The sacred text of Jehovah's Witnesses is the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (NWT), a translation of the Christian Bible. 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 difference 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.1
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."2
For example, Colossians 1:16-17 reads in the NWT:
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.3
- “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe in the Old Testament?.” JW.org. Web. Accessed 23 Mar. 2017.
- “Have Jehovah’s Witnesses Changed the Bible to Fit Their Beliefs?.” JW.org. Web. Accessed 23 Mar. 2017.
- Furuli, Rolf. The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation: With a Special Look at the New World Translation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Elihu Books, 1999.