The New International Version

Reviewed by Michael Marlowe, October 2011

New Testament, 1973. Edwin H. Palmer et al., The Holy Bible: New International Version. The New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973. Revised 1978 and 1984.

Bible, 1978. Edwin H. Palmer et al., The Holy Bible, New International Version: Containing the Old Testament and the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978. Revised in 1984 and in 2011.

The New International Version (NIV) was a produced by a committee of scholars associated with various evangelical churches in America, who began work on the version in 1965. It was not a revision of any previously existing version, but an entirely new translation in idiomatic twentieth-century English.

The New Testament translators took as their starting point the first and second editions of the Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Societies (see Aland Black Metzger Wikren 1966), but did not follow the UBS text in all places. Recently a Greek text which purports to give the readings adopted by the NIV committee has been published under the title A Reader’s Greek New Testament (Zondervan, 2004). 1

The NIV was conceived as a version that would appeal to evangelicals. The constitution of its translation committee stated, “The purpose of the Committee shall be to prepare a contemporary English translation of the Bible as a collegiate endeavor of evangelical scholars,” and restricted membership on the Committee to those “who are willing to subscribe to the following affirmation of faith: ‘The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written, and is therefore inerrant in the autographs’; or to the statements on Scripture in the Westminster Confession, the Belgic Confession, the New Hampshire Confession, or the creedal basis of the National Association of Evangelicals; or to some other comparable statement.” 2 A high view of Scripture was also indicated in the version’s Preface: “the translators were united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God’s Word in written form.” Members of the NIV committee were conscious of the reasons for conservative rejection of the Revised Standard Version, and so they deliberately avoided the “liberal" aspects of that version. The most objectionable aspect of the RSV was its policy of translating the Old Testament without any regard at all for the interpretations of Old Testament passages in the New Testament, and so the members of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation in 1968 stipulated in their Translator’s Manual that “the translation shall reflect clearly the unity and harmony of the Spirit-inspired writings.” 3 In many places one can see the practical difference which this rule made in the NIV.

In Genesis 2:19 the NIV rendered the first verb as an English pluperfect: “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man.” The pluperfect “had formed” was used here so as to explicitly harmonize the verse with the account of creation given in chapter 1, in which the animals are created prior to the creation of man. This harmonistic rendering was intended to counter the liberal assertion that the story beginning at 2:4 is from a source which does not agree with the account in the first chapter. 4

In Esther 8:11 the NIV removes from sight something that many readers of the Bible have found objectionable. The narrative states that a decree issued by Xerxes allowed the Jews to massacre the whole population of any province in which their lives were threatened. According to the Jewish Publication Society’s translation (1985), “The king has permitted the Jews of every city to assemble and fight for their lives; if any people or province attacks them, they may destroy, massacre, and exterminate its armed force together with women and children, and plunder their possessions” (emphasis added). Likewise the KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, REB, etc. When we compare this decree with Haman’s decree in 3:13 we see that it is an example of the lex talionis—the retaliation matches the crime, or, in this case, the contemplated crime. But for most modern readers this is not acceptable, and so the NIV (followed by the NLT) says that “the king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right ... to destroy, kill, and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children.”

The word almah in Isaiah 7:14 was rendered “virgin” in the NIV, in accordance with the interpretation of the word in the first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew. This contrasted with the RSV’s rendering “young woman” in Isaiah 7:17, which was used instead of Matthew’s “virgin” because the RSV translators believed that Matthew was simply mistaken about the meaning of the word. But this was not an option for the NIV translators, who as theological conservatives were bound to affirm that Matthew correctly interpreted the word.

Jeremiah 7:22-3 is rendered, “For when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.” But there is nothing in the Hebrew sentence corresponding to the word “just” here. Hence the RSV reads: “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.” The NIV has added “just” in order to prevent readers from thinking that Jeremiah is denying that the laws concerning sacrificial offerings were given by God at Mount Sinai. The NIV’s interpretation is justifiable, because the Hebrew manner of speaking often sets two things in opposition only to emphasize the greater importance of the one. It may be said that the addition of “just” only makes the meaning clearer, in our more exact way of speaking. However, some liberal scholars, who claim that Jeremiah was written before the Pentateuch was compiled, have argued that here the prophet really is denying that the laws concerning sacrifice were given by God. 5 The NIV rendering prevents that interpretation.

In Jonah 3:3 the Hebrew states that Nineveh was a city “of three days’ walk” (מהלך שלשת ימים). The RSV and some other versions have interpreted this to mean that the city was “a three days’ journey in breadth,” which implies that the biblical author thought that Nineveh was at least sixty miles across. This is obviously impossible, and in fact archaeological excavations have revealed that the walled city was about three miles across, and so liberal scholars have considered it to be a gross exaggeration. But the “three days’ walk” need not be interpreted this way. It may refer to the circumference of greater Nineveh, taking in the suburbs (this interpretation is supported by Genesis 10:11-12, in which Nineveh and its suburbs are collectively called the “great city”), or it may be interpreted as saying that it would take a man three days to walk through all of its streets, without attributing any error to the author. The NIV’s rendering here, “—a visit required three days,” appears to be a rather clumsy way of representing the latter interpretation.

In Mark 4:31 there is good example of how apologetic arguments in defense of biblical inerrancy have caused the translators to adopt a linguistically unsound interpretation. Here instead of a literal rendering Jesus is represented as saying that the mustard seed is the “smallest seed you plant in the ground.” Actually, he calls it the “smallest of all seeds on earth.” Likewise in the parallel in Matthew 13:32 they have “the smallest of all your seeds,” rather than “the smallest of all seeds.” The NIV translators have adjusted the translation at these points so as to avoid an apparent contradiction between the biblical statement and known facts of modern science. But Jesus was merely using hyperbolic language here, not making a scientifically precise statement—the NIV’s attempt to rescue Him from a technically incorrect statement is misguided.

The apparent contradiction between Acts 9:7 and 22:9 is resolved by rendering ἀκούοντες μὲν τῆς φωνῆς in 9:7 as “they heard the sound” and τὴν δὲ φωνὴν οὐκ ἤκουσαν τοῦ λαλοῦντός μοι in 22:9 as “but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.” Perhaps like the crowd in John 12:29, they heard a sound from heaven, but it seemed like thunder to them. This way of understanding the two statements is probably correct. 6

There is a very remarkable footnote on 1 Corinthians 11:4-7, which states that theses verses may be rendered thus: “Every man who prays or prophesies with long hair dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with no covering of hair on her head dishonors her head—she is just like one of the ‘shorn women.’ If a woman has no covering, let her be for now with short hair, but since it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair shorn or shaved, she should grow it again. A man ought not to have long hair since he is the image and glory of God,” etc. This note is well-nigh indefensible, and it seems to be an attempt to harmonize this passage with modern habits of dress. Paul’s headcovering instruction is not being observed in most conservative churches today, who would like to think that their practices are strictly in accordance with Scripture. The alternative “translation” accommodates them. 7

Although the preface of the version emphasizes the diverse backgrounds of those involved in its making (“they were from many denominations—including Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren, Christian Reformed, Church of Christ, Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Wesleyan and other churches”) and states that this served “to safeguard the translation from sectarian bias,” the NIV does reflect to some extent a Protestant theological bias. One British scholar, N. T. Wright, has written:

I must register one strong protest against one particular translation. When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses … Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said … [I]f a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about.

This is a large claim, and I have made it good, line by line, in relation to Romans in my big commentary, which prints the NIV and the NRSV and then comments on the Greek in relation to both of them. Yes, the NRSV sometimes lets you down, too, but nowhere near as frequently or as badly as the NIV. And, yes, the NIV has now been replaced with newer adaptations in which some at least of the worst features have, I think, been at least modified. But there are many who, having made the switch to the NIV, are now stuck with reading Romans 3:21-26 like this:

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known…. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe…. [God] did this to demonstrate his justice… he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

In other words, “the righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21 is only allowed to mean “the righteous status which comes to people from God,” whereas the equivalent term in Romans 3:25 and Romans 3:26 clearly refers to God’s own righteousness — which is presumably why the NIV has translated it as “justice,” to avoid having the reader realize the deception. 8

Roman Catholic critics have also pointed out that the NIV seems to show a Protestant bias in its treatment of the Greek word παραδοσις “tradition.” The word is literally translated “tradition” in places where traditions are being criticized (e.g. Matthew 15:3, Colossians 2:8), but it is translated with “teachings” where traditions are being recommended (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6). In this, there seems to be an avoidance of giving any positive connotation to the word “tradition.” Kenneth Barker has explained that in the NIV, “When paradosis was used in a positive way to refer to the passing on of apostolic teachings, we did not want the reader to think of ‘the tradition of the elders’ (Matt. 15:2) or of traditions in general, but of apostolic teachings in particular. So when we believed that reference was to the latter, we usually rendered the term as ‘teachings’ to make that meaning clear to readers. All words must be contextually nuanced.” 9 It does seem, however, that the NIV here reflects (and reinforces) a lack of appreciation for “tradition” in general among evangelicals, so that it has become a dirty word. Barker even avoids using the word “tradition” in a positive sense in his explanation. It may be doubted whether any reader would think that Paul was urging Christians to observe the ‘the tradition of the elders’ in 1 Corinthians 11:2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15, because the context itself prevents this misunderstanding. A more literal translation, in which “tradition” is used in a positive sense in these places, would probably serve a good purpose.

Though we may speak of an “evangelical” bias in the version, it is sometimes not very conservative in the sense of presenting interpretations associated with traditional theology. A notable example of the version’s departure from the orthodox tradition of interpretation is its rendering of the word μονογενής in John’s Gospel (1:14, 18; 3:16, 18) and in his first Epistle (4:9). The NIV renders this word as “one and only.” Traditionally, the word is understood to mean “only begotten,” and in the history of Christian doctrine this form of words has some importance. The Nicene Creed, which continues to be used as a confession of faith in many churches, declares that Christ is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds ... begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Here the significance of the γενης in μονογενής is drawn out and explained in terms of an eternal generation of the Son, by virtue of which the Son shares the essential qualities of the Father. It expresses the ontological equality between the Father and the Son, and prevents the the Arian teaching that the Son is a heavenly subordinate “made” by the Father. He who is “begotten” shares the natural qualities of his begetter. 10 One need not enter into all the subtleties of ancient controversies about the Trinity in order to see that “only begotten” is an anthropomorphic metaphor designed to express an identity of nature between the Persons of the Godhead (like Father, like Son), and this traditional understanding of the word μονογενής is amply supported by linguistic evidence. But the NIV excludes this understanding of the word, by rendering it as “one and only,” minus the semantic component of “begotten.” Richard Longenecker ventured to explain the thinking of the NIV committee in his article, “the One and Only Son,” published in The NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation (IBS, 1991). After a highly tendentious presentation 11 of linguistic evidence supporting the NIV’s minimalistic “one and only” rendering, Longenecker explains that the rendering “only begotten” is undesirable “particularly because it leaves open the possibility of an etymological emphasis on genes (the idea of generation).” He should have said “exegetical emphasis,” because no reliance upon etymology is involved in recognizing the force of the genes in this compound. A scholar may, of course, choose to emphasize the “only,” as Longenecker does, but the rendering “only begotten” does not prevent anyone from doing this. Longenecker prefers “one and only” not because his interpretation is prevented by “only begotten,” but because it leaves open the possibility of seeing some significance in the “begotten,” along the lines of the Nicene Creed. As if it were a prerogative of translators to present new interpretations in such a way that traditional interpretations are absolutely excluded. It may be that others of the committee did not have any such manipulation of the reader in mind. Up until the revision of 2011 they did offer the rendering “Only Begotten” as an alternative in the margin. Perhaps some were not aware of any theological implications in the phrase, and simply balked at having a word like “begotten” in their modern-language rendering of the text. But in any case, Longenecker’s argument is not acceptable. It is not that we expect all scholars and translators to agree with every word of the Nicene Creed. Rather, the point is, we do not expect “evangelical” translators to have such contempt for this landmark of orthodoxy that they would deliberately prevent readers from interpreting the Bible in line with its Christology. 12

There was some criticism of the NIV from conservatives who objected to the non-literal method of the translation in general. The moderate use of the so-called dynamic equivalence method of translation in the version involved a trade-off in which accuracy was sometimes sacrificed for the sake of readability. As Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary observed, “Readability seems to have been a higher priority than anything else” in the making of the NIV. 13

It must be recognized that for most readers, paraphrastic renderings in the NIV are sometimes very helpful, and even necessary. For example, in a literal rendering of Deuteronomy 33:8-11 the blessing given to the tribe of Levi is expressed with a mixture of singular and plural forms that is likely to confuse ordinary readers; especially in verse 9, where it is said that “he [i.e. the tribe of Levi personified as one man] disowned his brothers and ignored his children. For they observed thy word, and kept thy covenant” (RSV). The meaning here is that the priests of the tribe of Levi enforced the word of God without partiality, without showing special favor to relatives. But readers of the RSV who do not understand that the corporate “he” and “they” both refer to the Levites will quite naturally think that the antecedent of “they” in the last sentence is “brothers” and “children.” The NIV prevents this misunderstanding by substituting a “he” for the literal “they”—“He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant.” 14 Many similar examples of helpful paraphrase could be given. It must also be recognized that in the NIV such “equivalent” renderings are used sparingly, and not nearly as often as in several other modern versions, such as the Good News Bible and the New Living Translation. However, some overly paraphrastic renderings do create problems for preachers and teachers who try to use the NIV while focusing on verbal details of the text. And aside from such inconveniences to theological exposition, the idiomatic style seemed to make the sacred text less impressive and less memorable than most conservatives would prefer. As Professor Wallace said, “It is so readable that it has no memorable expressions, nothing that lingers in the mind. This is a serious problem for the NIV that is not always acknowledged.” 15

Now I will examine a sample chapter of the 1984 NIV, chosen at random, to illustrate the tendencies of the version.

1 John 4

Ἀγαπητοί, μὴ παντὶ πνεύματι πιστεύετε ἀλλὰ δοκιμάζετε τὰ πνεύματα εἰ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, ὅτι πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τὸν κόσμον. Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκετε τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ· πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ ὁμολογεῖ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
3 καὶ πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου, ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν ἤδη. 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
4 Ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστε, τεκνία, καὶ νενικήκατε αὐτούς, ὅτι μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ ἐν ὑμῖν ἢ ὁ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ. 4 You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
5 αὐτοὶ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου εἰσίν, διὰ τοῦτο ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου λαλοῦσιν καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτῶν ἀκούει. 5 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.
6 ἡμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐσμεν, ὁ γινώσκων τὸν θεὸν ἀκούει ἡμῶν, ὃς οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἀκούει ἡμῶν. ἐκ τούτου γινώσκομεν τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς πλάνης. 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.
7 Ἀγαπητοί, ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους, ὅτι ἡ ἀγάπη ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἀγαπῶν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται καὶ γινώσκει τὸν θεόν. 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. […] Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
8 ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν οὐκ ἔγνω τὸν θεόν, ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
9 ἐν τούτῳ ἐφανερώθη ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν, ὅτι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἀπέσταλκεν ὁ θεὸς εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα ζήσωμεν δι᾽ αὐτοῦ. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
10 ἐν τούτῳ ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγάπη, οὐχ ὅτι ἡμεῖς ἠγαπήκαμεν τὸν θεὸν ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι αὐτὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ ἱλασμὸν περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν. 10 […] This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
11 Ἀγαπητοί, εἰ οὕτως ὁ θεὸς ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς, καὶ ἡμεῖς ὀφείλομεν ἀλλήλους ἀγαπᾶν. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
12 θεὸν οὐδεὶς πώποτε τεθέαται. ἐὰν ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους, ὁ θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν μένει καὶ ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν τετελειωμένη ἐστίν. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 Ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ μένομεν καὶ αὐτὸς ἐν ἡμῖν, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος αὐτοῦ δέδωκεν ἡμῖν. 13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
14 καὶ ἡμεῖς τεθεάμεθα καὶ μαρτυροῦμεν ὅτι ὁ πατὴρ ἀπέσταλκεν τὸν υἱὸν σωτῆρα τοῦ κόσμου. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
15 Ὃς ἐὰν ὁμολογήσῃ ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ θεὸς ἐν αὐτῷ μένει καὶ αὐτὸς ἐν τῷ θεῷ. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.
16 καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐγνώκαμεν καὶ πεπιστεύκαμεν τὴν ἀγάπην ἣν ἔχει ὁ θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν. Ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν, καὶ ὁ μένων ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ ἐν τῷ θεῷ μένει καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐν αὐτῷ μένει. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. […] Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him […]
17 Ἐν τούτῳ τετελείωται ἡ ἀγάπη μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν, ἵνα παρρησίαν ἔχωμεν ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῆς κρίσεως, ὅτι καθὼς ἐκεῖνός ἐστιν καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐσμεν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.
18 φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ ἀλλ᾽ ἡ τελεία ἀγάπη ἔξω βάλλει τὸν φόβον, ὅτι ὁ φόβος κόλασιν ἔχει, ὁ δὲ φοβούμενος οὐ τετελείωται ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 ἡμεῖς ἀγαπῶμεν, ὅτι αὐτὸς πρῶτος ἠγάπησεν ἡμᾶς. 19 We love because he first loved us.
20 ἐάν τις εἴπῃ ὅτι ἀγαπῶ τὸν θεὸν καὶ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ μισῇ, ψεύστης ἐστίν· ὁ γὰρ μὴ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ὃν ἑώρακεν, τὸν θεὸν ὃν οὐχ ἑώρακεν οὐ δύναται ἀγαπᾶν. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
21 καὶ ταύτην τὴν ἐντολὴν ἔχομεν ἀπ᾽ αὐτοῦ, ἵνα ὁ ἀγαπῶν τὸν θεὸν ἀγαπᾷ καὶ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

In verses 1, 7, and 11 Ἀγαπητοί “Beloved” is translated “Dear Friends.” This is a rather weak rendering, and it destroys the semantic concord of the adjective Ἀγαπητοί with the verb ἀγαπῶμεν and the noun ἀγάπη in verse 7. John, while telling his readers to love one another, calls them “beloved.” If he had wanted to call them merely “friends” here, he would have used the word φίλοι. Presumably “beloved” was avoided by the NIV translators because it was not conversational enough for them, but it presents no real problem for comprehension. In verses 2, 3 and 15 the verb ὁμολογέω is weakly rendered “acknowledge,” which to us means little more than “admit, concede.” The idea here is certainly stronger than that, and in such a religious context the word should be rendered “confess” or “profess” to convey the meaning. This is probably another instance of the translators’ preference for words in common use rather than those belonging to a formal or religious vocabulary. The use of “dear children” for τεκνία in verse 4 is a good use of the freedom the NIV translators allow themselves to express the meaning, because this conveys the affectionate sense of the diminutive form better than the literal “little children” does. In verse 5 ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου “from the world” is interpreted “from the viewpoint of the word,” but it probably means more generally “as worldlings.” In verse 7 the καὶ goes untranslated, and the sentence is divided into two. We cannot see any good reason for this. In verse 9 the NIV converts the passive construction ἐν τούτῳ ἐφανερώθη ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ “in this was revealed the love of God” to an active “this is how God showed his love,” which skews the emphasis away from ἀγάπη, the subject of the Greek clause. Also in verse 9 μονογενῆ is wrongly translated “one and only” instead of “only-begotten.” (Notice the parallel γεγέννηται “begotten” in verse 7.) In verse 10 the ἐν at the beginning of the sentence goes untranslated, or rather an attempt is made to give the sense of ἐν τούτῳ by the use of the colon at the end of the clause, as if to say “this is true love …” But this does not work. The ἐν τούτῳ points both backwards and forwards, and the meaning is, “the love that I have been talking about is …” (note the defining force of the definite article with ἀγάπη). So it is better to translate more literallly “herein is the love …” Also in verse 10 “atoning sacrifice” is a weak rendering of ἱλασμὸν, lit. “propitiation.” The word “propitiation” was no doubt avoided because it belongs to the quasi-technical vocabulary of Christian theology, and is not commonly understood by those who have not been taught its meaning in church. But conservative teachers often like to point out that “propitiation” in the New Testament implies a certain doctrine of the atonement (God who is angry with sin must be made propitious toward us by the blood of Christ), and the absence of this term in the NIV makes it more difficult to teach this concept. 16 In verse 16 the perfect tense of the verbs ἐγνώκαμεν καὶ πεπιστεύκαμεν is converted to the present. This is allowable with the perfect ἐγνώκαμεν, which is often used with a present meaning in Hellenistic Greek, but not with πεπιστεύκαμεν, “have believed, trusted,” which should be understood as referring to the past as well as the present.

This passage is typical of the NIV. Occasionally one finds a rendering that expresses the meaning better than the more literal versions do, but more often one finds that accuracy suffers for the sake of a contemporary and casual style. It is a very useful version for teaching novices, as a first exposure to the biblical text; but it is not to be relied upon for detailed study. Teachers are too often faced with the need to correct the version when commenting upon details of the text.

Children’s Bible, 1995. Ronald Youngblood, ed., Holy Bible: NIrV: New International Reader’s Version: New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

This revision of the New International Version was first proposed by Zondervan publishers in 1991, and a committee of the International Bible Society began work on it in 1992. In it the New International Version was revised down to a third-grade reading level. The New Testament appeared in 1995, and the complete Bible was published in the fall of 1996 as the text for Zondervan’s “Kid’s Bible.” Gender-neutral language was regularly employed in the revision, though this fact was not mentioned in its marketing. When it was discovered, James Dobson and other evangelical leaders publicly opposed the version; and so the IBS published a revision, without the gender-neutral language, in the fall of 1998.

Inclusive Language Edition, 1996. The Holy Bible: New International Version. Inclusive Language Edition. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996.

The appearance of this edition of the NIV in Great Britain provoked indignation among conservatives who were using the NIV, especially after the International Bible Society (owner of the NIV copyright) acknowledged that it had planned to publish it in America also, perhaps replacing older editions of the NIV. The gender-neutral alterations were done in accordance with gender-neutral language guidelines that were adopted by the NIV Committee on Bible Translation in 1992, and were highly objectionable to conservatives. A statement in the Preface that the translators 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) was hard to reconcile with conservative views of the Bible’s verbal inspiration. The whole affair raised suspicions of liberal tendencies in the International Bible Society. Embarrassed and under heavy pressure from conservative groups, the IBS in 1997 announced that the “inclusive language” edition would not be published in America under the name, “New International Version,” and that it would in the future continue to publish the NIV of 1984 unchanged.

Today’s New International Version, 2002. The New Testament: Today’s New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

On Jan 28, 2002 the International Bible Society announced the publication of this third gender-neutral revision of the New International Version, and distributed advance review copies at the Christian Booksellers Association annual convention. Further information.

The Revision of 2011. In 2009 the International Bible Society changed its name to Biblica, 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, under the name New International Version, without any further designation such as “second edition.” An examination of the text reveals that this new edition of the NIV is actually a minor revision of the TNIV (see above). Further information.


Richard Barnard, God’s Word in Our Language: The Story of the New International Version. Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 1989.

Kenneth L. Barker, ed., The NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.

Kenneth L. Barker, Accuracy defined and illustrated: An NIV translator answers your questions. Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 1995. Barker explains a large number of specific translation decisions in the NIV, addressing questions from letters received, and from published evaluations of the NIV.

Kenneth L. Barker, The Accuracy of the NIV. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996.

Kenneth L. Barker, The Balance of the NIV: What Makes a Good Translation. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

Denny Burk, et al., “An Evaluation of Gender Language in the 2011 Edition of the NIV Bible,” < final analysis of 2011 niv.pdf> dated 6 June 2011.

Burton L. Goddard, The NIV Story: The Inside Story of the New International Version. New York: Vantage Press, 1989.

Richard J. Goodrich and Albert L. Lukaszewski, eds., A Reader’s Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. ISBN: 0310248884. Purports to give the readings adopted by the NIV translation committee, with notes showing variations from the third edition of the UBS Greek New Testament.

Robert Martin, Accuracy of Translation and the New International Version. Edinburgh and Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989.

E.L. Miller, “The New International Version and the Prologue of John,” Harvard Theological Review (July-October 1979), p. 310. Complains of “interpretational intrusions” in the version.

Douglas J. Moo, et al., “A Brief Response from the Committee on Bible Translation to the Review of the updated NIV by the Committee [sic] on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood,” <> dated 9 June 2011.

Stephen W. Paine, “Twentieth-Century Evangelicals Look at Bible Translation,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 4/1 (Spring, 1969), pp. 79-90.

Vern S. Poythress, “Gender Neutral Issues in the New International Version of 2011,” Westminster Theological Journal 73 (2011), pp. 79-96.

Earl D. Radmacher and Zane C. Hodges, The NIV Reconsidered: A Fresh Look at a Popular Translation. Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1990.

John H. Skilton, review of the NIV New Testament in Westminster Theological Journal 37/2 (Winter 1975) pp. 256-265. Long and detailed, mostly negative.

Bruce K. Waltke, “The New International Version and Its Textual Principles in the Book of Psalms,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32/1 (March 1989) pp. 17-26. An informative article by a member of the NIV translation committee. The article covers much more than just the book of Psalms.

Carolyn Johnson Youngblood, “The New International Version Translation Project: Its Conception And Implementation,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21/3 (September 1978) pp. 239-249.

Michael Marlowe
October 2011


1. The Introduction of this volume says that the Greek text printed in it was “compiled by Edward Goodrick and John Kohlenberger III” in connection with their editorial work on the NIV-based Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament (Zondervan, 1997), and that it “offers a different reading from the Standard Text [i.e. the current UBS text, 4th edition] at 231 places” (p. 10). But the strange errors in other NIV-based resources edited by Kohlenberger (for example, the problematic NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament published in 1987) throw some doubt upon his carefulness in discerning the readings adopted by the NIV translators. In any case, it should be noted that the text of the third and fourth UBS edition itself diverges from the text of the earlier editions used by the NIV committee, and so one must compare the first and second editions of the UBS text with the NIV in order to see where the NIV committee deliberately departed from the UBS editions before them.

2. According to the text of the constitution posted online at in March 2011. The words “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs” are from Article III (“Doctrinal Basis”) of the Constitution of the Evangelical Theological Society, adopted in 1949.

3. Stephen W. Paine, “Twentieth-Century Evangelicals Look at Bible Translation,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 4/1 (Spring, 1969), p. 86. Paine was one of the original 15 members of the CBT. He writes:

At a meeting in Grand Rapids, on July 11, 1967, the Committee adopted a position paper setting forth briefly its view of the need for a new English translation by evangelical scholars and its specific aims in undertaking to meet this need. The need was summarized as follows:

Only with one version in common use in our churches will Bible memorization flourish, will those in the pew follow in their own Bibles the reading of Scripture and comments on individual Scriptures from the pulpit, will unison readings be possible, will Bible Teachers be able to interpret with maximum success the Biblical text word by word and phrase by phrase to their students, and will the Word be implanted indelibly upon the minds of Christians as they hear and read again and again the words of the Bible in the same phraseology. We acknowledge freely that there are benefits to be derived by the individual as he refers to other translations in his study of the Bible, but this could still be done in situations in which a common Bible was in general use.

Without pointing out individually the deficiencies of the various existing translations, it may be said that no one of them gives promise of acceptance as a standard version among the churches which have a high view of Scripture. For many years those who do hold such a view of the Bible have failed to put forth an all-out effort to give to English readers a translation of the Bible which represents the best documented text, the most accurate translation, and the best literary style for effective communication. It is the aim of the Committee on Bible Translation to work for these results.

In meeting this need the Committee adopted the following nine guidelines:

4. For an explanation of the Hebrew grammar here see Kenneth L. Barker, Accuracy defined and illustrated: An NIV translator answers your questions (Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 1995), p. 10.

5. cf. Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, trans. J.S. Black and A. Menzies (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1885), pp. 58-9. Wellhausen insists that Jer. 7:21-23 proves that “Jeremiah is unacquainted with the Mosaic legislation as it is contained in the Priestly Code.” Likewise James P. Hyatt in the Interpreter’s Bible (vol. 5; New York: Abingdon, 1956) maintains that in this place Jeremiah “deliberately sets himself against the prevalent view that Moses commanded sacrifice” (p. 876).

6. See the discussion in Nigel Turner’s Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1965), pp. 87-90.

7. The interpretation in the footnote on 1 Corinthians 11:4-7 is apparently based upon the arguments given by William J. Martin (a member of the NIV committee) in his article, “1 Corinthians 11:2-16: An Interpretation,” in Apostolic History and the Gospel: Biblical and Historical Essays Presented to F. F. Bruce on his 60th Birthday, eds., W. Ward Gasque and Ralph P. Martin (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1970), pp. 231-241. In his article Martin goes so far as to assert that it is “beyond reasonable doubt“ (p. 234) that Paul was requiring only long hair. This is a good example of why translations of the Bible should be done by committees and not by individual scholars, who sometimes get carried away with pet theories. But the fact that the NIV committee placed such an implausible interpretation in their margin does not speak well for them. The margin of a Bible version should be used to indicate renderings which are almost equally as plausible as the rendering in the text.

8. N. T. Wright, Justification : God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009). pp. 51–52.

9. Kenneth L. Barker, The Balance of the NIV: What Makes a Good Translation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000). Nevertheless, as Gregory Martin pointed out long ago, “If they translate one and the same Greek word (παραδοσις), ‘Tradition,’ whensoever the Scripture speaks of evil traditions: and never translate it so, whensoever it speaks of good and Apostolical traditions: their intention is evident against the authority of Traditions.” (Gregory Martin, A Discovery of the Manifold Corruptions of the Holy Scriptures by the Heretics of our days, especially the English Sectaries, and of their foul dealing herein, by partial and false translations to the advantage of their heresies, in their English Bibles used and authorized since the time of Schism [Rheims: John Fogny, 1582].)

10. On this point see chapter 3 of the Defence of the Nicene Definition by Athanasius, in which he writes, “For what man of right understanding does not perceive, that what are created and made are external to the maker; but the Son, as the foregoing argument has shewn, exists not externally, but from the Father who begat Him? for man too both builds a house and begets a son, and no one would reverse things, and say that the house or the ship were begotten by the builder, but the son was created and made by him; nor again that the house was an image of the maker, but the son unlike him who begat him; but rather he will confess that the son is an image of the father, but the house a work of art, unless his mind be disordered, and he beside himself. Plainly, divine Scripture, which knows better than any the nature of everything, says through Moses, of the creatures, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth;’ but of the Son it introduces not another, but the Father Himself saying, ‘I have begotten Thee from the womb before the morning star’ [Ps. 110:3 in the LXX] and again, ‘Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.’ [Ps. 2:7] And the Lord says of Himself in the Proverbs, ‘Before all the hills He begets me;’ [Prov. 8:25] and concerning things originated and created John speaks, ‘All things were made by Him;’ [John 1:3] but preaching of the Lord, he says, ‘The Only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He declared Him.’ [John 1:18] If then son, therefore not creature; if creature, not son; for great is the difference between them, and son and creature cannot be the same, unless His essence be considered to be at once from God, and external to God.” Athanasius’ handling of Scripture here is quite sound, because he merely draws out the theological implications of the metaphorical language. It means something that Christ is repeatedly described as “born of,” “coming from,” and “begotten by” God.

11. The essay is so tendentious that Longenecker even rushes blindly into careless errors of fact when presenting his linguistic evidence. He states that “in Genesis 22:2, 12, 16, and Jubilees 18:2, 11, 15 (possibly also Jos. Antiq. 1:222), monogenes is used of Isaac in the sense of Abraham’s ‘favored,’ ‘chosen,’ or ‘unique’ son, vis-a-vis Ishmael.” (pp. 121-22). But in fact the Septuagint does not have the word monogenes in Genesis 22. It has the word agapetos, “beloved.” The word monogenes does not occur at all in the Pentateuch of the Septuagint. It is hard to understand why Longenecker is citing Jubilees here, because there is no extant Greek text for the Book of Jubilees. And the manuscripts of the Ethiopic version of this book (upon which we rely for any indication of the wording in the lost Greek version) do not indicate monogenes in the places Longenecker cites. They indicate agapetos (in line with the Septuagint version of Genesis 22) or prototokos “first born.” Probably Longenecker just assumed that the Septuagint used the word in reference to Isaac in Genesis 22 because the Epistle to the Hebrews (which often quotes from the Septuagint) uses the word in reference to Isaac in 11:17. But strangely, later in the same paragraph he writes, “the LXX also renders yahid by agapetos (Gen. 22:2, 12, 16 ...”, which seems to indicate that he was aware of the fact that the Septuagint uses agapetos instead of monogenes in Genesis 22. What is going on here? In the same paragraph he also asserts that “in Psalms of Solomon 18:4 and Ezra 6:58, Israel is referred to as both prototokos and God’s monogenes” (p. 122), but there is no “Ezra 6:58.” Evidently in this case he has been confused by a statement in Büchsel’s article in the TDNT, which says that “There is a striking use of μονογενής in Ps.Sol. 18:4 : ‘Thy chastisement comes upon us (in love) as the first born and the only begotten son.’ With this may be compared 4 Esr. 6:58 : ‘But we, thy people, whom thou hast called the first born, the only begotten, the dearest friend, are given up into their hands.’” Here Büchsel is referring to the Latin text of Fourth Esdras (also called Second Esdras), a book for which there is no extant Greek text. Apparently Longenecker mistook it for a reference to the Greek text of the canonical book of Ezra in the Septuagint. This is very shoddy. Longenecker does not seem to have looked at the texts he refers to; he is instead relying upon secondary sources, which we misunderstands, and so he misleads the reader into thinking that the word monogenes is present in the cited texts.

12. Longenecker’s argument is not original—it simply reproduces the arguments of others who have opposed the Nicene Creed before him. The main lines of it were presented by the liberal Baptist scholar Dale Moody in “God’s Only Son: The Translation of John 3:16 in the Revised Standard Version,” Journal of Biblical Literature 72 (1953), pp. 213-19. The linguistic evidence used in Longenecker’s argument gives little support to his contention that a “begetting” is not implied by the word monogenes in ordinary Greek usage. It may be freely granted that this component of the word’s meaning was not always emphasized in various contexts, and sometimes even absent, but this does not lead us to any conclusion about the usual meaning of the word. The linguistic evidence adduced by Longenecker and others only shows that Greek usage allows for an understanding of the word in which the “begetting” component is absent, in some contexts. But a survey of all occurrences shows that “only begotten” is the normal meaning of the word, and in the context of John’s writings there are clear indications that this is the intended meaning. For further discussion of this matter I refer the reader to my article The Only Begotten Son.

13. Daniel Wallace, The History of the English Bible Part IV: Why So Many Versions?, accessed online November 2003.

14. We also note that the NIV translators wisely decided to change the plurals to singulars instead of changing the singulars to plural, as in the Good News Bible. The use of the collective singular is not insignificant; it signifies the corporate solidarity of the priesthood and its identification with Moses. Julius Wellhausen writes:

Here we read: “Thy Thummim and thy Urim belong to the man of thy friendship, whom thou didst prove at Massah, for whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; who saith of father and mother, I have never seen them, and acknowledgeth not his brethren nor knoweth his own children—for they observe thy word and keep thy covenant, they teach Jacob thy judgments and Israel thy law; they bring savour of fat before thee and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar; bless, O Lord, his strength, and accept the work of his hands; smite through the loins of them that rise up against him, and of them that hate him that they rise not again” (Deut. xxxiii. 8-11). In this passage the priests appear as a strictly close corporation, so close that they are mentioned only exceptionally in the plural number, and for the most part are spoken of collectively in the singular, as an organic unity which embraces not merely the contemporary members, but also their ancestors, and which begins its life with Moses, the friend of Jehovah who as its beginning is identified with the continuation just as the man is identified with the child out of which he has grown. The history of Moses is at the same time the history of the priests, the Urim and Thummim belong—one is not quite sure to which, but it comes to the same thing; every priest to whom the care of an ephod has been intrusted interrogates before it the sacred oracle. The first relative clause relating to Moses passes over without change of subject into one that refers to the priests, so that the singular immediately falls into plural and the plural back to the singular. Yet this so strongly marked solidarity of the priesthood as a profession rests by no means upon the natural basis of family or clan unity; it is not blood, but on the contrary the abnegation of blood that constitutes the priest, as is brought out with great emphasis. He must act for Jehovah’s sake as if he had neither father nor mother, neither brethren nor children. Blind prepossession in people’s conceptions of Judaism has hitherto prevented the understanding of these words, but they are thoroughly unambiguous. (Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, trans. by J.S. Black and A. Menzies [Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1885], pp. 134-5.)

15. Wallace, op. cit.

16. D.A. Carson has called the NIV’s “sacrifice of atonement” a “lamentably obscure” rendering (“A Review of the New Revised Standard Version,” The Reformed Theological Review 50/1 [January-April 1991], p. 5). The precise meaning of hilasterion and its cognates has been a subject of scholarly debate, but nearly all conservative scholars agree that “propitiation” is the best and most precise rendering. Liberal scholars often prefer “expiation” for reasons that are essentially theological, in line with their attempts to downplay the biblical teaching concerning the wrath of God. For a highly detailed discussion of this linguistic issue see the article “Reconciliation” in Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), pp. 145-176.