Bible Translation and Study 


Does the New World Translation Add Words to Colossians 1:16, 17?

Do not add anything or take anything away!  (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Revelation 22:18, 19)  Anyone who undertakes to translate God's Word into another language must see this as a particularly sobering warning.  So it is important to consider the common accusation made against the New World Translation that it has added words to Colossians 1:16-20.

Typical of such accusations is that made by the late Ray Stedman:

 "If you look carefully at the Jehovah's Witnesses' little green translation of the Scriptures, you will notice that in order toRay Stedman substantiate their lie about Jesus Christ, they've inserted the word "other" in these phrases. "All other things were created by him. In him all other things were created." But there is absolutely no warrant whatsoever in the Greek text for the insertion of the word "other." This is a clear instance of the kind of deceitfulness to which these people will stoop in order to propagate their lies."[1] (Emphasis added)

Leaving aside the emotive language used by Stedman and his failure to allow even for the possibility that the NWT translators might be sincere in their efforts, the substance of this allegation must be investigated.  Has the word 'other' been inserted arbitrarily, without foundation?


Understanding How Translations are Made

Translation involves rendering the words and thoughts of a writer in one language (generally referred to as the Source Language) into another (called the Target Language).  The process of translating anything involves much more than simply substituting a word in the source language for a corresponding word in the target language. 

As one textbook used for training translators states:

"Elements of meaning which are represented by several orthographic words in one language, say English, may be represented by one orthographic word in another, and vice versa.  ... There is no one-to-one correspondence between orthographic words and elements of meaning within or across languages." (Italics added)[2]

Frequently, then translators are obliged to use more than one word in English to give a complete picture of what is being said in the Greek text of the Bible.  This happens constantly.  For instance, Colossians 1 in the original Greek has 551 words, whereas the King James Version has 656 words, the New International Version has 673, the New World Translation has 766 and the Good News Bible (Today's English Version) has 797.  There is nothing unusual or sinister about this.  Often, the extra words are needed to complete the sense in English.

What we have to ask ourselves, then, is not whether there is a particular word in Colossians 1:16 that means 'other' but whether the idea of 'other' is found in the meaning of the complete sentence.

Does Koine Greek Always Require the Use of a Word for "Other"?

The koine Greek of the New Testament has a number of words that may be translated as 'other'.  These include among a number of others αλλος (allos), ετερος (heteros), λοιπος (loipos).  Frequently, however, the concept of 'other' is not stated expressly, it is simply implied. 

Instructive in this regard is the comment made by noted scholars Blass, Debrunner and Funk, in their Grammar:

"Further ellipses: (1) The omission of the notion 'other, whatever' (§ 306 (5)) is specifically Greek." [3]

A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature In other words, Greek sometimes takes it for granted that the word 'other' is implied.  This phenomenon is not unique to Greek; it is sometimes encountered in English, which may occasionally omit the word 'other' when there is little chance of misunderstanding.  But an examination of the New Testament indicates that this type of structure is encountered with much greater frequency in koine Greek.

Consider, for example, the following phrases from the book of Acts.  The original Greek is followed by the King James Version rendering in red and the New International Version in blue.


Acts 5:29

αποκριθεις δε Πετρος και οι αποστολοι ειπον
[apokritheis de Petros kai oi apostoloi eipon]

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said

Peter and the other apostles replied

Acts 4:6

Καιαφαν και Ιωαννην και Αλεξανδρον και οσοι ησαν εκ γενους αρχιερατικου
[Kaiaphan kai Ioannen kai Alexandros kai hosoi esan ek genous archieratikou]

Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest,

Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest's family

Acts 16:25

Κατα δε το μεσονυκτιον Παυλος και Σιλας προσευχομενοι υμνουν τον Θεον· επηκροωντο δε αυτων οι δεσμιοι. 
[Kata de to mesonyktion Paulos kai Silas proseuchomenoi hymnoun ton Theon; epekroonto de auton oi desmioi]

And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.


The omission of the notion 'other' is specifically Greek
Greek Grammar, Blass, Debrunner Funk

It is evident that in the above cases other is not expressed in Greek - but it is implied.  The Greek expression translated literally as "Peter and the apostles" does not imply that Peter was not an apostle.  Likewise, Caiaphas was the High Priest, and Paul and Silas were prisoners.  The New International Version has correctly supplied the word 'other', which is implicit in the above sentences, although it is not possible to point to a particular word in the above sentences that is translated other.  The King James Version has done likewise in Acts 5:29, but not in the other two instances, leaving it to the intelligence of the reader to understand this. 

Use of pas to mean 'all other'

The omission of words that express the notion 'other' is particularly common with the Greek word pas (all).   This may be seen by comparing verses in the New International Version  where a form of the Greek word pas is translated by 'all other(s)' or some similar phrase.  In the following table, none of the verses cited use any of the Greek words traditionally translated 'other'.  The word is merely implied by the context.

Matt. 26:35

And all the other disciples said the same.

Mark 12:43

this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.

Luke 3:19

And all the other disciples said the same.

Luke 11:42

you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs

Luke 13:2

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?

Luke 13:4

do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?

Acts 16:32

Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.

1 Cor. 6:18

All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

2 Cor. 9:13

your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.

1 Thess. 3:12

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else

1 Thess. 5:15

always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else


In all of the above occurrences, the New International Version has used words such as 'other' or 'else' to complete the sense in English.[4]  This does not mean that they are adding to God's word, they are simply making explicit or clear what was already there in the Greek text.  Thus, it is by no means wrong to translate pas as 'all other,' where that is what is implied by the context.

A Greek Lesson from the Apostle Paul

The writings of the Apostle Paul himself, who wrote the letter to the Colossians, teach us that pas can have the meaning of 'all other things'.  Consider what he writes in 1 Corinthians 15:28:


παντα γαρ υπεταξεν υπο τους ποδας αυτου οταν δε ειπη οτι παντα υποτετακται δηλον οτι εκτος του υποταξαντος αυτω τα παντα

[panta gar hypetaxen hypo tous podas autou.  otan de eipe hoti panta hypotetaktai delon hoti ektos tou hypotaxantos auto ta panta[5]]


For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.


For he has put everything under his feet. Now when it says that everything has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.


For  [God]   "subjected all things under his feet."  But when he says that  'all things have been subjected,'  it is evident that it is with the exception of the one who subjected all things to him.

Thus, Paul himself says that it is δηλον, delon, 'manifest, clear, evident' that the word pas can have exceptions.  In this case, when Scripture says that "all things" (ta panta) are subjected to Christ, Paul points out that the expression 'all things' has an exception - it does not include God himself.  For Paul, this is obvious, as it should be to modern-day readers of the Bible.  None of the above-mentioned translations use the word 'other', doubtless reasoning that it is so obvious as to be superfluous.

That the word 'other' is often implicit in the Greek text is admitted even by Robert Bowman, who is a critic of the New World Translation.  He acknowledges:

It is, of course, legitimate for translators to add the word "other" where this does not change the meaning but simply makes for smoother English (e.g., Luke 11:41-42; 13:2,4).

However, Bowman then adds:

In Colossians 1:16-20, however, adding "other" substantially changes the meaning.[6]

In view of Bowman's comment, we must ask whether the inclusion of the word 'other' changes the meaning of the original Greek text.  Rolf Furuli explains why this is not the case:

In NWT the use of "all other" four times in Colossians 1 cannot be viewed as bias, and it is not interpolation, since the very words of 1:15 reveal that Jesus Christ is a part of creation, which then implies the word "other" in these four places.[7]

In view of the statement in verse 15 that Christ is the "firstborn of all Creation", the New World Translation has a very strong case indeed for its translation.

Of course, it is true that some would render the phrase in Colossians 1:15 as "firstborn over all creation" (New International Version; emphasis added) or even to paraphrase it - incorrectly - as "firstborn son, superior to all created things" (Good News Translation).  This is referred to by some as the "genitive of subordination".[8]  It is true that prototokos can at times figuratively refer to supremacy.  However, leaving Colossians 1:15 aside, there is no instance of prototokos being used anywhere in the NT or the LXX with a 'genitive of subordination' [9]  Furthermore, even if one accepts the extremely dubious conclusion that Colossians 1:15 has a genitive of subordination, that does still not rule out the possibility of Christ's being a created being.  Indeed, in view of the information cited previously in this article, there is no reason why prototokos pases ktiseos could not be translated as 'firstborn over all other creation'!

Jason Beduhn makes an further point in his book Truth in Translation:

So what exactly are objectors to "other" arguing for as the meaning of the phrase "all things"?  That Christ created himself (v. 16)?  That Christ is before God and that God was made to exist by means of Christ (v. 17)?  That Christ, too, needs to be reconciled to God (v. 20)?  When we spell out what is denied by the use of "other" we can see clearly how absurd the objection is.[10]

The point is obvious: pas (all) does not always necessarily mean every person, human or spirit, who is living, has ever lived in the past or will ever live in the future.  Common sense must be applied.

Created 'by Christ' - In What Sense?

This brings us to the exact meaning of the phrase used by Paul to say that everything was created.  We can compare the original Greek text with a number of translations.


οτι εν αυτω εκτισθη τα παντα [en auto ektisthe ta panta] εν τοις ουρανοις και επι της γης τα ορατα και τα αορατα ειτε θρονοι ειτε κυριοτητες ειτε αρχαι ειτε εξουσιαι τα παντα δι αυτου και εις αυτον εκτισται [ta panta di autou kai eis auton ektistai]


For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:


For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.


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.



Concerning Colossians 1:16, Albert Barnes claimed: "There could not possibly be a more explicit declaration that the universe was created by Christ, than this."[11]  But is this truly the case?  If Paul had wanted to say that, he could have said, for example: "αυτος εκτισεν τα παντα."  (autos ektisen ta panta; he created all things)  What he actually did say is something quite different.

Paul here uses two prepositions with the Greek verb ktizo (κτιζω), create.  He says that all (or all other) things were created en auto (εν αυτω) and di' autou (δι' αυτου).  The preposition en literally means 'in' and the preposition dia (shortened here to di') literally means 'through'.

With regard to the rendering of the expression en auto, the Revised Standard Version and the American Standard Version translate it 'in him.'  The Good News Translation (formerly Today's English Version) renders it 'through him'.[12]  As for the expression di' autou, the same three translations are unanimous in rendering it 'through him.'[13]

The original Greek says that all things were created by means of Christ or through him, not by him as the ultimate agent

When the King James Version was produced in 1611, the word 'by' was frequently used to indicate the means or agent by means of which an action was performed.  Thus, in Matthew 1:22, we have "spoken of the Lord, by the prophet", where we today would say "spoken by the Lord, through (or by means of) the prophet."  Or Matthew 12:27, "And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom your children cast them out".  So in the King James Version, it is clear that the word 'by' frequently has the meaning of 'through' or 'by means of'.

In the twenty-first century, however, a reader seeing the word 'by', particularly after a passive verb, is likely to conclude that reference is being made to the ultimate agent of the verb.  To us, a sentence like "The letter was sent by John" is equivalent to saying "John sent the letter".  You would understand, not that John carried the letter on behalf of someone else, but that he himself wrote it and sent it.  In other words, you would think that the letter came from John, not through John (which is perhaps how someone living in the 1600's might have understood it).  This is a significant difference between seventeenth-century English and today's English.

The translators of the NIV clearly recognize this principle, as is seen in their own translation of John 1:17, "the Law was given through Moses".  Here dia is translated as 'through', not 'by'.  Other translations, such as the Revised Standard Version, American Standard Version, Good News Translation and the New American Standard Bible likewise use 'through' to translate dia. 

However, turning back to Colossians 1:16, we see that the New International Version has translated both en auto and di' autou as 'by him'.  The problem with this is that modern-day readers are likely to understand 'all things were created by him' as meaning exactly the same as 'he created all things'.  Now this is no doubt what the NIV translators believe, and quite possibly what they want to convey to their readers.  But it is not what the Greek says.  The Greek says quite clearly through Christ, in Christ or by means of Christ.  Just as the Law was given through Moses, not by Moses, in the sense that Moses was simply an intermediary and not the ultimate source of the Law, in the same way, creation was accomplished through Christ, or by means of him, without his being the ultimate source.  Thus, the Good News Translation correctly renders the first part of Colossians 1:16: "Through him God created everything."

"Other" is implied in "all" and the NW simply makes what is implicit explicit.
Jason Beduhn

After a verb in the passive voice, the ultimate source of an action in Greek is generally expressed by υπο (hypo) or occasionally by certain other prepositions without a preposition by the dative case.  In such cases, the word after hypo may truly become the subject of an active verb with exactly the same meaning.  Thus, if Paul had written υπ' αυτου εκτισθη τα παντα (hyp' autou ektisthe ta panta) that would undoubtedly have meant that Christ was the Creator[14].  But that is not what Paul wrote.   What he did write is consistent with the teaching that Christ - the Firstborn of creation - was the one through whom God created everything and everyone else.


The New World Translation has not 'inserted the word other' into Colossians 1:16ff, as Stedman asserts.  The word 'other' is implied in the preceding word 'all'.  It is simply not true to say that "there is absolutely no warrant in the Greek text whatsoever for the insertion of the word 'other'".

It could well be argued that the use of the word 'other', while a valid and correct translation, is not actually necessary.  As we have stated above, English, like Greek, sometimes allows the idea of 'other' to be implicit rather than expressed (although nowhere near as frequently as Greek).  Thus, if we say "God created everyone", we don't mean that God created himself.  This appears to be the position taken by Rolf Furuli, who feels that, as long as the preceding verse (Colossians 1:15) is translated correctly, "the reader is hardly misled if pas is translated 'all'."[15]

Scholar Jason Beduhn, however, sees the use of the word as valuable:

"Other" is implied in "all" and the NW simply makes what is implicit explicit.  You can argue whether it is necessary or not to do this.  But I think the objections that have been raised to it show that it is, in fact, necessary, because those who object want to negate the meaning of the phrase "firstborn of creation".  If adding "other" prevents this misreading of the Biblical text, then it is useful to have it there.[16]

It is easy for critics of the New World Translation to criticize certain  renderings without giving the full picture.  And, indeed, it is quite possible for them to persuade an uninformed reader, using the Kingdom Interlinear or a similar work, that the NWT has made an interpolation into the text.  Those critics who profess to know Greek should be aware of the facts presented in this article.  If they do, they are being deceitful when they claim that the NWT adds words.  As for those critics who do not know Greek, it should be obvious that their opinion on the quality of a translation of the New Testament can hardly be trusted.

Thus, when Stedman says that "there is absolutely no warrant in the Greek text for the insertion of the word 'other'," what he is saying is simply not true.  The New World Translation has neither added to, nor taken away from, God's inspired word.


[2] In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation, by Mona Baker, pub. Routledge 1992.

[3] F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961, section.480, p. 254. Trans. by R. W. Funk).

[4] See also Luke 11:42.  The New World Translation footnote to Colossians 1:16 refers to this verse as an indisputable example of pas meaning 'all other'. 

[5] Panta (παντα) is the neuter plural of  pas (πας) and means 'all things' or 'everything'.


[7] The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation (R. Furuli; 1999) pages 260-1.

[8] Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, Daniel Wallace, p. 103-4.

[9] It is really beyond the scope of this article to discuss the proper rendering of προτοτοκος πασης κτισεως (prototokos pases ktiseos).  For further information, see The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation (R. Furuli; 1999) pages 246-260 as well as this site.  Additionally, Wes Williams has written on the matter on the B-Greek discussion list here.

[10] Truth in Translation - Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, Jason Beduhn, 2003, page 85.

[11] Barnes' Notes on the New Testament, Colossians Chapter 1.

[12] Furuli (op. cit. page 257, footnote) cites the case of 1 Corinthians 6:2 where he concedes that en may point to a direct agent.  However, εν υμιν (en hymin) could just as well be translated as "by means of you", notwithstanding the statement that "the holy ones will judge the world".  It is clear that the ultimate source of their authority to judge is God, not they themselves.   Interestingly, the Modern Greek (katharevousa) Orthodox translation by Neophytos Vamvas renders εν αυτω (en auto) as δι' αυτου (di' autou; through him).

[13] Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament comments on Colossians 1:15: "Through him (di' autou). As the intermediate and sustaining agent. He had already used en autoi (in him) as the sphere of activity."

[14] Wallace's Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics states on pages 432ff that, after a verb in the passive voice, the prepositions hypo, apo and para indicate the ultimate source, dia indicates the intermediate agent, and en and ek, as well as the dative case without a preposition, indicate an impersonal means.

[15] The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation (R. Furuli; 1999) pages 246-260

[16] Truth in Translation - Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, Jason Beduhn, 2003, page 85


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