Monday, December 5, 2011

ESV changes for 2011

About a month ago the publisher of the ESV announced that it had made some changes in the version this year, and it provided a list of them. I have to give them credit for providing the list, because other Bible publishers typically make little changes like this without even announcing them. But unfortunately the list was presented on 27 pages in a macromedia flash container, which could not be downloaded and printed, or posted elsewhere. What's up with that? I can't think of any good reason for putting out information like this in such an incovenient form. It would have been much easier for them, and more convenient for everyone else, to put it in an html document, or a pdf. Anyway, I went and did a screenshot of each page of the list and assembled all the images in pdf file. Here it is. But be warned, it's a 4 MB file. Maybe someone else who has more time can make a text version of it for everyone.

I'm not going to comment on the changes right now. There's a discussion over at Justin Taylor's blog. I agree with the commenters who think the changes were not necessary or helpful, and especially with the point made by the last commenter: "repeatedly obsoleting a translation used in community contexts is problematic."

Friday, November 4, 2011

“The Kingdom of God Is Within You”

Readers of the King James Version will be familiar with the saying, “the kingdom of God is within you,” a literal rendering of the words ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν spoken by Christ in Luke 17:21. Several modern versions have instead “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” for theological reasons.

The new rendering is used only because the translators think it is theologically impossible that Jesus would say that the Kingdom of God is “within” people. But there is no clear attestation for such a meaning as “among” or “in the midst” for the adverb ἐντὸς in any ancient Greek source. It is indisputable that “within” is the ordinary meaning, and the immediate context here also seems to favor this meaning. Here Christ is obviously contrasting the outward appearance (μετὰ παρατηρήσεως “with observation,” v. 20) with the inner spiritual reality of God’s rule. It was understood thus by the translators of all the ancient versions, and by all the Church fathers. Moreover, as S.C. Carpenter explains, “For ‘among’ S. Luke would have said ἐν μέσῳ, which occurs seven times in his Gospel (see especially xxii. 27) and four times in Acts.” (Christianity according to S. Luke [London: S.P.C.K., 1919], p. 103.) See also the more recent discussion in Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1965), pp. 61-3. A thorough review of the linguistic evidence is given in an article published online: Ilaria Ramelli, “Luke 17:21: ‘The Kingdom of God is inside you.’ The Ancient Syriac Versions in Support of the Correct Translation,” Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 12/2 (Summer 2009), pp. 259-286. The circumstance that in Luke’s narrative these words are addressed to unbelieving Jews does not make any difference, because as Olshausen says, “The expression ἐντὸς ὑμῶν does not make the Pharisees members of the kingdom of God, but only sets before them the possibility of their being received into it, inasmuch as an internal and spiritual manifestation is made its universal criterion.”

After reviewing all the linguistic evidence presented by Ramelli, and weighing the arguments of commentators, I must agree with the translators of the KJV and with Olshausen, whose comments I reproduce below. The “in the midst” rendering does not accurately represent what Luke wrote here; it represents an interpretation of the phrase, which belongs not in the text but in the margin. If Luke had meant to convey this interpretation of the dominical saying, he would not have used the word ἐντὸς.

Olshausen on Luke 17:20-21.

Excerpt from Biblical Commentary on the New Testament by Dr. Hermann Olshausen … Translated from the German for Clark’s Foreign and Theological Library. First American Edition. Revised after the Fourth German Edition, by A.C. Kendrick. Vol. 2 (New York: Sheldon & Co., 1860), pp. 88-9.

Ver. 20, 21.—Without particularly explaining the occasion, the Evangelist opens his narrative with a remark that the Pharisees had enquired of Jesus as to the time (πότε, when), of the coming of the kingdom. (Whether it was in the village itself, ver. 12, or in what other place, is not said.) The Saviour first deals with the curious and proud enquirers, and then subjoins (at ver. 22) instructions addressed to the disciples. Hence the brevity of Christ’s remark (as Schleiermacher rightly says, loc. cit.) has here its genuine significancy. For the question “When cometh the kingdom of God?” (πότε ἔρχεται ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ), obviously expresses not merely the superficial views of the Pharisees, but their self-complacent ignorance (xviii. 9). Themselves they regarded as sufficiently, by birth and theocratic position, constituted the legitimate subjects of the expected kingdom. And it therefore merely concerned them to ascertain the opinion of Jesus as to the time of its appearance. In opposition therefore to these materialistic views and hopes of the Pharisees, was to be brought forward the spiritual aspect of the kingdom of God. This our Lord does by annihilating, in the first place, their expectations of a splendid manifestation. All of outward glory which the Pharisees had conceived as combined in the rearing of an earthly Messianic kingdom, is comprehensively expressed by the term παρατήρησις, observation. (The expression is in the New Testament found only here; it denotes literally the act of perceiving, of observing; and then, secondarily, every thing that excites observation. At Exod. xii. 42, Aquila has rendered שמרים by παρατηρήσεις.) In the second place, the Saviour withdraws the kingdom of God wholly from the local and phenomenal world,—οὐδὲ ἐροῦσιν, ἰδοὺ ὧδε, ἰδοὺ ἐκεῖ, nor shall they say, lo here, lo there, and transfers it, finally, to the world of spirit (ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν, is within you.) The expression ἐντὸς ὑμῶν does not make the Pharisees members of the kingdom of God, but only sets before them the possibility of their being received into it, inasmuch as an internal and spiritual manifestation is made its universal criterion. The explanation of ἐντὸς ὑμῶν by “among you,” which has been adopted not only by [Heinrich Eberhard Gottlob] Paulus, [Ferdinand Florens] Fleck, [Friedrich Wilhelm Bernhard] Bornemann, but also by [Wilhelm Martin Leberecht] De Wette, must be utterly rejected for this reason, that the clause so understood forms no contrast to the antecedent “lo here.” The ἐστι, is, is no farther significant, than as indicating that the kingdom was at that moment existing in some of them. It may seem, however, that this ideal view of the kingdom of God is in contradiction to the following discourse (addressed to the disciples), in which the “day of the Son of Man,” is referred to in such terms as represent it as an outward fact producing outward effects. These effects, it is true, in so far as they wear an aspect of terror, form a counterpart to the “observation” anticipated by the Pharisees, and the coming of the Son of Man is represented as an instantaneous and overwhelming phenomenon, in contrast to the ὧδε, here, and ἐκεῖ, there (ver. 21). Still, however, it remains true that the kingdom is here represented as external, while at ver. 21 it is styled within you. (Still more definitely do Matth. xxiv. and Luke xxi. represent the appearance of the kingdom as an external one.) Yet this twofold conception and portraiture of the manifested kingdom of God (see on Matth. iii. 2), present it under those two aspects which mutually complete each other. The kingdom of God shews itself as purely spiritual in its origin, and also external in its perfection. It appeared in its spiritual form, while Christ was present in his humiliation. And for this reason does the Saviour bring before the Pharisees that aspect of it, in regard to which they were wholly mistaken. In its external manifestation shall the kingdom of God reveal itself, when Christ comes in his glory, and in this form does the Saviour particularly set it forth at Matth. xxiv. and Luke xxi. Here he brings forward the future revelation of the kingdom only in connexion with the fact, that periods of suffering must precede it, and that the appearance of the Son of God himself will bring dismay upon a world entangled in the sensual pursuits of life. By this means would the disciples, on the one hand, be comforted amidst their approaching struggles, and aroused to watchfulness, that they might encounter them in faith; while, on the other side, the Pharisees would be impressed with the conviction that the manifestation of the kingdom did not necessarily carry with it any thing of a joyful nature to them; but, on the contrary, would bring upon them destruction (as happened to those living in the time of Noah and Lot), unless they were enabled to acknowledge and embrace the kingdom of God in its spiritual and internal revelation, as it presented itself in the appearance of the suffering Son of Man.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Internet Resources on the Anglo-Saxon Versions

During the month of October I have been working on some web resources for the study of the (medieval) Anglo-Saxon Versions. I have added two new pages to the “Anglo Saxon” section, and I have collected a few links to other resources on the web:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Three Bells

“And the little congregation prayed for guidance from above … ”

I’m old enough to remember this song on the radio. It reached no. 1 on the Billboard chart in 1959, and was often played on the radio during the 60's, when I was growing up. Do you young people know what this country used to be? Listen to the words of this song.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Translation of the Tetragrammaton

My new article on the Tetragrammaton is now online. As usual, I find it hard to stop revising and adding information to a new article, but I will leave it alone for a while now. This is an interesting and complicated subject, and I hope I've treated it in a helpful way.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dead Sea Scrolls Now Available Online

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem has now made high-resolution images of the Dead Sea Scrolls available online at its website here.

“Developed in partnership with Google, the new website gives users access to searchable, fast-loading, high-resolution images of the scrolls, as well as short explanatory videos and background information on the texts and their history.”

“The five Dead Sea Scrolls that have been digitized thus far include the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll, and the War Scroll … All five scrolls can be magnified so that users may examine texts in exacting detail.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The ESV Committee at Work

The ESV committee, filmed in 2010 at a meeting at Tyndale House in Cambridge, as they debate how to translate words referring to slaves in the Bible. The debate includes Peter Williams, Gordon Wenham, Jack Collins, Wayne Grudem and Paul House. The decision made here resulted in a change in the ESV.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Leland Ryken on Bible Readers

(Excerpt from Understanding English Bible Translation, pp. 91-95.)

How Dynamic Equivalence Views Bible Readers

In an earlier chapter I noted that the elevation of the reader to the status of a "major player" in the translation enterprise, even to the extent of determining how the Bible is translated, is a contribution of the dynamic equivalent movement. I will not retread that territory here. My concern rather is the specific picture of the Bible reader that dynamic equivalent translators assume as they sit around the committee table and write the prefaces to their translations.

The overall picture that emerges from the prefaces is a reader with decidedly limited reading abilities. We can see this, for example, in what is loosely called "reading level," which depends on a combination of vocabulary and syntax. One preface speaks of limiting its vocabulary to three thousand words (SEB). Another preface claims that the translators aimed to reach "a junior high school student" (NLT). The chief translator for the Good News Bible claimed that the translation was aimed at the elementary-school reading level.

Along with the assumption of a grade-school reading level we find references to the difficulty modern readers have with theological vocabulary and concepts. One preface claims that in an effort to produce a translation "that can be understood by everyone, especially by those who have never read the Bible," the translators avoided using certain traditional theological terms (SEB). Another translation is similarly committed to "avoidance of traditionally theological language and biblical words" (CEV). Prefaces like these paint a picture of a Bible reader handicapped in dealing with theological language.

There is no need to belabor this point. The prefaces to "easy reading" Bibles present a united front in regard to their assumed readers. Other sections of my book discuss further types of assumed impairment in Bible readers, and I will avoid duplication here. These additional assumptions include the inability of readers to understand figurative language and references to foreign customs in the world of the biblical text, and the need for short sentences. While leaving those topics untouched here, I nonetheless wish to draw two additional inferences.

First, the prefaces I have quoted make an assumption (never stated) that readers cannot advance beyond their current level of reading and comprehension. Readers are permanently fixed at a grade-school reading level. The irony of this is that even if readers do advance beyond a grade-school level (as all of them do), their advance will do them no good when it comes to dynamic equivalent translations, because those translations have been permanently rendered at a grade-school level.

Second, dynamic equivalent proponents overwhelmingly assert that the difficulties posed by the original biblical text are either unique to modern readers or especially acute for them. Prefaces regularly use such formulas as "to modern readers" (NCV), "by the contemporary reader" (NLT), and "most readers today" (NJV). The effect is to isolate modern readers as a "special needs" group, and the whole dynamic equivalent enterprise can be viewed as an attempt to meet the special needs of impaired modern readers.

The Response of Essentially Literal Translators

It is possible to infer how essentially literal translators would respond to the assumptions that dynamic equivalent translators make about Bible readers, but before we tease out those infer­ ences, we need again to note an argument from silence. The prefaces to essentially literal translations assert no presuppositions about modern Bible readers. It is a fair inference that the translators do not believe that the difficulties of the biblical text are insurmountable for educated adult readers, though surely these translators also acknowledge that any text coming to us from the ancient past contains much that requires explanation to a modern reader.

The first assumption that advocates of essentially literal translation would dispute is that a grade-schooler should serve as the norm for reading ability and comprehension. In what other areas of life do we accept a grade-school level of expression and comprehension as the norm and "cap" for society as a whole? There is no sphere in which our society operates permanently at a sixth- or seventh-grade level. The preface to the New Living Translation equates "the average reader" with "a junior high student," but the equation is false: the average reader in our society is not a junior high student. Most English Bible readers have received at least some education beyond the high school level. The dynamic equivalent experiment actually expects less from Bible readers than our society expects in other areas.

A second point of dispute is the degree to which we can and should educate Bible readers as they confront the difficulties of the biblical text. The dynamic equivalent movement is a massive experiment in capitulation to low levels of reading ability and comprehension.

Proponents of essentially literal translations are unwilling to make that capitulation. Instead, they are ready to shoulder the task of educating modern readers. They stand in the line of William Tyndale, who actually added words like intercession and atonement to the English language in an attempt to transmit the content of the Bible. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Bible translation was a leading contributor to the rise of literacy in England. Essentially literal translations have as an unstated motto Paul's command "do not be children in your thinking" (1 Cor. 14:20).

Finally, essentially literal translators do not generally agree with dynamic equivalent translators that modern readers constitute a special case when compared to earlier readers. This is not to say that the customs and idiomatic expressions of the ancient world do not pose difficulties. But the original readers of the Bible were not as exempt from these difficulties as some translators claim. As one writer on the subject asks rhetorically, "Did the average speaker of koine Greek find no difficulty in 2 Peter 2:4-9 or Romans 2: 14-21? ... Did all the congregation of the Galatian church grasp the whole of Paul's letter to them when it was first read?'"

In a similar vein, translator E. V. Rieu stated the view that "there is good reason for thinking that the original audience of the Gospels found them just as difficult as we do; and if therefore we paraphrase or lower our standard of English in order to make things crystal clear to the so-called man in the street, we're going beyond our jobs as translators." We need to remember, too, that one of the "difficulties" that some modern translations wish to remove from the text is figurative language, and we know that figurative language was present in the Bible from the beginning.

Summary: Bible Readers

The opposed views of Bible readers that the two Bible translation camps hold are one of the most unbridgeable points of disagreement. Once dynamic equivalent translators created their image of modern Bible readers as low-level readers, and then additionally when they committed themselves to slant their translation toward this assumed reader, their methods of translation were inevitable. Essentially literal translators never accepted as accurate or desirable the assumed audience of dynamic equivalent translators, and in that refusal lay an equally inevitable methodology for translation.

Bible Translators

It would be easy to assimilate what I have said about biblical authors and readers without realizing that rival views of the translator permeate the attitudes I have surveyed. Let me begin on a positive note in regard to dynamic equivalent translators: they are extremely eager to please their readers and give them what they want. Of course there are major problems with that eagerness to please, but I want to credit dynamic equivalent translators with being allies of Bible readers as they confront the difficulties that the Bible often poses.


Leland Ryken, Understanding English Bible Translation (Crossway Books, 2009), pp. 91-95.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Decker Perpetuates Myths about the KJV

In a disappointing article published in the latest edition of the GARBC Baptist Bulletin, NIV loyalist Rodney Decker perpetuates two false claims about the KJV that have often appeared in articles promoting new Bible versions.

He claims that the KJV was "bitterly opposed" by the Pilgrim Fathers. It is true that the Pilgrims continued to use the Geneva Bible, like most English-speaking Protestants and Non-Conformists of their generation; but a copy of the recently-published King James Bible was brought over on the Mayflower, and there is no historical basis for the claim that they were "bitterly opposed" to it. In fact there was no great opposition to the KJV from any quarter when it appeared, and its superiority to the Geneva Bible was soon recognized by all. The idea that the KJV was blasted by critics and rejected by die-hard Geneva Bible users is just a myth.

Another misleading claim made by Decker is that "The KJV was updated a half dozen times in its first two centuries." This claim is often made by those who are defending frequent revisions of Bible versions, as if the KJV had undergone the same kind of revisions. But there were in fact no "updates" to the KJV which can be compared to the revisions made in the NIV and other modern versions in the past few years. The spelling was thoroughly updated, there were additions to the marginal notes, and a few other trivial changes were made, but no substantial changes were made in the version. For more information on this see my article Changes in the King James Version.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Billy Graham, 1963

What Bible version does he use?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Philippians 2:13 in the Common English Bible

It is often said by advocates of dynamic equivalence that “all translation is interpretation” or “all good translation involves interpretation.” 1 This statement is true; yet it is dishonest, if it is designed to distract attention from the fact that some translations are more interpretive than others. Like most things in life, it is a matter of degree, and the difference in degree can be important. If a doctor who wanted to do elective surgery on a patient knew that the patient’s health would probably be ruined by it, he could not escape responsibility by shrugging his shoulders and saying “well, all surgery involves risks.” Some surgery carries little risk, some is very risky. Some is absolutely necessary to save the patient’s life; some is purely optional, and does not improve the health of the patient at all. And the same is true of translations. Some interpretation is necessary, and some is not. Take for instance Philippians 2:13, which in the Greek reads, θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπὲρ τῆς εὐδοκίας. A translation that involves very little interpretation is, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (ESV). The interpretation here is so obvious and so minimal that probably the translator was not even aware of having interpreted the verse, but it does involve some assumptions and some obligatory interpretation: for instance, it assumes that by θεὸς Paul means “God” and not “a god,” and that by ἐν he means “in” rather than “among.” But now compare this with the much more interpretive and riskier translation of the Common English Bible: “God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes.” Here ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν has been interpreted, “who enables you.” This is certainly more interpretive, and it is also highly qestionable, because the verb ἐνεργέω does not mean “enable.” It means “be operative, be at work, put forth power” (Thayer), “be at work, operate, be effective” (BAGD). H.C.G. Moule observes that “the Greek word has a certain intensity about it, ‘worketh effectually.’” 2 The translation neglects to convey what the text actually says (“who works effectually”) and offers instead a notion of how God might be said to work in the heart and life of the believer if his working were not really effectual. Evidently the translator reasoned that God must be at work in the believer indirectly and non-effectually by “enabling” him to want and to do this or that, rather than simply causing him to want or do these things, although that is by no means what the text says. The interpretation injected here goes beyond what is necessary for a grammatical and understandable English sentence.

In connection with this interpretation we note what Calvin writes on the verse:

It is God that worketh. This is the true engine for bringing down all haughtiness — this the sword for putting an end to all pride, when we are taught that we are utterly nothing, and can do nothing, except through the grace of God alone. I mean supernatural grace, which comes forth from the spirit of regeneration. For, considered as men, we already are, and live and move in God. (Acts 17:28.) But Paul reasons here as to a kind of movement different from that universal one. Let us now observe how much he ascribes to God, and how much he leaves to us. There are, in any action, two principal departments — the inclination, and the power to carry it into effect. Both of these he ascribes wholly to God; what more remains to us as a ground of glorying? Nor is there any reason to doubt that this division has the same force as if Paul had expressed the whole in a single word; for the inclination is the groundwork; the accomplishment of it is the summit of the building brought to a completion. He has also expressed much more than if he had said that God is the Author of the beginning and of the end. For in that case sophists would have alleged, by way of cavil, that something between the two was left to men. But as it is, what will they find that is in any degree peculiar to us? They toil hard in their schools to reconcile with the grace of God free-will — of such a nature, I mean, as they conceive of — which might be capable of turning itself by its own movement, and might have a peculiar and separate power, by which it might co-operate with the grace of God. I do not dispute as to the name, but as to the thing itself. In order, therefore, that free-will may harmonize with grace, they divide in such a manner, that God restores in us a free choice, that we may have it in our power to will aright. Thus they acknowledge to have received from God the power of willing aright, but assign to man a good inclination. Paul, however, declares this to be a work of God, without any reservation. For he does not say that our hearts are simply turned or stirred up, or that the infirmity of a good will is helped, but that a good inclination is wholly the work of God.

Perhaps not everyone will agree with all that Calvin says here. But it must be admitted that it requires no torturing of the text. The same cannot be said for the Arminian gloss of the Common English Bible, which pointedly excludes Calvin’s thoughts, by playing fast and loose with the words of the Apostle. This manipulation of the text in translation is not excusable on the grounds that “all translation is interpretation.”


1. Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss, How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 2007), pp. 31, 52, 69, etc.

2. H.C.G. Moule, The Epistle to the Philippians, with Introduction and Notes (Cambridge, 1893), ad loc.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A good site for early English Bibles

My effort to help students find the best internet resources for all kinds of subjects related to the Bible would be more fruitful if it did not depend so much upon serendipity! Just today I discovered a really great site for the study of the history of the English Bible. The editor of the site (called Bibles of the Past) is anonymous, but he deserves many thanks for making available on his site some really good and accurate transcriptions of the early English versions—much better than I have found elsewhere. I discovered this site via a link on Pastor Brad's New and Interesting Bibles and Versions blog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Revision of the Holman Christian Standard Bible

I'm revising the review of the Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSB) on my site, and I intend to have the revision online next week sometime. The revision is necessary because the HCSB was revised in 2009, and some of the things I wrote about the original edition are now obsolete. I also want to use the opportunity to add some remarks that could have been included in the original review, such as the following:

In verses 13 and 16 [of Psalm 69] the Hebrew word חסד (chesed) is aptly rendered 'faithful love.' This is the usual way of rendering the word in the HCSB. In other places we find it rendered 'loyalty' (also good) and sometimes just 'love' or 'kindness' (not as good, but acceptable). This is a key word in the Old Testament, and the HCSB handles it much better than most English versions do.

I invite users of the HCSB to make suggestions for the improvement of the review. What else should be mentioned?

Friday, August 12, 2011

John 1:18 in the NIV

The latest revision of the NIV gives us a new episode of the misadventures of John 1:18 in the version. In 1978 the verse was translated: “No one has ever seen God, but God the only [Son], who is at the Father's side, has made him known.” In 1984 it was changed to “… but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.” The TNIV of 2002 had “… but the one and only [Son], who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Now we have “… but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (without the brackets around “Son”). What the NIV fails to make known is that the Greek text they are translating here reads simply, “the only-begotten god [μονογενης θεος], who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained,” as translated in the NASB. We see all this twisting and turning in the NIV because the Greek phrase μονογενης θεος is, on its face, polytheistic, and the translators are unwilling to give a straightforward translation of it; but they cannot find an exegetically plausible rendering which avoids the appearance of polytheism. They still have not found one, because it is not at all plausible that John would have written μονογενης θεος if he meant “the one and only Son, who is himself God.” Their theological problems would come to an end if they would only give up the impossible μονογενης θεος reading and go with the manuscripts that have μονογενης υιος “only-begotten Son” instead (as in the Vulgate, Luther, KJV, ERV, ASV, RSV, NKJV, HCSB, NJB).

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The 2011 Revision of the NIV

In 2009 the organization that owns the copyright of the New International Version, the International Bible Society, changed its name to Biblica; 1 and in September of that year it announced that yet another revision of the NIV was in the works. The revised edition appeared online at and in November 2010, and the printed edition was issued in March of 2011. This was the third revision of the NIV to be published in the space of fifteen years, but it appeared under the name New International Version without any identifying edition number or other special designation. An examination of the text reveals that this new 2011 edition of the NIV is actually a minor revision of the TNIV, the gender-neutralizing revision of the NIV that was published in 2005. 2 It has been reported that the Zondervan corporation (which has exclusive rights to publish the NIV, through an arrangement with Biblica) has moved to suppress the 1984 text, by informing other publishers that it will not allow them to use the text of the 1984 NIV in printed materials after 2012. 3
The Preface of the revised edition explains that “Updates are needed in order to reflect the latest developments in our understanding of the biblical world and its languages and to keep pace with changes in English usage.” This however is nothing but a piece of publisher’s boilerplate, found in all prefaces, and it is somewhat misleading, because there is little or nothing in the NIV revision prompted by “latest developments in our understanding of the biblical world and its languages.” The changes that stem from different exegetical decisions are not really “updates.” The revision simply reflects in some places a shift in the balance of opinion among the current committee members, about options of interpretation which have been pondered by many generations of scholars. In many cases it is not even a shift in opinion about the meaning, but merely a different opinion about what nuances are important enough to require expression in the version. Such changes in the balance of opinion on the NIV committee have little importance in the scheme of things, and there is no reason to think that they must represent an improvement or advance in knowledge.
The explanation offered for the “updates” is also misleading in that it does not mention the real political and financial considerations that have caused the NIV committee to make three revisions within the past fifteen years. The considerations that set in motion this series of revisions are, however, indicated in a document that set forth a new “Policy on Gender-Inclusive Language” adopted by the committee in 1992. The document contains these paragraphs:
C. Authors of Biblical books, even while writing Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, unconsciously reflected in many ways, the particular cultures in which they wrote. Hence in the manner in which they articulate the Word of God, they sometimes offend modern sensibilities. At such times, translators can and may use non-offending renderings so as not to hinder the message of the Spirit.
D. The patriarchalism (like other social patterns) of the ancient cultures in which the Biblical books were composed is pervasively reflected in forms of expression that appear, in the modern context, to deny the common human dignity of all hearers and readers. For these forms, alternative modes of expression can and may be used, though care must be taken not to distort the intent of the original text.
The same committee wrote, in the Preface to the 1996 revision published in Great Britain, that they believed “it was often appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers through gender-inclusive language when this could be done without compromising the message of the Spirit” (p. vii)
These statements represent a very controversial position in the realm of translation theory, and, as such, they deserve a full discussion. But I have treated the issue thoroughly in another place, 4 and so we will move on.
It is surely no coincidence that this position was adopted by the NIV committee less than two years after the publication of the New Revised Standard Version (1990), which gender-neutralized the language of the RSV, for the same reasons. The NIV committee members were simply following the lead of the NRSV committee. But because the NIV was being used by a more conservative constituency, a strong reaction arose against the NIV revision of 1996, which led to some discussions with conservative ministry leaders in America. In order to quell the controversy, which threatened to depress sales of the New International Version, representatives of the International Bible Society (IBS) then agreed to refrain from publishing the revision, or anything like it, in America. But shortly afterwards they did publish a similar revision in America, under the name Today’s New International Version, while giving assurances that the new revision would not replace the 1984 edition. In the marketing of the TNIV, the IBS sought to minimize controversy by claiming that the revision was not really motivated by a desire to avoid offending modern sensibilities, or by any attitude contrary to “patriarchalism.” It was claimed that their purpose was nothing other than to make the meaning of the text clear. This however was widely dismissed as an evasion, and rightly so, because the editing process which eliminated the words “man,” “father,” “son,” “brother” “his,” etc., had obviously nothing to do with any considerations about the meaning of the original words, or with any desire to make the meaning clear. It is not even credible that such arbitrary and mechanical changes would have been done by a committee of scholars, and we may assume that it was done by style editors employed by the publisher. The TNIV did not sell very well. But it seems that IBS officials were determined to make this gender-neutralizing revision sell, because after six years of TNIV failure they announced that another revision would replace the 1984 NIV—and this turned out to be just a minor revision of the TNIV, rebranded as the NIV.
In their revision of the TNIV, it seems that the committee has now looked at the gender-neutralizing changes that were made, and it has modified many of them. We see, for example, the changes in Psalm 1.
1984 NIV
2005 TNIV
2011 NIV
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but who delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on his law day and night. They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.
The change here was made in response to criticism of the TNIV which used this verse as an example of the loss of meaning that often happens when plurals are substituted for singulars. As I wrote in 2005, the substitution of plurals does significantly interfere with the sense here, because “the one man whose delight is in the law of the Lord is set in opposition to the many ungodly ones around him. But when the man is made to disappear into a group of genderless people, then a part of the meaning of this passage is lost.” 5 And so the revisers have made it singular again. But we also see that they still refuse to use the word “man” or any masculine pronouns, leading to the awkward substitution “that person,” and the ungrammatical use of “they” with a singular antecedent. This continues to be objectionable, because the stylistic taboo against using the word “man” forces inaccuracy and clumsiness in the translation, and it has nothing to do with making the meaning clear. It is simply a “politically correct” avoidance of masculine terms.
In June of 2011 the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) published a critique of the 2011 NIV, which describes and criticizes the gender-neutralizing alterations of the revision. The critique is carefully written, and I recommend it highly. It should be studied by those who are considering using this version. The critique rightly emphasizes the fact that the revision is designed “to water down or omit details of meaning that modern culture finds offensive.” This is the crux of the matter: the theoretical position taken by the NIV revisers, that the language of the version must be made inoffensive to the sensitivities of feminism. That is what makes the revision unacceptable.
The “Brief Response” to this critique issued by the NIV committee does not engage or even acknowledge the central issue here. It is contemptuous and evasive. It claims that “the NIV translators have never been motivated by a concern to avoid giving offense.” But this directly contradicts their own policy statement of 1992, which explicitly states that the purpose of the revision was to eliminate renderings that “offend modern sensibilities,” and it contradicts the evidence of the version itself. Again, this is what makes the NIV revision so offensive, on theoretical grounds. It not only introduces thousands of inaccuracies, it requires us to accept a very objectionable de facto rule of translation. And to make matters worse, the revisers are not even willing to talk about the rule that led to these revisions.
In my opinion there was a need for a thorough revision of the NIV. The version contains too many weak and improbable renderings that ought to have been changed long ago. For instance, there is Proverbs 21:21, which in the 1978 and 1984 editions of the NIV was translated “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” The Hebrew here reads
רדף צדקה וחסד ימצא חיים צדקה וכבוד
It will be noticed that the first occurrence of צדקה is correctly translated “righteousness,” but the second occurrence is mysteriously translated as “prosperity.” And again in Proverbs 8:18 we find צדקה translated “prosperity.” The word צדקה does not have any such meaning, and we are left wondering how this rendering could have been preferred by the committee. 6 Yet it has persisted through four revisions of the NIV. The 2011 revision has here, “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” Thus the masculine pronoun, which presented no difficulty for comprehension, has been eliminated; but the word that really needed to be changed was left untouched.
In the future I might add to this article other comments about the NIV revision that are unrelated to the “gender neutral” controversy. There are some interesting changes, some improvements, and some glaring instances of failure to make appropriate changes. But for now the focus belongs on the main purpose of the revision, which was to make the language inclusivist or gender-neutral, in imitation of the NRSV.
Michael Marlowe
July 2011

1. The organization’s website states that it has approximately 900 employees, and that its annual operating budget is approximately $70 million. (<>, accessed 30 July 2011.)
2. See the collation and analysis by Robert Slowley, “NIV2011 comparison with NIV1984 and TNIV,” published online at <>, November, 2010.
3. <>, retrieved 30 July 2011.
4. See chapter 6 of my book, Against the Theory of Dynamic Equivalence.
6. The only other versions I have found with a similar rendering are two which have been influenced by the NIV: the New Century Version, which has “success” here, and the NET Bible, which translates “bounty,” and explains in a note: “The first use of the word had the basic meaning of ‘conduct that conforms to God’s standard’; this second use may be understood as a metonymy of cause, indicating the provision or reward (‘bounty’) that comes from keeping righteousness (cf NIV ‘prosperity’; NCV ‘success’).” But this is a bit of a stretch, and the fact remains that for the word צדקה there is no attestation for a sense “prosperity, bounty, success.” And there is no need to propose such a meaning, because “righteousness” makes perfectly good sense in the context. The point is, He who pursues righteousness will acquire not only righteousness but also life and honor.