Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Question on Matthew 24:15

One of our readers asks the following:

Hi Edgar,

I looked for a way to post a question, but could not find a link. Please forgive me for posting my question here.

My question relates to the NWT rendering of Matt. 24:15 - "When you catch sight of the....."

"catch sight" - I really like this rendering, and I think it very well captures the sense of Jesus' words, because this phrase has the sense of 'capturing' a fast-moving event that is not of long duration. In 66 CE the Roman troops briefly and suddenly breached the wall and stood in the temple area. But then they just as suddenly withdrew. So from the perspective of a Christian in the city, he could "catch sight" of the brief event. This is different than Luke 21:20, where the NWT uses "see" with respect to the Roman armies surrounding the city in 66 CE. This was not quite so sudden an event, and it lasted a while - so the rendering "see" makes very good sense.

I think this is yet another example of the superiority of the NWT. I would like to be able to defend the Matt. 24:15 rendering based upon the Greek grammar itself. Could you examine this and help me to know how to make a defense?

Thanks so much, Edgar.

[End of Quote]

My response:

"When, therefore, you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)-World English Bible

'Whenever, therefore, ye may see the abomination of the desolation, that was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever is reading let him observe)-Young's Literal Translation

Both of these translations and many others use the verb "see" in Mt 24:15. The Greek ἴδητε is the aorist subjunctive active (second person plural) of ὁράω ("I see, look upon, experience"). Since the verb's mood is subjunctive and second person plural, YLT renders it "ye may see." It can also be translated "you will/shall see." But I also like the NWT handling of the grammar "you catch sight . . . "

Regarding the English expression "catch sight of," says: "to get a glimpse of; espy: We caught sight of the lake below."

I believe that the NWT chose this rendering because of the aorist tense that occurs in this verse. At one time, the aorist was commonly viewed as the "once-for-all" tense. But after the famous article by Frank Stagg, we now consider the aorist to be the default tense or it's a verb form which expresses undefined action. See "The Abused Aorist," Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 91, No. 2 (Jun. 1972): 222-231. Cf.

While the aorist by itself may not communicate a "once-for-all" time action, the context of a verse may lead us to belive that the action being portrayed by a writer occurs in a punctiliar fashion. That seems to be the case for Mt 24:15. Maybe others can provide some helpful input.


Anonymous said...

Hi Edgar,

I really appreciate your analysis of the question at hand.

As you have pointed out, this may well be a case where the NWT translators added significant value based upon the immediate context - that of a siege being "cut short" - so that the "standing in a holy place" would of necessity be quite brief. Therefore, "catch sight of" is a value-added, and perfectly permissible, rendering.

When translators add value based upon the context there is always a risk associated. What if the translator has an imperfect, or even wrong understanding of the context? Here again, the NWT excels, because Jehovah's Witnesses have the truth, while other translators labor under multiple layers of falsehood. I have to believe that the NWT translators were, not directly inspired by holy spirit of course, but definitely benefited from its free flow in their translation work. Otherwise, we would be seeing multiple cases of erroneous translation in the NWT - and we simply do not see such. I personally deeply respect the position of the Translators of the NWT - they remain anonymous, which obliges that their work be judged wholly on the basis of its accuracy and worth. For accuracy, the NWT is just about as close to perfection as we'll ever see in this system of things.

Edgar Foster said...

I agree with your observations. And if I find anything else that supports the NWT reading, I'll post the information.