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

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

Let us compare Matthew 24:30 . . .

NIV:  "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in
     the sky."

AV:   "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in
What interpretations are possible for the NIV statement? Only one: some kind of sign will appear in the sky. The ONLY way one can understand the NIV is as a prediction of some kind of visible apparition in the atmospheric or stellar heavens.

Now, contrast the more accurate AV translation. There are three *possible* interpretations that are immediately obvious. The first is the same one the NIV forces upon us, namely some kind of sign will appear in the visible heavens (sky). The second is that some kind of sign will appear in the highest heavens. The third (and the one with the most historic Reformed expositors -- and I believe the *correct* one) is that a sign will appear the meaning of which is that the Son of Man has ascended to take his throne in heaven.

The point of this (and we could multiply examples) is that dynamic equivalence *tremendously increases the role of the translator in mediating the meaning of the text!* A "formal" translation gives us in English the text of the Greek, but does not force us to one interpretation or another. Dynamic equivalence *has somebody's interpretation built in*! It is an unavoidable consequence of the theory.

Obviously there is a sliding scale between an interlinear Bible at one end and an amplified paraphrase Bible at the other. My critique is not intended to do away with proper distinctions. However, the NIV clearly errs by being way too far to the interpretive paraphrase end of the scale. While some of the interpretive paraphrases are Calvinistic (and so I agree with *them* ), others clearly are *not.* The point is this: neither a Calvinistic nor an anti- Calvinistic bias is appropriate; neither a chiliastic nor an anti-chiliastic bias is appropriate; and above all, a cavalier attitude toward the WORDS GOD INSPIRED is altogether UNappropriate.

In my next post (NIV Examples 6) I will discuss some aspects of textual criticism we find in the NIV. I am not speaking now of the fact that there are differences of opinion among translators as to which ms family is preferable, for virtually *all* the modern translations except the New King James and the Modern King James (neither of which are trying to cash in on the popularity of the KJV -- naw, couldn't be that!) utilize a different textual tradition than the AV. No, the problem with the NIV is not *just* the fact that they use what many regard to be an inferior text type (though, naturally, the NIV translators did not so consider it), but the *arrogance* with which they reference their fave Alexandrian mss.



Packet: HOL
Date: 03-21-95 (13:09)             Number: 2733
From: RICHARD BACON                Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: NIV Examples 6                 Conf: (1442) fidonet.open_

As James B. Jordan says in "Rite Reasons" for July 1990, "Surely, when we come to pledge our allegiance to Him and hear His orders, we should honor him by using a precise and accurate translation." The NIV falls seriously short of being such a translation. We have examined *why* it falls short in the previous five posts.

We come now to consider what we might characterize as the "textual arrogance" of the NIV. There are two main textual traditions for the Greek NT. Each one has its proponents in the ecclesiastical and academic communities. There are some, who with the same arrogance we will find typical of the NIV, trumpet themselves to be the scholars. But the fact of the matter is that there are scholars on both sides of the issue.

For the sake of simplicity we can call these two traditions the Byzantine and the Alexandrian. If we were to get into the minutia of the subject we would find some overlap and even some mss which do not fall neatly into *either* category, but we are trying to keep this simple and straightforward.

The Byzantine tradition is the one that God saw fit to preserve publicly in the life of the church for sixteen centuries. It is the text of the Protestant Reformation and the text of the Eastern Orthodox churches. The Alexandrian tradition consists of some *very old* mss which a number of modern scholars, following primarily the lead of some nineteenth century scholars, believe is the true text of the Greek NT.

Virtually all the new English translations (excepting the NKJV and the MKJV and the *laughable* earlier KJV II) are made using the Alexandrian tradition as a base. I have gone on record in the past as believing this is an error. I believe it is a side effect of the failure of the church qua church to guard the Scriptures and Christian scholarship and the transfer of that function from the church to the academy. It also reflects, IMNSHO, the triumphalism of the concept of neutrality and what Dooyeweerd called the "science ideal" in the area of NT textual studies. I say all this to let you know that I am NOT without bias. Nobody is. However, there is a community of scholars who would have you *believe* that there is such a thing as neutrality toward God and his word and that you need look no further than them to find it.

Whatever the case may be with respect to the Byzantine tradition or the Alexandrian tradition, one of the more irritating (and, yes, oftentimes dishonest) aspects of the NIV is the arrogance with which it asserts the superiority of the Alexandrian tradition.

Since it sets off the "growl button" of some of the self-proclaimed prophets in this echo to compare anything to the AV, as though that is the LEAST POSSIBLE translation we should consider, I will compare the textual statements found in the margins of the NASV New Testament with those found in the NIV.

John 7:53 - 8:11 is not present in the Alexandrian witnesses; nor is Mark 16:9-20. The NASV includes these two passages in brackets, with a marginal note. The NIV more dramatically sets them off, and has a note in the text:


John 7:53 - 8:11
   NASV note: "John 7:53 - 8:11 is not found in most of the
   old mss."
   NIV statement: "The earliest and most reliable manuscripts
   do not have John 7:53 - 8:11."

Mark 16:9-20
    NASV note: "Some of the oldest mss. omit from verse 9
   through 20."
   NIV statement: "The most reliable early manuscripts do not
   have Mark 16:9-20."

It is quite clear that the NIV editors are much more dogmatic in their assertions regarding the subject of text criticism that are the NASV editors. The NASV notes are accurate and correct; the NIV notes are pejorative and misleading. After all, who determines what constitutes "most reliable?" The NIV editors are obviously of the opinion that such is to be determined by *THEM* (spec. the "academy") and not the church as she has read and practiced the Scriptures for two millennia.

The next post in this series (NIV Examples 7) will deal with the desireability of "street English" over "literary English." Or perhaps it would be more accurate for me to say that the post will deal with the "undesirability" of street English.



Packet: HOL
Date: 03-21-95 (13:09)             Number: 2734
From: RICHARD BACON                Refer#: NONE
  To: ALL                           Recvd: NO
Subj: NIV Examples 7                 Conf: (1442) fidonet.open_

As a literary work, the NIV *at best* leaves much to be desired. One major defect is in its comma usage. Thus in passages such as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 we read, "May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless." For a list of three things, there needs to be a comma after "soul." This is the uniform requirement of every modern grammatical guide of which I am aware. The fact that pop magazines ignore the serial comma is no justification for someone who wants to be taken seriously to do so.

However, the comma use objection is minor compared to the manner in which the NIV sacrifices the literary artistry of the Bible to vulgar usage. Simply compare "Abraham lifted up his eyes" with "Abraham looked up." Nobody can seriously suggest that the second is either more literary or any more easily understood.

I, along with many others not only in the ecclesiastical community, but in the academic community as well, object to this cheapening and idiotification (yes, that is a correct usage of idiot -- look it up in your _Funk & Wagnall's_) of the Word of God to street rhetoric. It is an insult to the man (and child) in the pew. It does *NOT* encourage growth in grace or knowledge either one.

In an earlier post I demonstrated this with Romans 4:1. We don't want to "burden" our readers with such technicalities as the theology of the flesh, so we simply paraphrase it away. So too, a word like "propitiation" is clearly just too long for some stupid or moronic Christian to understand. We'd better paraphrase that one as well. Of course, it is so unlikely that the pastor would actually *teach* the meaning of such a word, that we need to rid ourselves of it. Thus the NIV in Romans 3:25 and 1 John 2:2. Interestingly, 40 years ago when the RSV did the SAME thing by changing propitiate to expiate, there was a hue and cry from evangelicals.

I have never in all my years found a layman as stupid as the professors in seminary tell you they are! The practice of "dumbing down" the Bible makes no more sense than painting over the old masters with representations of the Marlboro Man.

The NIV is unsuitable for a study Bible -- it is simply too wrong at too many places. But the artistic (literary) downgrade also makes it unsuitable for public reading. One is therefore left to wonder for what purpose the NIV *is* suitable.

It is the translational equivalent of the "60's" mentality. It is a reflection of the "away with all tradition" of that period. Just as the RSV is a reflection not so much of the Word of God as it is of English and American liberalism, so also the NIV is a reflection, not of the Word of God, but of the "post-hippie-I-gotta-be-me" evangelicalism.

The church should maintain a higher standard for worship and study than the NIV affords us. Perhaps I am an optimist, but I do *NOT* believe the American public is so poorly educated that a precise and accurate translation of the Scriptures would be unintelligible to it.

The Authorized Version (KJV) was translated with a view to being read aloud in church, and though it is imperfect from this standpoint in places, yet it clearly reflects this concern. Modern translations are made for individuals who are working in their studies (the triumph of the academy over the church), and thus versions like the NASV do not read well aloud. The general cheapening of language in the NIV makes it altogether unsuitable for public reading.

Two more posts on the *preference* of retaining the terms "thee/thou/thy/thine" in NIV Examples 8 and a post "Thee and Thou."



These posts are continued in Thee, Thou, and Ye.