Sunday, June 26, 2011

In Defense of the NIV

I have used the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible for over 20 years. I also use other versions like the NASB, but I prefer the NIV for reading, teaching, and preaching. When I have questions, I go to the original Hebrew or Greek, and also check other translations.

The American Family News Network recently reported that The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has voted "not to commend" the 2011 NIV Bible, because of its usage of gender-neutral language. The SBC argued at their annual gathering in Phoenix that the changes in the 2011 NIV update alter the Bible's theological message.

I am not a Southern Baptist, but I understand their concerns. They do not want anyone altering the original meaning of Scripture. That's a legitimate concern.

All Scripture is Inspired and Inerrant
However, I would be cautious not to throw the baby out with the bathwater like they have done here, in a knee jerk reaction to this new update to the NIV. Every translation has its weaknesses and strengths. I believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture, and in its inerrancy, but these existed in the original manuscripts, known as autographs. The apostle Paul wrote, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2Ti 3:16-17). I absolutely agree with that. I believe God had preserved all His Words, every single one of them. 

But I would not say that every word in each of the modern translations are necessarily inspired or inerrant. To say that the copies of the original manuscripts were inspired and without error, and that a particular translation is inspired or inerrant is to (in my opinion) go beyond what Paul meant in 2 Tim 3:16. That would deny the known imperfections found in some copies of manuscripts, as well as modern translations alike.

I still think that many of our modern English translations like the NIV and NASB are very good and give a faithful rendering of the original meaning in our modern language. I think they are solid and reliable. I do prefer the ones that were translated by diverse teams of scholars, rather than by individuals. And I prefer those that attempt to synthesize the various texts in the original languages (Hebrew and Greek), rather than translate from a single source.

Unfortunate Changes to the NIV
I don't agree with all of the changes made by the NIV committee. For example, I am not in favor of the more gender-neutral language in the 2011 update. I personally would not buy a copy of the 2011 edition for myself or anyone else. I prefer the expression "man of God" to "servant of God." Just to make sure I was not being partial, I checked with my wife, and she felt that "man of God" is more specific, whereas "servant of God" blurs the meaning a bit.

I also wish they had kept the term "saints," and not replaced it with phrases like "the Lord's people." But I am not on the committee, and I am sure they could not possibly please everyone. Their goal was not to please people. It was to render the original meaning of Scripture with terms and expressions that are used today.

Response of the NIV Translation Committee
Please have a look at the document the committee produced about the new NIV update, before you pass judgment. They highlight many of the changes and the reasons for those changes.

I think there are some revisions you may like. You might also watch the very brief executive summary on the NIV update by Dr. Moo, the chairman of the translation committee. He stated that 95% of the previous NIV translation has been preserved in the 2011 version.

The committee has also posted a brief response to the Southern Baptist Convention, which is excellent. Additionally, they have posted a very good response to the recent review of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). If you really want to understand the heart of the NIV translation committee, you need to check out these brief documents. These are critical to read and understand before you jump on the bandwagon with the SBC and the CBMW.

The NIV Translation Committee is made up of scholars from various evangelical denominations, some of which are egalitarian and others complimentarian. Although I am a complimentarian, I respect the diversity of the committee members. I believe they are guided by their philosophy of translation to preserve the original meaning of Scripture, not by a more narrow purpose, such as the stated agenda of the CBMW.

Ungodly Agenda?
Some people have gone so far as to say that the NIV translation committee has an "ungodly agenda." I think that is a very serious accusation. That's more of the same vitriolic venom that has divided Christianity for hundreds of years.

I am aware that the NIV was published by Zondervan, which is now owned by Harper Collins, the largest publisher in the world. I know that Harper Collins has published many evil books like the satanic Bible. I am also aware that the NIV has removed to the footnotes scores of verses from the Bible like Matthew 17:21, 18:11, 23:14; Mark 7:16, 9:44, 9:46; Luke 17:36, 23:17; John 5:4; and Acts 8:37. In fact, 21 out of 54 words in the Lord's Prayer recorded in Luke 11:2-4 have been removed and placed in the footnotes. That's 38% of the prayer! I could write an article about that. In no way am I saying the NIV is perfect. But all the verses cited above have been removed to the footnotes since the 1978 version was published, which was long before Zondervan was acquired by Harper Collins.

Personally, I will keep using my 1978 version until it falls apart. In fact, it has fallen apart, and I have gotten it professionally repaired a few times.  If you cannot obtain the 1978 version, then try to find the 1984 version, which will be very difficult, unless you are willing to pay a lot of money for it.  You will need to search the Internet for sellers of this older edition, since it is not available in bookstores any longer. That is because Biblica owns the copyright to both the 1984 and the 2011 edition of the New International Version of the Bible. And unfortunately Biblica has terminated all publishing rights to all publishers for the 1984 edition of the NIV.

In addition to my old 1978 NIV, which has served me well all these years, I also read from the NASB on my e-sword program when doing Bible studies. I also read from other versions (including the KJV) and often conduct studies of the Greek and Hebrew original language as needed. There are times when I check the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament, as well. Therefore, I am not tied to one version of the Bible, because no single version is perfect or without issues. 

On the other hand, there are those who proclaim that the King James Version is the only version without issues or the only inspired version. If you believe that, then please read a Critical Analysis of the King James Version, by Al Maxey, which is excellent. He has definitely proven that the KJV is not without issues. For example:

1) The King James Bible has undergone three revisions since its inception in 1611, incorporating more than 100,000 changes. So which King James Bible is inspired?

2) The KJV Preface asks, “How shall men meditate on that which they do not understand?” They sought to put it into the language that common people used every day, so that they could understand the Bible. However, what was common language 400 years ago, has become outdated and difficult to understand for most English-speaking people today.

3) For all its flowery language and other positive characteristics, the KJV has doctrinal problems, textual manipulation, lack of uniformity, archaeological inaccuracies, textual inaccuracies, mistranslations, and paraphrasing.

4) Factual evidence reveals that the KJV is not the most accurate and easy to understand version of the Bible.

5) Other English versions existed before the KJV, such as Tyndale's New Testament, the Rheims New Testament, the Great Bible, the Bishop's Bible, and the Geneva Bible, so it is not the original English version. The Geneva Bible was the Bible of the Protestant Reformers; it was the people's choice for seventy-five years before the King James Bible was produced, and was the preferred Bible of the common Christian household. In fact, it was the Bible used by the Puritans who migrated to America.

6) The KJV translators used more than just the original Greek and Hebrew texts of Scripture to produce the English text found in that version. They also used the Bishop's Bible as their source text, as well as the Geneva Bible, both of which are English translations, along with other versions already in existence, including the Latin Vulgate, which was corrupted. So it is a real hybrid of many sources.

7) The KJV was not the first authorized version. Rather, the Great Bible of 1539 was the first authorized edition of the Bible in English, authorized by King Henry VIII of England. That was based primarily on Tyndale's works.

Therefore, if you are going to point out the issues with the NIV or other modern versions, please don't use that as a basis for saying we must read only the KJV. If you are going to say there is an evil agenda with the NIV, or that it has been corrupted, then you would have to say the same thing about the KJV.

Putting it All Together
If someone prefers another version over the NIV, they don't have to buy it or read it. But they don't need to condemn the committee and label the version ungodly. If they are fortunate enough be scholars themselves in the original biblical languages, then they can make their own determinations on what is correct. If not, then they will consult with various translations on passages where they are not satisfied with a rendering in one particular translation. I think that's the best way to go.

Let's be full of grace and maintain the unity of the Holy Spirit without compromising the Word of God or our faith in Jesus Christ.

Further Reading
Please also see my other posts on this blog, titled The Scripture Must Be Fulfilled, God's Word Never Fails, The NET Bible, and the Conciseness of God.
I highly recommend these posts by other authors, as well:
An excellent resource regarding the "King James Only" issue.

Attribution notice: Scripture quotation taken from the NASB

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the  Home page of this blog. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
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Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.

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