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“But we think it proper to hear from you what your thoughts are, for truly as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against.”—Acts 28:22


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:

"For this is what Jehovah has said, 'In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon I shall turn my attention to you people, and I will establish toward you my good word in bringing you back to this place.'"

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:

"This is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, has said to all the exiled people, whom I have caused to go into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 'Build houses and inhabit [them], and plant gardens and eat their fruitage. Take wives and become father to sons and to daughters; and take wives for your own sons and give your own daughters to husbands, that they may give birth to sons and to daughters; and become many there, and do not become few. Also, seek the peace of the city to which I have caused you to go into exile, and pray in its behalf to Jehovah, for in its peace there will prove to be peace for you yourselves. For this is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, has said: "Let not your prophets who are in among you and your practicers of divination deceive you, and do not you listen to their dreams that they are dreaming. For 'it is in falsehood that they are prophesying to you in my name. I have not sent them,' is the utterance of Jehovah."'" "For this is what Jehovah has said, ‘In accord with the fulfilling of seventy years at Babylon I shall turn my attention to you people, and I will establish toward you my good word in bringing you back to this place.’"—Jeremiah 29:4-10.

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:

"The seventy years counted here evidently refer to Babylon and not to the Judeans or to their captivity. They mean seventy years of Babylonian rule, the end of which will see the redemption of the exiles."—The Seventy Years of Babylon, Avigdor Orr, Vetus Testamentum, Vol VI, 1956, p. 305; boldface ours.

"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:

"Furthermore, he [Nebuchadnezzar] carried off those remaining from the sword captive to Babylon, and they came to be servants to him and his sons until the royalty of Persia began to reign; to fulfill Jehovah's word by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had paid off its sabbaths. All the days of lying desolated it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years."—2 Chronicles 36:20-21.

"The word that occurred to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah . . . all this land must become a devastated place, an object of astonishment, and these nations will have to serve the king of Babylon seventy years."'—Jeremiah 25:1a, 11.

"In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus of the seed of the Medes, who had been made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reigning I myself, Daniel, discerned by the books the number of the years concerning which the word of Jehovah had occurred to Jeremiah the prophet, for fulfilling the devastations of Jerusalem, [namely,] seventy years."—Daniel 9:1-2.

"So the angel of Jehovah answered and said: "O Jehovah of armies, how long will you yourself not show mercy to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah, whom you have denounced these seventy years?"—Zechariah 1:12.

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:

"Just as you have left me and have gone serving a foreign god in your land, so you will serve strangers in a land that is not yours.'"—Jeremiah 5:19.

"'For the sons of Judah have done what is bad in my eyes,' is the utterance of Jehovah. 'They have set their disgusting things in the house upon which my name has been called, in order to defile it. . . . "'Therefore, look! days are coming,' is the utterance of Jehovah, . . . the land will become nothing but a devastated place.'"—Jeremiah 7:30-34.

""On what account should the land actually perish, be actually burned like the wilderness without anyone passing through?" And Jehovah proceeded to say: "On account of their leaving my law that I gave [to be] before them, and [because] they have not obeyed my voice and have not walked in it.""—Jeremiah 9:12-13.

"Therefore this is what Jehovah of armies has said, '"For the reason that you did not obey my words, here I am sending and I will take all the families of the north," is the utterance of Jehovah, "even [sending] to Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and against its inhabitants and against all these nations round about; and I will devote them to destruction and make them an object of astonishment and something to whistle at and places devastated to time indefinite."—Jeremiah 25:8-9.

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:

"The truth is this: You will be in Babylon for a lifetime. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and bring you home again."

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:

"quia haec dicit Dominus cum coeperint impleri in Babylone septuaginta anni visitabo vos et suscitabo super vos verbum meum bonum ut reducam vos ad locum istum."—Latin Vulgate (c. 405).

"But thus saith the Lord, That after seuentie yeres be accomplished at Babél, I wil visit you, and performe my good promes toward you, and cause you to returne to this place."—The Geneva Bible (1560).

"For thus saith the Lord: When the seventy years shall begin to be accomplished in Babylon, I will visit you: and I will perform my good word in your favour, to bring you again to this place."—Douay Version (1609).

"For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place."—Authorized King James Version (1611, 1769).

"For thus says the LORD: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place."—New King James Version (1984; based on the 1967/1977 Stuttgart edition of Biblia Hebraica).

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 Chronology article: Is it true that 2 Chronicles 36:21 doesn't really say that Jerusalem laid desolate for seventy years?

Back to main Chronology article

Next New World Translation article: What is the evidence for holding that Luke wrote his Gospel before Mark?


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