NIV 2011 is defended by Craig Blomberg

All who want to know more about the updated NIV (“NIV 2011” in this blog) should be sure to read the recent post by Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary.

Craig presents a discussion of 1 Timothy 3:11, which says, “In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (NIV 2011). The whole issue revolves around the word translated “women” and how various translations handle this text. Even more important, Blomberg explains how the claims made by the ESV to offer a “literal” translation seem to have been ignored by ESV in favor of a translation determined for theological reasons.

All in all, Blomberg gives a useful account of how various influences affected the translations produced in the last ten years.  I especially like it because Blomberg hammers those who give an English translation that forecloses other interpretive options and may not even let the reader know they have done it. Very good stuff!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 4:6-8

Genesis 4:6-8

6 Then the LORD said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why is your expression downcast? 7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.
8
Cain said to his brother Abel, Lets go out to the field. While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
(NET Bible)

A dark heart and a dark act

Any military veteran can tell you that it is never good to underestimate your enemy. Making matters worse, enemies do not always identify themselves as such. Sin is such an enemy, preferring to lie in wait for us or to deceive us into disobeying God.

How can emotions cloud our view of danger? How does information from God help us recognize the threats of sin? What resources do we have to defeat sin?

It is striking to see that God talks to Cain (Gen. 3:6), but Cain makes no reply! Not even Jonah in his fury practiced such stony silence (Jonah 4). Indeed, no other biblical example of such silence comes to mind. Alan Ross credits Derek Kidner with the observation that Cain would not be talked out of his intended sin, even by the Lord himself.[1]

Genesis 4:7 Is it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it.

Many experts call Genesis 4:7 the most obscure verse in Genesis, though that is not apparent to the reader of the English Bible. Most of the difficulty occurs in Genesis 4:7a, which will be demonstrated below in the diversity of translations:

ESV: If you do well, will you not be accepted? (also NIV and RSV)

NASB: If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? (NASB uses italics for words supplied to complete the meaning.)

Hamilton: Look, isnt there acceptance if you do well . . . ?

Wenham: Is there not forgiveness if you do well?

The ideas of being accepted or forgiven or having ones countenance lifted up are all part of the possible meaning of the original verb. NET tries to split the difference by saying you will be fine, which sounds contemporary and takes no explicit position. Not only is this verb flexible, but the sentence ends abruptly, a phenomenon similar to Gods remarks in Genesis 3:22 which also end abruptly. In both cases the abrupt ending is immediately followed by dramatic action; in Genesis 3:23, God swiftly and forcefully expelled the man and woman from the garden; in Genesis 4:8, Cain suddenly murders his brother.

Not only does God offer Cain acceptance and forgiveness, he also gives a clear statement of danger and a challenge to overcome it (Gen. 4:7b). Personified sin faces Cain as surely as it had confronted Eve in the garden. Though sin first occurred in Genesis 3, the first explicit mention of the word occurs in Genesis 4:7.

The personification of sin in Genesis 4:7 should be a somber warning to all of us. Remember that the serpent in Genesis 3 was personified evil, not merely a member of Gods creation. When NET says sin is crouching, the standard lexicon says the verb means: literally sin is a lurker, meaning sin lurks. [2] A dictionary meaning for lurk is lie in wait, lie in ambush.[3] God warns Cain that sin is waiting to ambush him! Sin is personal evil, and it does not fight openly.

God also tells Cain what he must do about this lurking danger: It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it (Gen. 4:7b). Victor Hamilton says:

The word for urge [NET, desires] here . . . is the same word used in the previous chapter for Eves feelings toward Adam (3:16). Similarly, what Cain can do to sin —you are the one to master . . . it —is described with the same verb used for Adams actions with Eve (he shall be master over you, 3:16).[4]

You can see that these chapters contain a constant and complex interplay of literary elements.

Genesis 4:8 contains another of those mysteriously abrupt sentences, which Hamilton explains:

It has long been observed that this verse omits what Cain actually said to his brother. The [Hebrew] text simply reads And Cain said unto Abel his brother. When they were in the field . . . On the basis of the ancient versions most modern translations insert something like: And Cain said unto Abel his brother, Let us go out to the field.[5]

Two excellent English translations of Genesis 4:8 show the difference, as follows:

NET: Cain said to his brother Abel, Lets go out to the field. While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

ESV: Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

As you see, NET adds the words Lets go out to the field on the basis of several ancient translations of the Old Testament. The ESV sticks with the shorter version given by the Hebrew text. This writer joins Wenham and Hamilton in thinking the ESV translation is preferable. Cain rose up (ESV) fits with the ambush theme of Gods warning. The truncated sentence fits the pattern of the previous examples (3:22 and 4:7): sudden action follows immediately.

Cain thinks he has ambushed his brother, but sin has ambushed Cain! From that fateful day to this, the killing has never stopped. Sin lurks to ambush you at this very moment!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Alan P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1988) 158.

[2] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT), translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson. 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) rabats, lurk, q.v.

[3] lurk. WordNet 3.0.Princeton University. 23 Sep. 2008..

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 227.

[5] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 229.

Exposition in Genesis 1-11: Genesis 1:29-31

Genesis 1:29-31

Then God said, I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the animals of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to all the creatures that move on the ground everything that has the breath of life in it I give every green plant for food. It was so.
31 God saw all that he had made and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.

God finds satisfaction in creation

The Bible shows that God is concerned about every aspect of our existence. Nowhere is this more obvious than when God made humanity and created an enormous food supply to sustain them. With regard to food, drink, and clothing, Jesus said, Your heavenly Father knows that you need them (Matt. 6:32).

So, what will it take for us to focus on the goodness of God in providing for our needs? What will it take to pull us out of the mad scramble for material wealth and the security it allegedly provides?

The Old Testament writers use various means to emphasize ideas, and one of the most common is to use the word hinneh meaning behold, see.[1] Curiously, the NET Bible translators say the word means Look, this is what I am doing![2] and yet they represent it with now in the phrase I now give. This is under-translation; when the Bible emphasizes something, the translation should contain the emphasis in the text, not in the margin! For example, the ESV has Behold, I have given you . . . and the RSV, NASB and KJV do the same. In the NIV the word hinneh is not translated at all! NLT wins the prize with Look!

Someone will say, Are you making too big a deal out of this? Perhaps, but the identification of food looms large at my house. Nobody wants to be called to the very first supper by a whisper. :-)

God speaks to the man and the woman (you plural in Hebrew) in verse 29; animals will be addressed in verse 30. Wenham cites another scholar who documents other [non-biblical] texts to show that there was a widespread belief in antiquity that man and the animals were once vegetarian.[3] While Genesis 1 does not forbid eating meat, the practice is not explicitly mentioned until Genesis 9:3, after the fall into sin (Genesis 3) and the flood (Genesis 6-8).

Genesis 1:30 defines the food supply for all animal life on earth. Note carefully that humankind has been separated from all the rest of life on earth. That is fully in keeping with the fact that man and woman are the only portion of the living creation made in Gods image. We have already seen that when God speaks things happen immediately. So, Genesis 1:31 finishes with the words It was so. Unfortunately, a time will come in the great story of Genesis when God will speak and it will not be so, but that will be addressed in another post.

Genesis 1:31
God saw all that he had made — and it was very good! There was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.

Once again the NET Bible buries the emphatic hinneh (behold, see, look) in a marginal note; the only remnant of its emphasis is in the exclamation point. In contrast, the ESV says, And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Gen. 1:31a, emphasis added). Wenham says of this use of hinneh that it is suggesting Gods enthusiasm as he contemplated his handiwork.[4]

The problem of evil in the world is well-known, and the issue has been extensively discussed. Those who do not know God look upon a world filled with instances of evil and ask how God could possibly be good. Genesis explains that what God made was very good to the point of arousing his enthusiasm, so the cause of evil must be found elsewhere. Later in this , Plano, Texasstudy we will see where.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] L. Koehler, W. Baumgartner and J. J. Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, translated and edited under the supervision of M. E. J. Richardson, 5 vols. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000) hinneh, behold, see, q.v.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 1:29, fn 5.

[3] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 115, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 33.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 34.

 

Choosing a Study Bible

Among the most important choices a Christian makes is selecting a Bible translation for daily study. You may be saying, “I thought they were all the same.” No, and that is why you need more information!

To discuss different translations, you will need a key to their abbreviations. The year shown is the year of first publication as a full Bible.

ESV                      English Standard Version (2001)

NET                      New English Translation (1996)

HCSB                   Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004)

NIV                       New International Version (1978)

NASB                   New American Standard Bible (1963)

KJV                      King James Version (1611)

The Crux: What Type of Bible?

The English Bible is found in two forms: translations and paraphrases. First, we will describe paraphrases and then translations.

Bible Paraphrases

One dictionary says a paraphrase is: “A restatement of a text or passage in another form or other words, often to clarify meaning.”[1] Clarity is certainly the main goal of a Bible paraphrase, but you have to understand the original text correctly in order to paraphrase it. If everyone saw the same original meaning in a Bible verse, there would be no need for commentaries; there are tens of thousands of them!

We usually want things that are easier to understand, so what is the limitation of a paraphrase? New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace says, “If the translator’s interpretation is correct, it can only clarify the meaning of the text; if it is incorrect, then it can only clarify the interpretation of the translator!”[2] If the translator’s interpretation is correct, you get a paraphrase of God’s Word; if not, you get a paraphrase of the translator’s word.

One of the most popular paraphrases is The Living Bible. It first appeared in 1971 as the literary effort of Kenneth N. Taylor. Taylor initially wrote The Living Bible for his children, never intending it for serious study, yet it achieved great popularity.[3]

Another widely distributed paraphrase is The Message, the effort of Eugene H. Peterson. The full Bible as paraphrased by The Message became available in 2002. One notable scholar considers The Message even freer than a paraphrase, calling it devotional literature.

So, the two most popular paraphrases are each the product of one man. Further, we note that some question exists as to when clarification becomes invention. Compare these paraphrases with a translation for one of Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount:

PARAPHRASE: Matthew 5:3 (The Message) “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

PARAPHRASE: Matthew 5:3 (The Living Bible) “Humble men are very fortunate,” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.”

TRANSLATION: Matthew 5:3 (English Standard Version) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

You will notice immediately that the two paraphrases are quite different. If you had not been told they were paraphrasing the same verse, you might have guessed otherwise. Paraphrases have their uses, but serious Bible study is not one of them. You need an accurate Bible translation.

Bible Translations

Here is a reasonable definition: “Translation is the interpreting of the meaning of a text and the subsequent production of an equivalent text, likewise called a ‘translation,’ that communicates the same message in another language.”[4] In our case the Bible was recorded in Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament), with a few chapters in Aramaic (Old Testament). Producing an equivalent text in English is what results in our Bible translations.

We all want a Bible that shows fidelity to the original text and clarity in our language because we want to know exactly what God has revealed to us. So, what is the challenge? Wallace says, “Idioms and colloquialisms in a language need to be paraphrased to make sense in another language.”[5] In addition, some translations attempt to distinguish themselves by incorporating a measure of paraphrase to enhance readability. The degree to which this paraphrasing is done leads to some debate.

The most famous translation of all time is the King James Version of 1611, a product of scholars from Oxford and Cambridge. Due to the passage of time and the discovery of thousands of additional biblical manuscripts, the need arose for fresh translations; all languages change over time. The English Standard Version (2001) is a successor in the tradition of the King James Version. Other notable translations include the NET Bible (1996), the New International Version (1978 and 2011), the Holman Christian Standard Bible (2004), and the New American Standard Bible (1963). We have already mentioned the New Living Translation (1996).

Because of their greater fidelity to the biblical text, translations are the right tool for a Bible student or growing Christian.

Notes to the Max

Contemporary study Bibles have an amazing amount of information in the notes at the bottom of each page. They usually contain maps, diagrams and charts at various locations.

Since some translations (ESV, KJV or NASB) emphasize transparency to the original text, they do not put much interpretation directly into the translation. For such translations the notes are a great help in bridging the historical and cultural gap between us and biblical times. For example, John 18:28a (ESV) says, “Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters.” The ESV Study Bible has a long note to tell you all about the Roman governor’s quarters at Herod’s old palace or a possible alternate location.

By contrast, the NIV says, “Then the Jewish leaders led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor” (John 18:28a, NIV 2011, emphasis added). Note the words in italics. The word “Roman” is not in the Greek New Testament here, but it appears in the NIV 2011 translation as a clarification. Similarly, “they” (ESV) has been changed to “the Jewish leaders” (NIV 2011) to make certain you know who took Jesus to the palace, but the words “Jewish leaders” do not occur here in the Greek text. The NIV Study Bible — available at this writing only for NIV 1984 — also has a long note to tell you what is going on in this scene.

In relation to resource materials provided along with the translation, the ESV and NIV study Bibles differ in two significant ways. First, the NIV Study Bible has a concordance about double the size of the one in the ESV Study Bible. On the other hand, the NIV 1984 needs a much bigger concordance since it uses a much greater variety of words to translate individual Greek or Hebrew words, and that makes concordance research more complicated. [Note: A concordance is an alphabetic list of words used in a specific translation matched to a list of the Bible verses where that word occurs. A concordance is essential for doing word studies without special Bible software.]

The second significant difference is that the ESV Study Bible contains a large number of articles (e.g. “The Character of God” and “Marriage and Sexual Morality”) dealing with many subjects at greater length than notes allow. These materials are not replicated in the NIV Study Bible.

For those intrepid few who cannot get enough about the linguistic matters that underlie our English translations, the NET Bible First Edition is a must-have. This Bible has a unique set of Translators’ Notes that justify the translation. These Notes can be technical in relation to original languages, but they are a great help to understanding the original meaning and options for translation. The NET Bible has fine maps but few charts and diagrams and no concordance. Still, it is unique. The NET Bible and all its Notes may be downloaded free at www.Bible.org, and I recommend you do that.

Recommended Study Bibles

I recommend the following study Bibles according to your need:

ESV Study Bible published by Crossway Bibles (2008)

The ESV emphasizes transparency to the original text over clarity in English. The ESV Study Bible has outstanding notes, maps, and concordance along with good articles. It gets my vote as the best general-purpose study Bible available in May 2011.

The NIV Study Bible, Updated Edition published by Zondervan (2008)

The NIV 1984 emphasizes clarity in English, so it has more interpretation in its translated text than either the ESV or the NET Bible. The NIV Study Bible has outstanding notes and maps along with a sizable concordance. It is also a sound choice for a general-purpose study Bible. It seems reasonable to expect that a revision using the NIV 2011 text will be available sometime in 2011. That will be an upgrade!

NET Bible, First Edition [with over 60,932 Notes] published by Biblical Studies Press (2005)

The NET Bible takes a middle position between the NIV and ESV on the balance between transparency to the original text and clarity in English. The NET Bible is highly recommended for those interested in the Translators’ Notes. It also has unique maps based on earth-satellite imaging.  Available at www.Bible.org .

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] “paraphrase.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 22 Nov. 2008. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/paraphrase>.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, “Choosing a Bible Translation,” Bible Study Magazine (Nov. & Dec., 2008) 24.

[3] More recently the New Living Translation has replaced the earlier paraphrase with a widely accepted translation done by a team of scholars.

[4] “Translation.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 Nov 2008, 09:08 UTC. 23 Nov 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Translation&oldid=252537344>.

[5] Wallace, “Choosing a Bible Translation,” 23.

 

NIV 2011: How much paraphrase is too much?

Some popular English Bible translations do a better job than others in maintaining fidelity to the original text of Scripture. As you know, the Old Testament was recorded in biblical Hebrew (except for a few parts of Daniel and Ezra written in Aramaic), and the New Testament was recorded in Koine Greek.

In my view, the following principles should be applied to Bible translation:

  • Idioms have to be paraphrased to make any sense at all.
  • Ancient writing style which does not involve idioms should be translated without paraphrase; just allow us to listen to an ancient conversation!
  • Biblical metaphors should be translated rather than being “clarified” by replacing the figure of speech with its concrete meaning; such replacement is paraphrase, not translation.

In each case below, you will find the Greek or Hebrew text followed by five English translations: English Standard Version (ESV), New English Translation (NET), New International Version (NIV 2011), Christian Standard Bible (CSB), and New Living Translation (NLT). In general, this order measures the tendency to paraphrase, with ESV doing so the least paraphrasing and NLT doing so the most. NET, NIV 2011, and CSB are all about the same in terms of tendency to paraphrase. That is a move to a more literal position for NIV 2011 in comparison to NIV 1984. I consider that a real improvement!

In the examples below, the underlined Greek text is idiomatic, and I have bold-faced the portion of each English translation that tries to express that idiom.

Idioms (must be paraphrased for comprehension)

BNT Matthew 1:18 ??? ?? ????? ??????? ? ??????? ????? ??. (????????????? ??? ?????? ????? ?????? ?? ?????, ???? ? ????????? ?????? ?????? ?? ?????? ?????? ?? ????????? ?????.

A raw translation would be “have in the womb.” The Greek phrase is an idiom: “?? ?????? ????? be pregnant” BDAG-3, the standard Greek lexicon.

ESV Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

NET Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

NIV 2011 Matthew 1:18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

CSB Matthew 1:18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.

NLT Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.

BNT John 2:4 [???] ????? ???? ? ??????·?? ???? ??? ???, ?????; ???? ???? ? ??? ???.

The Greek phrase is idiomatic. A raw translation might be: “What to me and to you?” [NET Bible Notes]

ESV John 2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”

NET John 2:4 Jesus replied, “Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come.”

NIV 2011 John 2:4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

CSB John 2:4 “What has this concern of yours to do with Me, woman?” Jesus asked. “My hour has not yet come.”

NLT John 2:4 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

COMMENT: Oddly enough, NLT is the only English text that retains Jesus’ question about the relevance of this situation to both Mary and Jesus by combining them in the pronoun “our.” All the others focus only on Jesus.

BNT John 10:24 ????????? ??? ????? ?? ???????? ??? ?????? ????·??? ???? ??? ????? ???? ??????; ?? ?? ?? ? ???????, ???? ???? ????????.

A raw translation might be “Until when do you raise our soul?” The Greek phrase is an idiom. “to keep in a state of uncertainty about an outcome, keep someone in suspense, fig. ext. of [meaning] 1.” BDAG-3, the standard lexicon.

ESV John 10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

NET John 10:24 The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

NIV 2011 John 10:24 The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

COMMENT: NIV 2011 adds the words “who were there,” but why? Only the people who were there could surround Jesus, so why add those words? On the positive side, NIV 2011 substitutes “Messiah” for “Christ.”

CSB John 10:24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and asked, “How long are You going to keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

NLT John 10:24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Ancient Style (leave it alone!)

WTT 1 Kings 2:10 ???????????? ?????? ????????????

ESV 1 Kings 2:10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

NET 1 Kings 2:10 Then David passed away and was buried in the city of David.

COMMENT: NET takes out the more metaphorical idea of “slept with his fathers” and replaces it with the sterile contemporary euphemism “passed away.” The Hebrew original maintains the continuity of David with his ancestors, but the NET takes it away. How does that make matters better? It is hard to believe such measures were necessary to help a contemporary audience understand that David had died when the same verse says he “was buried”!

NIV 2011 1 Kings 2:10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David.

COMMENT: This substitution of “ancestors” for “fathers” is the result of NIV 2011’s use of new research on English word usage. This is a good change.

CSB 1 Kings 2:10 Then David rested with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.

NLT 1 Kings 2:10 Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the City of David.

COMMENT: In reference to this verse, NLT has the following misguided boast in its preface: “Only the New Living Translation clearly translates the real meaning of the Hebrew idiom ‘slept with his fathers’ into contemporary English.” (Introduction to NLT, page xlii). This is what software developers call “turning a bug into a feature”! What a selling point!

BNT Romans 13:4 ???? ??? ???????? ????? ??? ??? ?? ??????. ??? ?? ?? ????? ?????, ?????· ?? ??? ???? ??? ???????? ?????· ???? ??? ???????? ????? ??????? ??? ????? ?? ?? ????? ?????????.

ESV Romans 13:4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

NET Romans 13:4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer.

NIV 2011 Romans 13:4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

CSB Romans 13:4 For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.

NLT Romans 13:4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.

COMMENT: This verse displays the NLT’s pride in removing metaphors that they believe are “difficult for contemporary readers to understand” (NLT preface). Apparently some of us are considered so ignorant as to think the authorities were going to pat us on the back with the sword. So, the paraphrase had to make it crystal clear that the intent was punishment. Of course, the sword finds little use in 2011, so it had to go too. Calling this a “translation” is a real stretch. [Just to be clear, the Greek words for have, power and punish do not occur in the Greek text.]

In conclusion, I do not argue that any of the changes shown above affect doctrines of Christian faith. But paraphrasing biblical texts that are not idiomatic is an undesirable translation practice. If the translator believes more “clarity” is needed, put it in a footnote!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

NIV 2011 — The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

—Before describing some issues I have with NIV 2011, I want to say that NIV 2011 is one of the top three English translations now available. It may even become my favorite, though currently I am using it in conjunction with the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New English Translation (NET). Time will tell as I translate more passages and compare NIV 2011 to the others in many types of biblical texts.

Before I begin, here is what The Committee on Bible Translation humbly says in the preface of NIV 2011:

The committee has again been reminded that every human effort is flawed — including this revision of the NIV. We trust however, that many will find in it an improved representation of the Word of God, through which they hear his call to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and to service in his kingdom.

I have found both flaws and improvements in NIV 2011, but more improvements! Critiques, such as this one, may also be flawed!

The Good

Corrections to NIV 1984

I am ecstatic with the decision to replace “sinful nature” (NIV 1984) with “flesh” (NIV 2011) as the translation of the Greek noun sarx in most places. Primarily this affects Romans (e.g., Rom. 8:5) and Galatians and greatly influences our understanding of sin’s influence within both believers and unbelievers. Concerning the old translation “sinful nature,” The Committee on Bible Translation says: “This expression can mislead readers into thinking the human person is made up of various compartments, one of which is sarx, whereas the biblical writers’ point is that humans can choose to yield themselves to a variety of influences or powers, one of which is the sin-producing sarx.”[1]

Since I have been warning against that compartment-model for years while watching people look down to see “sinful nature” right there in their NIV Bible, I am delighted with this change.

Another favorable trend is the decision to make NIV 2011 a translation that puts fewer interpretations into the biblical text and leaves the burden of interpretation on the reader where it belongs. The sarx decision falls into this category, but another sad case within NIV 1984 is the one I will use to illustrate a positive correction made by NIV 2011.

In John 18:36–37, Jesus is being interrogated by Pilate, or so Pilate believes. The crucial point comes when Pilate, the Roman governor, exclaims, “You are a king, then!” (John 18:37a). When Jesus answers we see two different translations:

“You are right in saying I am a king.” (NIV 1984, John 18:37b)

“You say that I am a king.” (NIV 2011, John 18:37b)

There is simply no possible way to get the NIV 1984 translation from this Greek:

σὺ λέγεις ὅτι βασιλεύς εἰμι. (John 18:37b)

First, I congratulate the NIV 2011 team for fixing this error, which not only failed to represent the Greek but was also blind to the political situation in which Jesus spoke to Pilate. For Jesus to explicitly admit that he is a king of any sort would be to agree with the charges brought by the Jewish leaders that he was setting himself us as a king in opposition to Caesar (Luke 23:2).

How did this mistake occur? Obviously, I was not there, but I suspect that it involves the translation theory employed by the NIV — an approach known as Dynamic Equivalence (“DE” from here on), sometimes also called functional equivalence. The Committee on Bible Translation says, “The NIV tries to bring its readers as close as possible to the experience of the original audience[.]”[2] Clearly, the key word is “experience.” The big problem is that we have no way of knowing exactly how the original audience experienced the Word; we have to guess.

In another post I have criticized the assumption by The Committee on Bible Translation that the original hearers experienced instant clarity when they heard God’s Word for the first time in their own language. To give us the same alleged experience in 2011 (or 1984), as the principles of DE require, means that strong measures must be taken to remove ambiguity and make everything crystal clear. When Jesus made his ambiguous response to Pilate about kingship, that simply would not fit the DE mold, so Jesus was edited to make a more definite statement about kingship. This is a kind of “clarity” we do not need in Bible translation!

All this was done in good faith with the best intentions, and I am not saying anything negative about the motivation or spiritual integrity of those involved in the process. But when good-hearted people employ a flawed approach, this is the result. NIV 2011 fixed the error.

Updated Pronouns

Another positive development in NIV 2011 — and this one is subtle when you read the biblical text — is the use of a careful linguistic analysis to update the use of English pronouns to match current English usage. For example, Mark 4:25 now says, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (NIV 2011). Older grammatical style, such as used in NIV 1984, says, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Mark 4:25).

Another example of the pronoun changes may be seen in James 2:15–16, which NIV 2011 presents like this: “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” See how the italicized pronouns have changed by looking at NIV 1984: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15–16).

Those of us who have seen a few more revolutions of the earth around the sun may wince at this grammar, but it is futile to fight linguistic shifts.

The Bad

The following remarks are based on Matthew 28:1–10, describing the miraculous events surrounding the discovery of the empty tomb and a climactic meeting with the resurrected Jesus. Read the NIV 2011 translation here.

The Greek particle idou occurs 62 times in Matthew’s Gospel and is generally untranslated by both NIV and NET. NIV gives no explanation of this practice, but NET says, “The Greek word ἰδοὺ (idou) has not been translated because it has no exact English equivalent here but adds interest and emphasis.” Perhaps one of my readers can explain how idou can “add interest and emphasis” when it is not translated into English!

The Greek particle idou is difficult to translate, but that is mainly true when the translator is trying to make everyone talk in a suburban-America-in-2011 dialect. No one in my hometown will say “behold” or “see!” this week. Of course, these biblical events did not occur in my hometown this week! So, why should they sound as if they did?

BDAG-3, the standard Greek lexicon, defines idou by saying: “prompter of attention, behold, look, see. Like (Hebrew hinneh) it sometimes serves to enliven a narrative . . . . with emphasis on the size or importance of something (frequently omitted in translation, but with some loss of meaning).” You can guess that I really like that “loss of meaning” phrase! That neatly summarizes my whole point.

Here are two things to consider:

  • The events being described are the most exceptional in all human history.
  • DE promises us that it will deliver the same impact that the original listeners would have felt; that is its alleged genius. How can they possibly punt on conveying the enlivened feeling of emphasis that idou is designed to create? I thought this was exactly where we might expect some help by the paraphrasing nature of DE principles.

That is the case for dialing up the temperature of the text in Matthew 28:1–10; idou is used four times in this brief span, which is an exceptional frequency. The amazing events taking place are exactly the point of the passage. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Soldiers keel over in a dead faint, earthquakes pop, and an angel descends from heaven and takes dramatic action. The angel uses idou twice in emphasizing his words to the women, and then the resurrected Jesus appears! We cannot ho-hum our way through this scene. Our familiarity with what happened has dulled our senses!

The Ugly

Adding or Subtracting Words

It is pleasing to say that NIV 2011 has very little to put into this category. Generally, a problem I have with English translations based on the dynamic equivalence (DE) philosophy is that they unnecessarily add words that are not in the Greek text of the New Testament or they covertly fail to translate words that are in the Greek text. The NET Bible does a marvelous job giving notes about the instances in which they have done one of these two things, but NIV 2011 leaves the reader in blissful ignorance.

Consider Romans 8:34, which NIV 2011 presents this way: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Where did the italicized words come from? Certainly not from the Greek text of the New Testament! This is the kind of perverse result that DE can produce.

It can be argued that the above addition is harmless. I do not think that is the case. Is “no one” theologically true? Consider the trial and crucifixion of Jesus: God was certainly for him, but that did not prevent his legal condemnation by Pilate and his religious condemnation by his enemies. It is difficult to see how “no one” is an accurate description for that situation. What Paul is saying in Romans 8:34 is not that “no one” will condemn the Christian; he is saying that their condemnation will fall away or be refuted by the divine mercy we enjoy through union with Christ. Adding words creates a problem.

Foreclosing Possible Interpretations by Making Interpretive Choices

Remember that DE translations seek to make everything really clear, even things that are murky. Consider Genesis 6:3, which says, “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.’” As an alternative to “mortal,” NIV 2011 offers “corrupt” in a marginal note.

God is speaking about his disgust over  the violence and sin rampant in the world before the flood of Noah. The issue is the meaning chosen for the Hebrew word translated “mortal” by NIV 2011. The Hebrew noun here is bashar, and you may look high and low in the standard Hebrew lexicon, but you will not find “mortal” as one of the lexical choices in its field of meaning. So, how did we get “mortal”? By interpretation! In picking that one, the translators rejected others that may be preferable.

From the array of possible meanings for this verse, the translators selected one and then created a novel meaning for bashar to match. That is allowable, even necessary, in cases where a Hebrew word is rarely used and its meaning is less certain. But bashar occurs 294 times in the Old Testament and 33 times in Genesis alone, so its range of lexical meaning is well established.

The safest path is to put a basic meaning for bashar into the biblical text and put the various possible interpretations into a marginal note or footnote. The safe choice for bashar in Gen. 6:3 is “flesh,” a meaning firmly established in the standard Hebrew lexicon and the one chosen by the ESV for this verse.

Of course, the safe choice “flesh” leaves the reader wondering what sense of that word is meant. Some possibilities are “mortal,” “corrupt” or “ruined.” Which one is right? [I personally prefer “ruined” because of Gen. 6:12.] To answer that question is hard work and may leave you wondering if you have taken the word correctly — that is, you may wonder whether you have selected the right sense. But here is the difference: at least you know there is a question here and some uncertainty in meaning.

But I have already said that DE translations of the Bible abhor uncertainty and ambiguity. They are eager to confront each of these interpretive questions and resolve them with a clear, scholarly choice and to put that choice directly into the translation rather than in an explanatory footnote. Now the reader does not have to wonder or work. The reader doesn’t know!

It amazes me that Christians are so laid back about this practice. If I told the Christians here in Texas that the state government had made these interpretive choices for them in preparing their English Bible translation, they would surround the capital in short order!

What is the solution to this problem? Use a more literal translation like the ESV alongside NIV 2011. Consult both in doing your Bible study. If you can do so, add the NET Bible into the mix. Be willing to think and pray in moving closer to God through study of his Word.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.


[1] “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation,” page 8.

[2] “Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation,” page 1.