Critics allege that the New World Translation is biased in its translation of Jeremiah 29:10. Is this true?
Jeremiah 29:10 in Hebrew
The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, translates Jeremiah 29:10 as follows:
Critics of Jehovah's Witnesses assert that the Hebrew word le Babel translated as "at Babylon" is more correctly translated "for Babylon," which would significantly change the meaning of this verse. Their purpose is to make it appear as if the seventy years of servitude to Babylon did not entail that the entire nation of Judah be exiled for the full seventy year period. They reason that the "seventy years" refer only to the period of Babylonian world domination (hence, "seventy years for Babylon"), thus accounting for the twenty or so missing years in their chronology. However, upon close examination it becomes obvious that Jeremiah 29:10 does not in any way support this theory. It will also be demonstrated that the New World Translation is not biased, nor are Jehovah's Witnesses alone in their translation of this verse.
Let us first set forth that "at Babylon," as used by the New World Translation, is an allowable and grammatically correct translation of this Hebrew word.
The inseparable preposition le (or , comprised of the Hebrew consonant La´medh and the half-vowel Shewa’´), as used at Jeremiah 29:10, can accurately be translated as "to," "for," or "at" (some references also include "of" or "against") depending on its context. This can be verified with any authority on Biblical Hebrew, such as The Essentials of Biblical Hebrew (by Kyle M. Yates, Ph.D.; revised by John Joseph Owens, Associate Professor of Old Testament Interpretation), p. 173.
Having been established that, from a technical standpoint, the word le Babel can accurately be rendered "at Babylon," a precise translation of this verse now becomes primarily an issue of context. So, in what context were the words at Jeremiah 29:10 spoken? Let us read it in the setting of the surrounding verses:
Throughout the verses cited, the writer continually refers to the locality of Babylon, where the nation of "Judah went into exile from off its soil," (2 Kings 25:21) and from where the nation of Judah would be brought back, as prophesied at Jeremiah 33:7: "I will bring back the captives of Judah and the captives of Israel, and I will build them just as at the start."
However, various experts in the field of Near Eastern studies hold to the view that the seventy years referred only to the period of Babylonian rule:
"Evidently"? The word evidently means "according to the available evidence." What is the source of this expert's evidence?
Evidently, not the Bible. There are numerous contextual settings in which the "seventy years" appear in the Scriptures:
Upon considering these verses, it becomes evident that the "seventy years" relate to far more than Babylon's world dominion. Also, the phrase, "that Jehovah’s word from the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished," found at 2 Chronicles 36:22 and Ezra 1:1, proves that the "seventy years" had not yet been fulfilled even after Babylon was overthrown by Cyrus. According to the Bible, then, the "seventy years" do not refer to the period of Babylon's world rule.
In fact, the seventy years are most often referred to in connection with the nation of Judah as a people (i.e., "concerning all the people of Judah"—Jeremiah 25:1), and the desolation of the land of Judah (2 Chronicles 36:21; Jeremiah 25:11; Daniel 9:2). Babylon was simply the instrument, i.e., Jehovah's "servant" (Jeremiah 25:9), used to impose judgment against the cities of Judah. Yes, the purpose of "the devastations of Jerusalem, [namely,] seventy years," referred to at Daniel 9:2, was of a punitive nature, resulting from the flagrant disobedience of Jehovah's people, despite countless warnings. This is confirmed at length in the book of Jeremiah:
Returning to our discussion of Jeremiah 29:10, let us now see how other Bible translations have rendered this verse.
The true sense or meaning of Jeremiah 29:10 is preserved in the paraphrased Living Bible:
Besides the New World Translation and the Living Bible, over the years a number of other Bible translations have translated the Hebrew word le Babel at Jeremiah 29:10 as "at Babylon" or "in Babylon." These include:
Clearly, "at [or, in] Babylon" is the translation of le Babel that is immediately discerned when the verse is read in context. It has only been in recent years that Bible translators (of RSV, NRSV, NIV, etc.) have chosen to translate le Babel at Jeremiah 29:10 as "for Babylon." This has largely been the result of their inability to explain the simultaneous occurrence of a full seventy years of exile of the entire nation of Judah in light of the present-day interpretation of Neo-Babylonian history.
Thus, the rendition of Jeremiah 29:10 in the New World Translation is by no means biased or improper, and is supported by numerous Bible translations, and the context of the Scriptures themselves.
Next New World Translation article: What is the evidence for holding that Luke wrote his Gospel before Mark?
Last revised: 97/11/09. Copyright © 1997 by Jehovah's Witnesses—Setting the Record Straight. All rights reserved. This web site is not affiliated with or sanctioned by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. However, every effort has been made to adhere to the current views published by the "faithful and discreet slave" (Matthew 24:45; Luke 12:42) through the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. The "Official Web Site of Jehovah's Witnesses" can be found at http://www.jw.org, and should be recognized as the authoritative source about the beliefs, teachings, and activities of Jehovah's Witnesses.