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While researching for this answer and reading different posts on this site over the past few days, I've come across some criticisms of the NIV I'd never heard before. I've seen articles claiming that it changes the Bible to make it more friendly to homosexuality, but these claims were more general and more significant. For example, the one that stuck out to me the most was where someone said that the NIV translators knew no Koine Greek, just modern Greek, and that they used two secular translators to translate the NT into modern Greek.

These are some pretty serious claims. I've never liked the NIV myself, but that’s never been anything but my personal preference. I'd link to the places I saw these claims if I could remember. What arguments exist against the NIV? I'd like to find reliable references if at all possible. I’m not looking for small, minor issues like a few missing verses. I’m looking for larger, more significant problems that could conceivably affect the integrity of the text as a whole.

I'm not just looking for valid arguments; I'd also love to hear about any well-refuted claims against the NIV, so long as they had some intelligent basis in the first place. I know this question seems a bit open, but if any of these claims are true, I want be sure to avoid using an unreliable translation of God's words. I’m sure the same goes for others on this site and across the Internet.

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I've seen three major categories of criticism for the NIV, but often people will combine two or three of them.

1. Text criticism: the NIV is based on critical texts

The NIV is a translation of the Nestle-Aland critical text of the Greek New Testament. It also critically evaluates the BHS for the OT, and often takes the Greek Septuagint as being a more reliable record than the Masoretic Hebrew.

Now most translations today are also based on these critical texts, and most people and scholars approve of their use. But there is a small minority of people who think the Textus Receptus or the Majority text is more reliable. Some of these fit into the KJV only movement, while others are not as concerned with the translation, just which source texts are used. If you see anyone talking about "missing" verses, this is what they mean: compared to the TR or MT the NIV has less verses. But most Christians wouldn't say that these verses are missing, but instead that they were added to some manuscripts after the texts were written.

2. Translation method: the NIV is a thought-for-thought translation

The NIV describes itself as "the very best combination of accuracy and readability.". It ranges between a word-for-word translation and a thought-for-thought translation. Clarity in the target language (English) is highly valued by the translators, and whole verses can be rearranged from the order which the source languages have, and which more word-for-word translations may copy. Another issue is idioms: phrases where the meaning of the whole is not found in the meanings of the individual parts. Translations like the NIV recognise more idioms than translations like the NASB, and when there are verses that are unclear in the original languages, unlike translations which translate the individual words even though they don't make sense in English, the NIV will give what the translators consider to be the most likely interpretation.

A number of people strongly disagree with any translation method other than word-for-word. In my opinion, they are misguided. Translating word-for-word is impossible to do completely, and gives little benefit even when you try.

3. Translation method: the NIV is a "progressive" translation

The NIV, and particularly its offshoot translation the TNIV (now largely merged together into the 2011 NIV), has been attacked for being progressive, in particular its gender accurate language. While some people say that it is trying to erase the gender distinctives of scripture, the changes it makes are only according to the current scholarly consensus: that the supposedly gendered language in the source languages is not actually gendered, and that formerly neutral terms in English now are strongly gendered. To ensure they were actually translating accurately into contemporary English they commissioned an independent report from Collins dictionaries to determine which words are actually used now - questions like whether it is more common to say "forefathers" or "ancestors", or "people" vs "mankind". This shows a great commitment to accuracy: true accuracy needs not only a right understanding of the source language, but also the target language. If other translations rely only on their translators' intuitions about what English is like, then we should expect they will occasionally make mistakes. This is why I don't say that it is "gender neutral", but instead "gender accurate" - the goal is not to make it neutral, but to make it accurate.


In all of these categories there are always individual verses where well-intentioned scholars will disagree. Text criticism, translation, and even knowing contemporary English are all difficult. In my opinion the NIV is a highly reliable translation for contemporary English. Even though no translation is perfect, praise God that we are blessed in English to have so many good options to compare between! And support the efforts to continue translating the Bible into every language which needs it.

  • I should probably add an extra category, that it's theologically biased (ie, too Protestant). But that will have to wait for another day. – curiousdannii Nov 2 '17 at 12:46
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The NIV translation was carried out and overseen by a self-governing Committee of fifteen members called 'The Committee on Bible Translation'.

The document called 'The NIV Commitee on Bible Translation' contains the names of the Committee for the initial stages of the translation (1965 - 1983).

It also lists six de facto additional members (1976-1978) during a period called 'expansion of the CBT for editing purposes'. These may be the 'secular translators' referred to by the OP. They are :- Elmer Smick, Bruce Waltke, Herbert Wolf, Ronald Youngblood, Gleason Archer, and Roy Hayden.

Further listed are the 15 names of the members during 2002-2005 responsible for the revision of the NIV called the TNIV.

Lastly, the document also lists the fifteen members responsible for the 2011 revision.

To fairly comment on the suitability and competence of these Committee members would require a huge amount of research if it were not to be a mere expression of uninformed opinion.


As to the matter of 'the integrity of the text as a whole' ; that is a matter of Textual Criticism. The text used for the NIV, according to Wikipedia :

The manuscript base for the Old Testament was the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia Masoretic Hebrew Text. Other ancient texts consulted were the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion, the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac Peshitta, the Aramaic Targum, and for the Psalms the Juxta Hebraica of Jerome.[12] The manuscript base for the New Testament was the Koine Greek language editions of the United Bible Societies and of Nestle-Aland.[13

The main issue regarding the text is the choice of the Westcott and Hort/Nestle text rather than the Textus Receptus. There are, of course, two very divided schools of thought on that matter.

  • Thanks for the answer! I really appreciate the information about the translation commitee and process, but that doesn't really answer my question. I'm looking for arguments that others have presented against the NIV, in any of its revisions. Given that it's been around as long as it has been, I don't think it's unreasonable to assume that a well-researched argument exists somewhere. Like I said in my question, I'd also love to see any faulty arguments made in good faith that've been refuted. – Zenon Oct 30 '17 at 0:09
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    @Zenon I was looking for information on the 'two secular translators' primarily and I can find nothing about that except for the de facto additional six. There is a vast amount of opinion being spoken about the NIV but precious little genuine research, I am afraid. – Nigel J Oct 30 '17 at 0:11
  • The question isn't focused on the purported secular translators; that was provided as an example of an argument I saw. Pretty sure it was a C.SE comment, but it was really late last night and I read a lot of different things from a lot of different places. If no genuine research shows up, I'll be happy to accept your answer, but for now I'd like to see if anyone is able to find some. I've seen a great many things brought up on this site that I'm surprised were even existent, let alone able to be found. – Zenon Oct 30 '17 at 0:16
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    @Zenon I'm still researching and editing. – Nigel J Oct 30 '17 at 0:22
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The book "Truth In Translation" is generally pretty good. It was written by Jason BeDuhn, a professor who is an expert in Koine Greek. In it he compares and analyzes the translation of the New Testament in several different translations, including the NIV. On page 33, he explains the history of that translation and some general opinions and criticisms different people have had with it. He claims the final decisions for how different texts were rendered was primarily theologically based, rather than an effort to provide a high quality translation. He says that defendants of the translation admit that from the beginning the motivation for making it was primarily theological, and that it was given birth by an evangelical dissatisfaction with the theology of the RSV. Throughout the book he gets into many specific details, comparing each translation. In the final chapter of the book, on page 165, he refers to the NIV as being "heavily biased".

I guess you would have to read the book for yourself and look at the more detailed comparisons between the translations to see if you agree with him or not.

Here is one example where I will summarize, in my own words, some of the points from Chapter 10, "TAMPERING WITH TENSES". In this chapter, he compares how different translations render John 8:58. Seven out of the nine translations, place "I am" at the end of the sentence. That is what the NIV does. The full rendering of the NIV is "Before Abraham was born, I am!" Now if you just read that sentence, it sounds a little strange. He says the rules of grammar and translation are actually very straightforward in this verse. He says there is no reason to render the expression as "I am" instead of something more normal sounding like "I was in existence". He also takes issue with the order of the parts of the sentence. He says this is not proper English, and normally you would change the order of the words to be proper English. You would not normally say or translate something as "Hungry I am" or "First in line I am". He says this is an inconsistency in how those seven translations rendered other verses such as John 14:9 and John 15:27. He proposes that strange inconsistencies like this often point to bias working its way into the translation. He says someone noticed that if you translate this as "I am", it sounds similar to the English rendering used by the King James English rendering of what God said in the Old Testament at Exodus 3:14. He says that the NW translation is the second best one because it does not insist on using "I am", and instead uses something more natural, "I have been". He still thinks the ordering of the text is strange in that verse, and that the translators were influenced by the King James Version to order it that way. He says the LB translation is the best because it both reorders the words to be more correct English grammar, and uses the more natural expression "I was in existence", instead of "I am". From my perspective, he is saying that only the NW and LB translations provide a rendering that does not potentially confuse the original meaning in the mind of the reader, and that the LB translation provides the highest quality translation of this verse.

Personally, I don't have an expert knowledge of Koine Greek, and I will not attempt to further defend his position that reordering the words to be more natural or using this more natural expression is more correct from a translation perspective. But if you would like to do further research, he does get into even more technical details about this in that section of the book.

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    Adding an example or two would be very welcome. – Thunderforge Oct 31 '17 at 21:57
  • This website doesn't have any translations with anything other than "I am." What are the "NW" and "LB" translations? Which nine translations do BeDuhn evaluate? – Zenon Nov 2 '17 at 13:42
  • @Zenon "NW" is his abbreviation for the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. His book is referencing the 1984 edition, which you can read online here: jw.org/en/publications/bible/bi12/books. Since the publication of his book, there has been a 2013 revision of the New World Translation which you can read here: jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt "LB" is what he uses to refer to The Living Bible, copyright 1971. – still_dreaming_1 Dec 1 '17 at 4:39
  • If you are going to quote Jason BeDuhn, you should understand all of his views. In an interview of another book, he articulates some of his views. You can listen to them on this podcast: podomatic.com/podcasts/progressivespirit/episodes/… Among the things he believes is that Marcion's version of Luke (which is about half the size of what is accepted) is correct and there is no evidence of Luke as it is found in the Bible is correct. IOW the full version of Luke is essentially a response to Marcion. – Revelation Lad May 10 at 17:32
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There are several reviews of the errors found in the NIV, and these can be found with an internet search. There is "The NIV - Simply a Bad Translation" here

But an examination of some of verses in the various translations will point out a clear bias on the part of the committee which oversaw the NIV translations. There are at first glance what may appear to be slight differences, but when carefully examined are glaring in implication.

Phil. 2:7, in the KJV reads -

"But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:"

and in the RSV reads -

"but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."

and in Young's reads -

"but did empty himself, the form of a servant having taken, in the likeness of men having been made,"

But, the NIV has translated it -

"rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness."

And, the impact is quite different. The entire discussion of Phil. 2:5-11 is the glory of Christ unto whom all must kneel confessing that Christ is Lord. That He temporarily put off the "form of God" - vs. 6 - take on the form of a servant in vs. 7 did not make Him "nothing".

If something or someone is nothing, it / they do not exist. If someone is nothing, then are they important, or someone we should ignore?

The translation of the NIV makes Christ appear to be without authority, and contradicts other scripture that affirms His nature and deity as the Son of God (John 10:30; John 20:28; 1 John 5:7). It also implies that as He took on the likeness of a man, that therefore man is also nothing. This is not just a bad translation, but a completely false translation, and if not outright blasphemy it certainly borders on it.

This is not a one-off. 2 Pet. 2:8 correctly translation in Young's is

" and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence -- who are stumbling at the word, being unbelieving, -- to which also they were set;"

but in the NIV reads as,

" A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall."

Again, a subtle variance but one that makes it appear that Christ is the one who makes man to stumble, when in fact it is man that takes offense at the Word and stumbles / falls of his own will.

The NIV promotes the theology of "once saved always saved" by changing the subjunctive mood of "should" to the indicative mood of "shall" in John 3:16. Again, subtle, but a lie.

The NIV also changes the "only begotten Son" in John 3:16 to "one and only Son". Christ was begotten of God at His resurrection from the dead (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5) This was uniquely attributable to Christ. But, he is not the one and only, as we who are in Christ - baptized into His sacrifice - are also sons of God (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14; Gal. 4:6).

There are many more problems with the NIV, and they are severe.

See also:

The N.I.V. Infection here

The NIV Report here

Bold emphasis is mine.

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    These are not really major criticisms, but small nitpicks of individual verses. And comparing against old English translations isn't really very valid, language changes, and comparisons should be against the sense of the Greek anyway. – curiousdannii Nov 2 '17 at 10:56
  • I didn't pull in the TR vs the new NU Greek as I thought it would be a very long post. But, I did provide a link to the NIV Report which does address this problem. The NIV is based upon the NU Greek mss which differ from each other, as well as are greatly questioned by many scholars. – Gina Nov 2 '17 at 11:54
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NIV changes singular pronouns into plural pronouns in several places. I presume that this is to prevent "guilt" on the part of some readers. If NIV did this, what else? Sounds like NIV cabal was trying to be "relative" rather than "absolute." I don't need political correctness in the Bible I read.

  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For higher quality, please add references or examples to your answer. – luchonacho May 13 at 16:06

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