New World Translation: ‘Extremist’ Bible?

According to jw.org, ‘Russian authorities are attempting to ban the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, labeling it as extremist.’

To counter the Russians’ claims that the New World Translation (NWT) is extremist, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have called on experts to decry Russia’s threat to ban their version of the Bible.

These experts include Dr. Ekaterina Elbakyan, Dr. Roman Lunkin, Dr. Jeffrey Haynes*, Dr. Gerhard Besier and SOVA Center for Information and Analysis. None of these experts are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Therefore, one could conclude that their views of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ treatment by Russian authorities are made from a neutral perspective.

Jehovah’s Witnesses say that according to Dr. Elbakyan, ‘any ban placed on the New World Translation would “violate the amendment to Article 3 of the Federal Law on Extremism signed by Mr. Putin in the fall of 2015″‘.  They continue by quoting Article 3 of the Federal Law on Extremism. ‘The amendment to Article 3 clearly states: “The Bible, the Quran, the Tanakh, and the Kangyur, their contents, and quotations from them cannot be recognized as extremist materials.”’

It’s clear that Dr. Elbakyan made no reference to the New World Translation in her comment. Her full comment may have included a general reference to the Bible.  Therefore, in this context Jehovah’s Witnesses may feel that her comment refers to their translation also. However, the Russian authorities may be arguing otherwise. This is hinted at in Dr. Lunkin’s comments with regard to the NWT.

Dr. Lunkin says, “Who would have imagined that adopting a law giving immunity to certain holy texts would provoke the banning of other holy texts? The first to suffer have been the Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with their translation of the Bible.”

Certain holy texts are given immunity: namely the Bible, the Quran, the Tanakh, and the Kangyur. Considering Dr Lunkin’s comments, it seems that the Russian Authorities do not consider Jehovah’s Witnesses translation of the Bible as a Bible.

Dr Haynes gives credence to this view in his comment: “Russia’s attempt to ban such a Bible would be contravening freedom of religion conventions.” (Italics ours)

While the court-appointed analysis of the NWT is pending, Jehovah’s Witnesses feel that scholars are expressing regard for their translation. They quote Dr. Besier as saying, “The New World Translation has received high praise worldwide from Bible scholars representing diverse religious communities.”

Tom Durbridge, of AvoidJW.org, reached out to Dr. Besier to find out a) who were these bible scholars that provided high praise of the NWT and b) whether he shared their view.

Dr Besier replied attaching a WORD file. He made it clear that he was not interested in further correspondence because he presumes that Mr. Durbridge belongs to an “anti” organisation. The WORD file contained the following:

“I am interested in the mission work of your people, and its world wide scope, and much pleased with the free, frank and vigorous translation. It exhibits a vast array of sound serious learning, as I can testify.”—Letter, December 8, 1950, from Edgar J. Goodspeed, translator of the Greek “New Testament” in An American Translation.

“The translation is evidently the work of skilled and clever scholars, who have sought to bring out as much of the true sense of the Greek text as the English language is capable of expressing.”—Hebrew and Greek scholar Alexander Thomson, in: The Differentiator, April 1952, pages 52-7.

The Hebrew scholar Dr. Benjamin Kedar of Israel, Professor emeritus of ancient classical Hebrew, former Head of the Department of Old Testament Studies in the University of Haifa and Assistant in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, evaluated the New World Translation as follows: “With Regard to the NEW WORLD TRANSLATION: In my linguistic research in connection with the Hebrew Bible and translations, I often refer to the English edition of what is known as the New World Translation. In so doing, I find my feeling repeatedly confirmed that this work reflects an honest endeavor to achieve an understanding of the text that is as accurate as possible. Giving evidence of a broad command of the original language, it renders the original words into a second language understandably without deviating unnecessarily from the specific structure of the Hebrew. To my English speaking students I always recommend a comparison between the King James Version and the New World Translation by which they are made aware of the objective difficulties in the original text as well as the different possibilities of interpretation. Every statement of language allows for a certain latitude in interpreting or translating. So the linguistic solution in any given case may be open to debate. But I have never discovered in the New World Translation any biased intent to read something into the text that it does not contain” — Letter, June 12, 1989, translated from the German, UaP.

Professor Dr. Benjamin Kedar: in einem Brief vom 27. September 1987: „Die NWT-Übersetzung habe ich deshalb angeführt, weil hier ein[e] unabhängige (von der King James Übersetzung!) Wiedergabe vorliegt, die unbefangen jedes Vorkommen des QOTEL entschlüsseln muß. Die sektiererische Befangenheit kommt hier kaum, wenn überhaupt, zum Ausdruck“ (Brief vom 27. September 1987 mit Bezug auf seinen Artikel „Die Stammbildung qotel als Übersetzungsproblem“, in: Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft [ZAW] 93/1981, S. 254-279. Dort sagt er auf S. 262: „Im krassen Gegensatz zu dieser freien Übersetzungsweise heften sich LXX und NWT weitgehend an die formale Struktur der Ausgangssprache.“).

„Gräbt man nach hervorragenden oder gehaltvollen Wiedergabemöglichkeiten, … gehört sie [die Neue- Welt-Übersetzung] zu den ertragreichen Minen“ (Steve Byington, The Christian Century, 1. November 1950).

  • Firstly, none of the above mentions Scholar’s comments are in relation to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Russian translation of the NWT.
  • Secondly, most of these scholarly quotations were made in the 1950’s with a couple from the 1980’s. The current edition of the Russian NWT was published in 2007.
  • Thirdly, the evidence suggests that Dr Besier received this WORD file directly from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do we know this? Because these very quotations are found on their website, under the heading, Is the New World Translation Accurate?
  • Lastly, and most importantly, Dr. Besier is not included in the list of scholars who has given the NWT high praise. Therefore, it’s reasonable to suggest that he does not share this view. He’s simply been informed by Jehovah’s Witnesses that scholars have given it praise.

In the February 2016 edition of Misuse of Anti-Extremism, published by the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, the Jehovah’s Witnesses took this quote from it: “We don’t find any signs of extremism in the New World Translation.” The full quotation is as follows:

“In mid-February, the Belgorod Regional Court liquidated the two Jehovah’s Witnesses organizations at once – in Belgorod and in Stary Oskol. Both decisions will be appealed in the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation. In addition, the leaders of Kaluga and Vilyuchinsk communities received warnings about impermissibility of violating the law. We would like to reiterate that we view persecution against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and bans against their literature and communities as religious discrimination. However, this trend continues to grow. A claim was filed with the Vyborg City Court in February to recognize Sacred Scripture in the New World Translation (2007) – that is, the Bible translated into Russian by Jehovah’s Witnesses, many copies of which were seized by customs at the border with Finland in July 2015 – as extremist. Jehovah’s Witnesses were not informed about the case and not given a chance to participate in it as an interested party; however, they intend to pursue such a right. We know nothing about the reasoning, provided by the claim, but we don’t find any signs of extremism in the New World Translation.”

AvoidJW.org is unclear how in-depth SOVA’s analysis of the NWT has been. SOVA is a nonprofit organisation that conducts informational and research work on such topics as nationalism and xenophobia, relations between the churches and the secular society, and political radicalism. They are also interested in the problem of human rights in general and in safeguarding liberal democracy in the Russian Federation*. On this basis, we at AvoidJW.org feel that SOVA is not scholastically competent to state that there are no signs of extremism in the New World Translation.

Tom Durbridge did, however, contact SOVA by email to give scriptural reasons as to how on one level. the NWT could be considered extremist. As of the date of this post (27 December 2016), SOVA have not yet responded. This is the content of that email:

Dear Madam / Sir,

I was reading a news article on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website jw org today. In that article, found here – https://www.jw.org/…/r…/threat-to-ban-new-world-translation/ they quote your organisation as saying, “We don’t find any signs of extremism in the New World Translation.”

I suppose for any organisation that is not fully aware as to how Jehovah’s Witnesses operate, it would seem that their literature is not extremist. However, if I may, let me point you to some scriptures in their bible that may not seem “extremist” in an initial reading:

Job 8:13; 13:16; 15:34; 17:8; 20:5; 27:8; 34:30; 36:13; Ps 35:16; Pr 11:9; Isa 9:17; 10:6; 33:14; Jer 23:15 & Dan 11:32.

In all these verses, there is a word used that you will not find in any other rendition of the bible. The word used is “apostate”.

Now, you may not think that this is extremist. However, you ask any Jehovah’s Witness in Russia what they consider apostates and how they view them. You will see that most Jehovah’s Witnesses will express a certain amount of fear when referring to such persons.

I should point out that the word “apostate” is a Greek word. All the above scriptures are found in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures) of the New World Translation. To put the word “apostate” in the old testament is as ridiculous as putting the word “Christ” in the old testament. You won’t find the word “Christ” in the OT for obvious reasons. So, why do Jehovah’s Witnesses put the word “apostate” in the OT?

This word is purposely inserted into the Hebrew Scriptures of the NWT for extremist reasons. It is to instil fear within the hearts of their adherents towards persons who wilfully leave that religion. It ensures that members do not talk to such ones. Worse, such ones are to be treated with contempt. Jehovah’s Witnesses wouldn’t even greet such persons. This is to retain and control membership. This is an extremist act.

You are misguided if you think that there are no signs of extremism in the NWT. I think you should reconsider your position.

Kind regards,

Tom Durbridge

We await a response. If we receive one, we’ll update this article.


*AvoidJW.org has not reached out to these experts to clarify the context in which Jehovah’s Witnesses have quoted from them.