"..for truly I say to you that sooner would[Greek: HEWS] heaven and earth pass away than for one smallest letter or particle of a letter to pass away from the Law...Matthew 5.18 New World Translation.(italics ours)

Why has the New World Translation translated HEWS, occuring often in the Greek N.T. as a subordinating conjunction, hence with the meaning "until", as "sooner would" rather than as simply "until" as in most other translations at this place? We of this site are not spokespersons for why the New World Translation did this or that or course, but we can evaluate it from our own studies.

When this conjunction relates to time then it is often rendered as "until." But does it have this meaning here? R.T.France remarks: "The saying so introduced["Truly(Greek Amen), I say to you"]is similiar to Luke 16:17, and affirms that the law(possibly, in the light of v.17, meaning the whole Old Testament, though v.19 will speak of 'commandments')will remain intact till heaven and earth pass away. (Jesus' own words will remain even longer: 24:35! But the expression is probably less specific note of time than an idiom for something inconceivable.)-Matthew; Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, IVP, 1985, p.115. Bold/Underlining ours. C.F.D.Moule alludes to this "idiom" for HEWS by writing: " 'Improper' Prepositions.....21.[HEWS] seems essentially to be a conjunction meaning while or until. But it is also used as a preposition, with Gen[initve], meaning up to, as far as, both spatially and metaphorically..."-An Idiom-Book of New Testament Greek, Cambridge University Press, 1953, p.85.
From this then one can see why "until" might not actually indicate what Jesus was trying to put over to his listeners. Not that the Law will remain "until" heaven and earth pass away, not that heaven and earth will pass away then the "smallest letter or particle of a letter" would "pass away from the Law," nor that as long as heaven and earth remain, but that "sooner would" heaven and earth pass away than one letter or particle of one letter of the Law pass away. Jesus was showing by this hyperbole that it is "inconceivable" that the Law would not be "fullfilled". And Jesus states that it would. As The Expositor's Greek Testament says: "[HEWS HAN PARELQE]etc.: not intended to fix a period after which the law will pass away, but a strong way of saying never."(underlining ours) Luke records Jesus' word with this meaning when he writes: "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped."-Luke 61.17. Interestingly, in the Anchor Bible we find this remark: "This saying is certainly hyperbolic for purposes of effect." -Matthew, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary by W.F.Albright and C.S.Mann. Doubleday, 1971, p.58.

This is no doubt why Charles B. Williams in his The New Testament in the Language of the People reads: "For I solemnly say to you, heaven and earth would sooner pass away than...."(ftnote: Grk., until heaven, etc)-italics ours.

We must not forget that when evaluating the accuracy of the New World Translation that though it strove as much as possible for a 'word for word' correspondency for the original, keeping as close at it could to the Hebrew and the Greek, it would not sacrifice meaning and so at times a more dynamic translation if often called for. In this instance we can see the good grounds for the NWT Translation Committee's choice.

' New World Translation Renderings' page

Main index