New International Version: What today's Christian needs to know about the NIV (A114)

(Continued from previous page)

A Final Word

The NIV, in its determination to do away with words that might not be easily understood by modern readers, has changed one final word from the generally accepted translations of that word to one that fits in well with modern thought. For centuries sheol has meant either the physical grave (or death), or 'hell' as the abode of the dead. The NIV clings to that first meaning, but never translates sheol as hell. Thus, 'The wicked shall be turned into hell' is changed to 'The wicked return to the grave' (Psalm 9.17). God's omnipresence comes into doubt when 'if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there' becomes 'if I make my bed in the depths' (Psalm 139.8). His omniscience is limited when His perfection as high as heaven, 'deeper than hell' becomes 'deeper than the depths of the grave' (Job 11.7-8).

Probably the worst effect of limiting sheol to the grave is the heresy the idea supports. In recent years not only liberals but also those who would consider themselves conservatives have accepted the belief that hell does not exist, that at death is the grave (in which the soul is not conscious of pleasure or pain but merely sleeps) and then either eternal reward or annihilation. The belief has become so prevalent (and is so inviting — every Christian knows at least one person who has gone to a Christless grave), that even John Stott has voiced doubt regarding the historical Christian view of eternity.21 The NIV does nothing to direct its readers — saved and unsaved — to a correct understanding of eternity for the unsaved. In the NIV, even Lucifer, son of the morning, has been denied eternal punishment. No longer will he 'be brought down to hell,' but instead will be 'brought down to the grave' (Isaiah 14.15), to be with wicked Capernaum in 'the depths' (Matthew 11.23, which in the Greek has hades) as long as the depths and grave shall last.

The New Testament

Before we begin this section, a word of explanation is in order to give a basis for this look at the NIV New Testament. Until the mid-1800s, the accepted Greek New Testament was based upon some form of what is called the traditional text. The text was comprised of readings from over five thousand manuscripts which were found all over the Mediterranean world and dated from the 5th to the 17th centuries A.D. This text, classified in later years as the Byzantine text type, is the basis for the Received Text, from which the AV and translations into a number of other languages were made. It was the New Testament of the Reformation and early Protestant church throughout the world.

In the mid-1800s, however, the Received Text of the New Testament was abandoned and a new text was constructed. In this, the textual critics essentially abandoned the traditional Byzantine text for a handful of manuscripts found in Egypt, dating from the 3rd to the 15th centuries. Two of these Alexandrian manuscripts, dating from the 4th century, are considered by some scholars as being the best representatives of the original manuscripts on the basis of their relative age and several other subjective factors.

There would be no major problem in textual criticism if the Alexandrian manuscripts, particularly these two oldest, had not differed so greatly from the Received Text. However, the Vatican manuscript differs from the Received Text in 7,578 words, and the Sinai manuscript from the Received Text 8,972 times. Worse, the Vatican and Sinai manuscripts disagree between themselves more than three thousand times in the Gospels alone. As the 19th century textual critic John Burgon put it, 'It is in fact easier to find two consecutive verses in which these two MSS. differ the one from the other, than two consecutive verses in which they entirely agree'.22

Yet, scholars since the late 19th century have chosen, on the basis of their own reasoning, to abandon the Received Text in favour of a text based essentially on these two Alexandrian manuscripts. The newest edition of this text is the United Bible Society's Fourth Edition. Although the NIV translators were free to consider and incorporate readings from other Greek texts (thus rendering the basis of the NIV New Testament an 'eclectic' text), it appears that they followed the United Bible Society's Third Edition for their New Testament work.

Textual Problems

The Greek text of the NIV provides the best that 'modern scholarship' has to offer — a scholarship that places the five thousand manuscripts represented, for the most part, by the Received Text into a single text family and relegates that family to an inferior position. Thus the Received Text of the New Testament has virtually no place in the NIV. Instead the NIV reproduces many of the doctrinal errors and problems inherent in the United Bible Society's text. A few examples will be given, although many more could be cited. For simplicity's sake, the AV reading, based upon the Received Text, will be given as comparison with the NIV rendition.

In Matthew 5.44 the AV reads, 'But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you'. The NIV, however, says, 'But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'. Supporters of the NIV argue that the NIV says essentially the same thing as the AV, just with fewer words. However, the NIV reading, particularly in our culture, would free Christians from actions and words that display the love of God, a love not of feelings but of activities toward the undeserving — a love that draws even enemies to the Saviour.

Another well-known problem in the NIV that finds its origin in the United Bible Society's text is 1 Timothy 3.16. The AV tells us that 'without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh...'. The NIV, on the other hand, says, '...He appeared in a body...'. Since the Reformation English readers have used this brief creed as a statement of belief in the deity of Christ: God was manifest in the flesh. In the NIV, however, this phrase is useless. 'He appeared in a body' ; who appeared, Jesus? Of course He did, because He was a man. But was He God? Not from this verse; here Jesus is just another person who had a body. The NIV supporters argue that there are plenty of other verses in Scripture that deal with Christ's deity; but there are none that affirm His Godhood as clearly and boldly as this does. It should be noted, too, that it is not just the traditional majority that include 'God' in this verse. Several copies of the Alexandrian manuscripts, a majority of lectionaries (Scripture portions used for worship services in the early church) and such Church Fathers as Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, Didymus, Theodoret, and Euthalius — some of whom predate the two major Alexandrian manuscripts — also include 'God'. But on the basis of the United Bible Society's omission, the NIV changes this passage from a creed to a statement of the obvious.23

The NIV, again on the basis of the Alexandrian texts, weakens another passage which teaches the deity of Christ. In the AV the last part of Romans 14.10 and verse 12 read 'for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ... So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God'. The NIV changes this to 'For we will all stand before God's judgment seat... So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God'. In the Received Text, all men are to stand before Christ, giving account to God; thus, Christ is being called God. The NIV changes 'Christ' in verse 10 to 'God'; thus verse 12 becomes merely a restatement of verse 10, without the affirmation that the Person of the Godhead who has the right of judgment is Christ. To compound the matter, the NIV gives no footnote to indicate the change. Thus someone referring to these verses in the AV would find an NIV reader totally uncomprehending. Here a wonderful verse which plainly declares our Saviour's deity is done away with without the average Christian even knowing it. The deity of Christ is attested in this passage in some Alexandrian manuscripts, the majority of other manuscripts, many ancient versions, and at least ten Church Fathers. It is missing from only a handful of manuscripts (seven), which unfortunately for the church includes the two considered to be the best by a number of modern scholars: the Vatican manuscript and the 'original hand' (as opposed to the corrected) copy of the Sinai manuscript. The NIV, by this omission, does more than delete a few words; it reflects the high-handed approach to textual criticism threatening the church today.

Not only is the doctrine of the person of Christ affected by the NIV, but Christ's virgin birth is weakened in the text of the NIV. The AV in Luke 2.33 reads, 'And Joseph and his mother marvelled'. The NIV renders this 'The child's father and mother marvelled'. Of course, Joseph was not the natural father of Jesus, and in other circumstances this would not be a problem. An adoptive father is often more of a parent than a natural father. No doubt Joseph proved to be a good father to his wife's Son; Joseph was hand-picked by God for the position. But he was not the father of Jesus, neither physically nor spiritually, as exhibited in Jesus' visit to the Temple at the age of twelve. The reader of the NIV is given verses in which Joseph and Mary are freely put together as Jesus' parents; Joseph's association with Mary as 'His father and mother' tends to leave the reader with the impression that this special parentage was equally shared by this human couple. Thus the NIV, with its use of the United Bible Society's text, casts doubt on the virgin birth of the Saviour.

Another verse which has problems in the NIV is Colossians 1.14. Again the person and work of Christ are involved. The AV reads, 'In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins'. The NIV changes this to, 'in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins'. The AV provides the important words 'through his blood' which are crucial to our understanding of redemption. It is by means of Christ's blood, the precious blood of the Covenant, that eternal redemption has been provided for His people. It is interesting to note that the NIV is seeking to communicate with modern man, yet omits in this instance the necessity of Christ's death and the shedding of His blood for man's salvation, a doctrine that modern man finds disagreeable.

In a related matter, Romans 1.16 in the AV says, 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ...' The NIV renders Paul's words, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel'. The phrase 'of Christ' is omitted, without a single note or comment, not only from the NIV but from the United Bible Society's text as well. What was the 'good news' of which Paul was not ashamed? Christ's own gospel is the only 'good news' man needs to hear; it is the 'good news' of which we must not be ashamed. Christ's gospel is the only one which is 'the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth'.

In addition to the doctrine of the person and work of Christ being weakened, the NIV calls into question the integrity and inerrancy of Scripture by introducing mistakes into the very text of Scripture and by omitting portions of verses which show fulfilment of prophecy. In Mark 1.2 the AV says, 'As it is written in the prophets...' and then quotes from Malachi 3.1 and Isaiah 40.3. The NIV says, 'It is written in Isaiah the prophet...' and then proceeds to quote from both Isaiah and Malachi. The NIV thus attributes this Malachi quotation to Isaiah. Isaiah did not write Malachi. The AV has the proper reading with the plural 'prophets', since there were two of them, so that both Malachi and Isaiah are represented. Critical scholars would argue that, from their reason-based criteria, the United Bible Society's reading, as used by the NIV, is correct. However, by sheer reasoning, based on the presupposition that Scripture is infallible, one would imagine that Mark, being a knowledgeable Jew, would know when a prophecy was from Isaiah and when it was from Malachi. Even without that, the Holy Spirit's guidance would have eliminated the mistake of attributing a passage written by one prophet to another. In this day of unbelief, the United Bible Society's reading, and thus the NIV's, only gives the opponents of Scripture added reason to debase the Bible. Worse, it causes even Christians to doubt the veracity of the Word of God, leaving them without an anchor in this world.

Another problem in prophecy in the NIV is found in Matthew 27.35. The AV reads, 'And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots'. The NIV renders this, 'When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots'. The NIV adds in a footnote, 'A few late manuscripts 'lots that the word spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled: 'They divided my garments among themselves and cast lots for my clothing' (Psalm 22.18)''. Old Testament quotations in the New serve several very important purposes. They tie the two Testaments together, giving God's people one Word; they give to Christians a heritage that extends back to Creation and to the Jews a Messiah who fulfilled God's prophecy; they give us proof that God will do all that He has said He will do. Of course, there are some quotations that are questionable; some passages are worded in such a way that one group of Christians will insist that they are quotations while other Christians will say that they are not. It is a pleasure, therefore, when the New Testament tells us that a passage is a quotation, as it does in Matthew 27.35. It is a frustration when, on the basis of the United Bible Society's text, the NIV omits the fact, or as in this case relegates it to a vague footnote.

In addition to words and phrases being omitted from the NIV, whole sections of Scripture are not to be found in its pages, or are set apart and warned against. Mark 16.9-20 is the classic example of this. These verses are found in almost every manuscript of Mark 16 except the Vatican and Sinai manuscripts. The NIV includes the passage, but separates it from the rest of the text and inserts before it the note, 'The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20'. The same problem is repeated in John 7.53-8.11. At a conservative American seminary, one professor who uses the NIV stated that these and other 'questionable' passages are not to be preached or even read because they are not a part of Scripture. A full discussion of the textual evidence for including these passages is well handled in the works of John Burgon, and by the Trinitarian Bible Society in several of its articles and Quarterly Records.24 Here suffice it to say that the NIV's handling of these passages can do much to dissuade people from belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. By accepting as fact the liberal text-critical reasoning of men, Christians no longer have an authority on which to rest their faith.

In addition to these verses being omitted or called into question, a number of verses are deleted entirely from the United Bible Society's Greek text and thus from the NIV. These verses include:

  • Matthew 17.21; 18.11; 23.14
  • Mark 9.44, 46; 11.26; 15.28
  • Luke 17.36; 23.17
  • John 5.4
  • Acts 8.37; 15.34; 24.7; 28.29
  • Romans 16.24

Proponents of the NIV often argue that none of these textual 'variants' is particularly important and no doctrine is affected by these problems. They proclaim that we do not base doctrine on any one verse. This is true as far as it goes. But the problem is basically twofold. First we do not always have many perspicuous verses for any given doctrine. The doctrine may be inherent in all of Scripture, but explicitly stated only once or twice. The omission of one verse will not destroy belief in the entire doctrine. But it makes teaching that doctrine to believers and documenting it to unbelievers more difficult.

It must be noted that the proponents of the NIV who believe that no doctrine is affected by the NIV's handling of Scripture are wrong. One major doctrine is very greatly affected: the inerrancy of Scripture. As stated earlier several times, if inerrancy is not based upon the words of Scripture, it has no basis at all. It cannot be based upon the original authors' thoughts, nor even on the thoughts of God Himself, for these are beyond man's ability to know. Inerrancy must be based upon words, God's words, as set forth by His servants. The Scriptures will remain inerrant no matter what man does to them; but man's belief in their inerrancy, and thus in their authority over his life, is damaged by the NIV's high-handed view of translation and the United Bible Society's liberal, 'reasonable' text-critical methods.

A second problem is found in the teaching or preaching of a passage of Scripture that is partially or completely omitted from the NIV and other translations based upon the United Bible Society's text. If a man is writing a systematic theology, in which he will draw from all over the Bible for information, it is true that he will find no doctrine affected. If, however, he is writing or preaching or teaching from a single passage, and that passage is one adversely affected by the United Bible Society's text, he will find that the proponents of the NIV are wrong: he will find it does make a difference. If the preacher uses a complete translation and his hearers one of the others, there will be confusion among the hearers and an increasing lack of trust toward both the preacher and the Bible itself. If the teacher uses an incomplete translation such as the NIV, both he and his hearers are robbed of the teachings of the omitted verses, often without even being aware of it. If the preacher asks for a passage or verse to be read in unison, assuming that all translations have it in their texts, the resultant garble of voices will be a veritable Babel; in reading any translation together with the NIV, since there is no correlation between the NIV and anything else because of the NIV's looseness of translation, there can be no unison.

The NIV often includes footnotes in places where verses are omitted or changed, but some of these footnotes are too general, are misleading, or are actually incorrect. Following is a summary of footnotes given in the NIV New Testament,25 with the number of times each is used.

  • Some manuscripts - 82 times
  • Some early manuscripts - 32
  • A few late manuscripts - 2
  • Some late manuscripts - 6
  • Other manuscripts - 1
  • Many early manuscripts - 3
  • The most reliable early manuscripts - 1
  • Many manuscripts - 4
  • Some less important manuscripts -1
  • Two early manuscripts - 1
  • The earliest and most reliable and other ancient witnesses - 1
  • One early manuscript... other manuscripts do not have... - 1
  • One early manuscript - 1
  • Late manuscript of the Vulgate... (not found in any Greek manuscripts before the Sixteenth century) - 1

This betrays some of the bias on the part of the translators. They are vague and obscure when they want to be ('some manuscripts') but can be very specific when they wish ('Late manuscript of the Vulgate', etc.). There are occasions when the translators omit verses or words with no comment at all (e.g., 1 John 5.13).

One very surprising omission from this group of the variant readings is in the book of Revelation. For years the opponents of the Received Text have argued that there was a great weakness in the traditional Greek text of this book. However, the NIV gives only two occasions of textual variants in the footnotes in Revelation. In the United Bible Society's text there are ninety-two occasions of variants noted; and these ninety-two occasions are not exhaustive but selective. Some were not even indicated by footnote. It is interesting that in the NIV changes throughout the remainder of the Bible were designated by footnotes; in Revelation alone the NIV is inconsistent. It is assumed that only the variants considered important are noted; those classified as unimportant or insignificant are omitted. However, on the basis of Revelation 22.18-19, is there anything in God's Word that is unimportant?

Synonym Problems

As with the Old Testament change from 'peace offering' to 'fellowship offering', the NIV New Testament has found it necessary to change terminology long used by the English-speaking church to wording they consider more easily understood. Terms such as sin, grace, propitiation, and righteousness, terms with precise meanings that have been understood and taught by the church for centuries, have been retranslated by the NIV into less precise, even ambiguous words. A few will be listed below, and the major ones will be treated separately afterward.

  • grace becomes favour (Exodus 34.9; Psalm 84.11)
  • glory becomes honour (Psalm 84.11)
  • righteousness becomes 'does what is right' (1 John 3.7)
  • believe becomes trust (John 14.1)
  • Comforter becomes Counsellor (John 14.16,26; 15.26; 16.7)
  • Advocate becomes 'one who speaks to the Father in our defence' (1 John 2.1)
  • think becomes feel (Philippians 1.7 — a real problem in this feeling-oriented age)
  • mercy seat becomes atonement cover (numerous times throughout Scripture)
  • tabernacle becomes tent of meeting (again numerous times)
  • given by inspiration becomes 'God-breathed' (2 Timothy 3.16 — a translation not found in any of the six standard Greek lexicons)
  • propitiation becomes sacrifice of atonement (Romans 3.25) or atoning sacrifice (1 John 2.2)

Some of these may seem minor, but none is. The older terminology has been understood and employed by the church for centuries. The Christian familiar only with the NIV finds the words of Christians of by-gone eras closed books. Suddenly the voluminous works of men such as Calvin, Owen, Hodge, Warfield, Poole, and Ryle are less intelligible. Also lost to these twentieth century NIV readers are the concordances and lexicons and Bible dictionaries that employ this 'theological' language. The great confessions of faith — Westminster, Heidelberg, and other 17th-century confessions, with their catechisms — what place will these have in the homes and lives of those whose faith is tied to the language of the NIV?

In addition to this, some of these synonyms are not fully synonymous. They do not convey the full idea of the original terms, often weakening the meaning of both the Greek and the English. Changing 'grace' to 'favour', and 'glory' to 'honour', are prime examples of this. It is by God's grace, unmerited and free, that we are saved. Favour carries with it the idea of something that can be earned or paid back. God's glory is another thing to which we can add nothing; we can, however, honour Him just as we can honour others of renown.

Associated with this is the problem of preinterpretation. The NIV translators assume that the education level of the reader is such that he cannot understand theological language, so the translators take it upon themselves to interpret the language for them. The Greek word for flesh, sarx, can mean sinful nature or it can mean flesh. Its translation has to be based upon its use in context. But as with sheol in the Old Testament, the NIV translates sarx consistently in one way — sinful nature. This is very interpretative but contradicts some standard expositions of Romans 6 and Galatians 5, as will be more fully discussed below.

Unusual Translation

The NIV translators did not seem to be concerned with following the traditional phrasing of the Bible, despite their stated desire to maintain the tradition of previous translations. They wanted a fresh, contemporary translation which would be much like what the New Testament writers would have penned had they done so in modern English. As lofty as this idea may have been, the result at times borders on paraphrasing and is occasionally bizarre. A few examples will be cited.

In the last part of 1 John 3.7, the AV states, 'he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous'. The NIV renders this, 'He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous'. Implied in this is a righteousness obtained through works. Doing 'what is right' is not the same as 'doing righteousness'. Righteousness goes far beyond the 'does what is right' of verse 7, or the not doing 'what is sinful' of verse 8. It has been stated that, since helping an old woman across the street is right, this action would make a person acceptable to God. There are too many people today who think that God will accept them if their good works outweigh or outnumber their bad works. This translation tends to feed this idea.

Another inaccurate statement of the NIV is found in Titus 1.2. The AV reads, 'In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began'. The NIV says, 'a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time'. Aside from the obvious paraphrase, the surprising statement of 'God, who does not lie...' is hard to accept. There are things which God cannot do. He cannot sin, He cannot deny Himself, etc. He also cannot lie. The phrase 'does not lie' implies that God is able to lie but usually does not, or at least is not at the moment. 'Cannot' denotes an inability; 'does not' includes a volitional aspect. It is much the same as saying 'I cannot steal' ('I am unable to do so', which would indicate that the speaker could not do so even if he wanted to), or 'I do not steal' ('by the grace of God, I do not steal because I have, at least for this moment, overcome the desire to do so'). It is not apparent whether this translation is based on English style, is trying to settle a theological issue, or is just carelessness. In any event, the weakening of the reading is more than unfortunate; it borders on heresy.

Another problem passage is the great Christological reading in Philippians 2.7. The AV states, 'But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant...' The NIV renders this, 'but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant...' Many have sought through reinterpretation of this passage to support the heresy that Jesus was not fully God. They do this by translating kenoo to read 'emptied' — Jesus emptied Himself of His deity and thus was not fully God. The NIV valiantly tries to avoid this error by translating kenoo 'made himself nothing'. This phrase, however, is worse than 'emptied'.26 The obvious meaning would be that Jesus, either as God or as man, ceased to exist, because 'nothing' indicates a lack of existence. Thus the NIV, it is hoped unwittingly, simply eliminates the problem of interpretation in this passage by translating the Saviour out of existence.

In James 3.1 there is an NIV interpretation which is very typical of the translation style and approach of the translators. The Greek literally reads, 'Let not many become teachers, my brethren'. This the NIV renders, 'Not many of you should presume to be teachers...'. The NIV interprets the Greek to mean that the problem is one of presumption to become teachers rather than that a teacher will be held strictly accountable for what he teaches. The translation itself is presumptuous; although the NIV's interpretation is a possibility, it is unfair to Scripture and to its readers to give one interpretation as the only possibility.

The same sort of preinterpretation problem occurs in the last phrase of 1 Corinthians 7.1, where the AV reads, '...It is good for a man not to touch a woman'. The NIV renders this, ' is good for a man not to marry'. The literal meaning of 'not to touch a woman' is a euphemism for abstaining from immorality. The word 'to touch' has connotations of intimate contact. What is in view is not abstaining from marriage, but from immoral intimate contact. Although marriage is mentioned later in the passage, and some have interpreted the entire passage in that light, the context is still one of abstaining from immorality — an immorality which is not found in marriage. Again, the NIV rendition is more than simple translation; it is an unfair interpretation which could cause some to abstain from the holy and honourable relationship which God intended for most of His children (note Genesis 2.18; 1 Corinthians 7.9; 1 Timothy 4.3; Hebrews 13.4).

In another passage verb tense or form is changed, seemingly at random. Galatians 6.1 in the AV reads 'Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted'. The NIV says, 'Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted'. Several problems must be noted here. First is the problem of 'restoring'. In the Greek and the AV the verb 'restore' is a direct command to be obeyed. The NIV gives the idea that 'restoring' is something which ought to be done, not something that must be done.

Second, the substitution of 'gently' for 'in the spirit of meekness' is hard to understand. The 'spirit of meekness' relates directly to the way in which you are 'considering yourself'. If the Christian has this spirit of meekness, he will not be overbearing or proud and place himself in the position of being tempted. 'Gently' refers to the way of restoring and does not seem to relate to the attitude of the restorer.

Third, the verse in Greek is one sentence. It carries one full, uncomplicated thought. Here again the NIV, in order to make the Scriptures more readable to modern man, takes longer sentences and divides them into short, chopped up ones (cf. Ephesians 1.3-14; Acts 1.1-5; Hebrews 1.1-4). The problem is, they also break up shorter, uncomplicated sentences. There are times, however, when it is crucial for the reader to realise that one main idea is being conveyed; by inserting unnecessary punctuation and taking liberties with verb forms, the translator runs the risk of obscuring God's intended meaning, the meaning conveyed by the words of the original Greek and Hebrew texts. It may be easier to read, but the issues of the text that God intended to be understood may be altered.

Along the same line, the NIV obscures the natural reading of the text in 1 Thessalonians 4.14. The AV reads, 'For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him'. The NIV has, 'We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him'. The difference here seems minor, just the omission of the two little words 'for if'. However, the words are in the Greek and are there for a purpose. The sentence is not a statement of fact, although it has the underlying idea of being true. It is instead conditional: 'If we believe this (and we do)' we believe these other things as well. Again, since God moved Paul to include the conditional, can sound Christians in translation legitimately do otherwise?

In 1 Thessalonians 4.12 the NIV changes statements into what would normally be their results. Here a comparison is in order:

AV: That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and NIV: so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and
AV: that ye may have lack of nothing. NIV: so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

This is the equivalent of taking a statement ('he hit the rock') and rendering it as its effect or result ('the rock was broken'). In this passage, whereas the original desire was for Christians to 'walk honestly toward them that are without', the NIV would have the believer 'win the respect of outsiders'. While the AV would have the believer 'lack nothing' the NIV wants him not to have to depend upon anyone. In the NIV, the desire is for pride and respect, and for total independence, two things considered improper in other passages of Scripture. Here again is another reason for formal equivalence translation. By the NIV's subtle changes, accomplished no doubt to aid the English reader in understanding the Scriptures, it is not only terminology that changes, but also syntax and form, and in the end interpretation.

One most frustrating misinterpretation is produced in the NIV in John 20.27. Here the AV says, '...and be not faithless, but believing', which the NIV renders 'Stop doubting and believe'. The passage is that of 'doubting Thomas', the apostle who did not believe that the Lord had risen from the dead. The problem is, from the Greek Thomas was not doubting; he was in rebellion. The Greek employs a double negative here, resulting in emphasis. Thomas does not just say, 'I will not believe'; he says, 'I will not believe!' His is not doubt, it is rebellion. Thus he does not need to stop doubting, he needs to stop being faithless and unbelieving. The NIV's 'stop doubting' only perpetuates the cliche of the 'doubting Thomas', but not according to the correct reading of God's Word.

A second problem in this passage is that the second half of the clause is separated from the first in the Greek by a 'but'. This is not just a weak connective or conjunctive word, but a strong adversative, showing a strong contrast between the two phrases. Thomas is not to be faithless, but he is to be believing. Again the NIV makes an unwarranted change, and in doing so weakens the Scriptures.

One common problem with which most Reformed Christians find difficulty in the NIV is the consistent use of 'sinful nature' for the Greek word sarx, flesh. Doing so produces such translations as ' by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature' (Galatians 5.16), and 'I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature' (Romans 7.18). This reflects the two-nature view held by some Christian groups, that there is a constant battle between the 'two dogs' that figuratively inhabit the soul (as commonly referred to in the USA): that there is a constant battle between the Adamic nature, which they believe remains unchanged after a man is saved, and the new nature which now shares the saved man's soul. This battle is being won by whichever 'dog' — whichever nature, the new or the Adamic — that the Christian 'feeds'. This two-nature view is quite opposed to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which in Chapter XIII states,

...the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified... This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. In which war, although the remaining corruption, for a time, may much prevail; yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

It would be better to translate sarx 'flesh' and leave it to the commentators to sort out whether it is 'flesh', 'body', 'living creature', 'physical nature', 'sinful nature', or something else. Better yet, let the word be translated as it should be and let the individual Christian study the Scriptures for himself to determine what the passage teaches. Leave preinterpretation to the paraphrasers.27

One almost humorous example of the NIV's preinterpretation of sarx is found in 1 Corinthians 5.5. The AV reads, '...deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh...'. The NIV renders this 'hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed'. It is interesting to note that those who have been given over to Satan no longer have a sinful nature. Of all the explanations for ridding the believer of sin this is the most creative. In actuality, though, this is not humorous. This really goes far beyond what a Christian should have to endure in modern translations.

In the Gospel according to John there are several examples of over-translation or misinterpretation which need to be cited. In John 14.1 we have the familiar AV words, 'Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me'. The NIV says, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me'. The word 'trust' has a sense of the will involved. 'Believe' has the idea of assent, understanding, and will involved. It would be better to keep the normal use of 'believe' or even 'faith' rather than to put 'trust' in the text. Also note that the NIV breaks this one Greek sentence into two sentences, making a major break between not having troubled hearts and believing in the Father and the Son.

In John 16.31 the AV reads, 'Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?' This the NIV renders, ''You believe at last!' Jesus answered'. The NIV has changed this from a question about belief to an exclamatory statement of belief. Here is another example of a translation which, if done literally as the AV and many other translations do, could be understood by almost anyone. If the phrase were figurative, perhaps the sort of translation done by the NIV would be necessary; but this is not the case.

One final example of the unusual translation practices of the NIV will be cited. In Luke 1.34 the AV reads, 'Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?' (The Greek is literally, 'since I am not knowing a man'.) The NIV changes this to, ''How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'Since I am a virgin?'' It is true that 'know' in this sense is to have intimate relations. This euphemism is familiar to most who read Scripture, and to many who do not. The statement, however, was that Mary was not having relations with a man. The NIV makes this statement (which in the Greek is a present tense) a simple declaration that she was a virgin. It is true that Mary was a virgin at this time and at the birth of Jesus, but that is not what Mary said, as reported here by Luke. Since the doctrine of the virgin birth is under great attack in this present day, a clear and precise translation of these passages is needed for a proper understanding and defence of this doctrine.

Before concluding, there is one verse which clearly illustrates the high-handed methods of textual criticism and interpretation which characterise the NIV. The verse is found in Hebrews 11.11.

AV: Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. NIV: By faith Abraham, even though he was past age — and Sarah herself was barren — was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.
[bold added for emphasis]

It must be noted that the parts of this verse in the NIV which refer to Abraham (those in bold) are found in no Greek manuscript at all, not even one. There is not even a note in the United Bible Society's text to indicate anyone even considered such a reading as that in the NIV.

However, scholars have become concerned with the notion that Sarah is not a good example of faith. So they use the argument that, in the Greek, the word 'to conceive' seed is normally used of a male begetting and not of a woman conceiving.28 While this is true, the context surrounding the word speaks of Sarah, not of Abraham. But, as F. F. Bruce states, 'According to the transmitted text, as commonly translated, we now have a statement about the faith of Sarah. There are difficulties in the way of the traditional interpretation'.29 He admits that it is not the Greek text, but the translators' interpretation, which forces it in a different direction. Translators, however, are not free to build or create their own Greek text based upon their interpretation of a passage; they are only to translate the text that is before them. Here an interpretation based upon subjective belief becomes the actual text of the NIV. No longer is Sarah the focus of the passage, but instead Abraham is given the place of prominence. The correct reading is relegated to a footnote, 'or 'by faith even Sarah, who was past age, was enabled to bear children''. The problem with this is that the 'or' makes it sound as if either rendering is correct.

It is hard to understand how people can claim extreme accuracy for the NIV when at times the NIV translates and includes as text passages without any Greek textual support at all. Furthermore, in case one thinks that the problems mentioned above are exhaustive, it should be noted that these same problems are encountered on almost every page of the NIV, along with some difficulties not mentioned. This does not aid the Christian in his walk with the Lord, and it certainly does not honour God. One can only wonder at such travesty.


So where does this bring us? The NIV is a fresh, free, dynamic, unique translation whose strengths include its clarity and readability. It was translated so that anyone could read and understand the Bible. To this end its translators have succeeded in producing a version which is understandable to the masses. Perhaps this would be good for learning Bible stories much the same as a Bible story-book would. But a Bible story-book is not the Word of God.

As far as accuracy and fidelity to the texts of the original languages are concerned (even ignoring the problems of its textual basis), the NIV is found to be lacking. It rearranges sentences and verses, leaves out verses and phrases, paraphrases, and introduces material which is not in the original languages. The reader can never be sure if the words he is reading have the inspired words of God behind them or not. He never knows when sound or unsound interpretations are a part of this English text. He can never be sure that, when doing word studies, he has a word to study!

As for its use in worship, the NIV is not a version that has reverence for God as its cornerstone. With its contractions, short chopped sentences and paragraphs, its terseness, its vulgar language, it may communicate well but it lacks the dignity and cadence not only of the AV but of the original languages as well.

As for memorisation, why would a Christian want to memorise something which is possibly only the fancy of the interpreter or translator? When a verse in effect denies the deity of Christ, or uses vulgar language, or holds the use of archaeology above Scripture, why should it be the object of memory work? But then, it is the observation of many that in spite of the plethora of versions on the market today, all claiming to communicate the Word of God in understandable English, few people seem interested in even studying the Word, much less memorising it. Despite the 'improvements' in Scripture in recent decades, Christians seem much less interested in God's Word and much less set apart for Him in their daily lives. One wonders how much the blessing of God rests upon these versions; one also wonders, given the NIV's lack of concern for the original language texts and high-handed treatment of the Scriptures, if anyone cares whether a supernatural blessing attends his reading or not.

It must be stated that the NIV is the product of some of the finest of conservative scholarship, a scholarship, however, that is mostly American, which tends to raise questions regarding the international scope of the work. But with current trends in and acceptance of dynamic equivalence in language studies, linguistics, English style, and textual criticism, it is not difficult to understand how such a free and loose translation as the NIV could come into being. Furthermore, with the huge expenditures for advertising and packaging made by the publishers, it is not hard to understand the translation's widespread acceptance.

Perhaps today Howard Long's friend would not laugh if Howard were to hand him an NIV, bound in one of its inoffensive covers designed specifically for the unsaved. Perhaps that man would be saved. After all, God has drawn straight lines with crooked sticks before. The NIV contains enough truth to be used of the Holy Spirit to draw a man to the Saviour. But, although it contains truth, is it the very Word of God? If not, Christians must be urged to return to the truth.

< Back to previous page



1. Richard K. Barnard, God's Word in Our Language: The Story of the New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Lamplighter Books, 1989), p. 15.

2. Ibid., p. 163.

3. Ibid., p. 17.

4. Ibid., p. 18.

5. Edwin Palmer, et al., ed. The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1984), p. ix.

6. Ibid.

7. However, this may not always be the case; and indeed a shift away from conservative Christian thought is already being seen in the publication of various 'offspring' of the NIV, particularly in Today's NIV—a gender-inclusive edition.

8. Palmer, p. x.

9. Ibid.

10. Please see the Society's article no. 104, What Today's Christian needs to know about the Greek New Testament for further information.

11. Palmer.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p. xi.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., p. 57.

18. Ibid.

19. This has been partially answered. See the Society's article 'The NIV Inclusive Language Edition', published in Quarterly Record no. 534, January to March 1996, and 'Today's New International Version' in Quarterly Record no. 561, October to December 2002, for further information.

20. Palmer, p. ix.

21. David L. Edwards and John R. W. Stott, Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue (Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity, 1988), pp. 314-15.

22. Dean John W. Burgon, The Revision Revised (Fort Worth, TX, USA: A. G. Hobbs Publications, 1983), p. 12.

23. For a broader discussion of this passage, see the Society's Article no. 103, God was manifest in the flesh.

24. Particularly Article no. 106, The Authenticity of the Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to Mark.

25.These are based upon an earlier edition of the NIV, but a survey of subsequent editions has shown little change in these notes over the years.

26. Please see the Society's article 'The Problematic Translation of "emptied himself" as found in Philippians 2.7', found in Quarterly Record no. 538, January to March 1997, for further information on this passage.

27. For further information regarding the origin and problems of the two-nature view in light of the NIV's translation of sarx, see Robert Martin, Accuracy of Translation and the New International Version (Carlisle, PA, USA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), pp. 32-38.

28. F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), pp. 299-302.

29. Ibid., p. 299.

Page 2 of 2   < Previous page

Trinitarian Bible Society (U.S.A.), 927 Alpine Commerce Park, Suite 100, Grand Rapids, MI 49544, U.S.A. · Tel.: (616) 735-3695

U.S.A. Tax Exemption Number: 237365237

Facebook Icon Twitter Icon