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.