A few years back I devoted a great deal of time to meeting with some very nice Jehovah’s Witness ladies to discuss doctrine. These women kindly spent an hour every week sitting in my living room explaining the Jehovah’s Witness belief system to me. I, of course, did my best to present Evangelical Protestant beliefs to them (this was before I was reconciled to the Church). Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the doctrine of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is to them an impersonal force. Jesus Christ is to them, not God Incarnate, but rather “god.” He is the most perfect of all Jehovah God’s creation, and in that capacity was able to die for our sins (although he was not bodily resurrected). This Jesus is not to be worshipped, the Witnesses will tell you, since he is not God.
This, of course, is simply bad old-fashioned Arianism, a heresy condemned by the Council of Nicaea in 325. Folks who deny the Trinity draw on a passel of verses such as John 17:3, John 8:17, John 20:17, 1 Timothy 5:21, 1 Timothy 2:5, Mark 10:18, John 14:28, 1 Corinthians 8:6, 1 Corinthians 11:3, and Philippians 2: 5-11 to make their case. Using these passages, the case they make against the deity of Christ seems plausible, until they run up against the words of John 1:1 –
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Oops! The Jehovah’s Witness version of events is that this “Word” was, in his pre-human existence, Michael the Archangel – but John 1:1 states quite unequivocally that “the Word” was GOD. So what’s a frustrated Arian theologian to do in a case like this?
Publish the New World Bible!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.
The New World Bible is the Jehovah’s Witness translation of the Scriptures into English. It can be, of course, quite profitable to a group which teaches something other than the faith once revealed and faithfully preserved down through the ages to produce their own translation of Holy Scripture. Witnesses who go door-to-door can produce a Bible that provides what appears to be solid backing for their theological aberrations; all they have to do is to convince you that those words in John 1:1 are better translated as “a god.”
Taking liberties with Scripture is habit-forming, so when the New World translators got to the great creation passage in Colossians 1:15-20, they decided to embellish that as well. This passage traditionally reads:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
To bolster their “Jesus-is-a-created-being” theme, the New World translators added a little word to Colossians 1:16 -17.
…because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist,…
These liberties put the New World Translation on cult-buster radar. Protestant pastor and author of The Kingdom of the Cults, the late Dr. Walter Martin, fired off this blistering salvo:
“In this particular rendering, Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt one of the most clever perversions of the New Testament texts that the author has ever seen. Knowing full well that the word “other” does not occur in this text, or for that matter in any of the three verses (16, 17, 19) where it has been added, albeit in brackets, the Witnesses deliberately insert it into the translation in a vain attempt to make Christ a creature and one of the “things” He is spoken of as having created.
Attempting to justify this unheard-of travesty upon the Greek language and also upon simple honesty, the New World Bible translation committee enclosed each added “other” in brackets, which are said by them to ‘enclose words inserted to complete or clarify the sense in the English text.'”
Footnotes are one thing, but when you add words to the actual text of Scripture, even words in brackets, you have crossed the line! No matter what your interpretation of a passage may lead you to believe, you can’t add in words that are simply not there in the original language and then claim that they have been inserted “to complete or clarify the sense in the English text”!
Unheard-of travesty, indeed!
Hang on, there – maybe not exactly unheard of….
Back in the 16th century, an Augustinian monk had a revelation. He believed that justification was not by faith (which was the teaching of the Church up until that time), but by faith ALONE. He could see this principle soooo clearly in Scripture. The only problem was, other people were having trouble buying into this, always wanting to bring up that pesky James 2:24:
You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
After people read that verse, they had qualms about the “faith ALONE” direction that Luther was headed in. There were no other verses in the Bible that contained the phrase “faith alone.” Luther found his new doctrine to be a hard sell….
So what’s a frustrated Reformer to do in a case like this?
Publish Luther’s translation of Holy Scripture into German!
Romans 3:28 as Luther translated it read:
Wir halten, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werk ALLEIN durch den Glauben.
For the German-impaired, Luther’s version said:
We hold that a man is justified without the works of the law, by faith ALONE.
Predictably, there was something of a stir….
Luther wrote a letter called “Ein Sendbrief D. M. Luthers. Vom Dolmetzschen und Fürbitte der Heiligen” (Open Letter on Translating), explaining why he had taking it upon himself to add a word to Holy Scripture:
In the first place, you ask why in translating the words of Paul in the 3rd chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, Arbitramur hominem iustificari ex fide absque operibus, I rendered them, “We hold that a man is justified without the works of the law, by faith alone,” and you also tell me that the papists are causing a great fuss because Paul’s text does not contain the word sola (alone), and that my addition to the words of God is not to be tolerated….
(rails about how all the Papists put together couldn’t accurately translate one chapter of Scripture, then insists that no one is being forced to read his translation, then repeats his first complaint. Goes off into a rant about how another man’s translation of Scripture was preferred to his by a German ruler – claims that the other translator plagiarized his work…)
(898 English words later…)
But I will return to the subject at hand. If your papist wishes to make a great fuss about the word sola (alone), say this to him: “Dr. Martin Luther will have it so, and he says that a papist and a donkey are the same thing.” Sic volo, sic iubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas. For we are not going to be students and disciples of the papists. Rather, we will become their teachers and judges. For once, we also are going to be proud and brag, with these blockheads; and just as Paul brags against his mad raving saints, I will brag against these donkeys of mine! Are they doctors? So am I. Are they scholars? So am I. Are they preachers? So am I. Are they theologians? So am I. Are they debaters? So am I. Are they philosophers? So am I. Are they logicians? So am I. Do they lecture? So do I. Do they write books? So do I.
I will go even further with my boasting: I can expound the psalms and the prophets, and they cannot. I can translate, and they cannot. I can read the Holy Scriptures, and they cannot. I can pray, they cannot. Coming down to their level, I can use their rhetoric and philosophy better than all of them put together. Plus I know that not one of them understands his Aristotle. If any one of them can correctly understand one preface or chapter of Aristotle, I will eat my hat!
(I sense hostility)
Let this be the answer to your first question. Please do not give these donkeys any other answer to their useless braying about that word sola than simply this: “Luther will have it so, and he says that he is a doctor above all the doctors of the pope.” Let it rest there. I will from now on hold them in contempt, and have already held them in contempt, as long as they are the kind of people (or rather donkeys) that they are. And there are brazen idiots among them who have never even learned their own art of sophistry, like Dr. Schmidt and Dr. Snot-Nose, and such like them, who set themselves against me in this matter, which not only transcends sophistry, but as Paul writes, all the wisdom and understanding in the world as well. Truly a donkey does not have to sing much, because he is already known by his ears.
For you and our people, however, I shall show why I used the [German equivalent of the] word sola — even though in Romans 3 it was not [the equivalent of] sola I used but solum or tantum. That is how closely those donkeys have looked at my text! Nevertheless I have used sola fides elsewhere; I want to use both solum and sola. I have always tried to translate in a pure and clear German.
(digresses into the subject of how hard it is to translate well and how much effort he has taken to make the text really flow in German, so as not to give the people a clunky translation that would offend their ears. Starts moaning about how nobody really appreciates all his hard work…)
There is no such thing as earning the world’s thanks. Even God himself cannot earn thanks, not with the sun, nor with heaven and earth, nor even the death of his Son. The world simply is and remains as it is, in the devil’s name, because it will not be anything else.
(FINALLY GETS TO THE POINT)
I know very well that in Romans 3 the word solum is not in the Greek or Latin text — the papists did not have to teach me that. It is a fact that the letters s-o-l-a are not there. And these blockheads stare at them like cows at a new gate, while at the same time they do not recognize that it conveys the sense of the text — if the translation is to be clear and vigorous, it belongs there. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since it was German I had set about to speak in the translation. But it is the nature of our language that in speaking about two things, one which is affirmed, the other denied, we use the word allein [only] along with the word nicht [not] or kein [no]. For example, we say “the farmer brings allein grain and kein money”; or “No, I really have nicht money, but allein grain”; I have allein eaten and nicht yet drunk”; “Did you write it allein and nicht read it over?” There are countless cases like this in daily usage.
In all these phrases, this is a German usage, even though it is not the Latin or Greek usage. It is the nature of the German language to add allein in order that nicht or kein may be clearer and more complete. To be sure, I can also say, “The farmer brings grain and kein money,” but the words “kein money” do not sound as full and clear as if I were to say, “the farmer brings allein grain and kein money.” Here the word allein helps the word kein so much that it becomes a completely clear German expression. We do not have to ask the literal Latin how we are to speak German, as these donkeys do. Rather we must ask the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace. We must be guided by their language, by the way they speak, and do our translating accordingly. Then they will understand it and recognize that we are speaking German to them.
This last is a great big load of horse waste. It is NOT necessary to insert the word “alone” into the text in German. The modern-day Protestant versions of the German Bible DO NOT insert the word “allein” into the text. Despite Luther’s vehement protestations to the contrary, it is not only possible but actually preferable to translate this passage without the addition of the word “alone,” because in so doing, modern-day German Bible translators avoid the Biblical condemnation of adding to the inspired word of God!
(Luther finally explains the REAL reason why he felt compelled to alter the words of Holy Scripture)
However, I was not depending upon or following the nature of the languages alone when I inserted the word solum in Romans 3. The text itself, and Saint Paul’s meaning, urgently require and demand it. For in that passage he is dealing with the main point of Christian doctrine, namely, that we are justified by faith in Christ without any works of the Law. Paul excludes all works so completely as to say that the works of the Law, though it is God’s law and word, do not aid us in justification. Using Abraham as an example, he argues that Abraham was so justified without works that even the highest work, which had been commanded by God, over and above all others, namely circumcision, did not aid him in justification. Rather, Abraham was justified without circumcision and without any works, but by faith, as he says in Chapter 4: “If Abraham were justified by works, he may boast, but not before God.” So, when all works are so completely rejected — which must mean faith alone justifies — whoever would speak plainly and clearly about this rejection of works will have to say “Faith alone justifies and not works.” The matter itself and the nature of language requires it.
To paraphrase the words of Dr. Walter Martin on a very, very similar subject:
In this particular rendering, Martin Luther attempts one of the most clever perversions of the New Testament texts that the author has ever seen. Knowing full well that the word “alone” does not occur in this text where it has been added, the great Reformer deliberately inserted it into the translation in a vain attempt to make Germans believe that there was unequivocal Scriptural backing for his novel doctrine.
Attempting to justify this unheard-of travesty upon the Greek language and also upon simple honesty, Dr. Luther insists that “the text itself, and St. Paul’s meaning, urgently require and demand it – the matter itself and the nature of language requires it.”
What’s sauce for the Jehovah’s Witness goose is sauce for the great Reformer’s gander.
On the memorial of St. John of Capistrano
Deo omnis gloria!