I rarely get involved in debates on Bible translation. In fact, I don’t weigh in a lot of debates, as I believe my mission is to challenge people to simply read, engage, and apply the Bible.
As long as people are reading God’s Word, I’m not concerned about varying opinions on Bible translations, worship styles, church denominations, etc. I’m happy knowing we share a faith in Christ Jesus first and foremost, and I hope to walk with my brothers and sisters as we take one more step in the journey with Jesus.
However, I feel I must speak up when trust in God’s Word is in danger of becoming weakened due to someone’s attacks on certain translations of the Bible. A person who solely promotes the KJV (King James Version) and believes that any modern translation is evil undermines the faith of people who choose to read and study God’s Word in a translation other than the KJV.
As personal background, my degree is in ancient languages (New Testament Greek). I have a love for many Bible translations, as they have been helpful to many people (myself included) in their walk with Christ. I enjoy reading regularly from the KJV, NIV, ESV, NLT and others.
MY LOVE FOR THE KJV
I absolutely love the King James Version (KJV). In fact, I serve as the editor of a KJV Study Bible. God has used the KJV mightily over the centuries, but it is only a translation of the original Hebrew and Greek Bible.
Ultimately, I firmly believe that God’s Word is infallible. But I don’t want to confuse God’s Word (in the original Greek and Hebrew texts) with human fallible translation efforts. God’s Word is infallible. The NIV is fallible. So is the ESV. So is every translation—even my beloved KJV.
There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that God gave special blessing to Martin Luther’s translation, John Wycliffe’s translation, or to King James’s translation.
I don’t say that to undermine the Bible at all. God is perfect, and the gospel is perfect. His Word is infallible. One of the benefits of having so many translations is that we can do our best to understand the text as it was originally written thousands of years ago.
Some who attack the NIV in favor of the KJV openly denounce those who publish and back the NIV. In full disclosure, I am personal friends with the editors at Zondervan who publish the NIV Bible. We e-mail and talk on the phone often. I can assure you they are faith-driven, humble, Jesus-following people. They are actively involved in conservative churches and ministry. I’ve known some of their staff for nearly twenty years; we have challenged each other in our faith and walk with Christ. I have no doubt of their Christian commitment or their passion for preserving God’s Word.
Zondervan is owned by HarperCollins, and HarperCollins is owned by News Corp. As public corporations (headed by Rupert Murdoch), these companies are not “Christian” companies. However, the leaders of the organizations have wisely realized that they will make more money if they allow Zondervan to fulfill its faith-driven, Jesus-centered mission. They know that Christians trust Zondervan, and they’ve intentionally allowed the company to remain staffed with deeply committed, faith-driven, Jesus-centered people. In fact, the head of Zondervan’s Bible publishing efforts has served as a long-term pastor. He and I spoke this week on the phone about our mutual love for Jesus, Christ's teaching, and the truth about the gospel.
Christians have no grounds for criticizing the NIV based on its publishers. Even though the parent company, News Corp, is a secular corporation looking to turn a profit, it doesn’t interfere with the Christian editors who are preserving God’s Word at Zondervan. I believe that God has blessed Zondervan’s efforts so that they are among the most profitable divisions of HarperCollins.
HAS THE NIV REMOVED 64,575 WORDS FROM THE BIBLE?
An accusation has been made that the translators of the NIV removed a remarkably large number of words from the text of the NIV. This may be one of the most ill-informed and unfounded arguments against the NIV I’ve ever heard. I’m guessing the person who made this accusation looked at overall word count of the KJV and the NIV and saw a difference. Or maybe they counted all the “thees” and “thous” that the NIV doesn’t include? Actually, I can’t figure out how they would have come up with that number.
So, did the NIV translators remove words that are in the KJV? Yes. Their goal was to translate the original intent of the biblical writers in fewer words. Did they undermine or take away from the biblical meaning in doing so? No. (Translating between languages is always dynamic and never just word for word. The best translator in any setting can communicate the literal meaning with fewer words.)
Some people have criticized the NIV due to the removal of the term “Holy Ghost.” That’s just silly. NIV translators used “Holy Spirit,” which is essentially the same term. Personally, I believe that “Holy Spirit” is probably a better translation and more accurate for a modern-day reader. (Is it better to tell children that God is a Ghost or that God is a Spirit?) Anyone who uses this change in wording as an argument against the NIV shows they are trying to be inflammatory and not being intellectually honest.
DOES THE NIV USE A STRANGE BIBLE TRANSLATION MODEL?
Not at all. The NIV gets attacked a lot because it is the most popular translation. However, very similar translation philosophies are followed by translators of the ESV and the NLT. If you throw out the NIV, you need to throw out virtually all modern translations that follow similar translation philosophies.
HAS THE NIV REMOVED VERSES FROM THE BIBLE?
Another factor in the debate on Bible translation is the Hebrew and Greek texts these translations came from. I believe that the Greek and Hebrew texts used by modern scholars for recent translations (NIV, NLT, ESV, etc.) are more accurate.
The KJV was published in 1611 from a collection of Greek texts, which has become known as the Textus Receptus. The Textus Receptus is an excellent collection of manuscripts, and reading from them (or a Bible translated from them) can properly teach people about God, Jesus, and the gospel. However, there is no Bible verse that says the Textus Receptus is inspired. I believe the only inspired versions are the original copies written by the original authors.
The problem lies in that for over a thousand years, people hand copied the Bible word by word. And while these outstanding scribes were 99.99 percent accurate, occasionally they made a mistake. To me, what is remarkable is how accurate these scribes remained while playing a gigantic game of “telephone” (each copying a previous person’s work).
As language scholarship and archaeology has improved, we have been able to get back to manuscripts that seem to more likely resemble the original autographs written right after the time of Christ. As we’ve gotten closer to the original, we have found that there were a handful of problems in the Textus Receptus. While none of these problems really violate the gospel, they offer subtle changes.
As an example, it appears there are about 45 verses that the New Testament writers did not actually include in their original work. Well-meaning scribes seemed to have added them in over the centuries to help clarify a verse or passage in order to help readers understand.
However, none of those 45 verses change any core belief of the gospel. They are almost all clarifications. My faith is solid in God, Jesus, and the atoning work of salvation even if those 45 verses aren’t there (or if they are, it doesn’t change anything). Modern translations (including the NIV) are often criticized for removing the 45 verses. Actually, they have done a better job of maintaining the original Bible text since it looks like the 45 verses were not in the original. (Also, the 45 verses really haven’t been removed from the NIV at all—each of these verses is still present in every copy of the NIV and can be found in the NIV footnotes.)
BIBLE ACCURACY AND MY FAITH
This area of textual criticism is an area I studied extensively. My faith is in God and the God of the Bible. My hope is in Jesus. If I can’t trust the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, I can’t know that my faith is firm. After much, much study, I came to the conclusion that the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are very accurate. They accurately record Jesus’ words and teaching. As such, my faith is secure.
It’s easy to throw rocks, and I’m afraid those who vehemently oppose and attack the NIV (or any other translation) do so in a way that hurts Christians and their faith. Thankfully, Jesus is bigger than our human attempts to win an argument. I pray he’ll continue to be exalted even while some Christians—perhaps well-meaning ones—continue to tarnish the love and gospel of Christ in their efforts to preserve what they believe is the truth.