Food for Thinking Jehovah's Witnesses
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Matthew 26:26 and the Accuracy of the New World Translation

"Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.'" (Matthew 26:26; ESV)

Jehovah God, the Bible's author, wants us to obtain a correct understanding of his Word. This is evident from the multitude of ancient manuscripts that are available to modern translators. According to Insight on the Scriptures, there are "more than 13,000 papyrus and vellum manuscripts containing the whole or a part of the Christian Greek Scriptures, dating from the 2nd to the 16th century. Of these, some 5,000 are in Greek, and the remainder in various other languages. More than 2,000 of the ancient copies contain the Gospels, and more than 700, the letters of Paul. While the original writings themselves are not currently extant, copies date back to the second century, which is very close to the time the originals were written. This vast number of manuscripts has enabled Greek scholars in the course of years to produce a highly refined Greek text of the Scriptures, confirming in many respects the dependability and integrity of our present-day translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures." ―it-1 p. 443, Christian Greek Scriptures.

Of course, the accuracy of a Bible translation depends not just on the large amount of available ancient manuscripts, but also on the integrity of the translators. One Watchtower article, Meeting the Challenge of Bible Translation, stated: "Among the many challenges that Bible translation poses is that of accuracy. Is the translation as explicit as is the original? Does it do justice to the flavor as well as the words of the original? Often translations come short in this regard...There is also the matter of fidelity to the original. At times Bible translators let their religious bias show through in their renderings." It went on to say: "It might well be said that no one translation is superior in every instance. While some freer translations may err as to accuracy, more literal ones may at times not communicate as well as do others...Truly, doing justice to translating the Bible presents a real challenge. It is indeed a blessing that there have been produced so many different translations. However, from the foregoing examples it may well be said that, as an accurate translation, the New World Translation has much to recommend it." – w74 6/15 pp. 363-364, Meeting the Challenge of Bible Translation

Does the New World Translation deserve our confidence when it comes to accuracy? Proverbs 30:5-6 pointedly states: "Every saying of God is refined...Add nothing to his words, or he will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar." (NWT) For a translation to inspire confidence, it is essential that it accurately translates the contents of the available manuscripts in the original language without any religious bias; or without the temptation to explain the meaning of a scripture rather than to hold true to what is stated. If there is any doubt about the meaning of a particular scripture, the answer is always found somewhere within God's Word. (2 Tim. 3:16,17) A translation worthy of being called a translation, will refrain of inserting the translators own interpretation or explanation; for if he does, he will surely be proved a liar.

Take for example Jesus' words that he said to his disciples when he instituted the Lord's Evening Meal, as recorded at Matthew 26:26-28. According to the New World Translation, this is what Jesus said: "As they continued eating, Jesus took a loaf, and after saying a blessing, he broke it, and giving it to the disciples, he said: 'TAKE, eat. This means my body.' And taking a cup, he offered thanks and gave it to them, saying: 'Drink out of it, all of you, for this means my "blood of the covenant," which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins.'" Yet, in all other translations, including The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the GREEK SCRIPTURES (published by the Watchtower Society), the Greek word "εστιν" is translated as "is", not "means". Thus, the English Standard Version translates the verses as follows: "Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'" – See also Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

Why does the New World Translation translate it as "means" rather than "is" my body―my blood; when other translations render the word as "is"? Because, according to their reasoning, the bread that Jesus gave his disciples to eat was obviously not literally his fleshly body; and neither was the wine his literal blood. So, rather than faithfully translating Jesus' words as he spoke them, they render it according to what they think Jesus meant. But if Jesus meant to say "this means my body", and "this means my blood of the covenant", he could have done so, for there is a word in Greek that actually means "means"―such as appears in the Greek Version of the New World Translation, where the Greek word "σημαίνει" [means] is used, as translated from the English into Greek.

But, do these seemingly insignificant differences really matter for us to accurately understand the word of God? In answer, please consider what Jesus had earlier said to the Jews and his disciples: "I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness and yet they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and for a fact, the bread that I will give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world."

Therefore the Jews began contending with one another, saying: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Accordingly Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I will resurrect him on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me, and I in union with him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It is not as when your forefathers ate and yet died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever." ―John 6:48-58.

Many of Jesus' disciples were shocked by his words and stumbled, for they "went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him". Even the twelve, whom Jesus had chosen, must have wondered at his words, for Jesus asked them: "You do not want to go also, do you?". –John 6:60-69

But, here now, as he is eating the last supper with his chosen and faithful apostles, Jesus is making clear to them his earlier words regarding the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood. Giving them each a piece of the loaf of bread, he tells them, "Take, eat. This is my body". Yes, this is his "flesh" that he said he gives "in behalf of the life of the world". The same with the cup of wine that he gives them to drink―it is his blood that he was talking about earlier. These were not mere representations, or symbols, of his flesh and blood, but rather they are that what Jesus said they are, according to the commandment which he received from the Father. The partaking of them in obedience to Jesus' words is vital for everlasting life. When Jesus said that "Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life" ―and that he also "remains in union with me, and I in union with him" ―he was clearly stressing the importance of obeying his command if we are to receive everlasting life and remain in union with him. (John 12:49; Deut. 30:19,20) The New World Translation obscures this simple fact by changing the word "is" to "mean", which allows the Society to restrict the partaking of the bread and wine (which they refer to as emblems) to an elite few, contrary to Jesus' words.

Of course, Jesus never said that we must literally eat his flesh and drink his blood, but partaking of the bread and the wine at the Memorial is the same in importance; for to obey is life, it does not simply mean life, as Jesus said in prayer to his heavenly Father: "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent". – John 17:3; ESV;―compare with the New World Translation

Taking the liberty to change one seemingly insignificant word of God's inspired Scriptures, may actually obscure the meaning, and hinder us from knowing a vital truth for everlasting life; rather than help us to understand it. "You can trust this: Every word that God speaks is true. God is a safe place for those who go to him. So don’t try to change what God says. If you do, he will punish you and prove that you are a liar". – Proverbs 30:5-6, Easy-to-Read Version

(The doctrine of transubstantiation, as taught by the Catholic Church, states that the bread and wine offered at Communion are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. That is certainly not what Jesus was teaching.)

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