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The 2013 revised edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is a true revision. It is essentially a new version. The 1961, 1981 and 1984 editions were more of updates than revisions. But the 2013 edition changes a considerable number of renderings from the 1984 edition, and its purpose has been altered from being exacting to being useful in the ministry. But this does not mean it is less accurate, as in many ways it has become more accurate, but that it takes many questions for research out of the way. (1 Timothy 1:4)
But I'm not going to hide it. I'm sad to see the 1984 edition of the New World Translation go, especially for its renderings from the Hebrew text. Of course, I'll still have it in my library and on my computer, but I will not be presenting my favorite translation in the ministry.
In my personal study, I truly appreciated being able to read the literal meaning of the original text. I spent a lot of time investigating many, many verses in that translation, to make sure that the text was indeed correct according to the best scholarship, and it was always vindicated. (I was not raised among Jehovah's Witnesses, and they weren't the first religion I was ever involved with, and my Bible teacher and JW literature encouraged me to "make sure of all things," [1 Thessalonians 5:21] so I check facts.) That is why I came to trust it so much. However, in the ministry, it did tend to raise questions in a way that made me feel like I had to explain the differences between translations. Though I still feel that it is vital to a deep study.
The rendering of 1 Timothy 1:3-4 has been made more accurate. In verse 3, the 1984 edition said, "that you might command", while the 2013 edition says, "in order for you to command". The words "in order for" comes from the Greek "ina", and thereby makes it more consistent with other uses of the word in the New World Translation, and changing "might" to "to" to establish that he is being a message bearer of specific direction, not that Timothy will be sending messages of his own accord.
It also changes the words "but which furnish questions for research" to "but merely give rise to speculations". The text literally does mean to "give rise to [more] questions". What this means is that it does nothing to answer questions, but poses questions. Since the basis is "false stories" or "myths", which have no useful purpose, and "genealogies" which often contain gaps, different names or extra names that can't be resolved, then the questions that arise are of a speculative nature. No amount of research will resolve those questions. Thus, the 2013 rendering is superior.
As a result of such changes, the meaning of the text has been refined. We now understand Timothy to be carrying a message and that message includes a discouragement against speculation, rather than discouraging personal research.
I am doing an analysis of the text that will show up in a later post, and I am truly floored by how much thought they put into making the text active, bringing it alive for us. In an analysis of Philippians 2:1-4, I found that the text has been personalized and impetus injected into the text that calls the reader to action. A greater sense of making it your own exists in the wording, whereas previously it was passive, while at the same time a greater understanding of the text is also expressed. And where an even greater understanding of the text is had by seeing both the old and new rendering, the old rendering is expressed in the footnotes. I now officially love this version more than the previous, because my confidence in it has been bolstered and I am thankful for it. Though in both versions they added "and having"/"and have" in verse 2 in a way that I think disrupts the thought that "the same love" enhances and explains "the same mind", so that it would appear as "being of the same mind, the same love".
The 2013 revised edition is not strictly a literal translation of the Bible anymore, but has been altered idiomatically in a number of places. (Though I have a feeling some will try to claim that it doesn't know what type of translation it wants to be. But then no edition of the New World Translation has ever been completely free of idiomatic adjustments [really, no translation can be] and it has stood well upon its merits.) It is still a literal edition, not idiomatic, but with adjustments in idiom where it is important. What is the difference? A literal translation, a good one like the NWT, does not just focus on presenting the literal meaning of the words translated, but presents the dynamics of the grammar. But an idiomatic translation gives focus to changing the original idiom (word or phrase with a culturally significant meaning) to a modern idiom. But an additional tendency of idiomatic versions is to leave behind matters of precise grammar, expressing it in its simplest terms.
However, there are places where the literal and precise meaning of the text must be brought across, but the overall intent must also be brought across. For instance, in John 17:3, most translations have some variation similar to the New American Bible, which reads, "Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ." But the 1984 edition of the New World Translation translates the thrust of the grammar, saying, "This means everlasting life, there taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ."
But the New World Translation Committee came to realize that the "knowledge" was being interpreted as impersonal, the way one learns about biology, but that it should be interpreted as a personal knowledge, the way one person gets to know another. So the goal in the 2013 edition was to keep the thrust of the grammar, that it is an action, not a noun, that is ongoing, continuous, while at the same time expressing the personal meaning. Thus, the revised edition reads, "This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ." This is a clearer thought than "know God", which it is impossible to simply "know" anyone, especially God, without first getting to know them interactively, but the revised text of the NWT retains the continual process, encouraging us to continually draw closer to God to get to know him on a personal level and forever strengthen that relationship by interacting with Him.
The word "fornication" has been changed to "sexual immorality" in all places. I have come across many in the ministry who had no idea what the word "fornication" meant. Thus a change was absolutely essential to helping interested ones fully understand the text. I think we should all be grateful for not having to explain it. The less we have to explain, the more we can focus on the sanctification of Jehovah's name, the vindication of His sovereignty and the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Removed Brackets and Plural "YOU"
What I used to do on this site is take out the bracketed text where possible so that people could see that we were not adding anything to the meaning of the scripture as some complain. If removing the bracketed text caused the rendering to be illegible, I would investigate the original text and then provide my own rendering that didn't require bracketed text. I don't recall any time that removing bracketed text for this site simply changed the meaning. Then they produced the edition with the inserted text unbracketed, which I appreciated in that it took away the questions about those bracketed portions. Though I continued to treat the text as bracketed on this site, thus removing it per the guideline stated above. However, I will now no longer do this, because I think it establishes an important point in regard to the organization's critics: whether you go on the left side or the right, or straight down the middle, or backwards, they don't care, because they'll find fault with how your shoe laces are tied, and if there were nothing they could twist, they would make it up. (In fact, they still do anyway.)
I also used to change any appearances of the all caps "YOU" indicating plurality to "you all" in order to let the reading flow freely without having to format the text and be natural to understanding plurality in the text according to many languages ancient and modern. It is also common to what is considered archaic non-standard English still spoken in southern states. I will also be discontinuing this practice because plural personal pronouns and adverbs are not identified in the 2013 edition. I would guess this change is because understanding plurality doesn't generally add anything doctrinally significant to the text. The context usually identifies if a group or individuals are being spoken to. Though personally, I appreciated the understanding lent by it.
I recently came to appreciate the existence of footnotes in a Living Bible that a student was using. Though the translation is quite corrupt in many ways, as most who know anything about translation know, the student was constantly referencing the footnotes. This helped me to realize that as long as the version has effective footnotes, there was no reason to have to explain differences as long as the student references the footnotes. Thus, when I saw that they included footnotes in the revised edition, it gave me a sigh of relief to be able to use those when questions arise regarding to how something is translated in our version. It can also put the minds of students at ease as well as be useful for their study. The more tools at their disposal, (without overwhelming them,) the better equipped they will be.
Though there were things in the 1984 edition of the New World Translation that were difficult to deal with. I would often spend a lot of time looking up column references that had nothing to do with what I was looking for. Sometimes I wouldn't even be able to find the text I was looking for after looking them all up. But in the 2013 edition, they have focused specifically on presenting verses that are referenced the most. At the same time though, it seems lately that I am less likely to find what I'm looking for. However, they now will reference more than one verse from a reading. For example at the end of 1 Corinthians 9:11, under "g", it says "Ro 15:26, 27" and also "Php 4:14-17".
Likewise, the 2013 index tends to work a bit as a drawback by comparison to the 1984 index. I always appreciated an abundance of options in the previous version. I was usually able to find the scripture I was looking for. I'm finding it more difficult now, I think.
That said, I'm really liking the Outline of Contents. It makes it really easy to find what I'm looking for inside a particular book, since I'm familiar with the contents of each book, though the prophets and epistles give me trouble when it comes to remembering which book covers which subject, allowing the outline to shine. So what has been lost in the reduced references and index has been made up for with the outline, and then some.
Elitists who think more of themselves than they should will probably complain that the revised edition has been "dumbed down". But remember, the original text is itself not complicated. Much of the text of the Bible, after all, was written by menial laborers, and the language of most of the original text, even by kings and court officials, is plain and straight forward, as it was written for public consumption by the common folk. Also, God's goal is to reach all people of every level of intelligence, so to make it accessible to everyone its language should be plain and straight forward so that even children can understand it. (Matthew 21:16)
The change of some verses from "soul" to "living creature", such as at Genesis 1:20, is consistent with other translations, which can actually encourage trust in the translation. In fact, the overall changes to the translation have eliminated many arguments over differences, including the change to an idiomatic style. But we can still use Ezekiel 18:4 and others in support of the soul dying and the footnote expresses the alternate renderings in line with other translations.
I find it a great coup that "Sheol" and "Hades" are now translated as "the Grave". Having that consistency will help students understand the meaning more clearly and it is indeed more accurate to translate them according to the intended meaning. This alone may have a profound impact upon the accessibility and understanding of the text, I think. Though I hope one day they will idiomize "Gehenna" as "Trash Heap".
The language has been handily improved. For example, it changes "vanity", common in the book of Ecclesiastes, to "futile". When I first read the text in other Bibles and in the 1984 edition, I didn't really know what "vain" and "vanity" was meant to imply, as in the modern idiom, it typically means someone who is conceited or too involved with their beauty. But "futile" clearly expresses the thought.
Many renderings of "and" have also been removed in some useful ways. To use an example from the former mentioned Bible book, Ecclesiastes 1:14 states, "And look! everything was futile, a chasing after the wind." The previous version expresses the "and" in the original Hebrew, saying "And look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind." The 2013 revision gives us a clearer understanding by showing how the Hebrew language used such "and" statements as emphasis to reinforce the meaning. The 2013 edition states it like a definition of "futile", thus achieving the same effect.
It also translates numerical values with actual numerals, allowing for briefer text and faster reading.
When I first started studying with Jehovah's Witnesses, I used to make lists of questions (such as, "Does God punish people by burning them forever?") or doctrinal terms (like "God is not a Trinity",) that had only the scriptures as answers, because I felt it was very important to be able to answer a question with just a scripture. Over time, that list of questions with scriptural answers got to be about 30 pages long. That was one of the many things that assured me that Jehovah's Witnesses were God's true organization. So lately, several publications by the organization have been doing the same things, simply using scripture quotes or citations to answer posed questions without interpretive statements. So when I saw a whole section in the opening of the revised edition doing just that, I was grateful. It makes for a great witnessing tool.
Yes, I am also excited at the new glossary (which is quite impressive) and the many appendices with maps, tables, charts, timelines and illustrations that will be useful for teaching, but I am most stoked about the update to the translation itself.
I have no doubt that time will show this translation to be more useful to the ministries of Jehovah's Witnesses than the previous version.