One of our readers sent me an e-mail recently asking an interesting question:
Hello, I am interested in a discussion on Acts 11:13-14 where Peter is recounting the events of his meeting with Cornelius.
In verse 13b & 14 Peter is quoting the angel’s words to Cornelius, ” Send men to Joppa and summon Simon who is called Peter, and he will tell you things by which you and all your household may get saved.”
As I understand the Greek word σωθήσῃ is rendered as “will” in the Kingdom Interlinear, however in the NWT it is rendered as “may”.
Was the angel conveying the idea that hearing from Peter all things by means of being saved is a hit and miss affair, as if believing in the name of Jesus “may” save them. Was the angel unsure?
If not then why does the NWT render the English different than the Kingdom Interlinear?
Looking at Acts 16:31 the NWT renders, σωθήσῃ as “will”.
“They said: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will get saved, you and your household.”
The jailer asks what must I do to get saved? It appears the men, Paul and Silas were more definite than the angel about the means by which people must get saved.
The writer is not being flippant in his remarks regarding the angel’s words as rendered by the NWT. The verb tense for the Greek infinitive sózó (“to save”) used in this verse is sōthēsē (σωθήσῃ) which is found in two other places in the Bible: Acts16:31 and Romans 10:9. In each place, it is in the simple future tense and should be rendered “will (or shall) be saved”. That is how virtually every other translation renders it, as a quick scan of the parallel translations available through BibleHub proves. There you’ll find that it shows up as “will be saved”, 16 times, “shall be saved” or “shalt be saved”, 5 times each, and “can be saved” once. Not a single translation in that list renders it as “may be saved”.
Translating σωθήσῃ as “may be saved” moves it from the simple future verb tense to a subjunctive mode. Thus, the angel is no longer stating simply what will happen in the future, but rather relaying his (or God’s) state of mind on the matter. Their salvation moves from a certainty to, at best, a probability.
The Spanish version of the NWT also renders this in the subjunctive, though in Spanish, this is considered a verb tense.
“y él te hablará las cosas por las cuales se salven tú y toda tu casa’.” (Hch 11:14)
We rarely see the subjunctive in English, though it is evident when we say, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you”, switching out “was” for “were” to indicate the mood change.
The question is, why has the NWT gone with this rendering?
Option 1: Better Insight
Could it be that the NWT translation committee have better insight into Greek than all the other translation teams that are responsible for the many Bible versions we’ve reviewed on BibleHub? Were we dealing with one of the highly controversial passages, such as John 1:1 or Philippians 2:5-7, perhaps an argument could be made, but this does not appear to be the case here.
Option 2: Poor Translation
Could it be just a simple mistake, an oversight, a poor rendering? Possibly, but since it also occurs in the 1984 version of the NWT, and yet is not duplicated in Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9, one has to wonder if the error occurred back then and has never been researched since. This would indicate that the 2013 version isn’t really a translation, but more of an editorial redraft.
Option 3: Bias
Could a case be made for doctrinal bias? The Organization often quotes from Zephaniah 2:3 emphasizing the “probably” in that verse:
“. . .Seek righteousness, seek meekness. Probably YOU may be concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger.” (Zep 2:3)
We have no way of knowing why this verse is rendered as it is in the NWT. We could speculate that the translators, in line with JW policy, don’t want the flock to get too sure of itself. After all, the Organization is teaching millions of people that they are not God’s children, and while they may survive Armageddon if they remain faithful to the Governing Body and stay inside the Organization, they still will remain imperfect sinners in the New World; individuals who will have to work toward perfection over the course of a thousand years. The “will be saved” rendering would seem to conflict with that concept. Nevertheless, that leads us to ponder why they don’t use the same subjunctive mode in Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9.
One thing we can say with certainty, “may be saved” does not properly convey the thought expressed by the angel as recorded in the original Greek by Luke.
This highlights the need for the careful Bible student to never rely exclusively on any one translation. Rather, with modern tools, we can easily verify any Bible passage across a wide range of resources to get to the heart of the truth expressed by the original writer. One more thing for which we should thank our Lord and the hard work of sincere Christians.
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Thanks MM for a different take on the angels word use. It is always so enjoyable reading the contributing understandings and reasonings, praising our God and His Son.
If one has to go through mental gymnastics to justify an action or a word, one is more likely looking for an excuse rather than responsibly considering repercussions. Actions and words have consequences, regardless of explanations! (Matt 5:37)
1 Cor 5:5 as this same word, but in the subjunctive in Greek. Definitely makes difference.
The “probably” theory from Zep 2:3 is one possibility. Another one may be to deflect the “once saved always saved” doctrine. In other words, Cornelius and his family may have been saved then and there, but could lose that salvation at a future time.
As an aside, Cornelius was an army officer. *gasp* An army officer being saved?!?!?!
Hi LQ Yes a serving officer in the roman army, it’s thought that Cornelius was possibly the officer in attendance at Jesus execution, only assumption. However, to receive the gifting of the Holy Spirit, that amazes me , because any officer in the roman army only got there because they had combat experience, and usually the best at it got those positions. So here’s this man Cornelius , a bloke who knows how to handle a sword and kill people,and have a good grasp of military tactics and deployment, anointed with Holy Spirit, you don’t read much about that in… Read more »
Well, that’s all very intriguing. I’m no expert on Greek or translation, although we do get Vines expository out a lot and enjoy “stooping beside” the Word. My interest in this is more based on my knowledge of the English language. Whenever I’ve read that scripture I’ve always assumed ( dangerous, I know!) that ‘ may’ was meant in the way you would say ” Yes you MAY have a cookie” As in yes you have permission. So I saw it as the angel saying that Cornelius would hear the gospel, and when he accepted it, (which after all was… Read more »
Some more info on this here:
G4982 occurs 103 times but Englsh translation SHALL BE SAVE only twice in some bibles.
he KJV translates Strong’s G4982 in the following manner: save (93x), make whole (9x), heal (3x), be whole (2x), miscellaneous (3x).
One other rendering (only one):
AUV(i) 31 Paul and Silas said, “You and your family can be saved if you [all] believe in the Lord Jesus.”
Here it is CAN BE SAVED.
ABout all aothers have WILL BE, SHALL BE.
It is shame that one could not simply bring these concerns to WT for a fair review. History has shown that they won’t listen. I recall a story being told at a convention many years ago. Perhaps a reader will remember this and provide more (or better) details than I can remember. The idea was that a R+F JW had some expertise in Greek, and in the course of his personal study, he concluded that a verse in the Greek portion of the NWT was translated incorrectly. He wrote several times to WT trying to get them to listen, but… Read more »
That is very interesting. We are always told to keep a sense of urgency but they take ten years to correct an error. It is amazing how fast Jehovah answers when they want to put someone out but he can take decades to answer on important matters. Laughable!!
That is about how it is, Robert. What happened to the searching for the small coin, or the lost sheep, I do not know. As soon as we ask questions which really question, we run into a brick wall where the only answers depend on what has already been published.
So much for Jehovah’s chariot being on the move (a quote from a recent elder’s school, I was told). Part of the Organisation seem to be on a much slower form of transport, or just plain stuck.
I think the chariot has a flat , nobody wants to get out and change it.
What you describe, Robert, is institutional narcissism.