Issue #86 -------
November 19, 2003
A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it,
an apostle is unlikely to look out.
--- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799)
As is true of almost any new version or translation of the Scriptures, the NIV faced strong criticism from those who felt the KJV was the ONLY version "inspired of God." Some even went so far as to declare the NIV to be the work of Satan himself, calling it "Satan's Handbook." One preacher told me, several years ago, that if a preacher preached all his sermons from the NIV, his congregation would cease being a true "Church of Christ" within five years! The above cartoon (which some readers may have to view by clicking on the attachment to this email) reflects this negative view of the NIV. But, what is the reality? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this version? And what about the charge that it denies the deity of Jesus Christ? These are questions we shall seek to answer in this current edition of Reflections. As is true of any translation or version, the NIV has many strengths and weaknesses. We'll begin by listing some of its more noticeable strengths.
ONE --- 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 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). Further, they carefully compared the more than 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament writings in order to try and determine the most accurate readings.
TWO --- 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 they 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!
THREE --- In terms of "contemporary English style," it is, in the minds of many readers, the best on the market today. 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.
FOUR --- 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 the 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.
FIVE --- 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. Thus, they may render the passage incorrectly in their translation and mislead the reader.
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 perceived faults of the New International Version:
ONE --- 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 seems to imply the doctrine of salvation by faith only.
TWO --- 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 teach the doctrine of "inherited sin" (or "original sin"), which in turn has led some to justify such practices as infant baptism.
THREE --- 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 any obedience or demonstration of one's faith. In point of fact, "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 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 prior to the presence and demonstration of the latter.
FOUR --- 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.
FIVE --- 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, can be misleading to the reader.
SIX --- As was true of the KJV, there are places in the NIV that can be embarrassing to read for some people, 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.'"
SEVEN --- 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.
EIGHT --- 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). In defense of the NIV on this point, however, it should be noted that 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.
DENIAL OF JESUS' DEITY?
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:
ONE --- 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, claims that the word "firstborn" was dropped from the Matthew 1:25 passage in the NIV because of a great "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. Apparently, however, Satan must have fallen down on the job, or wasn't around when the NIV committee was doing its work in the gospel of 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 easily proven to be the facts in this matter 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 this word 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?!
TWO --- 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 from the reading of the KJV.
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).
THREE --- 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 Reflections article on The "Only Begotten" Fallacy (Issue #26).
FOUR --- 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):
FIVE --- 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!
"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, p. 327-328).
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Thanks for your article/study on The Mixed Marriages of Israel. Al, I am a subscriber who was referred to you by Edward Fudge -- a dear brother and friend. I regularly am taught, encouraged, challenged and blessed by your ministry. I am also a recovering alcoholic, and a minister, here in -------, TN. I recently read a reference to the North Atlanta Church of Christ in your material ... a church that is a light in the darkness for reaching out to the disenfranchised and the struggling alcoholic. Thanks -- Psalm 105:4.
From a Deacon in New Mexico:
Al, I just read your Willie article (it brings to mind the type of people that drive others away) and then the following one on Christ preaching to the "lost souls from Noah's time." I encourage your continuance in writing these Reflections articles.
From a Reader in California:
Al, One of the readers wrote to you, "You no doubt are a very talented man, a good writer, but sadly you have 'progressed on' and you have 'ceased to abide in the teaching of Christ,' and I say that with no joy at all." That is exactly what was said 30 years ago ... 25 years ago ... yesterday ... when anyone taught (espoused) a thought not acceptable to the leaders of whatever church one happened to be attending. And I say that with no joy at all. Thank God that we can "progress on" with the help of honesty, an open mind, and the Holy Spirit to teach us, else we would all stay "behind" where our forefathers wanted us to stay. When, oh when, are people going to learn the TRUTH before they go trying to admonish others??
From a Reader in Texas:
Dear Al, I continue to be amazed at the depth of your writings. Thank you again and again (Philp. 1:3). Every time I read one of your Reflections I think to myself, "Why can't the legalists see that? I can see that, and I'm not even smart. Why can't they?!" I've wondered how many times the apostles must have thought something similar. Keep preaching for His glory!
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