Deliberate Mistranslation 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 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 Testamentpp. 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 Testamentpp. 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 14:26Ephesians 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 7:53 — 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 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 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….”

Hebrews 14:4 — 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.]

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”.

407 thoughts on “Deliberate Mistranslation in the New International Version (NIV)

  1. Colossians 2:2 “the mystery of the God of Christ” in two of our earliest manuscripts. Since this translation would clearly differentiate God from Christ, translators do all kinds of grammatical gymnastics to avoid this translation.

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    • Thanks for the suggestions, Sam. I did look into Romans 1:4 a while ago and decided the NIV’s rendering was okay. Col. 2:2 is tough because there are so many different readings, and the original is probably the one found in P46 and Sinaiticus, “the mystery of God, Christ” — which was ambiguous enough to invite expansions.

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  2. Please go after the lastest King James version like you have the NIV. There you will find many errors. The translators themselves stated that they didn’t consider their translation to be persect as
    some people has tried to do overiding what the translators themselves stated.

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  3. I have been an orthodox Christian for many years and recently I began discussing these inconsistencies with friends who are of Protestant backgrounds. All I get is steely eyed rejection of my concerns for such inaccuracies. In particular, the misinterpretation of the Greek word έργα or works causes a lot of issues. Many protetestants are lead to believe that all is needed is faith without works and I feel that they are being deceived by a slight mis-translation which is effectively altering the way they seek salvation. Disturbing in my view. I did read somewhere that the publishers of the NIV also publish other un-Christian publications. Is there any truth in this and should we as Christians be more vigilant in investigating and identifying misleading translations that are leading thousands astray? I don’t seek a righteous stance but I’m honestly concerned for my fellow brothers and sisters who love Christ but may be mislead. I would love to hear other views.

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    • The NIV is owned and published by Zondervan, which is an Evangelical Christian publisher owned by News Corp. Their publications tend to reflect a typical Evangelical Protestant viewpoint. I don’t think they publish anything unrelated to Christianity.

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      • That’s not entirely accurate, however, because in the modern world companies you once knew and loved are owned by giant mega-monopolies. Zondervan is owned by HarperCollins.

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  4. In Exodus 11:1, the NIV reads, “Now the LORD had said to Moses, ‘I will bring one more plague on Pharaoh and on Egypt…'” while other translations, including the NRSV, JPS Tanakh,NASB, KJV, NAB, et. al use the past tense: “the LORD said.” The Jerusalem Bible even says, “Yahweh then said…” Why does the NIV “translate” into the past perfect instead of the past tense? Because Exodus 10:29 concludes with Moses’ promise that he would “never appear before [Pharaoh] again,” but 11:4-8 appear to be Moses’ words to Pharaoh which should have been spoken in chapter 10. (See especially v:8, “these officials of yours.”) The NIV’s rendering also explains how Moses knew what the final plague would be (cf. Exodus 4:22-23).

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  5. According to Douglas Stuart in his Exodus commentary, ‘Hebrew does not have a separate, formal pluperfect. Grammarians recognize that the perfect verb form can have a pluperfect meaning but rarely recognize that the converted imperfect can also be pluperfect in meaning. The NIV translators, to their credit, were sophisticated enough to break with the unfortunate limiting “tradition” of recognizing a pluperfect sense only for the perfect. The evidence for a pluperfect sense within the range of meaning of the Hb. prefixed (imperfect) conjugations nicely summarized by IBHS ¤552-53, citing studies by both W. J. Martin (“‘Dischronologized’ Narrative in the Old Testament,” VTSup 17 [Leiden: Brill, 1969], 179-86) and D. W. Baker (“The Consecutive Nonperfective as Pluperfect in the Historical Books of the Hebrew Old Testament” [Regent College Thesis, 1973]).’

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    • Starting in Exodus 8, here is how the NIV translates the same Hebrew words:

      8:1: “Then the LORD said to Moses…” 8:5: “Then the LORD said to Moses…” 8:16: “Then the LORD said to Moses…” 8:20: “Then the LORD said to Moses…” 9:1: “Then the LORD said to Moses…” 9:8: “Then the LORD said to Moses…” 9:13: “Then the LORD said to Moses…9:22:”Then the LORD said to Moses…” 10:1: ” Then the LORD said to Moses..” 10:12: “And the LORD said to Moses…” 10:21: “Then the LORD said to Moses…”
      11:1: “Now the LORD had said to Moses…”

      Isn’t it interesting that in every single case the NIV says “Then/And the LORD said to Moses,” until 11:1 when suddenly it switches to the past perfect tense? Even if the “pluperfect sense” is “within the range of meaning,” what compelling reason is there to suddenly switch? There is an irony in Stuart’s calling the NIV translators “sophisticated” for doing this, because the word “sophisticated” comes from a word meaning “fallacious argument intended to mislead.” I’d say they engaged in sophistry, not sophistication.

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  6. Graham: Stuart’s attempt to defend the NIV’s deliberate mistranslation here is misguided. This is exactly the same argument as appeared in the discussion of Genesis 2 (vv. 8 and 19) in this comment thread, so I won’t repeat it in its entirety here. Yes, Hebrew wayyiqtol forms can have a pluperfect sense, but only in certain situations, when they are continuing a sequence in the pluperfect. But they are not used to break a sequence and indicate a pluperfect sense within a string of perfects — that is precisely the opposite of what these forms are used for. This is an ungrammatical translation clearly driven by the need to get rid of a clear contradiction. There is a reason that only a few translations, all exceedingly conservative, opt for the pluperfect here (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Exodus%2011%3A1).

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  7. Your comment regarding misstranslation in Gen.4:1 warrants correction where you quote: ‘Young’s Literal Translation more correctly reads “I have gotten a man by Jehovah.”’
    Where does the name Jehovah come from? Is it in the Hebrew text?

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      • Yes that is so but if we are going to identify departures from the original meaning then “Jehovah” is not biblical…at best an extrapolation for some peoples’ convenience. Why not be consistent and retain YHWH? Or insert the right vowels and retain Yahweh? Of all the beautiful names of God Jehovah is not one of them.

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      • The Wikipdia article on “Jehovah” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah) does a good job of explaining why it is sometimes written that way in English. Of course, my list is a critique of the NIV, not the YLT or KJV, and I don’t consider the anglicization of Hebrew and Greek names to be a mistranslation issue. (Though I would very much prefer Yahweh, YHWH, or Jehovah to “the LORD”.)

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  8. Luke 2:22 in the original NIV reads: “When the time of their purification according to the law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” The current NIV changes the wording: “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” The reason for the change is obvious: according to Leviticus 12, only the mother needed to be “purified,” contra the original NIV reading. As The Interpreter’s Bible, volume 8, page 60, remarks: “Their purification became her purification in later MSS in order to make the text conform to the regulation in Leviticus 12:6.”

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  9. In Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration, Jesus refers to the event as a “vision” (17:9), using a Greek word found elsewhere only in Acts. NIV translates the word as “have seen” to harmonize Matthew with Mark 9:9 (see also Luke 9). What’s interesting is that Matthew 17:8 uses the same word found in Mark 9:9, which means something that is seen, but makes no distinction in meaning in Matthew 9:9, even though a different word is used.

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  10. Matthew 21:7 from original NIV: “They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them.”
    New NIV: “They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.”

    The reason for the change is obviously to make “clear” that Jesus sat on multiple cloaks, not multiple animals, even though Matthew shows that he thought a second animal was required to fulfill Zechariah’s “prophecy”:

    Matthew 21:1-6, New NIV, my emphasis:
    As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
    5
    “Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your king comes to you,
    gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey
    .’”

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  11. 1 Samuel 15:35a (NRSV):35 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death…
    1 Samuel 15:35a (New JPS Tanakh): Samuel never saw Saul again to the day of his death.
    1 Sanuel 15:35a (New Jerusalem Bible): Samuel did not see Saul again till his dying day…
    1 Samuel 15:35a (NIV), my emphasis : 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again…

    Why did the NIV add the words “go to” to the text? To harmonize it with 1 Samuel 19:24, which I’ll quote from the NIV: [Saul] stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. This is why people say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

    The KJV also attempts this harmonization, but it is not consistent with the Hebrew.

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  12. 1 Samuel 17:50-51 (NRSV): 50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. 51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it.

    1 Samuel 17:50-51 (NIV), my emphasis: 50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

    The NIV adds the word “after” to harmonize the verses regarding the mode of Goliath’s death. The NRSV preserves the reading in which Goliath is already dead in v:50, then killed again in v:51.

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  13. >blockquote>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.

    You could add the places where the NIV translates the same combination of Hebrew words correctly:

    1 Samuel 20:35: In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy</b< with him

    1 Kings 3:7:“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties.

    2 Kings 5:14:So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy

    Isaiah 11:6:The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together;and a little child will lead them.

    However, there is one additional verse in which “little” is omitted, 1 Kings 11:17, in reference to Hadad the Edomite. Whether this is a deliberate mistranslation, as is the case with 2 Kings 2, is hard to say.

    http://biblehub.com/1_kings/11-17.htm

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  14. 2 Samuel 10:18 (NIV): But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shobak the commander of their army, and he died there.
    2 Samuel 10:18 (NRSV): The Arameans fled before Israel; and David killed of the Arameans seven hundred chariot teams, and forty thousand horsemen, and wounded Shobach the commander of their army, so that he died there.

    To reconcile 2 Samuel 10:18 with 1 Chronicles 19:18, the NIV switched from the MT to the reading in “some Septuagint manuscripts” (see NIV’s footnote).

    2 Samuel 24:13a (New JPS Tanakh): Gad came to David and told him; he, “Shall a seven-year famine come upon you in the land…
    2 Samuel 24:13a (NIV): So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land?

    Once again the NIV (and to my disappointment the NRSV in this instance too) switched from the MT to the LXX, to bring the account in line with 1 Chronicles 21:12. The JPS Tanakh stayed true to the MT.

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  15. Leviticus 14:54-57 (NIV):
    54 These are the regulations for any defiling skin disease, for a sore, 55 for defiling molds in fabric or in a house, 56 and for a swelling, a rash or a shiny spot, 57 to determine when something is clean or unclean. These are the regulations for defiling skin diseases and defiling molds.

    It’s well known that the Bible calls what we know as mold and mildew “leprosy,” and some versions, such as the NRSV, NASB, KJV, et al. stay consistent and use “leprosy” to refer to buildings, clothing, etc. The NIV uses the term “defiling mold” when referring to nonhuman surfaces, but in Leviticus 14:57, the NIV has added words to make a distinction between “defiling molds” and “defiling skin diseases,” even though only one Hebrew word appears. A comparison with other versions makes this clear:

    14:57 (NIV)… to determine when something is clean or unclean. These are the regulations for defiling skin diseases and defiling molds.
    NRSV:…to determine when it is unclean and when it is clean. This is the ritual for leprous diseases.
    NASB: …to teach when they are unclean and when they are clean. This is the law of leprosy.
    NKJV:…to teach when it is unclean and when it is clean. This is the law of leprosy.”
    New Jerusalem Bible: Such is the law on skin-diseases.
    New JPS Tanakh:…to determine when they are unclean and when they are clean. Such is the ritual concerning eruptions.

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  16. Genesis 8:20 (NRSV): 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
    New JPS Tanakh: 20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking of every clean animal and of every clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar.
    NASB: 20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
    ASV: 20 And Noah builded an altar unto Jehovah, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar.
    NIV: 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.

    NIV adds “some” to avoid the implication that Noah sacrificed deer, elk, caribou, moose, chicken, turkey, etc., which are all later classified as “clean” (Leviticus 11; Deut. 14).

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    • The whole notion of animal sacrifices is obviously problematic in the Primeval History when the ritual laws don’t exist and everyone is supposedly vegetarian, with little reason to keep livestock in the first place. I wonder if the NIV’s change is more to remove the implication that Noah sacrificed thousands of animals all in one go. (There are about 150 ruminants and probably thousands of clean bird species.)

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  17. Genesis 25:1 is well-known for saying that Keturah was Abraham’s wife, in contrast to the Chronicler’s contention that she was a concubine (1 Chronicles 1:32). The NIV says “wife,” but as we’ve seen with other examples, it changes the verb tense:

    Genesis 25:1
    NRSV: Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah.
    New JPS Tanakh: Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah.
    LXX (New English Translation): Now Abraam again took a wife, whose name was Chettoura.
    ASV: And Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah.
    Young’s LIteral: And Abraham addeth and taketh a wife, and her name is Keturah;
    NIV: Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah.

    Why the change? Genesis 17:17 tells us that Abraham was 10 years older than Sarah, and Genesis 23:1 says that Sarah died at age 127. Abraham, then, was at least 137 when he took Keturah as his wife. However, 25:1-3 lists three generations of the Keturah-Abraham union–Jokshan, his son Dedan, and Dedan’s sons Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. Verse 7 says that Abraham died at 175, so in the space of at most 38 years, great-grandsons were born to him. It appears the NIV wanted to give Abraham and Keturah a head start to ease the difficulty. The rabbis, perhaps noticing the difficulty, identified Keturah with Hagar. “V. xxv, 1. According to the Rabbis (v. infra, lxi, 4) Keturah was Hagar.” from https://archive.org/stream/RabbaGenesis/midrashrabbahgen027557mbp_djvu.txt

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    • Interesting. The motivation seems unclear to me though, because it’s not really implied that all those descendants were alive before Abraham’s death. (Only the sons of Keturah, to whom Abraham gave gifts.) The rabbinical equating of Keturah with Hagar seems intended to rehabilitate Abraham and give the story of Hagar’s abandonment a happy ending.

      Edit: Now that I think about it more, the NIV must be addressing the problem that in Genesis 17, when Isaac’s birth is foretold, Abraham mocks the idea that he, already 100 years old, could still father a child. This is obviously incongruous with Gen. 25, in which an even older Abraham manages to sire six more sons with Keturah.

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      • Guessing why the NIV “translators” did what they did calls for us to get into their heads. You are correct, Paul, that the text does not make explicit that Abraham lived to see Keturah’s descendants, and after consulting The NIV Study Bible, which I’m kicking myself for not doing earlier since it’s in my personal library, I think you are on the right track. You note in the entry for this passage that, “This error was introduced with the 2005 TNIV.” True, but even the original 1984 version gives “had taken” as an alternate reading, and TNIVSB says in its annotations:

        took or “had taken” (see NIV text notes), since Abraham would have been 140 years old at the time if the order is chronological.

        As an aside, I’ll mention that the annotations also put the word “concubine” in quotation marks when referencing 1 Chronicles 1:32, in a feeble attempt to resolve the contradiction between that passage and Genesis 25:1.
        Writing for <The Apologetics Study Bible, A. Boyd Luter Jr. says in part: “After Sarah’s death, Abraham remarried and, miraculously, continued to have children…” And in case an apologist wants to argue that the Hebrew word for “wife” could also be translated “woman” (which is correct), I’ll say: 1) there is a Hebrew word for “concubine,” which the author could have used if that’s what Keturah actually was and 2) compare what is said of Abraham and Keturah to the language used of Isaac and Rebekah (25:20) and of Esau and Judith (26:34); see also Genesis 28:1, which I’ll quote from the NIV: “So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: ‘Do not marry a Canaanite woman.'” A more literal translation is “Don’t take a wife…,” with the same Hebrew words found in 25:1.

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  18. >blockquote>Joshua 17:1
    New JPS Tanakh: And this is the portion that fell by lot to the tribe of Manasseh–for he was Joseph’s first-born. Since Machir, the first-born of Manasseh and the father of Gilead, was a valiant warrior, Gildead and Bashan were assigned to him.

    NRSV: Then allotment was made to the tribe of Manasseh, for he was the firstborn of Joseph. To Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, were allotted Gilead and Bashan, because he was a warrior.

    LXX (New English Translation): And the boundaries of the tribe of the sons of Manasse, for he was the firstborn to ioseph, were: to Machir, firstborn of Manasse, father of Galaad, for he was a military man

    NIV: This was the allotment for the tribe of Manasseh as Joseph’s firstborn, that is, for Makir, Manasseh’s firstborn. Makir was the ancestor of the Gileadites, who had received Gilead and Bashan because the Makirites were great soldiers.

    If we look at Genesis 50:22-23, which I’ll even quote from the NIV, the “problem” and reason for the NIV “translation” become obvious:

    Genesis 50:22-23 22 Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years 23 and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees.

    To get around the fact that this same Machir was somehow still alive after the conquest of Canaan–and hundreds of years of Egyptian slavery!–the NIV changes Gilead, the individual, to Gileadites and makes the Gileadites, not Machir/Makir the recipients of Gilead and Bashan.

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  19. Someone who’s interested in reading carefully will find a lot of mistranslations in the Bible’s genealogies, in almost every version, partly because we don’t understand genealogies well or rightly any more; partly because the genealogies themselves could evidently be modified from time to time, either by royal fiat or because from time to time lineages died out or became less important, and their inheritances had to be reassigned; and often because the translators just thought they’d “sound better” if they were rendered this way or that, as opposed to what the Text actually says.

    I discovered this in researching my thesis on the genealogies of the Levites in the Chronicles. You absolutely can’t rely on any translation! I came to realize, for example, that the word “and” is actually a very significant one in genealogical prose— it can signify, among other things, that you’ve come to the end of the present sub-list, and the names that follow are starting again from where you left off in the main lineage. But translators don’t seem to recognize this, and often add or omit the word “and” where they think “good English style” requires it— and then they complain that the genealogies are incomprehensible!

    The genealogies of the Bible MUST be translated strictly word-for-word, because they are a form of technical prose.

    To say that Gilead and Bashan were allotted to Machir the firstborn of Manasseh need not imply that Machir himself was alive at the time of the allotment. It’s a way of saying that those lands were allotted to his house. When the Psalmist says, “When the Lord restores his captive people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad” (Ps 14.7), he does not at all imply that Jacob/Israel was alive at the time of Exile. He means that Jacob’s family will rejoice. Gilead and Bashan were not allotted to Machir himself, but to his family.

    There was no need for the NIV (or any other version) to “correct” what was already correct!

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  20. johnbburnett wrote To say that Gilead and Bashan were allotted to Machir the firstborn of Manasseh need not imply that Machir himself was alive at the time of the allotment. It’s a way of saying that those lands were allotted to his house. When the Psalmist says, “When the Lord restores his captive people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad” (Ps 14.7), he does not at all imply that Jacob/Israel was alive at the time of Exile. He means that Jacob’s family will rejoice. Gilead and Bashan were not allotted to Machir himself, but to his family.

    Your comparison of Psalm 14 to my example is not at all parallel, because Jacob/Israel is an individual and a nation, and the verse you partially quote even refers to “captive people.” By contrast, the face-value reading of Joshua 17:1 is that because of his military exploits, a man named Machir/Makir received Gilead and Bashan as a possession. We also have Numbers 32:40 (another verse which the NIV changes without merit and which I’d like to nominate for inclusion on this list), which says that a man named Machir received Gilead from Moses.

    As some scholars have recognized, there are traditions in the Bible that seem to know nothing of a lengthy captivity in Egypt. As another example, the Chronicler has Ephraim–yes, that Ephraim, the person–alive and contending with cattle rustlers (1 Chronicles 7:20-24), and not even the NIV translates this one away:

    20 The descendants of Ephraim:

    Shuthelah, Bered his son,

    Tahath his son, Eleadah his son,

    Tahath his son, 21 Zabad his son

    and Shuthelah his son.

    Ezer and Elead were killed by the native-born men of Gath, when they went down to seize their livestock. 22 Their father Ephraim mourned for them many days, and his relatives came to comfort him. 23 Then he made love to his wife again, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. He named him Beriah, because there had been misfortune in his family. 24 His daughter was Sheerah, who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah.

    If you would like to see more about this topic, I highly recommend the following brief articles by scholars Dr. Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh and Dr. Rabbi David Frankel respectively:

    1) http://thetorah.com/the-northern-tribal-tradition-of-settling-the-land/

    2) http://thetorah.com/chronicles-and-the-ephraimites-that-never-went-to-egypt/

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    • not even the NIV translates this one away

      They try, though, by severing Ezer and Elead from the genealogy. They also change Ephraim’s brothers to “relatives”, since he had only one brother.

      This whole passage is bizarre. It’s been a while since something in the Bible caught me completely by surprise, so I appreciate this! 🙂

      Also, I read it as Ezer and Elead trying to steal the Gittites’ cattle rather than vice versa.

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      • I’m glad you enjoyed that passage, and I wonder if reading the articles I linked to has changed your mind. Just as the Chronicler believed that Ephraim, son of Joseph, was alive in Canaan after the Conquest, so, too, was Machir, the individual, son of Manasseh, conceived as inheriting Gilead and Bashanin Canaan. The NIV is misleading in its translation of Joshua 17:1 and Numbers 32:40.

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      • Yeah, I’m still doing a bit of research on those ones. I don’t own any good commentaries on either book and haven’t been able to visit the university library lately. Anyway, your comment has inspired my next likely blog article.

        By the way, one of my hesitations with Numbers 32:40 is that the previous verse refers to the “sons of Machir”, making it more plausible that Machir is a metonym for the clan of Machir (or at the very least, Machir’s offspring) in v. 40.

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  21. Re Gen.8.20: “took some of all” is simply saying in modern English the same as “took of all”. The “of” or “some of” is expressing the mem in “mikol”. English does occasionally still use the simple “of” in this way, but only in archaic phrases such as “we partake of the bread”. Today we’d say: “we eat some of the bread”. We wouldn’t say “we eat of the bread”; and if we said “we eat the bread” it implies there’s nothing left for others.

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  22. Exodus 16:34
    NRSV: As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping.
    NASB: 34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the Testimony, to be kept.
    Old NIV (1984): As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna in front of the Testimony, that it might be kept.
    New NIV (2011): As the LORD commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved.

    The “Testimony,” i.e. the Ark of the Testimony/Covenant (Exodus 30:36, Numbers 17:10 et al.), is anachronistic here, since it was not yet built (Exodus 25:10,16; Exodus 37), so the new NIV attempts to mitigate this by deviating even from the previous version of the NIV (No Integrity Version) by “translating” it away. At Exodus 30:36, the new NIV reads, “…place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting,” probably since this could be interpreted as a future action after the ark was constructed.

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  23. Exodus 15, the “Song of the Sea”: The NRSV correctly speaks of events in vv. 13-17 in the past tense, even though they occurred well after the drowning of the Egyptians. The NIV by contrast uses the future tense–“The cheifes of Edom will be teffified, the leaders of Moab will be…”–for all events after the drowning. The reason is obviously to preserve “Mosaic” authorship. For more on this, see Dr. Baruch J. Schwartz’s article:
    http://thetorah.com/song-at-the-sea-what-does-it-celebrate/

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  24. At 2 Samuel 24:13, the NIV switches from the MT to the LXX regarding the number of years of famine David was offered as punishment for the census, to bring this passage in line with 1 Chronicles 21:12.

    2 Samuel 24:13
    NASB: 13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider and see what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.”

    NIV: 13 So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”

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    • I think you suggested this one already. I put it off until I could research it a bit more, since it’s one of those places where the LXX is possibly more original.

      Edit: Incidentally, the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties by NIV publisher Zondervan has a bizarre explanation of this contradiction. It states that the version in Chronicles is a separate occasion in which Nathan brings God’s revised ultimatum to David — even though the latter text obviously says Gad and not Nathan. This “encyclopedia” was written by Gleason Archer, one of the NIV translators.

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  25. Is there any doubt, though, that the motivation of the NIV was to make Samuel and Chronicles agree? If Chronicles said “seven,” there would be no consulting other manuscripts. Plus, “seven” is the more “difficult” reading, since it deviates from the pattern of threes, and for that reason may be the original reading. Unfortunately, the DSS is missing this portion of the chapter.

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  26. One other reason to think that “seven” is the original reading in Samuel is that 2 Samuel 21 records that there had already been a three-year famine, allegedly because of Saul’s killing of Gibeonites (21:1). It may be that the author of Samuel thought that a lengthier famine was required since David went against Joab’s advice and “sinned greatly” (24:10). The Gibeonite-induced famine is omitted by the Chronicler, so he felt free to “correct” Samuel and keep the theme of punishment in threes.

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  27. In Exodus 21, the NIV refers to Hebrew “servants” rather than “slaves.” This is more than just semantics, because it translates the same Hebrew word “slaves” in Leviticus 25 when that passage condones slavery of non-Israelites. The motivation is to avoid having Exodus 21 allowing a form of servitude which Leviticus 25:39 (cf. v:44) claims can’t exist for Hebrews. See also the NIV translation of Deuteronomy 15:16-17.

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  28. Deuteronomy 1:1: NIV says that Moses spoke to the Israelites “east of the Jordan” rather than the more accurate “beyond the Jordan” or “the other side of the Jordan,” thus obscuring the fact that the speaker was already west of the Jordan, an anachronism.

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    • I’m not confident about this one. I don’t like the NIV’s paraphrastic “east of the Jordan”, but I’m also not sure that the Promised Land (i.e. west of the Jordan) is intended. The six locations listed (Suph, Paran, etc.) are either unknown or associated with the wilderness south of the Dead Sea — which doesn’t match either side of the Jordan River, but does seem to describe the wilderness journey prior to reaching the Promised Land.

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      • The point is that Moses, who never crossed the Jordan, wouldn’t use the term “beyond the Jordan” to describe the area east of the Jordan. See also v:5 and 4:46, which the NIV also changes.

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      • I’m not sure this is a problem. The NIV states: “…east of the Jordan — that is, in the Arabah –…” So Deut 1:1 is referring to Moses talking to the Israelites in the Arabah, south of the Dead Sea, the Arabah also being regarded as part of the Jordan Valley. The NIV translation infers that Moses talked to the Israelites on the eastern side of the Arabah. Why is this a problem? John Kesler says that Moses never crossed the Jordan. But do we know that he never crossed the Arabah? What about when he went into Midian?

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      • No, bᵉʿēḇer hayyardēn clearly and without question means “across the Jordan”. How this relates to the other places— “in the desert, in the Arabah, opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel and Laban and Hazeroth and Di Zahab” is a separate question. The verse does not imply, of course, that Moses spoke from within the Promised Land (i.e. west of the Jordan), but it does imply that the writer was writing from within it— which of course suggests non-Mosaic authorship at least for that verse, since Moses did not enter the promised land.

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  29. Deuteronomy 16:6: The NIV says that the Passover should be sacrificed “in the evening, when the sun goes down, on the anniversary of your departure from Egypt.”
    It relegates the correct translation–“down, at the time of day…”–to a footnote, even though the vast majority of translations, including the NRSV, New JPS Tanakh, New King James, HCSB, NET LXX, New Jerusalem et al. say “at the time of day” or similar wording. The New Jerusalem even says “at the hour when you came out of Egypt.” Why does the NIV do this? To avoid a contradiction between Deuteronomy 16:1-6 and Exodus 12:29 ff, which says the Israelites left Egypt some time after midnight.

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  30. Deuteronomy 15:4 says that, “There shall be no needy among you…” (New JPS TANAKH or “There will, however, be no one in need among you…” (NRSV). This conflicts with v:7f, which says how to help the poor, so the NIV fudges v:4 to say, “However, there need be no poor among you…” thus changing the declarative statement into a provisional one. Even the 1984 NIV reads, “However, there should be no poor among you…” Mayes, in his Deuteronomy commentary, page 248, believes that vv. 4-6 are a late addition and harmonize with 7:12f.

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  31. Deuteronomy 17:15 is interesting, because the NIV makes a subtle, but I think significant, change from the 1984 to 2011 editions:

    1984 NIV: 15be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.

    2011 NIV: be sure to appoint over you a king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite.

    There is already tension between the idea that the people will choose a king and the instruction to appoint one whom Yahweh chooses, so I think the change was made to ease this tension by making it appear that Yahweh had not predetermined that Saul would be king. This tension is seen in later DH passages. 1 Samuel 12:13, 25 states that the people chose Saul, while 1 Samuel 10:24 indicates that Yahweh did:

    10:24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.”Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

    12:13, 25 Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you…25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.”

    I don’t know that this constitutes “deliberate mistranslation,” but I found it interesting nevertheless.

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  32. Micah 6:4: This passage preserves a tradition in which Aaron and Miriam are counted as leaders of the Israelites along with Moses. For example, here is the NRSV: “For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” The NIV tries to diminish the importance of Aaron and Miriam by adding the word “also”: “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.” Why? Possibly because this passage conflicts so strongly with the portrait of Aaron and Miriam in Numbers 12 (cf. Deut. 24:9 in which Miriam is singled out for scorn).

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  33. Psalm 29:1 has polytheistic overtones, which the NIV (and other translations) obscure: “Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.” The NRSV disappointingly also uses the term “heavenly beings (which could be interpreted as angels),” but at least it’s honest enough to include a footnote that the Hebrew reads “sons of gods,” though “sons of El” is perhaps more accurate. See
    http://contradictionsinthebible.com/are-yahweh-and-el-the-same-god for more.

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  34. Scholars have long known that Joshua 4 preserves two traditions about setting up memorial stones after crossing the Jordan: As The New Oxford Annotated Bible explains, “One describes the memorial stones set up at Gilgal (4.1-3, 6-7, 8b,20); the other describes stones set up in the bed of the river (4.4-5, 8a, 9, 15-19).” The NIV attempts to blur this distinction with its “translation” of 4:9 by saying that the stones Joshua set up “had been” in the middle of the Jordan: “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.” Other translations are truer to the text: http://biblehub.com/joshua/4-9.htm As an interesting aside, if the phrase about stones being somewhere “to this day” sounds familiar, it should, because that is the same thing said about the stones set against the mouth of a cave where five Amorite kings are buried (10:27).

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    • That one’s pretty blatant. The NIV’s footnote is also slightly misleading; it gives the correct translation but sneaks in an “also” that isn’t in the Hebrew, to imply a second set of twelve stones.

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  35. 1 Chronicles 17:5: NASB: 5 for I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up Israel to this day…
    New JPS Tanakh: From the day that I brought out Israel to this day, I have not dwelt in a house…

    The NIV adds the words “of Egypt” to better match the Chronicler’s source, 2 Samuel 7:

    1 Chronicles 17:5″ NIV: I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought Israel up out of Egypt to this day…
    2 Samuel 7:6: NIV: 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day…

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  36. At Genesis 5:22 and 6:9, the NIV without justification inserts the word “faithfully” to describe how Enoch and Noah respectively walked with God. I can only guess this is because each is mentioned in the “faith chapter,” Hebrews 11.

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    • I think that the motive was to express in English the idiom walked with God”. It is a consistent translation when the text does not expand the idiom with another nuance, eg “walk in obedience” or “walk in fear” or “walk humbly”. See Gen.5.22, 24, 6.9; 48.15; 1Ki.8.25. It should perhaps be added at Psa.56.13. In English the phrase “to walk with” means “to perambulate with”, and I think that the Hebrew idiom is expressed fairly concisely by “to walk faithfully with”. Do you have a different suggestion? Or are you arguing that “to walk with” conveys the same meaning in everyday English as in these passages? Remember to bear in mind that the NIV is attempting accurate English translation as used by UN translators, and is not attempting word-by-word translation which often conveys the wrong meaning.

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      • Yeah, I agree that “faithfully” probably captures some the meaning that “walks” would lack by itself in English. (Though I do think the translators had the NT in mind when they chose the word “faithfully”, and another choice might have been better.)

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      • I see no reason at all to add words where words do not exist. The Text says nothing about “faith” at either point.

        And what, exactly, is so hard to understand by “walked with God” in these contexts?

        The Hebrew root can have just as many nuances as English does. Had the author wished to specify one or another nuance (obedience, fear, humility, etc), he could have done so just as easily as you can— “walked in obedience” or “walked in fear” or “walked humbly”. But he chose to say none of those things, even though he said them, as you point out, in Gen.5.22, 24, 6.9; 48.15; 1Ki.8.25. In Gn 5:22 and 6:9, he left it to you to think about.

        As I see it, the NIV always seems to think you can’t or shouldn’t be trusted to do your own thinking, and is constantly trying to foreclose on your understanding so that you won’t.

        It’s also very funny about sex— “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant” (Gn 4.1). And yet there are other places where it euphemizes, but i don’t have time to go looking at the moment. To be sure, in all fairness, NAS can be just as bad: “Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived”. Yet why? “Knew, in the biblical sense…” is a fairly common expression in modern English, which i’ve even heard on tv. And do you suppose there’s even one adult on the planet who can’t figure that one out?

        Let God forbid the poetry, if he doesn’t like it. Otherwise, let NIV keep their hands off it!

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      • Had the author wished to specify one or another nuance (obedience, fear, humility, etc), he could have done so just as easily as you can— “walked in obedience” or “walked in fear” or “walked humbly”.

        Yeah, it’s my feeling that adding “faithfully”, though it clarifies that “walk” is meant metaphorically, also restricts the range of possible interpretations. A brief survey of commentaries suggests that these two uses in Genesis mean to imply either a “special relationship” with God (not necessarily equivalent to the Christian idea of faith), or a high degree of piety.

        I do have a certain professional sympathy, because one of the Japanese words for “walk” also has a relational aspect that cannot be captured by a literal translation into English.

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  37. Joshua 13:33-36:
    33 And in the lowlands, Eshtaol, Zorah, Ashnah, 34Zanoah, En-gannim, Tappuah, Enam, 35Jarmuth, Adullam, Socoh, Azekah, 36Shaaraim, Adithaim, Gederah, Gederothaim: fourteen towns with their villages.

    There are actually 15 cities listed. To correct the “problem,” the NIV puts the last city in parenthesis:

    In the western foothills: Eshtaol, Zorah, Ashnah, 34 Zanoah, En Gannim, Tappuah, Enam, 35 Jarmuth, Adullam, Sokoh, Azekah, 36 Shaaraim, Adithaim and Gederah (or Gederothaim)—fourteen towns and their villages.

    The LXX solves the problem by referrring to “Gadera and its farmsteads,” but the NIV doesn’t even make appeal to this reading; in fact, it refers to “Gederah and Gederothaim” in a footnote.

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  38. 1 Samuel 13:5: The NIV changes the MT’s 30,000 chariots to 3,000, probably because 30,000 is obscenely high when there were only 6,000 charioteers. It claims that “Some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac” have 3,000.

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    • Other translations prefer “horsemen” over “charioteers”. I’ll have to look into it and try to figure out why.

      Rahlf’s LXX apparatus does not mention any manuscripts with the reading “three thousand”.

      Edit: It appears the Lucianic Recension probably read “three thousand”, even though it might have just been copying the Syriac.

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      • There’s somewhat of a paradox for the NIV, because if it goes with the lower number, 3,000, then how can it be said that the Philistines had “soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (v:5), especially since Saul sent some of his men home (v:2), and earlier had mustered an army of 370.000 (11:8)?

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  39. 2 Chronicles 3:4: The NIV changes the height of the portico of Solomon’s temple from the Hebrew, 120 cubits high, to 20 cubits high, which helps it comport better with 1 Kings 6:2-3, which says that the temple was only 30 cubits high with a 20-cubit-wide portico. It claims that “some Septuagint and Syriac manuscripts” read 20 cubits high.

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  40. The NIV changes 2 Chronicles 15:8 from the Hebrew reading, “the prophecy, the prophet Obed” (so NRSV footnote) to “Azariah son of Oded the prophet” to harmonize this verse with verse 1. The NIV’s footnote reads: “Vulgate and Syriac (see also Septuagint and verse 1)…” The Anchor Bible Dictionary (volume 5, page 8) notes that “some manuscripts of the LXX (specifically the Lucianic recension”) contain the NIV’s reading.

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    • Yeah, I’ve noticed that whenever the Septuagint doesn’t actually have the reading the NIV claims it does, it’s usually a hypothetical reading of the (non-extant) Lucianic Recension.

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  41. 1 Samuel 6:19: The NIV switches from the higher number of people slain by God from 50,070 to a “mere” 70, even though the MT and LXX give the higher number. It claims that “some Hebrew manuscripts” have the lower number.

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  42. 2 Samuel 15:7: NIV says “four years” instead of 40, citing “Some Septuagint manuscripts, Syriac and Josephus,” even though the Hebrew says 40.

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  43. 1 Kings 5:11: NRSV: 11 Solomon in turn gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty cors of fine oil

    New JPS Tanakh (5:25 in Hebrew): And Solomon delivered to Hiram 20,000 kors of wheat as provisions for his household and 20 kors of beaten oil….

    NIV: 11 and Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, in addition to twenty thousand baths of pressed olive oil…

    The NIV switches to the LXX (also 5:25) to harmonize this passage with 2 Chronicles 2:10.

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  44. 1 Samuel 1:24″ the NIV changes from the MT’s “three bulls” to the DSS/LXX reading “a three-year-old bull” to make it consistent with verse 25, which speaks of a bull (singular). See also Genesis 15:9.

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  45. Judges 14:15: Appealing once again to “some Septuagint manuscripts,” the NIV changes the day from the seventh to the fourth, since this makes more sense in light of vv:14 and 17.

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  46. Leviticus 16:8,10, 26: The NIV uses the term “scapegoat” instead of the name Azazel, even though modern scholarship sees Azazel as correct. The Anchor Bible Dictionary volume 2, pp. 138-139, article: Demons, states that, “the use of the term demon in relation to the OT is problematic,” but it acknowledges that Lilith (Isaiah 34:14) and Azazel (Leviticus 16) are “[g]enerally accepted as two specific demons referred to in the OT,” ABD volume 1, page 536 gives fours reasons why the “understanding azazel as an epithet of a demonic personality is the most reasonable,” and the famous Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible states on page 129: “Nevertheless the thesis of a ‘desert demon’ Azazel has found acceptance and has been advocated until the present day.” I note also that the original NIV, even though it also uses the term “scapegoat,” has a footnote which reads: “That is, the goat of removal; Hebrew azazel…” while the new NIV’s footnote says: “The meaning of the Hebrew for this word is uncertain.”…” Baruch J. Schwartz, writing for The Jewish Study Bible, says that, “The Rabbis cleverly divided this name [Azazel] into two words…”the goat that goes away,” from which the traditional “scapegoat” is derived. It literally means “fierce god”…and is evidently the name of a demon or deity believed to inhabit the wilderness.” From page 232 of the second edition.

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  47. Exodus 33:7: The NIV puts the words “tent of meeting” in ironic quotes, implying that this was not the real Tent of Meeting. Why? Because the tradition preserved in Exodus 33 places the Ohel Moed outside the camp, and Joshua, a non-Levite is is said to have never left it (v:11; cf. Deut. 31:14f). This contrasts with the traditions of Numbers 2:17, which places the TOM in the center of the camps, and that of Numbers 3:5-10, which forbids non-Levites from approaching it.

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      • Perhaps so, but looking at all the other versions which don’t use the quotation marks, along with the NIV Study Bible’s notes makes me a little jaded.

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