In my last post, someone asked about Bible translations (a question that regularly comes up), and I offhandedly mentioned that I perceive some Evangelical bias in the New International Version (NIV). Someone asked about that, so I thought I’d take a shot at explaining what I meant.
The NIV was created in the 1970s (NT 1973, full Bible 1978) by a committee of over 100 Evangelical scholars in order to create a Bible that would be appealing to, well, Evangelicals. The idea was to avoid some of the perceived liberality of the Revised Standard Version from a couple of decades before (a sentiment that would have been near and dear to JRC’s heart, even if he likely would have rejected the NIV itself as, well, not the KJV). I first encountered the NIV as a new missionary in the late 1970s, and purchased a copy of a small NIV NT from a Christian bookstore. My trainer somehow conveyed to me the idea that this book represented the “original Greek,” so I wanted one for myself.
The NIV makes moderate use of a translation philosophy called dynamic equivalence, which more readily uses paraphrase in order to convey the sense of the original, as opposed to formal equivalence translations, which try to maintain the structure of the original (such as subordination of thought, use of conjunctions and so forth). I have no problem with dynamic equivalence in theory, but the devil is in the details of its execution. Consider the following examples:
KJV Genesis 2:19: 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.
NIV Genesis 2:19: 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.
Note how the NIV puts the verb into an English pluperfect construction in an attempt to harmonize what appear to be two parallel creation accounts in the first couple of chapters of Genesis. Determining when a Hebrew verb should be rendered as a pluperfect is largely a matter of context. The NIV translators are committed to biblical inerrancy, and therefore they feel the need to read these two chapters in an internally consistent way.
KJV Jeremiah 7:22: 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:
NIV Jeremiah 7:22: 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
Note how the NIV inserts the word “just” in an attempt to harmonize this passage with the fact that the children of Israel were indeed given commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices.
RSV Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman’u-el.
NIV Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
The NIV is committed to understanding the OT in light of NT passages that quote from it. So instead of acknowledging that Matthew misunderstood the Hebrew word almah used by Isaiah, it renders the word as “virgin,” just as Matthew did.
KJV Mark 4:31: It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, is less than all the seeds that be in the earth
NIV Mark 4:31: It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.
This is an attempt to avoid a contradiction with known facts of modern science.
Some Catholics have complained that the NIV translates paradosis, when it has a negative connotation (as in Mt. 15:3 and Col. 2:8), as “tradition,” but when it has a positive connotation (as in 1 Cor. 11:2 and 2 Thess. 2:15, 3:6), as “teaching.”
These few examples illustrate some of the tendencies of the NIV towards preserving inerrancy, harmonization of contradictions and harmonization with known facts of current knowledge (as opposed to allowing errors to stand). Ironically perhaps, these tendencies are the same kind of thing one finds in the JST, albeit applied with a scalpel as opposed to a bludgeon.
I don’t hate the NIV, and it is worth consulting, if for no other reason than that it is the world’s best selling Bible. But I would read it with a grain of salt. I prefer the NET, which is also an Evangelical production but in my view superior to the NIV, or the more formally equivalent NRSV.