Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses change the original Bible?

Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses change the original Bible?
There’s so much material to cover on this subject. But, let’s start with this question: What is referred to as the “original Bible?”
 Many that we’ve talked to are of the opinion that the King James Version (KJV) is the “original” Bible. If fact, some believe it’s the Bible Jesus used! One lady said, “If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!” :-O
There were quite a few English Bibles that existed before the KJV:
- Wycliffe’ translation - 1367 (first English translation of New Testament)
Tyndale’s translation - 1526
Coverdale Bible - 1535
Hollybushe’s New Testament - 1538
The Great Bible - 1539
Cranmer’s Bible - 1540
The Geneva Bible - 1560
The Bishops’ Bible - 1568
The Douay Bible - 1609
Jehovah’s Witnesses used to use the KJV almost exclusively until 1950 when the New World Translation was published. Today, we still use and have within close reach the KJV, along with The American Standard (1901), Byington (The Bible in Living English, 1972), and Kingdom Interlinear (1969).
But, back to the point, would not the original Bible be the original writings penned in the Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek? Quite clearly so. But, since these original writings were written on perishable materials and are nonexistent today, ardent Bible translators would wish to avail themselves of the most accurate copies known in existence today. Unlike a few centuries ago, this can be done today because scholars are able to compare the many thousands of fragments and copies of ancient Bible books available to them, thereby allowing them to detect any copyist errors and determine the original wording with a high degree of accuracy.
Regarding the KJV of 1611, Jack P. Lewis wrote in his 1981 book:
“The King James scholars could have known fewer than twenty-five late manuscripts of the New Testament, and these were carelessly used. Today there are 5,358 known New Testament manuscripts and fragments” — The English Bible/From KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation; page 42
Benjamin Wilson wrote in one of my favorite Bibles:
“The number of MSS. (manuscripts) now known, and which have been examined, is nearly 700; thus affording now a far better chance to obtain a correct Greek Text than when the authorized version (KJV) was at first published.” — Emphatic Diaglott, 1864
Note that the above two quotes are only referencing the Greek Scriptures or New Testament manuscripts and fragments. Manuscripts and fragments of the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament that have been discovered in the past two centuries number in the many thousands.
Access to this new wealth of data allows us to see areas that need correction:
“The superior text base used today allows us to identify over a dozen verses included in the KJV that are not authentic parts of the New Testament. Dozens of other words or phrases are included in the KJV that have little or no basis in Greek manuscripts; likewise many words or phrases are missing from the KJV that are found in reliable Greek manuscripts.” — Truth in Translation – Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, Jason David BeDuhn, page 68 (ebook)
But, it isn’t just the number of manuscripts available today, but the number of manuscripts that exist closer to the original writings that has a bearing on accuracy. The KJV was mostly based on manuscripts from the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, many hundreds of years after the originals.
Jason David BeDuhn goes on to write on this point:
“The main advantage of contemporary Bible translations over the venerable King James Bible is not that they are made by people with less bias towards the material, but that they are based upon a much larger, and therefore better, set of Greek manuscripts. In the centuries since the King James committee did its work, biblical scholars have gone throughout the world, finding every surviving manuscript of the Greek New Testament they could. We now have not only many more manuscripts, but also much older ones, closer to the autographs of the biblical authors.
...These editions are vastly superior to anything that existed before them. The advantage of having these modern editions of the Greek text of the New Testament is simple to understand: a more accurate Greek text makes possible a more accurate translation. But that advantage can be squandered by the bias of translators.” — Truth in Translation, Jason David BeDuhn, page 39 (ebook)
Note, however, a crucial point – that having access to a more accurate master text would be useless if the translators allow bias to influence their work and produce an inaccurate translation. Jason says, “...that advantage can be squandered by the bias of translators.” How would one find or detect bias? One wouldn’t know what bias may exist in various Bibles today, unless he does a diligent study of the Hebrew and Greek text available and makes a comparison.
So, it shouldn’t be surprising that Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1950 undertook the large task of translating all 66 books of the Inspired Word of God using the improved master texts available to them. The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures has been revised twice since then – 1984 and 2013.
However, many charge JWs with bias in their translation and question its accuracy. Hence the question posted here on Quora. Are the charges valid?
Excerpt from Truth in Translation:
People are quick to charge inaccuracy and bias in someone else’s Bible.On what basis do they make such charges? Charges of inaccuracy and bias are based upon the fact that a translation has deviated from some norm of what the translation should be. So what is the norm? It seems that for many the norm is the King James Version of the Bible. If a new translation varies very far from that norm, it is criticized as inaccurate and erroneous, and its translators are suspected of ulterior motives in producing a different translation, a hidden bias that perverts the truth of the KJV. You hear it all the time: someone has “changed” the Bible by offering a new translation. The “change” is from the standard of the King James Version, which was, after all, presented as the “standard” translation. If a translation differs from the “standard,” clearly it must be wrong.
“Unfortunately, this view of things is based on ignorance of the most basic facts about the Bible. The King James Version was not the first Bible (not even the first English Bible); it was itself a translation. It just happened to be a translation that was used by many people for a long time.” — Truth in Translation, Jason David BeDuhn, page 21-22 (ebook)
“The NW [New World Translation] is often and readily pointed to as an example of a translation which must have a theological bias, unlike the supposedly objective, neutral, and scholarly Bibles more widely used today. The attention to bias is heightened by the fact that the theology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses does not correspond to that of the mainstream denominations. This difference creates a hostile atmosphere in which representatives of that mainstream theology charge that any variation in the NW from more familiar translations must serve the ulterior motives of distorting the “truth.” — Truth in Translation, Jason David BeDuhn, page 83 (ebook)
Jason compared the Greek Scriptures (New Testament) of 9 translations:
- The King James Version or Authorized Version (1611, 1629, 1760s)
- The (New) Revised Standard Version (1946)
- The New International Version (1973, 1985, 1986)
- The New American Bible (1970, 1986)
- The New American Standard Bible (1963)
- The Amplified Bible (1958)
- The Living Bible (1967)
- Today’s English Version (1966, 1976, 1981, 1992)
- The New World Translation (1950, 1984, 2013)
- What were his conclusions?:
“...it can be said that the NW emerges as the most accurate of the translations compared...Despite their distinctive doctrinal commitments, the translators managed to produce works relatively more accurate and less biased than the translations produced by multi-denominational teams, as well as those produced by single individuals.
Since the Jehovah’s Witnesses are well outside of the Christian mainstream, the impression among the general public, and among several important biblical scholars, is that the differences of the NW from other translations are due to the peculiar ideas and biases of the Witnesses....Most of the differences are due to the greater accuracy of the NW as a literal, conservative translation of the original expressions of the New Testament writers. — Truth in Translation, Jason David BeDuhn, page 260-263 (ebook)
There are lots of examples provided in the above quoted book and there’s a lot more to be said on this subject, including the use of God’s personal name in the NWT. But, for now, get a copy of Truth in Translation and read it for yourself. More importantly, we urge you to study your own copy of the Bible. You owe it to yourself to get a respected, modern-language translation of the Holy Scriptures. The truth can be found in just about any Bible today. It’s just that some translations make that task far more difficult than necessary.
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