The NIV is a Really Bad Translation (1/2)

Page 1 of 2.
Originally posted in five messages by Richard Bacon
on the FIDO message system. Used with permission.

Packet: HOL
Date: 03-21-95 (13:09)             Number: 2728
From: RICHARD BACON                Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: NIV Examples 1                 Conf: (1442) fidonet.open_

Examples of REALLY BAD TRANSLATIONS found in a single reading of the NIV. Here we will compare it with the earlier NASV just to demonstrate that the NIV is bad in comparison even with its modern siblings.

Romans 4:1, NIV: "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?"

NASV (text option): "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?"

NASV (margin option): "What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, has found according to the flesh?"

First of all, notice that the NIV ELIMINATES the term "flesh," which is one of the most important theological terms in the entire Bible. The "flesh theology" begins in Genesis 2-3, and continues throughout the Scriptures. It is extremely significant in the Pauline understanding, especially in the book of Romans. This is NOT "concept by concept" or "dynamic equivalence" -- it is an unwarranted reduction of the text by those who simply did not want to include the idea in the English. The NASV, with a far greater scholarship, included the term while acknowledging they were not certain about what the phrase "according to the flesh" modified.

Hebrews 11:11, NIV (text option): "By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise."

NIV (margin option): "By faith even Sarah, who was past age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who made the promise."

NASV (text option): "By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised;"

NASV (margin option): "By faith even Sarah herself received power for the laying down of seed, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered him faithful who had promised;"

The second NASV reading is a literal reading (so much despised by "the majority" according to James White) and points us to the mighty and important "seed theology" that runs throughout the Scripture, from Genesis onward. In fact, the first mention of the seed theology refers to the WOMAN'S seed. Thus Hebrews 11:11 has a very important place in the seed theology of Scripture. Yet, the NIV mentions it NOT AT ALL, and the NASV mentions it only in the margin. How convenient for a translation that translates "concept by concept" simply to leave out one of the MOST IMPORTANT concepts in the entire Scripture from its translation here. But this is not paraphrastic -- RIGHT! Neither is it an issue of textual criticism -- the UBS text does not vary from the TR at this point in Hebrews 11:11 -- both read "kataboleen spermatos elaben." The problem is not with the eclectic text -- the problem is with the NIV (and the NASV text option). The NASV text option is *slightly* paraphrastic and does away somewhat with a proper understanding of the seed theology of Scripture in this place. But it is not as paraphrastic as the NIV!

The NIV is so paraphrastic that they made up things to place in God's mouth. Now that is arrogance! Furthermore, the things they made up aren't even true! The NIV at Hebrews 11:11 attempts to make every scholar true and God a liar. Let me expatiate:

First of all, of the two NIV readings, only the marginal reading even *approximates* the Greek. And in approximating the Greek, it guts the passage by ignoring the seed theology. The text option, however, is just downright awful.

With absolutely no textual support in any textual tradition -- i.e. no Greek mss -- the NIV throws Abraham into the verse. It claims that Abraham was past age to have children -- which is clearly untrue, as Abraham's six sons by his second wife Keturah could testify (Genesis 25). Further, Abraham's behavior with the handmaid Hagar is proof enough that it was not Abraham, but Sarah who was "past age." But the NIV leaves us with the distinct impression by INTRODUCING Abraham without any textual basis at all that Abraham as well as Sarah was past age for "bearing children" (much less laying down seed, which is the theological import that is missing from both the text option and the margin option).

As I have continued to examine the NIV over the years I have been increasingly impressed with what a poor translation it actually is.



Packet: HOL
Date: 03-21-95 (13:09)             Number: 2729
From: RICHARD BACON                Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: NIV Examples 2                 Conf: (1442) fidonet.open_

This next portion will be more of a book review of Robert Martin's _Accuracy of Translation and the NIV_. Hopefully nobody on the echo will be so shortsighted (and dare I say foolish) as to accuse Martin of being "KJV-only" or whatever the latest epithet happens to be for those who do not roll over for the "translation of the month."

Martin provides dozens (perhaps scores) of REALLY BAD TRANSLATIONS in the NIV. He groups these inaccuracies under seven categories:

1. Elimination of complex grammatical structures (pp. 18-21). Long complex sentences are broken into several shorter sentences. To do this, the translators had to make interpretive decisions about the *theology* of the passage in question. Thus Ephesians 1:3-14, which the AV breaks into three sentences, the NIV breaks into eight. 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10, which the AV keeps as one sentence, is broken into eight by the NIV. Compare also Acts 1:1-5 & Hebrews 1:1-4.

2. Addition of words in translation (pp. 22-28). To be fair, older translations have done this as well, but when the AV adds words to clarify meaning it puts them in italics. The NIV does not -- it therefore gives no warning or notice to the reader as to what it has done. For example, 1 Cor. 7:9 states "it is better to marry than to burn," a statement which is subject to numerous interpretations. The NIV says, "to burn with passion," an addition to the text that is not indicated by any italics (or other flags) and that simply settles the interpretation for the reader. Acts 5:20 says, "all the words of this life," but the NIV reads "the full message of this new life." The word "new" is nowhere to be found in any Greek ms. It has been added by the NIV translators and clearly adds a "new thought" to this verse -- a thought which is man's and not God's at this place.

3. Omission of words (pp. 28-29). Be careful -- some words are omitted due to a difference in textual choice. That is not what Martin is speaking to here. The NIV often omits conjunctions and interjections. The word "lo" or "behold" occurs 62 times in Matthew, but the NIV omits it 37 times. Mark's gospel abounds in the term "immediately" and creates a major theme in Mark's Davidic perspective on Jesus. The NIV omits it in 5 places. In Matthew 10:6, "of the house" is simply left out, and "unto himself" is left out of Ephesians 1:5 -- neither of these omissions have any textual basis.

4. Erosion of technical vocabulary (pp. 29-38). There are parts of the Bible that use highly technical words -- words that have been used in a specifically Christian way by the author. Thus the NIV translates the Greek term *dikaioo* as "justify" except in Romans 2:13 and 3:20, where it reads "declared righteous." Martin correctly points out that justification "involves the imputation of our sins to Christ and the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us," not simply a mere verbal declaration. Propitiation becomes the vague "sacrifice of atonement" and "atoning sacrifice" in Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2. Martin provides several pages of discussions of the "flesh" as mentioned in another post on Romans 4:1.

5. Levelling cultural distinctives (pp. 38-40). "Girding up the loins of your mind" in 1 Peter 1:13 becomes "prepare your minds for action" in the NIV. The NIV does give the "sermonic gist" of the idea, but it eliminates the biblical imagery which calls to mind much of the OT, especially the priestly ministry. The priests were forbidden to approach the altar by steps, lest their nakedness be exposed. They were given special, anointed loin coverings (breeches) so that they could do so. Ordinary underwear would not cover "nakedness" any more than Adam's figleaves did. Thus the notion of girding up the loins has a priestly ring to it, which the NIV eliminates. See Exodus 20:26; 28:42-43; Lev. 9:30.

6. Slipping in subjective interpretations (pp. 41-62). Here is a handful of Martin's numerous illustrations: In each case, the first translation is word-for-word formal equivalency; the second is the NIV. In each case, the NIV decides to perform the office of pope for us by interpreting the "sense" of the Greek.


John 17:11  in thy name
           by the power of your name
Gal. 1:11   according to man
           something that man made up
Phil. 2:1   in Christ
           from being united with Christ
1 Thes. 4:2 through the Lord Jesus
           by the authority of the Lord Jesus

These illustrations are minor. Important and major illustrations of this in the NIV are discussed by Martin. For number 7, see the next post.



Packet: HOL
Date: 03-21-95 (13:09)             Number: 2730
From: RICHARD BACON                Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: NIV Examples 3                 Conf: (1442) fidonet.open_

Robert Martin is Professor of Biblical Theology in Trinity Ministerial Academy in Essex Fells, NJ. He is hardly a slouch when it comes to the New Testament. I have related a short review of his work, published by Banner of Truth Trust (which is more Reformed on its worst day than Bethany House is on its best day) of Carlisle, PA and Edinburgh, UK. The previous post gave a list of six categories under which Martin upbraids (thanks for the word, Doug Palmer) the NIV for inaccuracies and worse. This post gives his seventh category.

7. Finally, paraphrasing (pp. 62-67). The problem with paraphrasing again is that it allows too much latitude to the translator to do our thinking and meditating for us. But the primary focus that Martin illustrates in this category is the manner in which the cadence and beauty of the original text is changed. Here are just a *few* of Martin's numerous illustrations. Remember, there is an entire generation being raise on this pap. . .


Matt. 12:49   and he stretched forth his hand toward his
             disciples and said
NIV           pointing to his disciples, he said
             (the hand is eliminated)

Matt. 13:33   in three measures of meal
NIV           into a large amount of flour
             (the number three is eliminated)

Mark 1:2      before your face
NIV           ahead of you
             (the face is eliminated)

Luke 1:15     from his mother's womb
NIV           from birth
             (completely changes the meaning; pro-aborts can
             take comfort here!)

John 1:20     and he confessed and denied not; and he
NIV           and he did not fail to confess, but confessed
             (lessens the emphatic character of the language)

1 Thes. 4:6   the Lord is an avenger
NIV           the Lord will punish
             (the OT Avenger of Blood theology vanishes)

The kinds of errors outlined in this and the previous post reveal more than just the usual mistakes that are made in any translation. They reveal a cavalier attitude toward the doctrine of VERBAL inspiration. The NIV is not interested in translating the WORDS of God, but the CONCEPTS of God. Yet such cannot be done apart from the words. I would remind anyone interested in the truth, that Paul based an important aspect of the "seed theology" on the fact that the word occurred in the SINGULAR and NOT the PLURAL form. If even singulars and plurals are important to a correct understanding of God's word, how dare we take such an attitude toward it that we will translate "idea by idea" rather than word by word?

Btw, for a bit of CLEAR evidence that both NASV and NIV have a chiliastic bias, simply compare Matthew 24:30 in either of those versions with the ACCURATE translation to be found in the AV. It is not a sign that appears in the sky or heaven, but rather a sign is given that the Son of Man is in heaven. Again, while theologians of various eschatological stripe may dispute the *MEANING* of this text, the AV preserves the word order and sense of the Greek text and allows for more than one interpretation. At this point, both the NASV and the NIV remove "ambiguity" from the text by FORCING one interpretation onto the text.

If it is still in print, I would suggest that anyone interested in reading *both sides* of the dynamic equivalency philosophy get Jacob van Bruggen's critique of it in _The Future of the Bible_. It was published 10 or 15 years ago by Thomas Nelson.

The Bible was not written in 20th century "street English." It was written in Hebrew and Hebraized Greek. Attempts to make the Bible sound like a modern novel do it no service and in the opinion of numerous scholars (James White's unwarranted claim to a "majority of scholars" notwithstanding) are beginning to realize that the NIV went WAY OVERBOARD with a new idea -- an idea that is philologically unsound.



Packet: HOL
Date: 03-21-95 (13:09)             Number: 2731
From: RICHARD BACON                Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: NIV Examples 4                 Conf: (1442) fidonet.open_

In three previous posts (NIV Examples 1, 2, and 3) I have given examples of how the NIV takes a cavalier attitude toward the Word of God and passes that attitude off as though it were following "standard" translation techniques. In reality, what the NIV often does is superimpose the theology of the translators onto the text of God's word.

Now that does not mean that I think that the NIV translators were any more (nor any LESS) depraved than the rest of humanity. The fact is, there is probably not a person in this echo who has a higher personal regard for Edwin J. Palmer than I do. It should be noted, however, that many of the more Reformed men on the translation committee dropped out of the work over time, no longer desiring to be associated with it. Also, in the years since 1965-78, many more Reformed linguistic scholars are coming to understand the numerous flaws contained in the NIV.

Further, if James White is to be believed (how could we doubt the scholarship of Mr. White?), the preface to the NIV is simply WRONG when it states "For the Old Testament the standard Hebrew text, the Masoretic text as published in the latest editions of *Biblia Hebraica*, was used throughout." Yet Mr. White informs us that the NIV *really* used a non-standard ms variant at Psalm 12:7 (ENG) to come up with "you will keep us."

No, I do not think the NIV translators were any more wicked than the rest of us. I *DO* think that they were naive men who were bent on following a NEW (and bad) idea. Of course, that is what often happens when the work of the church (keeping and translating the Scriptures) is turned over to the academy. We have a similar result when the church turns over the training of its men to the seminary. We ought not be surprised when the rarified air of the ivory tower scholastic does not reflect the needs of the church (specifically for an accurate translation of God's words).

There are some posters on this echo who delight in pointing out picayune problems in the AV. Let us acknowledge that there are some difficulties which a godly generation of the church should address. Virtually every one of those difficulties could be addressed in marginal notes. There are some additional differences in punctuation between the common usage in 1769 (the last time such a task was undertaken) and the common usage today. Those items can be addressed without resorting to a wholesale change of the text into a style better suited to a magazine article than the Holy Word of God.

However, whatever problems may exist in the AV (and we are eager to rectify that which is in NEED of rectification); those problems recede to mere background clutter compared to the problems of the "latest and greatest" translations.

Significantly, Hebrew expressions are often literally brought into the Greek of the NT. Thus if we want a "guide" as to how we ought to translate "concept by concept" the NT is a pretty good guide, since it was written primarily by people who spoke Hebrew (or rather Aramaic) as their first language and were using Hebrew ideas and concepts as they wrote the Greek NT.

Now the AV, by following a formal equivalence of word to word translation, supplying words where needed but indicating that it has done so by the use of italics, preserves the Hebrew idiom in which the Bible was written. I know that there are many today in Japheth who despise the tents of Shem, but the fact is that Hebrew is a S(h)emitic language and we ought not despise those who are our own faith fathers if we are truly in Christ (Galatians 3:27-29; Romans 3:2; etc.).

IMO, and the opinion of an increasing number of scholars, the NIV departs from the biblical technique of translation. Thus for us to understand what is meant by stars and constellations in the New Testament we must have an idea from the Hebrew OT what the concepts were. It is impossible for us to understand what it means for the sun to be darkened without realizing the import it has from the OT. But by placing these ideas in modern "street English," the OT nuance is lost to the modern reader. See my next post (NIV Examples 5) for a prime example of what I have in mind.



Packet: HOL
Date: 03-21-95 (13:09)             Number: 2732
From: RICHARD BACON                Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: NIV Examples 5                 Conf: (1442) fidonet.open_

We have been considering in this series of posts the translation technique of the New International Version of the Bible. I made the statement in another post that the NIV has a chiliastic bias. One responder (Doug Palmer) referred to those who expose the translational bias of the NIV as "fools, liars or deceived." As I have done in the past, I will leave it to those who are reading to determine for themselves if Mr. Palmer's accusations are warranted.

I posted a review of Robert Martin's _Accuracy of Translation and the NIV_. I chose Mr. Martin specifically because he has the same theological background as Mr. James White (viz. Reformed Baptist). Of course numerous NON baptistic Reformed scholars could have been referenced, including Jacob Van Bruggen, James B. Jordan, Dr. Edward F. Hills, Gary North, etc. But I want to demonstrate that this is NOT an issue limited to those in the Reformed camp (in the historical sense) opposed to those outside it, but is simply a case of being forthcoming. The NIV is a REALLY BAD TRANSLATION. Anybody who would go "to the wall" for the NIV is simply brainwashed with respect to translation work. If translators working for the state department of the federal government used the same translation technique that the NIV uses, we would be at war within a month!

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