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Part 2: Bible Styles of Translation


Beyond the textual issues briefly discussed in Part 2, the NIV has other problems as well. These include the use of Dynamic Equivalence mode of translation vs. Formal Equivalence and how this leads to the practice of interpreting the text rather than translating.

There are many articles and books on this subject that cover it very well, so I will only summarize it here.

Formal Equivalence attempts to translate a language literally as word for word as possible, while allowing for modifications to sentence structure to match the "receptor" language. For example, let's say a particular text to be translated was talking about a stray dog eating some scraps from a bowl. If a sentence of the text literally translated would read in English "Ate Dog Food", the translator would properly rewrite the sentence to state, "The dog ate the food", adding two "the" words and rearranging the order for proper English. A dynamic equivalence translator, on the other hand, may feel the sentence doesn't quite get the point across well enough, so may take the idea and expand it to something like, "The mongrel eagerly devoured the morsels in the bowl."

The result of using the dynamic form of translation is that in many cases the translator interprets difficult passages one way or the other, rather than leaving the interpretation up to the reader to be guided by the Holy Spirit. That is, a particular passage may be difficult to understand in the original Greek or Hebrew. The NIV, rather than leaving the reader in such a bind, will select one of the "more common" possibilities and use that interpretation. The result is that the reader of the NIV is never even aware that an alternate explanation is possible.

Two examples follow:

1. The first is Psalm 12:6, which we have used in this study to speak about the preservation of God's Word.

First let's look at the entire section in a larger context:

Ps 12:5 For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.
Ps 12:6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
Ps 12:7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
Ps 12:8 The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.

The above is from the KJV. We can ask what is promised in Verse 7. Is it that Jehovah will preserve His words (from Vs 6), or is it referring to preserving the poor and needy from Vs. 5? While I believe Vs. 7 is referring to the preservation of God's Pure Words, and can see how one might interpret it the other way.

However, the NIV does the interpretation for you*:

Ps 12:5 Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise," says the Lord.
Ps 12:6 And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.
Ps 12:7 O Lord, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.
Ps 12:8 The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.

Note that in Vs. 6, it clearly states, "you will keep us safe and protect us", leaving no possibility for the reader to interpret the text in any other way. Perhaps the translators didn't like the thought of God actually preserving His Word and keeping it pure?

2. A second example is found in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9

The KJV states, "1Co 7: 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

The NIV states, "1 Co 7: 8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

What do the Scriptures mean when they say it is better to marry than to burn? It could mean it is better than to burn with passion, as the NIV provides, but it could also have reference to burning in Hellfire. The Scriptures state in 1Cor 6: 9 "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." To "not contain" would be to commit fornication, indicating the individual is not of the Kingdom of God.

However, rather than leaving it up to the individual to decide, the NIV adds words that are not in the original Greek to make the interpretation for you.

These are just two examples of many, many more that can be pointed out. The more examples I read and the more comparisons I made myself between the rendering of the NIV and what a more literal reading would provide, the more appalled I became at the liberty the translators took with the Word of God. I believe in the verbal (the exact words ) and the plenary (all the words) inspiration of Scriptures, and the NIV simply fails the mark on both counts.

A good resource for many more examples is the over 600 page Unholy Hands on the Bible Volume II, edited by Jay P. Green, Sr., Sovereign Grace Trust Fund, 1992.

To conclude this much too short Part 3, I'd like to quote Robert Martin from his book, Accuracy of Translation, Banner of Truth Trust, 2000.

"We must beware of the long-term costs of supposed short-term gains. The idea on some places seems to be that more people will read their Bibles if they have one of the simpler dynamic translations, like the NIV. This may or may not be so; I do not know. I suspect that spiritually-minded folk have always read their Bibles and studied diligently those parts 'hard to be understood' (2 Peter 3:16). I do know, however, that sacrificing precision for simplicity is no bargain. Inaccurate and paraprastic Bible translations cannot but contribute to further erosion of theological precision in the decades to come." - Robert Martin

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*NIV Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. In particular, the NIV edition utilized here was from the NIV New Men's Devotional Bible, ©2006, The Zondervan Corporation.