Founded in 1831 for the circulation of Protestant or uncorrupted versions of the Word of God
New International Version: What today's Christian needs to know about the NIV (A114)
- Philosophy of Translation
- Modern Receptors
- Textual Problems in the New International Version
- The Old Testament
- Other Unsupported Changes
- Problems in the Titles of God
- Omissions and Additions
- Unacceptable Words
- A Final Word
- The New Testament
- Textual Problems
- Synonym Problems
- Unusual Translation
In the mid-1950s, Howard Long set out to witness to a business associate, only to have that associate break into laughter. The laughter came as the man read ‘the gospel for himself — directly from the pages of the Bible’.1 It made Howard angry, not that the man laughed at the Scriptures, but that Howard couldn't give him ‘a Bible in [his] own language’.2
Howard's children, too, had trouble understanding a Bible written in something other than everyday speech. ‘“We've translated the Bible into a couple thousand tongues,” Howard said to his pastor. “Someday we're going to translate it into English”.’3 Little did he know that his frustration would give birth to one of the most popular translations in the English language.
The New International Version was, in the words of James Powell, President of the International Bible Society, ‘“really God's project… His fingerprints are all over it, from the original dream to the final production”.’4 Apparently many people agree. The International Bible Society, in league with several publishers in North America and the United Kingdom, has packaged the NIV in every style and binding imaginable, and for every group of people under the English-speaking sun. There are expensive, luxurious leather editions and cheap paperback editions, versions for children and versions for college students, whole Bibles and individual verses, Bibles with ‘Holy Bible’ stamped in gold on the cover and Bibles that are only discovered to be Scripture when read by those familiar with the NIV. In its relatively short lifetime the NIV has become the basis of commentaries, interlinears, systematic theologies, and concordances. Colleges and seminaries distribute it to their students and require it in the classroom. Churches of many denominations and doctrinal persuasions use it in pew and pulpit. Bookshops claim that it is outselling the Authorised (King James) Version and everything else that claims to be Scripture.
Many versions of Holy Scripture claim to be literal translations (e.g., the AV, the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible and the English Standard Version); others claim excellent readability (the paraphrases such as the Living Bible, the Good News Bible and Phillips New Testament), but the NIV claims both literalness and readability. The latter is definitely not in dispute; the NIV is written in a modern English that anyone — rich or poor, young or old, saved or unsaved — with a child's education can understand. The NIV is legitimately compared to a newspaper for comprehensibility. But with regard to the former, the literalness of translation, the NIV has come under increasing scrutiny, and in many ways has been found wanting.
It should first be noted that, had Howard Long interpreted his colleague's laughter in more Biblical terms, the NIV might never have come to be. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him’ (1 Corinthians 2.14). Unless the Holy Spirit is working in a man's life, that man has no reason to react positively to the Word of God because of what it is — God's Word. Those in spiritual darkness will hide anywhere from the light, even in laughter.
This, however, may not have been the case with Howard's children. They could very well have been born again. Just as it is the parents’ responsibility and honour to bring their children to an understanding of salvation through Christ alone, so it is their responsibility and honour to help their children understand the rest of Scripture. That can be done no matter what translation the parents use. A child can learn to read with understanding the most difficult language, usually more easily than an adult can, as has been proven over and over in past centuries with dead languages such as Latin and Koine Greek. While it is true that the NIV requires less adult supervision and guidance when being read, it may also deprive the parent of opportunities of spiritual interaction, opportunities that may never come again.
Philosophy of Translation
The problems with the NIV, however, are more basic and far-reaching than this. The problems begin at its very core — the philosophy of translation held by its translators.
The NIV translators began with a very noble goal. Their wish was to produce ‘an accurate translation’ with a high degree of clarity and literary quality, one that meets standards of modern English but at the same time preserves ‘some measure of continuity with the long tradition of translating the Scriptures into English’.5 To fulfil this desire entails, first, the belief that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the very Word of God, inspired by God and inerrant even down to the individual words. On the basis of this belief, the words of Scripture are translated as literally as possible, with the goal being to reproduce in English what is written in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek of the original texts. The resultant translation should differ from the original texts and other literal translations only in idiomatic expressions, word order, and alternative definitions of words; the operating principle of this formal equivalence translation is ‘as literal as possible, as free as necessary’. This philosophy of translation has been the standard of most translators throughout the centuries (discounting, of course, those who have paraphrased the Scriptures); the major differences between conservative translations since the late 19th century have been in the Greek text used and the cultural or theological biases incorporated into the translations.
In recent years, however, there has arisen a group of scholars who no longer believe in the importance, and often the inerrancy and inspiration, of the individual words of Scripture. These scholars believe instead that it is the thought or the truth behind the words that is important. (In the inerrancy controversy, this theory ‘explains’ such supposed problems as the diversity between Scripture and science. It is not what Genesis 1 says that is important, but the ‘truth’ behind what it says.) This view is called the dynamic view of Scripture; transferred into the realm of translation, this is referred to as dynamic equivalence. The aim in dynamic equivalence translation is not word-for-word accuracy, but thought-for-thought equivalence. Although the NIV translators would avoid using the term dynamic equivalence in reference to their work, their aim was for ‘more than a word-for-word translation;’ their goal, instead, was for ‘fidelity to the thought of the biblical writers’. They sought by ‘frequent modifications in sentence structure and constant regard for the contextual meanings of words’ to produce a translation that would speak to people in that people's own culture.6
The basic idea of the dynamic equivalence theory is to ask the question, ‘How do we think Paul would have written his New Testament letters had he written them in English?’ Or, ‘How do we think a 1st-century reader would have understood the writings of Paul?’ The dynamic equivalence translators want to produce the same response and reaction in modern readers. Thus, to them the thoughts, phrases, or truths expressed in the writings of men — even of ‘holy men of God’ speaking ‘as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Peter 1.21) — are more important than the actual words. Their desire is to give modern man what Paul and his colleagues would have written if they were writing today.
How can a man's thoughts be known apart from his words? Further, if his words do not express his thoughts, especially in Scripture, how can truth be known at all? Where can man find truth if not in the very words of God to man? How can man know what Paul's thoughts were apart from what he wrote? How can man know how the 1st-century readers responded, apart from what has been written about their responses? The attempt to answer these questions through dynamic equivalence can produce all sorts of heretical extremes. We can be thankful that the NIV translators held to the basically conservative end of the dynamic spectrum.7 However, it is distressing that, despite signing statements that they believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, they decided to use a theory of translation that in essence denies not only the inerrancy of Scripture, but also the need for Scripture to be inerrant.
A great difficulty in the NIV translators’ theory is the view of the importance of the receptor or receptor language over that of the original languages. The result is that the need of the reader takes precedence over fidelity to the inspired text. Sentence structure and word usage must be such that the reader will have no trouble understanding the author's intent, regardless of the author's actual words. Thus, in a translation aimed at a people in the Caribbean, Isaiah 1.18 would not be ‘though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow,’ but rather ‘as white as a dove's feathers’ or of something else in the reader's experience that is white. (Happily for us, the NIV translators assumed English readers would have seen snow; but, since the translators believe that ‘there is a sense in which the work of translation is never wholly finished’,8 one wonders what will happen in coming decades.)
With this in mind, the NIV translators have gone on to say that ‘a present-day translation is not enhanced by forms that in the time of the King James Version were used in every day speech, whether referring to God or man’.9 Thus they have done away with the use of ‘thou’ and ‘thee’, whether in narration or in prayer in the Scriptures. They would say that to use these terms for any reason, including when referring to Deity, serves no legitimate purpose. But it must be understood that the AV had no more linguistical necessity in using ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ than the NIV translators would have today. As can be seen in the works of Shakespeare, the terms were not in strict common usage during the 16th and 17th centuries. The AV translators, however, used these terms to express something that nearly every major language except current English expresses: the singular of ‘you’. In Biblical Hebrew and Greek, there is a differentiation between 'you' (singular) and 'you' (plural). To distinguish the two in English, the AV translators employed ‘thou’ and ‘thee’ for ‘you’ (singular), ‘ye’ and ‘you’ for ‘you’ (plural). In this way the reader of Scripture understands that ‘the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are’ (1 Corinthians 3.17), and thus is able to avoid the individualism so rampant in the church today — an individualism perpetuated by the NIV's lack of differentiation between singular and plural forms of ‘you’ in its rendition of the latter part of 1 Corinthians 3.17, ‘and you are that temple’.
To be fair, it must be noted that in some passages the NIV attempts to indicate the differences between the singular and plural pronouns, but this is normally done by inserting words not found in the original texts (as in Luke 22.32, ‘I have prayed for you, Simon,’ and 1 Corinthians 3.16, ‘you yourselves’ ) but without indicating that the words were added; or by adding footnotes (e.g., Luke 22.31, Isaiah 7.14).
The result of this modern dynamic view of translation is a Bible that reads like a newspaper, complete with short, chopped sentences. The idea behind this is that the modern reader of English is incapable of retaining more than a half-dozen words at a time; thus the paragraph-long sentence of Ephesians 1.3-14 is broken down into eight simpler sentences in the NIV and is even broken at verse 11 into separate paragraphs. The problem is, however, that this cannot be done without changing the normal interpretation of the passage as held by many evangelicals (as is seen in the break between verses 4 and 5 in the NIV: are we, as the AV has, holy and without blame before Him in love, or are we, as in the NIV, predestined in love?).
One advantage of having Scripture in a classical form is that the reader obtains a feeling of ‘foreignness’ when reading Scripture. The Bible is not only the Word of God to man, but is also a history of the people of God. Here we learn of the culture of the Jews, their way of living, the entire basis for the faith revealed in Christ. We learn also of our earliest brothers in the faith, of their struggles and trials and joys. But we also learn that, despite this ‘foreignness’, we are the same as they; man since the fall has not changed, his heart is still desperately wicked, his salvation still not of works. There is also the benefit of memorisation; it is much easier to memorise something with an unusual or unique wording (as in poetry) than it is to memorise a paragraph from a newspaper. The NIV is more readable than, say, the AV or the American Standard Version of 1901, but many find it much less easily memorised and less easily ‘hidden in the heart’ as God would have it to be.
One further disadvantage of easy readability is speed of readability. The NIV is so easy to read that it is often read as one might read a newspaper: quickly and with little comprehension. An advantage of greater difficulty in reading is that one is more apt to read slowly and pick up nuances and meanings hidden from the rapid reader. (This is one of the great advantages of learning to read the Scriptures in the original languages.) Skimming the newspaper may be acceptable, but skimming the Scriptures rather than indepth reading and study is inappropriate.
One further word needs to be said regarding the receptors of God's Word. As was stated earlier, ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him’. No matter how a passage is worded, how closely or loosely translated, the unsaved man will never understand it unless the Spirit of God opens his eyes to its truth. In this respect, the Word of God is most definitely given to His people. Through it God gives instruction on how to live in a right relationship with Him. It is His Word to us, and must be treated, not merely as a glorious piece of literature, but as the very Word of God. The most important aspect of translation, therefore, is not the audience but the Author. It is with this in mind that we will consider individual translation problems in the NIV.
Textual Problems in the NIV
The Word of God was originally penned in three languages: Hebrew and a small amount of Aramaic in the Old Testament, and Koine Greek in the New. This not being an article on textual criticism, a full discussion of the problems associated with modern textual theory will not be undertaken here.10 Instead, the problems of the NIV will be presented with the presupposition that the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Greek Textus Receptus of the New are the most reliable texts of Scripture, and for further information reference is made to other publications of the Trinitarian Bible Society, such as A Textual Key to the New Testament and The Lord Gave the Word: A Study in the History of the Biblical Text.
The Old Testament
In this light, something needs to be said about the origin of the Masoretic Text before discussing one of the NIV's most major problems: how it changes that text. In keeping with normal Hebrew usage, the original Hebrew manuscripts were not ‘pointed’, that is, the written text was made up of consonants, without the vowel signs that make words pronounceable (even today, modern Hebrew is still normally written without vowel signs). In the Hebrew Bible, along with the consonantal text, the spoken text was passed down through the centuries by the Hebrew priests and scholars who by their public reading of the Scriptures gave full understanding to the consonantal text. However, with the destruction of the Temple, they became concerned that the resulting lack of public reading of the Hebrew Scriptures would make them incomprehensible. Thus, a Jewish sect known as the Masoretes, who worked primarily from the 2nd to the 11th centuries, set out to produce a standardised copy of the Hebrew Old Testament complete with vowel signs and accentuation, ensuring that the correct reading of the text was maintained.
Sometimes, however, ‘in the judgment of the [NIV] translators…the vowel letters and vowel signs did not…represent the correct vowels for the original consonantal text’.11 Accordingly, the translators have taken it upon themselves to change those readings, usually without indicating the change by footnotes.12 It should be understood that, as with any language, changing vowels often changes words completely (for instance, ‘dog’ and ‘dug’ in English). Since these changes are not noted, there is no way of determining where the NIV has altered what has been the accepted Old Testament for centuries unless one compares each word of the NIV with a more accurate translation; and then, because of the theory that translation is never complete, comparison would have to be made with all other editions of the NIV also. The major concern here, though, is for God's Word. More than once in Scripture warning is given against changing His Word. Here the NIV treads on very dangerous ground.
It is true that there are places in which the Masoretic text is difficult to translate, and ancient translations such as the Greek Septuagint, the Aramaic Targums, the Latin Vulgate, and the Syriac Peshitta, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls, can be helpful in determining the intended meaning. Most translations use the Masoretic Text as a basis, and look to these for additional light. The NIV, however, seems at times to hold these other translations, particularly the Septuagint, on an equal level with the Masoretic Text. This is done ‘where accepted principles of textual criticism showed that one or more of these textual witnesses appeared to provide the correct reading’.13 It should be noted that not all scholars, particularly conservative ones, accept these principles of textual criticism; and the matter of providing a correct reading can be extremely subjective. In Genesis 4.8 the NIV adds ‘Let's go out to the field’ on the basis of the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and the Syriac. In verse 15 they replace the Masoretic Text's ‘therefore’ with ‘not so’ based upon the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Syriac. Psalm 145.5 is changed on the Septuagint reading alone, and Isaiah 33.8 on only a Dead Sea Scroll reading. The NIV corrects the Masoretic Text in Ezekiel 19.7 by using instead a Targum reading. Here the difference between the Hebrew Masoretic and the Aramaic Targum readings is only a small stroke or mark at the top of a letter; but this is an example of the very tittle that Jesus said would never pass away (Matthew 5.18).
In this same vein are those footnotes in the NIV which cast doubt on the Masoretic text, and on the translations that are based upon it. Judges 1.18 in the AV, following the Masoretic Text, reads, ‘Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof’. The NIV changes this to ‘The men of Judah also took Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron’ but directs readers to a footnote which says, ‘Hebrew. Septuagint “Judah did not take”’. Numbers 11.25 states, ‘they prophesied, and did not cease’; the NIV reads ‘they prophesied, but they did not do so again’, but in a footnote reverses its translation with ‘Or prophesied and continued to do so’. The purpose of these footnotes is unclear; their result is to cast doubt upon the veracity of God’s Word.
The NIV also casts doubt in its notes on proper names. ‘Eve’, according to the major lexicons, means ‘life’; thereby additional light is given on Genesis 3.20, ‘And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living’. The NIV casts doubt, however, by stating in a footnote ‘Eve probably means living’ (emphasis added). Following the murder of Abel, Eve bore a son and named him Seth, ‘For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed’ (Genesis 4.25). To this name the lexicons give the meaning ‘placing in the stead of another’. The NIV says in a footnote, however, that ‘Seth probably means granted’ (emphasis added). These names are meant to give added meaning to Scripture; the NIV in these footnotes and others only gives doubt.
The precise meaning of the biblical texts is sometimes uncertain. This is more often the case with the Hebrew and Aramaic texts than with the Greek… Archeological and linguistic discoveries in this [20th] century aid in understanding difficult passages.14
This statement of the New International Version translators is indeed true. But the statement must be tempered with the realisation that neither archaeology nor linguistics nor anything except the revealed Word of God can be considered infallible. This was vividly displayed when, for decades, critics claimed that Scripture was in error in its statements regarding the extent of the Hittite Empire. (Archaeology, it was said, had found no evidence of a great Hittite Empire; therefore, it cannot have existed and the Bible must be wrong.) And then, during the latter part of the 19th century, the ruins of the great Hittite Empire were discovered.
In the 20th century the ruins of Nineveh were discovered, but there was a problem. The Old Testament book of Jonah claimed that the city ‘was an exceeding great city of three days' journey’ (Jonah 3.3). However, archaeologists have determined that the city was important but definitely not large enough to require three days to traverse it. The NIV translators determined that, according to archaeology and the culture of the period, an important city would require a visit of three days in order to honour it properly. Therefore, the three days required of Jonah must have been in order to honour the city. Thus, the NIV renders Jonah 3.3 ‘Now Nineveh was a very important city — a visit required three days’ — an interesting reading but one that is highly interpretative and not consistent with the text.
Other Unsupported Changes
Modern knowledge of ancient culture has also brought about other changes from the traditional readings, some of which have little or no textual backing. Joseph's ‘coat of many colours’ in Genesis 37.3 is a prime example. Most scholars agree that the coat probably reached the ankles and had long sleeves, much like those worn by Middle Eastern nobility. The NIV, however, renders the phrase a ‘richly ornamented robe,’ with a footnote stating that the Hebrew is uncertain. The question arises as to the validity of changing a reading from that which has been accepted since the Reformation to a totally different one that at best is uncertain. It seems at times that the NIV changes wording just for the sake of change.
Another such change is that found throughout the NIV Pentateuch. The sacrifice of shalom, the peace-offering, is rendered in the NIV ‘fellowship offering,’ with a footnote stating that the phrase was ‘traditionally peace offering’. Yet, in many other places shalom is given its traditional — and primary — translation of ‘peace’. Job is told to ‘be at peace’ with God, not at fellowship with Him (Job 22.21). The reason for such inconsistency is unclear; while it is true that any word means what it means in its context, this sort of inconsistency is unnecessary and often hinders the English reader from seeing parallels in Scripture.
The NIV translators made numerous unwarranted changes strictly on the basis of the translators’ judgment. When Rebekah's family spoke to Abraham's servant, asking him to let the young woman remain for a few more days (Genesis 24.55), the AV says ‘after that she shall go’. The NIV changes this to ‘then you may go’. In modern English, the NIV reading could be thought to imply that Rebekah and the servant were both permitted to leave. However, while the Hebrew could be translated either ‘she’ (feminine singular) or ‘thou’ (masculine singular), it cannot be translated plural. Thus, ‘you’ in this passage would have to indicate that the servant — the only masculine singular noun to which the context points — was being permitted to leave alone. We know from the context that this is incorrect; thus the reading must be ‘she’.
Genesis 34 also bears an unwarranted change. Dinah's brothers, in response to Shechem's desire to marry Dinah, gave requirements for the marriage to take place. If these requirements are met, the Jews will give their daughters and take the Hivites’ daughters (v16). If not, the brothers will ‘take our daughter’ and go (v17). The NIV changes ‘daughter’ in verse 17 to ‘sister’. While it is true that Dinah was the men's sister, the Hebrew word (and the wording of the preceding verse) requires the word ‘daughter’. If inerrancy is based upon words, and Jesus Himself declared that even the smallest part of a letter would not pass away (Matthew 5.18), this sort of baseless change affects much more than just one verse; it has an impact on the whole of Scripture.
This impact is clearly seen in Hosea 12.4. The passage speaks of Jacob overpowering the angel and then making supplication to God. God found him in Beth-el, and as Hosea says, ‘there he spake with us’. In Genesis 28.13, God spoke with Jacob alone; and it is assumed that this is why the NIV changes ‘us’ in Hosea to ‘him’. The context of Genesis 28 would make it so. But the Hebrew in Hosea is ‘us’. Just as the priests, while ‘yet in the loins’ of their father Abraham paid tithes to Melchisedec (Hebrews 7.7-10), so in Genesis God speaks to not only Jacob but to all who were ‘in his loins’ — a statement that would include all the people of Israel in the sins and blessings of Jacob. To change the ‘us’ in Hosea to ‘him’ does away with the full force of the verse, not to mention the impact that God intended; again the final impact is upon the Bible itself.
Problems in the Titles of God
An area of change in the NIV which affects virtually all of the Old Testament is the translators’ interpretation of the most common titles of God. Beginning in Genesis 15.2, they render Adoni YHVH, a form of the covenant name of God usually translated ‘Lord GOD’, as ‘Sovereign LORD’. Indeed, the idea of God's sovereignty is found in this passage and throughout Scripture. But Adoni means ‘my Lord’, and the Tetragrammaton, YHVH, has the idea of ‘being’ (and usually in these instances has the vowel pointing from elohim – God). Rendering the name ‘Sovereign LORD’ tends to emphasise God's sovereignty only, while the context could very well be dealing with His mercy or justice or some other attribute, or might well include all of His attributes by the mere fact of His being God. Nor do the translators explain why they chose this one attribute to highlight; they only state that they do and leave the reasoning to the reader's imagination.
Another change in reference to the titles of God is from ‘the Lord of hosts’ to ‘the Lord Almighty’. This change is necessitated, the translators say, because for most readers today ‘of hosts’ has little meaning, whereas ‘almighty’ conveys the sense of the Hebrew ‘he who is sovereign over all the ‘hosts’ (powers) in heaven and on earth’.15 However, most people, and especially non-Christians (for whom also the NIV was translated) have little more understanding of the phrase ‘Lord Almighty’ than to consider it a mild expletive. There are places in Scripture where the Greek or Hebrew word for ‘almighty’ is used (for example, 2 Corinthians 6.18), and in these places it is only right and proper to translate the word ‘almighty’. But the word the NIV translates as ‘almighty’ in many places in the Old Testament does not mean ‘almighty’ ; it means ‘of hosts’. The phrase ‘LORD of hosts’ at least makes sincere readers pause to consider its meaning, and is no problem for those who understand who the hosts in heaven and on earth are (as in Luke 2.13, which the NIV renders ’Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared’… — a phrase familiar to many, even non-Christians, as a part of the ‘Christmas Story’ ).
Poetry, too, is not without revision in the NIV. Poetry is printed in poetic line to ‘reflect the structure of Hebrew poetry. This poetry is normally characterised by parallelism in balanced lines;’ however, as the NIV translators admit, ‘scholars differ regarding scansion of Hebrew lines’.16 Scholars also use the difficulties of determining metre and parallelism in Hebrew poetry to insert a diversity of meaning into Scripture, and translation becomes a game that in the end proves to be detrimental to belief in the inerrancy of God's Word. Briggs in the International Critical Commentary proposes a number of emendations to Psalm 114, inserting and deleting words from the Hebrew in order to produce the parallelism he believes is proper for the Psalm.17 Others use parallelism to dispute the Biblical teachings on Creation: in Genesis 1-2, ‘did the author really mean to express two distinct thoughts… or did he regard the creation of man as part of the creation of the earth, so that his lines are really parallel statements…?’18
In the NIV, too, we find revisions in order to produce parallelism; although these changes are not nearly so detrimental as those proposed by more liberal scholars, they are nonetheless changes to the Word of God — changes not intended by the human authors and not by the original Author Himself. With the NIV translators’ view of never-ending translation, who knows what other, more liberal changes may be incorporated into the next edition? 19
Although the NIV stresses the need for parallelism and balance, it has failed to achieve either. Instead, the stately rhythm and flow of the AV, so familiar to Christians (and to non-Christians) for some four centuries is lost in the NIV's attempt to communicate. The translators manage to retain ‘your rod and your staff/they comfort me’ (Psalm 23.4) yet for the sake of unlearned readers change ‘mercy’ (v6) to ‘love’, resulting in the unfamiliar ‘Surely goodness and love will follow me/all the days of my life’. Not only does this lose the rhythm found with the additional syllable in mercy, it also loses the theological significance of mercy as found in the mercy seat in the tabernacle and so often in the lives of David and his spiritual kinsmen.
Omissions and Additions
An unusual Hebrew particle found throughout the Old Testament is the word na. Classified by most Hebrew scholars as a particle of entreaty or exhortation, it is commonly translated ‘I pray thee’. This little word carries with it much more than just a simple request. Its implications are more in the way of earnest entreaty, as Moses’ request of God, ‘I beseech thee, shew me thy glory’ (Exodus 33.18); or it denotes urging, as when Abram urged his wife to deny their marriage (Genesis 12.13). The NIV, as stated earlier, has ‘striven for more than a word-for-word translation’, but in its attempt to catch ‘the thought of the biblical writers’20 it has missed the significance of this Hebrew particle. The NIV has Abram telling Sarai, ‘Say you are my sister’, which is more a command than a request; in Exodus 33.18, Moses merely says ‘Now show me your glory’. The man of Gibeah who sought to protect his house guest from his kinsmen, in the NIV merely says ‘No, my friends, don't be so vile’, in contrast to the AV's ‘Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly’ (Judges 19.23).
Another Hebrew word that is often ignored is hinneh, usually translated ‘Behold’. Some scholars claim that this word serves no significant function in the Hebrew language, that it is merely an interjection rather than a meaningful part of speech. The NIV translators make no comment on the word; instead they simply omit it (note Genesis 1.29, 12.11). Again, the major issue in the omission of this and other words is not so much laxity of translation. It is, rather, a matter of inerrancy. If the Bible is truly God's Word, His admonitions against changing that Word must be heeded. Each word must be considered important, because God considers it important; otherwise, He would have omitted it.
There are some words that the NIV includes that would better have been omitted: paragraph and section headings. It is true, of course, that these can and do serve a useful purpose in helping the reader determine breaks and changes of subject; this is especially true in the Prophets, in which many concepts or ideas are foreign to the average English reader. Not all headings are bad; however, those of a questionable nature are better placed in commentaries or omitted. A good example of this confusion is seen in the footnote to the first heading in the NIV's Song of Songs, which says, ‘In some instances the divisions and their captions are debatable’. Debatable ideas perhaps have their place in interpretative commentaries, but their insertion into the Scriptures only increases the likelihood of misinterpretation of God's Word.
Of course, there are places in both the Old and New Testaments in which words must be inserted to give sense to the English translation, as there would be in translating any written work from one language to another. The Hebrew and Greek languages often omit words, particularly forms of the verb ‘to be’. A fully literal translation of Genesis 1.4 would be, ‘And God saw the light that good’. For Hebrew readers this makes perfect sense; for English readers a verbal form needs to be inserted, rendering the phrase ‘that it was good’. However, in Scripture, again because of admonitions to keep God's Word pure, these additions need to be noted. This most translations do by italicising the added words. The NIV, however, does not do this. The theory of translation employed in the NIV is that it is the thoughts behind the words, not the words themselves, that are important; thus, there are in essence no added (nor subtracted) words possible in their translation. Every word in the translation would have been meant by the author, regardless of what he wrote. The writer of Genesis would have meant ‘that it was good’. Thus, according to the NIV translators, the translation is accurate; there are no added words. But, as discussed above, a man's thoughts can only be known by his words, if then. And the average reader, unversed in the Biblical languages, deserves a translation based upon those words.
The daily newspaper is full of accounts of the sins of men, and often people (even Christians) will read lengthy articles looking for a few more details of what happened. This is understandable with the unsaved man; his natural tendency is to progress further into sin, and the more decadent the better. The Christian, however, is admonished to be transformed by the renewing of the mind, a transformation accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. The original writers sought to aid in this. Rather than detailing the sins of men, they spoke of men's sins euphemistically. In Judges 19, the old man of Gibeah who invited the Levite into the protection of his home was ordered by the wicked of the city to ‘Bring forth the man… that we may know him’ (v22). When the Levite's concubine (a term in itself that could, and today usually is, be put in more explicit words) was instead put out of the house, she was ‘abused’ (v25) until she died. Ezekiel 23.20 is more specific, but the Hebrew still speaks of ‘the flesh of asses’ and the ‘issue’ (literally ‘scattering seed’, whether in begetting children or planting crops) of horses rather than using more vivid terminology. Most translations follow the original authors by either translating literally or using euphemisms which express the idea of what happened without putting impure thoughts or pictures into the minds of readers, and without contributing to man's tendency toward sin.
The NIV, however, uses detailed language — language inappropriate for this paper and certainly out of place in a Book whose Author desires the transforming of the mind to His standards. It is doubtful that the descriptive language used in the NIV, particularly that mentioned above, would be used in family publications. It could certainly not be read to a child, and would only cause the mind of an unbeliever to stray away from the message of the Scriptures. Modernising the Bible is one thing; vulgarising it is uncalled for.
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