NIV 2011 Bible
Accurate or Misguided?
(Reading time: 5 minutes)
I used the 1984 NIV Bible for decades in my teaching and writing, but when the 2011 version became available, I was reluctant to use it because there was so much controversy about it. Because the NIV Bible publisher only grants permission to quote from their most current version, I was forced to select a different Bible translation for future writing, so I had to examine the alternatives. This article describes some of what I found.
Readability and translation accuracy are extremely important to me. To test readability objectively, I ran editing software on the Book of Second Peter from several recent translations (4 chapters; 1566-1615 words, depending on the translation). The software rated the NIV as the most readable, based on such indices as word choice, active or passive verbs, average sentence length, and reading grade. A definite plus.
Most of the online articles and blogs I read identified two major objections, which the NIV’s Preface addresses. The English language continues to change and in recent decades we changed how we use certain words. For example, “man” used to include women, but now we increasingly view it as limited to males. Following that trend, many recent Bible translations use more inclusive or gender-neutral words. A second, related issue occurs as we move away from using the third-person masculine singular pronouns – he, him and his – to third-person generic plural pronouns – they, them and their. This has become standard English worldwide and, frankly, is more pleasant than other constructions people have invented, such as “he/she.”
Some people complain these changes are confusing or even distort the meaning of scriptural passages, but they ignore their wide acceptance in every other part of our culture. One blogger wrote, “If God had wanted the Bible to be gender-neutral, He would have made it that way.” Well, my investigation shows he made the text gender-specific and -inclusive as needed, because many relevant words traditionally translated as masculine in the Old and New Testaments also apply to women, as we’ll see later.
I suspect many people don’t like these changes because they depart from the patriarchal tone of earlier translations, which they embraced as literal renderings. Those masculine interpretations, however, aren’t supported by the original Bible texts. It’s time for us to embrace what the texts literally say.
To me, this isn’t a social or cultural issue, or a surrender to feminism; it’s a translation accuracy issue! The original language of the Bible is gender-specific and gender-inclusive where necessary, and so is the NIV. I’ve decided to use the NIV 2011 in my work, although I’ll continue using my 1984 version for personal reading and as a resource, because it contains 30 years of my notes in its margins.
I’m definitely not a Greek scholar, so I rely on quality resources for research and I trust experts to make wise choices. After reading so many objections, I used my Logos Bible Software (https://www.logos.com), Gold version, to examine specific Scripture passages relevant to these issues, to satisfy myself the changes were suitable and accurate. Because I work mostly in the New Testament, I’m presenting examples from there, although similar examples exist in the Old Testament.
I discovered the original language of the Bible is more gender-specific than most translations. I suspect patriarchal culture and inadequate resources masculinized Bible translations for centuries and people accepted them as accurate. It’s time for us to reconnect with the original text.
Now I’m more confident than ever of the NIV’s accuracy and believe the changes are suitable. The following is a sample of what I found.
Greek word: adelphos
- General meaning: siblings, regardless of gender (141 times)
- NIV 1984: Acts 9:30, “When the brothers learned of this ….”
- NIV 2011:“When the believers learned of this ….”
- NIV 1984: Acts 21:17, “When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly.”
- NIV 2011:“When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly.”
- General meaning: male believer (84 times)
- NIV 2011: Matt. 23:8 (spoken to the disciples), “… you are all brothers.” (no change)
- General meaning: natural brother (83 times)
- NIV 2011: Matt. 1:2, “Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers ….” (no change)
- General meaning: Israelite (21 times)
- NIV 1984: Acts 2:29 (spoken to unbelieving Jews), “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried….”
- NIV 2011: “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried….”
Greek word: aner
- General meaning: person (344 times)
- NIV 1984: Rom 4:8, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
- NIV 2011: “Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
- Also notice the final word changed from “him” to “them.”
- General meaning: man, adult male (152 times)
- NIV 2011: Matt. 14:21, “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (no change)
- General meaning: husband (60 times)
- NIV 2011: Matt 1:16, “… and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.” (no change)
Greek word: anthropos
- General meaning: person, people (280 times)
- NIV 2011: Matt. 16:13, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (no change)
- General meaning: man, adult male (111 times)
- NIV 2011: Matt. 8:9, “For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.” (no change)
Greek word: autos
- General meaning: third-person pronoun – he, him, she, her, it, they, them
- NIV 1984: Rev. 3:20, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
- NIV 2011: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
Greek word: gyne
- General meaning: woman, adult female (130 times)
- NIV 2011: Matt. 9:20, “Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.” (no change)
- General meaning: wife (99 times)
- NIV 2011: Matt. 1:20, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (no change)
Greek word: tis
- General meaning: indefinite pronoun – anyone, someone, anything, something
- NIV 2011: Rev. 3:20, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door….” (no change)