Matthew 27:50 New World Translation

According to the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures(1984 ed.)this verse reads:

"Again Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit[Gk "pneuma."]."

However, the first edition of 1950 reads:

"Again Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and ceased to breathe."

This earlier rendition, of 1950, has occasioned criticism. We will summarise, with quotations, one particular criticism that we know appeared back in 1977 in a book and we have seen reproduced on the Internet.

This critic quotes Matthew 27:50 from the 1950 edition of the NWT(with a note that "later versions[!] changed" it) and also quotes Luke 23:46 which reads, again from the NWT:

"And Jesus called with a loud voice and said:Father,into your hands I entrust my spirit."

The critic says:

"The interested student of Scripture will note from Matthew 27:50 and Luke 23:46 that they are parallel passages describing the same event...."

So far so good. But he goes on:

"In Matthew's account, the Witnesses had no difficulty substituting the word "breath" for the Greek spirit (pneuma)..."

He goes on:

"Sometimes and in various contexts, spirit (pneuma) can mean some of the things the Witnesses hold, but context determines translation, along with grammar, and their translations quite often do not remain true to either."

The latter part of this last remark prepares us for the following:

"Having forced the word "breath" into Matthew's account of the crucifixion, to make it appear that Jesus only stopped breathing and did not yeild up His invisible nature upon dying, the Witnesses plod on to Luke's account, only to be caught in their own trap. Luke .....forces the Witnesses to render his account of Christ's words using the correct term "spirit" (pneuma), instead of "breath" as in Matthew 27:50. Thus in one fell swoop the entire Watch Tower fabric of manufactured terminology collapses, because Jesus would hardly have said: "Father into your hands I commit my breath" -- yet if the Witnesses are consistent, which they seldom are, why did they not render the indentical Greek term (pneuma) as "breath" both times, for it is a parallel account of the same scene."(emphais ours)

Now, It is NOT the purpose here to show that the scriptures do not teach that the "spirit"(Greek "pneuma", Hebrew "ru-ach") of man continues to exist after death.That has been done elsewhere(although we cannot but touch upon it. That is unavoidable!). We wish just to address the translational issues that this critic has brought up.

He has said and insinuated many things here with regard to how Matthew 27:50 reads in the 1950 edition of the NWT.
He says that the Witnesses "forced" the word "breath" into Matthew 27:50. That the Witnesses did this "to make it appear that Jesus only stopped breathing...". And that Luke's account of the same event "catches" the "Witnesses" in their "own trap." He appears to say that the "correct" translation or "term" at Matthew 27:50 for the Greek "pneuma" is "spirit" and in so saying we must take him to mean that it would be "incorrect" to render "pneuma" there as "breath"-as the NWT of 1950 did. He also accuses the "Witnesses" of not being "consistent" in their translation of these two accounts of the same event. What can be said about these charges?

First of all we are unaware he informed his readers how other translations have so rendered "pneuma" at Matthew 27:50. Many of course render this Greek word here as "spirit", which this critic appears to think is the only way it should be rendered to be consistent. (See NIV,The Modern Language Bible,etc) We herewith supply a list of translations that translate "pneuma" here as "breath" or similarly:

The New Testament in Modern English by J.B.Phillips(1960)

"But Jesus gave one more great cry and died."

God's New Covenant,A New Testament Translation by H.W.Cassirer(1989)

"But, Jesus, crying out again in a loud voice, breathed his last."

The New Testament-A Translation by W.Barclay(1968)

"Jesus again shouted at the top of his voice and died."

The New Testament in Modern Speech by R.F.Weymouth(1903 ed.)

"But Jesus uttered another loud cry, and died."

The Contemporary English Version (1995)

"Once again Jesus shouted, and then he died."

Todays English Version (1976)

"Jesus again gave a loud cry and breathed his last."

The New English Bible (1960)

"Jesus again gave a loud cry and breathed his last."

The Revised English Bible (1989)

"Jesus again cried aloud and breathed his last."

The Complete Gospels editor R.J.Miller(1992)

"Jesus again shouted out at the top of his voice and stopped breathing."

Now, we can see that some of the above translations listed were produced before the critic wrote that which he did regarding the New World Translation. Some afterwards. One has to ask if this critic, and others who have likewised followed him, thinks if these also "forced" the words "breath" and "died" into the account of Matthew? Was it the intention of these also to "make it appear that Jesus only stopped breathing?" Were these translations also "caught in their own trap" by Luke's account, where they all render "pneuma" there as "spirit"?
If he thinks that the only "correct" way is to render "pneuma" at Matthew 27:50 is as "spirit", then it follows he should charge these others(and the list could be added to) also of an 'incorrect' translation. But did he in his book? No. Because critics like the above are so determined to make out the NWT as one that is "perverted,"(his word in this very discussion of NWT's(1950) Matthew 27:50)they forget themselves, their judgement is blinkered and they unwittingly malign other Bible versions, but,of course, not with that intention. But here is a good example of this happening! Do you think this critic has proved that the "watchtower manufactured terminology has collapsed"? Either he is wrong or the above translations are. What do you think?

Remember, he stated so confidently:

"yet if the Witnesses are consistent, which they seldom are, why did they not render the indentical Greek term (pneuma) as "breath" both times, for it is a parrallel account of the same scene."(emphais mine)"

When he uses the word "they" for the Jehovah's Witnesses, he is trying to isolate them, as if they alone are so rendering "pneuma" at Matthew 27:50 as "breath." He fails to alert his readers that "they" are not so alone in doing so. Does not the above list of translations/translators show this? Is he to charge the producers of the Todays English Version and the New English Version, respected major translations of being "inconsistent" too? (Of course they could be. But are they!)

Let us go to one other translation, the Revised Standard Version. At Matthew 27:50 we read: "And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit." Now the critic would find no fault with that rendering. However, in 1989, out comes a revision of this version, the New Revised Standard Version. How does it render "pneuma" at Matthew 27:50? It reads there: "Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last." Goodness, what would this critic say to this?

Since 1950 the New World Translation has been itself revised on several occasions. In the 1984 Reference Edition we read at Matthew 27:50, "Again Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit." We find a footnote supplied explaining, "Or , "ceased to breathe." Lit., "he let go off the spirit." Gr., ap·heŽken to pneuŽma." So from all what has been said so far the rendering of "pneuma" at Matthew 27:50 could either be rendered as "breath," "spirit," or by freer translations, as simply "died." No criticism can rightly be leveled at the New World Translation here.

A closer look at the parallel account at Luke 23:46 might benefit us. It reads there, according to The New Revised Standard Version, "Then Jesus,crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit["pneuma"]. Having said this, he breathed his last["ekpneo"]." Here we see a link with a last "breath" with "letting go off the spirit." We could compare here with Genesis 7:21,22. According to the New International Version it reads, "Every living thing that moved on earth perished- birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in it's nostrils died." We can read from the New World Translation here, "So all flesh that was moving upon the earth expired, among the flying creatures and among the domestic animals and among the wild beasts and among all the swarms that were swarming upon the earth, and all mankind. Everything in which the breath of the force of life was active in it's nostrils, namely, all that were on dry ground died." The NWT refers it's readers to a footnote at Gen.6:17. We read there, "Lit., "in which the active force(spirit) of life [is]." Heb., 'asher-boh' ru'ach chai·yim'. Here ru'ach means "active force; spirit." Notice: 1) All "flesh", creatures on dry ground, including mankind, have this "ru'ach," "spirit," "breath of life,"or "active force," 2) This "spirit" was active in the creature's "nostrils." 3) When they drowned, and therefore 'breathed their last,' they ceased to have this "spirit,"- they "died," they ceased to be living.

So in no way does the NWT of 1950, or for that matter, all those others listed above, try "to make it appear that Jesus only stopped breathing and did not yeild up His invisible nature upon dying..." Exactly what Jesus' "spirit here is, might be gained from the paragraph above and from the lexicons cited below.

The critic finished by saying, "The Witnesses could not render it["pneuma"] "breath" in Luke [23:46] and get away with it, so they used it where they could and hoped nobody would notice it" !!! I wonder if any one has noticed that the above translations did translate "pneuma" at Matthew 27:50 as "breath" or "died" and whether anyone thinks that THEY "hoped nobody would notice it" !

Interestingly, The New Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon(coded to Strong's) says under pneuma:

"2. the spirit, i.e. the vital principle by which the body is animated....L[u]ke viii.55; xxiii.46......[ap·heŽken to pneuŽma], to breathe out the spirit, to expire, M[a]t[thew] xxvii.50..." p.4151. Notice that Thayer has both Matthew 27:50 and Luke 23:46 under the above definition.

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Arndt and Gingrich(1957 ed.)says:

"pneuma...2.breath, (life-)spirit, soul,that which gives life to the body.....[ap·heŽken to pneuŽma] give up one's spirit, breathe one's last......M[a]t[thew] 27:50..."

We are quite sure that the critic we have quoted from extensively above would have been aware that the above lexicons gave the meaning of "ap·heŽken to pneuŽma" at Matthew 27:50 as "give up one's spirit," or "breathe one's last." Then why has he criticised the NWT of 1950? What grounds has he for doing so. Has not he rather shown himself up as one whose writings should not be trusted? This particular criticism was from a book authored by Walter Martin originally of 1965 with later editions of 1977 and 1985. The latest edition is the 1997 Revised, Updated, and Expanded Anniversary Edition published by Bethany House Publishers, Hank Hanegraaff being the General Editor. We wonder if Hank Hanegraaff realised the complete erroneous and mistaken criticism that Martin made in this instance. And, if so, why Martin's criticism was not "updated" or better still, removed completely!

Lastly, may we remind our readers of this critics remarks already cited. He said, "The interested student of Scripture will note from Matthew 27:50 and Luke 23:46 that they are parallel passages describing the same event...." He fails to bring to your attention what? That there is another, a third "parallel" account. We can find it in Mark at 15:37. The New International Version says here: "With a loud cry Jesus breathed his last." The Greek literally reads here: "The but Jesus having-let-go-off voice great expired"-Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures(WTB&TS 1985). The Greek word translated "expired" here, and by "breathed his last," by the NIV is "exepneusen" which according to Thayer is the aorist of "ekpneo" which here(and in Luke 43:46)means "to breathe out, breathe out ones life, breathe ones last, expire." This being so and the critic charged the "Witnesses" of attempting to "to make it appear that Jesus only stopped breathing...",one has to think that this same critic would also think that Mark was also trying "to make it appear that Jesus only stopped breathing and did not yeild up his invisible nature upon dying" and also denying "the survival of the human spirit beyond the grave.(same critic)" Perhaps, then, Mark(who was inspired to write as he did)was! But that is a different discussion not to be found here. We believe we have proved the New World Translation to be justified in it's 1950 rendering of "pneuma" at Matthew 27:50 as "breath".