Thursday, September 17, 2009

NWT - Pneuma - "Spirit," "Wind," "Breath" (Matt. 27:50)

Pneuma - "Spirit," "Wind," "Breath"

Dr. Walter Martin quotes Matt. 27:50 and the "parallel" first half of Luke 23:46 in the 1969 ed. of the NWT to "prove" the dishonesty of the Watchtower scholars and translators:

Matthew 27:50-"Again Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and yielded up his breath" (NWT).

Luke 23:46-"And Jesus called with a loud voice and said: `Father, into your hands I entrust
my spirit'" (NWT).

Martin claims that the word pneuma in both scriptures must be translated "spirit" and not "breath" or "wind," and, therefore, the NWT is being unscholarly, dishonest, deceitful, etc. at Matthew 27:50!

"Sometimes," he admits, "and in various contexts, spirit (pneuma) can mean some of the things the Witnesses hold, but context determines translation, along with grammar, and their translations quite often do not remain true to either.

"Having forced the word `breath' into Matthew's account of the crucifixion, to make it appear that Jesus only stopped breathing and did not yield up His invisible nature upon dying, the Witnesses plod on to Luke's account, only to be caught in their own trap. Luke, learned scholar and master of Greek that he was, forces the Witnesses to render his account of Christ's words using the correct term `spirit' (pneuma), instead of `breath' as in Matthew 27:50.... if the Witnesses are consistent, which they seldom are, why did they not render the identical Greek term (pneuma) as "breath" both times, for it is a parallel account of the same scene!

"The solution to this question is quite elementary as all can clearly see. The Witnesses could not render it `breath' in Luke and get away with it, so they used it where they could and hoped nobody would notice it, or the different rendering in Matthew." - p. 76, The Kingdom of the Cults, 1985 ed.

Notice how Thayer's Lexicon (which Martin frequently quotes and calls "one of the best lexicons of the Greek New Testament" - p. 81) defines pneuma:

"1. a movement of air, (gentle) blast; a. of the wind ... b. breath of the nostrils or mouth ....

"2. the spirit, i.e. the vital principle by which the body is animated" - p. 520.

Trinitarian W. E. Vine also defines it: "PNEUMA ... primarily denotes the wind (akin to pneo, to breathe, blow); also breath; then, especially the spirit, which like the wind, is invisible, immaterial and powerful." - p. 1075.

Jehovah's Witnesses have no qualms about translating pneuma as "spirit" and do it frequently as Martin well knows. They have always believed that the "animating life force" or the "spark" of life within a man is called "spirit" (pneuma)!

So, although they do differ with Martin on the precise understanding of the nature of that spirit within a man, there is absolutely no disagreement on the use of that rendering ("spirit") for what Jesus yielded up at his death (as the NWT has always shown at Luke 23:46 and John 19:30). Martin has brought up a non-issue in a hypocritical attempt to show the "dishonesty" of the NWT!

As we will see, most trinitarian translations are not "consistent" in the translation of this term at the "parallel" accounts of Jesus' death as Martin insists the NWT must be. But even beyond this Martin has dishonestly built up this "straw man" by comparing the words of the Gospel writer at Matt. 27:50 ("Jesus yielded up his breath [or spirit]") with the non-parallel words of JESUS in the first half of Luke 23:46 ("I commit my spirit")!

To use the honest parallel to the Gospel writer's statement at Matthew 27:50 we must look at the last half of Luke 23:46 where the Gospel writer states: "he breathed his last" - RSV.

An even closer parallel is found at Mark 15:37 which, like Matt. 27:50, does not include the actual words spoken by Jesus but simply has the Gospel writer's words, "he thus breathed his last" - RSV.

Here, then, are the NWT renderings of the parallel accounts of Jesus' death. These are followed by some respected Trinitarian translations of the same parallel accounts. Notice how "consistently" they render "spirit" or "breath" among these parallels!

Matt. 27:50 Mark 15:37 Luke 23:46 John 19:30

NWT (1969) "his breath" --- "expired" -- - "spirit"... "expired" -- - "spirit"
NWT (1984) "his spirit"[1] --- "expired" -- - "spirit"... "expired" -- - "spirit"
NEB -"breathed his last" ----- "died" --- - "spirit" ... "died" --- - "spirit"[2]
REB -"breathed his last" ----- "died" --- - "spirit" ... "died" --- - "spirit"
TEV -"breathed his last" ----- "died" --- - "spirit" ... "died" --- - "spirit"
NRSV-"breathed his last "breathed last" - "spirit" ..."breathed" - "spirit"
NASB --- "his spirit" -- "breathed last" - "spirit" .. "breathed" - "spirit"
NIV --- "his spirit" -- "breathed last" - "spirit" .. "breathed" - "spirit"
RSV --- "his spirit" -- "breathed last" - "spirit" .. "breathed" - "spirit"
JB ---- "his spirit" -- "breathed last" - "spirit" .. "breathed" - "spirit"
NAB --- "his spirit" -- "breathed last" - "spirit" .. "expired" - "spirit"
CBW --- "his spirit" -- -- "expired" --- - "spirit" .. "breathed" - "spirit"
[1] f.n. in 1984 reference Bible: "or, `ceased to breathe'."
[2] f.n. in NEB: "Or `breathed out his life'."
Notice how the respected New English Bible (NEB); Revised English Bible (REB); New Revised Standard Version (NRSV); and Today's English Version (TEV) have, according to Martin's analysis of the NWT, "forced the word `breath' into Matthew's account of the crucifixion"! Notice how many of these trinitarian Bibles have "forced" the word "breath" (or "breathed") into the truly parallel portions of Mark and Luke even though they have been "inconsistent" by not doing so in the Matthew account!

In short, there are very good reasons for translating pneuma as "breath" in the account of Matthew, and other Bible translations have done so. The NWT certainly does not deserve criticism for such an interpretation. However, it appears that the 1984 revisers of the NWT decided in favor of "consistency" (it is very rare that this meaning of "breath" was intended in the NT) and rendered pneuma as "spirit" (with a footnote maintaining that "breath" may have been the intended meaning, nevertheless) in the Matthew account.

Now go back and carefully reread Martin's accusations against the scholarship and honesty of the NWT at the beginning of this discussion. Who is really being dishonest, inconsistent, and attempting to "redefine Biblical terms to suit [his] own peculiar theological interp-retations"? - p. 76.

And, again (since we're on the subject of honesty in scholarship), on p. 124, Martin resumes his "spirited" attack on the "dishonesty" of the Watchtower scholars:

"According to the Watchtower the soul is `a living, breathing, sentient creature, animal or human,' and Jehovah's Witnesses also define a spirit as `a life force, or something wind-like' (page 357, Make Sure of All Things)." - KOTC.

Notice the quote of the Watchtower book Make Sure of All Things by Baptist minister and respected, authoritative "Cult" expert, Dr. Walter Martin: "a life force, or something wind-like"!
But when we actually examine p. 357 of the 1953 Watchtower publication Martin "quoted," we find the following:

Spirit, as translated from ru'ahh in the Hebrew and pneu'ma in the Greek: The simplest or elementary meanings of both original words are to describe something windlike, that is, something that is not visible but which nevertheless produces visible or perceptible results. Both are drawn from root verbs meaning "to breathe" or "to blow." "Spirit" as used in the Bible has at least seven different senses or applications of meaning to describe something windlike, viz., as applying to (1) Jehovah God, (2) Christ Jesus, (3) angels, (4) life force, (5) mental disposition, (6) inspired expression and (7) active force of God. This variety of applications is possible in that all are windlike, all are invisible to the human eye and yet all produce effects that are visible, as the elementary meaning of the original words indicates. [Emphasis added.]

The next 9 pages of the Make Sure book are devoted to Scripture quotes showing the Bible's use of the 7 above-defined meanings of "spirit."
The point is that Martin's quote is not only misleading but downright dishonest. If he had even quoted it as "something windlike ... life force....," it would have been, although still misleading, at least an honest quotation. But instead, to make his point, and to sell more books to people who want to hear such things (2 Tim. 4:3, 4), he actually lied!
Not only has the Watchtower Society proven its 7 different meanings for "spirit" with copious examples from the Bible, but these meanings are also corroborated by such NT Greek experts as W. E. Vine (pp. 1075-1076) and Joseph H. Thayer (pp. 520-523).

- - - - - - - - - -

This seems like the proper place to bring up a related issue concerning pneuma that has troubled some critics of the NWT. Although I haven't found this particular attack by Martin, I have seen it in anti-Watchtower letters from relatives of Jehovah's Witnesses.

For some reason (perhaps just a perverse excuse to attack the NWT) some members of Christendom angrily criticize the NWT for translating the plural form of pneuma (pneumata) at Hebrews 1:7 as "spirits" rather than "wind" as found in some highly-respected Bibles (e.g. RSV, NASB, NIV). It is very true, as we learned above, that pneuma (and its plural pneumata) may be translated as "spirit," "breath," and even "wind."

But out of approximately 380 uses of pneuma in the NT, modern translators have found only two instances where the meaning "wind" may have been intended by the original writers. Instead the inspired writers of the first century nearly always used the word anemos when they truly intended the meaning of "wind."

According to Young's Analytical Concordance the word "wind" (or "winds") was used 34 times in the NT. Out of these the word anemos was used 31 times. There were also one use of pneo, one use of pnoe, and one use of pneuma (John 3:8). (Based on the KJV this popular concordance by Young considers pneumata at Heb. 1:7 to be properly rendered as "spirits.") The other 380 uses of pneuma/pneumata were used to mean "spirit/spirits." But even that single generally-accepted use of pneuma for "wind" (Jn 3:8) is not certain. Footnotes in the following Bibles are careful to explain that pneuma at Jn 3:8 could just as honestly have been rendered "spirit": ASV, RSV, NRSV, NEB, REB, and NAB [1970] (St. Joseph Ed.).

The degree of doubt for the use of "wind" at Jn 3:8 can be shown by the UBS' The Greek New Testament, 1975 ed. which says that pneuma is perhaps translated "wind" at Jn 3:8 (p. 145 in Appendix).

The reason "wind" is generally used for pneuma at Jn 3:8 seems to be explained as follows: John is making a play on words, a dignified pun, in which pneuma is used so the double meaning of "spirit" and "wind" can be emphasized. Certainly this is a possibility. However, remember that even with this belief in a play on words by John translators still have some doubt as to whether "wind" or "spirit" (or both) was actually intended here.

Now let's look at Heb. 1:7. Do we see any indication here of a play on words that would allow for the extremely rare use of the meaning "wind" for pneuma? The KJV translators didn't think so. They translated it "spirits" with no reservations ("who maketh his angels spirits"). So did NKJV; MKJV (and KJIIV); Young's; the Catholic Douay Version; Webster's; Revised Webster's (1995); Darby's; and Lamsa's translations.

I see no valid reason for a play on words here, either. The writer's intention here at Hebrews 1 is to show Jesus being elevated to such a high position that he is not only much higher than men, but even higher than the angels. He needs a statement, however brief, to establish the superior quality of angels themselves to bring home the magnitude of Jesus being superior even to them. He does this at Heb. 1:7. He either quotes Ps. 104:4 (1) to show that angels are mere servants of God occasionally used as destructive agents comparable to wind and fire OR (2) to show that they are glorified, superior individuals created by God of superior substance.

I believe the first interpretation is out of line with the whole theme of Hebrews 1. It seems off track and irrelevant. The Bible writer is showing how the angels were created to be much superior to human beings. They are not "winds" but creatures made of spirit, a "substance" vastly superior to flesh, and, therefore, anyone superior to them is superior indeed!

Heb. 1:7 is quoting from Ps. 104:4. MLB; KJV; NKJV; KJIIV (and MKJV); Darby; Lamsa; Webster's; and Revised Webster's, 1995) use "spirits" rather than "wind" here, and even the highly-respected NASB (as well as the Living Bible) uses "spirits" in its footnote for this scripture.

We should also be aware that Heb. 1:7 is a parallelism. That is, the first statement ("maketh his angels spirits") is, in some sense, parallel to the second statement ("and his ministers a flame of fire"). In other words, "angels" and "ministers" are parallel terms here with approximately equal meanings ("angel" literally means "messenger" in NT Greek). So it is with "spirits" (or "wind") and its parallel term "flame of fire."

As already explained, it seems unlikely that the writer of Hebrews would have chosen this verse to make a point that angels were created to be (on rare occasions) agents of destruction (one parallel meaning between "wind" and "fire") since it would be entirely out of place here. The other parallel (which seems more appropriate here) is that "spirit" and "fire" are parallel terms describing the superiority of the very nature or substance of angels.

We know that when angels actually come to earth as messengers of Jehovah they often assume a fleshly form. Notice, however, how heavenly spirit persons are described (as seen in visions or dreams) when they are not assuming a fleshly form. They frequently appear to be composed of fire (sun, lightning, flame) when they are represented in their natural spirit forms: Ezek. 1:13, 14; Matt. 28:3; Rev. 10:1.

Jehovah made his angels, not winds, but spirits or "flames of fire." Heavenly spirit creatures are of a superior substance or nature. Not of imperfect flesh but of spirit which can best be described to humans as like a "flame of fire." That's probably the true parallel for Heb. 1:7 - superior heavenly spirit creatures are as flames of fire.

Finally, we need to compare Hebrews 1:7 with Hebrews 1:14. The very same Greek word (pneumata) is used here to describe angels, and it is universally understood to mean "spirits." The context shows that the writer is, in part at least, referring to Heb. 1:7 when he says: "Are they [angels] not all ministering spirits...? - Heb. 1:14, ASV. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 1977 ed. admits in a footnote that this means: "as to their nature, angels are spirits [pneumata]."

I believe the evidence favors the NWT (and KJV) rendering of "spirits" here at Heb. 1:7. However, as with the scripture above that Martin made such an angry fuss over, it would not be dishonest to use the other rendering of the word pneuma here. And, in fact, if the NWT translators decided to revise this scripture to read "wind," it would certainly not shake my faith in their scholarship or their honesty. An honest case can be made for either rendering.

Also see:
Matthew 27:50-"pneuma," "yielded up his spirit." (INDNWT)

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