Saturday, 28 June 2014

Burn your NIV!

Recommended by Paul (and me)
No, I don't mean that literally; unless of course you're particularly short of kindling. Book burning isn't usually regarded as a civilised practice, which is probably why American fundamentalists seem to enjoy an occasional indulgence. However, if you use the NIV as your primary Bible translation, you might think about re-shelving it well away from public view. Maybe in a cardboard box alongside the more blatant sectarian versions, paraphrases and Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Why? Just take a gander at this mind boggling list of NIV mistranslations.

Now I do understand the difference between literal and dynamic equivalence translations. And yes, I'm no fan at all of wooden word-for-word versions like the NASB. But granted the thorough legitimacy of dynamic equivalence translations on the grounds of approachability, let's be honest; there's a huge theological agenda - you might say sectarian bias - running like a freight train through the NIV's translation choices, as clearly documented by Paul over at Is That In The Bible? If you have a friend or relative who prefers to use the NIV, do send them the link!

Paul favours the NRSV (specifically the excellent New Oxford Annotated Bible) along with the 1966 Jerusalem Bible. Clearly a man of discernment. I'd happily add a couple of further suggestions, but will leave that to another day.

Perhaps more important is to identify the bad eggs in the Biblical egg carton. There are a few rules of thumb, one of which is to simply trot along to your local Christian book store and note down the versions which are most heavily promoted. Those are generally the ones to avoid. They sell for a reason, and it ain't meticulous scholarship or textual honesty. Oh dear, there goes the New Living Translation and the much over-hyped ESV!

Paul provides a wonderful quote from N.T. Wright at the end of his posting. No-one can accuse Wright of being anti-Evangelical, so it makes his statement even more relevant.
When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses…. Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said…. [I]f a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about. [Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 2009, pp. 51-52]

This time Wright isn't wrong.


  1. What a disappointment: One would think that honesty would be the strong suit of Biblical translators.

  2. Readers of this blog with a history in the WCG will remember that Tkach Senior thought the NIV was the best translation out there. Scholarship was not his strong point.

  3. Thanks for the mention!

  4. The NIV is just another translation to argue over and whose precepts of doing good and right are to be ignored by the unspiritual religious.

  5. I don't know how we could get a totallly accurate translation of the Bible. As prospective translators, believers will undoubtedly be infected with some extent of sectarian bias, while carefully selected non-believing academics will inject their own subset of prejudices. And, it is foolishness to believe that the wonderful people with "perfect understanding" who brought us 1975, British Israelism. and a horribly bogus church history would possess any greater understanding than would some garden variety Evangelical.

    Which leads to one obvious conclusion: It is not possible to base an accurate, rigid form of legalistic ritual on the Bible, and to make that form a compulsory eternal behavioral standard for all of humanity. Regardless of Biblical manuscripts, or translation, at best, the highest overriding spiritual principles that always manage to shine through are the two great commandments of the Lord (love for God, and love for man), guided by, and informed by the so-called "Golden" Rule. "Jesus saves" covers our shortcomings. Anything beyond that opens up exploitation and manipulation, to say nothing of the idolizing of teachers.

    Unfortunately, one must often experience dead ends, and bogus teachers before one becomes enlightened.


    1. Just one verse, Byker Bob: Gal. 5:14 - maybe a second witness: James 2:8. Might even go whole hog with Php. 4:8 and leave the bible on the shelf. After all, Abraham didn't have a bible and neither did anyone else until after copies of the Septuagint became available. Before then, it was just word of mouth because no one could read or write Hebrew except the temple priests and scribes. IOW, if the people didn't need one then, they don't need one now. Besides, as you say, "bogus teachers" and the knowledge that they can make the bible say anything they want it to say.

  6. "I don't know how we could get a totallly accurate translation of the Bible."

    I'm quite sure it *isn't* possible. But I think an honest one is possible. And the more difficult textual issues are discussed in the notes, the better.