Examining the Positive & Negative Qualities
Of Various Versions & Translations
Of God's Holy Scriptures

A Critical Analysis

by Al Maxey


As is true of any translation or version, the NIV has many strengths and weaknesses. Some of its more important strong points are:

#1 --- The translators of the NIV were world-renowned scholars of the original biblical languages. In the preparation of the NIV they translated directly from the original Greek and Hebrew texts. Thus, the NIV is an entirely new translation, rather than a revision of a previous English text. These scholars also made full use of all the most recent archaeological discoveries which shed light on the biblical text. They also consulted the Dead Sea Scrolls, and all the ancient versions of the Bible in other languages (such as the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, Symmachus & Theodotian, the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta, the Targums, the Juxta Hebraica of Jerome, and numerous others). They also carefully compared the more than 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament writings in order to try and determine the most accurate readings.

#2 --- The NIV Editorial Committee has extended an open invitation to anyone for input into their work of revision of this translation! They have committed themselves to a thorough revision of the NIV every five years, and continually invite suggestions for improvements and corrections to this work. Hundreds of significant changes have already been made as a result of these suggestions! These translators have humbly admitted that they are but "mere men," and that mistakes are bound to arise in the translation. "Like all translations of the Bible, made as they are by imperfect man, this one undoubtedly falls short of its goals." Therefore, "there is a sense in which the work of translation is never wholly finished" (Preface to the NIV). This is an attitude of honesty and commitment which is refreshing!

#3 --- In terms of "contemporary English style," it is perhaps the best on the market today, in the minds of many. The style of the English was designed to be neither British nor American in flavor, but rather a "20th century English" which would truly be accepted internationally. Most people agree that they have succeeded quite well in achieving this goal.

#4 --- As to the degree of literalness (word-for-word) in their translation, the NIV has attempted to steer a middle course between excessive literalness (NASB) and excessive paraphrase (Phillips and Living Bible). They have employed the principle of Dynamic Equivalence, which emphasizes faithfulness to the message of the text rather than to the structural form. Thus, they have "striven for more than a word-for-word translation" (Preface to the NIV). Their goal is to convey the original writer's message to the modern day reader in contemporary English. Although the word order and structure may not be the same as in the original Hebrew and Greek, it is hoped that the message or thought will be.

#5 --- The RSV made the decision not to read any Messianic meaning back into the passages of the Old Testament in its translation. The NIV, however, "reflects without apology the Messianic interpretation of the Old Testament." It clearly sees the OT as pointing to Jesus Christ and makes note of that fact. For example, it will capitalize certain terms in the OT which it feels are Messianic. "Son" in Psalm 2:12 is a case in point.


As the NIV translators themselves freely admit, this translation is not without its weaknesses and faults. One of the major problems arises from its philosophy of translation (Dynamic Equivalence). The basic nature of this problem is: When one leaves off trying for a literal, word-for-word translation, and instead seeks to give the message of the text, there is always the danger that the translators may not fully understand that message, and thus render the passage incorrectly in their translation.

Romans 1:17 is a perfect example of this. The NIV reads, "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last." There was such a public outcry over this rendering that the translators felt compelled to put the more literal "from faith to faith" in a footnote in their later editions.

Notice also the following representative weaknesses and faults of the New International Version:

#1 --- Ephesians 1:13 leaves the impression in the minds of many that one is "included in Christ" at the point he hears "the word of truth," and that he is then sealed with the Holy Spirit when he believes. The wording here is very unfortunate, and certainly implies the doctrine of salvation by faith only, which is a direct contradiction of such passages as Gal. 3:27 and Acts 2:38.

#2 --- Psalm 51:5 is perhaps one of the most criticized passages in the NIV: "Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." This seems to clearly teach the false doctrine of "inherited sin" (or "original sin"), which in turn has led to such false practices as infant baptism.

#3 --- Romans 10:10 in the NIV reads, "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." Much like #1 above, this seems to imply a justification and salvation at the point of confessed faith, apart from obedience. In point of fact, the verb "are" is not in the Greek text here; it is rather the preposition eis which means "unto." Also, by noting the context of the surrounding verses, one will clearly see that the verbs dealing with salvation and not being put to shame are future tense. All of this clearly shows that these things are anticipated through confession and belief/faith, and not already acquired.

#4 --- I Corinthians 13:10 in the NIV reads, "But when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears." This passage literally says, "But when that which is perfect comes" or "when the perfect thing comes." The word "perfection" used in the NIV is felt by many to be too general and non-specific, and that it has opened the door for the interpretation that the time of miracles and tongues is not yet passed.

#5 --- Sometimes footnotes can be a cause of confusion to the reader of a particular version. This is the case in a footnote to I Timothy 3:11. With reference to deacons, Paul writes, "their wives are to be...." In a footnote, the NIV says, "Or: 'deaconesses.'" The Greek word for "deaconess," which is different from the word for "wife," is not used in this verse! To imply in a footnote that Paul is referring in this passage to deaconesses, rather than to the wives of deacons, is very misleading to the reader.

#6 --- As was true of the KJV, there are places in the NIV that can be embarrassing to read, especially if they were to be read publicly before a mixed assembly. For example, in Genesis 31:35 Rachel tells her father, "Don't be angry, my lord, that I cannot stand up in your presence; I'm having my period." Genesis 19:5 in the NIV reads, "They called to Lot, 'Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.'"

#7 --- What material was Noah's ark made of? Most say "gopher wood." The NIV, however, has changed this to read, "cypress wood" (Genesis 6:14), with a footnote added which reads, "The meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain." Since the meaning is so "uncertain," would it not have been advisable to remain with the traditional "gopher wood" and thus forego the obvious confusion to the reader?!

#8 --- In I Corinthians 13:7 the NIV states that love "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." The adverb "always" does not appear in the Greek text. The phrase "all things" is what is actually used. By making this change, the translators have conveyed a somewhat different message than the one originally intended by Paul.

#9 --- Some have also criticized the NIV because it doesn't put words in italics which have been added to the text (although it does on occasion place such words & phrases in half-brackets ..... Galatians 2:4 and 4:17, for example). However, in defense of the NIV on this point, this would be extremely difficult to do in light of the NIV's use of the Dynamic Equivalence principle in which most of the text is reworded and rephrased.


Perhaps the most severe charge leveled against the NIV is that this translation, by its various renderings, effectively denies the deity of Jesus Christ. This accusation has been made repeatedly, and several passages are cited from the NIV as constituting proof of this claim. Notice some of the following arguments:

#1 --- Matthew 1:25 in the NIV reads, "But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus." The KJV (which most critics of the NIV use as the Standard of Measurement, rather than the original Greek & Hebrew text) reads here, "...till she had brought forth her firstborn son." A.G. Hobbs, in an article in Contending For The Faith, says that the word "firstborn" was dropped from the Matthew 1:25 passage in the NIV because of a "Satanic conspiracy!" The accusers state that by dropping the word "firstborn" from this passage, the NIV teaches that Mary was not a virgin at the time Jesus was born, and thus the NIV denies the doctrine of the virgin birth and the deity of Jesus.

The accusation is that Satan himself was in some way taking an active role in the preparation of the NIV. Some have even referred to the NIV as "Satan's Handbook." Apparently, however, Satan fell down on the job, or wasn't around, when the NIV committee was doing its work in Luke, for Luke 2:7 reads, "she gave birth to her firstborn, a son."

Why was the word "firstborn" dropped from the Matthew 1:25 passage? Simply because that word is NOT in the Greek text!! You won't find the word "firstborn" in any other modern translation of this passage either ... and for the same reason. It was an addition to the text, made by a scribe who was trying to harmonize the Matthew passage with the Luke passage. This has been clearly proven by the work of textual criticism. The NIV translators (as well as all other recent translations) dropped "firstborn" from Matthew's account NOT because they were under the control of Satan, but because the evidence clearly indicates that it was never a part of the original text. The fact that the word "firstborn" IS included in the parallel Luke passage completely refutes the accusations of the critics with respect to the alleged denial of Jesus' deity by the NIV translators! If their intent was to deny His virgin birth and deity in Matthew 1:25, then why didn't they do so in Luke 2:7 also?!

#2 --- In I Timothy 3:16 the KJV reads, "God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." The NIV (and all other modern translations) do not include the word "God" at the beginning. Instead, it reads, "He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory." Again, the NIV is charged with denying the deity of Jesus by making this change.

The simple explanation, however, is that there is virtually NO textual evidence for the word "God" in this passage. In fact, this textual variant can be easily traced back to a late addition to the text by a scribe (see: A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament by Bruce M. Metzger, page 641).

#3 --- John 3:16 is another passage that has been used to "prove" that the NIV translators were attempting (under the leadership of Satan) to deny the deity of Jesus. Instead of the popular "only begotten," the NIV reads, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son." This change has raised an outcry from those who favor the reading "only begotten." For a discussion of this issue, see my article on the Greek word monogenes.

#4 --- By focusing their attention on a few select passages in the Scriptures, the accusers and critics of the NIV have made the serious accusation that the NIV does not teach the deity of Jesus Christ. This simply is NOT the case!! Notice the following passages as they appear in the NIV (and these are only a fraction of the ones which could be cited):

  1. Titus 2:13 --- "...we wait for the blessed hope -- the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." By-the-way, some have stated that the KJV in this passage has actually come close to doing what the NIV is constantly charged with doing: denying the deity of Jesus. The KJV reads, "...the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." This wording could be interpreted, by those seeking to "find fault," as an intentional separating of the word "God" from "our Saviour Jesus Christ," thus implying He is not God, but only a lesser savior. Would it not be fair to apply the same standard of measurement to the KJV as is applied to the NIV, and then arrive at the same unwarranted conclusions?!! When comparing the KJV with the NIV, in the Titus 2:13 passage, there is no question but what the latter upholds the deity of Jesus far better than the former!!

  2. Romans 9:5 --- "...from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised." Does this sound like the wording of a translation which has as its design the denial of the deity of Jesus? Again, notice that the wording of the KJV here in this same passage could be interpreted, by those unreasonably critical, as an intentional, malicious, devious separation of the word "God" from the word "Christ" -- "...and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever." Which of these two translations affirms the deity of Jesus more clearly in this passage? There is no question! The NIV does!!

  3. John 1:1, 18 --- "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ..... No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son, who is at the Father's side, has made Him known." Interestingly, the word "Son" has actually been added to the text by the NIV translators to demonstrate it is the Son who is referred to in this passage as being "God." If their intent was to deny His deity, it seems odd that they would intentionally add a word to a passage which serves to demonstrate and prove His deity!!

  4. John 10:30 --- "I and the Father are one."

  5. John 12:45 --- "When he looks at Me, he sees the One who sent Me."

  6. John 17:22 --- "We are one."

  7. John 20:28 --- "Thomas said to Him, 'My Lord and My God.'"

  8. I John 5:20 --- "And we are in Him who is true -- even in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life." Again, the NIV has made a change in the text to make it even clearer that Jesus is being referred to as the "true God." The word they translate "He" is actually the word houtos which means "this" (which is how the KJV translates it: "This is the true God"). The NIV translators, however, correctly assuming that the reference was to Jesus, changed "this" to "He." In this way they affirmed the deity of Jesus, rather than denying it!

#5 --- Isaiah 6:1-10 describes a vision which the prophet had of GOD. In John 12:41, after referring to this same vision, the NIV reads, "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about Him." The KJV reads here, "These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him." The word "Jesus" is NOT in the original text. The NIV translators added it here because they believed that Isaiah's vision of God was being used with reference to JESUS in John 12:41, and they wanted to make that clear in the text. Again, hardly the actions of those who sought to deny His deity!

****A THOUGHT TO PONDER: What if the NIV supporters were to accuse the KJV translators of denying the deity of Jesus Christ because they "dropped the word 'Jesus'" from John 12:41?! And what if the KJV supporters came back with the statement, "We didn't include it in our translation because it's not part of the original Greek text"? An interesting "hypothetical," is it not?!!


"The KJV scholars expected to be 'tossed up on tongues,' as they themselves stated. The NIV translators are now in the throes of that process. Those who have worked on the NIV would be the last to claim infallibility or any sort of finality for what they have produced. As the KJV scholars said, 'Nothing is begun and perfected at the same time.' Only time will reveal whether its readers will find in the NIV that which speaks to them. The NIV marks one more step in the direction of supplying God's Word in current and understandable English" (Dr. Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible From KJV to NIV).

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