Recently, upon finding out that I’m studying New Testament Greek (aka Koine Greek), my Jehovah’s Witness coworker gave me a pamphlet called “The Accuracy of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.” The article began with this paragraph:
Recently on Jeopardy on TV…One of the questions was…What is the most accurate translation of the Holy Scriptures? No one got the correct answer, so Alex Trebek said “The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, printed by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society…
Is this true? Did this really happen? And if so, what exactly does it mean?
1. I have looked online and have not found a shred of evidence that this actually ever happened. It’s a lie. The only corroboration I could find for this was from JW websites and forums. I went to http://www.j-archive.com/ (which boasts almost a quarter-million questions) and did an advanced Google search on the site. Here are my results.
First, I searched j-archive.com to see if “Watchtower Bible & Tract Society” shows up anywhere (click here to see the results for yourself). I got one result here. However, the hint was “More common name for The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society” with an answer of Jehovah’s Witnesses; it had nothing to do with translational accuracy.
Next, I decided to search for “New World Translation” and got 0 results using quotes (click here to see the results for yourself). There was one hit where “new world” and “translation” coincided, but not as part of the same sentence:
Finally, I couldn’t find a single clip on YouTube or any other video site of this being asked. I did find a blog post about this topic going back to August of 2007, and although there had been many hateful, unconstructive comments posted by some of the readers, there has yet to be any proof offered. That’s almost half a decade and no proof. That fact leads me to believe this is a complete lie.
2. On Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek doesn’t ask questions. He provides answers and the contestants ask the appropriate question. However, according to this story, Alex asked which translation is the most accurate and later revealed the answer. Not only is there no evidence this ever happened, but the story actually disproves itself. If I told you a story about how a guy bought vowel on Who Wants to be A Millionaire?, you’d know I was lying because that’s not how the game works. It seems like this lie was carefully fabricated because, caught off guard, most Americans are likely to trust the answers they get from Jeopardy. I say “caught off guard” because this story is likely told as JW’s go door-to-door. The fact that most people are unprepared for an encounter with JW’s means that they’re unlikely to carefully define terms either…
3. If this actually did happen, what did they mean by the word “accurate”? This word requires serious discussion and careful definition before you can even begin a discussion about the most “accurate” translation of the Bible. By accurate do you mean strictly literal, word-for-word? If so, then there’s not a single ‘literal’ translation of the Greek or Hebrew into English. It would be incomprehensible, especially when you get into books like Acts or Hebrews, which have very challenging word order. And even an exact word-for-word would be inaccurate if they always used the same word because the same word can have different meaning depending upon context. For example, read John 3:5-8; the same Greek word exists for both “spirit” and “wind” in that passage but the context determines which meaning is intended. Furthermore, there are numerous Greek and Hebrew words that don’t have an exact equal in our language, such as archegos.
Or by accurate, do you mean idea-for-idea? Once again, there isn’t a translation that goes that far in all places either. For example, read Isaiah 64:6 and notice how all translations keep the euphemism “filthy rags.” That’s because they’re afraid to translate that term for the graphic image it would have conjured up in the mind of the ancient Jews: “bloody menstrual rags.” The JW’s love to claim they have the most accurate translation of the Bible, but I don’t know of any Greek or Hebrew scholars that would agree to that claim. Which brings us to our final point…
4. If this actually did happen, since when did Alex Trebek become the authority on Koine Greek? This story, true or not, doesn’t prove anything because it doesn’t actually appeal to an expert in the field of Koine Greek. The rest of the pamphlet contains excerpts from Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament. This book was written by Jason David BeDuhn, a professor who has his Ph.D. in “Comparative Study of Religions.” Once again, the JWs make the mistake of appealing to a non-expert to validate the accuracy of their Bible (aka false attribution). If you’re going to buy a house, do you seek advice from a realtor or a chef? If you want to prepare a good meal, do you seek advice from a chef or a realtor? If you want to know which translation of the Bible is the most accurate, do you seek the opinion of an expert in Koine Greek or do you ask a game show host and someone who got their degree in comparative religion?
But here’s the bottom line: whether this question was asked on Jeopardy! or not doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t prove a thing, other than the fact that it is a false attribution. The truth is, the New World Translation is not the most accurate translation of the Bible, which is why JWs have to tell lies and appeal to non-experts for their “proof.” If I were to recommend any translation, it would be the ESV for reasons I’ve mentioned before. I hope this has shed some light on a confusing topic. If you encounter this story, ask for some proof and ask how the JW’s define “accurate.”