A Few Thoughts on the New NIV

I’ve dipped into the new NIV for one reason or another recently and I must say that I really like it.  I’ve typically cited two passages in classes to highlight certain inadequacies of English translations.  The updated NIV nails them.

The first is 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.  I use this text to point out that English translations don’t catch the communal character of Paul’s statement about the temple here.  Here’s the NASB:

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

English speakers don’t have an expression for the 2nd person plural, perhaps with the exception of folks like American Southerners (y’all) and Northern Irish (you’s uns).  We miss, therefore, that Paul is saying that the Corinthians as a church are God’s dwelling place and anyone who breaks up the unity of the church faces God’s judgment.

The NIV has the following, capturing Paul’s intention very well:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

The second text is Philemon 6, which the older NIV translated as follows:

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

But Paul isn’t praying for Philemon to be effective in evangelism at all.  He prays that Philemon would realize the profundity of what God has done in uniting Philemon, Onesimus, Paul, and all other believers in “the fellowship of faith.”  Paul prays that this reality would become effective to the extent that it shapes Philemon’s choices in the situation they all face.  The new NIV remedies the former translation and does so very well.

I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.

We’re reading through Mark in the NIV as a family right now and I like it, too.  Now, we just need to fix Galatians 3:10 in the next update.

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17 responses to “A Few Thoughts on the New NIV

  • bobmacdonald

    It seems to me that singularity is not excluded in the temple image. 1 Cor 6:18-19 implies that individual actions are included in the holiness of the whole. I admit I know little of the way of expressing such a treasure but Psalm 139 is a good analogue in TNK.

    • timgombis

      Yeah, Bob, in ch. 6 Paul notes that individual bodies are temples of the Spirit, but in ch. 3, the corporate body as a whole is the temple of God’s Spirit. Lots of “body” talk on several levels in 1 Cor. and Romans. Christ died as a body to create a body made up of bodies. He was raised as a new body and the Spirit gives life to bodies. Each text plays its role, but for English readers the weight tends toward the individual because of the inability to express the corporate.

  • S Wu

    Are you comparing the “old” NIV (1984) with NIV2011? Or are you comparing TNIV with NIV2011? I assume that it’s the former.

    What do you think about the use of “Messiah” instead of “Christ” in the Gospels?

    And in Romans 1:17, the old NIV (1984) has “a righteousness from God”. But the NIV2011 has “the righteousness of God”. What do you think? (I think the NIV2011 is better, and it has the translation that most other English translations have.)

    • timgombis

      I hadn’t read the TNIV much and have only just begun using and reading the updated NIV. I’ll have to spend some time in it to get a better sense. Doug Moo, who chairs the committee on translation, is coming to GRTS in a few weeks, so I’m looking forward to chatting about the revision process.

      The 1984 NIV was the version I used intensely from about 1990 to 1994, before switching over to the NASB. But we’ve mainly used the older NIV for family Bible reading. I’m a bit happier with the new NIV for family Bible reading. Seems that it’s maturing really nicely.

  • S Wu

    Also, would you prefer Ephesians 4:15 to have “truthing with love” (or something similar), rather than “speaking the truth in love”? (The NIV2011 keeps this latter translation.) I might be getting pedantic now…

    • timgombis

      Haven’t looked at that passage yet. But I’d be happier with something like “performing the truth in love” rather than “speaking,” that’s for sure. Or, “embodying the truth in love.” I can just imagine how animated and lively some of these discussions must be over translation issues!

  • Allen Browne

    Interesting response. You didn’t comment on Rom 3:21ff, Tim? :-)
    Actually, I’ve switched to ESV — while studying Paul, I find the NIV misses too much in the way it omits the connectives. (Paul does write some long sentences, but the connections between his thoughts is important.)

    • timgombis

      Well, I didn’t want to get too negative… I’m with you, Allen. It was passages like many of those thorny ones in Paul that made me dissatisfied with the NIV. I think the dynamic equivalence theory works itself out nicely in many Psalms and in other places, but where the conjunctions are so important, I jumped to the NASB. The Rom. 3 text isn’t too bad, until it comes to v. 27. Ugh… But it’s not the theory that’s the problem; it’s the interpreters/translators carrying out this or that passage that is the problem. And it’ll be a “problem” for whomever is on the other side of how this or that passages is translated. Can’t please everyone!

      Anyway, no translation is perfect. I get that. I was just used to banging on a few passages and then someone in class asked if some texts had been changed in the update. I checked and was very pleased.

      • S Wu

        My primary-age son has been reading the Bible by himself, and am enjoying (most of) it. He’s been using the TNIV, and it has been really good for him. I like, for example, the fact that “resident foreigners” is used, rather than “aliens”. (The issue around asylum seekers and refugees is a huge political issue at this part of the world.)

        But when it comes to Paul’s letters, I am not sure whether the NIV/TNIV/NIV2011 is the best.

  • Jason

    Would/could you elaborate a bit on your desire to change Gal 3:10?

    • timgombis

      Sure, Jason. I think the translation “all who rely on the works of the law” misconstrues Paul’s meaning. It sort of confirms the assumption that Paul is battling legalism in Galatians and that the Galatians are considering adopting a legalistic framework. The phrase hosoi ex ergōn nomou simply refers to “those who are of the works of the law.” Abstracted from the Galatian situation, it means “those who are Jewish.” It isn’t the case that Jews are under the curse simply for being Jewish.

      Given the debate over what was going on in Galatians and the nature of Paul’s relationship to the Mosaic Law, it seems to me that this translation definitely casts the NIV’s lot with a certain conception of these issues. Same with Rom. 3:27.

      • Daniel

        What do you think Paul means when he says that the Law is not of faith (Gal. 3:12)? How does his quotation of Lev. 18 fit into the mix?

        For me, Gal. 3:12 is the hardest verse to understand in light of the NPP.

        Sorry for the off-topic question.

      • timgombis

        Daniel, I don’t think he’s referring to the Mosaic Law in general, but rather the choice facing the Galatian believers. Shall they convert to Judaism or not? Paul is telling them that the choice to convert to Judaism is not consistent with faith. He’s referring very specifically to the choice to take on Law-observance as gentiles. It’s not a statement about the character of the Mosaic Law.

        Paul cites Lev. 18:5 as a text that emphasized (in its original context and subsequent quotes in the prophets) that obedience to God’s word brings life. “The one who does these things will live in them” is not a statement that “doing” (legalism) is opposed to faith. Rather, the Lev. text assures obedient ones that obedience to God’s word brings life. The Galatians need to do that and enjoy life. Converting to Judaism is not how to get there.

      • joey

        My two cents on Paul’s use of Lev 18 in Romans 10…
        In light of what he says in 10:4 (“the end of JEWISHNESS for righteousness,” paraphrased), Paul uses Lev 18:5 to say, “Moses says that the JEW will be granted the status of righteousness (because of his Jewishness which is defined by the Torah).” But now, Paul is saying, the status of righteousness is open to EVERYONE. The contrast is between JEW ONLY and EVERYONE, not between KEEPING EVERY COMMANDMENT and FAITH. Paul, here, has in mind WHO Lev 18 is addressed to: The righteousness which is of the Torah is for he who is given the Torah – Jews and Jews alone (who keep it).

      • timgombis

        Hhmmm…, very interesting, Joey. I’ll have to chew on that for a bit. Have you written anything on this, or seen this elsewhere?

      • joey

        I’ve not written anything on it beyond what is above and I don’t know of anything written anywhere. I’m not qualified to write such things. If I recall correctly, Wright certainly doesn’t take the view proposed above. This passage, I think, gives him some trouble. I would think that this view would fit nicely with what people like Wright believe.

      • timgombis

        That passage at the beginning of Rom. 10 is one of the crucial texts in the whole Paul and the Law debate, and I just haven’t seen that reading of it before. I agree that Paul is NOT setting the Law over against the gospel nor doing against faith. I’ll have to mull that solution over a bit…

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