In many quarters the recently published New International Version of the Bible is being hailed as the best yet, and even destined to displace the long established King James Version.
Several years ago we offered criticism of the NIV’s version of the Gospel according to John when it was tentatively published in a separate booklet. Since then we have said nothing further on the subject—neither when the New Testament was completed and published nor when the entire Bible was offered in this new translation.
Our silence, however, does not mean a change of mind. While it may be true that among the multiplicity of new translations and new versions the NIV is at least in some respects the best, we continue to believe that the King James Version is far and away to be preferred to any of the new versions which have made their appearance, the NIV included. This is not because we simply adhere slavishly to the KJV. We do not belong to those who almost equate the King James Version with the autographs and who seem to be averse to any textual criticism, especially if it happens to agree with the Westcott and Hort text. In fact, we believe that in some instances the radical arguments which have been made against other versions and for the KJV have done the cause of the KJV more harm than good. We do believe, however, that among the English versions the KJV is still the best. We believe, too, that the argument that the KJV cannot be understood because of its archaic and Elizabethan language is largely invalid. We believe, further, that the new versions have in many instances proved to be dangerously inaccurate and in other instances downright heretical and in still others lacking in significant improvement. Finally, we also believe that the very multiplying of translations tends to create confusion as far as memorization and both public and private reading are concerned.
A study will reveal that also in the case of the NIV all change is by no means improvement. In fact, in some instances emphatically the opposite is true.
Recently my attention was drawn to a change of translation which is needless, inaccurate, and downright confused and confusing. The passages of Scripture which are concerned are very significant, too, for the understanding of the whole idea of the promise, of the unity of God’s covenant, and of the organic idea of the church from Jew and Gentile. I refer to Galatians 3 as it quotes from the book of Genesis and makes the point that the seed of Abraham is primarily and centrally Christ. In Galatians 3 the NIV correctly uses the English translation “seed” and “seeds.” Notice, by the way, that the NIV uses quotation marks to indicate direct quotations—something to which I have no objection, except that it is not always possible to discern the limits of a direct quotation (John 3 is an example. Which are Christ’s words to Nicodemus, and which are the evangelist’s words of explanation?). But in Galatians 3 the quotation marks are supposed to indicate a quotation from the Old Testament Scriptures. Notice how the NIV consistently translates by “seed” in the following instances:
16. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.
19. What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.
29. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
It is evident that in the case of Galatians 3 the translators had no objection to the use of the English word “seed.” And they were correct. This is both an accurate rendering of the Greek word, and it is a perfectly good English word. Any dictionary will show that the word “seed” is not archaic, but a good and understandable word for the idea to be expressed here. The NIV in this instance correctly did not depart from the translation of the King James Version. Moreover, in the case of verse 16 it is an accurate term to make plain the crucial distinction between the plural and the singular. You could not use the word “offspring,” for example, because it offers no distinction between singular and plural.
But if this is the case, then it is inexplicable to me why the same translation is not given in a chapter like Romans 9. If the translation is good and acceptable in Galatians 3, why is it not equally good and acceptable to render the very same Greek term denoting the same idea by the same English word in Romans 9? Yet inwe read the following in the NIV:
6. It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 8. In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.
Compare this with the King James Version:
6. Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 7. Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
Here we have confusion Number One, therefore. And this can only be confusing to the reader.
But the NIV created worse confusion in connection with Galatians 3. Do not overlook the fact that Galatians 3:16 makes a decisive point of the fact that the Scripture itself does not say “and to seeds,” but “and to your seed.” It does so in order to make the very important point that the seed of Abraham is Christ, and that the promise is to Christ. The NIV even seeks to emphasize this by using quotation marks to indicate what the Scripture does not say and what it does say. Further, the NIV furnishes a footnote to supply the Old Testament references for this quotation: Genesis 12:7, Genesis 13:15, Genesis 24:7. And what do we find in the NIV translation of these Old Testament passages? Here they are:
, but the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
, All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.
, “The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’—he will send his angel before you…
Moreover, you will find that the NIV consistently avoids the use of the term “seed” in any context which concerns the promise to Abraham and his seed. Thus, for example, the familiar language ofis rendered as follows: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
And there you have confused translation Number Two, which can only be most confusing to a reader.
Can you imagine a reader who readsand takes note of the distinction there made between the plural “seeds” and the singular “seed?” Next he takes note of the handy references to Genesis provided by the NIV. But when he turns to Genesis he does not find the word “seed” at all. He finds “offspring” or “descendants,” in every instance the same singular Hebrew word, zera. What can he only conclude? Paul’s, or rather, the Holy Spirit’s crucial point based on the Old Testament Scriptures is false! Confusing!
Or can you imagine a preacher preaching on Galatians 3:16 and referring his congregation to Genesis for proof? No matter which passage he chooses from Genesis, he will have to say, “Congregation, the NIV is confused and confusing in this crucial instance. It really does not say ‘descendants,’ which is plural, nor ‘offspring,’ which can be either singular or plural. In this crucial instance the old King James Version is much to be preferred. For the Scripture says ‘seed,’ just as Paul writes in Galatians 3:16.”