Where are the academic reviews of bible translations?

This evening something drew my attention to the New World Bible Translation, the English translation of the bible made by and for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I knew nothing much about it, except that it is generally derided as biased and edited to reflect the theological ideas of that group.

But I prefer not to rely on hearsay for such things, and I began to search for information.  I came across a great many webpages, all of them amateur.  I came across the Wikipedia page, full of supposed quotes by scholars.  But it was clear that the JW’s themselves have also edited it to include material advantageous to themselves.  None of the material, for or against, seemed particularly reliable to me.

At this point, I wanted to know more.  I’m not a Hebrew scholar of any description.  The Greek text is something I could read, but not as a specialist.  So what I want is the professional, unbiased opinion of someone specialising in the relevant language skills.  I want someone with no axe to grind.   In other words, I want a solid academic review.

Naturally I skipped off to JSTOR, which my university makes available to alumni, and typed in “New World Translation”.  And I came up with … nearly nothing.  One review, in fact, just over a page long, which did not seem to me to be of a high standard.

On a hunch, I repeated the search but for the “New International Version”.  Again I got nothing worth having.  I did the same for a couple of other versions, with the same result – nothing worth having.

Google searches revealed a single study, by a certain Robert H. Countess.  I have not seen this, but the information available to me did not suggest that Dr. Countess was the kind of language scholar that I was looking for.

I have begun to wonder if I am looking in the wrong place!  Some of those who read this must know.  Am I doing this wrong?  Are all the reviews of bible translations hidden away somewhere?

The taxpayer funds universities to make it possible for us to find studies of knowledge.  To make available objective information as to whether a translation of an ancient text is accurate or not – whatever the ancient text – is one of the fundamental duties of a scholar in the relevant discipline.  This is particularly true for a text like the Bible, or indeed the Koran, where an error may produce heavy social consequences.

The world is heavy with biblical scholars.  You can’t throw a brick without one popping up, it sometimes feels.  So where are the reviews?

In my ignorance, it is hard to believe that these things don’t exist.  Could that possibly be the case?

Answers in the comments, or using the Contact Me form please!

17 thoughts on “Where are the academic reviews of bible translations?

  1. Roger, I have wondered the same. Possibly, some would consider a critique of a translation to be a critique of Scripture, not separating truth from style.

    That said, a co-worker sent me a link from Justin Taylor at the Gospel Coalition (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/robert-alter-modern-bible-translations-stay-king-james-stream/) on Robert Alter’s thoughts concerning modern English translations. I am unaware which work was quoted, but the blog post seemed connected.

  2. Concerning the New World Translation (NW), here is a nice thread discussing its rendering of John 1:1:
    http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/forum/viewtopic.php?f=52&t=736

    NW is so-so. It is an amplified translation, that is it tries to represent all information in the original (synthetic) Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, even when it means the translation says things that weren’t really in the base text. This makes it less useful to quote from, but it is a good choice for getting a second opinion about the meaning of certain passages.

    In the past the Jehovah’s Witnesses were named the “Bible Researchers” and the NW can be seen as the magnum opus of a movement which sincerely wanted to use scientific method to find out what the bible actually taught. I recommend an old edition of the Study-version of the NW as the revision which was made some ten years ago made NW more mainstream and therefore less interesting if you already have another translation.

  3. The NWBT is not only about translation but also about punctuation. They chose to punctuate in a way that would serve their theology, such as putting a comma after ‘today’ rather than before it in Luke 23:43.

  4. I am not a JW, but I would have to betray all Greek grammar principles and everything I’ve learned about the language in order to render John 1:1 NOT like the JW’s do. The only reason it is not rendered like the JW do in most translations is because of theological reasons, nothing else. As a translator, I cannot allow doctrinal biases to influence the translation, so I have to agree that the JW’s John 1:1 translation is entirely correct.

  5. However, the JW’s comma after “today” is ridiculous in Luke 23:43. Jesus never speaks “today I say to you” anywhere else, and it’s obvious that he’s saying that “today.”

  6. It will always be good to consult the NT in Coptic for its syntax is different from Greek. The Bible was translated into Coptic before the doctrinal differences in Christianity appeared. The translation was therefore not influenced by doctrine and theoligical diffetences. It represents what early Hellenised Christians in Alexandria thought of the meaning of the Word of God. Reading it will clarify verses such as John 1:1, Luke 23:43 and Rome 8:5.

  7. Yes, in the Coptic text the last use of the word ‘God’ in the verse John 1:1 comes with an indefinite article. The last clause should be translated : “And God was the Word” rather than “And the Word was God”. The following link gives the Coptic text with transliteration and translation:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_1:1

  8. Had the Coptic text been: “And the Word was a God” it would have given a different meaning from “And a God was the Word.” JW misplace the words and give the Coptic text as in the first.

  9. I’ve read portions of (but not) the (whole) book, and I’m very confident that it’s not that complicated that you can’t form your own opinion.

  10. It can be very difficult to find a review that is not bias. Most trinitarian scholars are highly critical of specific verses in the NWT that go against their own personal theology. Eg. john 1.1; Luke 23.43. (Iver Larsen had some very balanced comments on the NWT as opposed to Bill Mounce) There is no question at all that the Witnesses know languages, as their website is the world’s most translated website. Many of the Witnesses in the USA even speak more than one language which is not very common among the rest of the population. I personally know of a few that know classical Hebrew and not a few that know koine Greek well too. (I have studied it myself for over a decade) Anyways, all translations have their advantages and disadvantages and since many verses can be translated in numerous ways any reviews are often tainted by personal thoughts and beliefs. Take for instance John 3:16. There is a big debate if it should be like the NET or like most others. “For this is the way God loved the world” (NET) as opposed to “for God loved the world SO MUCH.”

    What about Luke 23.43? The only way to know where to put the common is based on context/Cotext and Biblical usage. Arguments can be made both ways. What about John 1.1? Years ago, the respected and late Bruce Metzger use to say (based on Colwell’s rule) that JW’s were wrong to translated John 1.1 the way the NWT did. (So many quoted him as he was indeed a fine Biblical scholar!) We now know they he was wrong in using Colwell’s rule to prove that any given rendering must be definite (e.g. John 1.1). The point: Even scholars get their stuff messed up. Every review is subject to error. A very recent book by Merkle on “Biblical Greek” criticizes the NWT on John 1.1 but he uses a straw man to set up a rule that the NWT never had and then to show how it is inconsistent. Why? Because he relied on Wallace and on the faulty study of Countess (mentioned in this blog) on a supposed “rule” that was never claimed by the NWT.

    I will conclude with a quote from Mark Strauss: “Every new translation in the history of the church has been greeted with some level of controversy, from mild suspicion to violent outrage…. Hugh Broughton, a leading biblical scholar of his day, lambasted the KJV when it first appeared. He said that all the copies of the KJV should be collected and burned. He said he would rather be torn apart by wild horses than let the King James Version be read in his churches. This is what people do when they get translations that they’re not familiar with, that they disagree with the translation philosophy.”

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