Poor and Misleading Translation in the New International Version (NIV)

The New International Version of the Bible, or NIV, was first published in 1978. Since then, it has become one of the most popular English Bible translations, and almost certainly the most popular one among Evangelical Christians. It is also one of the worst translations for anyone who is seriously interested in what the Bible says. Its translators are conservative Evangelical Christians who are committed to certain theological doctrines as well as to the inerrancy of the Bible, as is implied in its prefaces:

From the beginning the translators have been united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God’s Word in written form. (TNIV, 2005)

Our work as translators is motivated by our conviction that the Bible is God’s Word in written form. (NIV, 2011)

However, the text of the Bible itself defies attempts to harmonize its diverse traditions and viewpoints, and its apparent meaning is frequently at odds with sectarian doctrine. The solution of the NIV translators, in many of the passages that challenged their doctrines and belief in inerrancy, has been to change the Bible itself — altering the offending words and phrases to say what they think it ought to have said. In most cases of mistranslated NIV passages, there is a clear “problem” with the original text related either to doctrine or to biblical inerrancy.

Even in instances where plausible explanations for an apparent contradiction are available, the NIV’s changes are still unwelcome because (1) they obfuscate the original text and make it unfairly difficult for readers to consider other interpretations, (2) other translations generally avoid making such changes, and (3) they usually appear to be theologically motivated.

I have collected a sample of such passages and presented them below. Visitors are welcome to make additional suggestions in the comments.

For readers who would like a more reliable translation of the Bible in English, I recommend either the 1966 Jerusalem Bible or the New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha.

This list is updated as I discover new examples. The latest additions to this list are in red. Since the list has grown so long, I have marked some of the most notable entries with a leaf icon (think of it as a “fig leaf”): 

A note on NIV editions: The NIV New Testament was published in 1973, and the complete Bible in 1978. The first revised edition was released in 1984. It was revised again under the name Today’s NIV (TNIV) in 2005, and again as the NIV in 2011. Although the bulk of this list concerns the 2011 NIV, I also identify errors found only in the 1984 edition, which probably exceeds all other editions in number of circulating copies.

The Old Testament

Genesis 1:21 — This verse attributes the creation of great “sea monsters” to God. Tanninim (the plural of tannin) in Hebrew and Phoenician belief were sea monsters or dragons associated with chaos and creation myths, not merely large aquatic animals. The NIV correctly translates this term elsewhere (e.g. Isaiah 27:1, Job 7:12, and Psalm 74:13) but is seemingly unwilling to mention mythological creatures in a text that is interpreted very literally by creationists. Instead, it translates tanninim here merely as “creatures of the sea”. The theological significance of portraying these monsters as part of creation, given their significance in other Near Eastern chaos myths, is completely lost. (Thanks to John Kesler for the suggestion.)

Genesis 2:8 — The NRSV correctly reads “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east.” Because this appears to contradict the order of creation in Genesis 1, the NIV alters the verb tense to read “had planted”: “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden.” See the entry on Genesis 2:19 for more details.

Genesis 2:19 — The NRSV correctly reads “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air”. Because the order of creation here contradicts that of Genesis 1, the NIV alters the verb tense to read “had formed”: “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.” This mistranslation also masks Yahweh’s reason for creating animals in Genesis 2: to find a helper for the man. Though the Hebrew uses the same verb form throughout the passage, the NIV only uses the past perfect here and in 2:8. (Claude Mariottini’s discussion of this translation error is worth reading.)

Genesis 4:1 — The NIV reads “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” However, “help” is not in the original text. Young’s Literal Translation more correctly reads “I have gotten a man by Jehovah.”

Genesis 10:14 — According to this list of the descendants of Egypt, the Philistines were descended from the Casluhim (NIV: Kasluhites). However, in order to harmonize this with Amos 9:7, the NIV swaps the Kasluhites with the Caphtorites. It does so again in the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 1:12. (See Rendsburg, “Gen 10:13-14: An Authentic Hebrew Tradition Concerning the Origin of the Philistines”, JNSL 13.)

Genesis 11:2 — Genesis 11:1–2 says that the whole earth spoke one language, and that they (the whole earth) settled in the plain of Shinar to build the city and tower of Babel. Since this stands in conflict with the previous chapter, in which humanity has already spread out into many nations, the NIV changes “they” to “people” to suggest it was not the whole earth that settled in Shinar, but just an indeterminate group of people. “As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.”

Genesis 12:1 — The NRSV correctly reads “Now the LORD said to Abram.” The NIV changes the verb tense in an attempt to harmonize the verse with Acts 7:2: “Now the LORD had said to Abram…” This is probably because Yahweh’s call to Abram occurs in Haran in Genesis 12, but in Mesopotamia according to Stephen’s speech in Acts 7. (Cf. Barrett, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Vol. 1, p. 342.)

Genesis 14:20 — The Hebrew says “he gave him a tenth of everything,” and given the context and the fact that this verse is talking about Melchizedek, it is more likely Melchizedek is paying Abram the tribute. However, the premise of Hebrews 7 requires it to be the other way around, and such a reading would also lend support to the doctrine of tithing, so the NIV inserts “Abram” where it is absent from the text: “Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (See Fred Horton, The Melchizedek Tradition, pp. 14–17 and my article on Melchizedek for the reasons this is probably incorrect.)

Genesis 15:13 — In the Hebrew text, Yahweh tells Abraham that his offspring will be in a foreign land, enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. The NIV moves the phrase “for four hundred years” to the beginning of the verse so that it can be understood as referring only to the duration of the sojourn, rather than to the period of enslavement and oppression. I suspect that this change was made for compatibility with the story in Exodus, where the enslavement happens only near the end of Israel’s time in Egypt and therefore cannot last 400 years. The NIV makes the same change to Acts 7:6, which quotes Genesis 15:13. In both verses, the changes were introduced with the 2005 TNIV.

Genesis 18:20 — According to the Hebrew text, the outcry of or from Sodom and Gomorrah has become so great that Yahweh is going there to see for himself. The word used for outcry describes the cries of the oppressed (Alter, 1996), and the phrasing strongly implies that these cries come from people within the condemned cities themselves. This was the historical understanding as well; according to one Talmudic tradition, for example, it was the cry of a girl in Sodom executed for giving food to a poor man. However, as many Christians prefer to understand Sodom as a city entirely fallen into sexual perversion, this verse is mistranslated in many modern Bibles, including the NIV, to say there was an outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah. The Hebrew text does not say “against”. See Carden, Sodomy, pp. 100ff.

Genesis 21:14 — There is a chronological problem here. Ishmael was born when Abraham was 85 (Gen 16:16), and Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 (Gen 21:5). By the time Isaac has been weaned, simple math dictates Ishmael must be 16 or 17 years old. The tradition in Gen 21, however, depicts him as a young child, and the Hebrew has Abraham put Ishmael on Hagar’s back (21:14) where she carries him and then sets him down under a bush to die (21:15). The NIV has attempted to mitigate the problem by removing any mention of Ishmael being carried by Hagar, simply saying “[Abraham] sent her off with the boy.” Compare the translation by Westermann, Genesis, p. 153: “[Abraham] lifted the child onto her shoulder and bade her farewell.” (Thanks to John Kesler for this suggestion.)

Genesis 25:1 — Two chapters after narrating the death of Sarah, the text states that Abraham “took a wife again”, one Keturah who bore Abraham six sons. However, the NIV once again fudges the order of events by putting the verb in the pluperfect — “Abraham had taken another wife” — likely due to the fact that 100-year-old Abraham mocked the idea of siring a child at his age in Gen. 17:17, before the miraculous birth of Isaac. Furthermore, he would have been at least 137 upon marrying Keturah. Apologetics-oriented reference works often suggest that this marriage must have occurred many decades earlier, while Sarah was alive, even though this would have rendered the central narrative about Sarah and Hagar meaningless. Note: This error was introduced with the 2005 TNIV. (Suggested by John Kesler in the comments.)

Genesis 29:5 — The text says that Laban was the son of Nahor. However, to hide the contradiction with the tradition of Genesis 28:5 that Laban was the son of Bethuel the Syrian, the NIV has changed “son” to “grandson”.

Genesis 36:2-3 — The Hebrew says “Oholibamah daughter of Anah daughter of Zibeon the Hivite”. The NIV addresses the difficulties with Esau’s genealogy (e.g. Anah being a man in 1 Chron. 1:40) by changing this to read “Oholibamah daughter of Anah and granddaughter of Zibeon the Hivite”.

Genesis 37:28 — This verse offers one version of the Joseph story, in which Midianite merchants find Joseph in the pit and pull him out. The NRSV, following the Hebrew text, correctly reads, “When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit…” However, the NIV changes the verse to say that Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the pit, to harmonize it with the story in vv. 25b–27 wherein his brothers sell him to Ishmaelites. That is not what the text says, and this change obscures the well-known fact that Genesis 37 contains two variant traditions. [Thanks to שפן, who suggested this entry in the comments.]

Genesis 47:31 — The NRSV correctly reads “Israel bowed himself on the head of his bed.” The NIV has completely changed this to read “Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff” in order to harmonize the verse with the quotation in Hebrews 11:21.

Exodus 2:1 — This verse literally reads “A man from the house of Levi went and took to wife the daughter of Levi” in both the Hebrew and Greek, but this is so problematic that most translations, including the NIV, remove or diminish the suggestion of close family ties between Moses and Levi. The NIV reads, “Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman.”

Exodus 4:19 — Here, after receiving permission from Jethro to return to Egypt, Moses is told by Yahweh to go with assurances that those who seek his life are dead. Again, the NIV translators — apparently uncomfortable with God telling Moses to do something he already intends to do — changed the verb tense to the pluperfect to reverse the implied order of events: “Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian.” This is neither warranted by the text nor necessary to make sense of the story. See Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 53., and Gurtner, Exodus, p. 226. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

Exodus 6:2–3 — The NRSV correctly reads “God also spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The Lord’ I did not make myself known to them.” The NIV obscures the problem of Yahweh being unknown to the patriarchs despite the use of “Yahweh” in Genesis (especially 4:26) by adding the word “fully” without textual justification: “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself fully known to them.”

Exodus 11:1 — Yahweh tells Moses that there will be one more plague, and a few verses later, Moses is suddenly talking to the Pharaoh again, even though Moses had left Pharaoh in the previous chapter, promising never to meet again in 10:29. The NIV alters the verb tense to the pluperfect to suggest a flashback and avoid the contradiction: “Now the LORD had said to Moses…”, despite the voluminous literature on the plague narrative as a combination of sources with numerous discrepancies. No other translation I consulted translates the verb this way. (See the comment by John Kesler below suggesting this addition and the follow-up comments for details.)

Exodus 15:13-17 — This portion of the “Song of the Sea” celebrates the arrival in Canaan and the fear instilled in Israel’s future enemies as a past event. Taken literally, it is anachronistic for Moses and the Israelites to have sung it immediately after their escape from Egypt. To hide this fact, the NIV changes all the verbs to the future tense, making the song a prophecy of the future. (Suggested by John Kesler. See “The Song at the Sea: What Does it Celebrate?” by Baruch J. Schwartz.)

Exodus 20:4 — The Hebrew text specifically bans the making of images in the form of anything “in heaven, on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.” The NIV omits the second “earth” and just says “the waters below”, which allows one to read it as meaning “below heaven”. Although it is a minor deletion, this change hides the tripartite cosmology the Jews believed in, with the (flat) earth sitting atop the cosmic ocean. No other English translation I have consulted makes this deletion. The same problem can be found in Deut. 4:18 and 5:8.

Exodus 21:2–11 — Although this passage clearly involves the treatment of Hebrew slaves and uses the same word that the NIV translates as “slave” in other slavery-related passages, the NIV uses the word “servant” here instead. The reason may be to avoid a contradiction with the law that bans debt slaves in Lev. 25:39-44. Such harmonization may not even be desirable if, as some scholars say, Exod. 21 concerns the purchase of Hebrew slaves from non-Hebrew owners rather than debt-slavery (cf. Van Seters, “The Law of the Hebrew Slave”, ZAW 108). The NIV deals with Deut. 15:12-18 in a similar manner. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

Exodus 21:20–21 — The NRSV correctly reads “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” To obscure the obvious moral difficulties with the text, the NIV has changed the translation to read “but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”

Exodus 21:22 — The NRSV correctly reads “When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine.” All English translations prior to the US abortion debate of the 1980s read similarly. However, to obscure the implications for Evangelical views of abortion, the NIV changes “miscarriage” to “premature birth” without textual justification.

Numbers 16:40 — In this passage about Eleazar making bronze sheets from the censors of Korah and his followers, the NIV moves the confusing phrase “as the LORD directed him through Moses” from the end of the verse to the beginning. This helps the phrase make more sense but changes the referent of him, from Korah or possibly Aaron to Eleazar. This change by the NIV also serves to hide the fact that on closer inspection, the Korah character is a late insertion into an earlier story. Rabbi David Frankel’s online article about the fire-pans and Korah’s rebellion is worth a read. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

Numbers 26:58b–59a — The NRSV correctly reads “Now Kohath was the father of Amram. The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt;” This is in agreement with Exodus 6, that Moses’ father was the grandson of the patriarch Levi, and that his mother was the daughter of Levi. However, this presents an obvious contradiction with the 400 years the Israelites spent in Egypt, so the NIV changes it to read: “Kohath was the forefather of Amram; the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, a descendant of Levi, who was born to the Levites in Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 4:18 — This verse forbids the making of graven images in the likeness of “any fish in the waters under the earth,” a clear allusion to the belief in a cosmic ocean below the flat earth. The NIV omits the word for “earth” (Hebrew aretz) so that it reads more vaguely “the waters below”. It commits the same error in Ex. 20:4 and Deut. 5:8.

Deuteronomy 5:8 — See the entry for Exodus 20:4.

Deuteronomy 15:12-18 — The NIV inserts the word “servant” twice where no equivalent appears in the Hebrew text, apparently to make the passage seem more compatible with the ban on debt-slavery in Lev. 25:39-44. See the related entry on Exod. 21:2–11 for a fuller explanation.

Deuteronomy 16:6 — All reference books I checked agree that this verse stipulates the Passover to be observed “evening at sunset, the time of day when you departed from Egypt” (cf. VanderKam, “Exegesis of Pentateuchal Legislation”, Pentateuchal Traditions, p. 195). As this contradicts the post-midnight departure of the Israelites in Exod. 12:29f, the NIV changes it to say “in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

Deuteronomy 16:7 — Referring to the Passover sacrifice, the Hebrew reads, “boil it and eat it at the place which Yahweh your God will choose.” The Hebrew word bashal means “boil” or “seethe”. However, the NIV has mistranslated it as “roast” to harmonize it with the Passover instructions given in Exod. 12:12–13, where boiling the meat is specifically forbidden. (See Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, pp. 107–109, for a discussion of these texts and deceptive translation. See also Dr. Steven DiMattei’s blog entry, “Is the paschal animal to be roasted OR boiled?”)

Deuteronomy 29:5 — The NIV takes remarkable liberties with the text, adding the phrase “Yet the LORD says”, which is not found in any manuscript, to indicate a change in speaker. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

Deuteronomy 32:43 — In the Hebrew Masoretic Text, the nations are commanded to praise “his people.” The NIV has subtly altered the meaning by adding “with”: “Rejoice, you nations, with his people.” A likely reason is to harmonize the verse with its quotation in Romans 15:10. Footnote [b] to this verse is also misleading. It offers a partial, but not complete, translation of the DSS version of this verse, quoting it to say “let all the angels worship him” where the DSS (4QDeutq) actually reads “let all the gods worship him”. For the NIV, removing polytheistic language seemingly takes priority over accuracy. (On the DSS version, see Nelson, Deuteronomy, p. 379; and Hendel, Steps to a New Edition of the Hebrew Bible, p. 245. On the meaning of the MT, see Lundbom, Deuteronomy, p. 903.)

Joshua 4:9 — The Hebrew here states that Joshua set up 12 stones in the middle of the Jordan River, at the feet of the priests bearing the ark. This stands in tension with a second account in which the 12 stones are set up at Gilgal (Josh. 5:20), as is well known by scholars (cf. Dozeman, Joshua 1–12, pp. 252ff). The NIV attempts to harmonize these two accounts by changing this verse to say “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan….” There is nothing in the Hebrew corresponding to the past-tense verb the NIV has inserted. The NIV offers an alternate translation in a footnote, which is nearly correct, but adds “also” to imply a second set of 12 stones. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

Joshua 7:1, 17-18 — Three times, the NIV changes the name of Achan’s grandfather from Zabdi to Zimri to harmonize it with 1 Chr. 2:6. It notes the change in a footnote (for v. 1 only). (Suggested by John Kesler.)

Joshua 8:12 — This verse, part of a story about Joshua’s preparations for attacking Ai, describes him setting an ambush with 5,000 of his men. However, since Joshua had previously sent out 30,000 soldiers for the same purpose (v. 3), this would appear to be an alternate version of the story with disparate details. The NIV attempts to avoid the contradiction by changing the verb tense to the pluperfect: “Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai….”

Joshua 10:10 — This verse unexpectedly portrays Yahweh himself as defeating and pursuing the armies attacking Gibeon. The JB reads: “Yahweh…defeated them completely at Gibeon; furthermore, he pursued them towards the descent of Beth-horon…and as far as Makkedah.” For some reason, the NIV inserts “Joshua and the Israelites” into this verse out of nowhere, altering who is responsible for victory: “…so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon.” The reason for these significant changes is unclear, but they do make the story less supernaturalistic.

Joshua 24:9–10 — The Hebrew of this verse states that King Balak of Moab “arose and fought against Israel”, which disagrees with Judges 11:25 and the story in Numbers 22–24. Therefore, the NIV has changed it to say that Balak “prepared to fight against Israel”. Strangely, the NIV also adds the words “again and again” in v. 10 to make the account of Balaam’s blessing resemble Numbers more closely.

Judges 1:3, 17 — The Hebrew text treats Judah and Simeon as heroic individuals who help each other conquer their allotted territories from the Canaanites. The NIV reworks these verses to completely eliminate their treatment as individuals: “Judah” becomes “the men of Judah“, and “his brother Simeon” becomes “the Simeonites their fellow Israelites” in both verses. Whether this is merely an interpretational paraphrase or an attempt to harmonize biblical traditions, the text should be allowed to speak for itself.

Judges 1:22, 23, 34; 2 Samuel 19:20; 1 Kings 11:28; Amos 5:6; Zechariah 10:6 — The Hebrew text mentions the “house of Joseph” numerous times in the Old Testament. The NIV without fail changes these verses to read “the tribes of Joseph” (i.e. Ephraim and Manasseh). The likely reason for this seemingly minor change is to avoid portraying Joseph as a single kingdom or tribe as it often is in the Hebrew Bible. (Cf. my article on the problematic numbering of the “12” tribes.) Whether this is an interpretational paraphrase or an attempt to harmonize biblical traditions, the text should be allowed to speak for itself. (Thanks to Andy Poe in the comments.)

Judges 4:11 — This verse mentions “Hobab, father-in-law of Moses”. The NIV changes this to “brother-in-law” without any textual justification in order to harmonize the verse with Numbers 10:29 and other passages that name Moses’ father-in-law as either Jethro or Reuel.

Judges 5:8a — The NRSV correctly reads “When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates,” which matches the somewhat ambiguous Hebrew and the more straightforward LXX. The NIV has chosen to reinterpret the verse quite differently as “God chose new leaders“, adding the words “leaders” (which is not in the text) and changing the plural “gods” (including the matching plural verb) to “God”.

Judges 17:7 — The Hebrew text here refers to a Levite priest who, it is clearly said, was from Bethlehem of Judah and of the clan of Judah. Scholars generally see this as an indicator that at one time, the term “Levite” was a professional designation rather than a tribal affiliation. This is reflected in other passages as well, notably Ex. 4:14, in which Yahweh speaking to Moses calls his brother, “Aaron the Levite”. However, the NIV translators, perhaps bothered by this inconsistency, have emended the verse to say the Levite “had been living within the clan of Judah.” (See Webb, The Book of Judges, p. 201, for a discussion of this passage. Thanks to reader שפן for bringing this verse to my attention.)

1 Samuel 1:9, 1 Samuel 3:3 — The NIV has translated Hebrew hekal, meaning “temple”, as “house”, most likely in order to conceal the fact that Samuel is shown serving at a temple before there was supposed to be one. (The structure has a doorpost and doors, and is clearly not the tent-like tabernacle described in the Pentateuch.)

1 Samuel 7:2 — According to this verse, the Ark was lodged at Kiriath-jearim for twenty years. This happens before Saul becomes king (1 Sam 10:1), and the Ark remains there until David is king (2 Sam 6:1-3). But according to Acts 13:21, Saul reigned for forty years, and the statement in 1 Sam 13:1 that Saul reigned for two years was altered by the NIV translators to say “forty-two” years, introducing a contradiction with this verse. The NIV resolves this contradiction by adding the words “in all”, subtly implying that the Ark’s stay in Kiriath-jearim might have been intermittent: “The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.” No words corresponding to “in all” are present in the Hebrew text. (Discussion of this problem can be found at the old Biblical Studies & Criticism forum.)

1 Samuel 13:1 — The Hebrew text is admittedly strange here. It says “Saul was … years old when he began to reign,” omitting Saul’s actual age. It continues by saying that Saul reigned two years over Israel. The NIV translators were dissatisfied with this, so they inserted “thirty” as his age. The footnote claims that this reading is found in “late manuscripts” of the Septuagint, but the Septuagint actually omits this verse altogether, and other ancient translations (like the Targum) say he was “one” year old, strange as that sounds. The statement that Saul reigned two years contradicts Acts 13:21, so the NIV  changes this number to “forty-two” as a harmonization. Unfortunately, a forty-two-year reign creates a contradiction with 1 Sam 7:2 (see above), so the NIV translators had to “correct” that verse as well. (Thanks to John Kesler for suggesting this entry in the comments.)

1 Samuel 14:49 — For reasons I cannot determine, the NIV omits the statement that Saul had two daughters.

1 Samuel 15:35 — The text states that “Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death.” This is later contradicted by 1 Samuel 19:24, in which Saul prophesies before Samuel. The NIV adds the verb “go” to imply that Samuel might have seen Saul again as long as it wasn’t a deliberate visit: “Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again.” (Suggested by John Kesler.)

1 Samuel 16:21 — According to the Hebrew text, Saul loved David greatly and “made him his armour-bearer”. For reasons unclear, the NIV changes this to say “made him one of his armor-bearers”. No other translation I have found makes this change. Giving Saul multiple armour-bearers could be the NIV translators’ attempt to explain why Saul didn’t recognize David later in the story. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

1 Samuel 17:4 — The NIV retains the classic description of Goliath as being nine feet tall, even though all our earliest manuscripts (in both Hebrew and Greek) give his height at around six feet nine inches. Note: this is not really a mistranslation per se, since the NIV has translated the Masoretic Text correctly. However, it’s an instance in which the correct (earlier) reading has been clearly established thanks to the LXX and the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QSama). Most recent translations (including the NRSV and CEB) note Goliath’s shorter height in a footnote. The NET correctly reads “he was close to seven feet tall”.

2 Samuel 8:4 — The NIV changes “seventeen hundred charioteers” to “seven thousand charioteers” to harmonize this verse with 1 Chronicles 18:4.

2 Samuel 8:18 — The text Hebrew text states that  “David’s sons were priests” (Heb: kohanim). As priestly texts in the Pentateuch state that only Levites could be priests, the 1984 NIV instead said “David’s sons were royal advisors.” The 2011 NIV has corrected this error but offers “chief officials” as an alternate translation in the footnotes. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

2 Samuel 10:18 — The NIV changes “horsemen” to “foot soldiers” to harmonize this verse with the account in 1 Chronicles 19:18. It notes the change in a footnote and cites “some Septuagint manuscripts”. This is somewhat misleading, since none of the standard Septuagint manuscripts have this reading. Instead, it comes from the Lucianic Recension, which is not an extant document but a hypothetical reconstruction of Lucian’s revision of the Septuagint. Furthermore, the Lucianic Recension has other differences in this verse not adopted by the NIV. To summarize, the NIV matches no known Bible manuscript I am aware of:
— MT: 700 charioteers and 40,000 horsemen
— LXX: 700 chariots and 40,000 horsemen
— Lucian: 700 horsemen and 40,000 foot soldiers
NIV: 700 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers
— 1 Chr 19:18: 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers
(Suggested by John Kesler.)

2 Samuel 17:25 — The NASB correctly reads “Amasa was the son… of Ithra the Israelite”. All manuscripts read “Ithra”, and all Hebrew manuscripts (as well as most Greek) read “Israelite”. However, the NIV changes his name to “Jether, an Ishmaelite” to harmonize the verse with 1 Chronicles 2:17.

2 Samuel 18:9 — According to the Hebrew text, Absalom’s head got caught in an oak tree while he was riding his mule. The NIV has changed this to hair, even though the text cannot be interpreted that way. (See Sasson, “Absalom’s Daughter”, The Land That I Will Show You, p. 183.) The NIV’s mistranslation reinforces a popular legend that Absalom was caught by his hair, inspired by a reference to his coiffure in 2 Samuel 14:26. This error was introduced with the 2005 TNIV. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

2 Samuel 21:8 — The KJV reads “the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul”, which agrees with nearly all Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, as well as early witnesses like Josephus and Targum Jonathan. However, the NIV and many other translations change Michal to Merab to avoid the contradiction with 2 Sam. 6:23 as well as the gruesome implication that David had the sons of his own wife put to death (2 Sam. 21:9). [Cf. Bodi, The Michal Affair, p. 56.]

2 Samuel 21:19 — The NRSV correctly reads “Elhanan … killed Goliath the Gittite.” To fix the obvious contradiction of who killed Goliath, the NIV has added “the brother of” without textual justification: “Elhanan … killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite.” (Claude Mariottini’s discussion of this translation error is worth reading.)

2 Samuel 24:13 — The NIV changes Gad the seer’s ultimatum of seven years of famine to three years to harmonize the verse with the parallel story in 1 Chron. 21:12. It notes the change in a footnote. (Suggested by John Kesler in the comments.)

1 Kings 4:26 — The NRSV correctly reads “Solomon also had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots”. To fix the contradiction with 2 Chron. 9:25 (not to mention the embarrassing exaggeration), the NIV changes “forty thousand” to “four thousand”. A footnote defends this translation by claiming this reading is found in the Septuagint (even though the NIV explicitly purports to be a translation of the Hebrew Masoretic text), but in fact, this verse doesn’t even exist in the Septuagint. (Chapter 4 ends at verse 19.) A similar verse about Solomon’s chariot horses is found elsewhere in LXX 3 Kingdoms 2:46i, but there it gives the same number as the Hebrew, “forty thousand”, and the Septuagint apparatus I consulted does not list any variant that reads “four thousand”. Not only is the NIV’s translation wrong, but the footnote is misleading as well.

1 Kings 5:11 — The Hebrew text says that Solomon gave Hiram twenty cors of oil, but the NIV changes it to twenty thousand baths to harmonize the text with 2 Chr. 2:10. It notes the change in a footnote. (Suggested by John Kesler.)

1 Kings 15:9 — The NRSV correctly reads “his [Asa’s] mother’s name was Maacah daughter of Abishalom”. NIV changes “mother” to “grandmother” in order to fix a genealogical contradiction.

2 Kings 2:23-24 — The NRSV correctly says that Elisha cursed forty-two “small boys”, who were then mauled by bears. The Hebrew literally calls them “little children”. The NIV waters down this horrifying episode by omitting “little” and calling the children “youths”. Later editions (the TNIV and 2011 NIV) change “youths” to “boys” but still leave out “little” without textual justification.

1 Chronicles 1:12 — The NIV alters this genealogy to harmonize the origins of the Philistines with Amos 9:7. See the entry for Genesis 10:14 above.

1 Chronicles 1:17 — This verse lists the nine sons of Shem. The NIV changes the verse so that the last four names are the sons of Aram instead, to harmonize the verse with Gen. 10:22.

1 Chronicles 1:36 — The NRSV correctly reads “The sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Zephi, Gatam, Kenaz, Timna, and Amalek.” However, Gen. 36:12 says that Timna was Eliphaz’s concubine, and that Amalek was her son. The NIV alters this verse to harmonize the genealogies: “The sons of Eliphaz: Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam and Kenaz; by Timna: Amalek.”

1 Chronicles 3:5–8 — The NIV has changed the names of two of David’s children listed here, as well as the name of his wife, in order to harmonize the verse with similar (but different) lists in 2 Sam. 5:14–16 and 1 Chron. 14:3–7. It changes Shimea to Shammua, Bath-shua to Bathsheba, and Elishama to Elishua. It notes the changes in a footnote.

1 Chronicles 21:5 — The NIV has added the word “including” before giving the number of Judahite soldiers, although it isn’t in the Hebrew text. The most likely reason is to fudge the total amount of soldiers numbered, bringing it closer to the numbers of troops listed in 2 Samuel 24:9 — to which the NIV does not add the word “including”.

2 Chronicles 3:15 — The Hebrew text here describes Solomon’s temple as having two pillars 35 cubits high. However, the NIV alters the text to say that the pillars were “together thirty-five cubits long”, which is a silly way to give the height of pillars. The obvious reason for this change is to harmonize the passage with 1 Kings 7:15, in which the temple pillars are 18 cubits high. (The reasons for these differences are discussed in Van Seters, “The Chronicler’s Account of Solomon’s Temple-Building”, Changing Perspectives I, Equinox, 2011.)

2 Chronicles 13:2, 1 Kings 15:2 [b] — The passages about king Abijah are confusing and inconsistent with regard to his mother. In 1 Kgs 15:2, his mother is Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. In 2 Chr 11:20, she is the daughter of “Absalom” — presumably the son of king David. In this verse, however, her identity is given as Micaiah the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah. The NIV attempts a harmonization in two ways: (1) In 1 Kgs 15:2, it states in a footnote that Abishalom is a variant of Absalom. This is possible but not certain. (2) In 2 Chr 13:2, it changes Micaiah to Maakah (noting the change in a footnote), and suggests granddaughter as a substitution for daughter in a footnote, which doesn’t really solve the problem if David’s son Absalom is her father. [See Whitelam, “Abijah, King of Judah”, ABD].

2 Chronicles 14:9 — The NRSV correctly states that Zerah the Ethiopian came against Judah with an army of a million men. The NIV has changed million to thousands upon thousands, perhaps to allay the implausibility of the Ethiopians invading Palestine with a million soldiers.

2 Chronicles 22:2 — All Hebrew manuscripts give Ahaziah’s age as “forty-two”, but the NIV changes it to “twenty-two” to harmonize the text with 2 Kings 8:26.

2 Chronicles 35:13 — The Hebrew here reads, “they boiled the Passover animals over the fire as prescribed and boiled the holy offerings.” The Chronicler seems to be combining the discrepant Passover stipulations in Exod 12:9 (“roast in fire”) and Deut 16:7 (“boil in water”) into a single law. The NIV changes the first verb to “roast”, which is an entirely different Hebrew word, to improve upon the Chronicler’s harmonization. See the related entry on Deut 16:7 above. (For more on the linguistic issues involved, see Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, pp. 107–109.)

2 Chronicles 36:9 — The NRSV correctly reads “Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign”. To harmonize this verse with the contradictory account of 2 Kings 24:8, the NIV changes Jehoiachin’s age to “eighteen”.

2 Chronicles 36:10 — The text says Zedekiah was Jehoiachin’s brother. The NIV changes “brother” to “uncle” to harmonize the verse with 2 Kings 24:17.

Ezra 5:1, Ezra 6:14 — The NIV twice changes “Zechariah son of Iddo” to “Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo”, probably to harmonize these verses with Zechariah 1:1, which says Zechariah was the son of Berechiah.

Nehemiah 10:31 — The vague text here includes a pledge to “forego the seventh year”, and the NIV expands this statement to describe a sabbatical fallow: “Every seventh year we will forgo working the land…” The actual intention is probably to forego every seventh harvest for the benefit of the poor (cf. Exod. 23:10-11). [See Nodet, A Search for the Origins of Judaism, p. 116.]

Esther 8:11 — In this verse, king Xerxes issues an edict allowing the Jews to kill their enemies, including their enemies’ wives and children. This is a deliberate reversal of Esther 3:13, in which the order is given to kill Jewish women and children. Because this verse is so morally objectionable, the NIV has radically changed it so that the “wives and children” mentioned are the Jews’ wives and children being protected, and not those of the enemy being killed. This is not what the Hebrew text or other English translations say.

Psalm 2:9 — The Hebrew says “You shall break them with a rod of iron”, but the NIV changes “break” to “rule”: “You will rule them with an iron sceptre”. This is apparently an attempt to Christianize the text and to make it match the quotation in Revelation 2:27. (Note: this mistranslation was fixed in the TNIV and 2011 revision but is still provided as an alternate reading in the footnotes. For more on this passage and the NIV, see David Clines, Interested Parties: The Ideology of Writers and Readers of the Hebrew Bible, p. 267.)

Psalm 6:5 — The NRSV correctly reads “For in death there is no remembrance of you”. The NIV interprets this verse much more loosely to read “Among the dead no one proclaims your name.” The words in italics do not appear in the Hebrew.

Psalm 8:2 — The NIV has blatantly altered this verse to match the quotation in Matthew 21:16 (and the LXX) rather than the Hebrew. The NRSV accurately reads “…you have founded a bulwark because of your foes.” The 1984 NIV instead says “…you have ordained praise because of your enemies.” The 2011 revision of the NIV has partially corrected the verse, changing “ordained praise” to “established a stronghold” but inserting the word “praise” at the beginning of the verse — a change with no textual justification.

Psalm 8:5 — The NIV has changed “God” to “the angels” to match the quotation in Hebrews 2:6, which is based on the Greek LXX: “You have made them a little lower than the angels.” It provides the correct translation in a footnote with no further explanation.

Psalm 22:16 — The most well-attested Hebrew (MT) reading of this verse is “…like a lion, my hands and feet”, and the best modern translations either use that or one of several scholarly reconstructions. The NIV, however, reverts to a reading based on the LXX in order to read Christ’s crucifixion into the text: “they pierce my hands and feet”. This is probably the least viable interpretation of the passage available; for details, see my article on Psalm 22:16.

Psalm 51:5-6a — The NIV seems to be pushing the doctrine of original sin in its translation. Whereas a literal reading would be “In iniquity I was formed, in sin my mother conceived me,” the NIV reads “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” In the next verse, it adds the word “womb”, which does not appear in the Hebrew text: “Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb.” This is almost certainly not what v. 6  means. Other translations read “You desire truth in the inward being” (NRSV) or “you desire integrity in the inner man” (NET).

Psalm 74:13 — The Hebrew term tanninim is correctly translated by all other translations I consulted as “dragons” or “sea monsters” using the plural form. For some reason, the NIV puts it in the singular: “monster”. The only explanation that occurs to me is that the NIV translators want to disassociate this verse with its mythological origins and have the “monster” be identified with either the Devil or the Beast from the Sea in Revelation. (For a helpful explanation of this verse, see John Day, God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea, p. 35.)

Psalm 82:1, 6 — The NIV twice adds ironic quotation marks around “gods” to imply that the word should not be understood in the normal sense. The obvious reason is to weaken the polytheistic language of Psalm 82.

Psalm 127:3–4 — The NIV twice changes “sons” to “children” in an effort to promote gender neutrality, even though male offspring is specifically meant by the context.

Ecclesiastes 3:18 — The NRSV correctly reads “God is testing them (human beings) to show that they are but animals.” The NIV translators were uncomfortable equating humans with animals — due to their belief in the special creation of man, perhaps — so they changed the verse to say that humans are “like the animals” without textual justification.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 — The Hebrew reads “Cast your bread upon the waters / for you will find it after many days. / Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, / for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” The definitive meaning of the passage is uncertain, but there are several plausible interpretations. The NIV takes great liberties, rewriting the text to be about shipping and investment: “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight.” (See this discussion of the passage at John Hobbins’s blog.)

Ecclesiastes 12:11 — For no good textual reason, the 1984 NIV capitalizes the word “shepherd”. “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one Shepherd.” I assume the translators wanted the reader to equate the shepherd with Jesus. This error was fixed in the 2005 TNIV.

Isaiah 7:14 — The NRSV correctly reads “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son”. The NIV changes the subject to “virgin” to harmonize it with Matthew 1:23: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son.”

Isaiah 19:16 — The NRSV correctly reads “On that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of hosts raises against them.” The NIV eliminates the embarrassing misogynism as well as the polytheistic epithet of Yahweh: “In that day the Egyptians will become weaklings. They will shudder with fear at the uplifted hand that the Lord Almighty raises against them.” (Note: this mistranslation was introduced with the TNIV. See this discussion of the passage at John Hobbins’s blog.)

Isaiah 28:11 — The NIV has changed the Hebrew, which can be translated “stammering lips” or “mocking lips” to “foreign lips”. The reason may have been to harmonize it with 1 Corinthians 14:21, which says “lips of foreigners” in its quotation of Isaiah. The NIV has also changed “strange tongue” — which is singular in the Hebrew and probably referred to the language of the Assyrians — to be plural. Again, the reason seems to be to harmonize it with the quotation in 1 Cor. 14:21.

Isaiah 53:11 — The NIV has seemingly changed “he shall see light” (NRSV) to “he will see the light of life” to tie the passage into Christian theology. The footnote claims this reading is in the DSS and LXX, but none of the translations of the DSS or LXX I have consulted exhibit this reading.

Jeremiah 7:22 — The NRSV correctly reads “For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” To avoid the obvious contradiction with the Torah’s laws about sacrifices, the NIV has added the word “just”: “For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices”

Jeremiah 23:6b — The NRSV here reads “And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” The NIV has added the word “savior”, despite it not appearing in the Hebrew: “This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.” This significantly affects its interpretation and is an obvious case of Christianizing the text.

Jeremiah 49:10 – The NRSV here reads “I have stripped Esau bare…His offspring are destroyed, his kinsfolk and his neighbors; and he is no more.” For some reason, the NIV has changed “offspring” (Hebrew “seed”) and “kinsfolk” (Hebrew “brothers”) to “armed men” and “allies” without any textual justification. The only reasons I can come up with are to downplay the implications of genocide or to avoid an untrue historical claim. No other translation I have consulted rewrites the text in this way.

Jeremiah 50:37, 51:30 — The NIV changes “women” to “weaklings” in these two verses, probably to hide the apparent misogyny of using “women” as a derogatory term. See also Isaiah 28:11 and Nahum 3:13. (Thanks to John Kesler for finding suggesting this entry.)

Ezekiel 20:25–26 — The NRSV correctly reads “Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not live.” The NIV adds “other” to obscure the embarrassing fact that the author of Ezekiel 20 thinks the Law given to the Israelites in the wilderness was not good: “So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live.” (This is a slight improvement from the NIV 1984, which read “I gave them over to statutes that were not good”, but it is still a mistranslation.) The 1984 NIV also mistranslated the straightforward statement in v. 26, “I defiled them through their gifts”, using more indirect wording to lessen God’s responsibility: “I let them be defiled through their gifts”. (This latter error was fixed in the TNIV and 2011 NIV.)

Ezekiel 38:2-3 notes [a], [b]; 39:1 note [a] — Practically all scholars agree that “prince of Rosh” is not a valid translation of nasi rosh (“chief prince”), but the NIV provides it as an alternate translation in these three footnotes. The reason may be that certain Evangelicals (especially premillennialists) interpret this prophecy as describing the role of Russia in the battle of Armageddon, and the belief that Russia’s involvement is prophesied by Ezekiel has become a popular misconception. No place called “Rosh” is mentioned anywhere in the Hebrew Bible. (For details on this common belief, see Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, 157ff.)

Daniel 1:2 — For reasons that are unclear to me, the NIV has changed the Hebrew “Shinar” to “Babylonia”. Shinar was a district of Babylon, but the two words do not mean the same thing.

Daniel 2:46 — The NRSV correctly reads “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face, worshiped Daniel, and commanded that a grain offering and incense be offered to him.” This specifically religious veneration of Daniel and Daniel’s apparent acceptance of it has been an embarrassment for some Christian and Jewish commentators. The NIV weakens the religious overtones of the verse by saying Nebuchadnezzar simply “paid him honor”. (See Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, p. 171 for a discussion of the text and exegetical strategies used by Jerome and Josephus.)

Daniel 3:17 — The Aramaic text has two or three possible meanings based on its syntax, according to commentators: (1) “If there is a God whom we serve…” (i.e. if God exists), (2) “If the God whom we serve is able to deliver, he will deliver us from the furnace…” (i.e. if God can deliver anyone at all), and (3) “If the God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace, he will deliver us…”. As Meadowcroft puts it, “either the existence or the competence of God is at stake.” However, as all these legitimate options are theologically problematic, the NIV resorts to an illegitimate translation that is clumsy in context: “If we are thrown in the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us, and he will deliver us…” (See Meadowcroft, Aramaic Daniel and Greek Daniel, p. 150f; Collins, Daniel, p. 187.) Curiously, the 2005 TNIV corrected this error and reads, “If the God we serve is able to deliver us,” but the 2011 NIV changed it back to the incorrect translation!

Daniel 9:25–26 — This passage mentions two anointed individuals: an “anointed ruler” (v. 25 — the NRSV reads “an anointed prince”) and an “anointed one” (v. 26). Most modern commentators understand these as references to the high priest Joshua (or possibly Zerubbabel) and Onias III, respectively, with “62 weeks” representing 434 years between the two. The NIV changes “an anointed one” to “the Anointed One” in both places (adding the definite article and capitalization), very likely to imply that they are both references to a single individual, Jesus. The NIV further misrepresents the text by ignoring the atnah divider in the Hebrew so that the seven weeks before the anointed ruler becomes seven weeks and 62 weeks (i.e. 69 weeks) before the anointed ruler. This completely obscures what the text actually says and the historical references the writer probably intended, for obvious theological reasons. (See Collins, Daniel, pp. 355–356.)

Hosea 6:6 — The NRSV correctly reads “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The NIV replaces “steadfast love” (Hebrew hesed) with “mercy” to match the LXX-based quotations from Matthew 9:13 and 12:7. It also replaces “knowledge of God” with “acknowledgement of God”, although the former is more accurate.

Hosea 12:9 — In Hebrew, the speaker says he is Yahweh from the land of Egypt. The NIV finds this description of God’s origins objectionable and changes it to “the LORD your God ever since you came out of Egypt”. There is no verb corresponding to “come out” nor any reference to the Israelites here. (See Römer, “The Revelation of the Divine Name to Moses and the Construction of a Memory…”, p. 307.)

Joel 2:29 — The NIV tweaks this verse to match the quotation in Acts 2:18: “Even on my servants, both men and women.” The Hebrew does not say my, and slaves rather than mere servants are almost certainly in view. The NRSV more correctly reads “Even on the male and female slaves,” meaning the slaves among the Jewish people. (See Strazicich, Joel’s Use of Scripture and Scripture’s Use of Joel, p. 211 for a helpful discussion of this verse.)

Amos 4:11 — Here is another example of the NIV removing polytheistic language from the Bible. The Hebrew text reads “I have overthrown you as Elohim overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah…yet you have not returned to me, says Yahweh.” The NIV changes “God” (Heb. Elohim) to the pronoun “I” to make it appear as though Yahweh is speaking about himself.

Amos 5:6 — See the entry on Judges 1:22 above.

Jonah 3:3 — The NRSV correctly reads “Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.” This is obviously not literally true, so the NIV obscures it with the reading “Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.”

Nahum 3:13 — The NRSV correctly reads “Look at your troops: they are women in your midst.” The NIV hides the embarrassing misogyny by changing “women in your midst” to “weaklings”: “Look at your troops—they are all weaklings.”

Zechariah 10:6 — Nearly all English translations read “house of Judah” and “house of Joseph” (the same word bet, meaning “house”, is used in both instances). The 1984 NIV used to read this way, but the 2011 revision has changed the verse to read “tribes of Joseph”, apparently to avoid giving the impression that Joseph was a single tribe, as is sometimes the case in the Bible. (See also the entry on Judges 1:22 above.)

The New Testament

Matthew 1:4 — The NRSV correctly reads “Aram the father of Aminadab”. This appears to be a mistake on Matthew’s part, because Ram was the father of Aminadab according to 1 Chron. 2:10 (MT). The NIV corrects this verse to say “Ram” without so much as a footnote. (Note: The LXX says Ram and Aram were brothers, and that Aram was the father of Aminadab contra the MT, giving the NIV even less right to alter Matthew.)

Matthew 1:7 — The NRSV correctly reads “Abijah the father of Asaph”, which is what the oldest Greek manuscripts say. This appears to be a mistake on Matthew’s part, because Abijah was the father of Asa (1 Kings 15:8), not Asaph (a famous psalmist). The NIV corrects the verse to say “Asa” without so much as a footnote.

Matthew 1:10 — The NRSV correctly reads “Manasseh the father of Amos”, which is what the oldest Greek manuscripts say. This appears to be a mistake on Matthew’s part, because Manasseh was the father of Amon (2 Kings 21:18), not Amos, the famous prophet. The NIV corrects the verse to say “Amon” without so much as a footnote. (In fact, Matthew probably got his reading from an LXX variant. See my article on Matthew’s genealogy for more details.)

Matthew 2:11 — The NRSV correctly reads “and they knelt down and paid him homage.” The NIV has the magi worship Jesus instead of merely paying homage, most likely reflecting the piety of the translators and their audience: “and they bowed down and worshipped him.”  The NIV does, however, correctly translate the same word (proskuneō) as “pay homage” in Mark 15:19, where the soldiers pay mock homage to Jesus as king. [See BeDuhn, Truth in Translationpp. 44–45.]

Matthew 4:13, 4:18, 8:24, 8:26, 8:27, 8:32, 13:1, 13:47, 14:25, 14:26, 17:27 — Matthew refers to the “sea” in all these verses, usually meaning the Sea of Galilee. Like English, Greek distinguishes between freshwater lakes (limne) and saltwater  seas (thalassa). To avoid the geographical mistake of calling this body of water, which is technically a small lake, a sea, the NIV translators replaced “sea” with “lake” or, on two occasions (8:26 and 8:27), with “waves”. The translators made similar changes to Mark and John (see entries for Mark 1:16 and John 6:16). (This change was brought to my attention by jps on his blog Idle Musings. For the reasons why the sea is an important part of Gospel theology, see my article, “Did Mark Invent the Sea of Galilee?”.)

Matthew 5:2 — The NIV takes surprising liberties here, omitting the phrase “he opened his mouth and…” found in all Greek manuscripts.

Matthew 13:32 — To avoid giving the impression that Jesus could make a botanical mistake, the NIV (1984 version) has added the word “your”: “Though it [the mustard seed] is the smallest of your seeds”. The NRSV correctly reads “it is the smallest of all the seeds”. (Note: This mistranslation was fixed in the 2011 revision of the NIV.)

Matthew 21:7 — It is clear in the Greek that Jesus’ disciples bring a donkey and a colt, and after they put their cloaks on them, Jesus sits on both animals. (When the Greek text says Jesus sat on them, the masculine αὐτῶν must refer to the animals, and not to the neuter cloaks.) Scholars recognize that this departure from Mark’s text was made in order to adhere more literally to the “prophecy” of Zechariah 9:9. The 1984 NIV translated this verse correctly, but the 2005 TNIV and 2011 NIV have altered it so Jesus sits on the cloaks rather than the two animals: “They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.” At best, this is a misleading paraphrase. (Suggested by John Kesler in the comments.)

Matthew 26:6 — Both here and in Mark 14:3, the Greek says that Jesus visited the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany. However, the NIV adds the phrase “a man known as”, which is not found in the original text: “While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper…” This seems like an innocuous change until one realizes the likely reason it was made: to harmonize Matt. 26:6 and Mark 14:3 with John 12, in which the same events (the anointing of Jesus with expensive ointment) take place at the home of Lazarus in Bethany. The NIV’s addition provides a way out of the contradiction by suggesting that Lazarus was also “known as” Simon the Leper, though the text itself says no such thing. (Note: This mistranslation was fixed in the 2011 revision of the NIV.)

Matthew 27:11 — In the Greek text, Jesus prevaricates when asked by Pilate if he is the king of the Jews, answering “you say so.” The NIV (up until the 2005 TNIV edition) replaced this with a boldly affirmative response: “Yes, it is as you say.” (Likewise in Luke 23:3 — see below.) The 2011 revision has mostly fixed this error, but for some reason puts Jesus’ answer in the perfect tense: “You have said so.”

Matthew 28:9, 17 — Here again, although the Greek text intends to convey homage and obeisance paid to Jesus by the disciples, the NIV cannot resist making the passage reflect the translators’ own piety and modern theology by having the disciples worship Jesus: “They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him” (verse 9). The YLT correctly reads “they did bow to him”.

Mark 1:10 — The Greek unmistakably says that the Spirit descended “into him” (Jesus), and critical exegesis of the text by scholars supports this meaning. However, due to the christological problems with this wording, the NIV and most other translations change it to “on him”.  (cf. Edward P. Dixon’s discussion of the phrase in ‘Descending Spirit and Descending Gods: A “Greek” Interpretation of the Spirit’s “Descent as a Dove” in Mark 1:10’, JBL Vol. 128/4, 771–772.)

Mark 1:16, 4:1, 4:39, 4:41, 5:13, 5:21, 6:47, 6:48, 6:49 — The NIV eliminates almost all Mark’s references to the “sea” in the interests of geographical correctness, as the Sea of Galilee is actually a small lake. However, Greek does distinguish between lakes and seas, and the meaning of “sea” is clearly intended by the author. In its place, the NIV writes “lake” or, on occasion (4:49 and 4:41), “waves”. In 5:13, the NIV omits one mention of the sea altogether, and in 5:21, it adds a second reference to “the lake” that has no equivalent in the Greek text. These changes eliminate the important symbolism Mark has established regarding the sea of Galilee. See the entries on Matt. 4:13 and John 6:16 for similar changes. (Brought to my attention by jps. See my article on the Sea of Galilee for related information.)

Mark 4:31 — To avoid giving the impression that Jesus could make a botanical mistake, the NIV (1984 version) has him say that the mustard seed is “is the smallest seed you plant in the ground”, whereas the text actually says it is “the smallest of all seeds on earth”. This mistranslation was fixed in the 2005 TNIV. See also the entry for Matt. 13:32.

Mark 6:10 — In the Greek text, Jesus instructs his disciples: “Whenever you enter a house, remain there until you go out from there.” The NIV translators either found this too vague or wanted to harmonize it with the parallel in Luke 9:5, so they added the word town not found in the Greek: “stay there until you leave that town.” Although this is not the worst of changes, it does restrict the potential interpretations. (Cf. Matt. 10:14.) This entry was suggested by Pithom in the comments below, where you can find an interesting discussion of it.

Mark 10:1 — The Greek actually says that Jesus went to the “region of Judaea beyond the Jordan”. This is a fairly obvious geographical error, since crossing the Jordan would put Jesus outside of Judaea. The NIV translates away the problem by saying that Jesus first went to Judaea and then crossed the Jordan. (Note: Most other English translations do something similar.)

Mark 14:3 — See note about Matthew 26:6 above.

Mark 14:12 — The NRSV correctly reads “On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed…” The NIV has, for reasons that are not clear, inserted the phrase “when it was customary” without textual warrant: “On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb…” It must be noted that the author of Mark is in error here, as the Passover lamb is actually sacrificed the day before the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Matthew is aware of this mistake and omits the mention of the Passover sacrifice in Mt. 26:17. Perhaps the translators of the NIV thought they could spin this passage by implying a custom at odds with standard Jewish practice. (If anyone else can think of another reason, please let me know.)

Mark 15:42 — The NRSV correctly reads “When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath….” This is an error, because the Jewish day starts in the evening, so it would already have been Sabbath. The NIV masks this error by altering the translation to read “So as evening approached….”

Luke 2:2 note [a] — The NIV offers an alternate reading in a footnote: “this census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Grammatically speaking, “before” is not a possible reading of the Greek text. However, the notion of an earlier, historically unattested census is sometimes proposed by apologists in order to harmonize the date of Jesus’ birth in Luke (6-7 CE under Quirinius) with Matthew’s account (under King Herod prior to 4 BCE). The mistranslation offered by the NIV as an alternate reading is almost certainly intended to support such a view. (For a discussion of the Greek, see Carrier, “The Date of the Nativity”.)

Luke 2:22 — The 1984 NIV translated this verse correctly: “When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem….” However, the Torah only stipulated purification for the mother (see Lev. 12:1-7), and Luke appears to have misunderstood the Mosaic law on several points. The TNIV and 2011 NIV have altered the text, omitting the word “their” (Greek: αὐτῶν autōn) to hide the problem: “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses…” (See Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 447–449, and my own article on Luke’s nativity. Credit to John Kesler in the comments below for suggesting this entry.)

Luke 2:25, 11:13 — The Greek text here quite clearly says “a holy spirit” (pneuma [ēn] hagion) in both these verses. However, the NIV (and nearly all other English translations) forces a trinitarian interpretation by translating it as “the Holy Spirit” with the definite article and capitalization.

Luke 3:33 — The NIV alters Luke’s genealogy here to match 1 Chron. 2:10 (MT) and the NIV’s alteration of Matt. 1:4 (see above). Our earliest Greek texts read “…Amminadab, son of Admin, son of Arni”, but the NIV says “…Amminadab, the son of Ram”. No Greek NT manuscript reads this way, although a small number of manuscripts read “Aram” as a harmonization with Matthew.

Luke 20:35 — The Greek text says that those who are worthy of resurrection “neither marry nor are given in marriage”, using the present tense. The NIV changes the verbs to the future tense to make it appear that Jesus is talking about marriage after the resurrection: “But those who are considered worthy of taking part…in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.” For a thorough analysis of this verse, see Stewart Felker’s article, “The Most Embarrassing Verse(s) in the Bible”, as well as David E. Aune, ‘Luke 20:34-36: A “Gnosticized” Logion of Jesus?’, WUNT.1 303, 2013.

Luke 23:3 — In the Greek text, Jesus prevaricates when asked by Pilate if he is the king of the Jews, answering “you say so.” The NIV (up until the 2005 TNIV edition) replaced this with a boldly affirmative response: “Yes, it is as you say.” The 2011 revision has mostly fixed this error, but for some reason puts Jesus’ answer in the perfect tense: “You have said so.”

John 1:19 — The NRSV correctly reads ‘This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”’ The NIV here and throughout John changes “Jews” (Greek ioudaioi) to “Jewish leaders” to tone down the wording of these passages, which might be construed as antisemitic by some. (See “Which Jews Opposed Jesus?” by Joel Hoffman on the topic.)

John 6:17, 6:18, 6:19, 6:22, 6:25 — The NIV eliminates almost all John’s references to the “sea” in the interests of geographical correctness, as the Sea of Galilee is actually a small lake. The translators have replaced “sea” with ”lake” (6:17, 6:22, and 6:25), “waters” (6:18), and “water” (6:19). However, Greek does distinguish between lakes and seas, and the Sea of Galilee is deliberately referred to as a sea in the Gospels for important symbolic reasons. See the entries on Matt. 4:13 and Mark 1:16 for similar changes. (Brought to my attention by jps. See my article on the Sea of Galilee for more on the sea’s symbolism.)

John 6:63 — The NRSV correctly reads “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” The Greek word for spirit, pneuma, also means “breath” or “wind” and refers simply to the animating essence of living bodies. However, the NIV capitalizes “Spirit” and adds the definite article “the” in order to import trinitarian doctrine into the verse, which changes its meaning in a way not justified by the Greek: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” [See BeDuhn, Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testamentpp. 145–146.]

John 10:34 — The NIV puts quotation marks around the word “gods” to imply that the word should not be understood in the normal sense. This also happens to be a quotation of Psalm 82:6, where the NIV does the same thing, without any textual justification.

John 18:40 — Barabbas is described in Mark and Luke as a murderer who took part in an uprising. John 18:40, however, describes him as a robber (λῃστής, lestes) — the NRSV reads “Now Barabbas was a bandit.” The NIV has rewritten this verse, however, to reflect what is said in Mark and Luke: “Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.”

John 20:22 — Again, the NIV translates “a holy spirit” as “the Holy Spirit”, imposing a trinitarian interpretation on the text.

John 21:1 — The NIV changes the “Sea of Tiberias” to “Sea of Galilee” to harmonize John with the Synoptic Gospels. It provides the correct text in a footnote.

John 21:5 — In this resurrection appearance, Jesus calls out to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, calling them “little children” (παιδία, paidia) and asking if they have any fish. For some reason, the NIV translates this as “friends” instead, but according to Greek lexicons,  this word refers only to young children or, in some cases, young slaves. It always means “children” where it appears in the Bible. Judy Stack-Nelson suggests that the NIV is trying to harmonize this verse with John 15:15, in which Jesus tells the disciples he will from now on call them “friends”, for which he uses an entirely different Greek word (φίλους, philous).

Acts 1:4 — The resurrected Jesus is described as commanding the disciples not to leave Jerusalem. However, this would contradict Mark and Matthew, in which the disciples are told to wait for him in Galilee. The NIV weakens the implications of Jesus’ command by adding the phrase “on one occasion” to the text: “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command.” This phrase is not in the Greek text.

Acts 2:13 — In this story of the outpouring of tongues, some of the crowd sneer at the preaching of the apostles, accusing them of being drunk on gleukous, that is “new wine,” or wine that is freshly fermented and has not turned sour. This is an unlikely accusation to make at Pentecost, which comes before wine harvest at a time when there is no new wine available. Accordingly, the NIV changes the text to read simply “wine”. None of the other translations I have consulted do this. (See Barrett, Acts 1–14, p. 125.)

Acts 4:33-34 — The NIV has tampered with these verses in several ways. (1) The text says that “great favour [Greek: χάρις] was upon them all”, referring to the apostles who were preaching the resurrection. Scholars differ on whether this favour is that of the people or that of God. The NIV eliminates the former interpretation by adding “God’s” and uses paraphrastic wording with quite a different nuance: “And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all…” [See Barrett, Acts 1-14, p. 254.] (2) The Greek in v. 34 says that “everyone who possessed property or houses sold [it] and brought the value of what was sold” to the apostles. The NIV significantly tempers this reference to the sharing of wealth by adding the phrase “from time to time” not found in the Greek. (3) The NIV changes the location of the sentence breaks from the Greek, altering the relationships between the statements in this passage. Instead of favour resulting from the apostles’ preaching and property sharing eliminating poverty, the NIV’s new sentence division implies “God’s grace” being mainly responsible for lack of poverty (rather than communal sharing). [Credit to Julie Shreves for suggesting point (2) in the comments.]

Acts 5:32 — Here and in several other New Testament verses (John 14:26Ephesians 4:30 and 1 Corinthians 6:19), the NIV has translated the neuter relative pronoun ho as “who/whom”, even though “which” is the only grammatically valid translation, in order to emphasize the personhood of the Holy Spirit. Regardless of whether the NIV translators’ theology is correct, this is a biased and linguistically unjustifiable translation. [See BeDuhn, pp. 139–143.]

Acts 7:6 — See the entry on Genesis 15:13.

Acts 7:53 — The NRSV correctly reads “You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels”, but the NIV alters the verse slightly to obscure this strange view of angels: “you who have received the law that was given through angels”.

Acts 8:27 — The KJV correctly reads “Candace queen of the Ethiopians”. In the Greek, Luke gives “Candace” as the queen’s personal name. However, the word was actually the dynastic title of the Ethiopian queen mother. The NIV has altered this verse for the sake of historical accuracy, changing “Candace, queen of the Ethiopians” to “the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’)”. This explanatory gloss is not in the biblical text and misrepresents what it does say.

Acts 13:50, 17:5, 18:12, 18:28, 20:3, 20:19, 21:11, 21:27, 23:12, 23:20, 26:21 — The phrase “the Jews” (ho Ioudaios) appears frequently in Acts. Although it should not be taken to mean all Jews, it is often used to identify Paul’s opponents. However, the NIV has altered this phrase wherever it has negative implications. In most such instances, the NIV adds the word “some”, making the text read “some Jews” or “some of the Jews”. In 18:12, the words “of Corinth”, which are not in the Greek text, have been added. In 18:28 and 20:19, “the Jews” has been changed to “Jewish opponents” (the Greek does not say “opponents”). In 13:50 and 21:11, the phrase has been changed to “Jewish leaders” (the Greek does not say “leaders”).

Acts 22:9 — The NRSV correctly says that Paul’s companions “did not hear the voice” of the one speaking to Paul, but the NIV has changed this to “did not understand the voice” to hide the contradiction with the account in chapter 9.

Romans 2:6 — The NIV translates ergon (ἔργον) inconsistently throughout the epistles, using the direct translation “works” when the connotation is negative but other phrases when it is positive. The ESV here reads “He will render each one according to his works,” but the NIV says “…according to what they have done”. See the entries on James below for a fuller explanation.

Romans 3:21–26 — The NIV engages in some theological trickery here. It changes “righteousness of God” to “righteousness from God” in v. 21, eliminates the mention of God from v. 22, and changes “righteousness” in vv. 25 and 26 (the same Greek word as in vv. 21 and 22) to “justice” in order to imply that this passage is talking about the righteousness of believers rather than the righteousness of God. (Note: the error in v. 21 was fixed in the 2005 TNIV, and vv. 25 and 26 were fixed in the 2011 revision of the NIV. The omission in v. 22 remains.)

Romans 7:18 — The NIV here translates σάρξ (sarx) as “sinful nature” even though this implies later Augustinian doctrine on original sin that is not intended by the original writer. In contrast, the NRSV correctly chooses to translate this tricky Pauline term more literally as “flesh”. (See this article by Jason Staples on the subject.)

Romans 7:25 — The opening line correctly reads in the NRSV as “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” For some reason, the NIV adds the phrase “who delivers me”, even though this is not found in the Greek text: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The rest of this verse is also suspect: the NIV translates “in the flesh” (τῇ σαρκὶ) as “in my sinful nature” even though this makes a theological statement about the meaning of “the flesh” not warranted by the Greek text. “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”  (Note: Prior to the 2011 revision of the NIV, “flesh” [σάρξ] was translated as “sinful nature” dozens of times throughout the epistles. The translators have since acknowledged and corrected this error in most places, but this verse remains the same.)

Romans 16:7 — The NIV (1984 version) changes the female apostle Junia into a man, “Junias”, due to a bias against women being counted as apostles of early Christianity. (Note: This translation was fixed in the 2011 revision of the NIV.)

1 Corinthians 4:9 — The NIV adds a great deal of elaboration not found in the Greek text: “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena.” The NIV’s additions are in italics. (See Bruce Metzger, The Bible in Translation, p. 80.)

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 — Paul here refers to the “body” (singular) of believers as the “temple” (singular) of the Holy Spirit — a topic he touches on elsewhere, for example in 1 Cor. 3:16-17. He uses this language, in part, to emphasize the unity and oneness of the Christian community (see Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, pp. 202-203). Unfortunately, the NIV changes “temple” and both occurrences of “body” in these verses to the plural form, which completely alters Paul’s theological message. These changes first appeared in the 2005 TNIV. (Suggested by Michael in the comments below.)

1 Corinthians 7:20–21 — The Greek of verse 21 by itself is ambiguous, but in context with v. 20 probably intends to say that slaves should remain slaves. (See John Chrysostom, Homily 19.) The NIV (and most other English translations) prefers to translate it with the opposite meaning—that Paul encourages slaves to gain their freedom.

1 Corinthians 7:36 — In this passage, Paul says that if a man feels strong sexual attraction to “his virgin” (Greek: parthenos), he may marry her, though it is better if he does not. The ancient Christian practice of unmarried men living in ascetic cohabitation with virgin girls and widows is probably the background to this teaching. [See Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, p. 324; and Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians.] The NIV, however, adds words not found in the Greek text to make the teaching be about betrothal: “If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to…”.

1 Corinthians 11:4–7a — The NIV offers a long footnote with an alternate translation of these verses, replacing multiple instances of “head covering” with “long hair”, which has no support in the Greek text. This appears to be an attempt to accommodate churches that do not require head coverings for women but want to think their practices are strictly in accordance with Scripture. (See Bible Researcher for a discussion of this passage.)

1 Corinthians 11:27 — The Greek text sternly warns that those who eat and drink in an unworthy manner will be “guilty [or liable] for the body and blood of the Lord.” The NIV changes the meaning of this statement and lessens its severity by making the transgressor merely “guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” The words “sinning against” are not in the Greek. (See Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians p. 559–561, who states “to be ‘guilty of his body and blood’ means to be ‘liable for his death’.” The NIV’s alteration makes that interpretation impossible.)

1 Corinthians 11:29 — For reasons that are unclear, the NIV adds the words “of Christ”, which are not found in any manuscript: “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ….”

1 Corinthians 14:12 — The Greek text literally reads “since you strive zealously for spirits” (πνευμάτων, pneumatōn), but the NIV changes “spirits” to “spiritual gifts”, which fits the theology of many Protestant denominations but is not what the verse actually says. (See Fitzmyer, First Corinthians, p. 515.)

1 Corinthians 16:13 — The Greek text literally exhorts readers to “be men”. The NASB, for example, reads, “be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” To avoid any gender specificity, the NIV has changed this to “be courageous”, but this takes significant liberties regarding how “act like men” ought to be understood.

Galatians 1:8 — The Greek says “let him be accursed”, but the NIV reads “let him be eternally condemned!”, a theological interpretation that is not justified by the text. (Note: The 2011 version has changed this verse to say “let them be under God’s curse”, which is only somewhat better. The Greek does not say “God’s curse”, and this phrase is grammatically poor, lacking agreement between “them” and its antecedents. This might be an example of the 2011 NIV’s clumsy attempts at gender-neutral translation.)

Galatians 1:16b — In the Greek, Paul says “I did not confer with any human being” at the beginning of his ministry. The NIV changes this to “my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” Nothing in the original text corresponds to “my immediate response”; rather, the NIV appears to be reinterpreting the text to harmonize it with the rather different account of Paul’s conversion in Acts.

Galatians 3:5 — This enigmatic verse literally reads “He, therefore, who is supplying to you the Spirit, and working mighty acts among you — [is it] by works of law or by the hearing of faith?” (YLT) The NIV gives a Protestant interpretation of this passage that obscures the actual wording and other potential interpretations: “does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” (Note: Most other English translations have the same problem.)

Galatians 3:19 — The NRSV correctly reads “[the law] was ordained through angels by a mediator.” The NIV has changed this to say “the law was given to angels and entrusted to a mediator”, adding the word “entrust” and reversing the role of the mediator in Paul’s statement.

Ephesians 2:3 — The NRSV correctly reads “we were by nature children of wrath”. The NIV has taken considerable liberties in its translation, echoing Protestant theories of sin and atonement in doing so: “we were by nature deserving of wrath.” The genitive could be translated as “destined for wrath”, but no equivalent to “deserving” can be found in the Greek, and “children” has been omitted. (Source: Larkin, Ephesians: A Handbook on the Greek Text, p. 30)

Ephesians 2:20–22 — The Greek says “you are being constructed into a habitation of God in spirit (en pneumati)”, but the NIV interprets this as “in the Spirit” (i.e. the Holy Spirit) without textual warrant. [See BeDuhn, p. 151.] Throughout the epistles, the NIV shows a theological bias to translate “in spirit” as “in the (Holy) Spirit” wherever possible.

Ephesians 5:33 — The Greek says that wives should “fear” (φοβῆται, phobetai) their husbands. However, the NIV and many other English translations change this to “respect”. None of the major Greek lexicons give “respect” as a possible definition for phobetai. The verb φοβέω usually indicates a relationship of authority and submission, not admiration, when used in the context of interpersonal relationships. (See Jean-Sébastien Rey, “Family Relationships in 4QInstruction and in Eph 5:21–6:4”, Echoes from the Caves: Qumran and the New Testament, p. 251)

Ephesians 6:18 — The Greek says to pray “in spirit” (en pneumati), perhaps meaning silently rather than out loud. However, the NIV interprets this as “in the Spirit” (i.e. the Holy Spirit). [See BeDuhn, p. 148.]

Philippians 2:6 — The NIV changes the Greek, which is correctly translated by the NRSV as “though he was in the form of God”, to say “being in very nature God”, a speculative interpretation of “form of God” that is unwarranted by the original text.

Colossians 1:15 — The NRSV correctly reads “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation”. The NIV has replaced “of” with “over”, even though this is not at a valid meaning of the Greek preposition pasēs. The obvious reason is to hide the problematic theology of Jesus being described as a created being.

Colossians 1:19 — The NIV has added “his” in front of “fullness”, to shape the interpretation of this verse in a certain way not indicated by the text: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.”  The Greek simply says “the fullness”.

2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6 — The NIV engages in some vocabulary trickery here. The word paradosis, meaning “tradition”, gets translated inconsistently in order to de-Catholicize the Bible’s theology. When the context is negative, as in the “human traditions” of Colossians 2:8 or the traditions of the Pharisees in Matthew 15:1–6, “tradition” is used. When the context is positive, as in these two instances — which read “the teachings we passed on to you” and “the teachings you received from us”, respectively — the NIV uses the word “teachings”. The NRSV, by contrast, consistently and correctly translates this word as “tradition”. (See this article at Shameless Popery for a discussion of the topic.)

1 Timothy 3:2 — The RSV correctly reads “Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife.” For some reason, the NIV has obscured the possibility of polygamy by changing it to “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife”.

1 Timothy 3:16 — The NIV again mistranslates “in spirit” (en pneumati) as “in the Spirit” (i.e. the Holy Spirit), which is not warranted by the Greek text.

Titus 1:6 — As with 1 Tim. 3:2 above, the Greek text calls for elders to be “married to one wife”. The NIV has instead rendered it as “faithful to his wife”, which is not the same thing.

Titus 2:11 — The Greek literally says that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people”, and reads as such in most translations (including the NRSV, ESV, NET, CEB, NLT, and NASB). Various Greek lexicons agree that σωτήριος (sōterios) should be understood as meaning “bringing salvation”. However, the NIV says the grace of God “offers salvation to all people”, which prevents the verse from being used in support of universal salvation. The qualifying verb “offers” is not in the Greek.

Hebrews 1:5 — The NRSV correctly reads “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”. The NIV has changed it slightly to read “You are my Son; today I have become your father”, perhaps to avoid the implication that Jesus was a created being. (See also Col. 1:15.)

Hebrews 4:14 — According to the Greek text, Jesus has “passed through the heavens”, which reflects typical first-century conceptions of multiple layered heavens through which one must pass to reach God’s throne room. The NIV, however, says Jesus “ascended into heaven”, obscuring the cosmology of Hebrews and making the text conform to modern, more acceptable views of heaven. Note: this error was introduced in the 2005 TNIV. [See To the Hebrews (Anchor Yale Bible) p. 80.]

Hebrews 6:1 — The NIV for some reason changes “dead works” to “acts that lead to death”, forcing a narrow and probably incorrect interpretation on the text.

Hebrews 11:4 — According to the Greek text, Abel brought God “a better sacrifice” than Cain. However, the NIV has changed “sacrifice” to “offering” to harmonize it with the story told in Genesis 4, which mentions no sacrifices. This change was introduced with the 2005 TNIV.

Hebrews 11:7 — The Greek text says that “by this [the act of building the ark and saving his household],” Noah “condemned the world”. The NIV changes the effect of this verse somewhat by adding words that do not appear in the Greek: “by his faith he condemned the world….”

James 2:14 — The NRSV correctly reads “What good is it … if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” The NIV harmonizes this verse with Protestant theology by adding the word “such” without textual justification: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (Note: most other English translations also alter the passage.)  The NIV also deceptively translates ergon as “deeds” here, even though it translates the same word as “works” when the connotation is negative, in order to tone down passages that appear to promote works in addition to faith. (See also the entry on James 2:17–18 below.)

James 2:17-18, 20, 22, 24-26 — The NIV translates ergon, meaning “works”, inconsistently throughout the epistles in order to push the Bible’s theology on faith and works in a Protestant direction. In negative contexts (e.g. Romans 3:27), the NIV translates it as “works” almost without exception. However, it avoids any positive association with the word “works” in verses like James 2:24, which has been translated, “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone”, and James 2:26, “so faith without deeds is dead.” The NRSV is more consistent and theologically neutral, translating it as “works” in all these passages. James 2:25 is a particularly egregious example: while the Greek text literally says Rahab was “justified (dikaioō) by works (ergon)”,  the NIV translation says Rahab was “considered righteous for what she did”, even though the NIV is happy to translate dikaioo and ergon as “justified” and “works” in passages like Romans 3:28 (“For we maintain that a person is justified (dikaioō) by faith apart from the works (ergon) of the law.”) Theology aside, the NIV’s translation of ergon as the phrase “what they do” in v. 24 is also a clumsy attempt at avoiding gender-specific pronouns.

James 2:25 — The Greek mentions the visit of ἀγγέλους (angelous), or “messengers”, to Rahab the prostitute. The NIV changes this word to “spies”, although that is not a valid translation of angelous. The only obvious reason for the change is to make this verse adhere more closely to the story in Joshua 2. (See the entry above for other problems with the NIV’s translation of this verse.)

1 Peter 1:17 — The NRSV correctly reads “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds…” Because this verse suggests that people are judged by God according to their works, contra Protestant theology, the NIV changes the wording to mean something slightly different: “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially…”

1 Peter 3:18–19 — The NIV again mistranslates “in spirit” (en pneumati) as “in the Spirit” (i.e. the Holy Spirit), which is not warranted by the Greek text.

1 Peter 3:21 — The NRSV correctly reads “And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. Because this conflicts with Protestant theology on baptism, the NIV has changed “appeal to God for a good conscience” to “pledge of a clear conscience toward God”, which has a very different meaning.

1 Peter 4:6 — This enigmatic passage correctly reads in the NRSV as “For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead”. The possibility of salvation after death obviously conflicts with Evangelical theology, so the NIV has changed it to read “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead.”

2 Peter 2:15 — Although our best and oldest manuscripts read “Balaam son of Bosor”, the 1984 NIV read “Balaam son of Beor” to harmonize it with Jude 11 and various Old Testament references to Balaam. For some reason, the TNIV and 2011 NIV have revised this verse to say “Balaam son of Bezer”, which is hardly an improvement, since no New Testament manuscript reads Bezer, and it’s not clear that an allusion to the Transjordan city of Bezer is intended.

Jude 7 (Updated) — The Greek states that Sodom, Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” In other words, the fiery destruction of those cities serves as a warning for immoral behaviour. However, the NIV has subtly altered the verse to suggest it is individuals who suffer eternal fiery torment: “They serve an example to those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” This provides an explicit proof-text for a doctrine of eternal hellfire that is otherwise lacking in the epistles. Additionally, the Greek text describes their crime as “going after flesh of another kind”, which almost certainly means angels given the context, but the NIV has changed this to read simply “perversions”. This obscures the point of Jude’s argument and makes it easy to misapply the text to homosexuality, which is quite the opposite of lusting after “flesh of another kind”.

Jude 8 — The NIV has taken remarkable liberties with the text, changing “dreamers” (an allusion to Deut. 13) to “ungodly people” who act “on the strength of their dreams”. None of these words appear in the Greek.

Quotation by N.T. Wright:

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

The preface to the NIV states that “the translators were united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God’s Word in written form.” The preface to the New Testament expresses their commitment to the “complete trustworthiness of the Scriptures”.


455 thoughts on “Poor and Misleading Translation in the New International Version (NIV)

  1. Upon what are you basing your contention that the text “should have said” what the OG says? Another LXX says, “And Sacarim and Gadera, and its villages…” If anything, using the “more difficult reading” criterion, the MT reading is preferred. At any rate, the pertinent fact is that as you say, the NIV didn’t choose the reconstructed text, yet it attempted a harmonization, despite manuscript evidence to the contrary.


    • LXX A and B read “…and Sargarim and Gadera and its farmsteads”. According to Anchor Bible Dictionary, this presumes a vorlage of wgdrtyh instead of MT’s wgdrtym, and the original Hebrew may have meant to be a play on words. But yeah, I’ll probably add it.


  2. I read Carl Ehrlich’s entry on page 925 of the ABD’s volume 2. I find it interesting that he says, “The scholarly consensus that the LXX version is to be preferred…” If this is truly the “scholarly consensus,” why don’t the NRSV, NIV, NASB, KJV, ASB, NAB, YLT, et al. at least give a footnote for this reading, if not an outright emendation? The only version I’m aware of that gives a footnote with this possible rendering is the JW’s New World Translation. The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 2, page 630, even says, “The LXX, by reading for Gederothaim…it’s sheepfolds…resolves the difficulty, but the validity of the emendation is questionable.”


    • Even the good translations are fairly conservative, and they prefer to use what the text actually says, as long as it’s coherent. More footnotes would definitely be nice.


  3. Perhaps that’s true, but I know that the NRSV doesn’t hesitate to emend the text if it suspects that a corruption has occurred, as it does it Joshua 18:15, where it changes MT’s “westward” to “Ephron.”


    • Exodus 32:4

      “And he received it at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said: ‘This is thy god, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt,’ ”

      any deliberate mistranslation to “unlink” yhwh to the calf?


  4. In Deuteronomy 29:5, the NIV inserts the words “Yet the LORD says”–totally lacking in the MT!–to obscure the carless shift that the biblical writer makes from Moses speaking to Yahweh. LXX A and B reconcile the error by changing the pronoun from “I” (Moses) to “he” (Yahweh), though Brenton’s LXX still has “I” in verse 6, so Moses says that “I” (Moses) am the Lord your God, while A & B change this pronoun, too.


    • Yeah, the NIV does this quite a bit, changing or adding subjects to clarify who the translators think is acting/speaking (or ought to be). There’s a case in Joshua 10:10 where the NIV inserts Joshua’s name out of nowhere to make him the agent of actions that are clearly being carried out by Yahweh in the MT and LXX. I can’t tell whether theological bias is at work, or it’s simply an attempt at clarification.


  5. Here’s NIV’s lame justification for changing the text:

    To achieve clarity the translators sometimes supplied words not in the original texts but required by the context. If there was uncertainty about such material, it is enclosed in brackets. Also for the sake of clarity or style, nouns, including some proper nouns, are sometimes substituted for pronouns, and vice-versa. And though the Hebrew writers often shifted back and forth between first, second and third personal [sic] pronouns without change of antecedent, this translation often makes them uniform, in accordance with English style and without the use of footnotes.


  6. Deuteronomy 32:43 — The NRSV correctly reads “Praise, O heavens, his people, worship him, all you gods!” The NIV omits the polytheistic reference, and instead says, “Rejoice, you nations, with his people.” A footnote claims that this is the reading of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint, but the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QDeutq), our oldest witness to the text, actually match the NRSV’s translation.

    The footnotes that I see say this:

    Deuteronomy 32:43 Or Make his people rejoice, you nations
    Deuteronomy 32:43 Masoretic Text; Dead Sea Scrolls (see also Septuagint) people, / and let all the angels worship him, /

    Since 32:43 is included on the list, why not 32:8-9? The NIV retains the MT’s “sons of Israel” but includes a footnote that “sons of God” is the reading in DSS/LXX.


  7. Revelation 13:10

    If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed.

    If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity they will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.

    The NIV does admittedly footnote to say it can be read the other way. But that is a very, very different meaning.


    • Thanks for the suggestion, Francis. I’ll look into it.

      Update: It appears the NIV is giving preference to a rare reading found mainly (only?) in Codex Alexandrinus. But Nestle-Aland does have it as their preferred reading as well.


  8. Hi Paul, I came across this website while I was at the annual NIV translation committee. I was hoping to find some serious issues which could get sorted out, but after reading through a lot of this, I’ve concluded your comments may be based on a misapprehension. You appear to think that the NIV translator try to smooth over problems in the Bible by stretching the translation. We don’t.
    We meet every year to consider proposals for changes, mostly due to recent findings in academic research, and also for major changes in English usage. We specifically reject any proposals that are merely apologetic attempts to remove problems in the text.
    Perhaps the best way to explain the thinking behind the NIV translation is to go through the first few examples:

    * Gen.2.8; 2.19: “had planted” and “had formed”.
    As you know, there is no pluperfect tense in Hebrew, nor any other tenses in the sense that English uses them. Translating an aspect language like Hebrew into a tense-based language like English requires careful attention to the context. Ancient Near Eastern narratives are often not chronological – they move from general to specific and back again and expect the reader to put the pieces together in the obvious chronological order. We see this sometimes in modern movies or novels which have frequent flashbacks, or which tell extended back-stories. The best way to translate short retrospectives like this into English is by using the pluperfect.

    * Gen.4.1: “with the help of the Lord”
    Hebrew is a very compact language, so it often needs to be expanded.
    Sometimes English needs unpacking in a similar way. For example, Americans say “Have a good day”, while Brits say “Good day” and Australians abbreviate still further to “G’day”. So, if we had to ‘translate’ from Australian to American, we’d add the words “Have a good…”. This addition doesn’t make it into a bad translation. Indeed, if we didn’t add anything, we’d have a very misleading translation: we would tell the American that the Aussie had just said: “G Day”.
    The King James Version often inserted words to make Hebrew into real English – and often marked those words in italics. All modern translations do this. The NIV policy is to translate into real English like the English found in other English literature – not into a special Bible English.
    Young’s Literal Translation had a completely different agenda – which it accomplished admirably – to translate word by word in order to help someone follow along with the Hebrew and Greek. Young would have been appalled to hear that some people thought he had attempted to create a good translation rather creating a tool for following the original languages. He was certainly capable of making a proper literary translation had he intended to do this.

    *Gen.11.2 “As people moved eastwards” instead of “As they moved eastwards”
    Hebrew and Greek often misses out the subject, whereas good modern English should never leave the reader confused about who is being referred to. In the Gospels, early Christian scribes were so concerned about this that they often added “Jesus” when a new section started with “He…”.
    But English prose doesn’t work like that. Only bad prose leaves a pronoun unidentified, expecting the reader to do so much work. The translator should do this work for the reader.
    Having said that, it is sometimes impossible to decide who or what the subject is, because Hebrew and Greek can be ambiguous in a way that English should never be. In these situations the NIV either leaves the pronoun unidentified, or it gives one option in the text and the other in a footnote.
    At Gen.11.2 the English reader expects to be told who the subject is. Reading the context of the passage will tell the attentive reader that other nations and languages have already been mentioned in the previous chapter, e.g. v.20: “These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages…”, then some generations later comes the division in the time of Peleg (v.25).
    So, when Gen.11.1 makes a new start, reminding the reader that all humanity originally came from one stock, and then in v.2 says “they moved… to Shinar… (aka Babylon)”, the attentive reader understands that “they” is not everyone, but some or one of the groups descended from Noah, as described in ch.10.
    This means that the translation “people” is as non-specific as English will allow in this situation.

    * Gen.29.5 “son” or “grandson”
    Hebrew is a language with a very small vocabulary – there are only about 8000 words in the OT – whereas English has a much larger vocabulary. One consequence is that Hebrew has no word for “grandson”. Although it is possible to say “son of my son” or something like that, Hebrew rarely bothers and simply uses “BEN” for any descendant. It is similar to the way that we rarely distinguish between a maternal grandmother and paternal grandmother, whereas some languages have separate words so that this ambiguity would be impossible.
    While it would be accurate to translate BEN as “descendant”, this would create a very clunky and inelegant translation, so no version does this throughout. We have to use our intelligence, as the author intended, to decide whether this is a ‘son’ or ‘grandson’ (or whatever), and translate accordingly.

    As you can see from these examples, the NIV is aiming to translate the Bible text into real literary English, in order to represent the detailed and exact meaning of the original. This is the same kind of translation process used by UN translators or by an official courtroom translator.

    Hopefully you can now see which issues are irrelevant, due to your misunderstanding about what the NIV is trying to achieve.

    Do you think you could help me by making a list of actual potential mistakes in translation? I’ll try to find time to look into these and hopefully get them fixed.

    Thanks for your work

    David Instone-Brewer


    • Dr. Instone-Brewer,

      Thank you very much for the comment. Since this article has been linked to on occasion by a number of Bible scholars on Facebook, blogs, and so forth, I suspected that someone involved with the NIV translation team was aware of it.

      My problem with the NIV is aptly summed up by N.T. Wright in a quotation I have included at the bottom of the article:

      “If a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about.”

      You may substitute any of the biblical authors for “Paul”. But you are probably aware of Wright’s criticisms already.

      Yes, sometimes the NIV’s translation is within the bounds of conceivable meanings of the text in question. My rule of thumb has been that (1) if the NIV deviates from the plainest meaning of the Masoretic or NT Greek, and (2) if the change just “happens” to fix a theologically problematic passage (including contradictions, which pose an unacceptable theological problem for certain Christians), then it is by all appearances a tendentious (mis)-translation. Additional consideration is given for (3) academic literature on the passage, which the NIV translators ought to be familiar with, (4) the presence or lack of footnotes explaining the translator’s choice and alternate readings, and (5) translation choices made by other respected translations. In the vast majority of these passages, the other translations I consult (NRSV, NASB, JB, CEB, KJV, YLT) do not have these problems.

      When the NIV is analyzed in this manner, a clear pattern emerges. Passages that are problematic for biblical inerrancy and evangelical Protestant theology are tweaked and “improved” to eliminate the problem. Sometimes this is within the bounds of conceivable, albeit less probable, interpretation of the text; sometimes it is a blatant mistranslation. I consider both to be dishonest, particularly if the translator is claiming that the original text is “God’s word in written form”.

      Allow me to emphasize that my problem is not simply with alterations made for the sake of clarity and the demands of English grammar and style. As a professional translator myself, I understand the challenges involved.

      If I may address a few of your examples before pointing out some that I think are more egregious:

      • Gen 2.8, 2.19 — Any Bible scholar knows or ought to know that the Eden story is an independent and self-contained story independent from Gen 1. There is no contextual reason to think that those two instances where the NIV switches from past to past perfect is a “short retrospective” as you put it. This is adequately addressed by Dr. Mariottini (himself a conservative scholar) in the link I provided, but you can consult any technical commentary on Genesis to confirm this. In 2.19, for example, the context is God creating the animals to find a helper for Adam. The NIV’s resorting to the pluperfect obscures what is the plain reading of the story.

      • Gen 4.1 — This one is borderline, and I have considered removing it. My problem is that the meaning is uncertain according to the scholarship I have read, and Yahweh’s involvement in the creation of Cain might have been more direct than simply “helping” — whatever that is supposed to mean. (Sex ed lessons?) Good (2011, p. 47) writes, for example: “Some translations turn ‘with Yahweh’ into ‘with the help of Yahweh.’ The addition seems designed to elbow aside any thought that Yahweh might have had more than a peripheral part in the pregnancy. But the expression is odd enough to forbid certainty about its meaning.” According to Hamilton (1990, p. 221), another possible translation is “I have received a man, namely Yahweh”. The NIV eliminates several potential readings by adding “with the help of”.

      • Gen 11.2 — I think you’re being disingenuous here. The natural reading that certainly is to assume that “everyone” — the “whole world” as just mentioned in the previous line — is moving to Shinar. There is no textual need, not even by the rules of English prose you brought up, to specify a new subject when “they” has an immediate and obvious antecedent.

      • Gen 29.5 — My problem with the NIV’s frequent changing of “son” to “grandson” and similar genealogical alterations is that they are done only to harmonize apparent contradictions, by allowing the plain reading of one passage but not the other. Furthermore, this eliminates other possibilities for harmonization, as well as the possibility that the traditions involved are simply contradictory. The NIV obscures what the text says and prevents the reader from arriving at his or her own conclusion. And I have taken into consideration the fact that other translations do not do this, making them more reliable in my opinion than the NIV.

      For examples of NIV mistranslations that are much more difficult to defend, I suggest the following. Though you and your colleagues will find more if you simply read through my list past Genesis.

      Exodus 6:2-3
      Deuteronomy 16:7
      2 Samuel 21:19
      1 Kings 4:26
      2 Chronicles 3:15
      Esther 8:11
      Isaiah 7:14
      Jeremiah 7:22
      Daniel 9:25–26
      Matthew 1:4
      Luke 2:2 n. [a]
      Luke 3:33
      John 18:40
      John 21:5
      Acts 8:27
      Galatians 1:8
      Galatians 1:16
      Ephesians 2:3
      Colossians 1:15
      2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6
      James 2:17-18, 20, 22, 24-26
      1 Peter 4:6
      Jude 7

      If you and your colleagues investigate these further and make the necessary fixes, I will of course update this article.

      If I may, I would also observe that the NIV has something of a reputation in this area. Despite my blog’s great obscurity, I get quite a lot of traffic through web searches for “NIV errors”, “NIV mistranslation”, and similar queries. This is obviously a concern that many of Bible readers have.


      • Dr. Instone-Brewer,

        A few more notable mistranslations I would highlight:

        Ezekiel 20:25
        2 Samuel 21:8 (the assumption of a scribal error is refuted by the witness of the LXX, Targums, Josephus, etc.)
        And the NIV’s genealogy changes: Matt 1:4,7,10; Luke 3:33


  9. Dear Paul

    I think you may still have the wrong impression of what the NIV is. It is a translation of the received text into modern literary English.

    For example, when you complain about the pluperfect at Gen.2.8, you point out that “the Eden story is an independent and self-contained story independent from Gen 1”. I suppose you mean that Gen 2 should be translated as if Gen.1 didn’t exist. But that isn’t the text as we have received it – we have Gen.2 as an account that immediately follows Gen.1. So the start of Gen.2 in this form IS a retrospective.

    A similar issue pertains to Gen.11.2, which follows immediately after the list of Noah’s descendants who have already dispersed into many nations and languages in Gen.10 before the time of Babel in the days of Peleg. I agree that many people do interpret the Babel incident as a creation of languages and the NIV translation allows for that – which is why eretz is translated ‘world’ in 11.1 rather than ‘land’. But others read it as the confusion of one language that dispersed a particular group of people in Shinar – as the context implies. And the NIV allows for that too. It attempts to be a Bible for all people, and tries not to make exegetical decisions for them. This is very difficult because a translation by its nature tends to remove ambiguity, but nevertheless the NIV tries to preserve the ambiguity in the text where it can.

    However, a translation into normal English has to make decisions about what a word like BEN means in its context. It would be simply incorrect to translate it into English as ‘son’ when it means ‘grandson’ in the context. I agree that it would be best if all the readers were taught about the inherent ambiguity of translating this word (and others) but those who are interested in such issues and who don’t know Hebrew can use tools like Young’s Literal Translation to get a better insight into these problems.

    The NIV is meant to be a translation based on the best possible evidence available. When you translate into any language, you have to make decisions. I welcome interaction like yours about the decisions that have been made, but it would be helpful if you didn’t pad out your significant issues with ones which are based on misunderstandings about how translation works.

    Thank you very much for your list of significant issues. I will have a look through them soon. If there are others which aren’t based on your previous misunderstandings about the NIV, I’d be pleased if you could add them to the list.

    David IB


    • I’m afraid you seem to be making Paul’s point for him. Nothing about modern literary English presupposes a reliable narrator – indeed many stories from those starring Elizabeth Bennet to those starring Katniss Everdeen and anything written at any point in between have highly unreliable narrators. (And not just modern stories – ancient ones too).

      Your contention that the creation story at the start of Genesis 2 is a retrospective again cuts across your claim of the NIV being a translation into modern literary English. Ever since the film Rashomon, the multiple independent narrators each giving their own take on events has been a common literary device (and it was hardly unknown before that). Any choice made to harmonise the accounts of Rashomon would be plainly silly and defeat the point of the story. And so too with a lot of other modern literature.

      Therefore you can not justify this change to the text on the grounds that Genesis 2 is a retrospective. You aren’t translating the Bible you are actively changing the meaning of the Bible and your “modern literature” defence falls utterly flat.

      And why is this important? The first two chapters of the Bible are in conflict – something you deliberately change. If we take one of the most mis-used verses in the Bible seriously, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”. This means that the fact that the first two chapters of the Bible are in conflict is itself God-breathed, and that it is so early in the Bible, so promenant, and so clear means that it is an important tool for teaching, rebuking, and correcting. Your choice to remove one of the very first lessons in the Bible, that parts of it are in conflict with other parts and therefore you need to read carefully and wrestle with it to understand what it is saying, is both a choice to cut away one of the lessons of Scripture and a choice that can not be jusitified by appealing to modern literature. It does, however, fit perfectly into a translation with a goal that is ideological.


      • I’m not sure I understand your comment that to translate a Qal in Gen.2.8 by a pluperfect is a “mistranslation”. As you know, English is much more tense-specific than Hebrew, so the tense you use in translation has to be fixed by context rather than grammar. That’s why almost all translations (incl. NRSV) often use a pluperfect to translate a Qal – for example in Gen.1.31: God saw all that he HAD made.


      • David, no offense, but I’m not sure you understand Hebrew very well. The binyan/stem (Qal) has nothing whatsoever to do with the tense of a verb. The translation that you provided in Gen 1:31 actually proves our point. The *tense* here is qatal, *not* (way)yiqtol, because the author is trying to indicate pluperfect meaning. That is what I pointed out in my other comment. There are ways of indicating pluperfect, and in Gen 1:31 the author uses a typical means of doing that in Hebrew. In Gen 2:8, the author does not use this form. If Gen 2:8 used a qatal verb the pluperfect would be entirely justified, but it doesn’t.

        Your comment that “English is much more tense-specific than Hebrew” may technically be accurate (I’m not sure about “much” more), but it is the disingenuous means that NIV committee uses to change the meaning in many places. Hebrew does have a tense system, and in the vast majority of cases, including Gen 2:8 and 2:19 (and 1:31), it’s crystal clear.


      • Thanks for pointing out my naff remark about the Qal mood – I noticed this blunder while replying to the next comment, but with the web, once you’ve typed something, it is fixed.
        _ BTW, I didn’t mean to suggest that every translation used pluperfect at Gen.5.3. I said that “wayyiqtol is also often translated as a pluperfect in NRSV and every other translation”. Have you come across a translation that never uses pluperfect for wayyiqtol?
        _ On the ‘rule’ that you refer to, I guess you mean introducing an infinitive with Be- or Ke- or adding a temporal clause starting with a Ki or equivalent to a perfective. Yes, I agree that these are ways to indicate a pluperfect, but they aren’t the only way. A simple wayyiqtol can convey a pluperfect sense even without a time-marker.
        _ Even in English we often imply a pluperfect without stating it. If I said: “I thought you said such and such and so I was surprised by your answer”, it is clear that I mean “I HAD thought…” and this is clear even without actually using a pluperfect. This is much easier in Hebrew which has a much less time-oriented concept of tenses.
        _ In 1st & 2nd C Mishnaic Hebrew the Jews finally started to get to grips with using time-based tenses by combining particlples with “to be” (eg “I will be going”, “I was going”) but they did so intermittently. You will soon run into problems if you try to impose strict time-tense rules into the uses of Hebrew perfectives and imperfectives in the OT.


    • Okay, here is my last post on the matter because this conversation is futile. הכל הבל.

      Of course all translations use the pluperfect to translate the wayyiqtol in certain situations, because it can have that meaning *in certain situations.* This is not one. (By the way, there is an article by an excellent Hebrew scholar—the citation escapes me now, but I’m sure one could find it if one were motivated—on when the wayyiqtol is used to indicate the pluperfect. The article concludes with an appendix dedicated to Gen 2:8, 19, pointing out that they do not at all conform to the pattern he shows and there is no justification for translating the verses with the pluperfect.)

      No, that was not the rule I was referring to at all. Since you are unwilling or unable to consult the references I provided, which are undoubtedly at your disposal, allow me to provide one here, from Jouon-Muraoka (§118d p. 362):

      “This feature of succession characteristic of the wayyiqtol construction becomes particularly evident when biblical writers, when they do not want to express succession, deliberately avoid wayyiqtol and replace it with w- .. qatal… This case is especially common in narratives, where w- .. qatal preceded by a qatal or wayyiqtol, corresponds to the pluperfect or past perfect in some European languages (cf. § 112 c): Gen 31.33b-34 “and he went out (ויצא) of Leah’s tent, and he went into (ויבא) Rachel’s tent. (34) Now Rachel had taken (ורחל לקחה) the terafim and had put them (ותשמם) in the pack-saddle of the camel ..” (as this last action occurs after the preceding one, the writer goes back to the wayyiqtol form); 1Sm 28.3 “Now Samuel was dead (ושמואל מת) and all Israel had mourned him (לו-ויספדו) and had buried him (ויקברהו) in Ramah, his city.
      Meanwhile Saul had removed (ושאול הסיר) from the land the necromancers and the soothsayers”; 2Sm 18.18; 1Kg 22.31; 2Kg 4.31; 25.5. Hebrew has no other way of expressing the value of the pluperfect than by avoiding wayyiqtol in this way; cf. § 166 j.”

      As you can see here, when a Hebrew narrative is in the midst of a story involving wayyiqtol verbs representing the simple past, in order to construe the pluperfect they deliberately ***avoid*** another wayyiqtol. That is the opposite of what’s going on in Gen 2:8, 19.

      As for your points about English implied pluperfects, I don’t quite see the relevance here. Same with the comment about Mishnaic Hebrew, which has little bearing on this.

      The NIV is welcome to keep the translation they have here (and in most of the other instances pointed out on this helpful site), but unless the committee stops pretending to have a legitimate philological reason for translations such as these and admits that they are all theologically motivated, sites like this will have lots adherents.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. David,

    Just to put in my two cents on the Genesis 2.8, 19 issue: the explanation that you gave her strikes me as, at best, disingenuous. Yes, it is true that there is no pluperfect tense in Hebrew, but there are ways in which the pluperfect is frequently conveyed, and more importantly, there is the wayyiqtol formation which is used deliberately for sequential, non-pluperfect non-flashback-type action. You can consult any standard grammar for how these work (Gesenius 111a, Jouon-Muraoka 118 [esp. 118d], Waltke-O’Connor 543-63, etc.).

    These verses quite obviously do *not* use the standard means of presenting pluperfective (flashback-type) action. And they *do* use the standard, occurs-thousands-of-times wayyiqtol sequential formation.

    So there is a wealth of philological data that militates against the NIV translation. The NIV translates in a way that makes zero sense for one who has any knowledge of Hebrew. And they do so in a way that just so happens to harmonize the two (contradictory) narratives in Gen 1 and 2. That is why this–and nearly all of the other examples provided on this page, and still many more besides (I just stumbled across the deliberate mistranslation of 1 Sam 15:29 that harmonizes the reading with vv. 11 and 35) are correctly characterized as “deliberate mistranslation.”


    • I agree that the wayyiqtol is normally used for sequential action, but that’s just another way of saying that most narrative is sequential. The wayyiqtol is also often translated as a pluperfect in NRSV and every other translation, eg Gen.5.3: “When Adam HAD lived 130 years” (again in v.6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 25, 28). The NRSV uses pluperfect 8 times in Gen.1-2 for wayyiqtol & qatal verbs. I don’t know any gramatical rule about when they should have a pluperfect meaning, except for context.


      • The examples that you cite in Gen 5 should not be translated in the pluperfect if the translator is striving for accuracy. The NRSV, NIV, and some others use the pluperfect here because it works better in English and it does *not* change the meaning, so there is no reason to avoid it. But the meaning is definitely sequential. Your comment that “every other translation” also uses the pluperfect here is not true; see for example the New Living, KJV, Holman, and others.

        And it’s a bit frustrating that you say that you continue harping on this while claiming that you “don’t know any grammatical rule” about this situation—that is why I provided you with citations from three of the most highly respected Hebrew grammars about precisely where you can find this rule. It most certainly exists, and it’s not very obscure, and anyone who is on a translation committee for the OT should be well aware of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Psalm 22:16 (17 in Hebrew): Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. (NIV)
    17Dogs surround me; a pack of evil ones closes in on me, like lions [they maul] my hands and feet. (NJPS)

    The NIV changes the text to evoke images of Jesus’ crucifixion (other portions of Psalm 22 appear in the crucifixion narrative–Matthew 27:35,39,43,36; John 19:24 et. al), even as it includes a footnote that “most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text” read me, / like a lion. The NIV retains “lion” in Psalm 22:13, 16, and 22, since there is no theological belief involved.


      • Manuscript difficulties aside, the point is that the NIV follows the MT but switched to the LXX without justification. In addition, NIV’s footnote claims that its reading agrees with the DSS, but there is no fragment of Psalm 22:16/17 from Qumran. I’m assuming that NIV actually refers to the Nahal Hever reading, but this is another location in the Judean desert.


  12. Here is every verse through 2 Kings 3:27 in which the Hebrew word qetseph appears, as translated by the NIV:

    Numbers 1:53a The Levites, however, are to set up their tents around the tabernacle of the covenant law so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelite community.

    Numbers 16:46 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with burning coals from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started.”

    Numbers 18:5 “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again.

    Deut. 29:28 In furious anger and in great wrath the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”

    Josh 9:20 This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, so that God’s wrath will not fall on us for breaking the oath we swore to them.”

    Josh 22:20 When Achan son of Zerah was unfaithful in regard to the devoted things, did not wrath come on the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.’”

    2 Kings 3:27 Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.

    What’s the significance of this? 2 Kings 3:27 states that the king of Moab, in desperation because the Israelites were closing in on him in Moab, sacrificed his own son as a burnt offering. In every preceding verse, it is the wrath of Israel’s god Yahweh. However, to erase any hint that the sacrifice by Mesha was efficacious, and that the Moabite god Chemosh, who had “jurisdiction” in Moab per ancient belief, responded with wrath, the NIV in this lone instance uses “fury,” and just as important, does not link this “fury” to any action by Moab’s god. Contrast this with the NJPS and NRSV translations:

    27So he took his first-born son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him up on the wall as a burnt offering. A great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and went back to [their own] land. (NJPS)

    27Then he took his firstborn son who was to succeed him, and offered him as a burnt-offering on the wall. And great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and returned to their own land. (NRSV)

    By changing the word for “wrath” and eliminating the connection between the sacrifice and the an action by Moab’s god, the NIV makes it appear that perhaps the Israelites decided to retreat because the Moabites started fighting harder.


    • Good analysis. This is the kind of case I find difficult to decide on, and they certainly outnumber the more obvious mistranslations. You and I know that’s very likely what’s going on in this passage — that the wrath of the Moabite god came against Israel, and that the NIV (and several other English translations) are worded more ambiguously than they need to be. But it’s not grammatically inaccurate as far as the actual text of the MT is concerned. Had they changed it to “remorse”, for example, as the LXX translator did, I would consider that a deliberate mistranslation.


      • Does translating something “more ambiguously” than it needs to be–because of an agenda rather than because it’s the best reading–not constitute “deliberate mistranslation”?


      • Well, to defend this list against detractors, I’m focusing on verses where the plain meaning of the original differs from the NIV’s translation. Even if the NIV does a poor job on this verse, I’m not sure it’s blatant enough.


    • An interesting analysis. This is, I think, a case where the wider semantic range of Hebrew stretches over two or more English words. In English we tend to use “wrath” in the sense of “righteous anger” and “fury” in the sense of “emotional anger”. It does sound strange to attribute “righteous anger” to the god Chemosh, just as it would sound strange to attribute “emotional anger” to God. If you wanted to find a single word in English that could represent the word QeTZePH I guess “anger” would just about work. But the NIV is not trying to re-create Young’s Literal Translation – it is attempting to translate the Hebrew as accurately as possible into modern English in every instance.


  13. To add to what I say above about Psalm 22:16, here are direct quotes from The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, page XIV of the introduction and pp. 518-519 of the text:

    In addition to the finds at Khirbet Qumran, several manuscripts were discovered at other locations in the vicinity of the Dead Sea, especially Wadi Murraba’at (1951-1952), Nahal Hever (1951-42 and 1960-61), and Masada (1963-65)…A well-known and controversial reading is found in verse 16 [of Psalm 22], where the Masoretic Test reads “Like a lion are my hands and feet,” whereas the Septuagint has “They have pierced my hands and feet.” Among the scrolls the reading in question is found only in the Psalms scroll found at Nahal Hever….which reads “They have pierced my hands and feet!”


    • Thanks for pointing out that the footnote refers to this text from Nahal Hever as one of the “Dead Sea Scrolls”. I don’t think the NIV ever makes this distinction which most readers would regard as very subtle. Even Abegg, whose “Dead Sea Scrolls Bible” you cite appears to count it among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
      The Nahal Hever manuscripts are, as I’m sure you know, much closer to the Standard text (known later as the Masoretic tradition) than those at Qumran, which makes the presence of this variant at Nahal Hever much more significant than it if had occurred in one of the Qumran manuscripts.
      Thank you also for confirming that there is no early manuscript that contains the reading “like a lion”. I wasn’t aware of that. The Masora Gedolah also notes the strange pointing of the form in Ps.22. All this gives more weight to the conclusion that a scribe has mistaken a vav for a yod (see the photo at http://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/Ps22.16.pdf).
      I think the ball is now in the court of those who want to defend the strange verbless reading “like a lion”.


      • Yes Joe, I was concluding that the long letter at the end of the word in the Nahal Hever MS was a vav, so that ‘pieced’ would be a likely translation. The form in Isaiah is interesting but doesn’t the M.Gedolah note that the scribes wanted to point out a distinction in the meaning between these two?
        Thanks for your paper. Your main conclusion appears to be that it is often difficult to decide between a vav and a long yod, and that you prefer the reading of MT. The next word contains two yods, both of which are short, and the previous word ends with a yod which is short. I think we have to conclude that the long letter could be a long yod, though this is not the normal way that this scribe writes a yod.


      • Hi David. First of all, thanks for coming into the Skeptical Lion’s Den.

        “Yes Joe, I was concluding that the long letter at the end of the word in the Nahal Hever MS was a vav, so that ‘pieced’ would be a likely translation.”

        That’s what I wanted to hear you say. Using a vav at the end, the resulting word would otherwise be unknown in Hebrew (I’m not aware of its use anywhere else in Hebrew writings). So on what basis do you say it is likely “pierced” (let alone likely anything)? I could guess but words (from) your mouth would be better.

        Regarding the Masorah you refer to this note states that the word of 22:17 is the exact same word as in Isaiah 38:13 (like a lion) but has a different meaning in 22:17. I suspect the difference is an implied verb for 22:17 but that’s just speculation. Note that this type of Masorah comment is a broad Textual Criticism comment referring to exemplars and transmission tradition. This Masorah comment is clearly evidence for a yod at the end and that is the direct issue at hand and foot.

        The Masorah evidence in general is your enemy here as they either do not mention the vav variant or mention that there are exemplars with vav written but should be read with a yod. I’m not aware of any Masorah that gives evidence the other way, yod is written but should be read a s vav.

        Regarding the Nahal Hever fragment, the next word does look like the first yod is noticeably shorter than the last letter of that word we have been discussing. The final yod though of that next word looks noticeably longer to me than the first yod. For the fragment as a whole there are other yods that look to me to be as long as vavs. I would say that overall for this fragment, for all yods and vavs, it is somewhat more likely that the average vav would be longer than the average yod. I would not say that though for final letters.

        David, I’m seeing (so to speak) this fragment as a sort of rorschach test. It would seem the viewer tends towards what the viewer’s conclusion already is. I think the combination of similar yods and vavs of the time, including for this fragment, and especially for final letters, combined with the fading and aging of this fragment make it difficult to distinguish yods and vavs with much likelihood for this author.

        The relevant comparison here is which has more uncertainty:

        1) The Masoretic tradition has a yod.

        2) The Nahal Hever fragment has a vav.

        But again, I’m primarily concerned here with your basis for saying it likely that the Nahal Hever word is “pierced”.



  14. On Deuteronomy 16.7:
    I agree that ‘roast’ may not the best translation here and this has already been re-examined by the committee, though I’m not at liberty to tell you the conclusion.
    It is helpful to note that BaSHaL doesn’t simply mean ‘boil’ – it is a more generic word for cooking (see eg 2Sam.13.6, 8, 10), and every place where it clearly means ‘to boil’ it is accompanied by words indicating liquids or vessels for liquids. So, for example, in 2Chron.35.13 it says the Passover was prepared by “BaSHaL with fire” whereas the boiled meats were prepared by “BaSHaL in pots” – ie cooked over fire and cooked in pots of water, or ‘roasted’ and ‘boiled’.


    • 2 Chronicles 35:15 is obviously later than Deuteronomy and is attempting to provide its own harmonization between roasting and boiling, since his later perspective lets him see a contradiction that was perhaps not evident to the respective authors of Deuteronomy and Exodus. That doesn’t mean you can read Chronicles back into Deuteronomy and alter what the author intended.


      • I’m sorry Paul, I wasn’t citing 2 Chronicles 35:15 in order to harmonise, but to illustrate the way in which BaSHaL can be used in a context that doesn’t refer to boiling. This means that we can’t assume that every time BaSHaL occurs it means to boil – we have to look at the context. It is probably best to translate it as something more generic such as ‘to cook’ unless the context tells us what method of cooking is being used.


  15. On 2 Samuel 21:19:
    A footnote at this point says this very thing, and says that “the brother of” comes from 1Chron.20.5. The KJV and even Youngs Literal add “brother of” but they don’t need to add a footnote because they use italics to indicate they have supplied these words.


    • Yes, and since when is it valid translation technique to put content from 1 Chronicles into 2 Samuel? 🙂 Besides, it’s trivially easy to show that the Chronicler copied the material from 2 Samuel but altered a few letters to produce his own harmonization. But thank you for confirming that “brother” is not in 2 Samuel 21:19, and that the translation is incorrect.

      (On a more philosophical note, I wonder… if you agree with the NIV preface’s claim that the Bible is God’s word in written form, do you think God made an error by not putting the word “brother” into 2 Samuel 21:19? If He did not, why did the NIV translators think it was appropriate?)


      • Hmm… have you perhaps put words into my mouth? I point out that the footnote says where the words were inserted from, and you say I’m confirming it is a mistranslation. The NIV is doing here exactly the same as KJV, NET, NLT, NKJ, YLT and probably others which I haven’t checked. Most of these use italics or (like the NIV) add a note to explain to the reader what they have done.
        _ Yes, this is adding something which is not text which is not there, but no-one is trying to fool the reader.


      • I don’t know how else to describe it when you take content from another passage in another book, and use it to alter what 2 Samuel says. If you don’t think that constitutes a mistranslation of 2 Samuel (especially since it can be shown that 2 Samuel is the earlier reading), then we’re at an impasse. This is exactly the NIV’s ad hoc approach to translation I am concerned about in the first place. I do appreciate your point of view that you don’t see it as a problem, and I think you for giving me insight into the NIV translators’ methodology. But ultimately it boils down to:

        1. 2 Samuel 21:19 says Elhanan killed Goliath of Gath.
        2. You think it should say Elhanan killed someone else on the basis of 1 Chronicles.
        3. Therefore, you change 2 Samuel 21:19 accordingly.
        (Never mind the fact that 2 Samuel is the original reading according to many or most scholars.)

        I suspect you have fooled many readers, whether intentionally or not.


      • Well, I would agree that readers were fooled if the NIV didn’t have a footnote explaining exactly what was happening. The NIV has a policy of always noting when it deviates from the MT – unlike most other translations.
        _ For example, in Gen.37.36 most translations (including NRSV) helpfully harmonise the Hebrew by changing “Medanites” to “Midianites”. The NIV footnotes this change (because of its policy) but most other versions (incl. NRSV) don’t bother. They just change the Hebrew, presumably to help the reader, but without any warning. This is a trivial change, but that’s the point – the NIV policy means that the reader is always kept informed.


  16. On 1 Kings 4:26:
    You are making a very serious charge when you call the translators “dishonest”. This is especially unfortunate in the same paragraph where you misleadingly say: “this verse doesn’t even exist in the Septuagint”. I’m sure you know that the order of material in the LXX isn’t always the same as in the MT, because you even point out where this verse does occur.
    _ The NIV often has recourse to the LXX (like almost all other translations), and has the policy of always stating when it is doing so (unlike most translations). So if you find a place where the LXX is relied on without footnoting this fact, please do point it out.
    _ The NIV footnote doesn’t say that “the Septuagint” has this reading (as you imply) but only that “some” manuscripts have it. Like you, I’ve had a quick glance at an apparatus and couldn’t find this variant. If (as you assume) there aren’t any such manuscripts, then this is a serious mistake that you have unearthed in the wording of the footnote. I’ll look more deeply into this.


    • I’m sure you know that the order of material in the LXX isn’t always the same as in the MT, because you even point out where this verse does occur.

      To say 3 Kingdoms 2:46i is “the same verse” as 1 Kings 4:26, and therefore warrants the NIV (which claims to be based on the MT) to go and alter 1 Kings 4:26, is somewhat misleading. 3 Kingdoms 2:46i occurs in a different chapter. It occurs in a different context, immediately following a description of Solomon’s ministers in charge of brickworks and other things, whereas 1 Kings 4:26 is in a passage about the geographical extent and agricultural prosperity of Solomon’s kingdom. They are only “the same verse” in that they mention similar details about Solomon’s chariot horses. Even if they originate from the same verse in some non-extant Vorlage, I’m not convinced that it is valid translation technique to replace the verse in the MT with one from a substantially rewritten manuscript tradition in another language. And that’s assuming the LXX even says what the NIV authors claim it says, which I cannot find evidence for.

      On that latter point, “some Septuagint manuscripts” implies to the untrained reader that this is a significant variant attested by several of the best Septuagint manuscripts. (After all, what honest translator would give preference to poor, less reliable manuscripts?) If what is actually meant is a single manuscript or patristic quotation too obscure to be included in a typical Septuagint apparatus, I think the footnote is misleading. (i.e. dishonest) If you can find multiple Septuagint manuscripts with this reading and show that the footnote is not misleading, I will emend my entry.


      • I’m afraid there is only a certain amount of detail that can go in NIV footnotes – after all, this isn’t a text critical edition. For LXX readings the NIV notes have only two statements – either that it is a reading of “the Septuagint” or of “some Septuagint manuscripts”.
        _ When it says “some” you should certainly not assume this means “most” or even “many”. As you know, when there are variations in LXX readings this is usually due to early scribes who attempt to align the translation with the Standard text (which later became the MT). Most LXX MSS align very well with the MT. This means that even a single MS that has a reading different to the MT can be extremely significant, esp. if this reading agrees with other unrelated traditions such as SP or Targums.


  17. On Isaiah 7:14:
    It is true that the NIV tries to make the OT match the NT quotations as often as possible within range of the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek. This is mainly to help the readers see the link. A footnote points out that this Hebrew can also mean merely a young woman.
    _ If it wasn’t for the use of this verse as prophecy, the LXX translation would be unremarkable. An ‘aLMaH would normally be expected to be a virgin. Ideally we’d find an English word which means: “a girl of marriageable age who isn’t married and who is therefore almost certainly a virgin unless something terrible has happened in her life, but who isn’t specifically a virgin”. Any suggestions?


    • The most accurate translation, since the Isaianic oracle is referring to a woman in his own day and not a miraculous virgin birth, would be to say “young woman” as the RSV and NRSV do.

      Of course, I am aware of the bind this puts the NIV in, since such a change made honestly and for the sake of accuracy would nevertheless anger a large portion of its readership that *wants* the Old Testament prophecies to read like their NT quotations. I empathize with you on the difficulty of such decisions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m afraid ‘young woman’ doesn’t really work in the modern world because it is no longer even vaguely overlapping with the concept of an ‘aLMaH which in OT times implied a virgin. And in the days of the RSV translators this was still just about true. But the world has changed a great deal since then. The LXX translators were not (I believe) inspired by the Holy Spirit when they translated PARTHENOS. They were just finding the word with the nearest semantic range. And we should follow the same principle today.


        • Well, as I understand it, almah simply means a young woman of marriageable age. She might have been a virgin as well, but Hebrew has another word that would be used if her virginity were the point. But since I am not an authority in Hebrew, I’ll offer some citations from other scholars.

          Commitment to “direct hit” prophecy has left some elements of evangelicalism in denial over such a text as Isaiah 7:14 where, against the evidence, the word ‘almah has been given the very specific sense of “virgin” – though no-one would suggest that when Saul uses the masculine equivalent in reference to David he is asking “Whose son is that virgin-lad?” (1 Sam. 17:56). Since, if ever a prophetic text did, Isaiah 7:14 has as its first port of call the circumstances of the prophet’s own lifetime (see verse 16), it is as well that ‘almah does not mean “virgin”.

          — Robert P. Gordon, Hebrew Bible and Ancient Versions, p. 175 (Emphasis mine.)

          Thus it was also from a non-biblical Hellenistic milieu that the idea of virgin birth emanated, to be associated with Jesus and then read back into both the Hebrew word (almah and its Septuagint rendering παρθενος in Isaiah 7.14 so that the Hebrew word was made to mean here—contrary to all pertinent data—”virgin” instead of “young woman,” and the Greek word was made to mean—again incorrectly—exclusively “virgin.”

          — Harry M. Orlinsky, The So-Called Servant of the Lord and Suffering Servant in Second Isaiah, p. 75

          As is well known, in the Hebrew text the term employed is almah and that simply means a young woman, not necessarily a virgin, who would have been understood to conceive by the usual means. Indeed, the virginity of the young woman in question is of no interest to this text where the divine sign has to do with the timing of the conception and birth, not its manner.

          — Andrew T. Lincoln, “Contested Paternity and Contested Readings: Jesus’ Conception in Matthew 1.18–25”, JSNT 34(3), 2012.

          The NIV’s translation seems to run counter to what scholars say about the meaning of the text, and surely it is no coincidence that this is quoted as a key citation of prophetic fulfilment by Matthew in the New Testament.


    • JW:
      Hi David. Unlike Psalm 22:17, Isaiah 7:14 is not especially interesting in Polemics any more because most Christian Bible scholars confess that “almah” here does mean “young woman”, for instance the late great Raymond Brown in his classic, The Birth of the Messiah. The Christian Lexicons also generally accept that the meaning of almah = “young woman”. It is the Christian translations that still resist using “young woman” here, presumably because of the “T” word we saw relating to 22:17.

      Actually the interesting issue here is the Greek use of “parthenos”. Generally missed in related discussions is that “parthenos” 2,000 years ago was ambiguous between “virgin” and “maiden”. Meaning was decided by context. It was the Christian Bible usage that gave it a subsequent primary meaning of “virgin” (Brown confesses this). We see once again, as we did with 22:17, that the issue is not with the original language (Hebrew) but in the translation (Greek).

      The textual markers of 7:14 indicate that the subject is present and pregnant preventing a meaning of “virgin” consistent with the Jewish Bible and Judaism in general having no belief in virgin births. Thus, at a minimum, “young woman” is the likely author meaning. Is “virgin” even within the range of meaning of “almah”? As you know The Jewish Bible has a dedicated word for “virgin”. “Almah” is used six times in The Jewish Bible. What is your evidence that “virgin” is within the range of meaning of “almah”?



      • Hi Joseph, I agree that you could possibly translate ‘almah’ as ‘young woman’, though ‘maiden’ would probably be more accurate – ie an unmarried girl who is presumed to be a virgin. As you say, the word ‘bethulah’ is used where there is a greater emphasis on the fact that she is a virgin, and ‘almah’ is used only 6x other than in Isa.7.14.

        However, on every occasion that ‘almah’ occurs, the girl is assumed to be a virgin:
        Gen.24.43: the girl is being selected as a prospective bride
        Exo.2.8: the girl is Moses’ young sister who is still living with her mother
        Psa.68.25: they are part of the procession of musicians going into the sanctuary, so they should be pre-menstual.
        Pro.30.19: ‘the way of a man with an almah’ is the 4th after three (ie the significant surprise at the end of a list) which is paralleled with the evil things in v.17 & v.20 – ie the meaning here is seduction.
        Song 1.3: She is describing her lover, saying that all the young girls love him. She would not be very enamoured with him if those young girls hadn’t remain virgins!
        Song 6.8: The end of a list of women belonging to the King: “Queens, concubines and almot.” If any in the last category were no longer virgins, they would become concubines (ie, in ANE law, women who sleep with their man, but haven’t had a marriage ceremony)

        Interestingly, the KJV recognises these contexts and translates them all ‘virgin’ except for Exo.2.8 where it uses ‘girl’.
        The etymological meaning is probably a ‘pre-menstrual girl’ – ie a vigorous girl, like the male version ‘elem’ which Jastrow characterises as a vigorous lad. As you know, in the older world, menstruation was regarded the cause of enfeebling of women.
        In conclusion, I suppose I must agree that ‘almah’ could possibly be used of a non-virgin girl – with the proviso that we have no example of this meaning (other than possibly Isa.7.14) and the general meaning would lean away from this.

        In Isa.7.14 is certainly stands out as a surprising word. Presumably the prophecy originally referred to a woman at the time who gave birth and Isaiah was saying that before this child was weaned, the enemy would lose their power. So it is surprising that the word ‘almah’ was used, which is normally reserved for pre-menstrual girls. Perhaps he used this to help identify a specific child, who was going to be born to a woman was married very young and wasn’t expected to be pregnant. This word was strange enough to attract the attention of the LXX translators.

        I agree that in Greek ‘parthenos’ can occasionally be used of non-virgins, though this is a matter of surprise or sarcasm, because the word always indicates a girl who is unmarried. The normal usage is of girls before they are married or who will never marry – such as the Vestal Virgins.

        Thanks for your interesting question.


  18. On Jeremiah 7:22:
    This has been recently discussed by the committee though of course I can’t say what specifically was decided.
    _ One thing that has to be decided in this text is: Who is he speaking to? If he is speaking to the people, then it is arguable that the Law of Moses did not command any burnt offerings, though the people were commanded to bring a handful of other offerings – Passover and other festival offerings – which were eaten by them and their families. Jeremiah doesn’t reject these offerings that are eaten – indeed he tells them to eat the burnt offerings too (in v.21).
    _ Even if he is addressing the nation, he can be making the point that the Law of Moses prescribes a tiny number of offerings compared to what they were used to in Egypt. They average just a little more than two burnt offerings per day for the whole nation. In other words far fewer animals died in the Temple than medieval bishops killed to produce the candles they consumed.
    _ And the ordinary people weren’t asked to bring any burnt offering, and yet they did. Jeremiah regarded this as wasteful hypocrisy and reminded them that God didn’t command this, but commanded moral obedience.
    _ We also have to decide about the rhetorical value of what Jeremiah is saying. Was he saying: “God never gave any commands about sacrifices, but only about moral obedience”. Or was he saying: God asked for vanishingly few sacrifices, because all he really wanted was constant moral obedience”. Preachers often use the same kind of rhetoric before the offering: “God doesn’t want your money, but a generous heart” – and we all understand what they really mean! They mean “God doesn’t JUST want your money…” and it is likely that this was the rhetorical value of Jeremiah here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the reply. Nevertheless, this is another example of the NIV translators deciding what the verse ought to mean, and then adding nuance that isn’t in the original, in a way other translations do not do. It rules out other valid analyses of the passage, such as the possibility that Jeremiah was altogether opposed to the sacrificial system enacted by the Jerusalem priests. (And whatever traditions about the law’s origins and codification existed in his day may have been quite different from the Pentateuchal traditions that emerge in the Persian period.)

      This particular example is perhaps the one I see the most complaints about (by readers, scholars, etc.). In one deft stroke, the NIV turns Jeremiah’s disapproval of codified sacrifice law into approval — saying the very opposite of what the literal words in the Masoretic text say.

      Preachers often use the same kind of rhetoric before the offering: “God doesn’t want your money, but a generous heart” – and we all understand what they really mean!

      Yes, they mean “God doesn’t want your money…but I do!” 😉 Humour aside, I don’t think that is a particularly apt analogy. Pastors are more analogous to the priests and scribes Jeremiah is condemning, and not with Jeremiah the outsider who seems to be genuinely hostile toward Israel’s religious caste. See also Jer 8.8, where he claims that the “lying pen of the scribes” has corrupted the law.


  19. On Daniel 9:25–26: You are right that this is a very difficult passage.
    _ You are mistaken to say that the NIV translates both phrases as “the Anointed One” – the first is translated as “the Anointed One, the ruler”, and the second phrase as “the Anointed One” (MaSHi’aCH occurs in both phrases and is translated identically both times.
    _ Should it have an article in English? I’m sure you are well aware that the so-called ‘article’ in Hebrew is not the same as the article in English. Hebrew omits an article in many places where it could be incorrect for English to omit it. But here it is ambiguous. This could be referring to a special individual (ie ‘the coming King/Priest’), or it could refer to one of several individuals (ie ‘a coming king/priest’). So the NIV puts one option in the text and the other option was put in the footnote. Personally I think it refers primarily to a specific historical individual and, as you pointed out, most commentators think so too, so the English should have an article.
    On the issue of the division of the verse, I think you have a good point. The translation isn’t following the punctuation given by the Masoretic scribes. Of course the NIV and other translations often do ignore this scribal punctuation, but there are other indications in the text that might point to this division in the verse. I will take this further though I think the Committee has looked at this more than once (before I joined it).


    • On the first point, I think you have misread my entry. I did not say “anointed one” was the mistranslation. I said the problem was using the definite article and capitalization to push readers toward understanding both terms to refer to one individual — specifically, Jesus. This obscures what the passage intends (according to the world’s best scholars on Daniel and apocryphal literature, like John J. Collins) and makes it very difficult to discuss the meaning of Daniel’s prophecies with more conservative readers whose NIV says something slightly different. The fudging of the “sevens” has the same problem, obfuscating the chronology that the author probably intended in favour of one that is more Christian-oriented.


      • OK, so you would prefer that the NIV reversed the footnote and the text, perhaps because you favour the historical interpretation.
        _ The NIV tries very hard to be a Bible for everyone. This is how my thinking goes: “the Anointed One” could refer to both a specific king or priest (such as Onias III or Joshua) or to a Messiah, so it fulfils the ideal that it fits both interpretations. However ‘an anointed one’ implies there is no specific indiviual, so it would be ‘any priest or king’ – this could just about be understood to refer to an individual such as Onias (so long as it isn’t a prophecy about him as an individual), but it would not really work with a messianic interpretation. So my choice would remain with ‘the Anointed One’.


  20. David Instone-Brewer wrote: The Nahal Hever manuscripts are, as I’m sure you know, much closer to the Standard text (known later as the Masoretic tradition) than those at Qumran, which makes the presence of this variant at Nahal Hever much more significant than it if had occurred in one of the Qumran manuscripts… I think the ball is now in the court of those who want to defend the strange verbless reading “like a lion”.

    As the NIV’s own footnote states, “most manuscripts of the Masoretic Text” have the “like a lion” reading, so if closeness to the MT is important, why did the NIV deviate from what the MT itself says? The MT’s translators apparently didn’t find this reading to be “strange.” Since, as you acknowledge in comment #607, “It is true that the NIV tries to make the OT match the NT quotations as often as possible within range of the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek,” is it possible that the NIV also tried to “match” Psalm 22:16/17 to the Passion Narrative, and this desire explains the NIV’s translation? This leads to another question: If the text originally said “pierced,” why did no New Testament author, not even Matthew, cite this passage as a prophecy that was fulfilled by Jesus? It seems more likely that given the lion metaphor in vv. 13 and 21 (translated faithfully by the NIV)–“Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me” and “Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen–combined with the lack of NT citation and the fact that “like a lion” is the more “difficult” reading, the MT’s rendering is correct.


    • I’m afraid you have misunderstood my comments about helping readers recognise links when the NT cites the OT. It is true that the NIV tries to make the NT and OT texts which are cited mirror each other as much as possible, within the constrainsts translation possibilities. But this is only when an OT text is cited in the NT. There is certainly no attempt to make OT texts look like messianic prophecies, as you seem to be implying.
      _ And yes, there are more MSS that read ‘like a lion’ – and this will be the case for EVERY reading where the LXX or other ancient versions preserve a possible variant. HOwever, I’m sure that you aren’t implying the the MT is perfect in every respect and that it is useless looking at these variant.
      _ I agree that ‘like a lion’ could relate to the animal theme in the Psalm as a whole, but the verse itself is very difficult because ‘like a lion’ requires a verb – as recognised by the Targum which is forced to add one. If ‘like a lion’ is the correct reading, there appears to be some unresolved corruption in the verse.
      _ However, if the scribe did make a mistake between a vav and a yod, the verse makes perfect sense. Whether you regard the animals as literal or metaphorical, the most likely parts of victim’s body that is going to be injured are at the extremes.


  21. David Instone-Brewer wrote: An interesting analysis [of 2 Kings 3:27]. This is, I think, a case where the wider semantic range of Hebrew stretches over two or more English words. In English we tend to use “wrath” in the sense of “righteous anger” and “fury” in the sense of “emotional anger”. It does sound strange to attribute “righteous anger” to the god Chemosh, just as it would sound strange to attribute “emotional anger” to God. If you wanted to find a single word in English that could represent the word QeTZePH I guess “anger” would just about work. But the NIV is not trying to re-create Young’s Literal Translation – it is attempting to translate the Hebrew as accurately as possible into modern English in every instance.

    Is it not special pleading to state that “righteous anger” is appropriate for the ANE deity Yahweh, but for the ANE deity Chemosh it’s “strange.” The JPS Tanakh isn’t trying to be YLT, but it still uses “wrath” in 2 Kings 3:27, as it does in passages that attribute this emotion to Yahweh. Let’s cut to the chase: Did the NIV translators word 2 Kings 3:27 as they did in any part because of a desire to mitigate the impression that Chemosh responded to Mesha’s sacrifice? Yes or no?


    • I’m afraid I don’t know the answer. But I do think it would be strange to talk about any of the ANE deities acting out of ‘righteous anger’. If that isn’t what ‘wrath’ means to you, then I guess that ‘wrath’ would work as a translation. I suspect that those translations that use ‘wrath’ are doing so in an attempt to use one English word for one Hebrew word irregardless of their different semantic ranges.


  22. May I make a “pox upon all your houses” plea here? All of the translations I have consulted, in several languages, get Mt 3:15 wrong. The NRSV renders it “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.” It’s as if Jesus and John the Baptist are enacting a gastly little Gaston and Alphonse routine. However, the Greek is neither difficult nor obscure. It should be “Release (or Forgive, or Liberate) now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness. Then he released him.”
    The reason the translators consistently get this wrong is that they don’t see that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have Jesus’ first public words as the announcement of the jubilee release. They all use different words, settings, and characters, but they all make the same proclamation.
    We don’t want our Jesus actually to do or to change anything, because that’s the same thing we expect of church. So the translators literally can’t get this one right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very interesting, Pastor Mark Rich. I’ll look into that one further.

      Edit: I’m having trouble seeing the problem with Matt 3:15. Could you explain in more detail?


      • I’m reposting here my earlier post to you, Paul D., just in case you have asked to be notified of new comments. Somehow WordPress put this down below, and so I’m not sure if you’ll get the notification from there.

        Sure. Here is the Greek, from the Unbound Bible (and so unaccented): αποκριθεις δε ο ιησους ειπεν {VAR1: αυτω } {VAR2: προς αυτον } αφες αρτι ουτως γαρ πρεπον εστιν ημιν πληρωσαι πασαν δικαιοσυνην τοτε αφιησιν αυτον

        And Jesus answered (him) saying, Release now for proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness. Then he released him.

        The translation in question is “αφες αρτι” and “τοτε αφιησιν αυτον.” Neither of these is at all difficult in Greek – “release now” and “then he released him.” So the difficulty the translators are having is not translational, but ideational; i.e., they don’t understand what is being communicated in the passage. These are the very first public words by the most important person ever, and so they have to be very important words, and the proclamation of the jubilee (a modified one, to be sure) certainly qualifies as that. A silly squabble as to who goes first is what they have translated, doing considerable damage both to the text and to the sense.

        αφες αρτι is as clear as can be: Release now (or Forgive now, as in the Lord’s Prayer και αφες ημιν τα οφειληματα ημων ως και ημεις αφηκαμεν τοις οφειλεταις ημων). There’s nothing difficult about that. The NRSV “Let it be so now” vastly overcomplicates the Greek, adding in words that aren’t there: 1) another verb ‘be’ to which ‘let’ becomes the auxiliary; 2) a direct object ‘it’; and 3) an adverb ‘so’ modifying the imaginary verb combination ‘let be’. Once the verb ‘be’ has been added, then ‘let be’ has to have an object, so they added ‘it’. Then we have to have a referent for ‘it’. We’ve already abandoned the powerful verb ‘Release’ and made it into an auxiliary for ‘be’, so ‘release’ can’t be the referent. So then the act of the baptism of Jesus by John has to be the referent, and then we are left to suppose that the issue is merely whether John the weaker could do this for Jesus the more powerful. But that supposition is itself despicably weak. We’ve now exchanged the proclamation of release for a mere sorting out of who’s before whom.

        Matthew has inserted Jesus’ jubilee proclamation into his baptism scene so that we understand that baptism is now about Jesus’ form of release. The Jewish rite of baptism already included that meaning, but Matthew is now directly tying it to Jesus’ proclamation of the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew is also the only one to connect release with the Last Supper at Mt 26:28. The evangelist wants us to directly connect both sacramental acts with release.

        Following that mess, the translators then have no idea how to handle the end of the sentence τοτε αφιησιν αυτον – “Then he released him.” Again, the Greek is not difficult. If αφες αρτι has been handled well, then τοτε αφιησιν αυτον is easy. But again, they haven’t thought through what Jesus is doing and saying here. He is releasing John the Baptist, and this is clearly a kind of release that is characteristic of Jesus’ programme of jubilee release. Not only are specific sins and debts released, but persons as well. See Mt 19:14 and also 19:27 and 29.


    • On that basis would you argue Matt 19:14 is about the jubilee year too? The word in question means “Allow.” Yes, the NIV is off base with “consented.” It should be like “then he allowed him.” As here, “allow the little children to come to me.” I don’t see how it would be like “release the debts of the little children because this is the jubilee year.”


      • Sure. Here is the Greek, from the Unbound Bible (and so unaccented): αποκριθεις δε ο ιησους ειπεν {VAR1: αυτω } {VAR2: προς αυτον } αφες αρτι ουτως γαρ πρεπον εστιν ημιν πληρωσαι πασαν δικαιοσυνην τοτε αφιησιν αυτον

        And Jesus answered (him) saying, Release now for proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness. Then he released him.

        The translation in question is “αφες αρτι” and “τοτε αφιησιν αυτον.” Neither of these is at all difficult in Greek – “release now” and “then he released him.” So the difficulty the translators are having is not translational, but ideational; i.e., they don’t understand what is being communicated in the passage. These are the very first public words by the most important person ever, and so they have to be very important words, and the proclamation of the jubilee (a modified one, to be sure) certainly qualifies as that. A silly squabble as to who goes first is what they have translated, doing considerable damage both to the text and to the sense.

        αφες αρτι is as clear as can be: Release now (or Forgive now, as in the Lord’s Prayer και αφες ημιν τα οφειληματα ημων ως και ημεις αφηκαμεν τοις οφειλεταις ημων). There’s nothing difficult about that. The NRSV “Let it be so now” vastly overcomplicates the Greek, adding in words that aren’t there: 1) another verb ‘be’ to which ‘let’ becomes the auxiliary; 2) a direct object ‘it’; and 3) an adverb ‘so’ modifying the imaginary verb combination ‘let be’. Once the verb ‘be’ has been added, then ‘let be’ has to have an object, so they added ‘it’. Then we have to have a referent for ‘it’. We’ve already abandoned the powerful verb ‘Release’ and made it into an auxiliary for ‘be’, so ‘release’ can’t be the referent. So then the act of the baptism of Jesus by John has to be the referent, and then we are left to suppose that the issue is merely whether John the weaker could do this for Jesus the more powerful. But that supposition is itself despicably weak. We’ve now exchanged the proclamation of release for a mere sorting out of who’s before whom.

        Matthew has inserted Jesus’ jubilee proclamation into his baptism scene so that we understand that baptism is now about Jesus’ form of release. The Jewish rite of baptism already included that meaning, but Matthew is now directly tying it to Jesus’ proclamation of the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. Matthew is also the only one to connect release with the Last Supper at Mt 26:28. The evangelist wants us to directly connect both sacramental acts with release.

        Following that mess, the translators then have no idea how to handle the end of the sentence τοτε αφιησιν αυτον – “Then he released him.” Again, the Greek is not difficult. If αφες αρτι has been handled well, then τοτε αφιησιν αυτον is easy. But again, they haven’t thought through what Jesus is doing and saying here. He is releasing John the Baptist, and this is clearly a kind of release that is characteristic of Jesus’ programme of jubilee release. Not only are specific sins and debts released, but persons as well. See Mt 19:14 and also 19:27 and 29.


      • Oops! My reply to Paul D. somehow got posted below your question, davidbrainerd2. That’s actually not so bad, since the two questions are related!

        Yes, Matthew 19 (and it’s source Mark 10) are very much about release – and then also receive.

        It starts with the prohibition of the release of wives in vss 3-9 (the Greek word used here is απολυσαι, which I think is used to distinguish it from the programmatic release of Jesus and his followers). Release then comes up prominently in the next section, vss. 13-15, and we’re back to the verb aphiemi. αφετε τα παιδια και μη κωλυετε αυτα ελθειν προς με – Release the little children and do not stop them coming to me.

        Once again, in the translations αφετε has been made into an auxiliary verb to ελθειν – let come. But this again destroys the force of αφετε and once again turns the passage into something nice and mild. Jesus is many things, but nice and mild is not one of them. He is good, but he is not nice.

        So as I read it, Jesus is once again talking about the jubilee release of little children, and this is probably referring to the release of children who are either enslaved or at risk of becoming enslaved. This kind of slavery happens to this day in the shoe and garment industries, and probably others as well.

        The key thing that Mark also adds to this passage (Mt has mysteriously deleted it!) is the tight linkage of release with receive: αμην λεγω υμιν ος αν μη δεξηται την βασιλειαν του θεου ως παιδιον ου μη εισελθη εις αυτην (Mk 10:15). It’s not enough that these little children should be released from bondage; they then must belong to someone somewhere. So they are then received into Jesus’ community, into him.

        This passage then sets up the statement by Peter in Mt 19:27 τοτε αποκριθεις ο πετρος ειπεν αυτω ιδου ημεις αφηκαμεν παντα και ηκολουθησαμεν σοι τι αρα εσται ημιν and also v. 29 και πας οστις αφηκεν οικιας η αδελφους η αδελφας η πατερα η μητερα η τεκνα η αγρους ενεκεν του {VAR1: εμου ονοματος πολλαπλασιονα } {VAR2: ονοματος μου εκατονταπλασιονα } λημψεται και ζωην αιωνιον κληρονομησει

        You see there the programmatic release of possessions and persons in v. 27 (btw, that release had happened as soon as Jesus called the first four disciples) tied now to the receiving of a hundredfold now. That is, Jesus is commanding and commending the sharing of all the goods and persons of all the households of his followers.

        So back to the little children: they of course don’t have debts, but they can be the debt payments of their indebted parents or extended family. Releasing and receiving them makes them now into the children of God, who are free and are supported by the whole community of God.

        Please let me know if this is helpful!!


  23. While I certainly agree that the NIV often engages in mistranslation to cover for Evangelical/Calvinist doctrine, I cannot agree with your approval of the NRSV because it sometimes mistranslates on purpose to obscure Messianic prophecy and obliterate Christianity. And because it insults my intelligence by changing “Caesar” to “the Emperor” when the Greek text literally says “Caesar” (as if we’re all too stupid to know Caesar is the Roman Empreror). Because of stuff like that I stopped using the NRSV for anything other than the Apocrypha, and would instead recommend the NKJV.

    The perfect example of a completely unacceptable translation in the NRSV, one that has to come from Satan himself because there’s just nowhere else it could come from, is in Psalm 22:16.

    This is the famous passage “they pierced my hands and my feet” which all Christian translations but the NRSV agree with. Some, like the NIV give it as present tense “they pierce my hands and my feet” but at least they get the meaning of the verb “pierce” right if not the tense.

    But the Jews argue that it should be translated “like a lion my hands and feet” which lacks a verb. The word Christian translators take as “pierced” the Jews take to mean “like a lion.” So now they have to supply a verb like “like a lion [they were at] my hands and feet” or paraphrase like “they mauled my hands and feet like lions.”

    Now the NRSV follows neither the Christian nor Jewish translation, but consulted Satan to give them a new translation never before seen, and one that is entirely impossible. I should add that the NRSV’s predecessor, the RSV, correctly says “they have pierced[a] my hands and feet” with the footnote saying “Gk Syr Jerome: Heb like a lion” which is nice, because they give us the Jewish translation in the footnote, how very accurate and scholarly. But what does the NRSV do???

    “My hands and feet have shriveled;[a]” (NRSV) and the footnote: “Meaning of Heb uncertain”

    Now if they were honest, they would have the same footnote as the RSV!!!!! And if they think in addition that “shriveled” is a possible translation then they would explain why!!! Especially since its a never before seen suggestion!!!! But instead they bow to their master, Satan. After all, BART EHRMAN was involved in the NRSV. I think that explains it right there.

    So use a NKJV instead.

    PS: With a lot of google searching (no thanks the NRSV translator liars) I found that some scholars have recently come to the conclusion this should be “shriveled” due to an Arabic (false) cognate. (Ah, so its MOOOZLIM influence, I see.) But if the NRSV guys had any honesty whatsoever, as I said, they would have given the RSV footnote, put “pierced” in the translation, and added TO THE FOOTNOTE their conjecture based on their MOOOOZLIM Arabaic false cognate.


  24. In Genesis 1:21, the NIV says “great creatures of the sea” instead of the more accurate translations of the NRSV, NJPS, and NASB, which say “great sea monsters.” Compare the use of the word in Psalm 74:13, Job 7:12, and Isaiah 27:1, in all of which the NIV translates more accurately. It appears that the NIV’s translators were troubled that God would create a mythological creature.


  25. NIV changes Judges 11:39 to say that that Jephthah’s daughter was a virgin, rather than that she had been a virgin, to leave open the temple-service “explanation.” The Net Bible annotation reads:

    tn Heb “She had never known a man.” Some understand this to mean that her father committed her to a life of celibacy, but the disjunctive clause (note the vav + subject + verb pattern) more likely describes her condition at the time the vow was fulfilled. (See G. F. Moore, Judges [ICC], 302-3; C. F. Burney, Judges, 324.) She died a virgin and never experienced the joys of marriage and motherhood.

    For a fuller treatment of this issue, see http://bcharchive.org/2/thearchives/showthread3c9c.html?t=236009&page=17


    • To be honest, I don’t see how using the word “virgin” helps much in promoting the “temple service” view. It seems to me that the point of emphasizing her virginity is to explain the four-day ritual Israelite virgin women perform in the writer’s day.


  26. I’m certainly not suggesting that the temple-service view naturally follows from the translation virgin; it’s an “explanation” to avoid the obvious suggestion that the daughter was killed. However, had the NIV translated the verse correctly, the temple-service “explanation” wouldn’t even be an option. Here’s a comparison of translations.

    39At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made. She had never slept with a man…

    39After two months’ time, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. She had never known a man…

    New Jerusalem Bible:
    39 When the two months were over she went back to her father, and he treated her as the vow that he had uttered bound him. She had remained a virgin…

    39 After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin…

    If you say that a girl “had been” a virgin, then obviously one of two things happened: she had sex or she died. By saying that the daughter “had been” a virgin until her father “did to her as he had vowed” (NJPS), obviously the latter is what happened. The NIV, though, says that she “was” a virgin after the fulfillment of the vow, leaving open the possibility that the fulfillment of the vow entailed something other than her death. This may seem like a subtle difference, but I think it is a deliberate mistranslation with an agenda in mind.


  27. Hello! I noticed an alteration today. Galatians 5:20 – “seditions” has been changed to “dissensions.” There’s a significant difference between these words. The former means “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.” The latter simply means “disagreement that leads to discord.” Such a change would be a convenient one for the politically-driven Evangelical “translator.”


    • Honestly I don’t think it matters. Paul is way too politically correct with regards to showing emotions, speaking, and obeying authority (both governmental and religious) regardless how you translate it. He’s the main reason (he and fundamentalists who take him too seriously on his malanthrophic doctrines are) why we’re so steeped in PC bullcrap. But, to your actual point, that is not an alteration between the NIV1984 and the NIV2011, since both of them say “dissensions”…its the KJV that says “seditions.” This has to do OBVIOUSLY with the interpretation of the translators on whether Paul has governmental (“seditions”) authority or religious (“dissensions”) in mind here. Either way Paul is writing an opinion, not a real commandment.


      • Calling Paul “too politically correct” is pretty funny. You do know that this is the guy who’s going around (mostly) the eastern Empire with a message that the real Son of God is not the pretender sitting on a throne in Rome? And in Galatians 5 his point to the Galatian believers is that they need to discern the radical differences between the ways of the flesh/world and the ways of the Spirit – that is, the ways of mutual conflict or the ways of mutual love. That’s not mere political correctness.
        I think Paul is still getting tagged, especially online, for stuff that’s really deutero-Pauline. Yes, there’s a lot of attention paid to personal behavior in the deutero-Paulines, and particularly in the three Ts. At the same time, there’s an abandonment of the radical social vision of the early Jesus movement and the Paul movement. But let’s please not ride Paul for stuff he didn’t do or say.
        It’s also worth knowing that Mark Nanos has come up with a really eye-opening re-reading of Romans 13:1-7 in his book “The Mystery of Romans.” He argues, convincingly to me, that Paul is not at all referring to governmental authorities (the Greek there, unlike the English, doesn’t necessarily have any governmental reference). Rather, he is referring to the synagogue authorities. It makes a lot more sense within the whole argument of Romans.


      • I apologize, I misunderstood. I didn’t realize we were speaking exclusively on NIV1984 and NIV2011. I thought it was a discussion of differences between KJV and NIV in general. Having said that, when most Christians are dealing with scripture, they don’t consider the motivations of the author. It is all considered the word of God. Nobody says “Oh, that’s just Paul being Paul.” So, I absolutely believe that a change in text to reduce the call to submission to government is not far fetched, even in 1984. It’s funny, I didn’t know there was a book on Romans 13:1-7 that claims he’s talking about religious rather than governmental authority (he’s very clearly not), but I have often suspected that there were preachers out there using that argument. I grew up in an Evangelical Christian home. I know how a great many of them think, and getting “sedition” out of the Bible is very convenient for them.


  28. Paul never once calls the Roman emperor a “pretender” and there is no way Romans 13 can be about synagogue authorities and you’re totally insane if you think so, since he talks about the ruler bearing a “sword” and receiving taxes and customs. You’re just a liar.


    • Let’s keep it civil, guys.

      The interpretation of Romans is problematic in many, many places (just see Heikki Räisänen’s Paul and the Law), and I’ll certainly be examining all the suggestions put forward here, even though some of them might not be cut-and-dried enough for my list.


    • Easy, big guy! Please remember that online posts are all too easy to zip off very quickly, with too much heat and too little light!

      Before you pop off calling someone a liar, consider it at least possible that he/she might know something you don’t. I already gave you the scholarly reference, and you surely have not read it already. So “totally insane” and “liar” are way too premature.

      Please think: if Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God – which Paul readily proclaims him as – and that title is and has been THE imperial title for centuries, then that necessarily means that the guys on the throne in Rome are NOT the true emperors. It’s not for nothing that Paul gets accused of “turning the world upside down” in Acts 17.

      Please also know what translators have known for a long time: the Koine Greek word translated ‘sword’ in Rom 13:4 does not mean ‘sword.’ It means ‘knife.’ No imperial authority has ever been based on knives, but on swords. But Paul does not say ‘sword,’ he says ‘knife.’ Once again, Nanos goes through all this.


  29. pastormarkrich:Please also know what translators have known for a long time: the Koine Greek word translated ‘sword’ in Rom 13:4 does not mean ‘sword.’ It means ‘knife.’

    What translators do you have in mind? All of the English translations listed here, http://biblehub.com/romans/13-4.htm, say “sword.” Not one says “knife,” including Young’s Literal Translation. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, the word can mean a large knife or a small sword, and in Romans 13:4, “bear the sword” means “to have the power of life and death,” so it seems to me that ultimately the exact name of the weapon is somewhat irrelevant, and context has to tell us who has the power of life and death. (See http://biblehub.com/greek/3162.htm for the Thayer’s entry.) On page 310 of Nanos’ book on Romans, Nanos quotes John Howard Yoder to support Nanos’ view that synagogue leaders are in view in Romans 13, but he leaves out the part of Yoder’s quote which makes it clear that Yoder believes that the Romans are in view! Here is Yoder’s quote directly from pp. 203-204 of The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster:

    The sword (machaira) is the symbol of judicial authority. It was not the instrument of capital punishment, since the Romans crucified their criminals. It was not the instrument of war since it was but a long dagger. Like the pistol worn by a traffic policeman or the sword worn by a Swiss citizen officer, it was more a symbol of authority than a weapon. This is not to say that the Roman government was mild or that this weapon was only symbolically present. But what it symbolizes is the way a given government exercises dominion over its subjects by appeal to violence, not the execution of capital offenders or the waging of hostilities against other nations.

    And here is how Nanos uses this same quote. The ellipsis is Nanos’, not mine:

    The μάχαιρα was the “symbol of judicial authority…like the pistol worn by a traffic policeman or the sword worn by a Swiss citizen officer, it was more a symbol of authority than a weapon.”

    That’s a lot of information that Nanos left out.


    • Yes, John, the translations do all translate it the same way – ‘sword’ and not ‘knife’. So here’s the dirty little secret to Bible translations: they don’t translate what the original text says; they translate what they think it’s supposed to say. The small end of that principle is that no ‘bad’ words are translated from the Hebrew and the Greek, such that the resulting Bible fits very nicely with Gothic architecture and a conformist religion. The deep end of that principle lands on this passage.
      “Everyone knows” that Romans 13:1-7 is supposed to command us to obey the government, and never mind if the government is manifestly evil, such as the Nazis or the Roman Imperium. We are commanded to obey nonetheless, and traditionally most Christians have done just that every since the fourth century. And never mind as well that a reference to synagogue authorities who carried knives as symbols of authority (that’s the part of Nanos’ argument that you left out) fits much better within the context of chapter 12. The translators just ‘know’ that Romans 13:1-7 is supposed to command us to governmental obedience, and so they translate accordingly – i.e., machairan becomes ‘sword’ instead of ‘knife.’
      The translators are not just trying to translate the texts. They are also trying to embody their own theologies AND also to maintain the Constantinian settlement. It’s a lot to do.


  30. That’s an odd question, given that they were human. You get it about humans, right?

    If I’m not mistaken, at the time of Paul’s letter to the Roman believers the Jewish communities in the Empire were still legally considered a distinct politeia, with the right to govern their own communities and collect their own taxes. I’m no expert in the Roman Empire, though.


  31. I’ll infer from your sarcastic response that the answer is, “No, the Jewish authorities were not always just.” Since the Jewish authorities were at times unjust, then your whole argument that Paul wouldn’t tell the Romans to obey an unjust government proves nothing. If he would tell the Romans to obey an unjust authority (Jews), why not an unjust authority (Romans)?


  32. New NIV (2011) in Luke 18:1-8 (The Parable of the Persistent Widow), in verse 5 the judge gives in to the persistent widow “so that she won’t eventually come and attack me”. Old NIV, as well as many other translations have him yield to her lest she ‘wear him out’ or something similar. Attack and wear out are not at all the same. The Greek word is Strong’s number 5299 which gives an expression meaning something like punching below the eye (as in boxing) to annoy or wear down an opponent. I don’t think the judge really thought this widow would ATTACK him. It’s a 2011 NIV Study Bible, and the study notes say nothing on this difference.

    New NIV (2011) in Mark 1:40-44 (Jesus heals a leper), in verse 41 it says Jesus was “indignant”. (…and then he healed him.) Really? Jesus was INDIGNANT? (Not very “Christ-like”, eh?) Again the study bible notes say nothing about this, even though the old NIV says Jesus was filled with compassion (as do other translations). The Greek is Strong’s number 4697 – an almost gut-wrenching feeling of compassion.

    Jesus’ testing by Satan (after his baptism) mentions he went into the “desert” (old NIV) or “wilderness” (new NIV), as well as several other mentions in the New Testament of the desert(old)/wilderness(new). In this case, most other translations also say ‘wilderness’ so maybe in this case the new NIV is a fix-up. Strong’s number 2048 is used as ‘wilderness’ 32 times and ‘desert’ 13 times in the King James. I dunno – maybe this one is a nit-pick.

    I’m just now in the third book of a six-book bible study class based on the life of Christ (Mostly in Matthew, but with many references to other verses) and these are what I’ve stumbled onto so far. Statistically, that does not bode well for further differences (errors?) in further study.


    • Hi Charles, thanks for the comment. I wasn’t aware of the Luke 18 example, so I’ll have to see what’s up there.

      In the case of Jesus and the leper in Mark, there is a genuine manuscript dispute. Most say Jesus was moved with pity, while a very small minority say he got angry. The latter is hard to make sense of but is often regarded as the more original reading for precisely that reason. (No scribe would change “compassionate” to “angry” on purpose, but the opposite is plausible.) See this article on the topic: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/bible-interpretation/does-the-gospel-of-mark-reveal-jesus%E2%80%99-anger-or-his-compassion/

      If I had a quibble, it’s that the NIV uses the more specific “indignant” instead of “angry”, when it’s not clear from context what the reason for Jesus’ anger is. Perhaps they think righteous indignation is more befitting their view of Jesus than plain old anger.

      As for desert/wilderness, I believe it’s just a matter of one Greek word having multiple valid translations.

      Keep looking out for translation discrepancies! I suspect there are plenty more to find.


  33. Forgive me, but Strong’s numbers can be misleading because they leave no room for nuance, and it isn’t *quite* possible just to assign one or two English meanings to any term in a foreign language and call it a day. Strong’s can be useful as a rough starting point, but don’t think you can stop there. If you learn Greek, which isn’t really all that hard if you just chip away at it a little at a time, you’ll be a lot more clear and confident about what the Text actually says.

    At that point, another principle comes into play: we shouldn’t allow our ideas of what is “Christ-like” or what Christ or somebody in the Bible “should” have done to interfere with what the Text actually says they did. Our work is to understand the Bible, not to ensure that it conforms to our ideas. Isn’t that the very thing we complain about, in the NIV?

    So, about Mark 1.40-45, Sharyn Dowd points out in her absolutely *stellar* commentary on Mark in the Smyth & Helwys series (read it! read it! read it!), that Mark’s audience would have thought of leprosy as caused by a demon, and that would explain why the account has elements that are more typical of exorcisms than of healing stories.

    NIV is apparently following the more difficult reading of several important early manuscripts instead of the majority text for its translation of Jesus’ “indignation” in Mk 1.41. I think we should affirm NIV’s choice in this case, startling as it seems. Those who study manuscripts find, time and again, that a more difficult wording is usually to be preferred over a smoother wording, because scribes tended to “correct” things that didn’t make sense to them. This is called the principle of “lectio difficilior”. It seems people had exactly the trouble with “became indignant” (orgistheis) that you have, from early times. Anger just doesn’t seem to be an appropriate response to this man’s plight, and as you say, it doesn’t seem very “Christ-like”, either! So splagchnistheis, ‘moved with compassion’, appears in most mss, and is even chosen by Nestle-Aland, and underlies most translations.

    But upon consideration, splagchnistheis does seem like a scribal “correction”. Orgistheis— which I would translate not as ‘becoming indignant’ but more like ‘becoming wrathful’— makes perfect sense in view of 1.43— ‘he rebuked him (embrimēsamenos) and cast him out (exebalen auton)— makes sense, that is, *IF* this is an exorcism, not just a healing, and what Jesus gets angry at, rebukes, and casts out out is not the leper but the demon. In that case, not only Jesus’ “indignation” (or anger) and all the other troubling images are exactly what you’d expect in an exorcism. And note that the narrator’s subsequent report that ‘immediately the leprosy went away from him (apēlthen ap’ autou)’ (1.42), parallels what happened in the synagogue exorcism which took place earlier, at 1.26: here the leprosy ‘went away from him (apēlthen ap’ autou)’; there the demon ‘went out of him (exēlthen ex autou)’. It’s also significant that that exorcism and this one are chiastically paired as the beginning and ending of Mark’s first panel of five episodes demonstrating Jesus’ authority and power.

    In addition to Dowd, see also HC Kee, Community of the New Age: Studies in Mark’s Gospel (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1977) p 35.

    To be sure, if the ‘healing’ of this leper is really an exorcism, as i’ve outlined, then 1.43 and 1.44 seem to be reversed, and no explanation for that is readily apparent. Still, reading the episode as an exorcism rather than just a healing makes better sense of its many ‘exorcistic’ elements, than reading it simply as a healing does.

    Let me add also that Dowd makes the very interesting point about the end of the story that Jesus sent the leper to offer sacrifice not ‘as a witness to them’, as all translations have it, but ‘as a witness *against* them’ (1.44). The identical phrase (eis martyrion autois) appears in 6.11, where it clearly means ‘against’, and in 13.9, where it’s more ambiguous but makes better sense if read negatively, since the context there somewhat parallels that of 6.11. In Mark’s first, chiastic series of five stories of Jesus’ authority to teach, to cast out demons, and to heal (1.21-45), Mark is getting us ready to see the hostility that comes out into the open in his second chiastic panel of episodes (2.1–3.6).

    Nevertheless, I’m sure NIV has “as a witness to them” in 1.44— but in this case, it wouldn’t be a “deliberate mistranslation”; it’s just something nobody ever noticed before. There’s a lot of that in all of our translations; we need to start over from the ground up.

    Reading over what i’ve written, it seems very pedantic, so kindly forgive me. I hope you’ve been able to follow and that it’s been useful anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Hi Jo, thanks for interacting about this כארי / כארו “pierced / like a lion” in Ps.22 in an intelligent and patient way.

    On the Masorah note, I agree that the Masorah assumes that the word ends with a yod because, as you say, the later MSS agree on that point. The interesting thing is that the scribe states that it doesn’t have the same meaning as at Isa.38.13. You appear to suggest the scribe is merely pointing out that there is an implied verb in 22.17. But this is obvious – it doesn’t take a scribal note to point out that a verb is missing.

    I think it more likely that the scribe is saying this word IS the verb. But, as you say, the big question is what this verb means, becasue even if it ends with a vav, the root isn’t clear. There is no verb כאר so we have to ask ourselves why the LXX translated ώρυξαν (‘they dug’). As you know, the best theory is that they regarded it as a plene spelling of כרו ‘karu’ as in Ps.40.6; 119.85.

    I think it likely that there was a problem with the text. A verb has dropped out or got corrupted, and I think the LXX translators came to the best conclusion possible. If the Dead Sea Scroll fragment was from a Qumran cave, I’d conclude that the scribe was making his own solution by an emmendation, because this kind of ‘easier’ change is very common in the Scrolls. However, the Nahal Hever scrolls are almost completely Standard text – ie they follow the same tradition that the MT comes from. The scribes who produced them don’t try to ‘correct’ the Hebrew or make it easier in any way. That makes me think it is possible that this reading was the original one.

    One of the difficulties of making an English translation is that you have to come to a clear conclusion, one way or another. So the question is which one to put in the text, and which to put in the footnote. The fact that ‘like a lion’ is in the footnote doesn’t mean that it is rejected – they are both viable translations. But one has to go in the text, and I’m sorry for you that it wasn’t your favourite.


    • Hi David. Thanks for the response. A lot of good and interesting information there. I tried to emphasize that what I’m most interested in is how you get from כארו to “pierced”. I also want to try and avoid guessing how you do that. To speed things up though it looks like you leap, like a lion, from כארו to כרו . You then lunge from כרו to “pierced”. How do you justify going from כרו to “pierced” using a formal methodology (which you claim you use, right?) for translation? Some of the gals here can’t help thinking that somehow tradition has pierced your circle of criteria.



  35. Hi Jo, you are right to question why כרו should be translated ‘pierced’, and I’d have to say that you are somewhat right that tradition has something to do with it, but also a lack of alternatives.
    Tradition comes into it in two ways. First, it is very difficult to ignore hundreds of years of previous translation, even if you try to, and it is worth admitting (to oneself at least) that this is a factor. However, for me, the most important element of tradition is the LXX – ie the question of how the LXX translators concluded that it could be translated by ώρυξαν. I know that many would regard this as a Christian interpretation, though this has to remain a theory because there isn’t any support from LXX variants, and the Syriac agrees withLXX. Whoever the translator was, the question you are asking is how that translator interpreted the Hebrew, and they clearly regarded it as meaning ‘to dig/pierce/bore/excavate’
    Of course in English we have so many more words than in Hebrew, so the nuance of the translation ends up much more precise than the original. It would not make much sense to translate ‘they dug my hands and my feet’ or “they excavated…”. YOu could have “they bored into…” but for flesh the natural phrase in English is “they pierced….”.
    So in the end, “pierced” is as much to do with lack of alternatives as tradition.


    • Hi David. Thanks for the response. I’ll take this as a confession that “tradition” in general and specifically here, is one of your criteria for translation. As a Jew of course I appreciate tradition(!) and admire the commercial success (it’s okay for us to make fun of ourselves) of your fine religion. Once you introduce tradition here though, in addition to sacrificing Jesus you are also sacrificing credibility. Not just credibility in fact but also credibility in appearance. That man once said, “No man can serve two masters”.

      There are many more reasons to doubt “pierced” than “like a lion”:

      1) The original language is clearly “like a lion”. I believe this type of criteria you use here would be unknown for textual criticism of The Christian Bible, a dominant word in Greek is rejected due to a less dominant word in a Version.

      2) The only related language, Aramaic, supports “like a lion”.

      3) The 3-10 Manuscripts that have כארו can easily be explained as ancient confusion between yods and vavs.

      4) It’s the Versions that show significant variation, not the original.

      5) Everyone would agree that in general the Masoretic transmission was superior to all others.

      6) כארו has no known meaning or use.

      7) כרו (last I saw, 2 Manuscripts (which may be Christian)) means “dig”. “Pierced” is not within its range of meaning. The word is normally used literally in the context of digging a well. All known uses are positive, as in creating something. As the British would say, “The cruncher”.

      8) Which explanation is simpler?:

      A) 1. 22:17 has no explicit verb

      B) 1. כרו is the original word which was changed to כארו .

      2. כארו was than changed to כארי

      3. “Pierced” is not within the range of meaning of כרו but is close.

      David, if you think that “pierced” is within the range of meaning of כרו , what is your evidence for this?



      • Hi Joseph, sorry to take so long to reply.
        I accept that you conclude that כארו is much less likely to be original than כארי. I’m more ambivalent than you are, which is why I’m happy that the NIV recognises both possibilities.
        I was interested to see your reference to “3-10 Manuscripts that have כארו” and “2 Manuscripts” that have כרו “which may be Christian”. I thought that the manuscript from the Judean Desert was the only one that had evidence for כארו. You have clearly looked very deeply into the MSS evidence. Where did you read about these MSS?


      • Hi David:

        1) The NIV does not say “כארו”, it says “pierced”. This hides the issue of whether “pierced” is even within the range of meaning of the Hebrew word (not to mention it is not one of the two Hebrew words which clearly mean “pierced”).

        Every related category of source NIV gives is misleading:

        “Dead Sea Scrolls” – plural support for “pierced”?

        “some manuscripts of the Masoretic Text” – 2 qualifies as some?

        “Septuagint” – no variation? “Pierced” is not within the range of meaning of the most common Greek word either.

        “Syriac” – Not many Manuscripts here

        “most manuscripts of the Masoretic” – This would be hundreds

        No mention of the Aramaic support for “like a lion” even though this would be the only related language.

        No mention of the uniform Rabbinic “like a lion”, also in Hebrew. Patristics in the Greek is sometimes the most important External category of Textual Criticism.

        2) The Manuscript numbers are from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (a Christian product) last time I looked. I assumed you were at least one of the Hebrew experts on the NIV Translation Committee and therefore would have consulted BHS. Is my assumption wrong?

        Let’s face it David, we would agree that the NIV is an Evangelistic tool. Our only disagreement would be to what extent. Evangelism of any type does not mix well with Scholarship. It’s like trying to mix holy water with holy oil (and again, we both know which ends up on top). Translating the offending word as “pierced” along with misleading notes hurts the credibility of the NIV and you. This is going to make you look like less of an authority on other issues where the evidence is more mixed.


  36. I was reading a book on comparative religion recently, comparing Christianity and Buddhism, and the author pointed out an interesting translation issue with James 3:6, where the KJV says that the tongue “sets on fire the course of nature,” this guy was saying the literal translation is “wheel of birth.” Interestingly enough many translations say “cycle of nature.” At least one, the Douay-Rheims, actually says “wheel of our nativity.” This guy was saying that this is a reference to the Buddhistic concept of the wheel of becoming, or in other words of the cycle of death and rebirth. He is trying to claim that there was a Buddhistic influence in the development of early Christianity.

    I took a look at the old 1800s Baptist commentator John Gill (http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/james-3-6.html) and he says:

    and setteth on fire the course of nature,
    or “wheel of nature”: the natural body, as before, in which there is a continual rotation or circulation of the blood, by which it is supported; this is the wheel broken at the cistern at death, in ( Ecclesiastes 12:6 ) or the course of a man’s life and actions, yea, of all generations, and the vicissitudes and changes which have happened in them, on which the tongue has a great influence; and so the Syriac version renders it, “and sets on fire the series of our genealogies, or our generations, which run like wheels”: or it may intend the frame of nature, the whole fabric of the uerse, and the general conflagration of it, which will be owing to the tongue; or because men’s tongues are against the Lord, to provoke the eyes of his glory, because of the hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Christ and his people, of which they will be convinced by flames of fire about them:

    “and sets on fire the series of our genealogies, or our generations, which run like wheels”??? what??? That sounds even more Buddhist. Could the theory be correct…that would explain the strength of Gnosticism in the early days.


  37. Dear Joe
    I’m pleased to see that we have made a little progress during this discussion.
    Your article at http://thenewporphyry.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/psalm-2217-hebrew-text-like-lion.html makes several complaints:
    • The NIV note refers to “some manuscripts of the Masoretic Text” and you complained “No Manuscripts of the Masoretic Text have a Hebrew word for ‘pierced’ here”.
    – You now agree that there are some MSS that support this translation, though you still disagree that “כארו” should be translated ‘pierced’.
    • The NIV note refers to the “Dead Sea Scrolls” and you complained that “The Dead Sea Scrolls do not have a Hebrew word for ‘pierced’ here”.
    – You now agree that the Dead Sea Scrolls does use “כארו” but you point out that this verse only occurs in one scroll so this should not be referred to as the witness of “Dead Sea Scrolls” in general.
    • On the Septuagint you said that “transmission evidence shows that ‘pierced’ was not original to it”.
    – You now agree that there isn’t any contrary variant that might imply this was not in the original Greek translation, though you still think it wasn’t original.
    _ I don’t think you have changed your opinion on any of these points, but this discussion has helped to make it clearer what you are saying.
    _ It appears that your chief complaint is that the translation “pierced” should not be used. You appear to agree that if it is a verb, the meaning of the root is to make a hole,. I have pointed out that in English, when we make a hole in skin, we normally use the verb “pierce” – not “dig” or “bore” as you prefer.
    _ Your other complaint is that the NIV has put your preferred option in the footnote, and put in the text the option that you think less likely. I am sorry that the NIV does not agree with you, but at least it tells the reader about other possible translation in a footnote.
    _ I don’t know why the committee chose which option to put in the text, but if in my opinion they evidence is inconclusive. However, it is really difficult translating “like a lion” and making sense of the verse without adding a verb such as in the JPS: “like a lion THEY ARE AT my hands and my feet”, or “my hands and my feet ARE like a lion”.
    _ In my view both options have problems, but if we read it as a verb there is no need to add a missing verb. However I am pleased that the NIV has the other option in the footnote so that the reader can see both.


  38. You may wish to look at Matthew 28 19 “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” in the KJV.

    In the NIV “teach” is replaced by “make disciples of” which may be a better translation of the greek verb. The problem here is that in the following phrase “baptising them” the “them” appears to refer to “disciples” rather than “nations”.although “disciples” is not a noun here but part of the verb “make disciples of”.

    I have heard this verse in the NIV form used to argue for a restrictive attitude to baptism, as it appears to suggest only disciples should be baptised. :


    • Thanks for the suggestion, Mr. David. I see what you mean, but I can also see from the Greek why most English translations (not just the NIV) go with “make disciples of”. This admittedly makes it easy to mistake the referent for “baptizing them”, but I’m not sure it’s deliberate. It’s easy enough to find proclamations about “baptizing all the nations” on evangelical websites.

      (Personally, I would prefer a verb like “teach” or “instruct”.)


    • Daniel, the phrase missing from the NIV, “but by every word of God”, was a late scribal addition made to harmonize Luke 4:4 with Matthew 4:4. Early Greek manuscripts of Luke omit it, and modern English translations do the same.

      Actually, what surprises me here is that the 2011 NIV departed from its usual policy of eliminating gender-specific language (“man”).


  39. There are two intentional mistranslations that I did not find among your list. The first is Acts 2:33 Which states Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God , and having received “from” the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.” The “promise” was recorded in Psalm 16:8-11. That being His resurrection 2:31; not being left in Hades; and exalted at the right hand of God. The NIV blasphemes this scripture by stating ….”He received The Promised Holy Spirit…..” This opposes the context of all surrounding scriptures to 2:33! The reason they intentionally blasphemed this verse is to mislead what is said shortly later in Acts 2:38. “….be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. vs 39 “For the promise is to you ….” They want to mislead people to believe that the promise IS the Holy Spirit INSTEAD of the gift FROM the Holy Spirit which is the resurrection and Eternal life. Rom. 6:23 “….but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
    The second blasphemous mistranslation is II Tim. 3:15 which should read …”from childhood or from a youth, you have known the Holy Scriptures…” but the NIV translates it “…from infancy, you have known the ……” The motivation behind this is to try to force the scriptures to say that a baby can believe therefore it should be baptized. Since faith comes by hearing and understanding Rom. 10, a baby can not be a candidate for baptism.


      • Yes, it appears that each time this Greek word is used it carries the idea of being ordained or appointed into some new position. Translators do not want Jesus to have become the Son at some point in time. If He is declared to be the Son, that’s okay to them, as it is merely an announcement to us of His eternal Sonship. But this is not what the biblical text is saying. He was appointed to be the Son at some point in time just as He was appointed to be judge (Acts 10:42; 17:31).
        Cranfield writes, “There is little doubt that we should decide for the meaning ‘appoint’, ‘constitute’, ‘install’. … It can be used very frequently with the meaning ‘fix’, ‘determine’, ‘appoint’; and this is the sense it has in all its other occurrences in the NT. No clear example, either earlier than, or contemporary with the NT, of its use in the sense ‘declare’ or ‘show to be’ has been adduced.” A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 1:61.
        John Wycliffe (d.1384) translated the New Testament into English over 200 years before the King James Bible. Wycliffe translated Romans 1:4a as, “and he was before-ordained the Son of God in virtue.” The New Testament uses the word “before-ordained” (προορίζω) in Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5 and 11. However, in Romans 1:4, Paul uses the Greek word ὁρίζω (“ordained”), as in Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 11:29; 17:26, 31; Hebrews 4:7. Jesus was “ordained the Son of God.” Wycliffe’s early translation identifies a fairly accurate word in English for ὁρίζω, although he should not have added “before” at the front of this word.


  40. Thanks Graham. I’ll look into this. Generally I’m sceptical about claims that we can reliably translate Hebrew into specific tenses. So although this paper appears to help my case, I’m expecting to be unconvinced. The problem is that it is so hard for someone brought up with a tense-based language to even imagine thinking in a non-tense way. It forces us to decide what tense the author meant, when they probably didn’t mean any tense at all. When the 1st century rabbis learned Greek, they started adding tenses to Hebrew – as we see in the Mishnaic Hebrew which uses participles with “to be” (eg I was walking, I am walking, I will be walking). It is almost as if tense-based thinking is infectious. Once you start, it is hard to stop.


  41. I was listening to someone read John 15:8 in the NIV today and noticed that it has “This is to my father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” The NRSV has “and become my disciples” with a footnote that the phrase could be translated as “be my disciples.” I know just enough Greek to be dangerous, but from what I could find, the Greek word genēsthe means “to become,” “to emerge,” or “to transition.” Could there be a bias against salvation by works behind the NIV’s choice of “showing yourselves to be”?


    • Thanks for the comment, Tyler. The NIV’s translation there is a little verbose, but I don’t see a problem. According to Bultmann, ginesthai means “to become” or “to be” in the sense of “to prove oneself”, which is what the NIV seems to be getting at. I see your point, but in context, the difference in meaning is so slight if there is one at all, and I think many evangelicals would happily differentiate between being a disciple and being saved.

      Liked by 1 person

  42. Acts 8:37 is totally omitted in the NIV and many other versions. The conversion of a lost man is accounted here. Confessing Jesus Christ. When I discovered this ommited verse years ago I threw it in the garbage immediatly and picked up my faithful KJV. I haven’t put it down since. I do not trust most of these newer versions. As they take text from Wescott and Hort who were corrupt themselves.


    • Acts 8:37 is omitted from all modern translations because it isn’t found in any of our earliest manuscripts. This is one thing the NIV usually does right — omitting inauthentic verses that its conservative readership would prefer to keep (or relegating them to footnotes).


        • Emphasis on the superlative, David. It’s not present in the 4th-5th century codices (Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Bezae, Ephraemi Rescriptus) or in P45 (3rd c.). It first appears in codex Laudanius (6th century), unless there is an obscure manuscript I don’t know about. (I’m going by Comfort’s New Testament Text and Translation Commentary here.)

          That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inauthentic, but textual scholars seem to be of the view it is an interpolation.


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