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Jehovah's Witnesses and Greek Grammar

In the following e-mail exchanges, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My comments are in red.


> Dear Gary:

I asked the JWs [Jehovah's Witnesses] information concerning those three verses and they sent me 26 pages of explanations including the part of a Greek grammar book A Grammar of New Testament Greek by Hajes Hope Moulton, M.A., D.Litt., D.D., D.C.L.D. Theo. (Berlin and Groningen) and Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, Prepare as a Solid Basis for the Interpretation of the New Testament. By Dr. George Benedict Winer. Seventh Edition, Enlarged and Improved by Dr. Gottlieb Luneman, Professor of Theology at the University of Goettinge. London, England.

Gary, I believe very strongly on the Holy Trinity I do not have any question about it. On the other side of the coin I am not knowledgeable in the Greek language much less in its grammar. When they quote scholars like the ones above, how can I defend The KJV in view of those three verses [Exod 3:14; John 1:1; 8:58]? <

Since I do not have their specific arguments in front of me I can not give a specific answer. But I can give you some general advice.

First, by experience in reading Watchtower literature, I can tell you I have found them to be very "good" at taking experts out of context in their writings. I have caught many such out of context quotes in their books. So I wouldn't trust their quotations unless I could track down the original source and check the quote out for myself.

Second, if the "Moulton" is who I am thinking of it is probably a rather old grammar, probably from the 1800's. I would guess the other is also. The importance of this is, in the early 1900's a wealth of papyri were discovered that gave us greater insight into the Hellenistic type of Greek the NT was written in. So Greek reference works written prior to that time are less useful than latter ones.

Third, since you do not know Greek I really don't suggest trying to argue Greek with a JW. At best you'll end up with you quoting your scholars and them quoting (possibly out of context) their scholars and you'll end up nowhere. There are plenty of verses in the New World Translation (NWT; the "Bible" of JWs) that have been translated well enough to show the Deity of Christ without having to debate proper translation.

Fourth, in regards to John 1:1, if you do want to understand the proper translation a little better for yourself, I just recently updated and expanded my article on Jehovah’s Witnesses and John 1:1. You might want to check it out.

I updated it as a result of finding additional information as I was doing research for my own translation, the Analytical-Literal Translation (ALT). I discuss how I translated specific grammatical constructions in the "Grammatical Renderings" section of the Companion Volume to the ALT..

You might want to check out the section near the end of Part Five under the heading "Absence of the Article." It explains how I translated the second phrase in John 1:1, and verses with similar Greek constructions.

If you're wondering, my intended rendering of the phrase is, "and the Word was as to His essence God." Similarly, I will render John 4:24, "God is as to His essence Spirit."

Fifth, as for Exod 3:14 and John 8:58, the JWs will probably show you that in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures from c.200 BC) the phrase in Exod 3:14 is ego eimi ho om ("I am the Being") whereas in John 8:58 it is simply ego eimi ("I am"). But Jehovah applies just the phrase ego eimi to Himself elsewhere in Scripture (e.g. Deut 32:39; Isa 43:10).

> To top it all I am meeting tomorrow with a Greek born JW (She came to this country about 20 years ago). I do have a lot of info on the holy Trinity to show her, including mush of the material that you have supplied. However, I still feel defenseless.<

I doubt this e-mail will get to you in time for your meeting. But I will say this, don't let the idea of some JW being "Greek born" intimidate you. It really is not that relevant if someone knows modern-day Greek. It has some similarities, but many differences from the Hellenistic Greek the NT was written in.

Consider how much English has changed over the centuries. If you've ever seen any of Wycliffe's translation you would know what I mean. I've seen portions of it. And let me tell you, the only reason I was able to read it at all is because I knew the passages which were quoted. It was English, but barely. And that has only been since the 1300's, about 700 years.

The NT was written about 2,000 years ago. So you can imagine how much Greek has changed since the time it was written.

> Can you give me a little more info. Also, would you like me to send you by mail this 26 page stuff?

Miguel
1/11/1999<

I hope the above is helpful. And if you want to send me copies of the materials I would be interested in seeing it. But I really won't have the time to give you any kind of detailed review of them as I am really busy now with working on the ALT. But if you want, you can send the materials to me c/o my ministry's PO Box: Gary F. Zeolla ~ c/o Darkness to Light ~ PO Box 138 ~ Natrona Heights, PA 15065.


>Dear Gary:

Thank so much for your info. concerning the subject matter. I will certainly mail you that stuff that I got from the JWs. I understand how busy you might be. I will await your comments concerning it. They would be of extreme importance to me. Please do not forget who I am as a matter-of-fact, I will insert your e-mail letter right on top of the package as a reminder of me.

Thank you
Miguel
1/13/1999<


Dear Miquel Aguilar,

I just received the materials you sent me from the Watchtower (the organization JWs belong to), along with the donation. Thank you for both. As I said before I don't have time to do a detailed review of the materials but I will make a few quick comments.

First, the Watchtower (WT) translates the end of John 8:58 as "I have been" rather than "I am." They claim the reason for doing so is it is a "perfective present." The claim is, even though it has a Greek present tense form it has the sense of a Greek perfect tense (which is one of a past action with continuing results).

In none of the grammars which I own is there any mention of a "perfective present" tense, nor did we earn of such a use of the present tense in my Greek classes at seminary. Since the "Moulton" that wrote the article is not the one I was thinking of, I really cannot comment on the reliability of his grammar. All I can say is I have never heard of it.

I will say this though, the grammars I do have discuss a "historical present" and a "futuristic present." For these uses of the present tense some versions translate them as simple past and future, respectively. Note, the difference here is, again, not one of the Greek form but of context. However, in the ALT I will be translating them for what they are, present tenses.

So even if there was discussion of a "perfective present" in my grammars I would still translate it as what it is by form, a present tense. For discussions on my reasoning for translating the present tense consistently as a present, see Part One of the Grammatical Renderings section in the ALT Companion Volume.

Next, it is true, as the materials point out, that there are other places in the NT where Jesus refers to himself using ego eimi but it is translated as "I am He" rather than just "I am" in many versions. But, in "formal equivalence" translations like the NKJV the "He" is in italics indicating it is added. But even with the italics, this is a point I have always disagreed with the standard translations. So in the ALT, following the LITV, will consistently render such phrases as simply "I am."

Moreover, this still give no basis to the "I have been" rendering of the WT in John 8:58. If they were to be consistent in the NWT, they should try rendering each of these references as "I have been."

Lastly, on John 8:58, as I suspected, the WT claims that Jesus was not asserting an equality with "Jehovah" in the OT by saying ego eimi. Their reasoning is, Exod 3:14, in the Septuagint, reads ego eimi ho om. But again, there are places where Jehovah refers to Himself using just ego eimi in the OT.

As for the arguments on John 1:1, I have already basically covered them in my article on this verse which I referred you to previously. As I state there, and in Part Three of the Grammatical Renderings, it is true the anarthrous, predicate nominative indicates the "quality" rather than the "person" of the nominative is being referred to. But this does not justify the "a god" rendering of the WT or the "divine" rendering that the WT claims in the materials would also be appropriate.

If the WT were consistent in this claim, the they would have to render 1John 1:5 as "God is a light" and 1John 4:8 as "God is a love." The ALT will consistently render John 1:1 and these verses using the phrase "as to His nature." Moreover, nowhere else does the WT render theos as "a god" so it is inconsistent to do so in John 1:1.

Similarly, for the "divine" rendering, again, nowhere else does the WT render theos as "divine." Also, there is a Greek word which means "divine" or "divinity’ (theiotes) that John could have used if that is what he had meant. In the ALT I am rendering this word as "divinity" (see Rom 1:20). Moreover, even if "divine" or "divinity" were the correct rendering in John 1:1, it would not be a denial of Jesus' deity as "divine" or "divinity" can be used in reference to God as Rom 1:20 demonstrates.

Next is the WT's use of the Wescott and Hort Greek NT text (WH-text). As the materials indicate, the WH-text was published in 1881. However, much of the "flood" of Greek manuscripts discovered, that the materials mention, occurred, or at least were analyzed, after 1881. So the WH-text is out-dated by any standards today.

To put it simply, the WH-text was the precursor to today's Critical Text (CT). Meanwhile, the Textus Receptus (TR) that was available at that time was the precursor to today's Majority Text (MT). The WH-text differed from the TR about 6-8%. However, today's CT only differs from the TR about 4-6%. So there's about a 2-4% difference between the WH-text and today's CT. Meanwhile, the MT differs from the TR about 1-2%. And most importantly, the CT differs from the MT about 2-4%.

The point is, the two sides have moved closer together over the past century. The reason being, as these newly discovered and/ or studied manuscripts have been compared it was apparent by any standard of textual criticism that WH were wrong in many of their textual decision.

Readings found in the TR that they rejected as being of "late" origin were discovered in early manuscripts. So today's CT has re-inserted these readings. And similarly, some readings in the TR have been found not to have the support in the majority of manuscripts so they are not included in the MT.

So even today's CT scholars would not agree with the WH-text. And MT text scholars would disagree with it even more. And, as my site makes clear, I ascribe to the MT. So under no circumstances would I even consider using the WH-text. For more on this subject, see the articles listed under "Greek-text Types" at Bible Versions Controversy.

Moreover, it is flat out wrong for the WT to assert the WH-text "has been used as the basis of a number of recent translations." NO Bible translation, other than the NWT, has ever been actually based on the WH-text. Even the "Revised Version" of the late 1800's was not based specifically on the WH-text, though the text was close to it. Now, of course, the majority of modern-day versions are based on today's CT; but, as stated, today's CT differs significantly from the WH-text.

And finally, is the WT claim about how great the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (KIT) is. Simply put, about the only thing in its favor is the KIT is a compact, hardcopy interlinear. I know of no other interlinear that is as small as it is while being in hardback form. Jay Green's NT Interlinear is available in a trade paperback, size. But that's the closest I know of.

But as far as the quality of the contents, the KIT leaves much to be desired. First off, it uses the WH-text for the Greek text. As indicated above, NO textual scholar today would agree with the WH text. Even today's CT scholar's would reject it as out-dated.

Second, of course, the side margin text is the NWT. The problems with it are many. And there are even many problems with the supposed word-for-word English translation in-between the lines of the Greek text, though it is not as bad as the NWT itself.

A while back I was translating through the Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. So for fun, I compared the readings in the KIT, both the interlinear reading and the NWT. I marked every place where either had an obvious mistake. The text ended up looking like a checkerboard. I had multiple pen-marks in almost every verse, especially in the NWT.

I underlined words that were mistranslated, put marks where words were omitted, and placed parentheses around words which were added with no basis in the Greek text. My copy is really a mess now. I got through the first four chapters before I got tired of it. I did the same with select other verses, like Rom 9:5 and Phil 2:6, and ended up with the same mess.

The KIT does have one use though, it can be used to see how really bad the NWT is. Even though the interlinear translation is not that good, it is still much better than the NWT itself. Even the non-English reader can see some of the problems in the NWT by comparing the interlinear reading in the KIT with the NWT.

For instance, Phil 2:6 in the interlinear reading has 16 words. But the NWT has 22 words. That means six words in the NWT have no basis whatsoever in the Greek text. And none of these words are offset in brackets as the WT says it would do with added words.

Interestingly, concerning the verses that began this discussion, John 1:1 in the interlinear reading has "god" (no "a"). Now the word is not capitalized; but still, with all the big deal from the WT about how the word "a" has to be added, it isn't even added to its own interlinear.

And most interestingly, John 8:58 in the interlinear translation reads "I am" not the "I have been" of the NWT. So it would seem even the WT knows a literal translation of ego eimi is "I am."

So the bottom line, the NWT is as about as unreliable as can be. The WT is inconsistent in following the Greek "rule" it invents. The Greek text it is based on is out-dated at best, and unreliable at worst (the latter is my opinion). And even its own KIT, as unreliable as it is, shows how much even more unreliable the NWT is.

So these materials you sent me are interesting. They show that the WT is still stuck in a rut; using an out-dated Greek text, and continually repeating the same worn-out faulty arguments to try to support their unreliable Greek text and translation.

If you want a really good interlinear, I would suggest either Jay Green's Interlinear Bible (Published by Sovereign Grace) or the NKJV Interlinear (published by Thomas Nelson). The former is based on the TR and the latter on the MT. Studying these will really show you how bad the NWT is.

I hope all of the above is helpful to you. I spent a little more time on this than I had planned. But sometimes the WT just aggravates me with the way they mislead people.


>Dear Gary:

I am so thankful to you....I got your long explanation letter and will study it. And will click to alt/background.

May God keep you for a long time with us.... we (all who are seeking the kingdom of God and His understanding) need you!

Miguel
1/27/1999<


>Dear Gary:

I just became aware of your health problems. I sincerely want to say that I do hurt and feel for you. I do not know what your problems are but feel that they are serious enough to have been placed in the net.<

Thank you for your concern.

> I want to thank you for placing the material concerning me and my Greek JW friend in your "Jehovah's Witnesses and Greek Grammar" page.<

You're welcome.

> I did have that meeting with my friend and presented her with much of your own work to her. Why she was not as argumentative as she has been other times, has me wondering if she has started to listen to God. I bought her a KJV Bible with tabs and leather cover.<

Thanks for the update. And I thankful what I wrote might have been helpful. And I pray you're correct and she is coming around. Reading the KJV rather than the NWT is definitely an improvement!

> I will pray for you.
Miguel
2/11/1999<

Thank you very much.

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