[This article was contributed by Apollos]

Matthew 24:45  Who really is the faithful and discreet slave whom his master appointed over his domestics, to give them their food at the proper time? (NWT)

Matthew 24:45  Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his Lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? (Webster’s Bible Translation)

 

I have been wondering about the choice of words to translate what Jesus said in the above passage – specifically the New World Translation’s use of the word “discreet”.

The Greek word phronimosis almost uniformly rendered “wise” by all other translations. There must have been a very specific reason to decide on the word “discreet” instead. I don’t have any theory about what this reason might be, and I have no specific agenda in posting this article. I just wondered if anyone else had considered the matter, and has any insight on why this choice might have been made.

The word (or a variation of the root) occurs 14 times in the Greek scriptures.

One of the stated features of the New World Translation is as follows: “Uniformity of rendering has been maintained by assigning one meaning to each major word and by holding to that meaning as far as the context permits.”

We have been partially true to that in this case. Once the word “discreet” was settled upon it seems that we have used it the majority of the time, but there are exceptions: Matt 10:16 “cautious”, Luke 16:8 “wiser”, 1 Cor 10:15 “discernment”, 2 Cor 11:19 “reasonable”.

Now from what I can see the Bible translators who have stuck with the word “wise” have not had to deviate from the “uniformity of rendering”.

Furthermore there are places where the use of the word “discreet” seems less straightforward in context than “wise”. For example, was the man at Matt 7:24 more “wise” or “discreet” in his building of the house on the rock-mass? Notice that the contrast is with the “foolish” man. The same is true of the virgins in Matt 25.

In addition there are two places where Paul ends up warning against becoming “discreet in your own eyes” (Rom 11:25, Rom 12:16). This is particularly awkward, since the Hebrew scriptures contain multiple occurrences of the distinctive phrase “do not become wise in your own eyes” (Prov 3:7; Prov 26:5, 12, 16; Prov 28:11; Isa 5:21). It seems very likely to me that Paul was using the same phraseology.

Was the choice in the NWT therefore driven by a strong inclination to use the word in one of the passages (possibly, but not necessarily, Matt 24:45), and then the rest had to follow as far as possible, or is there a good case for the usage of “discreet” in preference to “wise” on a more scholarly basis overall? I would be most interested to hear any thoughts on this.