NIV 2011: The Little Changes

UPDATE

  1. This post doesn’t deal with the gender issues of the new NIV – it only looks at other mostly overlooked changes.
  2. I’ve also done an analysis of every single change change from NIV-tNIV-NIV2011 here: NIV2011 Changes

The Bible is my favorite use of the technology of writing, so I’m glad to see that the NIV 2010/2011 is now posted on BibleGateway.com. You can compare the versions directly (thanks to commenter Stanley J. Groothof),  and after a few clicks you can find a PDF with an overview of the changes.

The changes that get the most attention are usually the ones related to “gender neutral” issues, such as rendering the Greek word adelphoi, which literally means “brothers” as “brothers and sisters” when the translators thought the original text referred to the entire body of believers. These are very important and worthy of debate and discussion, but there are also a lot of other little changes that probably won’t get much press. I think these little changes are also worth bringing up such as this one about Joseph’s robe:

Joseph’s ‟richly ornamented robe” (Genesis 37:3) suggests a garment with decorations hanging from it, but drawings and descriptions of comparable clothing from antiquity now suggest that ‟ornate” is the best adjective to use. Joseph’s ‟richly ornamented robe” (Genesis 37:3) suggests a garment with decorations hanging from it, but drawings and descriptions of comparable clothing from antiquity now suggest that ‟ornate” is the best adjective to use.

This kind of research and change is really interesting, even if it means all the children’s books will need new illustrations)

When the NIV was first translated, the meaning of the rare Greek word harpagmos, rendered ‟something to be grasped,” in Philippians 2:6 was uncertain. But further study has 3 shown that the word refers to something that a person has in their possession but chooses not to use to their own advantage. The updated NIV reflects this new information, making clear that Jesus really was equal with God when he determined to become a human  for our sake: ‟[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”

Sometimes a single word like “grasped” that needs a little explanation seems better than a longer phrase like “used to his own advantage.” That said, it does seem less open to confusion, even if it leaves out subtlety.

And one shouldn’t be as easily able to misapply Philippians 4:13 now that it reads, ‟I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (i.e., to be content in all circumstances, whether in riches or in poverty), rather than ‟I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

If the verse numbers weren’t there to split 4:12 from 4:13, think of all the T-shirts and bumper stickers that would never have existed. I hope this change makes it so that 4:13 will no longer be divorced from it’s context.

1 Corinthians 11:10 now reads, “It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head.” The expression “a sign of” before “authority” in the 1984 NIV did not correspond to anything explicitly in the Greek and is increasingly recognized as an inadequate rendition of this verse. Whether Paul wanted the women in Corinth to wear an external head covering while praying or prophesying, or simply to have long hair, or maybe even to wear a partial face veil, the point is they should be able to control what they do or do not have on their heads.

Where they added words to Phil. 2:6, here I appreciate that they’ve taken away words that aren’t there and could lead to faulty interpretations. The PDF linked above has a full list of changes to the hot-button gender passages.

More uses of “spirit” and related forms, especially in Paul’s letters, are now capitalized. Ancient Greek did not make any distinction between upper-case and lower-case letters, so we cannot now for sure whether “spirit” (pneuma) should be capitalized or not. The sense of scholarship today is that “spirit” was not widely used in the ancient Mediterranean world for the disembodied part of a human being. The committee therefore decided to capitalize “spirit” whenever a reference to the Holy Spirit made good sense in a given context.

I think this is helpful for the average reader.

‟Forefather” has all but disappeared from the English language as a generic term, being replaced by ‟ancestor.” Even in Evangelical sermons and writings, ‟ancestor” is more than twice as common as ‟forefather.”

I wonder if this is really necessary when we refer to the “Founding Fathers” in regards to the United States.

‟Saints” often becomes ‟God’s people,” ‟the Lord’s people,” ‟the Lord’s holy people” and the like. Most people today think of a particularly good person when they hear the word ‟saint,” whereas in the Bible it translates terminology that regularly refers to all believers. Sometimes the context suggests an emphasis on God’s having declared them holy or the process of their becoming more and more holy, so a variety of similar expressions were used depending on the context.

Again, this does seem helpful for the average reader even it if misses some of the richness of the word “saint.”

Certain uses of ‟Christ” are now ‟Messiah.” This was true particularly in the Gospels and Acts, where the word seemed to retain its titular sense of the coming deliverer of the Jews rather than its more common New Testament usage, in which it seems to be virtually equivalent to a second name for Jesus.

In the previous example, they replaced a technical term “saints” with a broad description. Here it seems they are doing the reverse, using a more technical term “Messiah” in certain places.

Most occurrences of ‟sinful nature” have become ‟flesh.” Especially in Paul, sarx can mean either part or all of the human body or the human being under the power of sin. In an effort to capture this latter sense of the word, the original NIV often rendered sarx as ‟sinful nature.” But this expression can mislead readers into thinking the human person is made up of various compartments, one of which is sarx, whereas the biblical writers’ point is that humans can choose to yield themselves to a variety of influences or powers, one of which is the sin-producing sarx. The updated NIV uses ‟flesh” as the translation in many places where it is important for readers to decide for themselves from the context whether one or both of these uses of sarx is present.

I’m very happy about this one, because in college I was wrongly taught that I have two different “natures” – a redeemed nature and a “sin nature” – based on the NIV. Hopefully, this kind of error will be less frequent with a direct translation.

2 Corinthians 5:17
1984: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
Updated NIV: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
A footnote gives as an alternative, ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” This time it is the Greek that is elliptical, reading simply ‟new creation.” Is it the person in Christ who is the new creation? Yes, of course. But if that’s all Paul meant, there are other more natural ways he could have said it. Given his overall theology that the coming of Christ and the new era he inaugurated began the period of the restoration of all things that would culminate in new heavens and new earth, it is likely that Paul is making a much more sweeping claim than just the salvation of the individual believer. A new universe is in the works!

This is one of those passages where I wish the NIV 1984 was right since I love what it says, but from studying Greek I know that the NIV 2011 is really the more accurate translation. I appreciate the NIV team’s willingness to sacrifice something that sounds good for something that’s more accurate.

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John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

50 thoughts on “NIV 2011: The Little Changes”

  1. I thought you and your readers might find it useful to know that I’ve just put up some pages that show how similar the NIV2011 is to the NIV1984 and the TNIV. My pages also show each verse where the NIV2011 differs from the NIV1984 or the TNIV in an easily read / clear manner.

    The pages are online @ http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/

    I’d appreciate any comments or suggestions if anyone has any. Please either email me robert@slowley.com or leave a comment on my blog post http://community.livejournal.com/robhu_bible/4977.html

    Thank you,
    -RobHu

  2. For those who may have missed it. The comparison ability is now up at the regular site. Initially it was only available at the beta site.

  3. I’ve only just heard about the changes, but I’ve been reading through the explanations behind the changes.

    I am a professional translator, but I have not studied the biblical languages (I translate modern European languages), so it is difficult for me to comment on the changes resulting from new understanding of the original text. I do feel more able to comment on the stylistic changes, and I like most of them. I’m afraid I’m still not a fan of the use of “they” as a gender-neutral singular, and I avoid using it in my own translations, usually by making the antecedent plural. So rather than “he who has an ear, let him hear” I would say “Those that have an ear, let them hear” or “Let those who have an ear hear”. However, if this new translation influences English to the extent that the singular “they” becomes more widely accepted, I’ll be most grateful, as it will make my life as a translator much easier!

    I’ve never been into prosperity teaching, and I think it is clear that Phil 4:13 is related to Phil 4:12. But as you’ve studied Greek, I wonder whether you could elaborate on whether the Greek justifies the change that has been made.

    As for your bumper sticker argument, I’m afraid I’m sure they’d have produced Phil 4:12b stickers if necessary!

    1. Timothy,
      If you take a look at the NIV team’s overview of changes (http://www.biblegateway.com/niv/Translators-Notes.pdf) you can see what they had to say about using “they.”

      As for Phil. 4:13, it starts out with the Greek word panta which is the accusative case of pas which means “all things.” The accusative case is like a direct object in English meaning that the “all things” is linked to something before or after it. In this case, it make the most sense to be referring back to Phil 4:12. You can see the wording here: http://www.biblewebapp.com/study/#ref=phil%204:12|ver=el_tisch,en_nasb

  4. I love the verse proverbs 17:28 it says, “Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

  5. Thanks for the highlights. From what you’ve said, I think I’ll enjoy the “new” NIV, although I will have a hard time adjusting to certain verses I’ve already memorized in the 1984 version.

    Also, an editorial comment: You have some repeated text in your first block about Genesis 37:3. Hope that helps!

  6. It is disheartening that a person on staff of a large evangelical church fails to see the dangers in the new NIV translation. I am a fan of the old NIV, but falling to the New World Order’s desire to neutralize gender specification in the scriptures is not something I care to think about when I think of what influences preachers today.

    Read it. Rupert Murdoch, owner of Zondervan, is an avowed enemy of Christianity and they are manifesting that war against Christianity through efforts such as the new NIV . . . a slow boiling of the frog if you will. I believe God is angry at people like you for promoting such a flagrant twisting of God’s original texts . . . adding words that never appeared in the original texts. It is the curses in Revelation 22:18-19 which await many in the Zondervan camp!

  7. It is disheartening to see the great Dallas Cowboys football coach ranting in the comments of a blog about the New World Order.

    1. The “New World Order” is disheartening. They did this for the University of California at Berkeley, a university of essentially Democrats, but as of recently, the University of California at Berkeley claims that its largest student group is the Republican Club.

  8. As for Philippians 4:13, I’m fairly sure the context relates it back to verse 12. However, the Greek does literally mean “all things.” The accusative, if I’m readin this correctly, is the direct object of the subject of the sentence, “I,” which is in the nominative. The grammar doesn’t actually refer the phrase “all things” back to a previous sentence or verse. “I (subject) can do (verb) all things (direct object – actually in English “things” is the direct object, “all” is a modifier, but who’s counting).”

    As for the concept that I can do all things through Him, the Word of God is full of such absolute statements. I believe other passages give precedent to apply Philippians 4:13 to a larger context. Mark 9:23 would make a great t-shirt, as it reads, “Everything is possible for him (one, 2010) who believes.”:-)

    I’m not thrilled about mistranslating “all things” just to force it to only apply to the context of the verse in front of it. Does “you must be born again,” only apply to Nicodemus, or is it possible to give this phrase a more universal context?

    I’ve read NIV for 25 years, and am having second thoughts about this update. I Hope I don’t sound to nit-picky, but I still believe and maintain that I can do everything through Him who gives me the strength, including those things mentioned in Philippians chapter 4!

  9. Come to think of it, I don’t think “I” appears in the Greek in Philippians 4:13. the Accusative (Direct Object) form of “all things,” makes the subject understood, and therefore unnecessary. Anyway, God bless you! In spite of my earlier raving, I enjoy your website!

  10. Thank you for this. It was very interesting.

    Just a little, you wrote:
    “I wonder if this is really necessary when we refer to the “Founding Fathers” in regards to the United States”

    I would like to remind you that it won’t just be people from the US of A that will be reading the NIV bible. So just because you guys talk about your founding fathers doesn’t mean the other 200 countries in the world do.

  11. Hi John, I have just come across a verse in Proverbs that has been changed from the ’84 version, Proverbs 21:28. I have checked most other translations and they all seem to have the new change already in them. I would like to hear your thoughts on this if possible. God bless

  12. Hi

    Re Phil 2:6 – You said: “But further study has shown that the word refers to something that a person has in their possession but chooses not to use to their own advantage.”

    Which studies? It’s true harpagmos is a rare word, but the studies I have read indicate that it means to seize forcibly. It’s root word is harpazo, which carries the thought of theft, robbery etc.

    I’d be interested in seeing the studies you refer to.

    Andy

  13. I have a big question….I was teaching out of the 2010 version with the story of Esther and I noticed a huge difference in the story.

    When Haman was planning on killing Mordecai the 1984 version says he was building Gallows 75 feet tall (50 cubits). Those Gallows would be his death later on.

    The 2010 version says he planned on impaling him.

    That’s a pretty big switch. Any ideas

    1. Although new to me, this idea appears not to be unique to this new update.

      I am no scholar and don’t read the original languages, but found this
      explanation from Clarke, quoted on this web site:

      http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/1705.htm

      The gallows mentioned here was not for hanging a victim, but for violently killing and displaying the victim. “A pointed stake is set upright in the ground, and the culprit is taken, placed on the sharp point, and then pulled down by his legs till the stake that went in at the fundament passes up through the body and comes out through the neck. A most dreadful species of punishment, in which revenge and cruelty may glut the utmost of their malice. The culprit lives a considerable time in excruciating agonies.” (Clarke)

      Another interesting, non-scholar site (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080927094713AAHwqJj) said this:

      Most likely it was a sharpened stake (75 foot tall) that they were impaled on, not a gallows as we normally picture people being hung on from a rope. Notice that not only was haman “hung” but also his sons ( v9:13) yet they were already dead before they were hung (7:8, 9:6-10).

  14. Dear John: Our church has replaced the 1984 Niv with the 2011 version which even more seems to remove the text from Mark 16:9-20 from the rest of the Gospel account. Our pastor also does not believe that these verses existed in the original and thus refuses to read them from the pulpit. Is he now in effect saying that he does not believe that the complete Bible is the true word of God? Can such segregation(of the above verses) cause people to believe that the whole Bible can not be trusted as being the Word of the Lord? Thank you.

  15. Detmar… the last section of mark is only “traditionally” entered. It is almost certain for a VERY LONG TIME that the verses stop at the witnessing of the open tomb.

    It is should be noted that, informationally, the rest that is sectioned off as probably not original Bible is accurate. It just wasnt original. It is very neutral and clear story telling but it is not the Bible.

    1. I wrote the above with haste as I do laundry. I meant to say:

      You are freaking out and thinking too concretely about what your pastor said. It is really clear that there are sections of the Bible we hold that are not at all real. The part about poisons (yeah, God doesnt want us to be freak snake handlers, that wasnt hard to figure out, no academics needed) The other is about the writing in the sand and “whoever has not sinned cast the first stone” yeah, that also isnt in the real Bible, also a bit freaky as never in the Bible is there something written down that is witnessed not recorded, its a nice story, but whatever.

      So dont freak on these verses. That being said, the NIRV looks decent. I really like the removal of the sinful nature as well. Unfortunately I do not trust that anyone has the abilty to properly translate this and yet not expand on the writings to such an extent as it would appear to be “extra Biblical”

      Like, if someone were to use the old hood term of “nothing but net”, and tried to bow to pressures of keeping it in only a few words, it would be impossible. “only when the ball touches the net and not the rim, signifying that there is great skill in the ball thrower, but really this is just a show of pride statement that can be used to boast how clean and perfect some other action, other than basketball scoring, is executed.”

      Things like this make it impossible for the hyper critical, black and white, childish Westernized Christianity to actually produce an accurate Bible. Really you have to learn Greek and Hebrew if you want accuracy. And even then, Hebrew is so ancient and bizarre that it might be a fools errand. have a nice day.

  16. I did any mention to the added phrase that was put in John 1:18, I am not a big fan of the NIV as I feel there translation is the worst I have seen and these new changes really take the cake. I do appreciate that they changed Luke 16:23 now to read Hades rather than Hell.

  17. John, I’m wondering what you think of the NLT Translation. I came upon this: , and noticed that they have a NLT Pocket Gospels of John…and your name is, uh, John, although I don’t really know what to say about your surname in relation to this.

  18. Concerning tNIV’s rendering of Mark 1:41a: “Jesus was indignant.” Is this not a mistake or misprint of all other translations which render Jesus’ response to the leper as being “moved, gripped, or filled with compassion or pity”?

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  20. FYI, you can on longer compare the NIV translations at the link you provide to Bible Gateway. Zondervan has effectively revoked the NIV84 translation, and due to copyright issues, web sites and smartphone apps can no longer offer the NIV84.

    1. Tolana, you can buy the NIV84 on Christianbook.com. I am looking into the changes between the NIV11 and the NIV84 and so far, I am liking the ’84. I used to love reading my Dad’s bible when I was a teenager and I am certain he had a NIV84, so that is what I am leaning towards. Unfortunately, I can’t find the ’84 version in leather, but it’s a small price to pay. I would probably just get a cover for it, anyway. I just wanted it to be as nice as possible so I could pass it down to my kids. =)

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