Wednesday, September 16, 2009

NWT - John 1:1


Attacks on the Scholarship and Honesty
Of the Translators of the New World Translation

The late Dr. Julius Mantey, noted NT Greek scholar and strong trinitarian, allegedly wrote a powerful attack against the accuracy and honesty of the NWT. We will look at all the points raised concerning the NWT in a July 1974 letter to the Watchtower Society attributed to Mantey which anti-Watchtower writers are fond of reproducing and quoting.

John 1:1

His first concern was with John 1:1. His complaint that the WT Society dishonestly used his book to support their translation is incredible! It's undoubtedly true that he didn't intend anything in that book to support a non-trinitarian interpretation of John 1:1. (The Watchtower Society never claimed he did.) But the fact is that it does support it nevertheless! The quote by the Society refers to an example used by Mantey in his book which is grammatically identical to John 1:1 (articular subject after the copulative verb and anarthrous predicate noun before the copulative verb) and which Mantey has translated as, "and the place was a market" - an exact parallel to the NWT's "and the Word was a god." - see NWT 17-18.

Mantey continues, "it is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 `The Word was a god' [as in the NWT]. Word order has made obsolete and incorrect such a rendering." If this were really true, then Mantey himself has been neither "scholarly nor reasonable" in his rendering of an identical word order in complete agreement with the NWT rendering of John 1:1.

In addition, I have been given a photocopy of page 47 of some unidentified publication which shows (in improperly punctuated format) various quotes from well-known (and some not so well-known) NT Greek authorities concerning the NWT rendering of John 1:1. Dr. Mantey is here quoted as saying:

"a grossly misleading translation. It is neither scholarly nor reasonable to translate John 1:1 `the Word was a god.' But of all the scholars in the world, so far as we know, none have translated this verse as Jehovah's Witnesses have done."

[But note the translation of parallel Greek constructions at John 10:34 ("gods"); John 4:19 ("a prophet"); John 18:37 ("a king"); and in the ancient Greek Septuagint at Judges 6:31 ("a god"); and 3 Kings 18:27 ("a god").]

Also quoted was trinitarian Bruce M. Metzger, Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary:

"Far more pernicious in this same verse is the rendering,... `and the Word was a god'.... As a matter of solid fact, however, such a rendering is a frightful mistranslation." - Theology Today, 4/1953.

Famed trinitarian scholar Dr. William Barclay was quoted as follows:

"The deliberate distortion of truth by this sect is seen in their New Testament translations. John 1:1 is translated: `...the Word was a god', a translation which is grammatically impossible. It is abundantly clear that a sect which can translate the New Testament like that is intellectually dishonest." - The Expository Times, Nov., 1953.

(However, twenty years after saying that the rendering of "the Word as a god" is "grammatically impossible," Barclay, in a letter to an enquirer into this rendering, said the complete opposite!

In the book Ever yours: a selection from the letters of William Barclay, CBE DD, William Barclay; Clive L Rawlins, Dunbar [Scotland] : Labarum Publications, 1985, ISBN: 0948095040, page 205 after stating the traditional KJV translation, then said:

"You could translate, so far as the Greek goes: 'the Word was a God';…" [italics added]

The question that should come to our minds then is: Who really was being "intellectually dishonest" back in the 1950's? The New World Translation Committee or Dr William Barclay?)
Respected trinitarian Bible scholar Dr. F. F. Bruce was quoted as saying:

"Much is made by Arian amateur grammarians of the omission of the definite article with `God' in the phrase `And the Word was God'. Such an omission is common with nouns in a predicate construction. `A god' would be totally indefensible."
And Dr. Harry Sturz, Professor of Greek at Biola College is quoted as saying:

"Therefore, the NWT rendering: `the Word was a god' is not a `literal' but an ungrammatical and tendential translation. A literal translation in English can be nothing other than: `the word was God.'" - The Bible Collector, July - December, 1971, p.12.

The NWT Translation of John 1:1c is also the main objection ("especially objectionable") to the NWT found in Zondervan's So Many Versions?, 1983, a "scholarly" review of modern English Bibles by trinitarian Bible scholars. "There is no justification for the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation [of Jn 1:1c]," they say on p. 99.

While it's not surprising that trinitarian scholars would do their utmost to preserve a trinitarian interpretation at John 1:1 (surely the most impressive of scriptural "evidence" for a "Jesus is God" doctrine for people who are not familiar with Greek), it is certainly thought-provoking to find so many respected NT authorities attacking the scholarship and honesty of the NWT rendering of John 1:1c. However, these are all English-speaking trinitarians appealing to English-speaking readers. More conclusive is the practice of trinitarian scholars in Greek-speaking lands: The trinitarian churches in Greece carefully avoid using Jn 1:1c as evidence for the deity of Christ. Those who know and speak Greek would ridicule the English trinitarians' interpretation ("the Word was God") in other (non-Greek-speaking) lands!

Even more important than the witness of modern-day Greek grammarians is the witness of the most knowledgeable Greek grammarian of all Christian scholars from a time when men knew NT Greek the best.

Origen (185-254 A.D.) was

"probably the most accomplished Biblical scholar produced by the early Church" (Universal Standard Encyclopedia) and "the greatest scholar and most prolific author of the early church. ... not only a profound thinker but also deeply spiritual and a loyal churchman." (The History of Christianity, a Lion Book).

"Origen, the greatest and most influential Christian thinker of his age" - p. 89, A History of the Christian Church, 4th ed., Williston Walker, Scribners, 1985.

"The character of Origen is singularly pure and noble; for his moral qualities are as remarkable as his intellectual gifts." - p. 229, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, Eerdmans.

Origen's Commentary on John is "the first great work of Christian interpretation." Origen was certainly the most knowledgeable about NT (koine) Greek of any scholar. He studied it from early childhood and even taught it professionally from his teens onward. - The Ante-Nicene Fathers, pp. 291-294, Vol. X, Eerdmans Publ., 1990 printing.

Origen distinguishes between those who are called "god" and He who is called "God" by the use of the definite article ("the") being used with "God" and not with "god" in the NT Greek. He further teaches that God "made first in honour some race of reasonable beings; this I consider to be those who are called gods [angels], and .... [finally he made] the last reasonable race, ... man." - p. 315, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. X., Eerdmans.

And then on p. 323 of this trinitarian-published, trinitarian-translated book Origen admits in his "Commentary on the Gospel of John," Book 2, part 2, that John actually calls Jesus, not "God," but "a god" at Jn 1:1!

Obviously the most knowledgeable scholar of all concerning the New Testament language knew of no "rule" which could make Jn 1:1c say that "the Word was God." In fact, although they did not use capital letters to distinguish proper names or significant nouns as we do today, Origen himself is clearly saying that the proper understanding of Jn 1:1c is "the Word was a god"!!!

But the only way for those of us who are not fluent in the Greek language to reply to such an attack is to actually look at all the places in John's writings where he has used the same construction as that used by him at John 1:1 and see how all Bible translators have translated them.

The study paper "The Definite John 1:1c" (DEF) examines all such instances to see if they are really made definite (as in "Colwell's Rule," for example) as some trinitarians claim.

The QUAL study paper and the HARNER study paper examine all such instances to see if the predicate noun is made "qualitative" as some trinitarians claim (many of whom insist that the "Definite" trinitarians are practicing Sabellianism ["in other words, heresy" - Wallace, p. 96]).

In the "Definite" study paper (DEF) all the proper examples of John 1:1-type constructions used in all the writings of John are shown to be indefinite (comparable to "a god"). - See DEF or PRIMER study papers.

In the "Qualitative" study we find none of the John 1:1-type constructions being translated in a "qualitative manner" in all the 16 different trinitarian Bibles examined. Again, of course, we see that all proper examples are obviously indefinite and are, therefore, equivalent to "a god" at John 1:1! - Also see "Harner's `Qualitative' Rule" (HARNER).

For the John 1:1 INDEX, see:
John 1:1

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