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The New International Version

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

            One of the easiest reading Bibles being published today is the New International Version. It’s clarity comes not only from its use of modern English, but also from the willingness of the translators to translate idiomatic phrases of the Bible times into similar phrases of today. This could be dangerous to any translation, for a true translation must keep the original meaning intended by the original author. An idiom in one language does not always match an idiom’s meaning in another language. I’m not an expert in this field, but I think the translators of the New International Version struck a good balance in this area most of the time.

            However, as with most human works, the NIV is not without its problems. The translation was done at a period of time when the best available Greek text for the New Testament, as determined by Biblical scholars turned out to be severely flawed[1, 2]. One of the false teachings that was wide spread during the early days of the church was a belief that Jesus was not really God in the flesh. Anything earthly was considered sinful and corrupt, “So how could the pure God take on the nature of corruption,” these false teachers argued? Followers of this system of belief, now known as Gnosticism, used Bibles edited to support their beliefs[3].

            True Christians refused to use these altered Bibles, but they were loath to destroy the copies since they still contained much of God’s Word. Instead they retired the books to sealed crypts. Recently, modern archeologists found these crypts. Finding copies of God’s word that was older than most of the material we possessed at that time, they gave higher weight to this older material, reasoning that older was better.

            Scholars have eventually pieced together the puzzle, but not before a few new translations were made using the flawed text, including the NIV[4].

            Gary Colley has published a list of problems with the NIV that all Bible students should be aware of. Some of these problems arise from the flawed Greek text that the NIV was based on, but other problems arise from the religious bias of the translators. The wording of the passages were subtly altered in a number of places to make it more acceptable to popular religious beliefs instead of attempting to accurately match the original meaning.

            I would like to give you an expanded version of brother Colley’s list, showing the alteration by comparing it with other translations.


Total Depravity

            “It mistranslated Psalms 51:5 to teach the false theory of Total Depravity.”


KJV: Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

NAS: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

NKJ: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

NIV: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.


            It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to tell that there is a major difference in meaning between the NIV and the other cited passages. Why did the translators of the NIV change the meaning so much? I believe they were trying to justify their strongly held belief that people are born guilty of the sin of Adam. They attempted to provide proof where none existed.


Original Sin

            “It changes ‘flesh’ in Romans 8 to ‘sinful nature’ teaching the false theory of original sin.”


            The word being debated is the Greek word sarx which means “flesh (as stripped of the skin), i.e. (strictly) the meat of an animal (as food), or (by extension) the body (as opposed to the soul [or spirit], or as the symbol of what is external, or as the means of kindred), or (by implication) human nature (with its frailties [physical or mortal] and passions), or (specifically) a human being.”

            The English word “flesh” carries a similar meaning as it too can refer to the edible parts of an animal or to the physical being of a man. However, “nature” means the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing. By changing the wording from “flesh” to “nature” the translators shifted the meaning from an emphasis on the physical make up of man to the character or spiritual make up of man.

            In addition, the word “sinful” is adjoined to “nature” even when the original Greek does not mention sinfulness.


The Deity of Christ

            “It denies the deity of Christ by removing ‘begotten’ from every text referring to Jesus Christ (cf., John 3:16)”


            The NIV refuses to reflect the Greek New Testament statements that Jesus was born of God. Instead they use phrases such as “the One and Only” or “I have made you my son.” Consider the difference in translation shown in John 1:14.


ASV: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.

NKJ: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

NIV: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.


            The Greek word being translated is monogenes. It is a compound word meaning “the only one of a race” or “the only born.” In literature it is used to refer an only child and it can be seen translated as such in Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; and Hebrews 11:17. In the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament it is used in describing Isaac (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16) and Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34). Isaac was technically not an only child, but he was the unique child of promise to Abraham. Just as an only child is treasured by his parents, the Greek word monogenes also carries the connotation of someone beloved.

            The NIV emphasizes the uniqueness of Christ while de-emphasizing the kinship of Christ to God the Father.


            A more clear altering is seen in Psalms 2:7, Acts 13:33, and Hebrews 1:5. Consider the following:


NKJ: God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.'

NAS: that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'You are My son; today I have begotten You.'

NIV: he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: "'You are my Son; today I have become your Father. '


            The Greek word gennao and the Hebrew word yalad refers to conceiving and giving birth to a child. The argument for de-emphasizing the birth is that some have argued that these verses mean Jesus had a beginning. The NIV’s wording avoids that conclusion, but at the expense of changing what the text actually says. While there are plenty of verses which demonstrate that Jesus is eternal, these verses carry the idea that Jesus is of the lineage of God – in other words, his deity, which is the point of Hebrews 1:5. That point is softened by the NIV’s translation which leaves the impression that anyone could have become God’s Son, God just happened to select Jesus. The literal reading fits well with the virgin birth of Jesus and that God was literally his father.


The Eunuch’s Baptism

            “It deletes both the statement of Philip on the condition of baptism and the eunuch’s answer (cf. Acts 8:37).”


            This is due to the manipulated Greek text that the translation was based upon. If it is any consolation, most copies of the NIV do include verse 37 in the footnotes.


Salvation at the Point of Hearing

            “It falsely teaches that sinners are ‘included in Christ’ at the point of hearing (Ephesians 1:13).”


NKJ: In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,

ASV: in whom ye also, having heard the word of the truth, the gospel of your salvation,-- in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,

NIV: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,


            Nothing in the Greek indicates the idea of being included in Christ, especially at the point of hearing the Gospel.


Salvation at the Point of Faith

            “It tampers with the plan of salvation in Romans 10:10, teaching that justification is reached at the point of faith. The same verse teaches that salvation is reached at the point of confession (Romans 10:10).”


NKJ: For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

ASV: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

NIV: For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.


            The Greek behind the phrase “unto righteousness” indicates a leading up to the point of the justification of character or leading up to the point of righteousness. However, the NIV leads the reader to believe the justification has already taken place, which contradicts other verses that teach that salvation is based on more than just belief. See Acts 11:18 and Mark 16:16.


            A similar alteration is made in John 3:16.


NKJ: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

ASV: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.

NIV: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.


            Notice the subtle change from the idea that a believer should not perish to the idea that a believer shall not perish. “Should” indicates that the believer has no excuse in perishing. “Shall” indicates that a believer cannot perish.


Testimony

            “It changes I Corinthians 1:6 from ‘the testimony of Christ’ (the gospel) to ‘our testimony of Christ’ (testimonialist).”


            The Greek word marturion is a neuter word meaning something evidential, in other words in the general sense, evidence given or in the specific sense something like the Decalogue (in the sacred Tabernacle). Changing the “the” or “our” removes the neuter sense of the testimony, making it something that was personally done. While the Apostles did testify of Christ, Paul is not speaking of just his personal testimony in this verse, but of all the evidence that God has delivered concerning Christ.


Salvation Before Baptism

            “It makes Peter teach that baptism is ‘the pledge of a good conscience toward God’ advancing the false theory of faith alone (I Peter 3:21).”


            The Greek word eperotema, means “an inquiry.” However, the word “pledge” used in the NIV means a promise made to God and not a response to God’s request.


            As you can see, the New International Version is not the best version to use if you are interested in accuracy of translation. I still like it for easy reading, but for serious study I prefer to use more precise translations, such as the New King James Version, the American Standard Version, or the New American Standard Version.

Footnotes

  1. F.H.A. Scrivener, Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, Vol. I, p. 120. "... while we accord to Cod. B at least as much weight as to any single document in existence, we ought never to forget that it is but one out of many, several of them being nearly (and not quite as old, and in other respects not less worthy of confindence than itself. One marked feature, characteristic of this copy is the great number of its omissions, which has induced Dr. Dobbins to speak ofit as presenting 'an abbreviated text of the New Testament:' and certainly the facts he states on this point are startling enough. He calculates that Codex B leaves out words or whole clauses no less than 330 times in Matthew, 365 in Mark, 439 in Luke, 357 in John, 384 in Acts, 681 in the surviving Epistles; or 2,556 times in all. That no small proportion of these are mere oversights of the scribe seems evident from the circumstance that this same scribe has repeatedly written words and clauses twice over, a class of mistakes which Mai and the collators have seldom thought fit to notice, inasmuch as the false addition has not been retraced by the second hand, but which by no means enhances our estimate of the care employed in copying this venerable record of primitive Christianty."
  2. Wilbur N. Pickering, ThM PhD, "AN EVALUATION OF THE W-H THEORY," The Identity of the New Testament Text II, p. 54. "I have quoted men like Zuntz, Clark and Colwell on the "Byzantine" text to show that modern scholars are prepared to reject the notion of a "Byzantine" recension, but the main lesson to be drawn from the variation among "Byzantine" MSS is the one noted by Lake and Burgon—they are orphans, independent witnesses; at least in their generation. The variation between two "Byzantine" MSS will be found to differ both in number and severity from that between two "Western" MSS or two "Alexandrian" MSS—the number and nature of the disagreements between two "Byzantine" MSS throughout the Gospels will seem trivial compared to the number (over 3,000) and nature (many serious) of the disagreements between Aleph and B, the chief "Alexandrian" MSS, in the same space."
  3. Brian K. McPherson and Scott McPherson, "A Brief Examination of Manuscript Variation Issues". "More specifically, we can learn from the early church where the heretics who were altering the text were based geographically and the language they used to spread their false doctrine. When we study early church history we find that although Gnostic heretics did spread to other parts of the Roman (or Byzantine Roman) world, their origination and epicenter was Alexandria, Egypt Ð the very source location of the Alexandrian text type and of the most prominent Alexandrian texts. Early prominent Gnostic heretical leaders like Valentinus and Basilides were first active in Alexandria during the middle of the second century A.D.

    In the twenty seventh chapter of his work Against Heresies, Book I, Irenaeus, a second century apologist, recorded the beliefs of the Gnostic heretic Marcion. In the fifth chapter of his third book, Tertullian, a Christian apologist who lived and wrote between approximately 160-230 A.D., records that Marcion tampered with the Biblical texts. As such Tertullian's testimony that Marcion deliberately altered the scriptural texts in a theologically consequential manner is informative of this practice among heretical leaders. Notice from the quote below that Marcion is not an isolated incident, but his followers are said to be "daily retouching" the New Testament texts.

    "For if the (Gospels) of the apostles have come down to us in their integrity, whilst Luke's, which is received amongst us, so far accords with their rule as to be on a par with them in permanency of reception in the churches, it clearly follows that Luke's Gospel also has come down to us in like integrity until the sacrilegious treatment of Marcion. In short, when Marcion laid hands on it, it then became diverse and hostile to the Gospels of the apostles. I will therefore advise his followers, that they either change these Gospels, however late to do so, into a conformity with their own, whereby they may seem to be in agreement with the apostolic writings (for they are daily retouching their work, as daily they are convicted by us); or else that they blush for their master, who stands self-condemned either way - when once he hands on the truth of the gospel conscience smitten, or again subverts it by shameless tampering." - Tertullian, Book III Ch. V

    (NOTE: The above passage from Tertullian is quoted from Tim Warner's article "Demise of the Westcott-Hort Theory.")

    Similar accounts are provided by two the fourth century writers, Eusebius and Theodoret, concering the heretic Tatian. In the twenty eighth chapter of his work Against Heresies, Book I, Irenaeus, relates followed after the Gnostic beliefs of men like Marcion. And like his predecessor Marcion, Eusebius and Theodoret record that Tatian also altered the Biblical texts. Again, this information demonstrates clearly the practice of early heretics to deliberately alter the scriptural texts in a doctrinally significant fashion.

    "But their chief and founder, Tatianus, having formed a certain body and collection of Gospels, I know not how, has given this the title Diatessaron, that is the gospel by the four, or the gospel formed of the four; which is in the possession of some even now. It is also said that he dared to alter certain expressions of the Apostles, in order to correct the composition of the phrase." - Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History. pg. 166

    "Tatian the Syrian...also composed the gospel which is called 'Diatessaron,' cutting out the geneologies and whatever other passages show that the Lord was born of the seed of David according to the flesh." - Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus, Ante Nicene Fathers, Vol. IX, p. 37, 38

    (NOTE: The above passages from Eusebius and Theodoret are quoted from Tim Warner's article "Demise of the Westcott-Hort Theory.")

    In the quote below, Eusebius records that doctrinally significant text tampering was common practice of the Gnostic heretics. One of the men, Theodotus, was a disciple of the prominent second century Gnostic heretic Valentinus who founded the Gnostic school at Alexandria. Notice again from the quote below that Theodotus is not an isolated incident, but his followers are said to be "daily retouching" the New Testament texts.

    "...Theodotus, the leader and father of this God-denying apostasy, as the first one that asserted that Christ was a mere man...The sacred Scriptures...have been boldly perverted by them; the rule of the ancient faith they have set aside, Christ they have renounced, not inquiring what the Holy Scriptures declared, but zealously laboring what form of reasoning may be devised to establish their impiety...But as to these men who abuse the acts of the unbelievers, to their own heretical views, and who adulterate the simplicity of that faith contained in the Holy Scriptures,...For this purpose they fearlessly lay their hands on the Holy Scriptures , saying that they have corrected them. And that I do not say this against them without foundation, whoever wishes may learn; for should any one collect and compare their copies one with another, he would find them greatly at variance among themselves. For the copies of Asclepiodotus will be found to differ from those of Theodotus. Copies of many you may find in abundance, altered, by the eagerness of their disciples to insert each one his own corrections, as they call them, i.e. their corruptions. Again the copies of Hermophilus do not agree with these, for those of Appollonius are not consistent with themselves. For one may compare those which were prepared before by them, with those which they afterwards perverted for their own objects, and you will find them widely differing....For either they do not believe that the Holy Scriptures were uttered by the Holy Spirit, and they are thus infidels, or they deem themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and what alternative is there but to pronounce them daemoniacs? For neither can they deny that they have been guilty of the daring act, when the copies were written with their own hand, nor did they receive such Scriptures from those by whom they were instructed in the elements of the faith; nor can they show copies from which they were transcribed." - Eusebius: Ecclesiastical History. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Reprinted 1991. pp. 214-216

    (NOTE: The above passage from Eusebius is quoted from Tim Warner's article "Demise of the Westcott-Hort Theory.")

    From the available historical records we have of the early church period we can see clearly that it was the common practice of the Alexandrian Gnostic heretics to alter the scriptural texts. We must also note from the quote from Eusebius that having no two copies alike is a hallmark of the Gnostic tampering. The fact that this inconsistency is also a hallmark of the Alexandrian text tradition is yet another indication that the variation present in the Alexandrian texts may be the result of Gnostic tampering."
  4. D. Cloud, "Are the Modern Versions Based on Westcott-Hort?", Way of Life Literature. "Bruce Metzger is probably the most influential textual critic alive. He is one of the editors of the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament and the author of many widely used books on textual criticism. In his 1981 book The Westcott and Hort Greek New Testament--Yesterday and Today, Metzger makes the following plain admission: “The International committee that produced the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, not only adopted the Westcott and Hort edition as its basic text, but followed their methodology in giving attention to both external and internal consideration” (Metzger, cited by James Brooks, Bible Interpreters of the 20th Century, p. 264)."