The recent release of the New World Translation, 2013 revised edition, drastically challenges the century-held concepts on death previously published and currently preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Nephesh and Psykhe
Their translation no longer renders the Hebrew word “nephesh” and the Greek word “psykhe” as soul, each and every time these words appear in the original text (as did the previous version of the NWT). This is in line with the long-accepted translation principles found in most Bible translations, namely that words can have different meanings depending on the context. Previously the New World Translation touted a “word-for-word” approach, claiming literal renditions offered more accuracy and better understanding of the original inspired text.
In the past the Jehovah’s Witnesses harshly criticized Catholics, Jews, Protestants, and Orthodox for using Bible translations that rendered these words not only as “soul,” but at times as “person,” “individual,” and “life.” After about a century of criticism, the Witnesses have acquiesced and followed the practice of mainstream Bible renditions in this matter.
Sheol, Hades now the Grave–One with Activity!
The new New World Translation has also ceased rendering “Sheol” and “Hades” as untranslated words. Instead they offer the renderings “Grave” when these words refer to the common grave of humankind, and “grave” with a lowercase “g” when an individual’s grave is meant.
This presents the most startling revelation of all. While the translation states that the Grave is a place of inactivity, in support of their 100-year belief in “soul sleep,” the new rendering allows for a new understanding.
But Jonah 2:2 in this new edition has the prophet praying to God, with the words:
Out of my distress I called out to Jehovah, and he answered me.
Out of the depths of the Grave I cried for help.
You heard my voice.
Previously the teaching was that the belly of the fish that swallowed Jonah could have ended up being his individual grave. The new 2013 edition offers the revised “Grave” with the capital “G,” demonstrating that individuals can pray to God in the common grave of humankind or in “Sheol.”
This is a startling move for the Witnesses. With their previous translation that could use specialized renderings to support their particular beliefs on death and soul-sleep. Now, their own Bible, as it does in other places like John 17:3, offers renditions in full harmony with mainstream Christian theology.
While it seems that Witnesses as a whole are unaware of these dramatic changes and what they mean, a few have published in personal blogs and comments on forums that the move away from the previous renderings will likely prove problematic if nothing changes in their doctrine. Others have theorized that these changes are likely to be employed as a stepping stone to changes that will align future Witness belief to more of a mainstream form of eschatology.