Translators, Qualifications, and the New World Translation
June 17, 2009
In the midst of discussing Coptic translations of the 3rd century - practically the earliest of all translations yet discovered - did you know they translate John 1:1 exactly as the New World Translation – “the Word was a god”? - one grouser has had enough. He wants to know who translated the NWT. What qualifications did they have?
Grouser: Just b/c I understand what you mean when you say this, doesn’t
mean I’m qualified to translate from Coptic or Greek into English.
What were the qualifications of the men who translated the NWT into English?
What in the world does that statement have to do with anything? No one’s asking you to translate from Coptic or Greek into English.
The point is that, in a language closer in time to the actual usage of Koine Greek, the translators rendered John 1:1 exactly as does the NWT today. Viewed in this light, the NWT is not "changing" John 1:1. Rather, manuscripts well after John penned his letter changed the verse, and NWT has restored it to as it should be.
But he’s done with Coptic. He wants a new topic.
What he is hoping is that I will admit we didn’t really use translators at all, but hired trained orangutans for the job. It’s a common taunt from those who can’t stand Jehovah’s Witnesses. Just who are these translators, anyway? Do they have letters trailing their name? Do they really know any language besides Pig Latin?
It’s not easy to satisfy on this point since the NWT translating committee has ever remained anonymous. Not just the NWT - everything Watchtower published is anonymous. One consequence is that people must focus on the work itself and not just who wrote it. But it’s a lot easier to do the reverse: find out who wrote it, and then figure on that basis if it’s any good or not. It's the tactic of a lazy lout. After all, examining a work takes time. Examining credentials of the author can be done in 2 seconds.
Is the New World Translation any good or not? One ought to be able to determine that without knowing the “qualifications of the translators.” Instead, qualifications become apparent through examination of the work itself. That holds true in any other aspect of life. Why should it not hold true here as well? When Mrs Sheepandgoats and I moved into our present house, we looked it over for quality. We even hired an inspector. Satisfied, we purchased it. But we don’t know who built the house, and we’ve not lost any sleep on that account. The qualifications of the builders are evident from what is built.
Shortly after the New World Translation’s release, back in 1963, the Andover Newton Quarterly wrote: “The translation of the New Testament is evidence of the presence in the movement of scholars qualified to deal intelligently with the many problems of Biblical translation.” How do they know the “scholars” are “qualified”? They examined the work itself. Does it bother them that the translators are anonymous? It doesn’t seem to. “The New Testament translation was made by a committee whose membership has never been revealed — a committee that possessed an unusual competence in Greek,” the journal wrote in 1966. They could tell the work was well done without knowing the authors, just as you can tell the earth is beautiful without knowing its Creator. But stupid and lazy persons insist they have to know the authors first. Rubbish. To insist that credentials determine a work’s value is to insist that Microsoft is a nickel-and-dime third rate outfit because Bill Gates is “unqualified” – he holds no degrees in computer science, and never completed college.
Or what about Marilee Jones, the MIT Dean of Admissions who was carted out like yesterday's trash when it was found she was “unqualified” for her job. She’d forged her credentials! Those letters and degrees she carried - all made up! Yet before she was found out, they'd sung her praises to the heavens! She was a leading expert in her field! On the other hand, the most qualified financial people in the world darn near destroyed the entire world economy. Evolutionists positively reek with qualifications, and they’ve determined there is no God at all! Not to berate qualifications, of course – God forbid! - but they are frequently used merely to screen persons, as any job-seeker knows. And to pad the education industry.
Opponants sneered at the apostles for lack of qualifications: "Now when they [qualified religious leaders of the day] beheld the outspokenness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were men unlettered and ordinary, they got to wondering,” Acts 4:13 tells us. Jesus fared no better: “Therefore the Jews fell to wondering, saying: “How does this man have a knowledge of letters, when he has not studied at the schools?" (John 7:15) Got it? Christianity’s a flop because its founder was not “qualified.”
Frankly, Watchtower, through its program, structure and dedication, is a "school" in its own right. Can one learn languages only through the world's universities? Sheesh! A two-year-old raised in a bilingual homes picks up both tongues without effort. Put him in a tri-lingual home, and he picks up three. Okay, ancient language adds a degree of complication, I admit, but still, language is just a means of communication and surely there are many avenues through which one may learn it. Besides, what do they do most there in Bethel? What are they known for? TRANSLATING! The Watchtower magazine is presently translated into 174 languages. Try to find any material of any sort so widely translated!
So, IF it turns out that NWT translators bypassed the advanced degrees of prestigious universities, that's not the big deal detractors make it out to be. Yet, even THAT can't be determined for sure. Detractors claim to know who the translators were, and have a field day with their supposed "lack of qualifications." But how you positively identify a group which has never identified itself is beyond me. And even if those guessed-at persons chaired a committee, that by no means says they personally did all the work, just as a builder might farm out various areas of expertise on the home he's building.
"Maybe there were many others," admits another sorehead. "But again, in a matter like this, what or why would they hide? Who lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl? Honestly, provide one reasonable excuse why these men should be anonymous."
What’s wrong with modesty? By remaining anonymous, they direct attention to the work (and its real author), and not themselves. “Who lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl,” my rear end! They’ve not put the work under a bowl. They’ve put themselves under it. Now, having accomplished a great work, people today are given to strutting around and basking in the praise of their peers. To forsake that shows unusual modesty. We live in a culture in which people are obsessed with personalities, and in which they focus, not so much on words said, but on who said the words. Anonymity thwarts such laziness.
Most criticism of the New World Translation arises because it does not translate certain verses in the precise words necessary to uphold the Trinity doctrine. This is extremely important to Trinity people, because the Trinity teaching derives almost all of its authority from such 'formula' verses. Many translations have rendered such verses similar to the NWT over the years, but such translations all tank because they depend on the world's commercial marketplace for distribution - and Trinitarians won't touch them with a ten foot pole. The NWT would also tank if distributed that way, no doubt, but it's distributed in an entirely unique way by dedicated Christians, outstripping anything the world’s commercial system could accomplish, and at a very nominal cost.
If you believe in the Trinity, you'll loathe the NWT and do everything possible to discredit it. But if you don't carry that baggage, and you're permitted to look at it without preconceived ideas, it speaks well for itself. In fact, Jason Beduhn, who has theological qualifications coming out of his ears, compared 9 popular translations and concluded the New World Translation is the most accurate, containing the least bias, of all of them. His 2003 book is entitled Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. He's not hung up at all about anonymous translators. He has enough ability to look at the work itself, and not just who produced it.
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Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!
"But again, in a matter like this, what or why would they hide? Who lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl? Honestly, provide one reasonable excuse why these men should be anonymous."
Well the preface explains the reason: "They shall give the Lord Jesus Christ His proper place, the place which the Word gives Him; therefore, no work will ever be personalized."
Wait a minute, that's the New American Standard Bible I was quoting from (see http://ononeaccordwcharity.org/Preface_for_NASB.html ), which *also* keeps anonymous translators. My bad.
While we're at it, just who were those Coptic translators Tom? What degrees did they have? ;)
Here's another article on the Coptic translation of John 1: http://www.bibliacoptica.com/resources/copticnoute.html
Posted by: TJ | June 17, 2009 at 08:48 PM
Hold on just one moment, TJ. How many degrees do YOU have? How do I know you're qualified to write the comment you just wrote?
I didn't know that about the NASB. Thanks.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | June 18, 2009 at 11:18 AM
My qualifications? I'll take the NASB defense which seems to please all of these people outraged at the NWT translators' anonymity:
"And rest assured, the translators and consultants who contributed to [*this post*] are, as always, conservative Bible scholars who have doctorates in biblical languages, theology, or other advanced degrees." http://www.lockman.org/nasb/
Of course, Tom, if you *really* want to find out whether or not I'm a properly educated scholar, all you have to do is administer the "God"/"a god" test. "God" passes, "a god" doesn't.
From the NASB discussion forums: "By the way, no responsible translator is on record as agreeing with the Watchtower's New World Translation regarding its rendering of John 1:1, saying as it does that the Word was a god."
See? Dr. Jason BeDuhn is obviously not a responsible translator. The test works again!
Posted by: TJ | June 20, 2009 at 09:33 PM
Another advantage of remaining anonymous when it comes to religious publications in general is that not only is the attention directed to the writing itself, but to the organization that publishes it.
One: It is a vote of faith/confidence by an organization because it is not possible to say, "that's just so-and-so's opinion." This helps unity.
Two: It helps to avoid situations where people will start following a specific person rather than the Word of God. There is no "Enlightened Prophet."
I'm not just speaking of biblical translations. As stated before, most biblical translations are market-driven, and so the translators/publishers are under a lot of pressure to write in such a way as to have the readers' ears tickled.
It is far easier to tell people what they want to hear, and not the truth of any matter. Those who are best at it rise to prominence. The truth, althouh able to "set men free" in a spiritual sense, is often used to imprison people.
Posted by: Screech | June 25, 2009 at 03:55 PM
Thank you, Screech. I incorporated your comment in answer to this fellow who commented on the post "Religion is a Snare and a Racket:"
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | June 25, 2009 at 06:34 PM
Fascinating post. I really enjoyed it, especially the point about Bill Gates being "unqualified" by academic scholarship to run Microsoft!
An illustration is worth a thousand words.
Posted by: bar_enosh | July 19, 2009 at 08:55 PM
In philology there is a well-known term: “The Homeric Question.” This term actually describes the unsolved problem of identifying the real author(s) of Iliad and Odyssey. Of course, the uncertainty of the authorship of those texts does not change the fact that Iliad and Odyssey are literary masterpieces, for some scholars even the best in human history.
It should be easily understandable that an expert does not need someone’s CV in order to judge the quality of the latter’s work when the expert is in position to study and check the work itself. Only people who are unable to check the quality of a work need the CV of the person who made it.
This is the reason why when we read reviews of the NWT written by experts in the field of the Biblical languages, we never see negative comments as to who are the anonymous translators. Such experts speak about the work itself. So, the question is, now, what do the experts say for the NWT in general and the ability of the translators?
On the NWT of 1984:
"[Jehovah's Witnesses'] translation of the Bible [has] an impressive critical apparatus. The work is excellent”—New Catholic Encyclopedia, Gale, 2005, Vol. 7, p. 751.
On the Christian Scriptures (1950)
“On the whole, one gains a tolerably good impression of the scholarly equipment of the translators”—Bruce Metzger, The Bible Translator 15/3 (July 1964), p. 151.
On the 1st volume of the Hebrew Scriptures (1953):
“This work indicates a great deal of effort and thought as well as considerable scholarship.”— Samuel Haas, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 74, No. 4, (Dec. 1955), p. 283.
On the Christian Scriptures and the first volume of the Hebrew Scriptures:
“The anonymous translators have certainly rendered the best manuscript texts, both Greek and Hebrew, with scholarly ability and acumen.”—Charles Francis Potter, The faiths men live by, Kessinger Publishing, 1954, 239.
(For the whole references see the article of Wikipedia “New World Translation”)
All of those writers do have their objections on specific renderings of the NWT, but they openly admit the general quality of the NWT. Beyond any doubt, apostates and anti-cult preachers seem very ridiculous when their comments are contrasted with those above. Yes, someone becomes very ridiculous when he is burbling about the credentials of the NWT translators when the New Catholic Encyclopedia itself considers the NWT as “excellent.”
Posted by: Vasileios | July 20, 2009 at 03:48 PM
If a brownie is 99% excellent, but contains 1% rat poison it's still going to kill you. I don't think that admitting the "general" quality of the NWT concedes anything. Most of the verses may be rendered correctly, but if it gives the reader an inaccurate view of Jesus then it will still lead the reader to death. Of course, the same goes in reverse for the NASB, NIV, etc.
Why do people ask for credentials? People do it because they don't know the original languages themselves and want to know who is doing the translation for them. I think it's a fair question. A child may be able to pick up conversational Spanish in the home, but nobody speaks Koine Greek anymore. Therefore, a certain measure of scholarship is required to handle the language.
As I wrote in the other post, either you trust the Watchtower or you don't. Either you trust the Lockman foundation or you don't. Either you trust the ESV translation committee or you don't. And so on. Knowing who worked on the translation goes a long way toward building that trust.
The home inspection analogy is actually quite interesting. A completed residential home has more than a builder involved. There is oversight from city inspectors to determine the quality of the work before occupancy is permitted. This is why third-party inspections are valid for Bible translations as well.
Posted by: Jason Chamberlain | July 31, 2009 at 07:02 AM
I think you've put your finger on the crux of the matter right here:
"Most of the verses may be rendered correctly, but if it gives the reader an inaccurate view of Jesus then it will still lead the reader to death."
It's as DeBuhn stated. Translators ought to translate rigorously and then let the results teach them about Jesus, about God, about the kingdom, and everything else. Instead, some approach the task with pre-existing views of who/what Jesus was, and then make sure their translation reinforces those views.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | August 01, 2009 at 03:53 PM
With all the manuscripts, translations and all the Greek, Hebrew, Chaldean, and Aramaic renderings,and all the translators arguing every single line in the Bible just about, And all the different apocraphal books, Who in their right mind would have anything to do with any of it any more.
I have been a christian for over 40 years and with all the problems all the scholars have with it I think all the Bibles all over the world should be piled up and burned and then ask God to give us a copy that not even cults can dispute. Otherwise what's the point.I've seen whole families distroyed by what the different denomination,organization, persuasions, and cults have done to it.
Posted by: Jeff Gilbert | November 20, 2011 at 07:55 PM
It's called muddying the waters. It happens in every field of importance. The scoundrels introduce so many red herrings and carry on so vehemently and contradictory, that eventually folks say "to hell with it all," and devote their energies to less taxing matters.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | November 20, 2011 at 10:56 PM