New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures

The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT) is a translation of the Bible published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in 1961; it is used and distributed by Jehovah's Witnesses.[1] Though it is not the first Bible to be published by the group, it is their first original translation of ancient Classical Hebrew, Koine Greek, and Old Aramaic biblical texts. As of October 2013, the Watch Tower Society has published 201 million copies of the New World Translation in over 120 language editions.[2][3]


Until the release of the NWT, Jehovah's Witnesses in English-speaking countries primarily used the King James Version.[4][5] According to the publishers, one of the main reasons for producing a new translation was that most Bible versions in common use, including the Authorized Version (King James), employed archaic language. The stated intention was to produce a fresh translation, free of archaisms.[6] Additionally, over the centuries since the King James Version was produced, more copies of earlier manuscripts of the original texts in the Hebrew and Greek languages have become available. The publishers claimed better manuscript evidence had made it possible to determine with greater accuracy what the original writers intended, particularly in more obscure passages. They said linguists better understood certain aspects of the original Hebrew and Greek languages than previously.[7]

In October 1946, the president of the Watch Tower Society, Nathan H. Knorr, proposed a fresh translation of the New Testament, which Jehovah's Witnesses usually refer to as the Christian Greek Scriptures.[8] Work began on December 2, 1947 when the "New World Bible Translation Committee" was formed, composed of Jehovah's Witnesses who claimed to be anointed.[9][10] The Watch Tower Society is said to have "become aware" of the committee's existence a year later. The committee agreed to turn over its translation to the Society for publication[11] and on September 3, 1949, Knorr convened a joint meeting of the board of directors of both the Watch Tower Society's New York and Pennsylvania corporations where he again announced to the directors the existence of the committee[12] and that it was now able to print its new modern English translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Several chapters of the translation were read to the directors, who then voted to accept it as a gift.[11]

The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was released at a convention of Jehovah's Witnesses at Yankee Stadium, New York, on August 2, 1950. The translation of the Old Testament, which Jehovah's Witnesses refer to as the Hebrew Scriptures, was released in five volumes in 1953, 1955, 1957, 1958, and 1960. The complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was released as a single volume in 1961, and has since undergone minor revisions.[13] Cross references which had appeared in the six separate volumes were updated and included in the complete volume in the 1984 revision.[14]

In 1961 the Watch Tower Society began to translate the New World Translation into Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish; the New Testament in these languages were released simultaneously on July 1963 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By 1989 the New World Translation was translated into eleven languages, with more than 56,000,000 copies printed.[15]


The New World Translation was produced by the New World Bible Translation Committee, formed in 1947. This committee is said to have comprised unnamed members of multinational background.[16] The committee requested that the Watch Tower Society not publish the names of its members,[17][18] stating that they did not want to "advertise themselves but let all the glory go to the Author of the Scriptures, God,"[19] adding that the translation, "should direct the reader... to... Jehovah God".[20] The publishers believe that "the particulars of [the New World Bible Translation Committee's members] university or other educational training are not the important thing" and that "the translation testifies to their qualification".[21] Former high ranking Watch Tower staff have claimed knowledge of the translators' identities.[22] Walter Martin identified Nathan H. Knorr, Fredrick W. Franz, Albert D. Schroeder, George Gangas, and Milton Henschel as members of the translation team, writing of them, "The New World Bible translation committee had no known translators with recognized degrees in Greek or Hebrew exegesis or translation... None of these men had any university education except Franz, who left school after two years, never completing even an undergraduate degree. In fact, Frederick W. Franz, then representing the translation committee and later serving as the Watchtower Society's fourth president, admitted under oath that he could not translate Genesis 2:4 from the Hebrew." (However, the court transcript indicates that Franz declined to translate text from English back into Hebrew.[23]) Franz had stated that he was familiar with not only Hebrew, but with Greek, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French for the purpose of biblical translation.[24]

Translation Services Department

In 1989 a Translation Services Department was established at the world headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses, overseen by the Writing Committee of the Governing Body. The goal of the Translation Services Department was to accelerate Bible translation with the aid of computer technology. Previously, some Bible translation projects lasted twenty years or more. Under the direction of the Translation Services Department, translation of the Old Testament in a particular language may be completed in as little as two years. During the period from 1963 to 1989, the New World Translation became available in ten additional languages. Since the formation of the Translation Services Department in 1989, there has been a significant increase in the number of languages in which the New World Translation has been made available.[25][26]

2013 revision

At the Watch Tower Society's Annual Meeting on October 5, 2013, a significantly revised translation was released. Many outdated terms were replaced with modern English. Passages from the New Testament not found in the earliest available manuscripts and considered to be of doubtful authenticity—part of chapter 8 of the Gospel of John and the alternative conclusions to the Gospel of Mark—were removed. An app for the new revision was also released.[27]


According to the Watch Tower Society, the New World Translation attempts to convey the intended sense of original-language words according to the context. The New World Translation employs nearly 16,000 English expressions to translate about 5,500 biblical Greek terms, and over 27,000 English expressions to translate about 8,500 Hebrew terms. The translators state that, where possible in the target language, the New World Translation prefers literal renderings and does not paraphrase the original text.[28]

Textual basis

The master text used for translating the Old Testament into English was Kittel's Biblia Hebraica. The Hebrew text, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (1977), was used for updating the footnotes in the 1984 version of the New World Translation. Other works consulted in preparing the translation include Aramaic Targums, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Torah, the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, the Masoretic Text, the Cairo Codex, the Codex Petropolitanus, the Aleppo Codex, Christian David Ginsburg's Hebrew Text, and the Leningrad Codex.[29]

The Greek master text by the Cambridge University scholars B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort (1881) was used as the basis for translating the New Testament into English. The committee also referred to the Novum Testamentum Graece (18th edition, 1948) and to works by Catholic Jesuit scholars José M. Bover (1943) and Augustinus Merk (1948). The United Bible Societies' text (1975) and the Nestle-Aland text (1979) were used to update the footnotes in the 1984 version. Additional works consulted in preparing the New World Translation include the Armenian Version, Coptic Versions, the Latin Vulgate, Sixtine and Clementine Revised Latin Texts, Textus Receptus, the Johann Jakob Griesbach's Greek text, the Emphatic Diaglott, and various papyri.[29]

Other languages

Translation into other languages is based on the English text, supplemented by comparison with the Hebrew and Greek.[30] As of late 2013, the complete New World Translation has been published in 63 languages or scripts, with the New Testament available in an additional 58 languages.[2][3]

Translators are given a list of words and expressions commonly used in the English New World Translation with related English words grouped together (e.g. atone, atonement or propitiation); these are intended to alert the translators to various shades of meaning. A list of vernacular equivalents is then composed. If a translator has difficulty rendering a verse, the computer research system can provide information on Greek and Hebrew terms and provides access to supplemental publications. Using a search-and-replace tool, vernacular terms in the target language are then automatically inserted into the Bible text. Further editing and translation is then performed to produce a final version.[25]

The complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is available in 63 languages as of late 2013: Afrikaans, Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Bulgarian, Cebuano, Chichewa, Chinese (Simplified, Traditional or Pinyin), Cibemba, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Efik, English (also Braille), Finnish, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Hungarian, Igbo, Iloko, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kinyarwanda, Kirghiz, Kirundi, Korean, Lingala, Macedonian, Malagasy, Maltese, Norwegian, Ossetian, Polish, Portuguese (also Braille), Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Sepedi, Serbian (Cyrillic and Latin scripts), Sesotho, Shona, Sinhala, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish (also Braille), Sranantongo, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Tsonga, Tswana, Turkish, Twi (Akuapem and Asante), Xhosa, Yoruba, and Zulu.

The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures is available in an additional 51 languages as of late 2013: Amharic, West Armenian, Azerbaijani (Cyrillic and Latin scripts), Cambodian, Chitonga, Chitumbuka, Estonian, Ewe, Fijian, Gun, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hiligaynon, Hindi, Hiri Motu, Italian Braille, Kannada, Kazakh, Kikaonde, Kiluba, Kiribati (Gilbertese), Kongo, Latvian, Lithuanian, Luganda, Luvale, Malayalam, Maya, Myanmar, Nepali, Otetela, Pangasinan, Papiamento (Curaçao), Punjabi, Sango, Silozi, Solomon Islands Pidgin, Swati, Tamil, Tatar, Thai, Tigrinya, Tok Pisin, Tongan, Tshiluba, Tuvaluan, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Venda, Vietnamese and Waray-Waray.

The New World Translation is also available on DVD in part in 7 languages as of 2013: American Sign Language, Brazilian Sign Language, Colombian Sign Language, Italian Sign Language, Korean Sign Language, Mexican Sign Language, and Russian Sign Language.

When the Writing Committee approves the translation of the Bible into a new language, it appoints a group of baptized Jehovah's Witnesses to serve as a translation team. Team members generally have experience in translating the Watch Tower Society's publications, and receive additional training in the principles of Bible translation and in the use of computer programs developed specifically for the task. These systems do not perform actual translation, but assist the translators by keeping track of their translation decisions.


The layout resembles the 1901 edition of the American Standard Version. The translators use the terms "Hebrew-Aramaic Scriptures" and "Christian Greek Scriptures" rather than "Old Testament" and "New Testament", stating that the use of "testament" was based on a misunderstanding of 2 Corinthians 3:14.[31] Headings were included at the top of each page to assist in locating texts; these have been replaced in the 2013 revision by an "Outline of Contents" introducing each Bible book. There is also an index listing scriptures by subject.

Square brackets [ ] were added around words that were inserted editorially, but were removed as of the 2006 printing. Double brackets were used to indicate text considered doubtful. The pronoun "you" was printed in small capitals (i.e., YOU) to indicate plurality, as were some verbs when plurality may be unclear. These features were discontinued in the 2013 release. The New World Translation attempts to indicate progressive rather than completed actions, such as "began to rest" at Genesis 2:2 instead of "rested". The 2013 release only indicates progressive verbs where considered contextually important.

Use of Jehovah

Main article: Jehovah

The name Jehovah is a translation of the Tetragrammaton (Hebrew: יהוה‎, transliterated as YHWH), although the original pronunciation is unknown. The New World Translation uses the name Jehovah 6,979 times in the Old Testament.[32] The Watch Tower Society notes that the Tetragrammaton appears in "the oldest fragments of the Greek Septuagint".[33] In reference to the Septuagint, biblical scholar Paul E. Kahle stated, "We now know that the Greek Bible text as far as it was written by Jews for Jews did not translate the Divine name by Kyrios, but the Tetragrammaton written with Hebrew or Greek letters was retained in such MSS (manuscripts). It was the Christians who replaced the Tetragrammaton by Kyrios, when the divine name written in Hebrew letters was not understood any more."[34]

The New World Translation also uses the name Jehovah 237 times in the New Testament where the extant texts use only the Greek words kurios (Lord) and theos (God).[35] Walter Martin, an evangelical scholar, wrote, "It can be shown from literally thousands of copies of the Greek New Testament that not once does the tetragrammaton appear."[36] However, the translators of the New World Translation believed that the name Jehovah was present in the original manuscripts of the New Testament when quoting from the Old Testament, but replaced with the other terms by later copyists. Based on this reasoning, the translators "restored the divine name", though it is not present in any extant manuscripts.[37][38]

The use of Jehovah in the New Testament is not unique to the NWT; translations with similar renderings include A Literal Translation of the New Testament ... From the Text of the Vatican Manuscript (Heinfetter, 1863); The Emphatic Diaglott (Wilson, 1864); The Epistles of Paul in Modern English (Stevens, 1898); St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Rutherford, 1900); The Christian’s Bible — New Testament (LeFevre, 1928) and The New Testament Letters (Wand, Bishop of London, 1946).


The New World Translation is distributed in print editions commonly referred to as "Large Print" (four volumes), "Reference", "Regular (or Standard) Hard Cover", "Regular (or Standard) Soft Cover".[39][40] The regular editions include several appendices containing arguments for various translation decisions, maps, diagrams and other information; and over 125,000 cross references. The reference edition contains the cross references and adds footnotes about translation decisions and additional appendices that provide further detail relating to certain translation decisions.[41] Many of the non-English translations lack footnotes and some add language-specific footnotes. The 1981 and 1984 revisions incorporated the booklet, Bible Topics for Discussion (previously published separately in 1977), which provides references to scriptures relating to various topics; this has been replaced in the 2013 revision with a simplified Introduction to God's Word.

Kingdom Interlinear

The New World Bible Translation Committee included the English text from the NWT in its 1969 and 1985 editions of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures. It also incorporates the Greek text published by Westcott and Hort in The New Testament in the Original Greek and a literal word-for-word translation.[42][43]

Non-print editions

In 1978, the Watch Tower Society began producing recordings of the NWT on audio cassette,[44] with the New Testament released by 1981[45] and the Old Testament in three albums released by 1990.[46] In 2004, the NWT was released on compact disc in MP3 format in major languages.[47] Since 2008, audio downloads of the NWT have been made available in 18 languages in MP3 and AAC formats, including support for Podcasts.

In 1983, the English Braille edition of the NWT's New Testament was released;[48] the complete English Braille edition was released by 1988.[49] NWT editions have since become available in several additional Braille scripts.[50] Production of the NWT in American Sign Language began in 2006, with the complete New Testament made available by 2010;[51] sign language editions are also available for download.[52]

In 1992 a digital edition, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References, was released, as a set of seven 3½-inch 720 KB diskettes or four 5¼-inch 1.2 MB diskettes, using Folio View software. In 1993, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures—With References/Insight on the Scriptures was released in English, as a set of 5¼-inch 1.2 MB or 3½-inch 1.44 MB diskettes, containing the New World Translation and Insight on the Scriptures. Since 1994, the NWT has been included in the Watchtower Library on CD-ROM, available only to baptized Jehovah's Witnesses.[53][54] The NWT is available online at the Watch Tower Society's official website in 44 languages.[55] It is available for download in various languages in PDF and EPUB formats. In 2013, an official application entitled JW Library was released on multiple platforms for tablets and mobile devices.[56]

Critical review

Overall review

In its review of Bible translations released from 1955 to 1985, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary listed the New World Translation as one of the major modern translations.[57]

The New Catholic Encyclopedia says of the NWT reference edition: "[Jehovah's Witnesses'] translation of the Bible [has] an impressive critical apparatus. The work is excellent except when scientific knowledge comes into conflict with the accepted doctrines of the movement." It criticizes the NWT's rendering of Kyrios as "Jehovah" in 237 instances in the New Testament.[58]

Old Testament

Samuel Haas, in his 1955 review of the 1953 first volume of the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, in the Journal of Biblical Literature, stated that although "this work indicates a great deal of effort and thought as well as considerable scholarship, it is to be regretted that religious bias was allowed to colour many passages."[59]


Regarding the NWT's use of English in the 1953 first volume of the NWT (Genesis to Ruth), Dr. Harold H. Rowley (1890–1969) was critical of what he called "wooden literalism" and "harsh construction." He characterized these as "an insult to the Word of God", citing various verses of Genesis as examples. Rowley concluded, "From beginning to end this [first] volume is a shining example of how the Bible should not be translated."[61] Rowley's published review is dated January 1953, six months before the volume was actually released;[62][63] Rowley did not update his review following the July 1953 release or the 1961 revision, and he died before the release of later revisions in 1970, 1971, and 1984.[64]

New Testament

A 2003 study by Jason BeDuhn, associate professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University in the United States, of nine of "the Bibles most widely in use in the English-speaking world," including the New American Bible, The King James Bible and The New International Version, examined several New Testament passages in which "bias is most likely to interfere with translation." For each passage, he compared the Greek text with the renderings of each English translation, and looked for biased attempts to change the meaning. BeDuhn reported that the New World Translation was "not bias free", but emerged "as the most accurate of the translations compared", and thus a "remarkably good translation", adding that "most of the differences are due to the greater accuracy of the NW as a literal, conservative translation". BeDuhn said the introduction of the name "Jehovah" into the New Testament 237 times was "not accurate translation by the most basic principle of accuracy", and that it "violate[s] accuracy in favor of denominationally preferred expressions for God", adding that for the NWT to gain wider acceptance and prove its worth its translators might have to abandon the use of "Jehovah" in the New Testament.[65]

Theologian and televangelist John Ankerberg accused the NWT's translators of renderings that conform "to their own preconceived and unbiblical theology."[66] Dr. John Weldon and Ankerberg cite several examples wherein they consider the NWT to support theological views overriding appropriate translation. Ankerberg and Weldon cite Dr. Julius R. Mantey, co-author of A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament and A Hellenistic Greek Reader, who also criticized the NWT, calling it "a shocking mistranslation."[66][67]

Dr. William Barclay, Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism, concluded that "the deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in the New Testament translation. ... It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest."[68]

Edgar J. Goodspeed, translator of the New Testament in An American Translation, wrote in a letter to the Watch Tower Society: "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."[69]

Robert McCoy stated "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. One could question why the translators have not stayed closer to the original meaning, as do most translators ... In not a few instances the New World Translation contains passages which must be considered as 'theological translations.' This fact is particularly evident in those passages which express or imply the deity of Jesus Christ."[70]

Former American Bible Society board member Dr. Bruce M. Metzger concluded that "on the whole, one gains a tolerably good impression of the scholarly equipment of the translators,"[71] but identified instances where the translation has been written to support doctrine, with "several quite erroneous renderings of the Greek."[72] Metzger noted a number of "indefensible" characteristics of the translation, including its use of "Jehovah" in the New Testament.

Unitarian theologian Charles Francis Potter stated about the NWT: "Apart from a few semantic peculiarities like translating the Greek word stauros, as "stake" instead of "cross", and the often startling use of the colloquial and the vernacular, the anonymous translators have certainly rendered the best manuscript texts, both Greek and Hebrew, with scholarly ability and acumen."[73]

Religion writer and editor Alexander Thomson said of the NWT: "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. ... We heartily recommend the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, published in 1950 by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society."[74]

Thomas Winter, an instructor of Greek at the University of Nebraska, considered the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures 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."[75]

Rendering of John 1:1

Main article: John 1:1

The New World Translation has been criticized for its rendering of John 1:1. Most English translations render[76] this verse: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." By contrast, the NWT renders[77] the verse: "In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god." Controversy regarding the translation of John 1:1 is not unique to the NWT; translations with a similar rendering include Wilson's Emphatic Diaglott (interlinear reading) and Goodspeed's An American Translation.

See also


Further information

Online editions

  • Online Library
  • Online Bible (1984 and 2013)


  • Stafford, Greg: Jehovah's Witnesses Defended. [ISBN 0-9659814-7-9]
  • Furuli, Rolf: The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation: With a special look at the New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses, 1999. [ISBN 0-9659814-9-5]
  • Byatt, Anthony and Flemings, Hal (editors): 'Your Word is Truth', Essays in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (1950, 1953), 2004. [ISBN 0-9506212-6-9]
  • The Coptic Evidence
  • In Defense of the New World Translation


  • BeDuhn, Jason: Truth in Translation - Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament [ISBN 0-7618-2556-8]
  • The Names of God. Their Pronunciation and Their Translation. A Digital Tour of Some of the Main Witnesses.


  • Metzger, Bruce Manning, The Jehovah's Witnesses and Jesus Christ: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal (Theology Today (April 1953), pp. 65-85).
  • "The New World Translation: What the Scholars Really Said" (
  • Tetragrammaton in the New Testament
  • Kenneth J. Baumgarten, , South African Theological Seminary 2007.
  • Robert Countess: Jehovah's Witnesses' New Testament: A Critical Analysis, [ISBN 0-87552-210-6]
  • NWT and the Deity of Christ - A table showing NWT changes to key Christological passages, written from an evangelical perspective
  • Hiding the Divine Name Article critical of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation
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