Jehovah's Witnesses' Bible under suspicion


by Roman Lunkin

Religiia i Pravo, 1 March 2016


The attempt to support some religion or even several at the governmental level often leads to unexpected results. Who could have thought that the adoption of a law about the legal immunity of some sacred texts has provoked the prohibition of others? Meanwhile, the theological and legal mechanism of screening out what is sacred and what is not is already under way. In the first place, Jehovah's Witnesses and their version of the Bible have suffered, which is natural since a politically motivated campaign against them has been conducted for a long time, since 2009.


We recall that on 25 November 2015 amendments to the federal law "On combating extremist activity" took effect, regarding the legal immunity of four sacred scriptures: the Bible, Quran, Tanakh, and Kangyur. The draft law was introduced by President Vladimir Putin after an appeal from Ramzan Kadyrov. His request was evoked by a decision of a court in South Sakhalinsk of 12 August 2015, which found the book "Prayer to God: Its Significance and Place in Islam" and, accordingly, several passages from the Quran, to be extremist.


Earlier conflict situations also arose over the Quran. In 2013 the October district court of Novorossiisk ruled the "Idiomatic Translation of the Holy Quran into the Russian Language" by Elmir Kuliev to be extremist. That is, a different translation is now not a sacred text. Similar logic has begun working also in the case of the Bible, although earlier the prosecutor's office and court had not touched the biblical text. Even a person without humanities education should be able to understand that it is possible to find in ancient religious texts descriptions of events that seem harsh from positions of modernity. In addition, in recent years even representatives of the RPTs (Father Vsevolod Chaplin) have noted that it is impossible to convict believers for the fact that they proclaim the truth and superiority of their own religion. But the "propaganda of superiority" is still proscribed in the law as one of the indicators of extremism.


However in violation of all common sense the law enforcement system has engendered expert analyses with completely "stupid" contents (and apparently has pushed the right people to create expert centers). In 2015 an expert analysis of the Bible in the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation was created by the Center of Socio-Cultural Expert Analysis. Among the experts there is not one person with an academic degree in the specialty of religious studies (V.S. Kotelnikov, A.E. Tarasov, N.N. Kriukova). Among these experts there is one who is notorious, the mathematician and former assistant director of the Institute of Culturology, N.N. Kriukov, who found the tee-shirt "Orthodoxy or Death" and film "Innocence of Muslims" to be extremist. Kriukova explained her actions by the fact in that modern historical circumstances even innocuous works may be extremist.


Within the framework of expert analyses, general linguistic definitions of "aggressive text," and concepts of "agitation," "propaganda," "slogan," and "image of the enemy" have been introduced. And all of this is automatically applied to the investigation of Jehovists' aids for study of the Bible. People who wrote the expert analysis draw the strange conventional conclusion from the teaching of the Jehovists: "The desire to deserve their salvation requires from devotees great efforts and therefore they will never be able to say with confidence that the deeds they perform will finally guarantee their salvation. . . . These postulates make the whole system of social and personal life worthless in the eyes of members of the Jehovah's Witnesses and they reorient them to cooperation exclusively within the congregation." It turns out that the authors of the expert analysis can make the same conclusion from the Orthodox teaching about salvation, within the framework of which believers of the RPTs also cannot say that they are saved in this life. And they are forced to devote great efforts to continuous self-perfection.


At the same time, the experts are not even acquainted with the works of Jehovah's Witnesses. The quotations, as the text shows, are drawn from materials of the Irenaeus of Lyons Center, the radical Orthodox sect-fighting organization that is hostile to Jehovists, as also to many other religions and confessions.


It may seem incredible, but in Kriukova's and others' expert analysis there is a section "Canonical understanding of the Bible." It gives the Orthodox definition of the Bible and the Word of God, of course from the point of view of the experts themselves. It presents this quotation: "Sectarian practice that is usually based on carefully selected and reinterpreted quotations from the Bible drain Christianity, turning it into legalism."


Next the experts study "Sacred Scripture. New World Translation," the Jehovist version of the Bible. It is pointed out that there the name of God appears as Jehovah, the word "cross" is translated from the Greek as torture stake, and some books receive a different name. Moreover, the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation follows the Masoretic tradition and not the Septuagent, which in turn the Synodal translation follows.


After a comparison of the Synodal translation and the New World Translation, experts draw the conclusion that the Jehovist text "permits translation of the system of doctrinal and ethical texts in a way different and distinct from the Christian tradition." Certainly from the point of view of historic Christianity, Jehovism has departed from Christian teaching. But these arguments in this expert analysis are mind-boggling. For example, there is a difference in translation: the Jehovists have "God's coworkers" instead of "God has workers."


Often the experts lack logic entirely. For example, they cite the Jehovist translation of the text of 1 John 5.4: "This is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith." The expert analysis gives the translation of the United Bible Society: "God's children overcome the world. The victory in this world is for our triumphant faith." And it draws the conclusion: "Then in this way the idea about the election of Jehovah's Witnesses as the 'people of Jehovah' and the affirmation of the 'kingdom in the heavens' led by Jesus Christ is injected."


After a whole series of quotations with different translations of the biblical text and calls for Jehovists to study the Bible, the experts' conclusion follows: "On the basis of the aforesaid, the New World Translation is not a variant of a translation of the Bible in the Christian tradition and consequently it is not a Bible as a canonical collection of texts."

One of the arguments consists of the fact that the study of a translation requires a guide for interpretation of the text, and "therefore the New World Translation connects to all ideas existing in the doctrinal and ethical literature of the Jehovah's Witnesses."


It is obvious that the Christian content of the doctrine of Jehovists has not been studied in the expert analysis, and if one presents biblical stories or the interpretation of the Bible by the holy fathers and other theologians, then the experts would be amazed to discover that there is the same "connection" to all ideas of the Bible among Catholics, Orthodox, and protestants.


The conclusions of the expert analysis are like a verdict of guilty: "manipulative techniques are used," "there is information connected with infringement of personality," discrimination, accusations against other social groups, etc. And the most important accusation: "there is a foundation for the opinion of the opposition and incompatibility of the interests of the religious group of Jehovah's Witnesses with the interests of other religious groups."


Thus the expert analysis draws conclusions that the experts do not prove and conclusions that the experts may not make. Only a court can decide whether Jehovists infringe the rights of citizens.


It is amazing that experts consider as "extremism" that which is the essence of religious activity and the foundation of the life of any group of believers who live by an awareness of their truth that belongs only to them. Believers of one group interpret their own truth and, on that foundation, the sacred texts, and therefore, naturally, "are incompatible with other religious groups."


The majority of Christians in Russia use the Synodal translation of the Bible, but in legal terms it is not clear why other translations or whole contemporary translations of the Bible should suffer. The point is that Orthodox, for example, may not like modern translations of the New Testament that protestants make. Questions have arisen for representatives of the RPTs, Buddhism, and Judaism in connection with the law on the legal immunity of sacred texts. Why does the bill mention the collection of Buddhist sacred texts Kangyur but not the second part of the collection with commentaries, the Dangyur? Why is not the whole Talmud included? For Orthodoxy it would be natural to compose a list of texts of Tradition and the Holy Fathers of the church that the prosecutor's office should not view these books as targets. Anxiety has gripped not only "nontraditional" believers.


In Russia, where religious feeling has always been the foundation of culture and development, religion has become something suspicious and unreliable for the authorities. After all, adherence to faith in some sense makes a person independent; faith makes us free. (tr. by PDS, posted 2 March 2016)

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