The Bible: Has It Been Translated Correctly? by Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Norman Geisler

Dr. John Ankerberg: What evidence does the Bible offer that it comes from Almighty God? Dr. Norman Geisler presents the evidence that shows that fact. The question we want to Bibleaddress today is this: “How Do We Know That the Bible Has Been Translated Correctly?” What about all the modern translations? As you will hear, we think some of the new translations are very bad; some of them are good; and some of them are better. Which are which? I thought you might be interested. Listen:

Dr. Norman Geisler: The Bible: Is it translated correctly? What about modern translations? Is it translated correctly? Well, basically, the answer to that is, there are many, many translations of the Bible. Some of them are bad; some of them are good; and some of them are better.

First of all, let’s take a look at some of the translations. The translations of the Bible actually go back hundreds and hundreds of years in English–back to the 700s. We’ve listed over 1200 translations of the Bible into English alone since 700 in our book, General Introduction to the Bible. So we have a lot of translations. But some of the main ones are the King James, and the American Standard Version, and the Revised Standard Version, and the New International Version, and the New King James. I think what we’re all asking ourselves is, of all of the numerous Bibles out there, numerous translations, are any of them really bad, really dangerous? Are any of them really good? And what about the ones in between?

First of all, let’s talk about the bad ones. I’ll mention just one here. Some of the cults have made their own translations of the Bible. The New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witness cult is a bad translation. Take, for example, John 1:1. They translate it: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was a god.” That’s a bad translation. As any good Greek scholar can tell you that when the definite article is not used, it’s referring to the nature rather than the individuality of it and it should be translated: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was of the very nature of God.” In fact, Jesus is called God many times in the New Testament. Hebrews 1:8 uses the definite article, saying to the Son, “You are God.”

So that’s a bad translation. They tend to distort the verses on the immortality of the soul, the Deity of Christ, and a number of others. So stay away from translations like that.

On the other hand, I would say most translations of the Bible are good. And by “good” I mean, all the essential doctrines, all the fundamental doctrines, all major and minor doctrines come through correctly in the translation. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the King James, which I’ll say more about in a moment, which is archaic and the language is outdated, right on up to the NIV, the New International Version–none of them deny the Deity of Christ. None of them deny the substitutionary atonement or the bodily resurrection, or any of the fundamentals of the faith.

So they’re all good in that sense. Now, some of them are better than others. For example, I personally believe that the King James is archaic–it’s out of date. The words don’t even have those meanings anymore. For example, anyone who thinks the King James was let down on a string from heaven–it was good enough for Paul and it’s good enough for them–I’d like to give a quiz to. What does, “He that letteth will now let” mean (2 Thess. 2:7)? It means “hinder.” See, the word “let” which means “permit” today meant just the opposite in 1611. So if you’re reading the original King James, you’re getting the wrong meaning because you’re getting a meaning that is just the reverse of what it meant in 1611.

Or try this one: “The superfluity of naughtiness” in James 1:21. What does that mean? You don’t have the foggiest idea. It means, “The overflowing of wickedness.”

Or what does this mean: “We do you to wit of the grace of God” (2 Cor. 8:1). We do you to wit? We just don’t talk that way anymore. It means “We want you to know of the grace of God.”

Or, “Quit ye like men.” What are they quitting about? Actually it means, “Be strong like men” (2 Cor. 16:13).

So here we have verses that people don’t even know what they mean and they say this is the Bible to be used. It’s a good Bible; it was very good in its day. It lasted for a long time–hundreds of years. It was beautifully translated, has beautiful poetry and rhythm to it. But it’s archaic and needs to be retranslated. So we move to what I would call the better translations of the Bible. The better translations of the Bible in my opinion fall into two classes: those that are more literal and those that are more literary.

Those that are more literal would be like the New American Standard Bible. I personally believe that is probably the best literal translation of the Bible. It was done by conservative scholars. It was done by a group of scholars, not just one person. It gives you the literal meaning of the original language. I believe it is the best study Bible. If you want to know accurately what the original said, get yourself a New American Standard Study Bible, and start studying it.

On the other end of the spectrum, those Bibles that are translated by conservative scholars and a group of scholars that are more literary. Anyone who studies the NASB knows that it’s literal but it’s kind of wooden. It doesn’t flow well. It’s not very memorizable; whereas, the New International Version is much more literary and done by all good scholars, all basic doctrines are the same. And by the way, those who say that the NIV left out certain verses on the blood, you know, this simply isn’t true. What they’re doing is, they’re going by the earlier and better manuscripts. In the same chapter that they supposedly left out a verse on the blood, there’s another verse on the blood in that same chapter. And if they were trying to get the verses on the blood out, they would have taken them all out. That’s not the point. The point is, after 1840–from 1840 and following–we discovered a lot of earlier manuscripts. When the King James Bible was translated in 1611, we had no manuscripts of the Bible that went back into the second, third, fourth, or fifth, even the sixth century. All of the manuscripts were very late. Just Beza, around 550, was used a little bit in the King James and that was the earliest manuscript that was even used. From 1840 and following we found Vaticanus manuscript around 325 A.D., Sinaiticus 350; Chester Beatty Papyri 250 B.C.; Bodmer papyri 200; John Ryland fragment from the first quarter of the second century–maybe as early as 114 A.D.

And so what they did, these earlier manuscripts had a little different wording and different verses in certain places than others. Classic example. 1 John 5:7 says, “There are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are One.”

The reason it’s important to take a look at these earlier manuscripts is because they were closer to the original. If your manuscript comes from 1000 A.D. and the book was written on the time of Christ, then you’ve got a thousand-year gap between it and you can’t be sure how accurately it was copied. But if you have a manuscript from 200 A.D. and 300 and 400, then you’re closer to the original. And these earlier manuscripts give us some different readings on certain verses. For example, 1 John 5:7: “There are three that bear record in heaven: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are One.” You say, “That’s a great verse on the Trinity. It’s right in the King James.” But if you look in the NIV, you won’t find the verse there at all. They take part of one verse and make another verse, but you won’t find what I just quoted there.

You say, “Why did they cut that verse on the Trinity out of the Bible?!”

Because, when Erasmus did his Greek Testament in the 16th century, there was not a single Greek manuscript that had that verse in. In fact, he challenged anyone of his day because they said, “You’re taking the Trinity out of the Bible.”

He said, “I’m not taking the Trinity out of the Bible!” Matthew 28:20 is still there: “Baptize in the name”–singular–”of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Matthew 3:16 is still there, Father speaking from Heaven. Holy Spirit’s descending. Christ is being baptized. We’ve got all kinds of verses on the Trinity.

“Well, why did you not put that verse in your Bible, then, Erasmus?”

He said, “Because I can’t find a single Greek manuscript with it in. And if you can find one, I’ll put it in.”

So a few days later they came back and said, “Here’s one.” The ink was still wet on it, and Erasmus was forced to put it in his Greek Testament. That became the basis ultimately, the Textus Receptus, the Received Text, from which the King James was based and it got in the Bible.

Then from 1840 and following, when scholars discovered that we don’t have that in any Bible in the second century, third century, fourth century, fifth century–that it was not in any of the early Bibles at all, they said, “Look, we’ve got to be honest and say that was a little gloss, a little note written in the margin of some Bible that some later scribe incorporated into the text and it really wasn’t in the original. We’ve got to be faithful to the original.” And it was taken out.

Another point that’s very important is, when they were making up the Creeds and debating the Deity of Christ and the Trinity, this verse, 1 John 5:7, was never quoted. If it had been there in the original Bible and had been in the manuscripts of their day, they surely would have quoted an important verse like this.

Ankerberg: All right, we’ve seen that one example of a bad translation of the Bible is the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s bad because the translators were not honest in translating the words. They inserted their own ideas into the text rather than allowing the text to accurately convey the meaning of the biblical writers. Second, we have talked about the good translations. These translations convey all major and minor doctrines of the Bible correctly. Next, what should you keep in mind when you are looking to purchase a translation of the Bible?

Geisler: We’ve got really three kinds of translations–the bad ones like the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ that are distorting the essential truths; good ones where all the essential truths are there, but better ones. And I would think that “better ones” would include the New American Standard Bible, but it’s very literal; the New International Version, which is more literary; and then there’s some that are kind of halfway in between, that improve on the King James and are literary but still literal–that would be the New King James Version of the Bible. It still has the rhythm and cadence of the old King James but it got rid of the archaisms like “He that letteth will now let” and “Quit ye like men” and so forth and then updated it in modern language, but it’s not very much of a paraphrase or interpretive.

Here’s what you have to keep in mind when you’re looking at translations of the Bible. Who are the people that translated it? Were they biased? Now, obviously the people who translated the Revised Standard Version were biased. These were liberal scholars and when they came to Isaiah 7:14, they said, “Young maiden” instead of “virgin.” Well, it had to refer to virgin because the verse is quoted in Matthew 1:21ff. It says, “A virgin shall conceive.” So it’s a bad translation and it comes out of the bias of the particular translators. Whereas, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version are not done by biased liberal scholars. And another important thing about these translations is they’re done by a committee of several scholars, not just one person ultimately like say, for example, the Living Bible that was done by Ken Taylor. Fine Christian, fine believer, doing it for his children, paraphrased it. But it’s not a literal translation, it’s a paraphrase and often it’s a devotional paraphrase and people get blessed by it. But it’s one person and it’s a paraphrase.

If you want a more accurate Bible, you need to get a Bible where a committee of people [translated it] and it’s not really a paraphrase but is a translation, and that would be Bibles like the New International Version and the New King James Version of the Bible. But again, let me emphasize, all of the translations are good. We’re not talking about bad versus good, we’re talking about good versus better. Because all the essential truths are there. They haven’t been distorted. And you can pick up any of these translations apart from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and a few other cultic translations and all of the essential truths of the Gospel are present.

Ankerberg: Now, I asked Dr. Geisler to quickly summarize the evidence that proves the Bible came from God.

Geisler: Let me put this thing in focus. We’ve been talking in this whole series about the Bible from God to us, a chain reaching from God right down to the Bible in our hands. The first link in the chain is, who wrote it? Inspiration.

The second link in the chain is really transmission. Has it been transmitted down the centuries correctly. And we saw that the original was written by men of God, inspired by God. We show that it has been copied accurately down through the years.

The third link is canonization. Which books belong in it? How did we get these 66 books? Now, once you get it inspired, transmitted accurately, collected correctly, then the next and final link is translations into modern language. And we must remember that all these translations are based on the same Bible, the same Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament. The question is, if you put it French, if you put it in German, if you put it in English, you put it literally in English, you put it in a paraphrase in English–that’s the same Bible. It’s just different renderings of the same Bible–some more literary, some more literal. But we’re not talking about different Bibles. We’re talking about the same Bible based on the same Hebrew and Greek that brings the same truths across to us in different ways of stating it.

Ankerberg: Now, what about the so-called errors in the Bible? Well, there is an illustration that Dr. Geisler gave to us which I asked him to repeat that will help you understand copyists’ errors. We do not believe there are any errors in the original manuscripts. Today, we believe we have accurate copies that have come down to us conveying what the biblical writers wrote. Now, in some of those copies we notice mistakes were made by the copyists. But because we have so many thousands of manuscripts that have come down to us, we know where the mistakes were made and what should have been written. Dr. Geisler presents the evidence for this fact. Listen:

Geisler: Let me return to an illustration we used several programs ago to get the point across here. Let’s take a look at the visual:





Now, notice the first one. It’s pretty clear it means you have won $10 million, even though there’s an error in the first letter. And the second line, there’s an error in the second letter. But they all say the same thing, even though each one has an error in a different point.

Now, a lot of people are concerned about the so-called errors in the translations–why does this one put it that way and the other one put it another way? Because you can get the same meaning across even though there are minor errors in translation. There is no one that wouldn’t pick up their $10 million if they got that telegram or got that message saying that they’ve won 10 million dollars. And you shouldn’t put your Bible away because you’re afraid that there are little errors in the translation. One hundred percent of the message comes through even though there are minor errors in the translation. Just like 100 percent of the message in this visual comes through. You look at that and 100 percent of that message—You have won $10 million—and that’s a big message that came through even though there’s an error there. Likewise, the minor errors in translation don’t obscure getting 100 percent of the message that God loves you, Christ died for you, rose from the dead, and you can be saved just by believing in Him and trusting in Him. That’s the message of the Bible. It comes through clearly in almost all of the major translations of the Bible.

The Bible:  Has It Been Translated Correctly?
by Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Norman Geisler

Another point we should keep in mind is that we have 5,686 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament and maybe 10,000 of the Hebrew Old Testament in fragments and complete manuscripts. That’s a neat thing, you know. We don’t have the originals but the fact that we don’t have the originals doesn’t really hurt anything. Number one, if we had the originals, somebody probably would be worshipping it. Remember the snake in the wilderness that was put on the pole. They were later worshipping it.

Number two, if we had the original, somebody has to be custodian, right? They could tamper with it. But if you don’t have any one original in the custodianship of any one group, and that group would claim to be the true Church, of course because they have the original, then you have it spread all over the world. Some of it in Russia, some in England, some in the United States. There’s no way that anyone can tamper with all the copies. God has actually preserved His originals in the copies and He has preserved it from the possibility of worship and He has preserved it from the possibility of distortion.

Ankerberg: Now, after hearing all of this evidence proving the accuracy of the Bible, how should this impact you? How should you read and live your life in relationship to the Bible’s teachings? Dr. Geisler explains.

Geisler: Let me kind of summarize this whole thing. This book in our hand can be trusted because originally God inspired the writings that were given through Apostles and the Prophets who were given miracles to prove that they were men of God who made supernatural predictions. Jesus confirmed it to be the Word of God. Archaeology has confirmed it. The unity of the Bible. And furthermore, it has been so accurately transmitted down through the ages that whereas Homer’s Iliad is only 95 percent accurate and the Mahabharata 90 percent accurate, this has been 99.9 percent accurately copied. And the .1 doesn’t affect any doctrine, any major teaching of the Bible. The translations of the Bible are good, so when you pick up this Bible, you’ve got the Word of God, confirmed by acts of God, confirmed by the Son of God, accurately transmitted, and you have the very voice of God in your language speaking to you and to me.

Now, that puts the burden on us. If this is the Word of God and we can pick it up and read it, then we are obligated to obey its message. We are obligated to live by this book. The Bible, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. If you need something that you can count on, remember the words of Peter when he said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

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11 Responses to The Bible: Has It Been Translated Correctly? by Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Norman Geisler

  1. JohnOneOne says:

    Cruiously, Dr. Norman Geisler is quoted as saying,

    “As any good Greek scholar can tell you that when the definite article is not used, it’s referring to the nature rather than the individuality…”

    Is this always true?

    Agape, JohnOneOne.

  2. As any good Greek scholar can tell you that when the definite article is not used, it’s referring to the nature rather than the individuality of it and it should be translated: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was of the very nature of God.”

    If this is so, it would seem that translating John 1:1c as ‘the Word was God’ is taking liberties with the text. Would you agree to ‘the Word was divine?’ Several translations put it that way.

  3. Hi

    I will post more stuff on Jehovah witnessed when I come back from Holidays on all the things that are used to twist the word of God. Including some misrepresentations of the Gospel i.e. we known that on number of these what Evangelical Christians are saying is not how they portrait it in their cleverly worded fallacies arguments.

    But for now I’m not sure If I posted before I will never the less included it here for you to read and think about it.


    Defend the word

    By Walter Martin

    The Watchtower’s Scriptural Distortions
    Walter Martin

    (1) The first major perversion that Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to foist upon the minds of the average reader is that it has remained for them as “God’s true Witnesses” to restore the divine Old Testament name Jehovah to the text of the Greek New Testament. But let us observe this pretext as they stated it in their own words.
    The evidence is, therefore, that the original text of the Christian Greek Scriptures has been tampered with, the same as the text of the LXX [the Septuagint—a Greek translation of the Old Testament] has been. And, at least from the third century A.D. onward, the divine name in tetragrammaton [the Hebrew consonants , usually rendered “Jehovah”] form has been eliminated from the text by copyists. In place of it they substituted the words (usually translated “the Lord”) and , meaning “God” (p. 18).
    The “evidence” that the Witnesses refer to is a papyrus roll of the LXX, which contains the second half of the book of Deuteronomy and which does have the tetragrammaton throughout. Further than this, the Witnesses refer to Aquila (A.D. 128) and Origen (ca. A.D. 250), who both utilized the tetragrammaton in their respective Version and Hexapla. Jerome, in the fourth century, also mentioned the tetragrammaton as appearing in certain Greek volumes even in his day. On the basis of this small collection of fragmentary “evidence,” Jehovah’s Witnesses conclude their argument:
    It proves that the original LXX did contain the divine name wherever it occurred in the Hebrew original. Considering it a sacrilege to use some substitute such as or , the scribes inserted the tetragrammaton at its proper place in the Greek version text (p. 12).
    The whole case the Witnesses try to prove is that the original LXX and the New Testament autographs all used the tetragrammaton (p. 18), but owing to “tampering” all these were changed; hence, their responsibility to restore the divine name. Such is the argument, and a seemingly plausible one to those not familiar with the history of manuscripts and the Witnesses’ subtle use of terms.
    To explode this latest Watchtower pretension of scholarship completely is an elementary task. It can be shown from literally thousands of copies of the Greek New Testament that not once does the tetragrammaton appear, not even in Matthew, which was possibly written in Hebrew or Aramaic originally, therefore making it more prone than all the rest to have traces of the divine name in it—yet it does not! Beyond this, the roll of papyrus (LXX) that contains the latter part of Deuteronomy and the divine name only proves that one copy did have the divine name, whereas all other existing copies use and , which the Witnesses claim are “substitutes.” The testimonies of Aquila, Origen, and Jerome, in turn, only show that sometimes the divine name was used, but the general truth upheld by all scholars is that the Septuagint, with minor exceptions, always uses and in place of the tetragrammaton, and the New Testament never uses it at all. Relative to the nineteen “sources” the Watchtower uses (pp. 30–33) for restoring the tetragrammaton to the New Testament, it should be noted that they are all translations from Greek (which uses and , not the tetragrammaton) back into Hebrew, the earliest of which is A.D. 1385, and therefore they are of no value as evidence.
    These cold logical facts unmask once and for all the shallow scholarship of Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose arrogant pretension that they have a sound basis for restoring the divine name (Jehovah) to the Scriptures while inferring that orthodoxy suppressed it centuries ago is revealed to be a hollow scholastic fraud. The Watchtower itself admits, “But apart from [the use of “Jah” in “Hallelujah” in the book of Revelation], no ancient Greek manuscript that we possess today of the books from Matthew to Revelation contains God’s name [the tetragrammaton] in full.”
    No reasonable scholar, of course, objects to the use of the term Jehovah in the Bible. But since only the Hebrew consonants appear without vowels, pronunciation is at best uncertain, and dogmatically to settle on Jehovah is straining at the bounds of good linguistics. When the Witnesses arrogantly claim then to have “restored” the divine name (Jehovah), it is almost pathetic. All students of Hebrew know that any vowel can be inserted between the consonants ( or ), so that theoretically the divine name could be any combination from JoHeVaH to JiHiViH without doing violence to the grammar of the language in the slightest degree.
    (2) Colossians 1:16. “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”(NWT).
    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.” Far from clarifying God’s Word here, these unwarranted additions serve only to further the erroneous presupposition of the Watchtower that our Lord Jesus Christ is a creature rather than the Eternal Creator.
    The entire context of Colossians 1:15–22 is filled with superlatives in its description of the Lord Jesus as the “image of the invisible God, the first begetter [or ‘original bringer forth’—Erasmus] of every creature.” The apostle Paul lauds the Son of God as Creator of all things (v. 16) and describes Him as existing “before all things” and as the one by whom “all things consist” (v. 17). This is in perfect harmony with the entire picture Scripture paints of the eternal Word of God (John 1:1) who was made flesh (John 1:14) and of whom it was written: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). The writer of the book of Hebrews also pointed out that God’s Son “[upholds] all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3) and that He is Deity in all its fullness, even as Paul wrote to the Colossians: “For in him should all fulness [of God] dwell” (Colossians 1:19).
    The Scriptures, therefore, bear unmistakable testimony to the creative activity of God’s Son, distinguishing Him from among the “things” created, as the Creator and Sustainer of “all things.”
    Jehovah’s Witnesses, therefore, have no conceivable ground for this dishonest rendering of Colossians 1:16–17 and 19 by the insertion of the word “other,” since they are supported by no grammatical authorities, nor do they dare to dispute their perversions with competent scholars lest they further parade their obvious ignorance of Greek exegesis.
    (3) 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).
    For many years the Watchtower has been fighting a vain battle to redefine biblical terms to suit their own peculiar theological interpretations. They have had some measure of success in this attempt in that they have taught the rank and file a new meaning for tried and true biblical terms, and it is this trait of their deceptive system that we analyze now in connection with the above quoted verses.
    The interested student of Scripture will note from Matthew 27:50 and Luke 23:46 that they are parallel passages describing the same event, namely, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In Matthew’s account, the Witnesses had no difficulty substituting the word “breath” for the Greek “spirit”, for in their vocabulary this word has many meanings, none of them having any hearing upon the general usage of the term, i.e., that of an immaterial, cognizant nature, inherent in man by definition and descriptive of angels through Creation. Jehovah’s Witnesses reject this immaterial nature in man and call it “breath,” “life,” “mental disposition,” or “something windlike.” In fact, they will call it anything but what God’s Word says it is, an invisible nature, eternal by Creation, a spirit, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Sometimes, and in various contexts, spirit 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”, instead of “breath” as in Matthew 27:50. Thus in one fell swoop the entire Watchtower fabric of manufactured terminology collapses, because Jesus would hardly have said: “Father, into thy hands I commit my breath”—yet if the Witnesses are consistent, which they seldom are, why did they not render the identical Greek term 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 either it or the different rendering in Matthew. The very fact that Christ dismissed His spirit proves the survival of the human spirit beyond the grave, or as Solomon so wisely put it: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
    (4) Philippians 1:21–23. “For in my case to live is Christ, and to die, gain. Now if it be to live on in the flesh, this is a fruitage of my work—and yet which thing to select I do not know. I am under pressure from these two things; but what I do desire is the releasing and the being with Christ, for this, to be sure, is far better”(NWT).
    In common with other cults that teach soul-sleep after the death of the body, Jehovah’s Witnesses translate texts contradicting this view to suit their own ends, a prime example of which is their rendering of Philippians 1:21–23. To anyone possessing even a cursory knowledge of Greek grammar the translation “but what I do desire is the releasing” (v. 23) signifies either a woeful ignorance of the rudiments of the language or a deliberate, calculated perversion of terminology for a purpose or purposes most questionable.
    It is no coincidence that this text is a great “proof” passage for the expectation of every true Christian who after death goes to be with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Jehovah’s Witnesses realize that if this text goes unchanged or unchallenged it utterly destroys their Russellite teaching that the soul becomes extinct at the death of the body. This being the case, and since they could not challenge the text without exploding the myth of their acceptance of the Bible as the final authority, the Watchtower committee chose to alter the passage in question, give it a new interpretation, and remove this threat to their theology.
    The rendering, “but what I do desire is the releasing,” particularly the last word, is an imposition on the principles of sound Greek exegesis. The NWT renders the infinitive form of the verb as a substantive. In the context of this particular passage, to translate it “the releasing” would require the use of the participle construction, which when used with the word “wish” or “desire” denotes “a great longing” or “purpose” and must be rendered “to depart” or “to unloose.” (See Thayer; Liddell and Scott; Strong, Young, and A. T. Robertson.)
    Quite frankly, it may appear that I have gone to a great deal of trouble simply to refute the wrong usage of a Greek form, but in truth this “simple” switching of terms is used by the Witnesses in an attempt to teach that Paul meant something entirely different than what he wrote to the Philippians. To see how the Watchtower manages this, I quote from their own appendix to the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (780–781):
    The verb is used as a verbal noun here. It occurs only once more in the Christian Greek Scriptures, and that is at Luke 12:36, where it refers to Christ’s return. The related noun occurs but once, at 2 Timothy 4:6, where the apostle says: “The due time for my releasing is imminent.” But here at Philippians 1:23 we have not rendered the verb as “returning” or “departing,” but as “releasing.” The reason is, that the word may convey two thoughts, the apostle’s own releasing to be with Christ at his return and also the Lord’s releasing himself from the heavenly restraints and returning as he promised.
    In no way is the apostle here saying that immediately at his death he would be changed into spirit and would be with Christ forever. It is to this return of Christ and the apostle’s releasing to be always with the Lord that Paul refers at Philippians 1:23. He says there that two things are immediately possible for him, namely, (1) to live on in the flesh and (2) to die. Because of the circumstances to be considered, he expressed himself as being under pressure from these two things, not knowing which thing to choose as proper. Then he suggests a third thing, and this thing he really desires. There is no question about his desire for this thing as preferable, namely, the releasing, for it means his being with Christ.
    The expression , or the releasing cannot therefore be applied to the apostle’s death as a human creature and his departing thus from this life. It must refer to the events at the time of Christ’s return and second presence, that is to say, his second coming and the rising of all those dead in Christ to be with him forevermore.
    Here, after much grammatical intrigue, we have the key as to why the Witnesses went to so much trouble to render “depart” as “releasing.” By slipping in this grammatical error, the Watchtower hoped to “prove” that Paul wasn’t really discussing his impending death and subsequent reunion with Christ at all (a fact every major biblical scholar and translator in history has affirmed ), but a third thing, namely, “the events at the time of Christ’s return and second presence.” With breathtaking dogmatism, the Witnesses claim that “the releasing cannot therefore be applied to the apostle’s death. It must refer to the events at the time of Christ’s return.”
    Words fail when confronted with this classic example of unparalleled deceit, which finds no support in any Greek text or exegetical grammatical authority. Contrary to the Watchtower’s statement that “the word may convey two thoughts, the apostle’s own releasing to be with Christ at his return and also the Lord’s releasing himself from the heavenly restraints and returning as he promised,” as a matter of plain exegetical fact, Christ’s return is not even the subject of discussion—rather it is the apostle’s death and his concern for the Philippians that are here portrayed. That Paul never expected to “sleep” in his grave until the resurrection as Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain is evident by the twenty-first verse of the chapter, literally: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” There would be no gain in dying if men slept till the resurrection, for “[God] is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living” (Mark 12:27). Clearly, Paul was speaking of but two things: his possible death and subsequent presence with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), and also the possibility of his continuing on in the body, the latter being “more needful” for the Philippian Christians. His choice, in his own words, was between these two (1:23), and Jehovah’s Witnesses have gone to great trouble for nothing; the Greek text still records faithfully what the inspired apostle said—not what the Watchtower maintains he said, all their deliberate trickery to the contrary.
    Concluding our comments upon these verses in Philippians, we feel constrained to point out a final example of Watchtower dishonesty relative to Greek translation.
    On page 781 of the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, it will be recalled that the committee wrote: “The expression , or the releasing cannot therefore be applied to the apostle’s death as a human creature and his departing thus from this life.”
    If the interested reader will turn to page 626 of the same Watchtower translation, he will observe that in 2 Timothy 4:6 the Witnesses once more use the term “releasing”, where all translators are agreed that it refers to Paul’s impending death. The Revised Standard Version, often appealed to by Jehovah’s Witnesses, puts it this way: “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.” (See also An American Translation [Goodspeed]; Authorized Version; J. N. Darby’s Version; James Moffatt’s Version; J. B. Rotherham’s Version; Douay Version [Roman Catholic]; etc.)
    Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves render the text: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the due time for my releasing is imminent” (2 Timothy 4:6, NWT).
    Now, since it is admitted by the Witnesses, under the pressure of every translator’s rendering of his text, that this verse refers to Paul’s death, and further, since the noun form of the Greek word is here used and translated “releasing,” why is it that they claim on page 781 that this expression “the releasing” (—Philippians 1:23) “cannot therefore be applied to the apostle’s death as a human creature and his departing thus from this life”? The question becomes more embarrassing when it is realized that Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves admit that these two forms ( and ) are “related” (p. 781). Hence they have no excuse for maintaining in one place (Philippians 1:23) that “the releasing” cannot refer to the apostle’s death, and in another place (2 Timothy 4:6) using a form of the same word and allowing that it does refer to his death. This one illustration alone should serve to warn all honest people of the blatant deception employed in the Watchtower’s “translations,” a term not worthy of application in many, many places.
    (5) Matthew 24:3. “While he was sitting upon the mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately, saying: ‘Tell us, When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?’ ”(NWT).
    Since the days of “Pastor” Russell and Judge Rutherford, one of the favorite dogmas of the Watchtower has been that of the , the second coming or “presence” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jehovah’s Witnesses, loyal Russellites that they are, have tenaciously clung to the “pastor’s” theology in this respect and maintain that in the year A.D. 1914, when the “times of the Gentiles” ended (according to Russell), the “second presence” of Christ began. (See Make Sure of All Things, 319.)
    From the year 1914 onward, the Witnesses maintain,
    Christ has turned his attention toward earth’s affairs and is dividing the peoples and educating the true Christians in preparation for their survival during the great storm of Armageddon, when all unfaithful mankind will be destroyed from the face of the earth (p. 319).
    For Jehovah’s Witnesses, it appears, Christ is not coming; He is here! (A.D. 1914)—only invisibly—and He is directing His activities through His theocratic organization in Brooklyn, New York. In view of this claim, it might be well to hearken unto the voice of Matthew who wrote:
    Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Matthew 24:23–27).
    Jehovah’s Witnesses, on page 780 of their New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures, list the twenty-four occurrences of the Greek word , which they translate each time as “presence.” They give the following defense found on page 779:
    The tendency of many translators is to render it here “coming” or “arrival.” But throughout the 24 occurrences of the Greek word we have consistently rendered it “presence.” From the comparison of the of the Son of man with the days of Noah at Matthew 24:37–39, it is very evident that the meaning of the word is as we have rendered it. And from the contrast that is made between the presence and the absence of the apostle both at 2 Corinthians 10:10–11 and at Philippians 2:12, the meaning of is so plain that it is beyond dispute by other translators.
    Following this gigantic claim, namely, that their translation of the word is “beyond dispute by other translators,” the “theocratic authorities” proceed to list the verses in question.
    Now, the main issue is not the translation of as “presence,” because in some contexts it is certainly allowable (see 1 Corinthians 16:17; 2 Corinthians 7:6–7; 10:10; and Philippians 1:26; 2:12). But there are other contexts where it cannot be allowed in the way Jehovah’s Witnesses use it, because it not only violates the contextual meaning of the word but the entire meaning of the passages as always held by the Christian church.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses claim scholarship for this blanket translation of , yet not one great scholar in the history of Greek exegesis and translation has ever held this view. Since 1871, when “Pastor” Russell produced this concept, it has been denounced by every competent scholar upon examination.
    The reason this Russellite rendering is so dangerous is that it attempts to prove that in regard to Christ’s second advent really means that His return or “presence” was to be invisible and unknown to all but “the faithful” (Russellites, of course). (See Make Sure of All Things, 319–323.)
    The New World translators, therefore, on the basis of those texts where it is acceptable to render “presence,” conclude that it must be acceptable in all texts. But while it appears to be acceptable grammatically, no one but Jehovah’s Witnesses or their sympathizers accept the New World Translation’s blanket use of “presence,” be the translators Christian or not. It simply is not good grammar, and it will not stand up under comparative exegesis as will be shown. To conclude that “presence” necessarily implies invisibility is also another flaw in the Watchtower’s argument, for in numerous places where they render “presence” the persons spoken of were hardly invisible. (See again 1 Corinthians 16:17; 2 Corinthians 7:6–7 and 10:10; Philippians 1:26 and 2:12.)
    If the Watchtower were to admit for one moment that can be translated “coming” or “arrival” in the passages that speak of Christ’s return the way all scholarly translators render it, then “Pastor” Russell’s “invisible presence” of Christ would explode in their faces. Hence, their determination to deny what all recognized Greek authorities have established.
    The late Dr. Joseph H. Thayer, a Unitarian scholar, translator/editor of one of the best lexicons of the Greek New Testament (and who, incidentally, denied the visible second coming of Christ), said on page 490 of that work, when speaking of : “a return (Philippians 1:26). In the New Testament, especially of the Advent, i.e., the future visible return from heaven of Jesus, the Messiah, to raise the dead, hold the last judgment, and set up formally and gloriously the Kingdom of God.” (For further references, see Liddell and Scott, Strong, and any other reputable authority.)
    Dr. Thayer, it might be mentioned, was honest enough to say what the New Testament Greek taught, even though he didn’t believe it. One could wish that Jehovah’s Witnesses were at least that honest, but they are not.
    In concluding this discussion of the misuse of , we shall discuss the verses Jehovah’s Witnesses use to “prove” that Christ’s return was to be an invisible “presence” instead of a visible, glorious, verifiable event.
    The following references and their headings were taken from the book Make Sure of All Things, published by the Watchtower as an official guide to their doctrine.

    (1) “Angels Testified at Jesus’ Ascension as a Spirit that Christ Would Return in Like Manner, Quiet, Unobserved by the Public” (p. 320).
    And after he had said these things while they [only the disciples] were looking on, he was lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their vision. “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus who was received up from you into the sky will come thus in the same manner as you have beheld him going into the sky” (Acts 1:9, 11, NWT).
    It is quite unnecessary to refute in detail this open perversion of a clear biblical teaching because, as John 20:27 clearly shows, Christ was not a spirit and did not ascend as one. The very text they quote shows that the disciples were “looking on” and saw him “lifted up and a cloud caught him up from their vision”(v. 9). They could hardly have been looking at a spirit, which by definition is incorporeal, not with human eyes at least, and Christ had told them once before, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have” (Luke 24:39).
    So it remains for Christ himself to denounce the Russellite error that He “ascended as a spirit.” Moreover, since He left the earth visibly from the Mount of Olives it is certain that He will return visibly even as the Scriptures teach (see Matthew 26:63–64; Daniel 7:13–14; Revelation 1:7–8; Matthew 24:7–8, 30).
    Recently the Jehovah’s Witnesses “reinterpreted” their prophetic scheme to downplay the significance of 1914. As the Watchtower Society approaches the new millennium, it must somehow account for the fact that the Battle of Armageddon has not yet occurred, even though, according to the Society’s interpretation, it was supposed to occur at least within the lifetime of those born by 1914.
    For decades the Awake! masthead contained the statement, “Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world before the generation that saw the events of 1914 passes away.” However, the November 8, 1995 issue (as well as all subsequent issues) states, “Most important, this magazine builds confidence in the Creator’s promise of a peaceful and secure new world that is about to replace the present wicked lawless system of things.” This is but the latest in a multitude of reinterpretations by the Watchtower to extend their erroneous end times scenario into successive decades as their “prophetic” prowess fails. Following is a chart that shows the successive replacement teachings of the Watchtower over the years.
    Teaching Statement Source
    “Beginning of the End” in 1799 (later changed to 1914). “1799 definitely marks the beginning of ‘the time of the end.’ ‘The time of the end’ embraces a period from A.D. 1799, as above indicated, to the time of the complete overthrow of Satan’s empire. We have been in ‘the time of the end’ since 1799.” The Harp of God (1928 ed.): 235–236, 239.
    Christ’s “Invisible Presence” begins in 1874 (later changed to 1914). “The time of the Lord’s second presence dates from 1874. From 1874 forward is the latter part of the period of ‘the time of the end.’ From 1874 is the time of the Lord’s second presence.” The Harp of God, 236, 239–240.
    The Battle of Armageddon ends in 1914 (later changed to “still future”). “The ‘battle of the great day of God Almighty’ (Rev. 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced.” Charles Taze Russell, The Time Is at Hand, 101.
    The Battle of Armageddon will end shortly after 1914. “In the year 1918, when God destroys the churches wholesale and the church members by millions, it shall be that any that escape shall come to the works of Pastor Russell to learn the meaning of the downfall of ‘Christianity.’” Charles Taze Russell, The Finished Mystery (1917 ed.), 485.
    The Battle of Armageddon will come around 1925. “The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures because it is fixed by the law God gave to Israel. Viewing the present situation in Europe, one wonders how it will be possible to hold back the explosion much longer; and that even before 1925 the great crisis will be reached and probably passed.” The Watch Tower (July 15, 1924): 211.
    1914 is the starting date for the last generation before the Battle of Armageddon. “The thirty-six intervening years since 1914, instead of postponing Armageddon, have only made it nearer than most people think. Do not forget: ‘This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled’ ” (Matt. 24:34). The Watchtower (November 1, 1950): 419.
    People who were present and understood the events of 1914 will live to see the Battle of Armageddon. “Jesus said, ‘This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.’ Which generation is this, and how long is it? The ‘generation’ logically would not apply to babies born during World War I. It applies to Christ’s followers and others who were able to observe that war and the other things that have occurred in fulfillment of Jesus’ composite ‘sign.’ Some of such persons ‘will by no means pass away until’ all of what Christ prophesied occurs, including the end of the present wicked system.” The Watchtower (October 1, 1978): 31.
    Anyone born by 1914 will live to see Armageddon. “If Jesus used ‘generation’ in that sense and we apply it to 1914, then the babies of that generation are now seventy years old or older. And others alive in 1914 are in their eighties or nineties, a few even having reached one hundred. There are still many millions of that generation alive. Some of them ‘will by no means pass away until all things occur’ ” (Luke 21:32). The Watchtower (May 14, 1984): 5.
    Anyone who sees the events signaling the End, regardless of any relationship to 1914, will see the Battle of Armageddon. “Eager to see the end of this evil system, Jehovah’s People have at times speculated about the time when the ‘great tribulation’ would break out, even tying this to calculations of what is the lifetime of a generation since 1914. However we ‘bring a heart of wisdom in’ not by speculating about how many years or days make up a generation. ‘This generation’ apparently refers to the peoples of earth who see the sign of Christ’s presence but fail to mend their ways.” The Watchtower (November 1, 1995): 17–20.

    The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society still has not learned to refrain from prophesying falsely. In the January 1, 1997 Watchtower (p. 11), it once again raises expectations among its followers that the Battle of Armageddon is just around the corner:
    In the early 1920s, a featured public talk presented by Jehovah’s Witnesses was entitled “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” This may have reflected over-optimism at that time. But today that statement can be made with full confidence. Both the increasing light on Bible prophecy and the anarchy of this dying world cry out that the end of Satan’s system is very, very near!
    (2) “Christ’s Return Invisible, as He Testified That Man Would Not See Him Again in Human Form” (p. 321).
    A little longer and the world will behold me no more (John 14:19, NWT).
    For I say to you, You will by no means see me from henceforth until you say, “Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name!” (Matthew 23:39, NWT).
    These two passages in their respective contexts give no support to the Russellite doctrine of an invisible “presence” of Christ for two very excellent reasons:
    (a) John 14:19 refers to Christ’s anticipated death and resurrection—the “yet a little while” He made reference to could only have referred to His resurrection and subsequent ascension (Acts 1:9–11), before which time and during the period following His resurrection He appeared only to believers, not the world (or unbelievers), hence the clear meaning of His words. Jesus never said that no one would ever “see Him again in human form” as the Watchtower likes to make out. Rather, in the same chapter (John 14) He promised to “come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (v. 3). The Bible also is quite clear in telling us that one day by His grace alone “we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). So the Watchtower once more is forced into silence by the voice of the Holy Spirit.
    (b) This second text, Matthew 23:39, really proves nothing at all for the Watchtower’s faltering arguments except that Jerusalem will never see Christ again until it blesses Him in repentance as the Anointed of God. Actually the text hurts the Russellite position, for it teaches that Christ will be visible at His coming, else they could not see Him to bless Him in the name of the Lord. Christ also qualified the statement with the word “until,” a definite reference to His visible second advent (Matthew 24:30).
    (3) “Early Christians Expected Christ’s Return to Be Invisible. Paul Argued There Was Insufficient Evidence in Their Day” (p. 321).
    However, brothers, respecting the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we request of you not to be quickly shaken from your reason nor to be excited either through an inspired expression or through a verbal message or through a letter as though from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here. Let no one seduce you in any manner, because it will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness gets revealed, the son of destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:1–3, NWT).
    This final example from Second Thessalonians most vividly portrays the Witnesses at their crafty best, as they desperately attempt to make Paul teach what in all his writings he most emphatically denied, namely, that Christ would come invisibly for His saints.
    In his epistle to Titus, Paul stressed the importance of “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (2:13), something he would not have been looking for if it was to be a secret, invisible or “presence.”
    Paul, contrary to the claims of Jehovah’s Witnesses, never believed in an invisible return, nor did any bona fide member of the Christian church up until the fantasies of Charles Taze Russell and his nightmare, as a careful look at Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians plainly reveals. Said the inspired apostle:
    For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
    For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven [visible] with a shout [audible], with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first (4:15–16, bracketed mine).
    Here we see that in perfect accord with Matthew 26 and Revelation 1, Christ is pictured as coming visibly, and in this context no reputable Greek scholar alive will allow the use of “presence”; it must be “coming.” (See also 2 Thessalonians 2:8.)
    For further information relative to this subject, consult any standard concordance or Greek lexicon available, and trace Paul’s use of the word “coming.” This will convince any fair-minded person that Paul never entertained the Watchtower’s fantastic view of Christ’s return.
    These things being clearly understood, the interested reader should give careful attention to those verses in the New Testament which do not use the word but are instead forms of the verb and those related to the word (see Thayer, 250ff) and which refer to the Lord’s coming as a visible manifestation. These various texts cannot be twisted to fit the Russellite pattern of “presence,” since means “to come,” “to appear,” “to arrive,” etc., in the most definite sense of the term. (For reference, check Matthew 24:30 in conjunction with Matthew 26:64—; also John 14:3—; and Revelation 1:7—.)
    Once it is perceived that Jehovah’s Witnesses are only interested in what they can make the Scriptures say, and not in what the Holy Spirit has already perfectly revealed, then the careful student will reject entirely Jehovah’s Witnesses and their Watchtower “translation.” These are as “blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew 15:14), “turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Further, that they wrest the Scriptures unto their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16), the foregoing evidence has thoroughly revealed for all to judge.

  4. Greg says:

    Just to put this out there, but if a translator translates Isaiah 7:14 and uses “virgin” instead of “young maiden” because of Matthew 1:21ff, they reveal a bias towards a particular theological agenda.

    In this case they wish to bolster the claim for Jesus being born of a virgin and also maintain the integrity, inspiration, and inerrancy of the Bible. Not to mention the translator’s love for tradition either!

    That is a form of bias just as bad as the sort Dr. Geisler accuses the “liberal” translators of.

    One may even claim the “conservative” translators are performing eisegesis on the passage in question when they translate, which in my book is a big no-no!

    Just because the bias is for “our side” doesn’t mean we can over look it!

  5. tom sheepandgoats says:

    That is a lengthy response.

  6. Actually traditionally we see Virgin first in our Biblical interpretations texts; the other interpretation comes at the later date. But this is not the only text from which we can deduce that Mary was Virgin, and you should not overlook that point. Secondly when the two texts are combined the best possible explanation is for that text to be translated as VIRGIN.

  7. Greg says:


    I’m not following. Can you explain further please?



  8. Greg says:


    I’m not denying the virginal conception of Jesus, as Matthew and Luke attest to that fact.

    As to whether Isaiah 7:14 clearly and singularly points to that, I don’t think the case is as strong. This seems to be an example where one prophecy had two meanings. One was near-term and the other long-term. I think it is wise, when translating scripture, not to overshadow the near-term prophecy because the long-term is more relevant to our interests.

    “Secondly when the two texts are combined the best possible explanation is for that text to be translated as VIRGIN.”

    Doing this reveals a bias the translator has over the text of scripture.

    In this case, the translator is treating the Old and New Testaments as one account that can inform the other as to its meaning. This comes from a belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, not to mentioned a belief in the veracity of the New Testament. For example, a Jewish translator wouldn’t rely on Matthew when translating Isaiah and the outcome would be different.

    This takes me back to my original point: Geisler’s accusation of liberal bias is no different than his conservative bias. Because of his theological biases, he will translate Isaiah 7:14 as he does. He cannot legitimately chide them for being biased when he is biased as well.

    I was very surprised to see Geisler say that, actually. How Isaiah 7:14 is translated really has no effect on Jesus’ virginal conception since it is well attested of in the New Testament. And taking into consideration the different interpretive methods Jews of the 1st century used, this isn’t really a problem either. Both interpretations of the same prophecy are valid.

  9. “Enhanced Brown – Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon”

    †עַלְמָה S5959 TWOT1630b GK6625 n.f. young woman (ripe sexually; maid or newly married);—ע׳ Gn 24:43 (J), Ex 2:8 (E), Pr 30:19 Is 7:14; pl. עֲלָמוֹת ψ 68:26 Ct 1:3; 6:8; עַל־עֲלָמוֹת to (the voice of) young women, either lit., or of soprano or falsetto of boys: 1 Ch 15:20 ψ 9:1 (read עַל־עֲלָמוֹת לַבֵּן [for עַל־מוּת לַבֵּן, ‘voce virgines a pueris decantandum,’ Thes), 46:1; 48:15 (read עַל־עֲלָמוֹת [for עַל־מוּת]; tr. prob. to 49:1).

    “The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament”
    ָעַלְמָה SamP. ā̊līma: fem. of עֶלֶם; MHeb. DSS (Kuhn Konkordanz 164); Ug. ġlmt (Gordon Textbook §19:1969; Aistleitner 2150; Fisher Parallels 1: p. 46ff no. 36) girl, parallel with aṯt (Fisher Parallels 1: p. 133 no. 86), also the name of a goddess (W. Herrmann BZAW 106 (1968):7), cf. A. vSelms Marriage and Family Life in Ugaritic Literature (1954):108ff; Ph. עלמתה, Pun. alma (Jerome see Schroeder 1741; Harris Gr. 133; Friedrich Phön. Gramm.2 §229; Jean-H. Dictionnaire 214); עלימתה Sam. (Ben-H. 2:549b) and EgArm., Nab. Palm (also עלמת; Jean-H. Dictionnaire 214); CPArm. עולימיתא, Syr. ˓laymtā; Arb. ġulāmat :: Gerleman ZAW 91 (1979):338-49 → עֲלָמוֹת (H.M. Wolf JBL 91 (1972):449-456; Brunet Essai sur l’Isaïe de l’histoire (Paris 1975):35-100): —1. a) marriageable girl Gn 2443 Ex 28 Ps 6826, as a description of the beloved Song 13 68; b) a girl who is able to be married Pr 3019; c) a young woman (KBL: until the birth of her first child :: Wildberger BK 10:290) Is 714 Sept. παρθένος (< Matthew 123), Aq., Symm., Theodotion νεᾶνις, on the interpretation of this passage see Wildberger BK 10:290f; Gese Vom Sinai zum Zion (1974):142ff; Brunet Essai; —2. עַל־עֲלָמוֹת Ps 461 1C 1520, uncertain meaning: (singing) in the style of young girls, soprano (Gesenius-B.; Ullendorff Eth. Bib. 91: high-pitched musical instrument), Delekat ZAW 76 (1964):292f rd. עֲלָמִית; so also Gunkel-Begrich 457; and Rudolph Chr. 118, but “in the Elamite style” :: Mowinckel Isr. Worship 2:215ff: related to I עלם; cj. Ps 4815 → עַלְמוּת 2. †

    “The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament”
    5959. עַלְמָה ˓almāh: A feminine noun meaning a maiden, a young woman, a girl, and a virgin. The word describes young women in different categories: Rebekah was understood to be a marriageable young woman by Abraham’s servant (Gen. 24:43); as was the maiden described in Proverbs 30:19, for in this case, the man was wooing her as a possible wife. Moses’ sister was probably in this category (Ex. 2:8). Sometimes it is unclear how old or mature these young maidens were (Ps. 68:25[26]). The most famous passage where this term is used is Isaiah 7:14, where it asserts an ˓almāh will give birth to a son. The author of Matthew 1:23 understood this woman to be a virgin.

    “Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament”
    עַלְמָה f. of the preceding, a girl of marriageable age, like the Arab. غُلَامَةُ, غَيْلَمُ; Syr. ܥܰܠܺܡܬܐܳ; Ch. עֻלֵּמְתָּא, i.q. נַעֲרָה, and Gr. νεᾶνις (by which word the Hebrew עַלְמָה is rendered by the LXX. Ps. 68:26; and Aqu., Symm., Theod., Isa. 7:14), Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Prov. 30:19. Pl. עֲלָמוֹת Ps. 68:26; Cant. 1:3; 6:8. Used of a youthful spouse recently married, Isa. 7:14 (compare בְּתוּלָה Joel 1:8). [See note at the end of the art.] The notion of unspotted virginity is not that which this word conveys, for which the proper word is בְּתוּלָה (see Cant. 6:8, and Prov. loc. cit; so that in Isa. loc. cit. the LXX. have incorrectly rendered it παρθένος); neither does it convey the idea of the unmarried state, as has of late been maintained by Hengstenberg, (Christol. des A. T. ii. 69), but of the nubile state and puberty. See Comment. on Isa. loc. cit.—עַל עֲלָמוֹת in the manner of virgins, nach Iungfrauen Weife (see עַל No. 1, a, ζ), i.e. with the virgin voice, sharp, Germ. soprano, opp. to the lower voice of men, 1 Ch. 15:20 (see as to this passage under the root נָצַח No. 1 Piel); Ps. 46:1. Forkel (Gesch. der Musik, i. p. 142) understood it to mean virgin measures (compare Germ. Iungfrauweis), but this does not suit the context, in 1 Ch. loc. cit.
    [Note. The object in view in seeking to undermine the opinion which would assign the signification of virgin to this word, is clearly to raise a discrepancy between Isa. 7:14, and Matt. 1:23: nothing which has been stated does, however, really give us any ground for assigning another meaning. The ancient versions, which gave a different rendering, did so for party purposes, while the LXX., who could have no such motive, render it virgin in the very passage where it must to their minds have occasioned a difficulty. Alma in the Punic language signified virgin, as Gesenius rightly states in Thes., on the authority of Jerome. The absolute authority of the New Test. is, however, quite sufficient to settle the question to a Christian.]

  10. Greg says:


    Thank you for your response.

    The meaning of a single word out of context isn’t the only thing needed to settle the question.

    We still have to interpret the verses in question in their immediate context. Simply put, Isaiah was referring to a sign King Ahaz would see. With that said, I’m not aware of any other virgin births happening in the Bible other than Jesus’.

    Despite what theology we wish to uphold, it is very important that we not ignore the context of scripture.

    Here are a few websites on the subject that I thought had a good discussion on the matter that take an in-depth look at the Hebrew surrounding this verse. The first one, while only touching on it briefly, was how I found your blog. The second one is the best of the three. The last one is also very good. It goes into what interpretive methods Matthew was using when he quoted from the Old Testament.

    And I agree, the New Testament is enough to establish the virginal conception of Jesus.

  11. Greg

    Let me first start with you and I have more in common than you may think. I do not hold that Hebrew word is virgin in this text but I do also acknowledge the Greek Translation in LXX uses word Virgin. I also point to the fact that New Testament is using this text to remind Jewish readers that this Jesus is the prophesises Messiah whom they so eagerly awaited. I have two of the articles you recommended and yesterday I even posted my reply at Dr Mariottini blog. I was particularly annoyed how some people there are trying to associate Conservative Christianity with Fundamentalism. I have even pointed out that NET translation is using word “Young women” and that some of the contributors are from Dallas Theological Seminary.

    I completely agree with your comment that some prophesies have different points in histories when they are fulfilled, that is a standard Conservative theological view.

    On the issue of others “who know it all”, I am always saddened when people choose to use their intellectual ability to dominate the argument, sometimes this may lead others to think that opposition is stupid or lacks understanding on the subject matter. This is not however how arguments should be conducted. All I would say when all the evidence is put on the table, is that the argument is open for others to make their decision on what is the right translation.

    Last thing that we should be reminded of is that we really do need to learn to love one another, so that the world would recognise that we belong to Christ (John 17).

    I have included some notes from the last link you included and have picked carefully things that I consider to be of relevance to this discussion.

    Thanks very much for your reply I have enjoyed our “conversation” I am interested to find more about you. I wonder how much of my “Statement of Faith” is in accordance with what you believe.

    Thanks again for being so friendly and useful to this debate.

    Kind regards

    Defend the word

    “The Jewish thought, of which Matthew and others were partakers, is that God could intend additional meanings to surface later. As David Stern wrote, “The implied presupposition is that God can hint at things of which the Bible writers themselves were unaware.””

    Paul also warns us to be careful.
    As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith. (1 Timothy 1:3, 4)
    In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. (1 Timothy 4:6,7a)
    Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, (2 Timothy 2:14-16)
    If it were not for the contraindications of the New Testament authors’ use of the Old Testament (i.e. (remezim, drashim, and sodim), there would be no clearer proof texts for a strict grammatical-historical interpretation. Instead, we must take them as severe warnings about their misuse. We must work hard to discern when, why, and how to use them. The answer, it seems, is to use the scriptures as a model. That model contains these principles:

    Practical Points
    This is not a call for a radical change in scholarly hermeneutics. The grammatical and historical approach to the scriptures is the foundation of understanding Biblical truth. It remains the only basis by which we can objectively discuss the doctrines of our belief.

    This paper has argued for the recognition of four rabbinical modes of scriptural interpretation; p’shat, remez, drash, and sod. It has shown that Old Testament verses clearly have both a grammatical-historical meaning and an extended meaning that comes from semantic associations arising from future revelation. Reflect again on what Isaiah 7:14 meant to King Ahaz. At that time and in that place, it was not about the virgin birth of the Messiah. It was about the timetable of the removal of two troublesome kings. That is the p’shat. With the virgin birth of Jesus, who is God in the flesh, Isaiah 7:14 becomes a remez (hint) of the virgin birth. It is worthy to note that the remez today has more relevance than the p’shat of yesterday, but the p’shat stands firm in its truth nonetheless.

    There is Old Testament prophecy concerning a Kingdom in Israel that will be ruled by the Messiah on David’s throne. The p’shat of the Hebrew text reveals this. It is how the author of the book would have understood his own writing and it is what a Jew today would understand. It is also what a rabbi with his four rabbinical modes of interpretation would understand as well. So, a bible scholar should be free to hold such a position without being labeled a “hyper-literalist.”

    Many have grappled with how the New Testament authors quoted the Old Testament. It is an important subject. There is legitimate hope to be found in recognizing and adopting a Jewish approach to the problem. There is a logical basis for doing so, because the authors, themselves, were Jews. Furthermore, the approach holds forth the promise of reconciling covenant and dispensational theologies. This small effort only scratches the surface of possibilities.

    8 It can be noted that the NET Bible translation of Isaiah 7:14, although accurate, no longer communicates the remez of the text. In my opinion, this is an unfortunate loss.

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