Isn’t there a textual variation in II Peter 3:10?


Dear Sirs.

I have read your Web page critiquing the NWT of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Very interesting.

May I just address just one of the scripture places you examined, namely II Peter 3:10? It seems you think the NWT mistranslates it here. But they did not as the verb they translated, which appears in the Westcott and Hort Greek text as well as other modern critical Greek texts of the New Testament is a form of, future passive indicative, εὑρίσκω and which means what the NWT has given it. It is not the verb κατακαησεται that led you to believe the NWT was being "inconsistent."

Other translations likewise translate how the NWT here does.

I am wondering in light of the above if you would consider it right to update your NWT web page to reflect the above?

Hope this helps.


"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up" (II Peter 3:10 NASB).

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare" (II Peter 3:10 NIV).

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed" (II Peter 3:10 ESV).

"But Jehovah’s day will come as a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar, but the elements being intensely hot will be dissolved, and earth and the works in it will be exposed" (II Peter 3:10 NWT 2013 edition).

"Yet Jehovah’s day will come as a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a hissing noise, but the elements being intensely hot will be dissolved, and earth and the works in it will be discovered" (II Peter 3:10 NWT 1984 edition).

Before getting into the textual variations, let us take note of the terms Peter uses. When the day of the Lord arrives, it will come suddenly and unexpectedly as a thief robbing you. At that time,

  • the heavens will pass awaypareleusontai. The word means "to pass by" in a literal or figurative sense. For example, in Luke 11:42, Jesus charges the Pharisees with passing by (disregarding) justice. In this case, the word is being used to mean that the heavens are gone in the same way that James 1:10 says the rich will eventually die.
  • with a roar: rhoizedon. This word means a loud rushing sound often caused by movement.
  • the elements will be destroyedluthesontai. The word means to let something loose, set it free, destroy it, break it up, or abolish it.
  • with intense heatkausoumena. The word means to be consumed by heat, to be burnt up, or to be set on fire.

The description is all of a destructive force that destroys

  • the heavens: ouranoi. This word refers to a large volume, such as the earth's atmosphere (Matthew 6:26), outer space (Acts 4:24), or the location of God's throne (Matthew 5:34). Being in the plural, what is being destroyed is the atmosphere and the cosmos.
  • the elements: stoicheia. This word literally means things that belong in a series. But it is used to refer to rudimentary parts, such as the alphabet composes the parts of words. Thus, it refers in this context to the basic elements that make up this world.

This leads to a problem in reconstructing the original text of II Peter 3:10. Some of the earliest manuscripts (dating around A.D. 350) say, "and the earth and its works will be found." One of the earliest translations of the New Testament (dating around A.D. 500) says, "and the earth and its works will not be found." The remaining manuscripts (starting around A.D. 425), which constitute the vast majority of them, say, "and the earth and its works will be destroyed."

"One of the most difficult textual problems in the NT is found in v. 10. The reading εὑρεθήσεται (heurethēsetai), which enjoys by far the best support (א B K P 0156vid 323 1175 1241 1739txt 1852) is nevertheless so difficult a reading that many scholars regard it as nonsensical. (NA27 lists five conjectures by scholars, from Hort to Mayor, in this text. All conjectures were eliminated in the NA28 apparatus) As R. Bauckham has pointed out, solutions to the problem are of three sorts: (1) conjectural emendation (which normally speaks more of the ingenuity of the scholar who makes the proposal than of the truth of the conjecture, e.g., changing one letter in the previous word, ἔργα [erga] becomes ἄργα [arga] with the meaning, “the earth and the things in it will be found useless”); (2) adoption of one of several variant readings (all of which, however, are easier than this one and simply cannot explain how this reading arose, e.g., the reading of P72 which adds λυόμενα [luomena] to the verb—a reading suggested no doubt by the threefold occurrence of this verb in the surrounding verses: “the earth and its works will be found dissolved”; or the simplest variant, the reading of the Sahidic mss and a couple of other ancient versions, οὐχ [ouch] preceding εὑρεθήσεται—“will not be found”); or (3) interpretive gymnastics which regards the text as settled but has to do some manipulation to its normal meaning. Bauckham puts forth an excellent case that the third option is to be preferred and that the meaning of the term is virtually the equivalent of “will be disclosed,” “will be manifested.” (That this meaning is not readily apparent may in fact have been the reason for so many variants and conjectures.) Thus, the force of the clause is that “the earth and the works [done by men] in it will be stripped bare [before God].” In addition, the unusualness of the expression is certainly in keeping with the author’s style throughout this little book. Hence, what looks to be suspect because of its abnormalities, upon closer inspection is actually in keeping with the author’s stylistic idiosyncrasies. The meaning of the text then is that all but the earth and mankind’s works will be destroyed. Everything will be removed so that humanity will stand naked before God. Textually, then, on both external and internal grounds, εὑρεθήσεται commends itself as the preferred reading." [NET footnote on II Peter 3:10].

Basically, scholars have broken this problem down into several possibilities.

  • Earlier manuscripts are generally preferred, but given the small sample size, it is possible that these manuscripts were altered. Since the reading is difficult in the earlier manuscripts, many scholars lean toward the majority reading of "destroyed."
  • The Syriac translation is a puzzle. Though the translation dates back to A.D. 250, the earliest copies are fragmented. The earliest copy of II Peter is found in a manuscript dated A.D. 508. It says "not found." Either an early scribe accidentally dropped the "not" in his copy that influenced all these manuscripts or the translators of the Syriac added a "not" to make the reading fit the context better.
  • Scholars tend to also favor harder readings over easier readings because of this tendency of scribes to fix what they didn't understand. Thus, if "found" is the correct word, then it means that at Christ's return, everything that was once hidden will be revealed for judgment (I Corinthians 3:13).

Regardless, the overall meaning of the passage does not change. At Christ's return, the physical world will be destroyed down to its very elements by intense heat. Judgment will take place, and Peter asks, "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!" (II Peter 3:11-12).

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that fire will destroy the earth's surface but that the world will remain and be repopulated. The New World Translation was produced by the Watchtower Society of the Jehovah's Witnesses and its word choices were in view to supporting their beliefs (such as using "dissolve" instead of "destroyed") or using "but" instead of "and" to separate the elements of the earth from passing away like the cosmos.

I will update the wording of my review of the New World Translation to reflect the variation of the source texts.

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