Bible Translation and Study 

Miscellaneous Questions about the New World Translation.

There are many specific renderings in the New World Translation that have attracted the attention of critics.  Often these criticisms involve a comparison of the interlinear reading in the Watch Tower Society's Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, which has the original Greek text with a word-for-word English interlinear reading, as well as the New World Translation in a separate column on the right.  On this page, we will discuss some of the questions commonly raised by critics of the New World Translation.



In the case of an interlinear translation, it is important to remember that the English word under each Greek word is only one possible meaning of the Greek word.  Frequently, for the sake of consistency, the same English word is used each time a Greek word appears in the text.  Yet, the standard New World Translation, taking into account the context and the way the word is used in a sentence, will use a different word or expression.    Note how this is so in the examples below.

'Now' in Romans 8:1- Is it Missing?

The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures, published by Jehovah's Witnesses, has the word 'now' in its interlinear reading (page 696), but the word 'now' does not appear in the NWT itself.  Has the word been omitted from the New World Translation, perhaps for doctrinal reasons?


Romans 8:1 in the Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures.

In this verse, the NWT hasn't missed out the word 'now'; it has merely translated the Greek expression 'αρα νυν, ara nun' as 'therefore'.  

Lexicons: The renowned Greek-English Lexicon (Bauer - Arndt - Gingrich - Danker) [BAGD] translates 'νυν, nun' - among other possibilities - as "as far as the presentara nun situation is compared" or as "for now I tell you this." Abbot-Smith's lexicon defines 'νυν, nun' as "Now, presently...presently, forthwith,, therefore, now, however, as it is..."  Arndt and Gingrich's  Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1957 edition, on page 547, under the word 'nun' says: "[nun] used w. other articles...αρα νυν, ['ara nun'] so or thus now Ro.8:1."

Context: It is clear that the 'now' in the Greek of this verse has the sense of 'as it is' or 'therefore'.   Under the Law of Moses, God's worshippers were subject to condemnation, now, however, since Christ is the end of the Law, under Christ, there is no such condemnation. - See Romans 7:6.

Other Translations: The New English Bible  translates the passage in question: "The conclusion of the matter is this: there is no condemnation for those who are united with Christ."  Likewise, Goodspeed's translation reads: "So there is no condemnation any more for those who are in union with Christ Jesus."  There are at least a dozen other English translations that don't use the word 'now' in this verse.  Surely they haven't all 'deliberately missed out' the word!

In any case, the omission or inclusion of the word 'now' in English makes no real difference to the meaning.  Since the verb is in the present tense (there is) the reference is obviously to the present time.  Jehovah's Witnesses don't dispute that the verse applies now, as some appear to think.  Commenting on this verse, one of our publications says: "They [Christians] are no longer condemned sinners, in the way of death." (Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 2, page 249)

What we learn: Before jumping to conclusions about a particular rendering, it's good to look the Greek words up in one or more authoritative lexicons.  We can spare ourselves much embarrassment that way, as we begin to realise that there is more than one way to translate a particular word or expression.

Minding or Meaning

In Romans 8:6, the New World Translation renders the Greek word 'phronema' as 'minding' but in verse 27, as 'meaning'.  The Kingdom Interlinear Translation defines 'phronema' as 'minding' in both cases.  Why are different words used in the English New World Translation to translate the same original Greek word?


Other translations:  First let us say that the New World Translation is by no means unique in using this expression.  The New English Bible  (1960) and the Revised English Bible  (1990) both use the expression 'God knows … what the Spirit means."  William Barclay, in his New Testament, uses similar wording.

Good translation does not necessarily require that the same English word be used every time a particular Hebrew or Greek word is used. Precisely the same phenomena are found in many other translations. For example, the King James Version translates the Greek word 'λογος, logos' as account, cause, communication, intent, manner, thing, question, reason, fame, rumour, tidings, saying, show, speech, treatise, utterance, and word.  I make that 17 different ways of translating the same Greek word!  But there is nothing particularly wrong with that. It all depends on the context.

Context: In this case, the same Greek word is used in different contexts. Verse 6 is talking about human minds and what they think about.  The translation 'minding' is appropriate.  But verse 27 is talking phronemaabout God's spirit and its purpose or meaning.  I understand this passage to be saying that when we don't know what to pray for, God's spirit makes it possible for us to pray nonetheless, and God will understand the meaning or purpose of our prayers, because of the spirit's help.  As commentator Heinrich Meyer puts it, "God would in every case know the purpose of the Spirit."

It's obvious that this rendering, while different from that of many other translations, is legitimate.

What we learn:  Consistency in translation doesn't always mean one English word for each Greek word.

God in Christ?

In 2 Corinthians 5:19, the interlinear rendering of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation says "God was in Christ," yet the New World Translation of the same verse says "God was by means of Christ".  Is this a deliberate mistranslation to avoid the conclusion that God dwells in Christ?

Lexicons:  The Greek word in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that some feel should be translated as 'in', rather than 'by means of', is 'εν, en'.  Liddell and Scott's Greek -English Lexicon gives the following possible meanings for the word 'εν, en':  in, at, on, upon, in the number, amongst, in the presence of, before, within, according to, in accordance with, with, by, by means of, etc (and that's just the abridged version!)

Other translations: Similarly, the King James Version translates the Greek preposition 'en' as 'by' in Matthew 12:24 ("by Beelzebub"), Luke 11:19 ("by whom"), also as 'through' in John 17:17 ("through thy truth") - see also John 17:19; 20:31, where the King James Version translates 'εν, en' as 'through').

The Greek preposition 'en' can mean 'in', but it can just as well mean 'by means of', showing enagency.    It certainly doesn't have to mean that God was 'in' Christ in the sense of residing in him or being inside him.  It can and does mean that God through Christ was working out his will.  As Romans 5:10 says: "we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son".

Interestingly, the Good News Translation (formerly known as Today's English Version) renders the verse: "God was making all human beings his friends through Christ."

So the NWT is not "deliberately mistranslating"; it is simply using a different and equally correct rendering. 

What we learn:  Critics who don't know the original languages would do well to refrain from using expressions like 'deliberately mistranslating'.  Otherwise they risk giving the impression of being presumptuous and immodest.  Even for those who know the original languages, accusations of deliberate mistranslation should be a last resort.

'Was' or 'Meant'?

In 1 Corinthians 10:4, the interlinear rendering of the Kingdom Interlinear Translation says "the rock-mass ... was the Christ."  So why does the New World Translation read "that rock-mass meant the Christ"?

Again, we have to realise that words frequently have not just one meaning but a range of meaning.  The word translated 'meant' in 1 Corinthians 10:4 is a form of the Greek 'eimi', literally meaning 'to be', but also, by extension, meaning 'to stand for, mean, represent.'  That is the sense in which it is used in 1 Corinthians 10:1

Lexicons: A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament says under EIMI: "2. Explicative, as in parable, figure, type, etc.: Mt 13:19ff; 1 Cor.9:2, 10:4, 11:25, Ga.4:24, Re.17:15".  Note that 1 Corinthians 10:4 is here cited as a case where 'eimi' is used in a figurative sense.

A look at the verses cited in the above lexicon should be enough to convince us that 'eimi' does not always literally mean 'to be'.  A person is not literally a seed; he/she is represented by a seed. People are not literally a seal; they are like a seal.  A cup is not literally a covenant; iten (long 'e') stands for  a covenant.  The two women are not literally two covenants; they represent two covenants. The waters are not literally peoples; they stand for peoples, etc.

Look also at what W. E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says about 1 Corinthians 10:4.  "PETRA...denotes a mass of rock, as distinct from PETROS, a detached stone or boulder, or a stone that might be thrown or easily moved. .....1 Cor.10:4 (twice), figuratively, of Christ." Note that Vine describes the use as 'figurative'.  So the word 'meant' is a suitable translation for the Greek 'ην, en' in 1 Corinthians 10:4.  

Context:  Christ is certainly not a literal piece of rock, but he was represented by the rock mass from which the Israelites drank in the desert.

Any connection to Deuteronomy 32:4 is rather tentative.  When Moses describes Jehovah as 'the Rock', he is not referring to the incidents when Israel drank water from a rock.  1 Corinthians 10:4, on the other hand, is referring to those incidents, when it says they 'drank' from the rock. They didn't drink from Jehovah himself but from a literal rock mass.

What we learn: It is enlightening to look throughout the New Testament to get a feel for the range of meaning of a particular Greek word.

'I am' or 'I have been'?

According to the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (interlinear reading), Jesus said at John 8:58, "Before Abraham to become, I am".  But the New World Translation reads, "Before Abraham came to be, I have been."  Surely this is a mistranslation to avoid giving the impression that Jesus is Jehovah, who identifies himself in Exodus 3:14 as "I am".

Actually, "I am" and "I have been" are legitimate translations of the Greek εγω ειμι, ego eimi.  Where we would use the present perfect tense ('I have been'), Greek uses the present tense.  This isn't unique to Greek; the majority of European languages do the same thing; it's English ego eimithat's the 'odd man out'.  When you talk about an action that began in the past and continues into the present time, in Greek you use the present tense.  J. H. Moulton's Grammar of New Testament Greek states: "The Present which indicates the continuance of an action during the past and up to the moment of speaking is virtually the same as Perfective, the only difference being that the action is conceived as still in progress (Burton § 17).It is frequent in the NT: Luke 2:48; 13:7; 15:29; Jn 5:6; 8:58; 14:9; 15:27; Acts 15:21; 26:31; 2 Cor.12:19,2 Ti.3:18; 2 Pt.3:4; 1 Jn 2:9;3:8."

Note that Moulton includes John 8:58 in this category.

By the way, in John 14:9, the vast majority of translations, including the King James Version, translate 'ειμι, eimi' as 'have been'.  With equal justification, the New World Translation renders 'ειμι, eimi' as 'have been' in John 8:58.

What we learn:  Greek is not English.  They have different grammatical structures and different tenses.  One Greek tense does not correspond to one English tense.  You have to consider the context.

'Cross' or 'Stake'?

The Appendix to the Kingdom Interlinear, on page 1150, presents an illustration taken from Justus Lipsius of the 16th century of Jesus crucified on a stake or 'crux simplex'. The 1969 edition of the Kingdom Interlinear on page 1155 states: " We represent herewith a photographic copy of his illustration on page 647, column 2, of his book De Cruce Liber Primus. This is the manner in which Jesus was impaled."  Is it proper to use a picture so dogmatically?  Furthermore, Lipsius also has other pictures of executions on crosses (with cross beams).  Lipsius even said: "When a man, hands stretched out, worships God with a pure heart he resembles a cross."  And in John 20:25, the word 'nails' (plural) is used.

The Kingdom Interlinear does not say that Lipsius' drawing is intended as proof of how Jesus died, but only to illustrate the type of instrument used by the Romans to execute him. It should be obvious that a 16th century scholar can not be an authoritative source of information about something that happened in the 1st century.  All the Kingdom Interlinear says is that the method illustratedstauros in the photograph "is the manner in which Jesus was impaled".  In that context (a mere illustration rather than a piece of evidence) Lipsius' own view is irrelevant.  Abundant evidence is provided in the Appendix that the Greek word stauros originally meant 'stake. Indeed, that is the basic meaning found in most lexicons.

We can not be dogmatic about how many nails were used in Jesus' hands on the basis of 'scripture alone'.  True, John 20:25 mentions 'nails' (plural) but that could refer to nails in his hands and feet, not just his hands.  (In Luke 24:39, he told his disciples to look, not just at his hands but also at his feet.) In any case, it is understood that illustrations in our publications are just artists' impressions.  None of us were there at Jesus' execution, and the Bible doesn't describe it in detail, so we simply don't know many of the details.

What is really surprising is that some people think that the number of nails used is a matter of sufficient importance even to discuss.

For a further discussion of how the Greek word 'σταυρός, stauros' should be translated, please see the Defence of the New World Translation website.

Qualified to Pass Judgment?

In his book Truth in Translation, Jason BeDuhn states:

In order to have any ability to make a judgement about the accuracy of a translation of the New Testament from its original Greek into modern English, you have to know how to read Greek ... I am sure this seems obvious to you.  Yet, amazingly, the majority of individuals who publicly pass judgement on Bible translations -- in print, on television and radio, on the internet, and in letters they send to me -- do not know how to read Greek.

Does that sound familiar?!  He continues:

The obvious question to be asked here is: then how can they tell what is a good translation and what is not?  The fact is that they cannot. Their opinions are based not on the accuracy of translating Greek words into English words, but on the agreement of the final product with their own beliefs about what the Bible must say ...Truth in Translation by Jason Beduhn

So the first question you should ask anyone who claims to have the credentials to speak about the translation of the New Testament is: Do you know how to read Koine Greek?  If not, then you have no basis to render an opinion, other than to rely on other people who do read Koine Greek.  If we Greek readers disagree among ourselves, then you must examine our arguments and evidence and decide who has the better case.  (Page xvii)


Beduhn isn't a Jehovah's Witness, and actually disagrees with a number of translation decisions made by the NWT translation committee.  This book provides more accurate information than all the sum of all the anti-Witness books and websites, which, as you can see for yourself, are all too often prejudiced and plain wrong.  If Witness critics want to be taken seriously, they really do need to be a lot more careful about using emotive expressions such as 'biased', 'missing out' words, 'deliberately mistranslating', 'changing the Bible', etc.

Beduhn's book is worth a read:


Just because the New World Translation is different in certain verses from some other translations doesn't make it automatically wrong.

  • Words can have more than one meaning.

  • Phrases can often be translated more than one way.

  • More often than not, you'll find that at least some other translations agree with the New World Translation.
  • Don't be hasty to condemn the New World Translation as incorrect, or to impute bad motives to its translators.  Look into it.  Get out dictionaries, check other translations, ask people who speak the Bible languages.  Have an open mind.  You may not agree in all cases with the NWT rendering.  But at least you'll understand why the translation choice was made and will know why you disagree.
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