Posted by: stpowen | March 24, 2014

The F.I.E.C. and the N.I.V. 2011

Provrbs 30:5. ‘Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who trust in Him.’

Matthew 4:4. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”

The FIEC has put an article about the new(ish) 2011 revision of the New International Version of the Bible on its website. You can read it here:

The article is written by David Shaw, who was previously unknown to me, but is apparently a member of the FIEC’s theological team. He is very enthusiastic about the new NIV; I am considerably less so. I am not crazy about the old NIV and, as regular readers will know, I use the NKJV both here on the blog and in my private reading and study. However, I preach regularly from the old NIV, and have not found too many problems in doing so. While the new version does have a few genuine improvements, I believe that it represents a significant downgrade in translation principles, and it makes me fear greatly for the future of Bible translation into English.

If I had to choose the one most important quality in a Bible translator, it would not be intelligence or scholarship or knowledge of the original languages, vital as all these are. It would be humility. Anyone setting himself to translate the Bible is handling the very word of the living God and he should be aware of that, and do the work, metaphorically at least, on his knees. If ministers and Bible teachers will be judged more severely by God (James 3:1), how much more strictly again will translators of God’s word be judged, seeing that they have the power to lead or mislead tens of thousands of Christians as they do the work well or badly.

Seeing that ‘every word’ of God is pure and therefore important, the Bible translator will seek, in the fear of God, to make as faithful a rendering as he can. Everyone with even a smattering of Greek or Hebrew knows that an exact word-for-word translation is not possible. Mr Shaw lets himself down by giving an example of an entirely literal translation, and then suggesting that since that ‘won’t do,’ the translator is free to muck about with the text until he comes up with something that seems right to him. I will come back to this later. He also says that the A.V. translation of 1 Cor. 6:12; “Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels,” ‘does not make much sense.’ Well, it is hard to understand for many people, but that is not the same as saying that it makes no sense; it made perfect sense in the 17th Century, and still makes sense to those who are prepared to make an effort. However, it is not the texts that are difficult to understand that are the most dangerous. If someone doesn’t understand something he can go to a dictionary or a concordance, or ask his minister. The really dangerous texts are the ones that are in simple, plain English, but are translated badly. People won’t ask about these because they think they understand them.

Nevertheless, let me welcome one definite, though partial, improvement. The translation of Philippians 2:6 has been weak in almost every translation. The problem is the Greek word, harpagmos, rendered ‘something to be grasped’ in the 1984 NIV. Harpagmos appears nowhere else in the N.T. and is therefore very hard to translate. Its root suggests grasping, snatching or holding, and other translations have used words like ‘robbery.’ However, recent studies of the word’s use outside of the Bible have shown that it means ‘something held to one’s advantage,’ rather like a ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card when playing Monopoly. So when the new NIV translates the verse, ‘Who….did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage’ it has it almost right, though I believe that ‘held’ rather than ‘used’ would be better still.

I suppose that substituting ‘foreigner’ for ‘alien’ may be an improvement, though I wonder how many people really think that ‘alien’ always means an extra-terrestial. However another change mentioned by Mr Shaw is less good:
Phil. 4:13, NIV 1984. ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength.’
Phil. 4:13, NIV 2011. ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’
The word ‘this’ is not in the original. The Holy Spirit says, ‘Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar’ (Prov. 30:6). If the NIV followed the A.V. and NKJV in putting added words in italics, it might be permissable as it would allow the reader to make his own decision, but the original does not limit Paul’s ability to those things mentioned in the previous verse. The NKJV is better than either of these, however: ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.’ ‘All things’ here means not every single thing in the world, but all manner of things that God might lead Paul to do.

More importantly, we come to the question of using the plural, ‘they’ and ‘them’ to avoid the use of ‘he’ and ‘him’ when the reference may be to both males and females. Firstly, do we have the right to muck about with the word of God in this way, changing singular into plural? I don’t believe we do. Masculine pronouns are used in almost every language to refer to male and female together. Why are we suddenly changing the linguistic usage of hundreds of years to please a bunch of feminists who mostly don’t believe in God anyway? For make no mistake, that’s what this is all about, and the feminists will not be happy until we are saying, “Our Parent who art in heaven” and speaking of Christ the only begotten Child, and probably not even then!

The NIV 2011 translation of Gen 4:15, seems OK, but the other two examples given by Mr. Shaw have serious problems; the one, aesthetically and grammatically; the other, theologically.

John 11:25. “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” (my italics)

Am I the only one who finds that rendering unbearably grating? I don’t believe I could bring myself to read it out loud! The very basics of English grammar have been brutally sacrificed upon the altar of political correctness. If one absolutely has to use the plural then I suppose one could try, “Those who believe in me will live even though they die.” This at least has the benefit of being grammatical. But that is not what the Holy Spirit wrote! For His own high purposes He used the singular, and it is not for us mere mortals to play fast and loose with the text to satisfy the equality fascists. We don’t do it to secular texts like Chaucer or Shakespeare; why is it acceptable to do it to the Bible? The new NIV has, quite rightly, sought to limit its gratuitous use of the Plural, but in doing so it has made a dog’s breakfast of the English language.

There are loads of other texts where the singular and plural are mangled together in this ghastly way. I offer just one more: ‘Then that person can pray to God and find favor with him, they will see God’s face and shout for joy; he will restore them to full well-being’ (Job 33:26). Yuk! The great strength of the old NIV was that it read smoothly. To use ‘that person’ instead of ‘he’ makes the reading stilted and awkward.

The next example is even more worrying.

Hebrews 2:6-9, NIV, 1984. ‘But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the angels;
you crowned him with glory and honour
and put everything under his feet.”
In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.’

Hebrews 2:6-9, NIV, 2011. ‘But there is a place where someone has testified:
“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honour
and put everything under their feet.”
In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.’

The point here is that the writer to the Hebrews, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, has taken a section of Psalm 8 and made it refer to the Lord Jesus. This is in line with John 5:39: ‘These are [the Scriptures] that testify of Me.’ We should always look to find Christ in the Old Testament. But the New NIV cannot make up its mind whether the ‘son of man’ is Christ or not. In one line it speaks of ‘him’ and in the next, of ‘them.’ The original Greek is singular throughout, and the new NIV, by mixing singulars and plurals, obscures the reference to our Lord.

Psalm 24:3-5 presents similar problems:-

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Saviour.’

I believe that these verses are about the Lord Jesus Christ. Who among us can say, “Yes, my hands are clean and my heart pure. I can stand before God with absolute confidence”? No, no. It is only Christ who could say that. But by switching from singular to plural in verse 5, not only does the reading jar horribly, but the reference to our Lord is obscured.

Finally, I want to take one quotation of Mr Shaw’s article which shows that he really doesn’t understand the principles of translating the word of God. He writes, “After all, what’s the best translation of “Au revoir”? Well, “Goodbye”. We’ve translated two words with one word, but that’s a good thing because we have clearly conveyed the meaning.” Well, actually, no. ‘Au revoir’ means ‘Until we meet again;’ ‘Goodbye’ means ‘farewell.’ ‘See you later’ would be a better translation of ‘au revoir’ if one wanted to convey the precise meaning of the French. And when we come to translate the Bible, we need to be precise; we serve a precise God, one who tells us that man shall not live of bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

I believe that the new NIV translation is driven by a desire to be accepted by the secular world. Yet the Holy Spirit tells us, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God’ (Rom 12:2. cf. 1 John 2:15). We must not conform to the world’s standards; they may come to us, but we must not go to them (Jer 15:19).

In fairness to the FIEC, they have added a rider to Mr. Shaw’s article saying that it does not represent FIEC policy. However, I believe that it would have been better if the article had not been published on the FIEC website and I suggest that those churches that are currently using the old NIV either stick with it or move to the ESV or NKJV.



  1. Your sane and thoughtful commentary is a great service to us all.

  2. I want to take issue with your comments on Phil 4:13, which are misleading. Check it in an interlinear Bible – eg at

    Note there is no “I can do” in the Greek. So, if you are consistent, you should criticise the 1984 NIV, the NKJV, and the KJV, for adding to God’s word!

    Furthermore, contrary to what you say, the majority of theologians and commentators do take the view that the “all things” in v.13 refers only to those things mentioned in v.12. The “all this” wording in the 2011 NIV makes this clear and prevents this famous verse from being misunderstood.

    I have to say that applying Proverbs 30:6 to this translation issue is really an abuse of scripture and quite a manipulative tactic.

    You conclude by suggesting the NKJV or ESV are preferable to the 2011 NIV. I don’t know about the NKJV, but I think the ESV is regarded as a having a distinct translation bias.

    One thing I think is important with translations is that we often want the Bible to say something that suits our particular theology, even if the original languages don’t support this.

    Translating the Bible is a difficult task and the people who do it should be treated with respect. I have to say that I didn’t get the impression you were doing this, and your article above does seems to be written in a rather bad spirit.

  3. Hello Ian,
    Thank you for your post. I genuinely welcome all comments, favourable or otherwise.

    However, you are wrong about Phil. 4:13. Panta ischuo is translated as ‘I can do all things’ by every Bible I can think of. It could also be rendered as ‘I have strength for all things’ or ‘I am strong for all things’ but they all mean the same thing. Ischuo is found 28 times in the N.T. and in the large majority of these it is redered as ‘can’ or ‘am able.’

    Also, you are confusing the work of the Bible translator with that of the commentator. It is legitimate for a commentator to suggest that ‘all things’ applies only to those mentioned in verse 12 (though I am still not sure I agree), but the translator should only render what is in the text, not impose his views on it. The word ‘this’ is not in the text and if it were it would be ‘these’ because panta is plural. If the Holy Spirit had wanted Paul to add tauta to he text, He would have done so. It is not for anyone else to do it.

    You don’t say why you think my use of Prov. 30:6 is abusive and/or manipulative, nor do you say what you think is the bias in the ESV translation, so I’m unable to comment on this. I certainly have a bias: it is for accurate translation in good English, and in my view the 2011 NIV falls lamentably short on both counts and yes, it does make me rather angry.

  4. Singular they perhaps has a better pedigree than you (singular!) give it credit for:

  5. Thank you Mr. Main,
    I was aware of some of the examples quoted in your link, and I’m afraid it makes no difference- I still think it jars horribly.

    There is some excuse (though not much!) in using ‘they’ with ‘everyone’ or ‘everybody’ since although the words are singular they always apply to more than one person, but the new NIV’s treatment of Job 33:26, quoted above is just horrible!

    However, my pedantry is not the main point. The question is, do we have the right to play fast and loose with the very words of God and turn singulars into plurals for the sake of political correctness when it masks a reference to Christ?

  6. I think you may have missed my point, so I will expand upon my previous elliptic comment.

    The NIV translators are not turning singulars into plurals, the translators are asserting that, in contemporary English, the words “they/them/their” are sometimes singular, sometimes plural, in exactly the same way that the words “you/yours” are sometimes singular and sometimes plural. In their own words, from the NIV Preface:

    ‘A related shift in English creates a greater challenge for modern translations: the move away from using the third-person masculine singular pronouns — “he/him/his” — to refer to men and women equally. This usage does persist at a low level in some forms of English, and this revision therefore occasionally uses these pronouns in a generic sense. But the tendency, recognized in day-to-day usage and confirmed by extensive research, is away from the generic use of “he,” “him,” and “his.” In recognition of this shift in language and in an effort to translate into the “common” English that people are actually using, this revision of the NIV generally uses other constructions when the biblical text is plainly addressed to men and women equally. The reader will frequently encounter a “they,” “their,” or “them” to express a generic singular idea. Thus, for instance, Mark 8:36 reads: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” This generic use of the “indefinite” or “singular” “they/them/their” has a venerable place in English idiom and has quickly become established as standard English, spoken and written, all over the world. Where an individual emphasis is deemed to be present, “anyone” or “everyone” or some other equivalent is generally used as the antecedent of such pronouns.’

    In this view, the generic use of “he/him/his” is rapidly becoming as archaic as “”thou/thee/thine”.

    I see no evidence that the NIV translators are motivated by political correctness or a desire to be accepted by the secular world. I believe that their motivation is to produce as exact a translation as possible within the constraints of contemporary English. It is because the influence of feminists and egalitarians has succeeded in changing linguistic usage that the translation has been modified, not because the translators support those agenda.

    For this reason I do not agree that the new NIV represents a significant downgrade in translation principles. It is rather a further application of a principle underlying modern translations: that faithfulness to the receptor language is a more important measure of accuracy than faithfulness to the donor language. Older translations worked according to the opposite principle.

    Using “they” indiscriminately for singular and plural is no different in principle from using “you” indiscriminately for singular and plural. Tyndale used “thee/thou/thine” as a device to reflect the distinction between singulars and plurals in the original languages – it was not idiomatic English usage in his own time – and the AV followed him. Modern translations prefer to avoid non-idiomatic English.

    Similarly the old translations had “bowels” and “reins” (kidneys) not because those words represented the seat of the affections in 16th/17th century English thought, but because they did so in the original languages.

    Even your point about Messianic references in the Old Testament becoming obscured is not a new development. In Galatians 3:16 Paul argues from the distinction between “seeds” and “seed”, yet most modern translations obscure this by translating the word as “descendants” throughout Genesis (the ESV is an exception, using “offspring”).

  7. Well, Mr. main, I disagree with you fundamentally. That the translators are changing singulars into plurals is a fact too obvious for comment, and it jars horribly.

    “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.”

    If you think that’s good English and that it reads smoothly, well, that’s your opinion and we shall have to agree to disagree. Now if I read this sort of thing in a secular book, be it Gulliver’s Travels or a modern tome, I can just wince and carry on, or throw the book away and read something else. But when it is in the Bible, the very word of God, and the words are clearly singular, it is not for some translator to decide that they should be plural. This becomes even more important when the reference is to the Lord Jesus, as I have described above.

    I am aware that there was some secular survey of English usage published a few years back which said that people were increasingly using ‘they’ is connection with collective singulars. That may be true, though I suspect that it was actually instigated by the feminist agenda. But we are to overcome the world, not to be squeezed into its mold. I don’t believe that anyone has any problem understanding, say, 2 Cor. 5:17 in the 1984 NIV. The only possible reason for changing the verse is to satisfy the prejudices of the feminist movement, whose members are not really interested in the Bible but in their own agenda.

    You are correct about the Second Person (‘you’) in English and it is a problem for Bible translators in verses like John 3:7 and Luke 22:31-32. Only the A.V. really gets these right and it’s something with which Bible translators need to come to grips. Likewise, as you point out, only the A.V. and the E.S.V. get Gal. 3:16 right, but that is no reason or excuse for getting a whole load of other verses wrong by mixing up singuars and plurals.

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