The New World Translation (NWT) and the 1950 NWT Assembly

[...] for there is no authority except by God

                                            Romans 13:1

The New World Translation (NWT) stands as a testament to the dedication of Jehovah's Witnesses to understanding and disseminating the message of the Bible. Crafted meticulously by a committee of scholars and linguists fluent in ancient languages, the NWT emerged from the publishing arm of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, in 1950, and was first introduced to the world at an International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Yankee Stadium, New York, on August 2, 1950. Now known simply as the New World Translation Assembly (NWT Assembly), this meeting is considered to be one of the most important events in the history of Jehovah's Witnesses and their ongoing efforts to study and disseminate the teachings of the Bible.

The NWT Assembly at Yankee Stadium took place during a period of growth and expansion for Jehovah's Witnesses. It provided an opportunity for members to gather in a large venue, such as Yankee Stadium, which could accommodate the large crowds that attended these conventions. Yankee Stadium, with its iconic status as a venue for sports and entertainment, offered a memorable setting for the convention.


At the NWT Assembly, attendees participated in a variety of activities, including lectures, talks, NWT study sessions, and musical performances. There were also prominent speakers from the organization's leadership, who addressed theological topics, provide encouragement to attendees, and offer practical guidance for living according to the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses.  On the topic of the NWT, Nathan H. Knorr, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, urged all assembled to: “Take this translation. Read it through, a thing that will be done with enjoyment. Study it, for it will help you to better your understanding of God’s Word. Put it in the hands of others.”


The NWT Assembly also served as an occasion for members to strengthen their sense of community and fellowship with fellow believers. Attendees had the opportunity to meet and interact with others who shared their faith, fostering a sense of unity and solidarity among Jehovah's Witnesses.


Before the NWT Assembly in 1950, the origins of the NWT trace back to the late 1930s, under the leadership of Nathan H. Knorr, president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. A committee of dedicated individuals embarked on the monumental task of translating the Bible's original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts into modern English. This arduous undertaking sought not only to faithfully convey the meaning of the ancient scriptures but also to render them accessible to contemporary readers.


Central to the translation process was the committee's commitment to a literal translation philosophy. By adhering closely to the original words and expressions, the NWT aimed to provide readers with a faithful rendition of the Bible's message. Simultaneously, the translators endeavored to employ clear and straightforward language, ensuring comprehension without sacrificing accuracy.


Since the NWT Assembly in 1950, and throughout its existence, the NWT has undergone revisions and updates to reflect advancements in scholarship and manuscript discoveries. These revisions have further refined the translation, incorporating feedback from readers and addressing concerns regarding accuracy and clarity. Despite criticisms from some quarters regarding theological bias and translation accuracy, supporters of the NWT contend that it remains a reliable and accessible resource for understanding the Bible's teachings. Criticisms that the NWT represents a mere word for word translation of the earlier texts are simply not true.

The concept of "Sitz im Leben," meaning "situation in life," is an essential tool in understanding the context in which texts, including translations such as the New World Translation (NWT), were produced.  Originating in the work of German scholars in the 19th century, particularly Hermann Gunkel, "Sitz im Leben" has become a fundamental tool for understanding the context in which ancient texts were composed and the social, cultural, and religious realities that influenced their creation.


At its core, "Sitz im Leben" recognizes that texts do not emerge in a vacuum but are products of specific historical, social, and cultural contexts. In biblical studies, this concept has been particularly influential in understanding the development of biblical texts, including the Old and New Testaments. Rather than viewing biblical texts as timeless and static, scholars employing the "Sitz im Leben" approach seek to uncover the dynamic and evolving situations in which these texts were produced.


One of the key insights offered by the "Sitz im Leben" approach is the recognition that biblical texts were often composed in response to particular social or religious circumstances. For example, the Psalms, often attributed to King David, are thought to have been written in various "sitz im leben," such as individual or communal prayer, royal worship ceremonies, or liturgical settings within the Temple. Understanding the specific "sitz im leben" of each psalm can shed light on its original purpose and function within ancient Israelite worship.


Similarly, the Gospels of the New Testament are seen as products of specific communities and contexts within early Christianity. Scholars analyze the socio-political conditions of first-century Judea, the religious landscape of Second Temple Judaism, and the theological concerns of early Christian communities to elucidate the "sitz im leben" of each Gospel. This approach helps to explain the unique perspectives, emphases, and literary features of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.


Beyond biblical studies, the concept of "Sitz im Leben" has been applied to a wide range of literary and cultural texts. Literary critics use it to explore the social and historical contexts that shaped the production of literary works, while anthropologists employ it to understand the customs, beliefs, and practices of different societies. By situating texts within their original contexts, scholars can gain deeper insights into their meaning, function, and significance for the communities that produced and consumed them.


"Sitz im Leben" represents a valuable approach for understanding the dynamic relationship between texts and their social, cultural, and historical contexts. By uncovering the specific situations in life that gave rise to ancient texts, scholars can enrich their interpretation and appreciation of these works, whether they be biblical, literary, or cultural. Ultimately, "Sitz im Leben" reminds us that texts are not isolated artifacts but reflections of the lived experiences of the people who created them.


While the NWT is a modern translation of the Bible, its translators employed the principles of "Sitz im Leben" to ensure an accurate and faithful rendering of the original texts into English.

First and foremost, the translators of the NWT sought to understand the historical, social, and cultural contexts in which the original biblical texts were written. By examining the "Sitz im Leben" of each biblical book—considering factors such as authorship, audience, historical circumstances, and literary genre—the translators aimed to capture the intended meaning of the original authors.


For example, when translating passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the translators of the NWT considered the historical context of ancient Israel, including its religious practices, political events, and social norms. This understanding helped them to convey the nuances of Hebrew poetry, legal codes, prophetic messages, and narrative accounts accurately.


Similarly, in translating the Christian Greek Scriptures (New Testament), the translators of the NWT took into account the socio-cultural context of the first-century Greco-Roman world. They considered the linguistic conventions, religious beliefs, and theological debates of early Christian communities, ensuring that the translation faithfully represented the teachings and message of Jesus Christ and the apostles.


Moreover, the translators of the NWT applied the principles of "Sitz im Leben" to address textual challenges and discrepancies found in ancient manuscripts. By considering the manuscript evidence, textual variants, and historical context, they made informed decisions about the wording and phrasing of the translation, aiming to produce a reliable and accurate rendition of the original texts.


While the New World Translation is a modern English translation of the Bible, its translators approached the task with a deep appreciation for the "Sitz im Leben" of the biblical texts. By considering the historical, social, and cultural contexts in which the original writings were produced, the translators endeavored to produce a faithful and accurate translation that would resonate with readers today, reflecting the timeless message of the Scriptures.


The NWT's popularity and distribution underscore its significance within the Jehovah's Witnesses community. Widely utilized in worship services, study groups, and personal reading, the translation has been translated into numerous languages and distributed globally. Its impact extends beyond mere textual translation, serving as a cornerstone of religious practice and study for Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide.


In conclusion, the NWT stands as a testament to the dedication, scholarship, and theological commitment of Jehovah's Witnesses. From its inception to its present-day iteration, the NWT embodies a commitment to faithfully translating and disseminating the message of the Bible. As a foundational resource within the Jehovah's Witnesses community, the NWT continues to play a vital role in fostering understanding and spiritual growth among its adherents.


In 2025, it will be 75 years since the New World Translation was introduced to the world at the NWT Assembly in 1950, but the endeavor it represents is timeless.

For more information about the NWT or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, please use the following link (this will take you to another site):