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.
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 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 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 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 21:22, 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. 2:20. 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 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 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 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.
❦ 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. 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 1:1 — For reasons that are unclear to me, the NIV has changed the Hebrew “Shinar” to “Babylon”. 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 John J. 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 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 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 is 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.)
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 Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, pp. 44–45.]
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 past 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 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, 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 past 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 6:63 — 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 theSpirit and life.” [See BeDuhn, Truth in Translation: Accuracy and Bias in English Translations of the New Testament, pp. 145–146.]
John 8:58 — The NIV, eager to connect this text to the theophany of Exodus 3:14, mistranslates the tense of ego eimi in its grammatical context, despite translating the same forms correctly elsewhere. The Living Bible actually captures the meaning best among English translations: “I was in existence before Abraham was ever born!” The NIV’s ungrammatical translation reads “Before Abraham was born, I am!” [See BeDuhn, pp. 104–112.]
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 21:5 — 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 2:4 — The NRSV correctly reads “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages”. The NIV uses the theologically loaded term “tongues” instead, even though the Greek word simply means “languages”.
Acts 5:32 — Here and in several other New Testament verses (John 14:26, Ephesians 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 7:53 — 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 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 Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians [Anchor Yale Bible Commentary], 2008, 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”.
❦ 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 — 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.
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”.