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Dr. Julius R. Mantey and the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society



The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (NWT) was first published in 1950.  Ever since that time, its controversial rendering of John 1:1c as "And the Word was a god" has become a lightening rod for criticism from a variety of sources.  Many critics initially responded that the NWT translation of John 1:1 was "grammatically impossible."  This criticism was based largely on a misunderstanding of "Colwell's Rule" (for a summary of Colwell's Rule and its application to John 1:1, click here).  Others responded that the NWT translation is unlikely from a grammatical standpoint, and unacceptable contextually and when viewed in light of other Scriptures.  (Click here for a review of recent scholarship on John 1:1c).

The Watchtower responded to its critics by publishing an appendix with its Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures (1969) and later including it with the NWT (1971).  This appendix lists several noted Greek scholars who appear to support the Watchtower's rendering of John 1:1.

One of the scholarly works cited is A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey.  At the time, the Dana Mantey grammar was the most widely-used first-year Greek Grammar in the world; it is still in print and is used by many beginning Greek students at Bible Colleges and Seminaries in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

The citation by the Watchtower reads as follows:

Careful translators recognize that the articular construction of the noun points to an identity, a personality, whereas an anarthrous construction points to a quality about someone.  That is what A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament by Dana and Mantey remarks on page 140, paragraph vii.  Accordingly on page 148 paragraph (3) this same publication says about the subject of a copulative sentence:

"The article sometimes distinguishes the subject from the predicate in a copulative sentence.  In Xenophon's Anabasis 1:4:6, ...and the place was a market, we have a parallel case to what we have in John 1:1, ...and the word was deity.  The article points out the subject in these examples.  Neither was the place the only market, nor was the word all of God, as it would mean if the article were used with qeoV." 

Instead of translating John 1:1, and the word was deity, this Grammar could have translated it, and the word was a god, to run more parallel with Xenophon's statement, and the place was a market (NWT, 1971, p. 1362).

Michael Van Buskirk of the Christian Apologetics: Research and Information Service (CARIS) wrote to Dr. Mantey (Dr. Dana had died), asking him if he had been quoted accurately by the Watchtower.  Dr. Mantey replied in a letter dated February 25, 1974.  It read:

In response to your request, I give you the following facts:  In Jehovah's Witnesses' Translation of the New Testament, where I am quoted in a footnote on John 1:1 (cf., D-M Gk. Gram. Pg. 148 (3)), I was writing on how the article "distinguishes the subject from the predicate in a copulative sentence," not on the significance of the absence of the article before THEOS.  My closing statement in the paragraph was: "As it stands, the other persons of the Trinity may be implied in THEOS."  My interpretation of John 1:1 in that same paragraph was "The Word was Deity," i.e., that Christ is of the same essence as the Father, of the same family.  So I was quoted out of context.  Is that honest scholarship?

Thus, one of the authors of the Grammar the Watchtower used in defense of its translation says that he was quoted out of context and was not even discussing what it quoted him as affirming.  Read in context, Dr. Mantey's comments about the "parallel" cases refer to two specific points about copulative sentences:

1.  If one noun has the article, it is the subject of the sentence or clause (the place and the word).

2.  If only one noun has the article, the sentence is not a "convertible proposition" (that is, the two nouns are not interchangeable, as they would be if both nouns have the article).  Thus, place is not interchangeable with market; word is not interchangeable with Deity.  

Dr. Mantey's comments have nothing to do with the semantic force of the predicate.  Instead, he asserts that John 1:1c is not convertible (since THEOS lacks the article), and so THEOS and LOGOS are not 100% equivalent. That's it. He quotes the PN in John 1:1c and Anabasis, not to advocate an indefinite force for the anarthrous noun, but to demonstrate *how* the two examples are *not* convertible.

In other words, Mantey is proving a negative: What John 1:1c and the quote from Anabasis are *not.*

It is therefore logically invalid to flip what he is saying into a positive assertion: that the PN in both cases is indefinite. The Watchtower is using a negative premise to draw a positive conclusion.1

The only valid reason for the WT's conclusion is if Mantey elsewhere made it clear that there are only two options: Definite or indefinite. But he doesn't. He translates THEOS in John 1:1c as "deity," and later (p. 149) discusses qualitative nouns. Thus, one cannot soundly conclude that Mantey understood semantic force to be 'either definite
or indefinite' proposition.

It is possible that the Watchtower made an honest mistake.  In its zeal to find scholarly justification for its rendering of John 1:1, the words "parallel case" and the indefinite predicate (a market) may have appeared to give the Society exactly what it was looking for.  However, when informed that the author of the Grammar believed himself to be quoted inaccurately and out of context, and when the author himself notified the Society of this fact, one would have hoped that honesty (or at least simple courtesy) would have persuaded the Watchtower to cease using the Manual Grammar as scholarly support for its translation; however, such is not the case. 

The Society, instead, has chosen to justify its use of the Manual Grammar by arguing that it provides a grammatical basis for their translation after all, and Dr. Mantey's objections are not appropriate.  This "stonewalling" tactic merely demonstrates the lack of true scholarly support for the Watchtower's translation.  If their translation were as well supported by scholars as the Society would wish its members to believe, why not simply stop quoting Dr. Mantey and substitute a noted scholar who wholeheartedly endorses the NWT translation?  By clinging to out-of-context quotations from scholars who do not actually support the NWT rendering, the Watchtower and its defenders prove they have little else to make their case.  But beyond the lack of true scholarly support, the continued attempts to make scholars like Dr. Mantey say something other than what they mean calls into serious question the ethical foundation of the Watchtower itself.  One would think that in an effort to "be above reproach" (Philippians 2:14-16), the Society would seek diligently to quote scholars accurately and provide adequate context so readers might know precisely what was being said.  Instead, we find repeated examples of scholarly citations that are misleading, to say the least.  One must wonder why the Society must mislead to proclaim what it believes to be the truth, and then to present itself as persecuted when its faults are brought into the open.



1.  The fallacy of drawing an affirmative conclusion from a negative premise may be illustrated as follows:

Dogs are not cats.

Felix is not a dog.

Mickey Mouse is not a dog.

Mickey Mouse and Felix are parallel in the sense that both are not dogs. But it is illogical to conclude that because Felix is a cat, Mickey Mouse must also be a cat.  This is essentially what the WT has done:

Convertible propositions are not 100% equivalent

The place is not 100% equivalent to a market

The Word is not 100% equivalent to God

The passage from Anabasis and John 1:1c are parallel in the sense that both are not convertible.  But it is not logically sound to conclude that because Mantey translates "market" with the indefinite article, "God" must be so translated.

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