[stextbox id=”info”]I wrote this post about six years ago while I was in Bible college in Sydney. It was a study that I did for my own benefit, and have not published until now.[/stextbox]
The purpose of this paper is to briefly critique the theory that the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible destroys the biblical basis for the doctrine of the full deity of Jesus Christ. It is not my intention to promote the NIV or to defend it on every point, nor is it my desire to denigrate the King James Version (KJV) in any way. It is my desire to clearly lay out the evidence so that those who love truth more than a position may consider the facts. I am not arguing for or against a particular Greek text. I am simply trying to demonstrate that the NIV is not theologically biased against the deity of Jesus Christ.1
The Danger of the “Stronger” Paradigm
It is true that one translation may be stronger than another translation on a particular doctrine. The deity of Christ is a great example. It is one thing to say one translation is stronger than another on the deity of Christ. It is an entirely different thing to say that the weaker translation “downgrades Christ.”2 In order to prove that a translation “denies” the deity of Christ, it is necessary to prove that there is a uniform sabotage or bias throughout.
For instance, the Jehovah’s Witness’ New World Translation (NWT) obscures the deity of Christ in all of the key passages.3 Therefore, it is logical and appropriate to conclude that the translators of the NWT allowed their theological bias against the deity of Christ to influence their translation work. In contrast, the presentation of two or three instances where the NIV is “weaker” on the deity of Christ is not sufficient evidence to prove that the translators exercised a theological bias in their translation work. Indeed, it is an assumption to believe that they even had a theological bias against the deity of Christ.
Dr. Kenneth Barker, Executive Director of the NIV Translation Center, in response to liberal criticism that the NIV was too conservative and too strong on the deity of Christ said “If they want to accuse me of being biased toward the deity of Christ, I’m honored!”4 It would seem logical that translational bias against the deity of Christ would be based on theological belief against the deity of Christ, but the evidence to prove that there is unbelief has not been cogently presented. The burden of proof is on those who level the charge to conclusively prove that the NIV translators denied the deity of Christ.5
The danger of the “stronger” paradigm is to think that just because one version is stronger than another, that the weaker version is somehow an attack on the doctrine on which it is weaker.6 The strategy that highlights one or two “weaker” readings in the NIV in order to claim that the NIV attacks the deity of Christ is based on a fallacy and must be rejected by those who love truth. D. A. Carson sums it up well when he says “It is methodologically indefensible to hunt for the half-dozen worst mistakes or lapses in judgment in a particular translation, and on that basis write off the whole translation. If that method were applied to the KJV, it too would be written off.”7
They Have Taken Away My Lord
One popular stream of thinking advances the concept that “omissions” of titles of deity in the NIV are evidence of a bias against the deity of Christ.8 This view, though not held by all, needs to be dealt with because of the way that its promotion has gone unchallenged for all practical purposes. One author says “In John 20:13, Mary was weeping and the angel said, ‘woman why weapest [sic] thou?’ She replied, ‘because they have TAKEN AWAY MY LORD.’ How much more would she weep today, if she was to look at the modern translations, which delete the Lord 39 times. We should weep also.”9 The author goes on to present 39 “omissions” of the word “Lord,” 87 of “Jesus,” and 52 of “Christ” in the NIV. It borders on absurdity to even point out that the word “Jesus” occurs 292 more times in the NIV than in the KJV. It would be unreasonable to construct a theory of doctrinal infidelity on the part of the KJV based on some sort of “weak emphasis” on Jesus, and it is just as unreasonable when the situation is reversed. Further, even when the word “Jesus” is “omitted,” there is generally a pronoun in its place which unmistakably refers to Jesus. Always the context clearly explains who is speaking and the terms “Jesus,” “Christ,” and “Lord” are used so many times in the NIV10 as to make a claim that the NIV is trying to weaken or remove a doctrine by these omissions untenable. Consider the following “omissions.”
|And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus.||Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged|
Here the title “Lord” is replaced with a title every bit as clear. Below are cases where Christ is referred to with a pronoun.11
|1 Corinthians 15:23|
|But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.||But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.|
|And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed…||The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…|
Some have claimed that the NIV attacks the deity of Christ based on the fact that it doesn’t capitalise pronouns referring to deity;12 however such a policy would involved a great degree of interpretation. In other words, there are many places where a pronoun’s reference is ambiguous. For those who charge that the NIV is already too interpretive (dynamic equivalence) in its translation, such a claim is thoroughly inconsistent.
Sometimes an “omission” is really just a matter of chronology.
|John 4:1, 3|
|1] When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,||1] The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John,|
|3] He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee.||3] When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.|
Since the NIV is criticised for the “omission” of the word “Lord” in verse one,13 should the KJV be criticised for the “omission” of the word “Lord” in verse three? Obviously not.
Another argument used by some is that because the NIV removes “Christ” from the formula “Lord Jesus Christ” several times, it must be denigrating the deity of Christ.14 If we are to follow this logic, we must also condemn the KJV for its “omission” of that very same formula.
|5:4] In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,||5:4] When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present,|
|6:11] And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.||6:11] And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.|
We’ll move on with a final quote from D. A. Carson. “The omission of an individual title or phrase or verse does not constitute evidence for theological heresy. Perhaps the omission was part of the original, and the manuscripts that include the title or phrase or verse are guilty of additions.” He goes on to explain that “one would have to ask why the omissions had taken place… it would be necessary to show that the manuscript or text-type in question consistently tries to suppress or deny that doctrine.”15
A Comparison of the Evidence
It is not possible in a study this size to conduct a full explanation of the technical and textual issues involved in each reading,16 therefore I will be content to present evidence based solely on a translational basis.17 A sincere desire for the truth must result in an honest and unbiased look at the evidence. In the following chart, I have omitted twenty-two references where both the NIV and the KJV are emphatically clear in their support of the deity of Christ.18 The passages below present those places where the NIV and the KJV differ in a passage that deals with the deity of Christ.
|John 12:41 (Isaiah 6:5)||Strong||Stronger|
|1 Timothy 3:16||Strong||Absent20|
|2 Peter 1:1||Absent||Strong|
|1 John 5:7||Strong||Absent|
One will quickly notice that for every weakness of the NIV, there are more than two in the KJV. Though it is simplistic to base a judgment on mere tallies, the simple fact cannot be ignored—the NIV is as strong as or stronger than the KJV on the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. Compare the following passages:
|No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.||No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.|
John 1:18 is one of the clearest references to the deity of Christ in the Bible21 and yet the KJV has “omitted” it. Shall we accuse the KJV translators of attacking the deity of Christ? Certainly not, but that same logic has been practiced in reverse many times to attack the NIV.
|I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.||“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”|
Revelation 1:5 makes it unmistakably clear that it is Jesus Christ Who is speaking in verse eight. While “I am Alpha and Omega” is clearly a divine title being assigned to Jesus, the NIV emphatically states that this Jesus who is speaking is God! For the sake of space, I will not present all the passages but a few minutes looking up each reference in the NIV and the KJV would be time well invested. A final example will suffice.
|2 Peter 1:1|
|Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ:||Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:|
Here the KJV translation treats “God” and “our Saviour” as two different persons. While the KJV reading doesn’t pose a theological problem, it simply fails to bring out the clear teaching of the deity of Christ that is clear in the original language.22
In this second chart, several translations are compared in those passages where various translations directly call Jesus “God.”23
|John 1:1||John 1:18||Acts 20:28||Rom. 9:5||2 Thes. 1:12||Titus 2:13||Heb. 1:8||2 Peter 1:1|
This chart clearly demonstrates that while the NWT has a great bias against the deity of Christ, the NIV actually rates better than the KJV when compared on these terms.
It is easy to hear a statement so many times that you begin to believe it regardless of the validity of the evidence offered. Many have heard the accusation that the NIV attacks the deity of Christ so many times that they simply believe it. Those who honestly desire truth are urged to read the following passages found in the NIV:
- “And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)
- “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:5-6)
- “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
- “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3)
How then can we view the NIV as an attack on the deity of Jesus Christ? If there was some sort of conspiracy to weaken the biblical support for the deity of Christ, it failed! The evidence stands firm to assert that the NIV is as strong as or stronger than the KJV in support of the doctrine of the full deity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
1The evidence will be dealt with as translated in the NIV regardless of whether differences originate at a translational level or a textual level.
2Piper, Keith, Serious Omissions in the NIV Bible. NP, 1998, p. 4. David Cloud calls it “The attack upon the Deity of Jesus Christ.” (Cloud, David, ed., O Timothy Magazine, Volume 22, Issue 11, 2005. Port Huron, Michigan: Way of Life Literature, p. 27.) Peter Ruckman makes the same logical jump when he says (regarding 1 Timothy 3:16) “The NASV reading is a blasphemy to the name and honor of Jesus Christ. Ditto the NIV.” (Ruckman, Peter S., The “Errors” in the King James Bible. Pensacola, Florida: Bible Baptist Bookstore, 1999, p. 333.)
3Passages that are obscured include John 1:1, John 1:18, Acts 20:28, Romans 9:5, Philippians 2:5-6, Colossians 1:15-17, Colossians 2:9, Titus 2:13, Hebrews 1:8, and 2 Peter 1:1.
4Barker, Kenneth, qtd. in White, James R., The King James Only Controversy. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1995, p. 216.
5Failure to provide this evidence places the accusers on dangerous ground spiritually. By claiming that a Christian brother is a false teacher without any evidence for doing so, he is guilty of “evil speaking” (Ephesians 4:31, KJV) against a brother. See also 1 Peter 3:16, 1 Peter 2:1, Colossians 3:8, and Proverbs 10:18.
6Note that weaker does not necessarily mean weak.
7Carson, D. A., The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1979, p. 82. It is worth noting that Carson is dealing with the translation as a whole, not just with readings which have to do with the deity of Jesus Christ.
8Referring to the “omission” of “Lord” in Luke 22:31, Waite says “The word, ‘Lord,’ refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a title of deity. By removing it, HIS DEITY IS QUESTIONED, undermined and denied.” (Waite, D. A., Defending the King James Bible. Collingswood, New Jersey: The Bible for Today Press, 1992, p. 175. Emphasis in original.) The irrationality of the allegation is multiplied by the fact that Peter refers to Jesus as “Lord” two verses later (v. 33) in his response to the question in verse thirty-one.
9Piper, Keith, Serious Omissions in the NIV Bible. NP, 1998, p. 98. Emphasis in original. David Sorenson also cites John 20:13 saying “Yet, this is precisely what the New American Standard Bible has done.” Sorenson, David H., Touch Not the Unclean Thing. Duluth, MN: Northstar Baptist Ministries, 2001, pp. 227-228.
10The word “Jesus” occurs 1,275 times in the NIV, the word “Christ” 530 times, and the word “Lord” 781 times.
11Mark Minnick presents a helpful study on titles of the Godhead replaced with pronouns in Matthew’s gospel. See Williams, James, ed., God’s Word in Our Hands. Belfast: Ambassador Emerald International, 2003, p. 263.
12Waite, D. A., Defending the King James Bible. Collingswood, New Jersey: The Bible for Today Press, 1992, p. 255. On this basis, the claim could be made that the KJV attacks the person of the Holy Spirit by not capitalising the word “spirit” in Isaiah 42:1 which is clearly a reference to the Holy Spirit.
13Piper, Keith, Serious Omissions in the NIV Bible. NP, 1998, p. 97.
14Waite, D. A., Defending the King James Bible. Collingswood, New Jersey: The Bible for Today Press, 1992. See pp. 185-187 where Waite cites such passages as Acts 15:11 and 1 Corinthians 5:4.
15Carson, D. A., The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1979, p. 82. Emphasis in original. Though Carson is dealing with omissions at a textual level, the principle is the same. TR Only advocate Charles Surrett concedes this same point when he says “The only way to prove that any version actually denies such doctrines [i.e.: the deity of Christ, the blood] would be to carefully study its renditions of the hundreds of passages that deal with those subjects. … if Jesus is never presented as God, then the accusations would seem to be fair. However, that is not the case with the popular modern versions (such as NASVand NIV [sic: no space]), for such doctrines can clearly be found in them.” (Surrett, Charles L., Which Greek Text? Kings Mountain, North Carolina: Surrett Family Publications, 1999, pp. 7-8. Emphasis in original.)
16Passages which differ between the NIV and the KJV sometimes involved textual variants (see 1 Timothy 3:16) or ambiguous readings (see Romans 9:5). In these cases I have simply gone by the decision of the translators since theological bias is the subject that is being addressed. See endnote one.
17It is imperative that the versions debate be addressed at the textual level as opposed to the translational level. The purpose of this critique is to stimulate the reader to delve into the resources available on both sides of the issue in earnest pursuit of the truth. For a more thorough explanation of the various texts surrounding the doctrine of the deity of Christ from the viewpoint of one who promotes the eclectic text, see pp. 193-221 of James R. White’s The King James Only Controversy. (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1995.) The TR Only viewpoint could be represented by Edward F. Hills, in his The King James Version Defended (Des Moines: Christian Research Press, 1956.) See pp. 136-138. For a concise coverage of the history of the biblical manuscripts, see Williams, James, ed., From the Mind of God to the Mind of Man. Belfast: Ambassador Emerald International, 1999.
18The passages I’ve omitted are 1 John 5:20, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Acts 20:28, Acts 3:14, Colossians 1:15-19, Colossians 2:8-10, Hebrews 1:1-10, Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6, John 1:1, John 1:14, John 1:15, John 10:30, John 14:8-9, John 18:6, John 20:28, John 5:18, John 8:56-58, Luke 1:17, Mark 2:5-11, Romans 1:1-4, and 1 Timothy 1:13. These passages are merely representative of the strongest texts presenting the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ.
19In most places where the NIV removes a significant word or phrase for textual reasons, the evidence for their decision is given in the footnote so that the reader is not ignorant of the variant.
20The pronoun “He” may still refer to God. Piper claims that the NIV “arbitrarily drops the word ‘who’ and invents a new word ‘He’, [sic] which is not found in any Greek manuscript.” While the NIV rendering is admittedly loose, the “He” is clearly understood in the syntactical context. A. T. Robertson renders it “He who.” (Robertson’s New Testament Word Pictures, 1 Timothy 3:16.)
21Unbelievably, Waite comments on John 1:18: “They take away the word, ‘Son,’ and change it to ‘God.’ This is pure HERESY! It is not possible to have an ‘Only Begotten God.’ This is an example of the Gnostic error that teaches Christ was only one of the many ‘gods.’” Waite’s twisting of this clear reference to the deity of Christ to call it “heresy” is unconscionable. (Waite, D. A., Defending the King James Bible. Collingswood, New Jersey: The Bible for Today Press, 1992, p. 168. Emphasis in original.)
22There are no textual variants in the Greek that underlies this phrase. The Textus Receptus (TR) and the eclectic text agree.
23This chart is adapted from a chart by Victor Perry which was simplified by D. A. Carson, The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1979, pp. 63-64.