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Fanz, William LaSor, and the NWT:
Whose Assessment of the Franz Testimony is Misleading?
A Response to Appendix B in Greg Stafford's Jehovah's Witnesses Defended
the NWTTC Skilled in the Original Languages?
of the criticisms often leveled against the Watchtower's New World Translation (NWT) is that while it claims to be a
translation from the original languages (1), none of the members of its
Translation Committee possessed the skills to actually perform this
translation. While the
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has never officially released the
names of those on the Committee, several sources who were in a position
to know have done so. These
sources agree that Frederick Franz was the principle translator and
served as the Committee chair (2).
is no evidence that any members of the Committee had formally studied
the original languages beyond the undergraduate level.
It is possible for someone to study the biblical languages informally,
of course, but such a claim must be substantiated.
Some Jehovah's Witnesses have argued that the NWT itself is
testimony that the Committee was skilled in the original languages.
However, this argument begs the question.
One cannot determine whether the debatable translations in the
NWT are the result of competence in the original languages by appealing
to the NWT itself. While
some may appeal to the non-controversial renderings as proof of the
Committee's acumen, the fact is that anyone with an adequate library of
English Bibles, Lexicons, and Bible Dictionaries could produce a
translation similar to the NWT, with only a limited knowledge of the
original languages. To
demonstrate that the NWT is, indeed, a scholarly translation, one must
produce positive evidence that the Translators possessed the skills
necessary to render the Bible from the original languages into English.
To date, no such evidence has been provided by the Watchtower or
its apologists (3).
Testimony of F.W. Franz
there is no evidence that the NWT Translation Committee possessed
knowledge of the original languages, there is evidence that Frederick
Franz lacked such knowledge. Under
cross-examination in a court case in
"You, yourself, read and speak Hebrew, do you?"
"I do not speak Hebrew."
"You do not?"
"Can you, yourself, translate that into Hebrew?"
"That fourth verse of the Second Chapter of Genesis?"
"You mean here?"
"No. I won't attempt to do that." (4)
trial transcript has been appealed to by a number of Christian writers
to demonstrate Franz's lack of skill in Hebrew (5).
For example, Ron Rhodes writes that Franz failed "a simple
Hebrew test" (6). In
Appendix B of his Jehovah's
Witnesses Defended, Greg Stafford undertakes a defense F.W. Franz
and his knowledge of Biblical Hebrew.
Mr. Stafford first notes that even if Franz knew no Hebrew, this
says nothing of his skills in Greek.
This is true, of course, but in the same court case, Franz
claimed that he did know Hebrew as well as Greek (7).
If his claims about Hebrew have no merit, how can we credit his
claims about Greek?
Stafford next notes that Franz did not say he could not perform the
“Hebrew test,” but that he would not “attempt” to do so.
Mr. Stafford finds this point significant in light of comments he
quotes from Hebrew scholar William LaSor:
learning is in context. The context, however, is not artificial,
composed perchance by one who does not use the language naturally, but
rather it is the actual language of those who used it as their
mother-tongue. For this reason, I refuse to ask the students to compose
sentences in Hebrew. To do so is to impress errors on the student's
mind. And, frankly, most of us who teach Biblical Hebrew do not have
sufficient fluency in the language to speak or write in it. (8).
considering Franz' earlier testimony, that he had made himself familiar
with Hebrew, and that he could read and follow the Bible in Hebrew, and
his admission that he could not speak Hebrew, we can certainly
understand Franz' refusal to translate Genesis 2:4 from
English into Hebrew (not Hebrew into English). For, as LaSor points
out, even most teachers of Biblical Hebrew "do not have sufficient
fluency in the language to speak or write in it." Thus,
take little issue with LaSor’s statement.
However, Mr. Stafford draws out of it far more than is warranted.
Franz was not asked to carry on a conversation or to write a paper in
Hebrew. He was asked to
translate a single sentence
from a known Hebraic original from English into Hebrew.
LaSor was not claiming
that most Hebrew scholars are incapable of translating a single sentence
from English into Hebrew. He
was claiming that most Hebrew scholars are not fluent enough to speak or
write in the language. There is a huge
difference between these two exercises.
asked Alan Millard, Rankin Professor Emeritus of Hebrew & Ancient
Semitic Languages at the
see no great problem in rendering Genesis 2:4 from English into Hebrew,
but, of course, we have the Hebrew text of Genesis. There is a
difference between translating into a language and freely composing in
it, which, I assume, is what LaSor meant (10).
a noted Hebrew scholar and translator confirms that there is no good
reason for Franz to have refused to perform an English-to-Hebrew
translation. There is
nothing inherently difficult in translating a Bible verse from English
to Hebrew and LaSor cannot legitimately be used as testimony to the
Stafford asserts that Genesis 2:4 is “actually somewhat complicated,”
but Millard notes:
suspect that the uncertainty over this passage arises from the common
modern view that there is a break between the first part of the verse
and the second, a break that is made in many modern translations. Some,
on the other hand, do not see the necessity for supposing such a break
exists and the first part of the verse introduces the rest of the
chapter. The translation back into Hebrew would depend to some extent on
the English version being used (11).
is no evidence that the NWT Translation Committee possessed the training
or skills necessary to produce an English Bible from the original
Franz’s refusal under oath to render Genesis 2:4 from English into
Hebrew is suspicious, given that there is no reason a Hebrew scholar
qualified to sit on a modern English Bible translation committee would
be unable to do so. Ron
Rhodes and other writers who have used the Franz cross-examination as
evidence that Franz lacked proficiency in Hebrew have done so
legitimately. It is Mr.
Stafford’s appeal to William LaSor that proves to be – in Mr.
Stafford’s own words – “superficial, inaccurate, and
"Rendered from the Original Languages by the New World Translation
Committee," Titlepage, 1984 edition.
The translators apparently were: N.H. Knorr, F.W. Franz, A.D.
Schroeder, G.D. Gangas and M. Henschel (William and Joan Centnar,
Questions for Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 68).
Raymond Franz reports that Frederick W. Franz was the principle
translator (Raymond V. Franz, Crisis of Conscience, p. 50). According
to M. James Penton, "to all intents and purposes the New World
Translation is the work of one man, Frederick Franz" (M. James
Penton, Apocalypse Delayed: The
Story of Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 174).
Some Watchtower apologists have appealed to the following email
posted to the B-Hebrew mailing list:
I find myself in a unique position to comment, because I proofread the MS of that volume of the NW Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures together with its page, galley and plate proofs until its release in 1958. I worked with the anonymous translator on a daily basis. My memories are fond - and keen....
I tell you from personal knowledge that the translator was acutely aware of his presuppositions and freely admitted them, as do most good translators.
My own contributions were modest, including some footnotes, hardly qualifying as translation. Others deemed part of the translation committee contributed to cross-references and the like but did not translate. The "seven translators" without training is a canard and should be put in the urban myth trashpile.
While clunky and stiff because of its literalness, the translation is nevertheless a remarkable achievement precisely because of its translator's lack of "training”…
Thanks for letting me share this bit of serendipity.
Norman E. Swift
bona fides to Gregg [sic,
name is to be found in the 1958 Yearbook, between Suiter, Swingle and
Sydlik. The MS was typed by
Arthur Gaux, linotypeset by Chester Goins, my overseers Colin
Quackenbush and Karl Adams. F[rederick]
W F[ranz]'s personal encouragement to begin study of "Essentials of
Biblical Hebrew" by Sampy and Yates (? Getting long in the tooth),
then used at
Thu Jun 14
is difficult to give this evidence much credence.
Even if the author is who he claims to be (almost impossible to
assess from a single internet posting), Mr. Swift says that the
translators “without training” is an “urban myth,” yet asserts
that the NWT is a “remarkable achievement precisely because of its
translator’s lack of training.”
Which is it? Did the
translators have training or not? He
certainly provides no positive evidence that they did.
On the other hand, Mr. Swift’s evidence corroborates the claims
of Raymond Franz and M. James Penton that the NWT was primarily the work
of a single man (see Note #2). Mr.
Swift does not directly state that the “unnamed translator”
(singular!) was Franz, but he does not deny it, and his reference to
Franz’s recommendation of a Hebrew text suggests that they could be
one in the same. Thus, Mr.
Swift’s comments do not substantiate the skills of the NWTTC in the
original tongues. His claim
that the NWT is remarkable because
of the translator’s lack of training is nothing more than that: his
claim. While a self-taught
pilot may be able to land a 747, and such an achievement might be called
“remarkable,” it is doubtful he will consistently outperform a
formally trained pilot. And
surely no clear-thinking passenger would choose to fly with the
untrained pilot over a trained one, given that the wrong choice could
mean one’s life. The same,
of course, may be said of one’s eternal life when choosing a Bible
Douglas Walsh v The Right Honourable James Latham Clyde, M.P.,
P.C., as representing the Minister of Labour and National Service,
cross-examination of Frederick Franz, p. 102 (Scotland, 1954).
C.f., Centnar (Ibid), p. 69
and Erich and Jean Grieshaber, Epose
- Of Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 100.
Walter Martin writes that Franz: "admitted under oath that
he could not translate Genesis 2:4 from
the Hebrew" (Walter Martin, The
Kingdom of the Cults [1997 edition], p. 124, emphasis added).
Of course, Franz was not asked to translate from
Hebrew, but rather from
English, but as we shall see, this detail if of little significance
in determining Franz's skill in Biblical Hebrew.
Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah's Witnesses, p. 98.
From Walsh v
you also made yourself familiar with Hebrew?
think you are able to read and follow the Bible in Hebrew, Greek…
William Sanford LaSor, Handbook
of Biblical Hebrew, vol. 1, page 3.
Greg Stafford, Jehovah’s Witnesses Defended,
2nd Edition, p. 563. This
is almost a word for word transcription of a post Mr. Stafford made to
the B-Hebrew mailing list on Fri
Jun 15 12:30:36 EDT 2001 (http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-hebrew/2001-June/010916.html).
Private correspondence from Alan Millard to Robert Hommel,