Article Info

published: 6/7/04
updated: 12/26/13

Jehovah's Witnesses' Scriptures and Texts




The fact that texts are central to the Jehovah's Witnesses is clearly seen in the name of their governing organization - Watchtower Bible and Tract Society - and their designation of members as varying degrees of "publishers."

The main task of Jehovah's Witness, in addition to living a righteous life and honoring God, is to distribute Bibles and tracts to nonbelievers in the hopes they will be converted.

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures

The sacred text of Jehovah's Witnesses is the Christian Bible; specifically, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT). The New World Translation is used exclusively by Jehovah's Witnesses. It was originally published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in six volumes between 1950 and 1960.

A revised 1961 edition of the NWT excluded the footnotes and marginal references of the original. The most recent revision, New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures with References, published in 1984, restored and updated the references in the original edition.





Also available is The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, first published in 1969, which shows the English translation of the New Testament next to the Greek.

For the most part, the NWT is similar to most other modern translations. However, notable differences occur in verses that touch on particular doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses that differ from mainstream Christianity. The instance that has perhaps caused the most controversy is the NWT's translation of John 1:1, which in the New International Version (NIV) reads:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

But in the NWT, it is rendered:

In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.

Obviously, the difference in meaning is considerable. Each of the above renderings clearly support the beliefs of the corresponding group about the divinity of Christ. The ongoing debate as to which is the more accurate translation centers around the lack of a definite article (i.e., "the") before "God" in the Greek. Non-Witness translators point out that in Greek, the absence of a substantive article often indicates an indefinite form is meant, but not always. As seen above, this is acknowledged in the NWT by adding the word "the" in brackets before the word "beginning."

The New World translators' use of brackets to clarify meaning is controversial as well. The Kingdom Interlinear Translation explains that brackets indicate that "the word or words enclosed have been inserted by the translator to make some application that is shown by the Greek word or to show something that is understood along with the Greek word because of its grammatical form." {1} For example, Colossians 1:16-17 reads:

Because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist.

Mainstream Christians object to these insertions, arguing that the word "other" is neither stated nor implied in the Greek original and that the insertions clearly support the Witness belief that Christ was created by God.

One non-Witness critic summarizes his view this way:

The translators of the NWT used a good Greek text as a basis for translation, and did a relatively good job of it except in those areas in which the actual text disagrees with Jehovah’s Witness doctrine. {2}

The Watchtower

The Watchtower: Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom is a journal published twice monthly by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. It was first published by Charles Taze Russell in 1879, and now has an average printing of over 25.5 million copies in 148 languages. {3}

According to the inside cover of all issues of The Watchtower:

The purpose of The Watchtower is to exalt Jehovah God as Sovereign Lord of the universe. It keeps watch on world events as these fulfill Bible prophecy. It comforts all peoples with the good news that God's Kingdom will soon destroy those who oppress their fellowmen and that it will turn the earth into a paradise. It encourages faith in God's now-reigning King, Jesus Christ, whose shed blood opens the way for mankind to gain eternal life. The Watchtower, published by Jehovah's Witnesses continously since 1879, in nonpolitical. It adheres to the Bible as its authority. {4}

The Watchtower is colorfully illustrated and contains about 30 pages of articles of religious and moral interest based on the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses. It is intended both as a resource for Witnesses and as a tract to hand out to non-Witnesses. The back cover of all issues provides this offer:

WOULD YOU WELCOME A VISIT?
Even in this troubled world, you can gain happiness from accurate Bible knowledge of God, his Kingdom, and his wonderful purpose for mankind. If you would like to have someone call at your home to conduct a free Bible study with you, please write to Jehovah's Witnesses... {5}

Awake!

Awake! is another semimonthly journal of about 30 pages published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. The Office of Public Information of Jehovah's Witnesses describes it as "a general-interest newsmagazine with a religious slant." Inside each issue of Awake! is this explanation:

This journal is published for the enlightenment of the entire family. It shows how to cope with today's problems. It reports the news, tells about people in many lands, examines religion and science. But it does more. It probes beneath the surface and points to the real meaning behind current events, yet it always stays politically neutral and does not exalt one race over another. Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator's promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked, lawless system of things. {6}

Articles from past issues of both The Watchtower and Awake! can be read on the official Watchtower website.

Other Publications

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York has published a variety of tracts, brochures, books, and Bible study aids in addition to those described above. The official Watchtower website has information on other publications available.





References

  1. 1969 ed. p. 6.
  2. Ken Anderson.
  3. EB; The Watchtower, March 1, 2004, p. 2; "Membership and Publishing Statistics." Office of Public Information of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
  4. The Watchtower, March 1, 2004, p. 2.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Awake!, March 8, 2004, p. 4.

More Online Resources on the Scriptures and Texts of Jehovah's Witnesses


Books