Is the NIV Bible Translation Missing Verses and Selling Out to Secular Publishing?

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Recently, there has been a surge of Facebook posts claiming the NIV, under pressure from the secular publishing house HarperCollins, has eliminated verses from the Bible. In fact, the post mingles truth and falsehood to resurrect some very old attacks by those who prefer the King James Bible. Here’s the truth:

The NIV (New International Version) is an American evangelical translation of the Bible in idiomatic twentieth-century English. Over 100 scholars from various churches served on the translation committees, which began their work in 1965. Zondervan published the New Testament in 1973, later revising it at the same time they released the Old Testament in 1978. The Bible has since been revised twice, in 1984 and 2012.

HarperCollins, the world’s second largest publisher, bought Zondervan (founded in 1931) in 1988 and Thomas Nelson (founded in 1798) in 2012, forming HarperCollins Christian Publishing. They have other book divisions that publish a wide variety of materials.

The NIV, as of 2014, is the best-selling bible translation in the world. Despite its popularity, the NIV has faced significant opposition since its very first publication, especially from KJV hardliners (who have also opposed every other translation but their own). Some of this has been because of the NIV’s use of idiomatic English to translate phrases, rather than the more wooden word-for-word approach of the KJV.

The remainder of the criticism has to do with the Greek text on which the New Testament translation is based. The NIV translation committee decided to use the United Bible Society’s Greek text, rather than the received text on which the KJV is based. The UBS eclectic Greek text was compiled from a comparison of thousands of Greek manuscripts, whereas the KJV was based on a single manuscript called the “received text.”

The two Greek texts are different in some significant ways. The most significant is that the received text has a number of additional verses not found in the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts. The KJV supporters, who were used to their traditional text, charged the NIV with “eliminating Bible verses.” This charge has been resurrected in the recent (mid-2015) facebook posts, with the implication that HarperCollins is behind those omissions.

In fact, the NIV committee has tried to be sensitive to the fact that Americans were accustomed to having these verses. They included them in their translation, but used a variety of methods to indicate that they were most likely not original, setting them off from the verses on which every one agreed by using brackets, italics, marginal notes, and/or footnotes. These have all been present since the first edition appeared in 1973.

There is nothing new here, no conspiracy here, nor any malicious intent, just a difference of opinion among Bible scholars. Let’s not use these differences to stir up hatred, fear, and division. People remain free to use the NIV, the KJV, or any one of more than a dozen good Bible translations.

See Ed Stetzer’s related article, “An Embarassing Week for Christians Sharing Fake News.

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Timothy P. Jenney is “Dr. J,” host of the “Lighting the Lamp” bi-weekly podcast. He holds a Ph.D. in Ancient And Biblical Studies and other advanced degrees in History, Biblical Languages, and Near Eastern Studies. A published author, he has also served as a pastor, a campus pastor, and a college professor. Currently, he works for Accordance Bible Software as their Online Education Resource developer and is an adjunct online faculty member at Regent University, School of Divinity. “Dr. J” is has been married to his college sweetheart for thirty-eight years, Gloria Jean (Combs), an administrative assistant at First UMC, Lakeland, FL. They enjoy good coffee, playing music, reading fiction, and exploring the great outdoors in their kayaks. They have two grown children, Zeke (a Navy medic) and Ana, a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University.

13 COMMENTS

  1. the niv is based on the Alexandrian mss family, the kjv is based on the antiochian mss family. the greek orthodox church and every other apostolic church except for the roman church uses the antiochian mss family. i think the apostolic churches would know better that modern scholars what verses belong in the new testament.

    • That is a common misconception propagated by the KJV-only crowd. They even have a complicated diagram to support their view. In fact, modern text critics have used texts from both traditions (and many others) to try to reconstruct a Greek testament that is as close to the original autographs as possible.

      • Tim,
        Are you suggesting that when the Alexandrian and Byzantine text-types disagree, the UBS-compilation does not adopt the Alexandrian reading over 98% of the time?

        • Hi, James!
          No, I am not suggesting any such thing. I am saying that modern text criticism does not ignore the received text, even if it doesn’t always agree that it best represents the autographs. Remember, there are five major text types proposed by proposed by the Alands, not just two. The Alexandrian witnesses are the earliest, far earlier than any extant Byzantine witnesses. See (conveniently) the chart at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Categories_of_New_Testament_manuscripts

          • Tim,
            T: “I am not suggesting any such thing.”

            That’s good. So, do you agree that the “eclectic” method used by the compilers of the Nestle-Aland/UBS text yields a compilation that favors the Alexandrian reading over 98% of the time? How does a genuinely eclectic method produce a text that is so non-eclectic? I don’t mean to drift from the initial subject but this question is worth asking.

            T: “The Alexandrian witnesses are the earliest, far earlier than any extant Byzantine witnesses” —

            Thus demonstrating that stuff made out of papyrus lasts longer in Egypt (where the humidity tends to be lower) than it does elsewhere.
            That doesn’t mean that the Alexandrian Text is what was being used in other locales, outside Egypt, at the same time the extant fragments with (predominantly) Alexandrian readings; nor does it mean that the text-types used in other locales were not in use till much later.

            The Alands’ category-system featured at the Wiki article , btw, is problematic, but that’s a tale for another time.

            Likewise, the Gothic version and the Peshitta and Codex A aren’t far younger than B and Aleph, but, again, tales for another time.

          • James, I am not going to rehash an argument with you that is now more than 30 years old. You don’t like the NIV or probably any other recent translation. I get it. You distrust the results of moden texts critics. I don’t. I agree with their methods and their valuations. I usually even agree with their conclusions. We are just going to have to disagree about some things. I simply don’t have any more time to waste on a man who has already made up his mind.

            However, HarperCollins did not do something neferious. No verses are missing from the 2011 NIV that weren’t already missing in the 1984 NIV. This was and is the point of my blog, despite your efforts to sidetrack these comments so you could defend the KJV.

    • Regarding the text used by the Orthodox Church, I’ve tried very hard to nail down exactly what is used by inquiring of a number of friends and contacts in the Orthodox Church. It seems that the Byzantine tradition (usually translated) is favored in the liturgy in churches, but in the seminaries, the current UBS/NA text is used in Greek classes.

      And in regard to translations, its even more diverse. Although attempts have been made to produce “Orthodox” translations, there is still no “official” translation–English or otherwise. And many Orthodox members often have and use copies of traditionally Protestant versions of the Bible.

  2. I recently came out of a kjvo movement. I have very little sympathy with thatosiyion anymore. I do want to clarify one point that you made. The kjv wasn’t based off of “one manuscript” called the textus receptus. First, it is not accurate to call the tr a manuscript. Rather it is an early critical text. TR is popularly used to label all of the texts that came out of Erasmus’ 16th century Greek critical text, up to scrivener’s partial back-translation of the kjv into Greek in the late 19th century. The kjv translators used several of the early critical texts in this line, none of them exclusively. All of them had variants between them.

    @obadiahorthodox Yhat is a VERY simplistic description of the textual issues involved. What you call the Antiochan manuscript family wasn’t nearly as homogenous in early centuries as it became in later centuries (especially after the 9th or 10th). Also, it is not one and the same with the TR, which contains MANY variant readings that are absent from almost all of these Antiochan manuscripts. A truer Antiochan/Byzantine text can be found in the Robinson Byzantine, or the farstad/hodges majority texts. Also, even the “roman” church used texts that were largely reflective of this text family, though they were the keepers of some early manuscripts that would later be classified as Alexandrian. Your description betrays a very faulty understanding of textual criticism.

    • Fair enough. I should have called it a “single manuscript tradition,” but was trying to keep the post simple enough for a non-specialist to understand.

  3. Tim,

    What seems to have happened is that some old KJV-Only materials reached Nigeria, where they were misinterpreted and reframed and rephrased at the Nairaland online forum, from which they have trickled back to American FB feeds.

    A few things in your article need some clarification:
    (1) Nobody is printing the 1984 NIV anymore. The only NIV in print currently is the 2011 revision, which followed the Today’s New International Version (which is also no longer in print but many of its new features were incorporated into the 2011 NIV).

    (2) The 2011 NIV is not the product of “Over 100 scholars from various churches” serving on translation-committees. The NIV’s Committee on Bible Translation consists of a small (15 or less) group, and members tend to defer to one another according to the specialties of each (i.e., OT scholars tend to defer to the judgment of NT scholars on questions involving the NT text, and vice versa). So it is wrong to imagine that the 100+ scholars who worked on the 1984 NIV also approve of the 2011 NIV or even have anything to do with any of its novel readings. I hope your readers will not receive such a false impression from anything you have written.

    (3) You wrote that “The NIV translation committee decided to use the United Bible Society’s Greek text” but in real life the 2011 NIV’s CBT-members sometimes diverged from the UBS4 text, which accounts for some differences between the 1984 NIV and the 2011 NIV. For example they clearly are based on different readings in Mark 1:41. In 1984 Jesus was filled with compassion but in 2011 Jesus is indignant. Your statement that “The UBS eclectic Greek text was compiled from a comparison of thousands of Greek manuscripts” is nuanced considerably when one realizes that the reading the 2011 NIV follows in Mark 1:41 is found in exactly *one* Greek manuscript.

    (4) You wrote that “The received text has a number of additional verses not found in the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts,” as if the Byzantine Text’s readings are only in the later manuscripts. But in real life, the earliest manuscript sometimes supports a Byzantine reading and disagrees with the Alexandrian reading (which the UBS compilers adopted anyway) — for example, in Ephesians 5:9. Papyrus 46 supports “fruit of the Spirit” but the UBS text still adopted “fruit of the light” instead. Does your 2011 NIV have a footnote at Eph. 5:9 about this?

    (5) You wrote, regarding Byzantine readings that constitute entire verses, that the NIV’s translators/formatters “used a variety of methods to indicate that they were most likely not original, setting them off from the verses on which every one agreed by using brackets, italics, marginal notes, and/or footnotes.” First, how do you know that “every one agreed” about those verses? I think it is more credible to say that the footnotes are there because there is not unanimous agreement about most of those verses — and to simply let readers know why the verse-numbers skip a number.

    (6) You wrote, “Let’s not use these differences to stir up hatred, fear, and division” and I concur, but let’s also not try to casually dismiss the reality that there are legitimate reasons to accept some of the verses and other readings that the NIV’s 15-person CBT rejected. The rejection of those verses and other readings by ten or twelve NIV committee-members — some of whom have demonstrated in their writings that they are nowhere close to being adequately and correctly informed about some of those text-critical questions — does not mean that the questions should be considered settled.

    • Hi, James! Thanks for the information on how that fb post got started. I can better see how the confusion arose.

      My blog dealt with the entirely of the NIV’s history, not just the 2011 edition. I suggest you rethink your critique of it in that light. After all, the “missing verses” charge has been leveled at the NIV from the very beginning; it did not begin with HarperCollins, nor with the 2011 edition. Thus, those verses were in fact omitted with the consensus of the 100+ scholars I mentioned. [Now, I favor the 1984 edition of the NIV myself and made no attempt to defend the 2011 adjustments. In fact, when I am not working directly with the Greek or Hebrew text, I favor another translation entirely. However, that is beside the point.]

      As to the rest of your comments, yes, let’s certainly benefit from the fruits of those who labor in the field of text criticism. They sometimes disagree among themselves, as we may disagree with them. Fortunately, they have provided us with explanations of why they made certain decisions (Metzger) and multiple apparatuses that cite evidence for their decisions (the best of which is CNTTS). Those who are serious about working with the Bible will put in the effort to learn Greek and Hebrew and how to use these apparatuses.

      The rest of the population, who make up the largest part of Christians in the world today, deserve to have honest answers to their questions.

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