Translators of the New World Translation

The following list of translators of the New World Translation is a compilation from a variety of sources:

Frederick W. Franz: Main translator. Took liberal arts sequence at University of Cincinnati; 21 semester hours of classical Greek, some Latin. Partially completed a two-hour survey course in Biblical Greek in junior year; course titled “The New Testament–A course in grammar and translation.” Left in spring of 1914 before completing junior year. Self-taught in Spanish, biblical Hebrew and Aramaic. Entered Brooklyn headquarters facility of Watchtower Society in 1920. Probable ghost writer for J. F. Rutherford (2nd president of WTS) from late 1920s through 1942. Vice president of WTS from 1942 to 1977, president from 1977 until death in 1992 at age 99.

Franz writes in Iris autobiography: “What a blessing it was to study Bible Greek under Professor Arthur Kensella! Under Dr. Joseph Harry, an author of some Greek works, I also studied the classical Greek.   knew that if I wanted to become a Presbyterian clergyman, I had to have a command of Bible Greek. So I furiously applied myself and got passing grades” (The Watchtower, May 1, 1987, p. 24). Franz gives the impression that the bulk of his Greek studies were “Bible Greek” under “Professor Kensella” and that classical Greek was secondary under “Dr. Joseph Harry.” The opposite is true. As mentioned above, Franz only took one 2-hour credit class of “Bible Greek” but 21 hours of classical Greek. According to the course catalog of 1911, Arthur Kensella was not a professor of Greek, as Franz wrote, but an “instructor in Greek.” Kensella did not have a Ph.D. and he therefore taught entry­ level courses.

Nathan H. Knorr: No training in biblical languages. Entered Brooklyn headquarters in 1923; 3rd president of WTS from 1942 to 1977. Died 1977 at age 72.

Milton G. Henschel: No training in biblical languages. Private secretary and traveling companion to N.H. Knorr from late 1940s until early 1970s. 4th president of WTS from 1992 to 2000. Still living, age mid-80s.

Albert D. Schroeder: No training in biblical languages. Took 3 years of mechanical engineering, unspecified language courses in college, dropped out in 1932 and soon entered Brooklyn headquarters. Registrar of “Gilead School” from 1942 to 1959. Still living, age 90.

Karl Klein: No training in biblical languages. Entered Brooklyn headquarters in 1925; member of Writing Dept. since 1950. Died 2001 at age 96.

George D. Gangas: No training in biblical languages. Greek-speaking Turkish national, entered Brooklyn headquarters in 1928 as a Greek translator from English to modern Greek publications. Died 1994 at age 98.

Franz was the only man capable of doing translation work. Gangas was a native Greek speaker, knew little of Koine Greek, and apparently helped out with a variety of non-translation tasks including reviewing the English grammar for continuity of expression. From all information published about him personally, one readily concludes that Knorr was the business administrator for the Translation Committee. Henschel might have been on it to take care of legal/secretarial matters. Schroeder and Klein did the copious footnotes (which included textual sources) and cross references and marginal notes, which in the original six volumes of the NWT were more extensive than in the 1984 edition.

The NWT Committee has always been extremely secretive, and so information about who was on it has only trickled out of the Brooklyn headquarters as various staff members have left and revealed what they knew. Scant information has been published and other information has leaked by word of mouth.

Frederick Franz has been criticized for supposedly not being proficient in Biblical Hebrew. This is patently false, since *someone* had to be competent enough to produce a workable translation, and it certainly was not the other men on the NWT Committee. Franz’s nephew, Raymond Franz, who resigned from the Jehovah’s Witnesses Governing Body in 1980 and was excommunicated in 1981, listed some of the members of the NWT Committee in his 1983 book “Crisis of Conscience”. He has told me and others that he once observed his uncle silently reading an ancient Hebrew manuscript in a museum display case, which the elder Franz is not likely to have done in private unless he was actually able to make sense of it. But because the elder Franz has internally been termed “the oracle of the [JW] organization” and was clearly its “head theologian” from 1942 until his gradual retirement in the 1980s, he certainly inserted his religious biases into his translation work.

Someone on the private list asked some questions and I answered as follows:

”How much paraphrasing did the translator(s) of the NWT intend to employ?” I’ll let the “Introduction” to the 1984 NWT Reference Bible answer  (p. 7):

“Paraphrases of the Scriptures are not offered. Rather, an effort has been made to give as literal a translation as possible where the modem-English idiom allows and where a literal rendition does not, by any awkwardness, hide the thought. In that way the desire of those who are scrupulous for getting an almost word-for-word statement of the original is met. It is realized that even such a seemingly insignificant matter as the use or omission of a comma or of a definite or an indefinite article may at times alter the correct sense of the original passage.

Taking liberties with the texts for the mere sake of brevity, and substituting some modern parallel when a literal rendering of the original makes good sense, has been avoided. Uniformity of rendering has been maintained by assigning one meaning to each major word and by holding to that meaning as far as the context permits. At times this has imposed a restriction upon word choice, but it aids in cross-referencing work and in comparing related texts.

Special care was taken in translating Hebrew and Greek verbs in order to capture the simplicity, warmth, character and forcefulness of the original expressions. An effort was made to preserve the flavor  of the ancient  Hebrew and Greek times, the people’s way of thinking, reasoning and talking, their social  dealings, etc. This has prevented any indulgence in translating as one may think the original speaker or writer should have said it. So, care has been taken not to modernize the verbal renderings to such an extent as to alter their ancient background beyond recognition. This means the reader will encounter many Hebrew and Greek idioms. In many cases the footnotes show the literalness of certain expressions.”


Next question:

“Another realm that must be addressed in evaluating a translators skills or the validity of a translation is understanding the presuppositions of the translators.”

You are absolutely correct that “Every translator translates with presuppositions.” You may have noted Dr./Mr. Swift’s observation that Franz ‘freely admitted his presuppositions’. These were set by previous Watchtower doctrines; some of which he himself had a hand in formulating. Some of these are clearly enunciated in the introductory material to specific volumes. A solid discussion of these is probably beyond the scope of this forum, but an idea can be readily derived by understanding the very basic doctrines held by the Watchtower Society when the NWT originally was produced, from the late 1940s through the late 1950s. These include the notions that the Bible is absolutely inspired and inerrant, that Christ returned invisibly in 1914 (hence the concern with “parousia”), that a special group of Jehovah’s Witness leaders are God’s exclusive and collective ‘spokesman’ to all mankind, that the Bible does not teach the Trinity, and so forth. As “head theologian” and vice-president of the Watchtower Society, Franz was required to ensure that his work was consistent with existing doctrine, just as any group of translators is required by those who commission them to follow the precepts of the group. Deviation from accepted ideas may be grounds for dismissal.

Next comment:

“Knowing his or her name permits a scholar to look at the corpus of the translators writings and discover the translators presuppositions.”

Frederick Franz either wrote or contributed to most of the WTS’s large-format bound theological books published from the late 1920s through the early 1970s. He also wrote or contributed to countless articles appearing in “The Watchtower” magazine. Once one becomes acquainted with Franz’s distinctive writing style, it is not hard to see which publications he wrote or contributed substantially to. Of course, these are not easy to come by for people outside the Jehovah’s Witness organization, and the task of reading them is daunting, so I don’t know what to tell you.


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