The Rare “Magdeburger Bible”: Exploring the Historical Significance

Printed in 1934, the “Magdeburger Bible” now holds a treasured place in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses as the first translation of the Bible both translated and printed by them.

This is significant because the Magdeburger Bible predates the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which was released in stages. Starting in 1950, the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures (New Testament) was released followed by five separate volumes comprising the Hebrew Scriptures from 1953 to 1960. The following year saw the release of the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in one volume (At the end of this article we will attempt to briefly explain why the New World Translation is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide as their primary scriptural resource.)

The Magdeburger Bible is a significant artifact that offers insights into the religious movement and its activities during a critical period and is exceptionally rare considering its relatively recent publication.

Based on what we know, we will delve into the origins, content and significance of this Bible, shedding light on its importance within the context of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ history.

We learned about this rare and significant Bible translation in the August, 2023 edition of JW Broadcasting. The video discussing the Bible is here.

Origins and Printing

The translation work was an independent initiative from a dedicated team of translators and scholars from within the Jehovah’s Witnesses community. The goal? To produce an accurate German-language edition of the Bible. To this end, the translators worked meticulously to ensure accuracy and faithfulness to the original scriptures.

The translation project was undertaken under the framework of the International Bible Students Association, the forerunner of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The obscurity of this work may be due in part to a long-held belief that it didn’t have the approval of then President of the Watch Tower Society Joseph F. Rutherford.

Despite growing persecution, a short window opened to actually print the Bible when on 13 September 1934 the office of the Reichsminister of Interior responded to a 17 July 1934 request from the American consul and ordered that no further hindrance of the work of the International Bible Students association. Understanding that this lifting of the ban on their activity was temporary at best, the Bible Students informed then President of the Watch Tower Society, Joseph F. Rutherford that they were in possession of a New Testament manuscript, ready for immediate printing, and that an edition of the Old Testament was nearing completion.

Approval from Rutherford was granted in October for printing of 100,000 copies of the Magdeburger Bible and it was printed later that year at Germany’s Watch Tower Society headquarters, located in the city of Magdeburg since 1923 and affectionately known as Magdeburg Bethel.

By 6 August 1935, Rutherford received correspondence informing him of a 10 July raid by Secret Police which lasted all day and resulted in the seizure of all Watch Tower Society assets. Henceforth, a Nazi flag flew atop the building and following the war was used by East German Communists.

Significance and Rarity

  1. A Distinctive Witness Artifact: In 2017, The Magdeburger Bible emerged from decades of obscurity as one of the significant early publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  2. Historical Context: The printing of the Magdeburger Bible occurred during a time of increasing persecution and restrictions faced by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. In 1933, the Nazis started targeting the religious group, leading to the prohibition of their activities and publications. The Magdeburger Bible is a testament to the resilience of Jehovah’s Witnesses in preserving their beliefs and sharing their message of truth in the face of extreme adversity.
  3. Limited Circulation: Due to the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities, the distribution and circulation of the Magdeburger Bible were severely curtailed. In fact, almost all of the Bibles were burned by the Nazis before they were distributed and their buildings were confiscated. As a result, only a small number of copies managed to survive, making it a rare and highly coveted item for collectors and historians.

How can you see one of the very few Magdeburger Bibles in existence?

Schedule a tour of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ World Headquarters in Warwick, New York to see their museum and Bible exhibit. You do not need to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to visit and children are welcome. More information here.

The Bible and the Divine Name tour at the world Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses in Warwick, New YorkThe main tour you want to schedule is the self-guided exhibit The Bible and the Divine Name. According to their website, over 100 rare Biblical scrolls, leaves, manuscripts and books are showcased.

Personally, I greatly anticipate seeing the Magdeburger Bible as it stands as a remarkable testament to the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses, particularly during a period of intense persecution in Nazi Germany. Its unique translation, rarity and historical significance make it an invaluable artifact in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Today, the scarcity of the Magdeburger Bible accentuates its importance as a tangible representation of the unwavering commitment of Jehovah’s Witnesses to their faith.

See also: Unbroken Will – The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man: The Story of Leopold Engleitner

Why Jehovah’s Witnesses utilize the New World Translation as their primary scriptural resource

There are a few key reasons why Jehovah’s Witnesses felt the need to produce their own translation. Among those reasons are:

  1. Accuracy: Jehovah’s Witnesses view the Bible as the inspired Word of God, and believe it should be translated as accurately as possible. They strive to maintain the integrity of the original languages and convey the intended message faithfully. The New World Translation was developed by a team of dedicated scholars who extensively studied ancient manuscripts, fragmentary texts, and other reliable resources to ensure a precise translation.
  2. Clarity: Another aim of the NWT was to provide clear and understandable language without compromising accuracy. Jehovah’s Witnesses desired to make the Bible accessible to all readers, including those with varying levels of education or familiarity with religious terminology. By using modern language and employing consistent renderings, the NWT aims to communicate the Bible’s message in a way that is easy to comprehend.
  3. Bias in existing translations: Jehovah’s Witnesses were aware that many existing translations of the Bible were influenced by religious traditions and cultural biases. They wanted to minimize such influences to produce a translation that would be free from sectarian or denominational distortion, allowing the Biblical message to speak for itself.

It is essential to note that the New World Translation was not intended to replace all existing translations. Jehovah’s Witnesses acknowledge the value of other translations and encourage individuals to study multiple versions to gain a fuller understanding of the Scriptures. Nonetheless, the New World Translation serves as the primary translation used by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

See also: Read the New World Translation online or listen to the audio Bible here.

Note: I’ll be traveling to see the 1934 Magdeburger Bible and get pictures of it later this year (see how you can do so below). On this same trip, I’ll also be visiting the Sir William Osler Library at McGill University in Montreal to see some of the ultra-rare Michael Servetus texts as well as a final stop in Colorado to see an extensive personal collection of Watchtower publications and memorabilia. I’ll attempt to document all three with pictures and videos and update this page later. Until then, please pardon the lack of media on this page.