NIV Bias by Steve Ray
Are All Bible Translations Created Equal?
Are All Bible Translations Created Equal?
The Protestant Bias of the NIV
A Study of the Word Tradition
Dear Friend, you asked me about a comment I made in my Catholic Bible Study last week about the seeming Protestant bias in the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. First, let me say that I use the NIV translation frequently because it is lucid and easy to read. Secondly, I think that we should use many different translations in order to pick up the depth and nuances of meaning in any given passage of the Bible. [Endnote 1]
In order to explain my opinion that the NIV is biased in favor of Protestant Evangelicalism, I have reproduced a description of the translation provided by the translating committee in 1983. I am providing the initial paragraphs, though the document can be read at http://www.gospelcom.net/ibs/niv/niv.html.
I cannot prove that certain translations are biased by intent or even dishonest, but the NIV editorial group was Protestant and it is a matter of common sense that a Protestant editorial board will work from Protestant presuppositions and promote the Protestant tradition and theology. There is nothing unusual about that. Everyone begins translating with a tradition already in mind—a tradition used as a “filter”. Catholics translate the Bible with a Catholic tradition in mind. It is important that we understand this—it is an important point. Everyone comes to the process of translation with a tradition or bias. What is important is to realize this and to determine which is the correct tradition.
I would like to present a few simple passages from the NIV for comparison. In my Catholic Bible Study last week, I commented on the fact that the NIV replaces the word tradition in favor of the word teaching, probably to avoid the Catholic implications of the word tradition, and therefore misleading their readers, though they probably do it for innocent or subconscious reasons. They protect their readers and keep them comfortable in their Evangelical Protestant assumptions.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 we read, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (KJV);
And in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (KJV) we read,
“Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us”;
and in 1 Corinthians 11:2 (NKJV) we read,
“Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you”.
How does the NIV translate these verses? What does it do with the word tradition? In each case the editors change the word “tradition” (Greek: paradosis) to the word “teaching” (Greek: didaktikos). Why did the Protestant committee so drastically change the English word, misrepresenting the actual Greek word used by
In my next Catholic Bible Study, I will expound Acts 1:1-26. I will discuss Acts 1:20 in some detail. In this passage Luke quotes St. Peter remarking on Judas the traitor: “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take’ ” (KJV). The Greek word is episkope from which we get the word episcopal. It is referring to an office or position of overseer (from the Greek epi-”over”, and skope-”to look or see”).
The King James Version uses the word bishopric; the Catholic New American Bible,
Why change the word episcopal or office? Why reduce it to the misleading phrase “position of leadership”? The word “leadership” is not used in the Greek, nor implied. The Greek word is clearly episcopal.
On the Internet, I found a description of the NIV translation provided by the translating committee in 1983. I would like to point out a few things. First, notice that neither Catholic or Orthodox—nor any of the ancient liturgical churches—are listed as contributors. Second, notice that they explain that through their translation they are attempting to interpret the meaning of the original authors. They are attempting to explain the meaning of the original authors, but remember they are not completely objective, they have a distinct Protestant bias. They are working from certain preconceived assumptions based on their Protestant traditions. They admit that they are interpreting what the original writers meant, not necessarily translating the exact words and content of the biblical writers.
Here I provide the initial paragraphs written by the NIV translating committee. To read it yourself, click here.
“The New International Version is a completely new translation of the Holy Bible made by over a hundred scholars working directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. It had its beginning in 1965 when, after several years of exploratory study by committees from the Christian Reformed Church and the National Associations of Evangelicals, a group of scholars met at Palos Heights, Illinois, and concurred in the need for a new translation of the Bible in contemporary English. This group, though not made up of official church representatives, was transdenominational [though non-Catholic]. Its conclusion was endorsed by a large number of leaders from many denominations who met in
“Responsibility for the new version was delegated by the
“How it was made helps to give the New International Version its distinctiveness. The translation of each book was assigned to a team of scholars. Next, one of the Intermediate Editorial Committees revised the initial translation, with constant reference to the Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. Their work then went on to one of the General Editorial committees, which checked it in detail and made another thorough version. This revision in turn was carefully reviewed by the Committee on Bible Translation, which made further changes and then released the final version for publication. In this way, the entire Bible underwent three revisions, during each of which the translation was examined for its faithfulness to the original languages and for its English style.
“All of this involved many thousands of hours of research and discussion regarding the meaning of the texts and the precise way of putting them into English. It may well be that no other translation has been made by a more thorough process of review and revision from committee to committee than this one.
“From the beginning of the project, the Committee on Bible Translation held to certain goals for the New International Version: that it would be an accurate translation and one that would have clarity and literary quality and so prove suitable for public and private reading, teaching, preaching, memorizing and liturgical use. The Committee also sought to preserve some measure of continuity with the long tradition of translating the Scriptures into English.
“In working toward these goals, the translators were united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God s Word in written form. They believe that it contains the divine answer to the deepest needs of humanity, that it sheds unique light on our path in a dark world, and that it sets forth the way to our eternal well-being.
“The first concern of the translators has been the accuracy of the translation and its fidelity to the thought of the biblical writers. They have weighed the significance of the lexical and grammatical details of the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. At the same time, they have striven for more that a word-for-word translation. Because thought patterns and syntax differ from language to language, faithful communication of the meaning of the writers of the Bible demands frequent modifications in sentence structures and constant regard for the contextual meaning of words.”
Now, can I prove that they changed the words and modified “sentence structures” in order to promote Protestant ideologies and to avoid Catholic implications? Probably not, but I would suggest that it is a good supposition. I would not doubt that the NIV translating committee would freely admit that they swayed away from Catholic leanings to promote the “biblically accurate” theology of the Protestant Reformation and American Evangelicalism.
My wife read the rough draft of this letter and commented that the Jehovah’s Witnesses provide a good example of how one’s bias colors the translation and interpretation of the Bible.
In all “Christian” versions of the New Testament we read roughly the following, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). One of the cardinal doctrines of Jehovah’s Witnesses—something that sets them apart from historical Christology—is that Jesus was not God but was a created being—a creature! So, how do the Jehovah’s Witnesses translate John 1:1 to fit their heretical teaching? Their New World Translation renders this verse: “In the beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
Now, did they translate this passage based of objective scholarship or based on their bias and tradition? No! It is well known that in the original Greek text there is no article “a” in John 1:1. It is literally “and the Word was God”—without the article “a”. The Jehovah’s Witnesses translated the passage to conform to their theological bias. Protestants do the same thing. Everyone interprets the Bible according to his received tradition. Catholics admit this fact while others usually deny that they work off an underlying tradition. However, the Catholic tradition is rooted in the Apostolic Tradition of the early Church Fathers and has a legitimate claim to continuity with the apostles; whereas opposing Christian traditions can only trace their roots back to recent history.
I would like to provide another example of this Protestant bias in the NIV. In almost every English translation of the Bible, we read in James 2:24, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only (alone)” (NKJV). In all major translations, the English word “work” (Greek: ergon) is used.
The word “works” is ergon in the original Greek text. It means “works” or “deeds”. In the NIV we read, “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
The word “does” in the Greek text is often represented in the New Testament by the verb poieo and certainly not ergon. Why would the Evangelical-minded editors of the NIV choose the word does instead of the literal word works? Is it not probably, if not certainly, because they desired to find a less poignant word in order to avoid the Catholic implications? Did they try to avoid confusion among their Evangelical readers (and influence their Catholic readers) and sustain the foundational (and unbiblical) principle of the Protestant Reformation—the “doctrine” of salvation by faith alone?
Remember, I am not saying that the NIV is worthless or dishonest. I use it frequently, and often use it to read key passages to my children due to its easy readability. However, what I am saying is that one’s theological bias effects the way they translate the biblical texts.
Catholics need to be aware of such biases and should not fall prey to ignorance and Protestant manipulation. Is the manipulation intentional? I doubt it. They are simply trying to be honest with their presuppositions and serve the Lord. But, Catholics must be aware, wary, and educated so as to understand and defend the historic Christian faith as explained and carefully preserved in the Catholic Church and in careful translations of the Bible. For a list of good translations, see my short discussion of Bible translations.
Endnote 1: Picture a sliding scale from left to right. Every translation fits somewhere along that scale. At one end of the scale are dynamic translations which try to relay the authors’ meaning without being overly literal—telling what the author means. At the other end of the scale are literal translations which try to relay the actual words of the original languages without being overly concerned with ease of reading or conveying the authors’ meaning. The first emphasizes what the author means, the second what the author says. All translations fit somewhere in between.
TRANSLATIONS OF THE BIBLE
Picture a sliding scale from left to right. Every translation fits somewhere along that scale. At one end of the scale are dynamictranslations which try to relay the authors’ meaning without being overly literal—telling what the author means. At the other end of the scale are literal translations which try to relay the actual words of the original languages without being overly concerned with ease of reading or conveying the authors’ meaning. The first emphasizes what the author means, the second what the author says. All translations fit somewhere in between.
See my list of Recommended Bible Study and Catholic Reference Software
Revised Standard Version(Catholic and Protestant editions; balance between dynamic and literal; especially recommend the Ignatius Catholic edition; 1-800-651-1531 or visit www.ignatius.com) (New Revised Standard not as good, inclusive language)
New American Standard Bible (Protestant; pretty accurate, some Protestant bias, missing deutero-canonical books; literal text)
New American Version (Catholic; dynamic, easy to read text, Fr. Jaki says it's a very good translation)
King James or Authorized Version is outdated though beautifully written, especially the poetry. New King James Version has recently been published. Protestant Bible.
NIV or New International Version (Protestant; dynamic, easy-to-read translation but displays some theological Protestant bias (see NIV which gives a few examples)
The Jerusalem Bible (not the New Jerusalem Bible) (Catholic; I have been told the New Jerusalem Bible has a lot of inclusive language, etc. though I have not verified this.
The Navarre Bible Old and New Testaments are exceptional and very Catholic. It has multiple volumes with the text in English, Latin, and a good commentary utilizing the Fathers, Church documents, background material, etc. Highly recommended.
The Rheims-Douay Version (traditional Catholic translation) The Confraternity-Douay translation which was used in the
The Precise Parallel New Testament Six translations in one book! Contains Greek text, King James version, Rheims Bible, Amplified Bible, New International Bible, New Revised Standard version, New American Bible, and New American Standard Bible.
The New Testament translated by Ronald Knox. Catholic and published in 1997 by Templegate Publishers. This translation was originally published in 1945 in
Jewish New Testament (brings out all the distinctly Jewish aspects of the text thouigh he also comes from a Protestant theological perspective) translated by David Stern, (Jewish N.T. Publ.,
The Holy Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible (different from the popular English translation above) with Hebrew on one page and English on the opposite page. Translation by Jewish scholars from Hebrew to English, read from right to left in Hebrew style. Published by Koren Publishers,
Some trusted references on the meaning of the word “tradition” taken from an E-mail I sent regarding the above study
Some trusted references on the meaning of the word “tradition” taken from an E-mail I sent regarding the above study
Glad you liked my study on the NIV. Your friend is grasping at straws to reject tradition. In fact, his use of Strong's is telling since Strong's tends to be old scholarship (recently discussed on Jimmy Akin's blog) and not to be trusted without comparing it with much more reliable later scholarship. Tell him to get with it :-)
There is no reason to say that tradition = merely teaching. Tradition is much more that merely didactics. A family tradition is teaching, practice, events, and memories passed from one generation to the next. It is also so in the Church. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church and keeps the "Apostolic Tradition" alive. There was solid and trusted tradition perserved and passed on through the apostolic tradition long before there was a collected and published New Testament.
The liturgy and moral conduct passed down from Paul was also tradition. How to worship God on Sunday morning, how to baptize, how to serve one another, how to study scripture, etc. Paul "lived" the tradition before their eyes, celebrated the tradition in the liturgy, and they were to keep it and pass it on. It has been preserved in the Apostolic Tradition and passed on in the Church through the teachings, the liturgy, the practices, etc.
Think about it: nowhere does the New Testament give us an instruction manual for what to do Sunday morning when we gather together. That was learned by observing Paul and listening to his instructions and then that liturgy was passed on to subsequent generations -- preserved handed on through the bishops in the apostolic succession. A simple reading of early Church history (e.g., Eusebius) makes this abundantly clear.
Now, some Protestants (Bible-only types) want to reduce the word paradosis to merely didactic teaching because he thinks it gets him off the hook, but he deludes himself.
The sources below are from Protestants, not Catholics.
Vine’sExpository Dictionary has this:
paradosis (παράδοσις, 3862), “a handing down or on” (akin to paradidomi, “to hand over, deliver”), denotes “a tradition,” and hence, by metonymy, (a) “the teachings of the rabbis,” interpretations of the Law, which was thereby made void in practice, Matt. 15:2, 3, 6; Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13; Gal. 1:14; Col. 2:8; (b) of “apostolic teaching,” 1 Cor. 11:2, rv, “traditions” (kjv, “ordinances”), of instructions concerning the gatherings of believers (instructions of wider scope than ordinances in the limited sense); in 2 Thess. 2:15, of Christian doctrine in general, where the apostle’s use of the word constitutes a denial that what he preached originated with himself, and a claim for its divine authority (cf. paralambano, “to receive,” 1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3); in 2 Thess. 3:6, it is used of instructions concerning everyday conduct. 
IVP Bible Background Commentary says:
“Traditions” (NASB, NRSV) were accounts or regulations passed on orally; for instance, Pharisees in
Jerome Biblical Commentary (this is a Catholic source):
2. the traditions: The concept is Jewish. It suggests a depositum that has been received and handed on integrally in the primitive Christian community, as having come from the Lord or from the first apostles (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3). These traditions embrace customs, (14:34) and religious rites like the Eucharist (11:23-24), as well as doctrinal and moral teachings (1 Cor 15:3-4; Rom 6:17; 2 Thes 3:6; 1 Cor 7:10, 12, 25; 9:14). (See F. Büchsel, “Paradosis,” ThDNT 2, 172-73.)3. head: God has established a hierarchy. The term “head”, imports authority and precedence in the three unions enumerated. Christ is the head of every man (anēr, “husband”); the man is the head of the woman (Eph 5:22-23); and the Father (ho theos) is the head of Christ. As Son, Christ comes from the Father; as Redeemer, he has been sent by the Father. He receives both his divine nature and his mission from the Father. He receives both his divine nature and his mission from the Father.
Evangelical Messianic Jewish Jewish Commentary of the NT:
I passed on (Greek paradidômi) the traditions (the related Greek word paradoseis). At v. 23 and 15:3 the words “received” and “passed on” are used of two of these “traditions”—the Lord’s Supper and the evidence of Yeshua’s resurrection. “Tradition” in this sense simply means “that which has been carefully and faithfully ‘passed on’ by one generation and ‘received’ by the next.” This corresponds to Jewish understanding; for example, as the Mishna puts it:
“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the men of the Great Synagogue ….” (Avot 1:1, quoted in full at Ac 6:13–14N)
Clearly Judaism places a high value on citing the authority for what one teaches—this is evident from virtually any page of the Talmud. Perhaps this is why Sha’ul dwells on the process of “receiving” and “passing on.” Contrast Yeshua’s, “You have heard …. But I tell you ….” (Mt 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43), which made his listeners conclude that “he did not instruct them like their Torah-teachers but as one who had authority himself” (Mt 7:28–29&N).
The New Testament speaks of three kinds of “traditions”:
(1) The traditions of the Messianic Community, here and at 2 Th 2:15, 3:6;
(2) “Human traditions,” meaning pagan traditions, Co 2:8;
(3) Jewish traditions, that is, the Oral Torah as set forth by the Pharisees—Sha’ul, at Ga 1:14; and Yeshua, eight times in Mt 15:2–6 and Mk 7:3–13. Some of these Jewish traditions are regarded in the New Testament as bad (Mk 7:5–13&N); but others are, by implication, good (Yn 7:37–39&NN).
It seems clear that in passing on traditions Sha’ul expected them to be observed, so that in a sense he was establishing a kind of Oral Torah for the Messianic congregations. At the same time, he expected the governing principle for the observance of this Oral “Torah as upheld by the Messiah” (9:21) to be love, not legalism, and certainly not the greed that was replacing love when the Corinthians celebrated the Lord’s Supper (vv. 17–22).
New Bible Dictionary:
Christian tradition in the New Testament has three elements: (a) the facts of Christ (1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3; Lk. 1:2, where ‘delivered’ translates paredosan); (b) the theological interpretation of those facts; see, e.g., the whole argument of 1 Cor. 15; (c) the manner of life which flows from them (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thes. 2:15; 3:6–7). In Jude 3 the ‘faith … once for all delivered’ covers all three elements (cf. Rom. 6:17).
Christ was made known by the apostolic testimony to him; the apostles therefore claimed that their tradition was to be received as authoritative (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thes. 2:15; 3:6). See also Eph.4:20–21 where the readers had not heard Christ in the flesh but had heard the apostolic testimony to him. Christ told the apostles to bear witness of him because they had been with him from the beginning; he also promised the gift of the Spirit who would lead them into all truth (Jn. 15:26–27; 16:13). This combination of eyewitness testimony and Spirit-guided witness produced a ‘tradition’ that was a true and valid complement to the Old Testament So 1 Tim. 5:18 and 2 Pet. 3:16 place apostolic tradition alongside Scripture and describe it as such.
Subject: NIV Bible Tradition Vs Teaching
I hope you don't mind the email, since I'm sure you get many and hopefully you've have a chance to just shoot me a quick email back with an answer. If not, I completely understand. I would have posted to the boards, but I'd rather do this privately for reasons I won't bother you with.
I read with great interest your article on how the NIV changes the greek paradosis from "tradition" to "teachings".
When I pointed this out to someone on a Protestant (mostly) message board I got the following reply:
But to look at Strongs.
3862. paradosis, par-ad'-os-is; from 3860; transmission, i.e. (concr.) a precept; spec. the Jewish traditionary law
The word refers to "Jewish traditionary law."
They seem to show that "paradosis" translates into "Jewish traditionary law" which doesn't quite seem to equal "tradition" to me. They also state that the word "tradition" shows up in the footnotes of the NIV. I don't have one, so I'm not sure. Nor do I have a Strongs to see if what they posted is correct. I don't have any reason to think they are making this up.
Do you use something other than Strongs for your Greek translations?
Ellingworth, P., Hatton, H., & Ellingworth, P. (1995). A handbook on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Rev. ed. of: A translator's handbook on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators (Page 243).
Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (1 Co 11:2).
ThDNT G. Kittel, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, 1964-). English version of ThWNT
Brown, R. E., Fitzmyer, J. A., & Murphy, R. E. (1996, c1968). The Jerome Biblical commentary.
Stern, D. H. (1992). Jewish New Testament commentary : A companion volume to the Jewish New Testament. Includes index. (1st ed.) (1 Co 11:2).
Word Pictures in the NT:
Hold fast the traditions (τας παραδοσεις κατεχετε [tas paradoseis katechete]). Hold down as in 15:2. Παραδοσις [Paradosis] (tradition) from παραδιδωμι [paradidōmi] (παρεδωκα [paredōka], first aorist active indicative) is an old word and merely something handed on from one to another. The thing handed on may be bad as in Matt. 15:2f. (which see) and contrary to the will of God (Mark 7:8f.) or it may be wholly good as here. There is a constant conflict between the new and the old in science, medicine, law, theology. The obscurantist rejects all the new and holds to the old both true and untrue. New truth must rest upon old truth and is in harmony with it.
Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol.V c1932, Vol.VI c1933 by Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. (1 Co 11:2).
Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible:
Though debate surrounds the definition and extent of such traditions, the following kerygmatic, parenetic, catechetical, liturgical, and persecution traditions have been discerned. Based on the early work of C. H. Dodd on the typical composition of the apostolic preaching in Acts (the kerygma), such traditional material is recognized in the Pauline corpus (1 Cor. 15:3) and in the Markan summary of Jesus’ message. Hortatory traditions are those comprising moral regulations for believers (Rom. 6:17; 1 Cor. 11:2; Col. 2:6; 2 Thess. 3:6), while catechetical traditions focus on the death of Jesus and brief confessional declarations (Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Tim. 2:5–6; 1 Pet. 3:18). Liturgical traditions include material whose context or content reflect baptismal or eucharistic practices as well as fragments of early hymns (Phil. 2:6–11; Col. 1:15–20; 2 Tim. 2:11–13). Finally, some scholars isolate material which reflects situations of conflict, persecution, and confession, modeled ultimately upon the example of Jesus, the persecuted prophet.
Freedman, D. N., Myers, A. C., & Beck, A. B. (2000). Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (Page 1326).
Wood, D. R. W., Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary. Includes index. (electronic ed. of 3rd ed.) (Page 1199).