Review of Rolf J. Furuli, The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation With a Special Look at the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses


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A brief overview of Rolf J. Furuli’s book, “The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation With a Special Look at the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Rolf J. Furuli is a former lecturer in Semitic languages at the University of Oslo, Norway. His book investigates the ways in which theology and bias can affect the translation of biblical texts. It focuses specifically on the New World Translation (NWT), a Bible translation produced by the Watch Tower Society and widely used by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Furuli’s main argument is that all Bible translations inevitably reflect some degree of bias due to the inherent challenges of translating ancient texts and the theological perspectives of the translators. He critiques several mainstream Bible translations for what he perceives as Trinitarian bias.

When it comes to the New World Translation, Furuli argues that, while it also has its biases, its translation methodology is defensible. He provides a detailed analysis of the translation choices made in the NWT and compares them to those in other Bible translations. The book is notable for its academic defense of a translation often criticized by mainstream biblical scholars. Please remember that this is a general overview and does not represent a personal review or endorsement of Furuli’s arguments.—Edward D. Andrews

Review of Rolf J. Furulirolf-furuli_the-role-of-theology-and-bias-in-bible-translation_second-edition: With a Special Look at the New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Second Edition; Stavern, Norway: Awatu Publishers, 2011).

Reviewed by Dr. Mark A. House

Dr. Rolf Furuli lecturer in Semitic languages at the University of Oslo, where he has taught courses in Hebrew and a number of related languages. His previous publications include studies in the Hebrew verbal system—the subject of this 2005 doctoral dissertation—in which he has proposed a new system for the classification of Hebrew verbs. More recently, Furuli has produced two volumes that compare Hebrew Bible chronology with the records of other ancient Near Eastern cultures in the interest of reassessing the date of the Babylonian exile.

DR. MARK HOUSE has been a pastor in the OPC and the PCA for 25 years, having pastored two churches in Southern California. Dr. House graduated with a B.A. in Humanities from Biola University (1976). His initial seminary training was at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (M.Div. 1980). More recently (2002), he received his Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in New Testament Studies. His dissertation, received with distinction, dealt with the correlation between linguistic style and authorship. Green, KY where he is an active member and serves at Living Hope Baptist Church.

The Role of Theology and Bias in Bible Translation (hereafter abbreviated RTB) is a revision and expansion of the author’s work by the same name that was published in 1999 by Elihu Books, a publisher dedicated to promoting works that reflect the theological perspective of the Jehovah’s Witness denomination. Furuli’s association with the Jehovah’s Witnesses explains his interest in focusing his work particularly on the New World Translation (NWT), the Bible released in 1961 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the administrative organization of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the preferred version among the group’s adherents. The second edition of Furuli’s work (RTB2) is published by Awatu Publishers, which the author has described as a joint venture by scholars desiring to circumvent certain undesirable features of Norwegian academic publishing. (My internet search of Awatu Publishers revealed only two titles, both by Furuli, so apparently, the scholarly consortium is still in its early stages of development.)

My attempt to obtain a review copy of the first edition (RTB1) led to the discovery that there may be a legal dispute brewing between Furuli and Elihu Books, whose owner contends that he holds the rights to any revision of the book and that publishing a second edition through another publisher represents copyright infringement. For his part, Furuli contends that Elihu holds the publishing rights only to the first edition and that the publisher has fallen short of its obligation to continue distribution of the book. A resolution of the dispute is pending, and I mention it only because it may be relevant to a potential reader’s purchasing decision.

The Reading Culture of Early Christianity From Spoken Words to Sacred Texts 400,000 Textual Variants 02

Although I did not have the opportunity to compare the two editions of RTB, the expansion represented in RTB2 appears to have been significant, without affecting the original chapter structure. The Amazon listing for the title features only RTB1, which is described as being 300 pages in length, while RTB2 has 475 pages.  An email from the author explained that the changes to RTB2 were driven by his subsequent experience in translating several ancient Near Eastern documents into Norwegian. Although the essential argument and many of the illustrations and examples remain intact, RTB2 offers clearer argumentation. According to the author, the greatest area of expansion has been in the fifth chapter, which addresses the question of whether the NWT is consistent in following the translation principles laid out in the work’s Preface. In particular, Furuli interacts with recent works that address the issue of the NWT’s use of “Jehovah” in its translation of the Greek word kurios in many New Testament contexts. In RTB1 Furuli took a neutral stance toward the New Testament use of “Jehovah” while in RTB2 he advocates it.

RTB2 is a relatively recent work, so I wasn’t surprised at my inability to find a scholarly review of it in the ATLA Religion Database. More surprising was my inability to locate in the same database a review of RTB1, a letdown somewhat alleviated by my discovery of a few informed reviews of RTB1 on its Amazon page ( One of these was authored by Robert M. Bowman, Jr. (listed in RTB’s Author Index as Robert E. Bowman), whose 1989 book, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989)—a work critical of the NWT—is discussed numerous times in RTB. Bowman’s key criticism is that in RTB1 Furuli advocates a “concordant” (or literal) approach to translation that has been discredited by modern linguists. He goes on to note that not even the NWT uses a consistently concordant approach. In fairness, although Furuli does make a clear distinction between literal and idiomatic translations in his early chapters of RTB2, he advocates only that translations should be as literal as possible. He concedes that sometimes, due to the differences between the “presuppositional pool” of the source culture and that of modern culture, a less literal approach is unavoidable. Yet in departing from literal renderings, translators should be careful “that one particular interpretation should not be forced upon the readers” (RTB2, 65).


Another thoughtful reviewer of RTB1, Luis Carlos Reyes, critiqued the work on more purely linguistic grounds. He contended that the book’s primary shortcoming lies in Furuli’s acceptance of the “code model of communication,” illustrated in the “triangles of signification” used in the book (RTB2, 28–33). The code model assumes that once the translator has decoded the communicator’s words, he has sufficient information to recover his or her intended meaning. “Relevance theory,” however, advocates a second level—“utterance interpretation,” which fills the gap between what the words themselves imply and what the communicator intends. In linguistics this is often referred to as the distinction between “semantics” and “pragmatics,” and in common parlance it boils down to the difference between the static dictionary meanings of a word and the meanings it takes on when shaped by particular contexts. Reyes contends that especially in theological texts the contextual meaning of a word may at times even go against what would normally be required by the grammatical or syntactical “code.” As stated earlier, Furuli advocates literal renderings whenever possible, contending that “pragmatic renderings” leave the reader “wholly dependent upon the translator” (RTB2, 82). But again, in all fairness, Furuli does discuss the advantages of idiomatic translation, admitting that they are “unsurpassed when it comes to giving readers an immediate understanding of the text,” so long as they remain faithful to the meaning of the original (83).


In formulating my own assessment of RTB, it was important to recognize from the outset that the author approaches the subject of Bible translation from a particular theological perspective. The exegetical and translational issues discussed in the book consistently touch on theological themes and biblical texts important in the ongoing theological debate between the Witnesses and “orthodox”[1] traditional Catholics and Protestants—the trinity, the deity of Christ, the existence of hell, the separate existence of the human soul apart from the body, the shape of the wood on which Jesus was executed, the pronunciation of the Hebrew personal name for God (the Tetragrammaton), and the use of “Jehovah” in the New Testament. The reader should be aware that RTB is not so much a discussion of the principles of Bible translation in general, but is rather something more like a compendium of translation issues and texts that relate to a particular religious group and the translation that reflects their views.

So pervasive is the undercurrent of theological concern in RTB that one reviewer of the first edition suggested that the book should be titled “New World Translation Defended.” Another refers to Furuli as a Jehovah’s Witness “apologist.” Such assessments are corroborated by the fact that there are no substantial criticisms of the NWT to be found anywhere in the book, though there are a couple of occasions where Furuli challenges material in the NWT footnotes. To be fair, Furuli does on occasion suggest that other translational options than those chosen by the NWT translators might serve just as well to represent the meaning of the text. Still, his unwillingness to directly critique anything in the biblical text of the NWT leads me to suspect that he holds the version sacrosanct, much as many “King James only” advocates view their treasured version.

I am not claiming that theological convictions necessarily bias a scholar’s academic work to the extent that it becomes invalid. I certainly have my own theological convictions, and yet I am hopeful that in most cases they do not disable me from giving the views of others a fair hearing or representing them accurately. But in a book dedicated to exposing and removing theological bias from the translation process, it is especially important that the author be fully aware and upfront about his own theological biases. Yet nowhere in RTB does Furuli discuss his apparent relationship to the Witnesses or the implications of that relationship as they relate to his academic assessment of the NWT.

Looking at the book in an overview, the first three chapters lay the groundwork for translation theory that will be used in the later chapters to discuss particular translational questions as they relate to the NWT. The fourth and fifth chapters deal with translational questions related to specific doctrinal issues such as the Trinity and the divine name. Chapter 6 treats a number of disputed passages that impact beliefs related to Christology and Pneumatology. The final chapter sums up the previous discussions as to their impact on particular types of Bible translations.

The first chapter defends literal translation by explicating the relationship between words and meaning. Furuli supports the notion the word is the basic unit of meaning and bemoans the fact that modern translations have moved increasingly farther away from word-by-word translation in favor of paraphrase or idiomatic translation. Carefully avoiding the “etymological fallacy” that places too strong an emphasis on the meaning of words in history, he instead highlights the distinctions represented in C. K. Ogden’s “triangle of signification.” Communicators form concepts in their mind that are represented by particular verbal signs, and these signs point to particular referents. The challenge for the translator is to use the appropriate sign in the target language that will reproduce the concept of the original communicator in the mind of the recipient of the communication. Literal translations leave it to the reader, whenever possible, to link the concept to the appropriate referent, whereas idiomatic translations take the recipient directly to the referent, bypassing the recipient’s role in the translation process. To oversimplify, literal translations tell what the biblical writer said, while idiomatic translations tell what the translator feels the writer meant.

Chapter 2 takes the reader through studies of a number of words that serve to illustrate the concepts taught in the first chapter. Predictably, the ideas dealt with are all crucial the debate between the Witnesses and orthodox believers. One Greek word Furuli examines is hades, which in the NWT is consistently left untranslated. In particular, he argues that the translation “hell” reflects an anachronistic infusion of preconceived theological content. Arguing that the Bible nowhere teaches that “persons continue to live after death,” Furuli rejects translations such as “underworld,” “netherworld,” or “world of the dead” and opts instead for “the grave” or for the transliteration hades (43). Despite the author’s appeal to a popular theological dictionary to support his theological conclusions, orthodox believers will likely reject his premise that the Bible is devoid of information about the continuing state of humans after death and will opt instead for the primary definition of the most recent edition of the Bauer Greek Lexicon (BDAG): “‘Hades,’ then the nether world, Hades as place of the dead.[2] Other words examined in the chapter include kosmos (“world”), sarx (“flesh”), nephesh, and psyche (the Hebrew and Greek words for “soul”).

Chapter 3 walks the reader through the process of Bible translation, covering the various forms of linguistic analysis, situation analysis (often referred to as historical or cultural analysis), the process of transmission from the source language to that of the receptor language, the planes (or levels) of transmission (word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, etc.), and the final formulation. This material provides a good summary of the kind of information found in textbooks on Bible translation, and none of it is particularly controversial. That is until Furuli inserts an excursus that brings forth what he considers a prime example of an improper “formulation” common to virtually all English Bible translations—the rendering of the Greek word stauros as “cross.”

Those familiar with the teaching of the Witnesses will again recognize a familiar point of dispute. The group contends that Jesus was not executed on a “cross”—a wooden beam with a cross-member—but on a vertical stake. Thus they oppose rendering stauros as “cross,” opting instead for the translation universally adopted by the NWT—“torture stake.” The related verb stauroō (traditionally translated “crucify”) is rendered “impale.” Furuli contends that “cross” and “crucify” are renderings that are hopelessly irradiated with church tradition, calling to mind a long history of the use of the cross as a pervasive symbol for orthodox Christianity. He presents detailed historical and linguistic evidence that first-century Roman “crucifixion” was done using a vertical pole without a cross-member. Evidence for the use of cross-pieces in Roman crucifixion postdates the NT, he argues, thus making the use of “cross” and “crucify” anachronous.

Furuli’s historical analysis of early Roman execution practices is both careful and thorough. He rightly points out that there has been a considerable discussion among historians regarding the precise nature of Roman executions and that the evidence is divided as to precisely when cross-pieces began to be used. Furthermore, his point is well taken that traditional renderings of the stauroō word group bias the historical question in a particular direction. Since people universally identify a “cross” with a particular shape, it is impossible to use the language of “cross” and “crucify” without calling that shape to mind.

The deeper question is how important this issue is in communicating the New Testament’s message concerning the meaning of Christ’s brutal death to modern readers. If Furuli is right that cross-pieces were not used in first-century Roman executions, then the worst that can be said is that the church has embraced a historically incorrect visible image and has incorporated that image into its religious symbolism.

Suppose that in a particular part of the world all the sheep were black instead of the predominantly white sheep the prevailed in ancient Palestine. Were people from that part of the world to read in their Bibles that Christ is “the lamb of God,” they would naturally form a visual image of a black lamb, whereas people in other parts of the world might form the visual image of a white lamb. Yet despite the difference in these mental images, both groups would be able, to the extent that they were biblically literate, to grasp the meaning of the lamb imagery. That is, the difference in color would not in itself interfere with their ability to appreciate the deeper theological significance of what they are visualizing.

Similarly, the shape of the “cross” has no significant effect on the deeper theological significance of Christ’s “crucifixion” as portrayed in the New Testament. It should be noted that there are deep theological differences between the Witnesses and orthodox Christians as to the role Jesus’ death plays in salvation, and indeed as to the very nature of salvation itself. But those theological differences do not hinge on the shape of the instrument used to bring about Christ’s death.

But what about the alternative translations to “cross” and “crucify” adopted by the NWT? Some will no doubt recoil from the perceived inelegance of the language of impaling on a torture stake, particularly in New Testament passages where the images are used in symbolic and deeply theological ways, such as when Paul says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the torture stake of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been impaled to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14, NRSV, modified). It could certainly be argued that our perception of the language as clumsy merely reflects how deeply we have become so steeped in the traditional language of crucifixion.

But some have raised a deeper issue with the NWT’s use of “impale,” in that the common meaning that English speakers associate with that word relates to hanging someone on a pole by piercing their body with the pole itself—certainly not what the New Testament describes in connection with Christ’s execution. Furuli responds to this objection by citing a specialized meaning for “impale” as “to fix in an inescapable and helpless position” (92, n. 30). While this definition nicely covers the metaphorical meaning of the word as used, for instance, in the expression, to impale on the horns of a dilemma, it is hardly the image brought to mind by the common usage of the word. So if “crucify” is guilty of conjuring the wrong mental image of the shape of the “cross,” “impale” is guilty of conjuring the wrong mental image of the process of Christ’s execution.

In the fourth chapter of RTB, Furuli addresses what many would deem to be the heart of the theological dispute between Jehovah’s Witnesses and orthodox believers—what he consistently refers to as “the Trinity doctrine.” Witnesses hold to a form of teaching similar to that advocated by Arius, the fourth-century bishop who denied the deity of Christ and the existence of the Trinity. Since this is a book on Bible translation, the author is particularly concerned to show how Trinitarian theology has colored the translation of particular biblical texts and how the NWT has avoided such theological bias.  Yet this chapter seeks to lay the groundwork for that discussion by examining the Greek philosophical background for the theological discussions of the early church fathers.

Furuli’s historical survey of the development of the understanding of the early church’s thinking regarding the Trinity seeks to link Trinitarian theology with Greek philosophy and thereby to discount its legitimacy. There can be no doubt that much of the language used in the early church’s formulations of the doctrine of the Trinity was borrowed from the philosophical discussions of the day, but many will question what amounts to an argument of guilt by association with everything Greek.  Rather than engaging directly with the church fathers on the language they used to avoid contradiction in their understanding the triune nature of God, he repeatedly charges them with logical inconsistency and accuses them of seeking to resolve their irrationality by an appeal to mysticism.

Examples of Furuli’s insensitivity to the finer distinctions of the Trinitarian discussion can be seen in his insistence that the early apologist Justin Martyr advocated “the difference between Jesus Christ and God” (114) and that church father Origen believed that “Jesus was different from and subordinate to God” (118). This way of stating the issue implies that neither of these early Christian writers believed Jesus Christ himself to be God, which is simply not the case. Had he said that these men considered Jesus as different from and subordinate to the Father, his statement would have been more astute.

A similar lack of finesse arises in his discussion of Tertullian’s views. Furuli quotes Tertullian’s careful statement that “the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete [i.e., the Holy Spirit], produces three coherent persons who are yet distinct One from Another.” Yet he goes on to explain the church father’s position as “showing that the Father and the Son are two distinct beings” (115). Such a statement ignores Tertullian’s concern to develop language that affirmed the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit in essence, while at the same time upholding their distinctness as persons.


Readers coming from an orthodox perspective will be most disturbed by some of Furuli’s blanket statements near the end of the chapter, such as that “there is no passage in the Bible that even hints that Jesus (the Word of the Son) is eternal,” and that “there is no passage that states that Jesus was divine (a spirit being) and human at the same time” (145, emphasis original).

By far the longest chapter in the book is the fifth, which raises the question of whether the NWT follows its own translational principles, particularly in its use of “Jehovah” to translate the Greek word kurios in New Testament passages referring to the Father (as opposed to Jesus). Furuli’s argument, in a nutshell, is that the original translators of the Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint) retained in some form the use of the Tetragrammaton—the four-letter personal name of God used frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible, often translated as “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” He carefully and effectively counters the argument that the original translators, out of a growing reluctance to speak or write God’s name, replaced it with the Greek word kurios (“Lord”).

How to Interpret the Bible-1

He brings forth evidence from other early translations of the Old Testament that show that the name of God was still widely used up through the first century A.D. , when the New Testament documents were being written. He sees the so-called nomina sacra—the abbreviations of sacred names used consistently in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament—as evidence that the original documents have been tampered with, replacing all the occurrences of the divine name (in whatever form it occurred) with the abbreviation KS (for kurios). To correct this tampering, the NWT translators have used their discretion in restoring the divine name to its rightful place in the New Testament text.

Furuli should be commended for his careful work in demonstrating how historical evidence has served to dismantle the longstanding argument that the divine name had ceased to be used in the centuries prior to the writing of the New Testament. There is clear evidence that in some quarters there was a tendency to avoid us of the divine name, but this was by no means universal. Whatever one may think is the reason for the absence of the divine name from the New Testament, it can no longer be credibly maintained that the name had fallen into complete disuse in the first century. Even if there was a reluctance in some quarters to pronounce the name when the Old Testament was being read in the synagogues, the early documents indicate that it was still being used in writing.[3]

However, even if it could be shown that the divine name were in common use during the time in which the New Testament was being written, the fact remains that there is not a stitch of actual, documentary evidence that any of the New Testament documents themselves were originally written using the divine name. Furuli is correct in his statement that the earliest papyri and uncial manuscripts consistently used the abbreviation KS in place of the Greek word kurios, and there are various explanations as to why this was the case. It may be that the copyists used the abbreviations out of respect for the divine name, but it may also be that they were using a form of simple shorthand for reproducing common biblical words. The fact is that kurios is abbreviated in these early manuscripts both in passages that refer to God generally and in those that refer specifically to Jesus Christ. So the more likely explanation is that whether out of respect or convenience, the abbreviated for KS was used consistently as a form of shorthand.[4]

In making his case for the use of the divine name in the New Testament, Furuli at times seems to assume that the New Testament documents represent translation Greek, and that the loss of the divine name may be the result of translating from a particular writing’s original Aramaic or Hebrew form into Greek. It seems clear that many of the New Testament writers spoke Aramaic, and perhaps even Hebrew. Jesus is sometimes quoted by the Gospel writers as having made an utterance in Aramaic. Some have even argued that Matthew’s Gospel was originally written in Aramaic, though other scholars have disputed this based on the fact that the language of the extant Matthew does not seem to be translation Greek. However, few have disputed that the bulk of the New Testament documents were originally penned in Greek by fluent Greek speakers. Thus there is little justification for saying that the divine name was somehow lost in translation.

In addition, Furuli argues that the use of the abbreviation KS represents a corruption of the New Testament text. He writes that “we cannot deny that these abbreviations show that a tampering with the NT text has occurred because the abbreviations cannot be original…. We have a corrupt text!” (238). However, there is little basis for this argument. It is true that we do not possess the autographs (originals) of any New Testament document, and that the copies we do possess show some evidence of error on the part of the copyists. However, we simply do not know whether or not the original writers may have abbreviated the word kurios as the copyists have done. Whether they did so or not, it seems clear that there would have been no question among early readers that KS consistently represented the word kurios, and thus the abbreviation can hardly be said to represent a textual corruption that leaves the reader’s mind in doubt as to the original wording.

Chapter 6 of RTB contains analyses of several New Testament passages commonly used by orthodox believers to defend the deity of Christ. In each case, Furuli is concerned to demonstrate how the NWT represents a more accurate rendering. Perhaps the most notorious of these is the NWT’s translation of John 1:1: “In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.” The NWT’s translation of theos as “a god” is based on the fact that the Greek word occurs without the article and is therefore interpreted as an indefinite noun. Furuli rightly points out that Colwell’s rule, which states that a definite predicate nominative, when it precedes the verb, usually occurs without the article, can indeed be used to show that theos could be definite, but it cannot be used to prove that it is definite.  He also correctly cites evidence that theos, used without the article, sometimes has a qualitative thrust (“the Word was divine”). It may even be the case that “the occurrence without the article must have some semantic significance” (291), although the point of Colwell’s rule is that normally this is not the case. Nevertheless, biblical scholars and translators have nearly universally rejected the NWT’s use of the indefinite translation “a god” as foreign both to the immediate context of the Johannine prologue and to the theology of John’s Gospel as a whole. Furuli’s appeal to the handful of other biblical texts that refer to lesser “gods” scarcely warrants importing such a notion into the context of John 1.

Furuli’s discussion of Philippians 2:6 serves well to demonstrate the role of theology in Bible translation. Traditional renderings of this verse represent Christ as refusing to hold on tenaciously to his divine prerogatives, rather letting them go for the sake of the incarnation. The NWT, by contrast, represents Christ as refusing to try to seize divine prerogatives that weren’t his own. The issue hinges on the translator’s understanding of the Greek word harpagmos, which can refer either to the act of robbery or to booty one might seize in a robbery. Was “equality with God” something Christ refused to try to seize or something he was willing to give up? This passage has huge implications for one’s Christology, and yet its correct interpretation has been debated by biblical scholars for generations. After a lengthy discussion of the linguistic evidence on both sides of the interpretive question, Furuli concedes that while it is normally dangerous to let one’s theology color one’s translation, “linguistic evidence is not decisive, so theology must play a role in the translators’ choice.” (351) Not surprisingly, his conclusion is that the NWT has correctly translated based on its correct theology.

The final chapter of RTB presents a summation of the author’s assessment of the arguments of the NWT’s critics and a review of his responses to the accusation of bias on the part of the NWT translators. It also contains a discussion of various tools readers can use to go beyond their translation, including the New World Translation Reference Edition (NWTref), the Kingdom Interlinear Translation (based on the NWT), the literal Schocken Bible, Vine’s Expository Dictionary, and Pick’s Dictionary of Old Testament Words. Furuli also recommends a number of grammars for students wishing to study biblical languages. A footnote referencing Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar beyond the Basics, perhaps the most influential advanced grammar of the current generation, expresses Furuli’s view that the work is “biased in favor of the Trinity doctrine” (391). One has to wonder why Furuli does not recommend any more recent Bible study resources.

I appreciated the fact that in his Appendix, Furuli gives us a glimpse into his seminal work on the Hebrew and Greek verbal systems, although I am not sure of its relevance to his volume. The glossary of words and expressions is a helpful addition, particularly for readers unfamiliar with grammatical or linguistic terminology. The book has author and Scripture indices, but I did find myself wanting a subject index at a few points.

All in all, RTB is a good read for the serious student who wants to interact with the theological views of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the exegetical basis for those views from the perspective of a scholar who holds those views and is able to defend them. Often evangelical critics of “the cults” approach such groups without a depth of knowledge of what they believe or the biblical texts they use to support those beliefs. As a result, their arguments are often shallow and unfair. Readers of Furuli’s book will come away with a far better appreciation for the nuanced arguments that lie behind many of the Witnesses’ theological positions and far greater ability to interact intelligently with those who have similar views.

Although there is plenty of good information on the theory and practice of Bible translation in this book, I would not recommend RTB for someone generally seeking greater knowledge in this area. Although Furuli is strongly critical of the theological bias in Bible translations and Bible study aids written from the perspective of those who hold to “the Trinity doctrine,” his work has a strong theological bias of its own and serves more as an apologetic for the views of a particular group than as a impartial work dealing with the science of Bible translation. This is seen most profoundly in his reluctance to critique any aspect of the New World Translation (other than its supportive footnotes).

Dr. Mark House is Professor of Biblical Studies at New Geneva Theological Seminary in Colorado Springs, CO, and an adjunct professor at Reformed Theological Seminary Virtual Campus in Charlotte, NC. He is the editor of the Compact Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Hendrickson) and coeditor of An Analytical Lexicon of New Testament Greek (Hendrickson, forthcoming). Dr. House has a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in New Testament Studies.

[1] Here and throughout I use “orthodox” not in the denominational sense (as in Greek Orthodox), but to refer to Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox groups that adhere (whether implicitly or explicitly) to the “orthodox” confessions of the early Christian centuries. I am aware that this term biases these groups’ beliefs as orthos, or “straight,” thereby implicitly branding their opponents’ beliefs as crooked. However, it seems to be the most familiar term by which to lump together these otherwise very diverse groups for purposes of discussion.

[2] “ᾅδης,” in F. W. Danker, W. Bauer, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG; 3d ed.; Chicago, 2000), emphasis added. BDAG’s primary definition seems to assume that readers will identify “hades” with “the nether world” and “the place of the dead.” This certainly comports with my experience that most modern English speakers equate “hades” and “hell.” Indeed, “hades” is often used as a euphemism for “hell,” as in the expression, “It’s hotter than hades.” This raises the question whether the NWT’s practice of transliterating the Greek word as hades really accomplishes the translators’ purpose of avoiding the theological baggage inherent in a word like “hell.”

[3] Furuli’s documentation of the use of the divine name in magical and pagan contexts shows that indeed it had not disappeared in first-century non-Jewish contexts. However, such use would likely have been considered by the Jews as a blasphemous abuse of God’s name, and thus could conceivably have strengthened Jewish resolve to protect the divine name by never pronouncing it publically.

[4] The same thing, by the way, can be said for the consistent abbreviation of theos, the Greek word for God, in the uncial manuscripts. Furuli does not suggest any connection between these abbreviations and the use of the divine name.




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