Is the NIV the translation of “a compromising church”?
From time to time people ask me questions of a more “theological” nature. I love it because I get a chance to dig into subjects that I don’t always have occasion to explore, but I also realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. So, when topics like these come up, I post them on what I like to call “Theology Thursdays.”
Hope you enjoy this post, and if it’s not your thing, check back tomorrow 🙂
— Pastor Phillip
QUESTION: I’ve heard some theologians recently speak critically on the New International Version of the Bible (NIV), that many of the powerful truths have been altered for a more palatable presentation to general audiences.
So, this was the issue raised by a good friend of mine, and what a great topic it is! He’s a very intelligent person with good insights, so I enjoyed researching some of the links he sent. I was drawn to one in particular, specifically some of the individual claims the author makes.
I decided to test them out.
I have read the NIV all the way through (twice) but don’t use it day-to-day. Though I don’t remember finding any problems with it before, I am personally VERY committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and the importance of having accurate translations, so I set out to use the tools I have available to explore the context of the passages, the original Greek words used, and how other translations have handled some of these passages. The original criticism site can be found here, and below are some of the things I discovered in my search.
NOTE 1: My intention here isn’t to attack or even defend any particular translation, simply to explore the texts referenced by the author and try to dig underneath the surface to see what’s there in each individual case.
The word “Lucifer” was removed from Isaiah 14:12 and Satan was actually called, “O morning star,” the same title given to Jesus in the Book of Revelation.
Here is the text in both versions, with ESV and NLT as well.
-KJV: How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
-NIV: How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
-ESV: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!
-NLT: “How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world.
Here’s the issue with this claim: The Hebrew word is “heylel“, meaning “From H1984 (in the sense of brightness); the morning star: – lucifer.” The root word is “halal“, which is a big-picture word that means, “A primitive root; to be clear (originally of sound, but usually of color); to shine; hence to make a show; to boast; and thus to be (clamorously) foolish; to rave; causatively to celebrate; also to stultify: – (make) boast (self), celebrate, commend, (deal, make), fool (-ish, -ly), glory, give [light], be (make, feign self) mad (against), give in marriage, [sing, be worthy of] praise, rage, renowned, shine.”
This is the ONLY place the word is used in all of Scripture, and the context of the passage is found in Isaiah 14:4, “That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased! ” So yes, there is a sense in which the word is assigned the proper name “Lucifer”, but THAT’S NOT THE CONTEXT OF THE PASSAGE!!
Based on these examples (the rest are found in part one and part two of this series), it seems that the criticisms against the NIV in favor of the KJV are not nearly as serious as imagined in the mind of the author. Furthermore, it appears to be much more a case of the author/critic having grown up believing the KJV was the only “real” Bible, and then taking the English words found there and being frustrated that the newer translations (the NIV in particular) did not import English meanings back to the original text. The problem is that to do that would be unfaithful to the original text in an effort to preserve the primacy of the KJV. That, in my opinion, is not an issue of scholarship, but idolatry.
There are other issues the author raises, primarily about verses left out or changed. These issues are based almost exclusively in the belief that the “Textus Receptus” is the best manuscript collection from which to translate, even though it is much more recent than the manuscripts used by other translations. The reason stated for this is that the other manuscripts are accepted by the Catholic church and they come from the region of Egypt, rather than Antioch, where the Textus Receptus comes from. Digging into manuscript integrity is beyond the scope of this piece, but suffice it to say, based on the way in which the other issues are approached by the author, I’m unconvinced of his position. Plus, what I’ve studied so far for this series has already been close to four hours of time, and I must move on to other things 😉
There is definitely some compelling evidence here for why the NIV is certainly not the translation to choose for serious study. One of the reasons I personally use and recommend the English Standard Version (ESV) is because they took great pains to maintain the full integrity of the original texts, even to the point of using many -if not most- of the same sources as the KJV, while one of the main beefs that “KJV only” people have with modern translations is that they often use different, more recently discovered sources that some will say are corrupted. For studying, give me that good ole’ “propitiation” and “regeneration” stuff all day long!
Now, that said, I take great exception to the tone and spirit in which much of this type of criticism is written. To me, while they may have some valid arguments as to why the KJV is more accurate, to start accusing Bible translators of “working for Satan” and being tools of the devil I think is WAY over the line, and sounds much more like the Pharisees than the disciples of Jesus. Just the other day I was reading Ephesians 3 in which Paul’s prayer for the church atEphesusis that they would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”(Ephesians 3:19, ESV)
Knowledge is VERY important, but not as important as love. “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up,” as the Scripture says. Again in James we find “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17, ESV)
Oh, how I long that we would be a people passionately committed to rightly dividing the Word of Truth and constantly seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures! What I long for even more, though, is that our highest goal would not be knowledge alone, but love.
Now, we must be careful here, as well, because some may take “love” to mean that we don’t engage and battle for truth. Nothing could be further FROM the truth! Indeed, here’s what Paul writes in Galatians. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1, ESV)
See the theme? To pursue truth for truth’s sake alone is to court the danger of self-righteous Pharisaism. That’s why Paul exhorts the Galatians to “Keep watch on yourself, lest you, too be tempted.” To pursue truth for the sake of love means we engage directly, but in a spirit of gentleness with the goal of restoration, not condemnation. When I read articles/websites like most of what the KJV-only crowd tends to put out, what I find is a bunch of people whose approach to truth is not to gently correct brothers in error, but to arrogantly condemn anyone who doesn’t share their point of view.
See the difference?
Next, regarding the specific examples of “heresy” in the NIV, do I think that words like “regeneration” and “propitiation” are very important? Of course! Should they be addressed and shared with all believers so they understand the truth of God’s Word and the greatness of His gift? Absolutely.
However, we live in a world where the vast majority of people simply don’t have the training to rightly understand many of the words we use to explain the truths of Scripture, and that’s why God appoints pastors and teachers, and calls some to mentor and others to write, etc.
It is the privilege and responsibility of each believer to read and study the Scriptures for themselves and not rely solely on one person’s interpretation. But it is also God’s gift and command that each believer should belong to a local church where the Bible is rightly taught, so that they don’t have to bear the full burden of interpretation and understanding on their own.
A person sitting by themselves reading the KJV who is not in the community of faith and in submission to Biblically qualified pastor/elders is just as much in error as a person who goes to church every week and reads little or no Scripture on his or her own except a few verses here and there from the NIV.
That’s why I feel so strongly about the power of Biblical community and the priority of the local church, because it is in the Church that God’s Spirit provides a safety net for both people, to keep one from the desert of legalism and the other from the shallows of the nominal Christian life.
Finally, whenever questions about translations of the Bible come up, the thing in which I always find great peace is this: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)
Do we really believe that the “living” power of the Word of God depends solely on the people who translated it? Do we not see horrible sin in the lives of the original authors themselves? Think of David. Think of Moses. Think of Matthew. Think of Paul. All of them, sinful men whom God chose to use anyway, and it was not because of their holiness or even good intentions, but simply because of His sovereign will and grace.
When people ask me about translations, I always have to ask, did His grace run out on us? Was the Holy Spirit on vacation when the translators were doing their work? Does He no longer care enough to be involved in the transmission of His Word so that now it’s only up to us to make sure it’s right?
I would not recommend the NIV to anyone seeking to study deeply (I would point them to the ESV). I would not really recommend the NIV to anyone seeking to read casually (I would refer them to the New Living Translation). But I also would not deny the ability of Jesus Christ to still change lives through imperfect translations of His Word, any more than I would deny His ability to change the World through imperfect people like me.
I believe He’s more capable and creative than some people give Him credit for.