Brackets serve a few functions when writing, all of which are explanatory. For example, if one is quoting a work and places an ellipsis in brackets then that informs the reader that a portion of the quoted material has been skipped over. Bracketed words or phrases are meant to clarify rather than obscure by providing additional information or explanations. When it comes to Bible translation though, the bracket is sometimes used as a way to sneak one’s theological bias into a text while safeguarding them against charges of mistranslation because, well, the addition is in brackets(!), and brackets are an indication that something is not original to the text itself. A classic example is found in the New World Translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Colossians 1:15-17:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; because by means of him all [other] things were created in the heavens and upon the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, no matter whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All [other] things have been created through him and for him. Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist,
JW Christology is essentially Arian asserting that Christ is a created being. By inserting the word “other” into the text in brackets they are implying this very Christology in Colossians 1:15-17. Instead of Jesus being the Creator of all things created, he is the creator of all things created other than himself who was created by God the Father.1
But let me give another example, this time from a seemingly orthodox Christian translation. 2Thessalonians 2:1-4 in Wuest’s Expanded Translation reads:
Now, I am requesting you, brethren, with regard to the coming and personal presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, even our being assembled together to Him, not soon to become unsettled, the source of this unsettled state being your minds, neither be thrown into confusion, either by a spirit [a believer in the Christian assembly claiming the authority of divine revelation and claiming to give the saints a word from God], or through a word [received personally] as from us through a letter falsely alleged to be written by us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come and is now present. Do not begin to allow anyone to lead you astray in any way, because that day shall not come except the aforementioned departure [of the Church to heaven] comes first and the man of lawlessness is disclosed [in his true identity], the son of perdition, he who sets himself in opposition to and exalts himself above everyone and everything that is called a god or that is an object of worship, so that he seats himself in the inner sanctuary of God, proclaiming himself to be deity.
It’s no secret that Kenneth Wuest was a premillennial dispensationalist, and as such he saw something very different in ἀποστασία then most other Bible translators have seen. As a translation he went with “departure” which is troubling enough but I suppose possible, but the bracketed portion of “of the Church to heaven” is hardly implied in ἀποστασία, especially given its use elsewhere in Scripture (LXX: Josh. 22:22; 2Chr.29:19; 1Macc. 2:15; Jer. 2:19 | NT: Acts 21:21) where it generally has reference to forsaking or rebelling.
So the moral of the story is this: you can make the Bible say whatever you want and get away with it by using brackets!
1 Jason BeDuhn in his book Truth in Translation defends the addition of “other” by pointing out that the NIV, NRSV, TEV, and LB make additions and don’t indicate them. He says: “Yet in many public forums on Bible translation, the practice of these four translations is rarely if ever pointed to or criticized, while the NW is attacked for adding the innocuous ‘other’ in a way that clearly indicates its character as an addition of the translators.” (p. 83-4) He goes on to suggest that the NWT is “correct” (theologically that is).