The NIV Reconsidered: A Fresh Look at a Popular Translation. Earl Radmacher and Zane C. Hodges. Dallas: Redención Viva, 1990. 155 pp. Paper, $8.95.
This is an important book on a major topic for English-speaking Christians. It is also long overdue. First of all this is neither a “chain saw” review nor a nit-picking one. It is a detailed and scholarly (but easy-to-read) book. It is well-organized, clearly expressed, and well-supported with illustrative material.
Many of the readers of JOTGES probably have experienced similar reactions to the NIV as has this reviewer. Initial enthusiasm and hopes that finally we had an English version that would prove accurate, beautifully styled, and capable of being the new standard to replace the ever more archaic King James Bible we have loved so long perished with the using. From personal conversation with the writer of the foreword, Dr. Curbs Vaughan, Professor of Greek at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I know that his initial favorable impression of the NIV (the NT, at least), faded as he continued to use it in the light of the original Greek.
This was also the experience of Hodges, and I believe Radmacher as well. In chapter 1, “Needed: A Standard Bible for Everybody,” I see the clear hand of Dr. Radmacher, since I heard most of his content given orally at the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy at San Diego some years ago. The thrust of this chapter is that never have there been more Bible versions in English-and never as much biblical illiteracy and lack of memorizing of God’s Word. Allowing for personal preference in study and private devotions, churches need to present a united front with the same Bible in pulpit and pew, the authors maintain.
Is the NIV the answer to this need, as its gigantic advertising campaign would have it, or is it not?
Chapters 2 through 7 handle the general topics of making the NIV (chap. 2), how literal it is or isn’t (chap. 3); its general accuracy (chap. 4), crucial prophetic passages (chap. 5), significant NT texts (chap. 6), and the NIV’s style (chap. 7).
The authors give high marks to the NIV translation team for effort, expenditure of time and money, sincerity, and general smoothness of English. Two or three of the translators of the NIV have privately told this reviewer that their scripts turned in to the editors and stylists were much more accurate and careful with such details as the short connectives that start most sentences in the NT than what appeared in the final product.
A common criticism of the NIV by those with a precise knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew texts is that it is not close enough to the originals to be a standard Bible for all purposes. Regarding generalaccuracy our authors write: “Repeatedly, the NIV indulges in changes from the familiar translations of previous years without any appreciable gain to the reader at all. What is more, these changes often leave the reader worse off than he was before. Weighed in the scales of general accuracy and reliability, much too often the NIV is found wanting” (p. 47).
Chapter 5, “Crucial Prophetic Passages,” proved somewhat alarming to this reviewer. Hearing that all of the NIV translators signed statements maintaining their belief in inerrancy (as the NASB and NKJV translators did), some disturbing trends are made to surface in the NIV text, and sometimes even more clearly, in the NIV Study Bible notes. Lately there has been a defection of some leading (chiefly British) evangelical leaders from the orthodox Christian doctrine of eternal punishment. Also, prominent on both sides of the Atlantic has been an erosion of faith in the accuracy of the NT’s usage of Messianic passages from the OT. This book reveals that both trends can be seen to some extent in the NIV, especially in the NIV Study Bible notes.
On the change from “hell” and “Sheol” to “grave” in the NIV, Ps 16:10 is chosen as an important example: “Thus the NIV handling of Psalm 16:10 sets up a needless tension between the Old Testament and the New. It plays directly into the hands of those who deny explicit Messianic prophecy and thus also deny the New Testament’s claims for that.
“Clearly, Psalm 16:10 in both the NIV text and note leads to an evangelical debacle” (p. 52).
What messianic verse could be more important than Isa 7:14, the very first OT text quoted in the NT (Matt 1:23)? Radmacher and Hodges write: “In the NIV, ‘the virgin’ apparently is intended to refer to a specific individual who, though not previously named, is very much a part of the larger context of this announcement. To put it briefly, ‘the virgin’ refers to ‘the woman’ Isaiah is about to marry. Only if the prediction is viewed typologically, so we are told, can one find any validity to Matthew’s use of this text in reference to the Virgin Mary.
“Despite the finely honed statements of the NIV study note, what the note really means is this: Isaiah 7:14 is not a direct prophecy about the virgin birth at all. Indeed, the woman to whom it didreally apply gave birth in a perfectly normal way! But nobody could deduce such a conclusion from Matthew’s use of the text.
“At least the liberal critics have the candor to tell us that Matthew misread Isaiah. It remains for contemporary evangelicals to fudge the issue” (p. 54).
For those who do not get to read this book, let me point out that there is no suggestion here that the NIV team denies either eternal punishment, the virgin birth, or other basic Bible doctrine. Rather in an effort (one suspects) to be considered up-to-date in the scholarly world, some of the translation and some Study Bible notes are very carefully worded so as not to appear too “fundamentalist” to the mediating critics.
Since picking and choosing verses hither and yon can be carefully manipulated to prove all sorts of things, the authors were wise to give two analyses of two extended passages.
The OT passage chosen, 1 Sam 25:1–44, is long. It was picked because it had “no weighty matters of doctrine” at issue. The NIV’s performance here is not reassuring: “On the contrary, the NIV seems to be qualitatively erratic. One is continually surprised to find cropping up in the 1 Samuel narrative various alterations, large and small, that represent either a deficient treatment of the original text or an unsure grasp of English idiom and style.”
The Romans 8 passage (1–17) is, of course, theologically “pivotal,” to use the authors’ word. A detailed study of the accuracy and style of the NIV here surfaces some nice choices of wording (e.g., “co-heirs” rather than “joint-heirs”), but by and large a generally negative critique is the result of the authors’ detailed investigations: “It is unfortunate enough that options which the translators ought to have left open are closed to the reader. But it is even more serious that, due to the translators’ tendency toward loose, interpretive paraphrase, the Apostle Paul’s actual thoughts at various critical points are hidden from the reader.
“It follows that the user of the NIV New Testament, especially in sensitive sections like this one, would be well-advised to keep a Greek text handy and to refer to it repeatedly as he studies his NIV.
“If he cannot do this, he would be better off with another version” (p. 130).
The book ends with an Epilogue, an Appendix, helpful notes, and a Bibliography.
The Appendix, which clearly shows the hand of Hodges, is an irenic but pointed defense of the so-called Majority Text of the Greek NT, a text similar to that of the KJV (and NKJV) except in Revelation, where it is closer to the UBS-type text. It was decided not to base the main argument of the book on a controversial point of textual criticism (probably a wise choice). This reviewer agrees with the Appendix that “it is premature to say that the NIV is translated from the best available Greek New Testament text” (p. 144).
No church seriously considering adopting the NIV as its standard Bible should do so without its leadership reading The NIV Reconsidered. Since it is published by a small, fairly new company with (one suspects) a small advertising budget, I felt it would be helpful to list for interested JOTGES readers the address and phone number of Redención Viva:
P.O. Office Box 141167
Dallas, TX 75214
Phone: (214) 821–5357
Arthur L. Farstad
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society