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The NIV Bible — Answering the Critics

The New International Version of the Bible — aka the NIV — is the default version used in the articles, videos and books here at Fountain of Life, although other translations are quoted fairly often. The reason this ministry uses the NIV is simply because 1. it’s written in easy-to-read modern English and 2. it’s currently the most popular version of the Bible as far as book sales go.

The NIV’s popularity is due to it being so readable, the result of a balance between the word-for-word approach in translating (e.g. the NASB) and the thought-for-thought method (e.g. the CEV). The traditionally popular King James Version (KJV) is strictly word-for-word. You can compare the more prominent English versions and their specified translation philosophy here.

The NIV was made by over a hundred scholars of an international, multi-sect team. The entire translation underwent three revisions in its creation process via three different scholarly teams, which — needless to say — eliminated a sectarian bent and loner eccentricities.

Criticisms of the NIV by KJV-Only Folks

Amongst Evangelicals is the small KJV-only crowd. These people believe that the KJV — originally published in 1611 — is the only acceptable translation of the Holy Scriptures for English-speaking people, even though it’s now grossly out of date as far as the changes in the English language go. Apparently they think that the LORD only ordains one translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic & Greek Scriptures per language group, which is absurd. This curious position suggests that English-speaking Christians are in bondage to this translation even though it’s over 400 years old and contains archaic verbiage that modern English-speakers can barely understand.

The reason I reference KJV-only folks is because they’re big on denouncing the NIV and criticizing it with petty or dubious claims. It’s almost as if they’re envious of the NIV’s success since it’s now the best-selling English version; and so they’re hell-bent on slandering it. Put simply, the NIV has become their spiritual boogeyman and their criticisms come off as curious tirades.

When people become known for regularly accusing someone or something, it’s not a good sign, particularly when their accusations prove hollow. Why? Because Satan is the ‘devil,’ which is translated from the Greek diabolos (dee-AB-ol-os), meaning “slanderer.” He is “the accuser of the brothers and sisters, who accuses them before God day and night” (Revelation 12:10). What genuine Christian wants to be associated with the practices of Satan?

The Appropriate Way to View Translations of the Holy Scriptures

In the Bible we observe the importance placed on Holy Scripture because the Scriptures are “God-breathed”:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

This shows us that Holy Scripture is God’s unchanging blueprint for authentic Judeo-Christian doctrine and practice. The Scriptures are described as “God-breathed” because they were chronicled by people moved by the Holy Spirit:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:20-21

It’s the original Hebrew & Greek Scriptures that are “God-breathed” whereas translations of these Scriptures into various languages around the globe are just that — translations. These translations of the original Scriptures are merely a tool for people worldwide to 1. grasp God’s Word in their own language and 2. share it with others who speak that language.

And so it is with English versions of the Bible. English, by the way, has become a lingua franca and is the largest language by number of speakers. You can see the stats here.

While I regard the NIV as an outstanding English version of the Bible, which reveals why it’s the best-selling version today, I read/study different versions and look up the original Hebrew & Greek. By saying the NIV is “an outstanding English version of the Bible” I’m not saying it’s necessarily the most accurate. Scholars usually cite the NRSV as the most accurate.

Naturally because the NIV is so readable and is the most popular version of the Bible in English it makes for a great tool to reach people with the truths of the Word of God. This is why the NIV is the default version at Fountain of Life.

Pointers on How to get the Most out of your Studies of the Scriptures

My humble advice to believers is to continue in God’s Word and put it into practice (John 8:31-32). Don’t use just one translation; compare the translations and look up the Hebrew & Greek words when questions arise concerning the meaning of a particular word or verse.

Everyone naturally has a favorite translation, but I encourage switching translations from time to time, as far as regular reading goes. This keeps things fresh and prevents any one translation from becoming a veritable idol. It also provides a more balanced view of what God’s Word says. KJV-only people, by contrast, put themselves in a confining box of explicitly trusting the translation work of 47 scholars from the Church of England over 400 years ago.

As far as looking up the Hebrew & Greek goes, lexicons and interlinear texts are readily available. I encourage the use of Bible Hub on the internet and other such sites, which provide free and easy access to these study helps. For instance, here is John 3:16 according to 28 prominent English versions on Bible Hub. From there you can conveniently click to any of the 28 versions offered and also access lexicons (e.g. the Strong’s) and interlinear texts via the tool bar at the top.

Criticizing Translations

Every single English version can be nitpicked, including the KJV. I could cite clear evidence of problematic translating in the KJV based on sectarian bias, but I’m not going to do so. Instead, I humbly encourage believers to grow in God’s Word and put it into practice, year after year. Improve your studies — and your spiritual growth — by implementing the pointers noted above. You’ll be blessed.

Specific Criticisms of the NIV by KJV-Only Types

A couple people wrote me to criticize the NIV. Here are the four criticisms:

  1. ‘One of the over one hundred scholars on the international, multi-sect translation committee was a lesbian.’
  2. ‘The NIV says in 2 Samuel 21:19 that David did not kill Goliath, but rather Elhanan, which is obviously inaccurate.’
  3. ‘The NIV has removed a lot of words/verses that are in the KJV.’
  4. ‘There have been several revisions of the original 1978 version.’

Let’s address all four issues…

‘A Lesbian Scholar was on the Translation Committee’

Whether or not an active lesbian was one of the international scholars used in translating the NIV, I don’t know, but let’s assume it’s true for the sake of argument. The implication is that this lesbian woman would somehow make the NIV more homosexual-friendly. Yet notice how the NIV puts this relevant passage in the New Testament:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Obviously the NIV isn’t very homosexual-friendly. (And this is from the 2011 revised version).

I agree that a practicing lesbian shouldn’t have been on the translation team (whereas a repentant lesbian is a different story), but it’s clear that this woman had no ill-effect on the translation.  Keep in mind that a professional translator of ancient texts — regardless of spiritual shortcomings — is commissioned to use his/her expertise to properly translate the manuscript in question. So, assuming the individual is genuinely scholarly, s/he is professionally obligated to translate the text accurately, whether s/he personally agrees with its content or not.

Also keep in mind that the NIV used over a hundred specialists in translating the manuscripts with three different teams checking each other’s work. If this particular woman offered input that wasn’t faithful to the best available texts, it would’ve simply been screened out. Problem solved.

This argument by KJV-only people can actually be turned against their beloved KJV. The NIV was translated by a team of over a hundred scholars from five different English-speaking countries —USA, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — which naturally gave the project an international scope. Moreover, these scholars were from myriad denominations—Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren, Reformed, Church of Christ, Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Wesleyan and others — which of course prevented the NIV from being sectarian. The 47 scholars used for to translate the KJV, by contrast, all belonged to the Church of England.

Furthermore, isn’t it likely that there was a staunch Pharisaical religionist or three on the KJV committee? While lesbianism is a damning sin if practiced without repentance — physically or mentally (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) — Christ blatantly denounced the scribes and Pharisees as religious hypocrites, children of hell, blind fools, snakes and vipers in Matthew 23:13-33.

‘The NIV says Someone Other than David killed Goliath’

Actually it doesn’t. The NIV rendition of 1 Samuel 17:49-50 (including the original NIV) plainly states that David slew Goliath, as well as other passages. So that’s a done deal. Yet this seems to be contradicted by the original NIV’s rendition of 2 Samuel 21:19 which states that Elhanan “killed Goliath the Gittite.” However, this is explained by the parallel account of 1 Chronicles 20:5 — which is noted in the footnotes of 2 Samuel 21:19 —plainly stating that Elhanan more specifically killed the brother of Goliath.

The issue was cleared up in the 2011 revision of the NIV, which renders the verse thusly:

In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.

2 Samuel 21:19

So where did this “mistake” originate? It’s simple: The phrase “the brother of” is not in the original Hebrew manuscript, as shown here (scroll down).

This explains why the words “the brother of” are in italics in the KJV rendition of 2 Samuel 21:19, meaning these words are not in the original language and were added by the KJV translators for the purpose of clarification. In other words, the phrase “the brother of” is not in the original Hebrew and that is why the NIV translators didn’t include it. This is why other prominent English translations didn’t include the phrase either, such as the ESV, NASV and ISV. So, if we’re going to pick on the NIV for originally excluding this phrase we need to do the same with these other modern English versions. But, again, the original Hebraic rendition didn’t include the phrase. So what’s the problem?

Yet this raises a question: Why does God’s Word — the original Scriptures — omit the phrase “the brother of” in 2 Samuel 21:19 and give the explicit impression that Elhanan killed Goliath rather than David? Perhaps the LORD wanted to drive home the hermeneutical rule that Scripture interprets Scripture. Let me explain. We have several clear passages that say David slew Goliath, but there’s also this singular verse that contradicts this fact. Everything is cleared-up by simply interpreting Scripture with Scripture: The more detailed passages, like 1 Samuel 17:49-50, along with the parallel verse, 1 Chronicles 20:5, clarify that Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath, not Goliath himself. So this is a Divine lesson in hermeneutics.

As you can see, this front-running criticism of the NIV is totally bogus. If anything, the NIV’s original rendition of 2 Samuel 21:19 is more faithful to the original Hebrew than the KJV rendition since the KJV adds words that aren’t in the original text.

‘The NIV has removed a lot of words/verses that are in the KJV’

When comparing the NIV with the KJV, there are some “missing” verses. Yet the NIV always cites these phrases in the footnotes; so they’re not actually missing. But why were they omitted from the main text? Here’s why:

The KJV was originally published in 1611 and it was a great achievement for that period as the translators used the best sources  accessible at the time. Yet one of its weaknesses is that the KJV translation committee of 47 scholars drew heavily from William Tyndale’s New Testament, which explains why 80% of Tyndale’s verbiage was transferred to the KJV. Tyndale utilized several sources in his translation. For the New Testament, he used Desiderius Erasmus’s Greek New Testament known as the Textus Receptus (i.e. “Received Text”), the third edition from 1522.

In the centuries since 1611, myriad older scriptural texts have surfaced and were painstakingly examined by scholars. They concluded that the earlier manuscripts are more trustworthy. So contemporary translators have access to scriptural documents much nearer in time to the original manuscripts. As such, modern translations like the NIV actually offer superior biblical scholarship than was available in the early 1600s when the KJV was produced.

You can read details here.

The Non-Issue of NIV Revisions

The NIV was originally published in 1978 (and the New Testament in 1973). Here’s a list of its revisions:

  • A minor revision in 1984
  • A UK revision in 1995-1996 that featured gender-inclusive language
  • Minor edits in 1999
  • The TNIV in 2005 (aka Today’s New International Version), which included gender-neutral language
  • An extensive revision in 2011

I don’t get what the problem is with revisions. It’s necessary to periodically revise works in order to fix issues in previous renditions, not to mention keep relevant. Should they not correct issues? Should they not update to stay relevant while maintaining faithfulness to the original Scriptures?

Incidentally, the KJV has had myriad corrections since 1611. In its original form, it’s virtually unreadable to modern English speakers. Go here for details.

The Criticism of the Use of “Scholars”

An additional criticism — a very curious one — is the use of scholars in translating the NIV on the grounds that “scholars” are often the root cause of false doctrine in the Church. Yet we need qualified people to properly translate the Holy Scriptures. It’s not like we can use any Joe off the street. Furthermore, it’s not as if the NIV used just one scholar or one type of scholar to translate the original manuscripts.

Closing Thoughts

The KJV was fine for its time, but its day is long over. While it’s serviceable for reference in one’s studies — and I often use it in this regard — it’s no longer effective as far as public ministry goes, unless of course you’re exclusively serving people already familiar with the KJV. The archaic lingo and phasing is simply too alien to modern English-speakers. It should have been retired from public service in the early 1800s let alone the early 2000s. Case closed.

I encourage readers to not give ear to the anti-NIV propaganda, mostly put forth by the KJV-only crowd. The NIV is a legitimate modern English version of the bible, a meshing of the word-for-word approach and the thought-for-thought method. It’s may not necessarily be the most accurate English version, but it’s very readable and hence the most popular. The reason I use it for Fountain of Life articles & books is precisely because it’s the best modern version to use in order to reach/teach people, which is the mission of this ministry. The ESV is very good in this regard as well.

While I’m not the biggest fan of the 2011 revision of the NIV, it’s by no means a bad translation. Practically all of the prominent English translations — the NKJV, ESV, Holman, NASB, NRSV — are quality translations and trustworthy. They effectively convey God’s Word in the vernacular speech. Numerous believers died as martyrs to grant us this privilege (see this article for details).

While all of these translations are good, they can each be nitpicked. Some are more accurate than others while some are more readable. And everyone has a favorite. The NIV has been my personal favorite since about 1985.

Lastly, someone wrote me and said “even James White says the NIV isn’t a good translation.” I don’t mean any disrespect, but who is James White and why should I care about his opinion, especially since I know from over three decades of experience that the NIV is without question a quality version of the Bible? Maybe this man — whoever he is — has a sectarian-based bias against the NIV. I have no idea, I’m just guessing. I’m skeptical that his issue is the NIV itself because it’s such an exceptional translation; the proof is in the pudding.

Related Topics:

Hermeneutics — Proper Bible Interpretation

Berean Spirit — What is it? How Do You Cultivate It?

Who Wrote the New Testament Books? Who Authorized them as Scripture Canon?

Bible—Is it Full of Contradictions? Does it Promote Slavery, Tyranny and Discrimination?

What Does “Do Not Go Beyond What is Written” Mean in 1 Corinthians 4:6?

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