The 2011 Revision of the NIV

by Michael Marlowe, August 2011

In 2009 the organization that owns the copyright of the New International Version, the International Bible Society, changed its name to Biblica; 1 and in September of that year it announced that yet another revision of the NIV was in the works. The revised edition appeared online at and in November 2010, and the printed edition was issued in March of 2011. This was the third revision of the NIV to be published in the space of fifteen years, but it appeared under the name New International Version without any identifying edition number or other special designation. An examination of the text reveals that this new 2011 edition of the NIV is actually a minor revision of the TNIV, the gender-neutralizing revision of the NIV that was published in 2005. 2 It has been reported that the Zondervan corporation (which has exclusive rights to publish the NIV, through an arrangement with Biblica) has moved to suppress the 1984 text, by informing other publishers that it will not allow them to use the text of the 1984 NIV in printed materials after 2012. 3

The Preface of the revised edition explains that “Updates are needed in order to reflect the latest developments in our understanding of the biblical world and its languages and to keep pace with changes in English usage.” This however is nothing but a piece of publisher’s boilerplate, found in all prefaces, and it is somewhat misleading, because there is little or nothing in the NIV revision prompted by “latest developments in our understanding of the biblical world and its languages.” After looking at the complete list of changes compiled by Robert Slowley, it seems to me that nearly all are trivial adjustments of the version’s phrasing which will be of no interest to Bible students. And the few changes that do involve different exegetical decisions are not really “updates.” The revision simply reflects in some places a shift in the balance of opinion among the current committee members, about options of interpretation which have been discussed by scholars for over a hundred years, without the benefit of any new information. For instance, we find that in Luke 17:21 the NIV now reads “the kingdom of God is in your midst” instead of “the kingdom of God is within you,” despite the fact that there continues to be virtually no attestation for a meaning “in the midst” for the adverb ἐντὸς. The recent trend in favor of this rendering may be seen in several other versions, but it is based merely upon a modern theological opinion about what Jesus is likely to have said about the kingdom of God, not upon any new information about ancient Greek words. 4 In some cases it is not even a shift in opinion about the meaning of words, but merely a different opinion about what nuances are important enough to require expression in the version. Such changes in the balance of opinion on the NIV committee have little importance in the scheme of things. The NIV has always been seen as a “popular” level version, of limited usefulness to students, and there is not much reason to think that the latest decisions of its committee represent any improvement or advance in scholarly knowledge.

The Real Reason for the Revision

The explanation offered for the “updates” is also misleading in that it does not mention the real political and financial considerations that have caused the NIV committee to make three revisions within the past fifteen years. The considerations that set in motion this series of revisions are, however, indicated in a document that set forth a new “Policy on Gender-Inclusive Language” adopted by the committee in 1992. The document contains these paragraphs:

C. Authors of Biblical books, even while writing Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, unconsciously reflected in many ways, the particular cultures in which they wrote. Hence in the manner in which they articulate the Word of God, they sometimes offend modern sensibilities. At such times, translators can and may use non-offending renderings so as not to hinder the message of the Spirit.

D. The patriarchalism (like other social patterns) of the ancient cultures in which the Biblical books were composed is pervasively reflected in forms of expression that appear, in the modern context, to deny the common human dignity of all hearers and readers. For these forms, alternative modes of expression can and may be used, though care must be taken not to distort the intent of the original text.

The same committee wrote, in the Preface to the 1996 revision published in Great Britain, that they believed “it was often appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers through gender-inclusive language when this could be done without compromising the message of the Spirit” (p. vii)

These statements represent a very controversial position in the realm of translation theory, and, as such, they deserve a full discussion. But I have treated the issue thoroughly in another place, 5 and so we will move on.

It is surely no coincidence that this position was adopted by the NIV committee less than two years after the publication of the New Revised Standard Version (1990), which gender-neutralized the language of the RSV, for the same reasons. The NIV committee members were simply following the lead of the NRSV committee. But because the NIV was being used by a more conservative constituency, a strong reaction arose against the NIV revision of 1996, which led to some discussions with conservative ministry leaders in America. In order to quell the controversy, which threatened to depress sales of the New International Version, representatives of the International Bible Society (IBS) then agreed to refrain from publishing the revision, or anything like it, in America. But shortly afterwards they did publish a similar revision in America, under the name Today’s New International Version, while giving assurances that the new revision would not replace the 1984 edition. In the marketing of the TNIV, the IBS sought to minimize controversy by claiming that the revision was not really motivated by a desire to avoid offending modern sensibilities, or by any attitude contrary to “patriarchalism.” It was claimed that their purpose was nothing other than to make the meaning of the text clear. This however was widely dismissed as an evasion, because the editing process which eliminated the words “man,” “father,” “son,” “brother” “his,” etc., had obviously nothing to do with any considerations about the meaning of the original words, or with any desire to make the meaning clear. It is not even credible that such arbitrary and mechanical changes would have been done by a committee of scholars, and we may assume that it was done by style editors employed by the publisher. The TNIV did not sell very well. But it seems that IBS officials were determined to make this gender-neutralizing revision sell, because after six years of TNIV failure they announced that another revision would replace the 1984 NIV—and this turned out to be just a minor revision of the TNIV, rebranded as the NIV.

In their revision of the TNIV, it seems that the committee has now looked at the gender-neutralizing changes that were made, and it has modified many of them. We see, for example, the changes in Psalm 1.

1984 NIV

2005 TNIV

2011 NIV

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but who delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on his law day and night. They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

The change here was made in response to criticism of the TNIV which used this verse as an example of the loss of meaning that often happens when plurals are substituted for singulars. As I wrote in 2005, the substitution of plurals does significantly interfere with the sense here, because “the one man whose delight is in the law of the Lord is set in opposition to the many ungodly ones around him. But when the man is made to disappear into a group of genderless people, then a part of the meaning of this passage is lost.” 6 And so the revisers have made it singular again. But we also see that they still refuse to use the word “man” or any masculine pronouns, leading to the awkward substitution “that person,” and the ungrammatical use of “they” with a singular antecedent. This continues to be objectionable, because the stylistic taboo against using the word “man” forces inaccuracy and clumsiness in the translation, and it has nothing to do with making the meaning clear. It is simply a “politically correct” avoidance of masculine terms.

In June of 2011 the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) published a critique of the 2011 NIV, which describes and criticizes the gender-neutralizing alterations of the revision. The critique is carefully written, and I recommend it highly. It should be studied by those who are considering using this version. The critique rightly emphasizes the fact that the revision is designed “to water down or omit details of meaning that modern culture finds offensive.” This is the crux of the matter: the theoretical position taken by the NIV revisers, that the language of the version must be made inoffensive to the sensitivities of feminism. That is what makes the revision unacceptable to conservatives.

The “Brief Response” to this critique issued by the NIV committee does not engage or even acknowledge the central issue here. It is contemptuous and evasive. It claims that “the NIV translators have never been motivated by a concern to avoid giving offense.” But this directly contradicts their own policy statement of 1992, which explicitly states that the purpose of the revision was to eliminate renderings that “offend modern sensibilities,” and it contradicts the evidence of the version itself. Again, this is what makes the NIV revision so offensive, on theoretical grounds. It not only introduces thousands of inaccuracies, it requires us to accept a very objectionable de facto rule of translation. And to make matters worse, the revisers are not even willing to talk about the rule that led to these revisions.

A Missed Opportunity for Improvements

We would have welcomed a thorough revision of the NIV, if the revision had brought an increase in the overall accuracy of the version. There was much room for improvement. The version contains many weak and improbable renderings that should have been changed. But the opportunity to make the version more useful to students and teachers was mostly wasted.

One of the most criticized aspects of the NIV has been its many different paraphrastic renderings for the word σαρξ in the New Testament. Most critics (including myself) have maintained that the consistent use of the literal rendering “flesh” is preferable. The revision shows that the committee has finally acknowledged that at least one of its renderings should be changed. The rendering “sinful nature” has been changed to “flesh” in seventeen places, and to “realm of the flesh” in three places. A document entitled “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation” published online in August 2010 offers a rather confusing and problematic explanation for this change. 7 But “sinful nature” continues to be the rendering in two places, and there have been no changes to the other renderings. The word σαρξ occurs in 126 verses of the New Testament. The new NIV still fails to translate it “flesh” in 62 places, where it is translated in a great variety of ways: “one,” “people,” “personally,” “birth,” “natural descent,” “human ancestry,” “physical descent,” “human standards,” “standards of this world,” “body,” “earthly,” “earthly life,” “physical,” “human,” “human being,” “fellow man,” “sinful nature,” “unspiritual,” “sensual,” “race,” “this life,” “life on earth,” “the world,” “worldly manner,” “worldly point of view,” “external,” and “outwardly.” And it is left untranslated in 1 Cor. 10:18, 2 Cor. 7:5, and Gal. 4:13-14. So we see that there was a slight improvement, but not enough to satisfy.

In some verses where we find a change for the better, there are other changes for the worse. For example, we notice the revision of Galatians 3:24.

ωστε ο νομος παιδαγωγος ημων γεγονεν εις χριστον ινα εκ πιστεως δικαιωθωμεν

The 1984 edition translated this, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith,” and it included a footnote saying that εις χριστον could also be translated “until Christ came.” The revision reads, “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith,” without a footnote. And so we see that the noun παιδαγωγος is now properly translated as a noun, “guardian.” This is an improvement. However, I think they have now made a mistake in translating εις χριστον “until Christ came,” and I wonder why they have eliminated the footnote, instead of using it to indicate the former rendering. This revision is certainly not due to any “latest developments in our understanding” of the preposition εις. It is merely an instance of the committee being swayed by the NRSV’s rendering of the verse—a tendency which may be seen in many places. No doubt they had the NRSV in front of them.

In 1 Corinthians 11:2 we note the improved rendering of παραδόσεις, “traditions.” But the absurd footnote on verses 4-7, which had been deleted in the TNIV, is now back. And to make matters worse, the TNIV rendering of verse 10 has been retained:

A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.

The “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation” now offer this explanation for the new rendering of verse 10:

1 Corinthians 11:10 now reads, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head.” The expression “a sign of” before “authority” in the 1984 NIV did not correspond to anything explicitly in the Greek and is increasingly recognized as an inadequate rendition of this verse. Whether Paul wanted the women in Corinth to wear an external head covering while praying or prophesying, or simply to have long hair, or maybe even to wear a partial face veil, the point is they should be able to control what they do or do not have on their heads.

If this is “the point” of verse 10, one has to wonder what the point of the whole passage from verse 2 to verse 16 might be. But evidently that is the purpose of the new rendering of verse 10: to make the whole passage pointless, so that the NIV’s “evangelical” constituency can continue to pretend that Paul was not really telling the women to cover their heads in public. These exegetical shenanigans do not exactly commend the version to us.

The latest revision gives us a new episode of the misadventures of John 1:18 in the NIV. In the original version, the verse was translated: “No one has ever seen God, but God the only [Son], who is at the Father's side, has made him known.” In 1984 it was changed to “… but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.” The TNIV had “… but the one and only [Son], who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Now we have “… but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (without the brackets around “Son”). What the NIV fails to make known is that the Greek text they are translating here reads simply, μονογενης θεος, “the only-begotten God …” as translated in the NASB. This reading is very doubtful, because it is found in only a few manuscripts. Nearly all the manuscripts, including ancient ones, have another reading: μονογενης υιος, “only-begotten son.” The NIV committee has preferred μονογενης θεος for text-critical reasons which seem sufficient to them, but in the translation we see all this twisting and turning, because a straightforward rendering of the Greek phrase μονογενης θεος appears to be polytheistic, and the translators are trying to avoid that appearance. But they cannot find an exegetically plausible rendering which avoids the appearance of polytheism. They still have not found one, because it is not at all plausible that John would have written μονογενης θεος if he had meant something like ὁ μόνος υἱὸς, αὐτὸς ὁ θεὸς ὢν “the only Son, who is himself God.” Their problems would come to an end if they would only give up the theologically problematic μονογενης θεος reading and go with the manuscripts that have μονογενης υιος “only-begotten Son” instead (as in the Vulgate, Luther, KJV, ERV, ASV, RSV, NKJV, HCSB, NJB).

Many weak and questionable renderings in the Old Testament have gone unchanged. For example, there is the translation of אֲשֶׁר נָתַתָּה עִמָּדִי in Genesis 3:12, “The woman you put here with me.” Why give such a rendering, instead of “whom you gave to be with me,” as in all the other versions? In the Hebrew there is a meaningful repetition of the verb נָתַן — “the woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me” the fruit. But the NIV translators nullify the effect by rendering the verb as “put” in its first occurrence, which then led them to supply the word “here.” Very strange. Didn’t they see the rhetorical purpose of the repetition?

Another example of failure to amend a bad rendering is in Proverbs 21:21, which in the 1978 and 1984 editions of the NIV was translated “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” The Hebrew here reads

רדף צדקה וחסד ימצא חיים צדקה וכבוד

It will be noticed that the first occurrence of צדקה is correctly translated “righteousness,” but the second occurrence is mysteriously translated as “prosperity.” And again in Proverbs 8:18 we find צדקה translated “prosperity.” The word צדקה does not have any such meaning, and we are left wondering how this rendering could have been preferred by the committee. 8 Yet it has persisted through four revisions of the NIV. The 2011 revision has here, “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” Thus the masculine pronoun, which presented no difficulty for comprehension, has been eliminated; but the word that really needed to be changed was left untouched.

In the “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation,” the committee brags that “Thirty years after its first publication there are more than four hundred million NIV Bibles in print.” The really astonishing thing is that a version printed four hundred million times would prove to be such a dubious representation of the Word of God.

Michael Marlowe
August 2011



1. The organization’s website states that it has approximately 900 employees, and that its annual operating budget is approximately $70 million. (<>, accessed 30 July 2011.)

2. See the collation and analysis by Robert Slowley, “NIV2011 comparison with NIV1984 and TNIV,” published online at <>, November, 2010.

3. <>, retrieved 30 July 2011.

4. The “among you” rendering was proposed more than hundred years ago, but there is virtually no attestation for such a meaning as “among” or “in the midst” for this word in any ancient Greek source. It is indisputable that “within” is the ordinary meaning, and the immediate context here seems to favor this meaning. It was understood thus by the translators of all the ancient versions, and by all the Church fathers. Moreover, as S.C. Carpenter explains, “For ‘among’ S. Luke would have said ἐν μέσῳ, which occurs seven times in his Gospel (see especially xxii. 27) and four times in Acts.” (Christianity according to S. Luke [London: S.P.C.K., 1919], p. 103.) See also the more recent discussion in Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1965), pp. 61-3. A thorough review of the linguistic evidence is given in an article published online: Ilaria Ramelli, “Luke 17:21: ‘The Kingdom of God is inside you.’ The Ancient Syriac Versions in Support of the Correct Translation,” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 12/2 (Summer 2009), pp. 259-286. The rendering “in the midst” is used in some modern translations only because the translators think it is theologically impossible that Jesus would say that the Kingdom of God is “within” people. The circumstance that these words are addressed to unbelieving Jews does not make any difference, because as Olshausen says, “The expression ἐντὸς ὑμῶν does not make the Pharisees members of the kingdom of God, but only sets before them the possibility of their being received into it, inasmuch as an internal and spiritual manifestation is made its universal criterion.” (Biblical Commentary on the New Testament by Dr. Hermann Olshausen … Translated from the German for Clark’s Foreign and Theological Library. First American Edition. Revised after the Fourth German Edition, by A.C. Kendrick. Vol. 2 [New York: Sheldon & Co., 1860], pp. 88-9.)

5. See chapter 6 of my book, Against the Theory of Dynamic Equivalence.

6.The Gender-Neutral Language Controversy,” January 2005.

7. “Most occurrences of ‘sinful nature’ have become ‘flesh.’ Especially in Paul, sarx can mean either part or all of the human body or the human being under the power of sin. In an effort to capture this latter sense of the word, the original NIV often rendered sarx as ‘sinful nature.’ But this expression can mislead readers into thinking the human person is made up of various compartments, one of which is sarx, whereas the biblical writers’ point is that humans can choose to yield themselves to a variety of influences or powers, one of which is the sin-producing sarx. The updated NIV uses ‘flesh’ as the translation in many places where it is important for readers to decide for themselves from the context whether one or both of these uses of sarx is present.”

8. The only other versions I have found with a similar rendering are two which have been influenced by the NIV: the New Century Version, which has “success” here, and the NET Bible, which translates “bounty,” and explains in a note: “The first use of the word had the basic meaning of ‘conduct that conforms to God’s standard’; this second use may be understood as a metonymy of cause, indicating the provision or reward (‘bounty’) that comes from keeping righteousness (cf NIV ‘prosperity’; NCV ‘success’).” But this is a bit of a stretch, and the fact remains that for the word צדקה there is no attestation for a sense “prosperity, bounty, success.” And there is no need to propose such a meaning, because “righteousness” makes perfectly good sense in the context. The point is, He who pursues righteousness will acquire not only righteousness but also life and honor.