • 1
    related: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/59098/…
    – user19845
    Nov 29, 2017 at 16:24
  • 3
    It's rather circular, isn't it? They started with the premise that current translations did not reflect the intentions of the original authors and so created their own translation founded on that premise. You are basically asking whether their beliefs changed as a result of all the new meanings they imputed to the text after the read what they had written.
    – guest37
    Nov 29, 2017 at 21:25
  • 2
    Your question is rather difficult to answer. There have been many refinements to our beliefs over the years that are based on study of the Bible. It is difficult to say which of those refinements might not yet have been made if we had to rely on less clear or less accurate translations. But by studying the scriptures in other translations and in their original languages, refinements to our beliefs would have continued to go on even without the NWT. Proverbs 4:18 Daniel 12:4.
    – user32612
    Dec 1, 2017 at 4:03
  • Yes, JWs dropped their Cross & Crown logo after November 1931. Then in 1936 they declared that ‘the evidence indicates that Christ died on a stake, not a two-beamed cross.’ (Proclaimers p200). But their NWT was not formed till the late 1950s! What was the evidence they’d discovered by 1936? An 1878 book by Hermann Fulda whose study of Greek etymology of ‘stauros’ and Greek methods of public execution is quoted by the JWs in their Bible Teach book p205. It wasn’t JW scholarship that caused them to switch to ‘stake’ in 1936, 20 years before their NWT which simply echoed Fulda, who was not a JW.
    – Anne
    Feb 24, 2018 at 10:45
  • The first difficulty is in finding any evidence to support the claim that the New World Translation "beliefs are based on modern, ongoing Biblical scholarship." That's because there is no mention of who those scholars are and so it is impossible to check the scholastic credentials of the people who came up with the NWT. All I can find are the names of the committee responsible for the first edition, but none of them had any scholastic qualifications in either Hebrew or Greek. Who are the scholars responsible for the translations from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts?
    – Lesley
    Mar 1, 2018 at 11:08

2 Answers 2


I'm sure many points can be discussed and brought forward, but it seems that it all boils down to the following:

As this 12-minute video on the history of the New World Translation explains, the New World Translation was the result of years of Bible study and was compiled to reflect the findings of that study. That means that the original language was carefully translated as to what it said, instead of doing so according to what the christian traditions had held for many years.

Subsequent editions, as far as I'm aware, have only seen adjustments in the areas of (1) use of God's name, especially in the Greek Scriptures, and (2) the use of common, modern-day language. For example, in Galatians 5:22, "long-suffering" was replaced with "patience". Although "long-suffering" covers the charge/idea better, in my opinion, it seems true to say that it's meaning is lost to the younger generations, so that "patience" is better used to cover the appropriate personal quality that is referred to here.

So no, the New World Translation did not lead to doctrinal change, but rather the opposite: it was the result of (progressing) doctrinal understanding that reflected in the way that the original text was translated.


The difficulty here is ascertaining whether changed doctrines came before the publication of the NWT, or after it. As the people responsible for producing the NWT seem loath to admit to having held to major doctrinal errors except up until around the 1930s, it's hard to say. The language the JW leaders employ is that of Jehovah causing "increased light" so that they are now "clearer" about doctrines than they were decades ago. They seem to believe in "progressive revelation".

However, there is one doctrine that might have developed after the original NWT, for the latest 2013 edition of the NWT translates certain words differently than previously. This has to do with the doctrine of life after death. In their 2013 edition of NWT, they render sheol and hades every time as ‘death’. That the one word 'death' is being used for every reference in the Bible to sheol and hades shows an astonishing attempt to simplify a complex subject, perhaps in the hope that JWs will not think beyond the idea of physical 'death'. It is tied up with the JW teaching that there is no conscious, aware part of a human that survives physical death. If they are wrong about that, you can be sure they are wrong to translate 'death' every time sheol or hades occurs! However, it's possible to examine the problem from the starting point of the JWs own admissions about the various words in the Bible that deal with the state of the dead.

In the JW 'Insight On The Scriptures' book they admit that the Hebrew word for 'grave' is qe'ver: "The Hebrew word qe'ver is the common word used to designate a burial place, a grave, or a graveyard. (Ge 23:7-9; Jer 8:1; 26:23) The related word qevurah' similarly may refer to an earthen grave or to a tomb excavated in rock. - Ge 35:20; 1 Sa 10:2 "In Greek the common word for grave is ta'phos (Mt 28:1), and the verb form (tha'pto) means 'bury'. (Mt 8:21,22)... "Since these Hebrew and Greek words refer to an individual burial place or grave site, they are often used in the plural as referring to many such graves. They are, therefore, distinct from the Hebrew she'ohl' and its Greek equivalent hai'des... [which words must always be used in the singular.] "Nevertheless, since one's entry into Sheol is represented as taking place through burial in an individual grave or at a burial site, words pertaining to such places of interment are used as parallel though not equivalent terms with Sheol." (Vol. 1 pages 994-5)

Now, JWs need to ponder that. Why, despite the admission of their leaders that a word completely different to sheol needs to be translated 'grave', are they trying to say that it's just sheol and hades that they have translated as 'grave'? They've just admitted that sheol is not the same as the grave! The grave is but an entrance into sheol! So, if sheol lies beyond the grave, what is it, and where is it, and what is the condition of those who go beyond the grave and end up in sheol?

The JWs have here admitted that the word for 'grave' is NOT an equivalent of the word 'sheol'! Are they trying to hide something important? Do they not want their readers to grasp the Jewish beliefs about the state of the dead, as taught by the rabbinic schools of Hillel and Shammai, which views were prevalent before Jesus, during Jesus' day, and after Jesus' day? It's only when you know what the Jews believed about the eternal part of man ending up in Sheol that Jesus' words in Luke 16:19-31 make sense! Note that the JWs have been told that nothing of what Jesus said there was actual, it was only a story (for everything Jesus said there contradicts what they believe about the state of the dead!)

Does this mean that Rev. 1:18 & 21:13 in the NWT just read 'death' and not 'death and Hades'? And does Rev 6:8 read "the one seated upon it had the name Death. And Death was closely following him"? Surely not?!

Yet it could be that the new 2013 edition of the NWT is a clear move towards supporting a development in their doctrine about life after death, which was not clear in the original NWT but which is now clearly supported by their 2013 edition. Yet I suspect that JWs will say they always believed that idea, in which case the translation came after the doctrine, and not before it.

"The Life And Times of Jesus The Messiah" by Alfred Edersheim (1971) Appendix XIX, On Eternal Punishment, according to the Rabbis and the New Testament" (see vol. II Book V ch. vi) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/e "Josephus' Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades" as in "The Works of Josephus" translated by William Whiston, 1980, page 637 http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Josephus%27%20Discourse%20to%20the%20Greeks%20Concerning%20Hades

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE! To get familiar with the site, please read How we are different than other sites. In particular, your answer consists of speculation about the intentions of JWs without citing any sources (even though there're plenty of sources). In every occurrence of the word "Grave" where it is capitalized in the NWT, there is a footnote linking to the Glossary of the NWT which explains its usage.
    – user32540
    Feb 23, 2018 at 21:14
  • The Appendix of the NWT and a 2015 Watchtower explain why the "Grave" was chosen as a substitution in the 2013 revision. From looking at the articles in the Publications Index, you will find that the belief on the meaning of Sheol/Hades hasn't changed since 1880.
    – user32540
    Feb 23, 2018 at 21:58
  • The question asks "Did they ever say something to the effect of, "Until now, we Witnesses have mistakenly believed X. But thanks to the textual and historical evidence that was newly collected and analyzed in the preparation of the NWT, we understand now that we should actually believe Y."? My answer gives an example of a change in their 2013 edition that may be the closest anyone can get to tracking a development with a doctrine where the NWT is changed to bolster their earlier doctrinal stance. Thus the doctrine came first; the translation support later, which answers the question as "No."
    – Anne
    Feb 24, 2018 at 6:49
  • 1
    The issue is not whether the NWT is justified in rendering both sheol and hades as 'grave'. To argue about that is to go off-topic as it is beside the point. It is an example of a NWT new edition change that came long after the JW doctrine denying conscious awareness of the departed dead in sheol. The NWT appears to support existing JW doctrines as opposed to causing doctrinal adjustments due to discovering fresh textual or historical evidence in preparing the NWT. So, the answer to the question asked is, "No."
    – Anne
    Feb 24, 2018 at 6:59
  • 1
    Your answer is full of rhetorical questions and speculation. Your first paragraph makes a claim about the 1930s without citing sources. Your second paragraph speculates that "Grave" was inserted in order to further a doctrine (which I've given evidence that it's not). Your fourth paragraph asks rhetorical questions, but never answers them by citing any sources. Your fifth, sixth, and seventh paragraphs continue to speculate about why the "Grave" is used (even though sources explain exactly why), and they also argue that JWs are wrong on the basis of various scriptures. Please fix these issues.
    – user32540
    Feb 24, 2018 at 14:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .