Truth in Translation

BeDuhn, author of Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, called the New World Translation a “remarkably good” translation, and “one of the most accurate English translations of the New Testament currently available”.  However BeDuhn was critical of some of its translation choices, thus dedicating an entire appendix of his book to the use of Jehovah in the New World Translation.

Excerpts  from the appendix are below, however, you should purchase a copy of Truth in Translation for your own research library.

Excerpt from Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament Appendix: The Use of “Jehovah” in the New World Translation

Truth in Translation: The Use of “Jehovah” in the New World Translation

Having concluded that the NWT is one of the most accurate English translations of the New Testament currently available, I would be remiss if I did not mention one peculiarity of this translation that by most conventions of translation would be considered an inaccuracy, however little this inaccuracy changes the meaning of most of the verses where it appears. I am referring to the use of “Jehovah” in the NWT New Testament. “Jehovah” (or “Yahweh” or some other reconstruction of the divine name consisting of the four consonants YHWH) is the personal name of God used more than six thousand times in the original Hebrew of the Old Testament. But the name never appears in any Greek manuscript of any book of the New Testament. So, to introduce the name “Jehovah” into the New Testament, as the NWT does two-hundred-thirty-seven times, is not accurate translation by the most basic principle of accuracy: adherence to the original Greek text. (p. 169)

Of course, “Jehovah” also appears throughout the NWT Old Testament. In this case, the NWT is the only accurate translation of the nine we are comparing, since all of the other translations replace the personal name of God, in over six thousand passages, with the euphemistic title “Lord” (given by many of these translations in all capitals as “LORD”…). YHWH does appear in the original Hebrew of these passages, and the only accurate translation is one that renders the name into some pronounceable form. The NWT rightly does this; the others do not. As a result, the NWT had “Jehovah” consistently in both its Old and New Testaments, while the other translations consistently have “Lord” in both their Old and New Testaments. Both practices violate accuracy in favor of denominationally preferred expression for God.

This problem arises because the Bible itself is not consistent in the way all of these translators want it to be. The Old Testament authors regularly use “Jehovah” as God’s personal name, and the New Testament authors never do so. To cover over this inconsistency, translators harmonize the two testaments, that is, they make them read the same even though originally they do not. To harmonize the Bible is to change one part to make it match another. This is not a legitimate part of the translator’s task. (p.169-170)

All of the books now contained in the New Testament were written originally in Greek. Even when the authors of these books quote the Old Testament, they do so in Greek. Since “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” is not found in the original Greek New Testament, even when passages from the Old Testament that contain YHWH are quoted, it would seem that the New Testament authors followed the general Jewish custom of not using God’s personal name. Even if these authors were using copies of the Greek Septuagint that preserved the divine name in archaic Hebrew letters, they were careful in their own writings to substitute the accepted euphemism “Lord” (kurios).

This makes perfect sense, since the New Testament authors were writing works that would be read aloud in Christian communities. Many of these Christian communities contained Gentiles as well as Jews, and these Gentiles would be mystified by the peculiar practices around the name of God. In the interests of reaching the broadest possible audience with their message, the New Testament authors use universal titles such as “God” and “Lord,” rather than the specifically Jewish name for God, which Jews themselves did not want spoken aloud, anyway. How do I know all this? Because the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament—all of them—use kurios, the Greek word for “lord,” in every single place where an Old Testament verse that contains YHWH in the original Hebrew is quoted.

When all of the manuscript evidence agrees, it takes very strong reasons to suggest that the original autographs (the very first manuscript of a book written by the author himself) read differently. To suggest such a reading not supported by the manuscript evidence is called making a conjectural emendation. It is an emendation because you are repairing, “mending,” a text you believe is defective. It is conjectural because it is a hypothesis, a “conjecture” that can only be proven if at some future time evidence is found that supports it. Until that time, it is by definition unproven.

The editors of the NWT are making a conjectural emendation when they replace kurios, which would be translated “Lord,” with “Jehovah.” In an appendix to the NWT, they state that their restoration of “Jehovah” in the New Testament is based upon (1) a supposition concerning how Jesus and his disciples would have handled the divine name, (2) the evidence of the “J texts,” and (3) the necessity of consistency between Old and New Testaments…

The first basis for using “Jehovah” is a matter of theological interpretation. It is an assumption about how individuals would have acted in accordance with values the editors believe they held… I might simply note that this first line of reasoning used by the editors of the NWT provides a sweeping principle that the name of God was used by the early Christians; it does not and cannot establish that the name of God was used in particular verses of the New Testament (since the editors readily acknowledge that “Lord” appears legitimately in many passages of the Bible.)

The second basis for using “Jehovah” relies upon a set of texts that similarly employ a form of “Jehovah” in particular passages of the New Testament. The NWT cites various texts of this sort, referred to with a “J” followed by a number… These “J texts” are mostly… Hebrew translations of the Greek… made in the last five centuries for the use of Jewish converts to Christianity. But the fact that their missionary translators chose to use the Jewish name for God in some passages of the New Testament does not constitute any sort of evidence about the original form of those passages.

What the NWT editors are actually doing in these notes is citing other translations… This kind of citation of another translation does not prove anything; it merely indicates how the choices of the translator is similar to that made by another translator at some time…

Since one-hundred-sixty-seven of the occurrences of “Jehovah” in the NWT New Testament are based solely upon these “J texts,” and the “J texts” offer evidence only about other translations, not about the original Greek New Testament, the use of “Jehovah” is not sufficiently justified in these verses.

The New Testament quotes the Old Testament quite often, and many of the quoted passages in their original Hebrew version have the name of God… The editors of the NWT reason that if the New Testament writers quote the Old Testament they will, of course, quote it accurately. If the original Hebrew of the Old Testament passage contains YHWH, an accurate quote of it would also include that name. So there appears to be a serious discrepancy between New Testament quotes of the Old Testament and the original Old Testament sources of those quotes when the former reads “Lord” while the latter has “Jehovah.”

But it is not the job of translators to fix or correct the content of the biblical text. So when it comes to New Testament quotes of the Old Testament, we are constrained to translate what the New Testament author has given… To do otherwise runs the risk of undoing something important that the New Testament authors wished to convey by the way they quote the Old Testament.

In a small number of cases, it seems to be likely that a New Testament author is consciously changing the referent of the Old Testament passage from Jehovah… to Jesus Christ… In other words, once an Old Testament passage was read as referring to “the Lord,” rather than specifically “Jehovah,” it was possible to apply what the passage said to Jesus… With this fact in mind, modern translators must be careful not to undo the work of the author by “restoring” God’s name in a place where a New Testament author may not intend it. (pp. 171-173)

But in five of the verses… the NWT has “God” rather than either “Jehovah” or “Lord” (Romans 11:2; Romans 11:8; Galatians 1:15; Hebrews 9:20; 1 Peter 4:14). I cannot say why the NWT editors abandoned their principle of conjectural emendation in these five cases; it makes no difference in the meaning of the text.[*] (p. 174)

[*] The New World Translation was consistent with its translation policy in these verses. The Westcott and Hort text (which is reproduced in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation) from which the New World Translation was made uses theos(God) rather than kurios (Lord) in each of these verses.

Then there are three more verses where, by the principles applied by the NWT editors, “Jehovah” should be used, and yet is not: 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Peter 2:3; and 1 Peter 3:15. These three passages present a serious problem for the NWT translators… The fact that they do not, and apparently cannot, have “Jehovah” in these three passages underscores the problem with the whole idea of using “Jehovah” in the New Testament.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul quotes Isaiah 2:21, which includes YHWH in the Hebrew version and “Lord” in the Septuagint. There is no reason for the NWT not to have “Jehovah” here according to its own principles. But in the context of 2 Thessalonians 1, Jesus is the primary subject… This may be an instance of a New Testament author reapplying an Old Testament passage about YHWH to Jesus because the word “Lord” is ambiguous in its reference. In such a circumstance, the NWT editors shy away from using “Jehovah.”

Likewise, in 1 Peter 2:3 and 3:15, the NWT translators have deviated from the principles by which they use “Jehovah,”: and they have done so quite obviously because of bias. In both passages, by taking advantage of the ambiguity of the Greek kurios (“Lord”), Peter reapplies to Jesus an Old Testament statement that was originally about YHWH.

The inconsistency of the NWT translators in not using “Jehovah” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Peter 2:3, and 1 Peter 3:15 shows that interpretation rather than a principle of translation is involved in deciding where to use “Jehovah.” If the NWT translators stick consistently to using “Jehovah” whenever an Old Testament passage containing God’s name is quoted in the New Testament, that is a translation principle of a sort (whether one agrees with it or not). But if in such cases they sometimes use “Jehovah” and sometimes revert to “Lord,” then they are interpreting the reference of the biblical author. Once we recognize that interpretation is involved, and see three examples where this interpretation has led the translators not to use “Jehovah,” we must wonder if they have been correct to use it in all seventy of those other occurrences. Couldn’t there be other passages among them where, as apparently in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 1 Peter 2:32, and 1 Peter 3:15, the reference of the verse has been redirected to Jesus? By moving beyond translation of the Greek to an interpretation, the translator ventures from the bedrock of the text to the shifting sands of opinion. (pp. 174-175)