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In order to understand how the New World Translation (NWT) came into existence, I believe that it is essential to have a basic knowledge of former Watchtower President, Fred Franz, since this was primarily a work of him alone. He dropped out of college to join the movement in 1913 and knew the founder, Charles Taze Russell. Though now deceased, his influence both past and present cannot be overstated.

Anyone involved with the Watchtower Corporation (Jehovah's Witnesses) for any length of time would probably have been occasionally reminded of the scholarship of Fred Franz and his command of eight or more languages, including the biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek. While growing up in the 1970’s, I remember hearing from different ones that Franz was a Rhodes Scholar. At other times I heard that he was at least offered a Rhodes Scholarship but turned it down to “pursue kingdom interests”. This was usually presented in the context as an example to be looked up to.


I had just assumed that those who knew him well verified these facts and that they were without dispute. I often wondered what it must be like to be so intelligent and how a person could learn so many languages. That is, until I did a little research concerning the claims that surrounded Fred Franz.

Macmillan wrote of Franz in his 1957 book - "Faith On The March": “he carried away the honors at the University of Cincinnati and was offered the privilege of going to Oxford or Cambridge in England under the Rhodes plan” (pg. 181). “Besides Spanish, Franz has a fluent knowledge of Portuguese and German and is conversant with French. He is also a scholar of Hebrew and Greek as well as Syriac and Latin, all of which contribute to making him a thoroughly reliable mainstay on Knorr’s editorial staff” (pg. 182).

So, here apparently was one source of the rumors regarding Mr. Franz’s intellectual and linguistic prowess that I had heard so much about as a young boy. However, the facts about his education prove problematic for the support of such claims. Scanned copies of the scholastic transcripts of Mr. Franz’s work as a student at the University of Cincinnati show that Mr. Fredrick William Franz quit his university education well before completing his bachelors’ degree (first tier 4 year degree).

So, how could it be true that Franz “carried away the honors of the University of Cincinnati” when he didn’t even graduate?
Franz seemed to try to run a little interference for himself when he wrote in his autobiography (in the article “Looking Back Over 93 Years of Living” for the May 1, 1987, Watchtower magazine):

“I had been chosen to go to Ohio State University to take competitive examinations with others to win the prize of the Cecil Rhodes Scholarship.”

Simply being told what a student must accomplish in order to be invited to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, is certainly not the same as “being offered the privilege of going to Oxford or Cambridge in England under the Rhodes plan”. This started me to thinking that there might be more to this story than met the eye. I wondered if there was anything else here that was different than what I’d been led to believe?

First, let’s consider the other linguistic claims about Mr. Franz that was distributed in all the Kingdom Halls in the late 1950’s. Macmillan wrote: “Franz has a fluent knowledge of Portuguese and German and is conversant with French. He is also a scholar of Hebrew and Greek as well as Syriac and Latin.”

However, according to Mr. Franz’s college transcript, his major language studies were in classical Greek (21 semester hours), not Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written. The Greek Franz studied has different grammar and syntax from that of biblical Greek.

At that time, there was only one course in biblical Greek even offered at the University of Cincinnati.

According to the 1911 university catalog, page 119, that course was titled: “The New Testament – A course in grammar and translation.” Although Franz did take this class, this was not a full 3-hour college credit course. This was simply a survey course of New Testament Greek. Therefore it could legitimately be said that Franz never completed not even one typical college course in New Testament Greek. The one short course he did take was in a sense, well….anti-typical; if I may use a favorite phrase of his.

As for Hebrew and Syriac, they were not even offered at the University of Cincinnati. Franz did take 15 hours of Latin, but that would not qualify him as a scholar of that non-biblical language. Since there is no record of Franz attending other universities and the one he did go to is easily checked, the additional claims of him being a scholar of “Hebrew, Syriac and Latin” are apparently not true either.

Franz himself seemed to hold an inflated estimation of his scholarship credentials all the way to near the end of his life evidenced by what he wrote in his autobiography in 1987 :

“What a blessing it was to study Bible Greek under Professor Arthur Kensella! Under Dr. Joseph Harry, an author of some Greek works, I also studied the classical Greek. I knew that if I wanted to become a Presbyterian clergyman, I had to have a command of Bible Greek. So I furiously applied myself and got passing grades” (The Watchtower, May 1, 1987, pg. 24).

You’ll note that this autobiography gives the impression that the majority of his Greek studies were ‘Bible Greek’ under ‘Professor Kensella’ and that classical Greek was secondary under ‘Dr. Joseph Harry.’ The only problem with this proclamation is that the opposite is the truth. Franz only took one, shortened 2-hour credit class of “Bible Greek.” The other 21 hours of Greek he took were Classical.

Also noteworthy, according to the course catalog of 1911, is that Arthur Kensella was not a professor of Greek as Franz claimed, but an “instructor in Greek.” The reason was that Kensella did not have a Ph. D. degree. Therefore, Kensella only taught entry-level courses.

As if Franz’s personal academic records weren’t embarrassing enough when compared with his self-perception; he also seems to have perjured himself in a 1954 Scotland courtroom when he claimed under oath that he could read Hebrew, but then failed to translate a short verse in Genesis when challenged by the prosecutor:

Prosecutor:Have you also made yourself familiar with Hebrew?

Franz: Yes …

Prosecutor: So that you have a substantial linguistic apparatus at your command?

Franz: Yes, for use in my biblical work.

Prosecutor: I think you are able to read and follow the Bible in Hebrew, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French.

Franz: Yes. . .

Prosecutor: Can you, yourself translate that into Hebrew?

Franz: Which?

Prosecutor: That fourth verse of the second chapter of Genesis?

Franz: No...

(Cross Examination of Fred Franz. Pursuer’s Proof of Douglas Walsh v. The Right Honorable James Latham, Clyde , Scottish Court of Sessions, Wednesday, November 24, 1954 , p.7, pars. A-B. and p. 102, par. F.)

Now with his scholastic record and testimony under oath in mind, please re-read Franz’s claims about himself:

“What a blessing it was to study Bible Greek under Professor Arthur Kensella! Under Dr. Joseph Harry, an author of some Greek works, I also studied the classical Greek. I knew that if I wanted to become a Presbyterian clergyman, I had to have a command of Bible Greek. So I furiously applied myself and got passing grades” (The Watchtower, May 1, 1987, pg. 24).

Does this seem like a man in touch with reality, in love with truth and animated by the humbling effect of the indwelt Holy Spirit? Or, does he appear to be a fleshly man playing fast and loose with the truth to cover over his real qualifications? You make the call.

For me, the reality is that Fred Franz, although apparently above average in intelligence and somewhat self-taught in Hebrew and other languages, was not a biblical scholar at all. He did not even complete a first tier Bachelors degree, much less a Masters’ degree or a Ph. D., which of course is needed for competent biblical language translation work. In the real world where you and I live, he would have simply been forgotten and would have probably had a hard time finding a good job with such incomplete college work. However, with the help of a religious publishing company he ended up being esteemed as much as many heads of state and revered as a quasi-prophet or “oracle” with multitudes hanging onto his every word at conventions. 

These findings raise important and troubling questions. Why did Franz never object to the false claims in "Faith on the March"? His later claims in his autobiography certainly suggest that he himself was the source of these statements distributed by the Watchtower since they closely mirror those in Macmillan’s book. So, why would someone take such a risk in promoting these claims that would someday surely be found out as false?

The answer is obvious to me as to why the risk was worth taking. It was at this time that the monumental task of translating the entire Words of God (as edited by Wescott and Hort in Greek) from the original languages into English was nearing completion at Watchtower headquarters. This “work” was being released piece by piece to all the members at this time and no doubt questions were naturally raised about the competency of this work. In my opinion, The Macmillan/Franz illusion served the purpose of creating an air of legitimacy surrounding the re-interpretation of Scripture by the Watchtower Translation Committee.

The New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was released at a convention of Jehovah's Witnesses at Yankee Stadium, New York, August 2, 1950. The translation of the Old Testament was released in five volumes in 1953, 1955, 1957, 1958, and 1960. The complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was released as a single volume in 1961.


I believe that Witnesses needed to believe that competent and learned people were in charge of this complicated work as it was being released. And so, this competency seems to have been simply conjured up for the brothers and circulated in  the congregations. 

Although the “translators” of the NWT are officially anonymous, according to several Bethel sources including a former Governing Body member, the translation committee included these other men in addition to Fred Franz:

Nathan H. Knorr: No training in biblical languages. Entered Brooklyn headquarters in 1923; 3rd president of WTS from 1942 to 1977. Died 1977 at age 72.

Milton G. Henschel: No training in biblical languages. Private secretary and traveling companion to N. H. Knorr from late 1940s until early 1970s. 4th president of WTS from 1992 to 2000.

Albert D. Schroeder: No training in biblical languages. Took 3 years of mechanical engineering, unspecified language courses in college, dropped out in 1932 and soon entered Brooklyn headquarters. Registrar of "Gilead School" from 1942 to 1959.

Karl Klein: No training in biblical languages. Entered Brooklyn headquarters in 1925; member of Writing Dept. since 1950. Died 2001 at age 96.

George D. Gangas: No training in biblical languages. Greek-speaking Turkish national, entered Brooklyn headquarters in 1928 as a Greek translator from English to modern Greek publications. Died 1994 at age 98.

As you can see, none of the men on the translation committee responsible for the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures had any college training whatsoever in Hebrew; and only Fred Franz had one short survey college course in Biblical Greek. With this in mind the opening declaration of the 1984 edition of the New World Translation on the cover page seems particularly appropriate. Just under the title it reads:

Rendered from the Original Languages

by the

New World Bible Translation Committee

Perhaps it is precisely because there was no scholar educated in the original biblical languages of Hebrew and Koine Greek on the translation committee that the author chose the word “rendered” as opposed to the word “translated” when characterizing the New World Translation. If the Watchtower employed a biblical “scholar” with very little college work in the biblical languages, it is certainly not surprising to me they would form a “translation committee” that couldn’t actually translate … only ‘render’, whatever that means.

If this is the case, and there is no evidence I’ve found to the contrary, then this is nothing more than simply employing word-games to create an illusion of competency and accuracy.

So this naturally begs the question; how did the members of the Watchtower Translation Committee know how to “render” passages since they had virtually no biblical language training? Of necessity, they must have looked to others; but who?

In several Watchtower publications, the Society has favorably cited the work of Johannes Greber as supporting its theology and key bible passages. Greber’s stand on many major doctrines is identical to that of the Watchtower Society. In 1923, Greber, who was a Roman Catholic priest, became interested in communication with spirit beings. These spirits often spoke through his wife, who was a spirit medium. The spirits told him that the Bible was full of errors and couldn’t be trusted and that he should translate his own. His experiences with spirits and their communications with him are related in his book, Communication With the Spirit World, published in 1932.

As a reminder, in Leviticus chapter 20 vs. 6, God warns:

And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off…

In open rebellion to God, Greber consulted the demons through his wife and other spirit mediums when facing ‘difficult’ passages while working on his bible translation. In the Forward to his "bible", he states that sometimes the correct translation would supernaturally appear as letters on a wall.

I own a copy of Greber’s bible and it is identical to many passages in the New World Translation, especially those dealing with foundational Christian truths. The facts simply do not allow for the Watchtower to plead ignorance on this matter. Here are just a few citations to demonstrate the Watchtower's early acknowledgement of Greber’s demonic involvement:

"Very plainly the spirits in which ex-Catholic priest Greber believes helped him in his translation" (W.T. 2/15/56/ p.111).

Also in that 1956 issue of the Watchtower magazine we find the following quote:

“Says Johannes Greber in the introduction of his translation of The New Testament, copyrighted in 1937: ‘I myself was a Catholic priest, and until I was forty-eight years old had never as much as believed in the possibility of communicating with the world of God's spirits. The day came, however, when I involuntarily took my first step toward such communication, and experiencing things that shook me to the depths of my soul. . .My experiences are related in a book that has appeared in both German and English and bears the title, Communication with the Spirit World: Its Laws and Its Purpose.’ "

WT Greber Letter.jpg

So, if the Watchtower knew that spirits had assisted Johannes Greber in “translating” his bible version as early as 1956, why would they use him to support various renderings of the NWT for the next 20 years? Here are a few of those citations:

Aid to Bible understanding Page 1669, (Pub. 1969) The Word
Aid to Bible understanding Page 1134, (Pub. 1969) Memorial tombs
Make sure of all things... Page 489, "a god"
The Watchtower 9/15/1962 Pg 554, The Word
The Watchtower 10/15/1975 Pg 640 No Resurrection
The Watchtower 4/15/1976 Pg 231 No Resurrection
The Word Pg 5 "a God

Interestingly, the translations that Greber received via his spirit guides, are similar to many of the controversial scripture readings of Jehovah's Witnesses in their New World Translation. Both Greber and the Watchtower deny the Deity of Jesus, that God is omniscient and omnipresent, and the existence of a literal hell, etc. It is only therefore reasonable to ask why it would be that a book containing channeled messages from spirits that are not of God, is teaching the same doctrines as the Watchtower Corporation? 

It seems pretty clear that since the members of the Watchtower Translation Committee could not truly understand the original languages, they were limited to simply “rendering” the words of the bible into a form that agreed with their doctrines. Since many of these unique doctrines agree with Johannes Greber, who received them via occult communication; this raises the question as to just where these doctrines actually originate. 

As if all this isn't bad enough, there is another problematic feature of the New World Translation. In the Forward you will find that the New Testament portion is based upon the Wescott and Hort Master Greek Text of 1881. This text is based mainly upon two Alexandrian manuscripts which I believe the evidence shows to be corrupted. The readings of these manuscripts were available to the King James translators but were rejected because of the many disagreements that they had with each other as well as with most other ancient manuscripts.

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