The New International Version of the Bible

The NIV is a Bible translation first published in 1978 by the International Bible Society coming out of work started by the National Association of Evangelicals. If you wish to learn more about this version from the publisher’s viewpoint, this link is provided to their web site. The publisher holds this version in much higher esteem than I do. I flat out don’t trust it.

I first became aware of the NIV when involved in a USENET discussion where I said that the Bible said one thing and someone else argued that it said no such thing. This started happening a lot, and at the root of the disagreement, there always seemed to be a NIV Bible. I eventually bought a copy of the NIV and made little marks in it whenever something came up. I never went looking for problems in the NIV; they came to me. [The New American Standard Bible is taken as the reference translation for this article; King James equivalents are linked at the bottom of the page.]

Examples

Let’s start at the beginning:

(Gen 2:17 NASB [KJV]) “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”

This passage is a problem for the radical literalist because Adam and Eve did not literally die on the day that they ate the forbidden fruit. Folks usually understand the text to mean that they died spiritually, or that they became mortal when they sinned–something died or began to die. The NIV simplifies the problem by revising the text to say: “(NIV) but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for when you eat of it you shall surely die”, removing that pesky “in the day”.

(Gen 2:18-19 NASB [KJV]) Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” {19} And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.

Here’s another problem for the literalists. Back in Genesis Chapter 1 God creates living things, step by step with humankind the last created. In Genesis 2 we have Adam already walking around when God observes his need for companionship and makes a succession of animals as potential companions. Usually it is understood that there are two distinct allegorical creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 respectively, and that the literal order of creation is irrelevant. The NIV simplifies the problem by revising the text to say: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ 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 to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” Inserting that word “had” casts the creation of the animals into the past tense, neatly sidestepping the problem.

(Deu 1:1 NASB [KJV]) These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan in the wilderness, in the Arabah opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Dizahab.

Tradition says that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, although scholars generally don’t. Consider this question: “where was the writer of this verse, when he wrote it?” Well obviously he was standing on the opposite side of the Jordan river from where Moses gave his speech because he used the word “across” to describe the place. If you read the scripture you know that Moses never crossed the Jordan River, so therefore Moses was never on the side of the Jordan where the author was, and hence Moses didn’t write the verse. Now while the Hebrew word (eber yarden) clearly means “other side the Jordan”, the NIV solves the objection to Mosaic authorship of the verse by revising the text to say: “(NIV) These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the desert east of the Jordan–that is, in Arabah–opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel,  Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab.” Just replace that pesky “across” with “east” and it’s all fixed. (One might argue that “eber yarden” always refers to the region east of the Jordan and the NIV is accurate to denote it this way, but that is not true. Sometimes it refers to the west side, as in Deut. 3:25, 11:30, Josh. 5:1.)

(Jer 7:22 NASB [KJV]) “For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.

Again the literalist has a problem here, because if you go back to Exodus 19, the Israelites leave Egypt and their first encounter with God, in Exodus 20 where the 10 Commandments were given, contains ordinances concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices (Ex 24:24). The usual interpretation is to take Jeremiah 7:22 as a figure of speech, an exaggeration rather than a literal claim that God did not set up the sacrificial ordinances of the ancient Hebrews. The NIV, leaving nothing to interpretation, solves the problem by revising the text to say: “(NIV) 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.” Insert the word “just” and and the literal meaning reverses. One might argue that although the literal meaning is reversed, the actual meaning is not. I would agree that the actual meaning is not reversed, but it is still wrong. If you wanted a true dynamic equivalent translation, it might go something like: “The commands I gave your forefathers concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt pale in insignificance compared to (25) my commandment to obey my voice…”.

(1 Pet 4:6 NASB [KJV]) For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

A key Evangelical belief is that salvation comes through a conversion experience and there is no possibility of doing that after death. 1 Peter 4:6 perhaps offers a challenge to that view. The NIV takes no chances with such an interpretation by revising the text to say: “(NIV) For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” By adding the word “now” the text means that the preaching was done to them when they were alive (although they are now dead).

Conclusion

At least from where I sit, the NIV translation takes certain difficult passages of scripture and makes them consistent with an Evangelical understanding of the Bible and in the process take the Word of God and makes it the Word of the Evangelicals. It confuses scripture with commentary. It leaves out details. I flat out don’t trust it. I prefer to follow St. Paul’s advice: “(Phil 2:12b NASB) work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” rather than let the NIV smooth out the road.


King James references to verses cited in this article:

(Gen 2:17 KJV) But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

(Gen 2:18-19 KJV) And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. {19} And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

(Deu 1:1 KJV) These be the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain over against the Red sea, between Paran, and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Dizahab.

(Jer 7:22 KJV) For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices:

(1 Pet 4:6 KJV) For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

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