A Series on How We Got Our Bible
If the church is to hear God’s Word with authority, accuracy, and clarity, it must use a good translation. But
that raises the question: What constitutes a good translation? In my opinion, the key word is balance. A good
translation will exhibit a pleasing balance:
a) in its committee approach,
b) in its textual basis,
c) in its translation philosophy,
d) in handling difficult passages, and
e) in the availability of tools, reference works, commentaries,
and other resources that are based on it.
These are the five areas I wish to address briefly, doing so primarily out of my experience as an NIV translator.
A Balanced Committee Approach
In tracing the history of the New International Version (NIV), one discovers that in 1965 a joint Bible translation
committee of the Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals appointed a 15 – person
Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) to oversee the "preparation of a contemporary English translation of the Bible…
as a collegiate endeavor of evangelical scholars (2).
CBT was to have broad representation denominationally and theologically within evangelicalism.
Yet the aim was not to produce an "evangelical" translation but one that would accurately and clearly represent what
the Bible actually says and means. The translators themselves were fully committed to the inspiration, infallibility,
and divine authority of Holy Scripture as nothing less than the Word of God. So the NIV is a major, standard,
committee produced translation.
What was the actual process or working method of the NIV translators?
First, Initial Translation Teams (involving almost 125 scholars from the major English
speaking countries) translated the biblical books from the Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Old Testament and from
the Greek of the New Testament.
Second, Intermediate Editorial Committees evaluated those initial translations and compiled
suggestions for improvement.
Third, General Editorial Committees evaluated the work of the two previous committee levels
and made new suggestions.
Fourth, CBT evaluated all previous work and determined the final wording and content of the
Fifth, English Stylists (primarily Frank Gaebelein and Margaret Nicholson) improved the
literary style of the NIV.
Sixth, the NIV was field tested.
Seventh, CBT put the NIV in final form.
What are the strengths and advantages of such a balanced and thorough committee approach to the task of Bible
translation? They include these:
1. No one person can spot all the problems in a translation. All translators have areas of strength
as well as of weakness. A team of translators, however, can nicely supplement and complement each other.
2. Linguistic studies are highly specialized today. No one person can be an expert in all the
diverse fields, such as Hebrew, Aramaic, Ugaritic, Akkadian, Greek Septuagint, Syriac Peshitta, Latin Vulgate, New
Testament Greek, textual criticism, and English style. A committee of scholars can provide specialists in all of
the above areas.
3. Ecclesiastical, theological, and linguistic provincialisms are avoided.
4. When a translation problem arises, the committee approach is conducive to finding a solution.
Vigorous discussion and cross-fertilization of ideas act as a catalyst to stimulate the mind, thereby producing
solutions that would never have been reached by a single individual working independently.
5. The multi-tiered process described above yields a finely honed product. At the lower editorial
levels attention can be given to major problems. Once these have been solved, it is possible to concentrate on finer
6. The committee approach results in wider acceptance of the final product with Christianity.
So a good translation will take a balanced committee approach.
A Balanced Textual Basis
What was the textual basis of the NIV Old Testament? The question is answered in a general way in the Preface to
For the Old Testament the standard Hebrew [and Aramaic] text, the Masoretic Text as published in
the latest editions of Biblica Hebraica, was used throughout. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain material bearing
on an earlier stage of the Hebrew text. They were consulted, as were the Samaritan Pentateuch and the ancient scribal
traditions relating to textual changes. Sometimes a variant Hebrew reading in the margin of the Masoretic Text was
followed instead of the text itself. Such instances, being variants with the Masoretic tradition, are not specified
by footnotes. In rare cases, words in the consonantal text were divided differently from the way they appear in the
Masoretic Text. Footnotes indicate this. The translators also consulted the more important early versions – the
Septuagint; Symmachus and Theodotion; the Vulgate; the Syriac Peshitta; the Targums; and for the Psalms the Juxta
Hebraica of Jerome. Readings from these versions were occasionally followed where the Masoretic Text seemed
doubtful and where accepted principles of textual criticism showed that one or mores of these textual witnesses
appeared to provide the correct reading. Such instances are footnoted. Sometimes vowel letters and vowel signs did
not, in the judgment of the translators, represent the correct vowels for the original consonantal text. Accordingly
some words were read with a different set of vowels. These instances are usually not indicated by footnotes.
Let us consider three examples that show some "accepted principles of textual criticism" in operation. All of
them are selected from my commentary on Zechariah. (3)
The first principle pertains to passages where the Hebrew manuscripts and the ancient versions all agree on the
reading, and this single reading yields a good sense. In such passages it may safely be assumed that the original
reading has been preserved.
In Zechariah 6:11, for example, the Lord instructs the prophet: "Take the silver and gold and
make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadek."
Some interpreters argue that the original reading at the end of the verse was "Zerubbabel son
of Shealtiel" instead of "Joshua son of Jehozadek."
But Eichrodt rightly considers "that the interpretation of this passage in terms of Zerubbabel,
which can only be secured at the cost of hazardous conjecture, is mistaken, and that a reference to a hoped for
messianic ruler after Zerubbabel’s disappearance is more in accordance with the evidence."
Furthermore, no Hebrew manuscripts or ancient versions have the Zerubbabel reading. Therefore,
since it is a purely conjectural emendation, we reject it.
The second principle applies to passages where the Hebrew manuscripts and the ancient versions differ among
themselves. In that situation one should choose either the more difficult reading or the reading that most readily
explains how the others arose. It is also important to remember that a more difficult reading does not mean a
meaningless and corrupt reading, for the end result must be a reasonable and worthy text.
Zechariah 5:6 interprets the ephah or measuring basket (or barrel) as "the iniquity of the
people throughout the land," in harmony with v. 8. But the Hebrew terms presents a text – critical problem. As it
stands, the Hebrew means "their eye (i.e., their appearance)," which does not yield good sense (cf. the parallel
in v. 8, where the woman in the basket is interpreted as wickedness personified).
The NIV, probably correctly, follows one Hebrew manuscript, the Septuagint, and the Syriac in
reading the Hebrew terms ("their iniquity"). (The pronominal suffix refers to the people, perhaps with special
reference to the godless rich.) The only significant variation between the two readings is the Hebrew letter
waw instead of yodh.
Even here it should be borne in mind that in many ancient Hebrew manuscripts the only perceptible
difference between the two letters is the length of the downward stroke. A long yodh and a short waw are virtually
indistinguishable, so it would be easy for a scribe to miscopy. To further support the reading, "their iniquity (or
perversity)," Baldwin adds:
The ephah, named by Amos in his invective on short measure given by the merchants (Am 8:5),
symbolized injustice in all the land. The life of the community was vitiated by iniquity that infected it in
every part (cf. Hg. 2:14). The meanness that prompted the making of false measures was a symptom of an underlying
perversity that was at the root of perverse actions and relationships. (6)
The third textual principle relates to passages where both the Hebrew manuscripts and the ancient versions offer
good and sensible readings, and a superior reading cannot be demonstrated on the basis of the above two principles.
In that case, one should give priority to the Masoretic Text.
An example of such a passage appears to be Zechariah 14:5, which reads:
"You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled
from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah."
The NIV footnote offers this alternative translation:
"My mountain valley will be blocked and will extend to Azel. It will be blocked as it was blocked
because of the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah."
This presupposes repointing the verbs to םתסנ (from םתס) and receives support from the Septuagint,
the Targum, and Symmachus. The Masoretic Text, on the other hand, has םתסנ (from ם׀נ) and is supported by the
Vulgate and the Peshitta. As I perceive it, the meaning of this reading is that the newly created east-west valley
(v. 4) will afford an easy means of rapid escape from the anti-Semitic onslaught detailed in v. 2 (the Mount of Olives
has always constituted a serious obstacle to such an escape to the east). Since the Masoretic Text makes good sense
and there is no convincing reason to change it, it is to be preferred. (7)
What was the textual basis of the NIV New Testament? The question is answered briefly in the Preface to the NIV:
The Greek text used in translating the New Testament was an eclectic one. No other piece of
ancient literature has such an abundance of manuscript witnesses as does the New Testament. Where existing
manuscripts differ, the translators made their choice of readings according to accepted principles of New Testament
textual criticism. Footnotes call attention to places where there was uncertainty about what the original text was.
The best current printed texts of the Greek New Testament were used.
Several sentences in this summary call for further comment. First, what is meant by an "eclectic"
Greek text of the New Testament? To answer that question, it is necessary to introduce the various text types or
manuscript families. Most textual witnesses (Greek manuscripts and papyrus fragments, the ancient versions, and
Scripture quotations by the early church fathers) can be grouped into one of three major text types according to
the variant readings occurring in them:
1. The Alexandrian text was so named because it apparently emerged in and around Alexandria,
Egypt. It is represented by the majority of the early papyri readings; by several early uncial manuscripts, including
A (Sinaiticus), B (Vaticanus), C (Ephraemi Rescriptus); by the Coptic versions; and by significant Alexandrian church
fathers, such as Clement and Origen.
2. The Western text is represented by the uncial D (Bezae), the Old Latin, the Old Syriac,
and the church fathers Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Jerome. Most scholars are reluctant to follow readings that have
only Western support.
3. "The Byzantine text is represented by the vast majority of Greek manuscripts and most
of the later church fathers. This text was largely preserved in the area of the old Byzantine empire, which is now
Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, and the former Yugoslavia." (8)
The so-called Caesarean text (found only in the Gospels) is now sometimes referred to as
"other important witnesses." (9)
The "accepted principles" (see Preface to the NIV above) that go with such external manuscript
1) Generally, the earlier manuscripts are preferred.
2) Normally, the reading supported in widely separated geographical are is preferred.
3) The reading supported by the greatest number of text types is usually preferred.
In addition to the three principles just mentioned, there are others that go with internal evidence.
Here the more important principle is: the reading that best explains the origin of others should be favored. This
principle has several corollaries:
1) The shorter reading is usually preferred.
2) Normally, the more difficult reading is preferred.
3) The reading that best accords with the writer’s style and vocabulary is preferred.
4) Generally, the reading that best fits the context and / or the writer’s theology is preferred.
5) In parallel passages the less harmonious reading is usually preferred. Another principle is
sometimes mentioned: Manuscripts are to be weighed rather than counted. For example, preference should be given to
those manuscripts that have most often proved to be correct when all the other tests have been applied to them.
At the practical level, in conservative evangelical circles the debate over the best Greek text
of the New Testament focuses on three main options:
1) Follow the Textus Receptus ("received text"), the Greek text that lies behind the KJV.
2) Follow the readings of the majority of manuscripts.
3) Follow a reasoned eclectic approach (described above in connection with external and internal
The vast majority of specialists in Greek and New Testament (including the most conservative
ones) subscribe to the latter approach. To keep things in proper perspective, however, one must remember that all
Greek manuscripts and papyri agree on a little over 98 percent of the New Testament Greek text. The differences,
then, pertain to less than 2 percent of the total text of the New Testament. And the differences do not affect
Christian doctrines. They are still intact. (10)
So a good translation will have a balanced textual basis.
A Balanced Translation Philosophy
What types of Bible translations are there? What kind is the NIV? Where does it fit among all the others? Bible
translators and linguists speak primarily of two major types of translations.
The first is referred to variously as either formal or complete or literal or gloss equivalence.
Here the translator pursues a word – for – word rendering as much as possible.
The New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the New King James Version (NKJV) are good examples
of this approach. Fortunately it is frequently possible to translate literally and still retain contemporary English
idiom and excellent literary style. Indeed, thousands of such renderings occur in the NIV, beginning with the first
verse of the Bible.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is a straightforward translation of
the Hebrew text of Genesis 1:1, and it is also good English. So why change it?
Unfortunately it is often not possible to translate literally and retain natural, idiomatic,
clear English. Consider the NASB rendering of Matthew 13:20:
"The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and
immediately receives it with joy."
The NIV reads: "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears
the word and at once receives it with joy." Here the NASB is so woodenly literal that the result is a cumbersome,
awkward, poorly constructed sentence. The NIV, on the other hand, has a natural and smooth style without sacrificing
The second major type of translation is referred to variously as either dynamic or functional
or idiomatic equivalence. Here the translator attempts a thought – for – thought rendering.
The Good News Bible (GNB; also known as Today’s English Version, TEV), the New Living Translation,
God’s Word, and the Contemporary English Version are some of the examples of this approach. Such versions seek to
find the best modern cultural equivalent that will have the same effect the original message had in its ancient
cultures. Obviously this approach is a much freer one.
At this point the reader may be surprised that the NIV has not been included as an illustration of either of
these two major types of translations. The reason is that, in my opinion, it fits neither. After considerable
personal study, comparison, and analysis, I have become totally convinced that in order to do complete justice to
translations like the NIV and the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) scholars must recognize the validity of a
third category: the balanced or mediating type.
It is significant that Nida seems to open the door for a mediating position between the two main
translation philosophies, theories, or methods. He writes: "Between the two poles of translating (i.e. between
strict formal equivalence and complete dynamic equivalence) there are a number of intervening grades, representing
various acceptable standards of literary translating." (13)
A distinction must be made between dynamic equivalence as a translation principle and dynamic equivalence as a
translation philosophy. The latter exists only when a version sets out to produce a dynamic equivalence rendering
from start to finish, as the GNB did. The Foreword to the Special Edition Good News Bible, with features
by Lion (England), indicates that "word – for – word translation does not accurately convey the force of the original,
so the GNB uses instead the ‘dynamic equivalent’, the words which will have the same force and meaning today as the
original text had for its first readers." Dynamic equivalence as a translation principle, on the other hand, is used
in varying degrees by all versions of the Bible. (14) This is easily illustrated
by a few selected examples. (15)
A "literal" rendering of the opening part of the Hebrew text of Isaiah 40:2 would read: "Speak to
the heart of Jerusalem." Yet all English versions (including the KJV) see the need for a dynamic equivalence
The KJV and the NASB read "in the ears of Jerusalem" in Jeremiah 2:2, but the NKJV and the NIV
have "in the hearing of Jerusalem." Here the NKJV is just as "dynamic" as the NIV. That it did not have to be is
clear from the NASB. Yet it wanted to communicate the meaning in a natural way to modern readers, which is precisely
what the NIV also wanted to do.
In Haggai 2:16 the NASB has "grain heap," but the KJV, NKJV, and NIV all use "heap" alone. Here
the formal equivalent version, the NASB, is freer than the NIV, which is alleged by some to adhere to the dynamic
The KJV and NKJV read "no power at all" in John 19:11, whereas the NIV has only "no power." Which
is following the formal equivalence approach here and which is the dynamic?
What kind of translation, then, is the NIV? Where does it fit? While these and related questions have been dealt
with generally in several publications and reviews, they are addressed specifically in only one published,
authoritative source by NIV translators (italics mine):
Broadly speaking, there are several methods of translation:
The concordant one, which ranges from literalism to the comparative freedom of the King James
Version and even more of the Revised Standard Version, both of which follow the syntactical structure of the Hebrew
and Greek texts as far as is compatible with good English;
The paraphrastic one, in which the translator restates the gist of the text in own words; and the
method of equivalence, in which the translator seeks to understand as fully as possible what the biblical writers
had to say (a criterion common, of course, to the careful use of any method) and then tries to find its closest
equivalent in contemporary usage.
In its more advanced form this is spoken of as dynamic equivalence, in which the translator seeks
to express the meaning as the biblical writers would if they were writing in English today. All these methods have
their values when responsibly used.
As for the NIV, its method is an eclectic one with the emphasis for the most part on a
flexible use of concordance and equivalence, but with a minimum of literalism, paraphrase, or outright
dynamic equivalence. In other words, the NIV stands on middle ground – by no means the easiest position
It may fairly be said that the translators were convinced that, through long patience in seeking
the right words, it is possible to attain a high degree of faithfulness in putting into clear and idiomatic English
what the Hebrew and Greek texts say. Whatever literary distinction the NIV has is the result of the persistence with
which this course was pursued. (16)
This clearly indicates that CBT attempted to make the NIV a balanced, mediating version, one that would fall about
halfway between the most literal and the most free. It is not, strictly speaking, a dynamic equivalence translation.
If it were, it would read in Isaiah 65:25 "snakes will no longer be dangerous" (GNB) Instead of "dust will be the
serpent’s food." Or it would read in 1 Samuel 20:30 "You bastard!" (GNB) instead of "You son of an perverse and
rebellious woman!" Similar illustrations could be multiplied to demonstrate that the NIV is an idiomatically balanced
How was such a balance achieved? By having a built in system of checks and balances. We called it the A-B-C-D’s
of the NIV, using those letters as an alphabetic acrostic to represent accuracy, beauty, clarity, and
We wanted to be accurate, that is, as faithful to the original text as possible. But it is
also important to be equally faithful to the target or receptor language – English in this case. So we did not want
to make the mistake – in the name of accuracy – of creating "translation English" that would not be beautiful
and natural. Accuracy, then, must be balanced by beauty of language. CBT attempted to make the NIV read and
flow the way any great English literature should.
At the same time we did not want to make the mistake – in the name of beauty – of creating
lofty, flowery English that would not be clear. Beauty must be balanced by clarity. A favorite
illustration of lack of clarity is the KJV rendering of Job 36:33: "The noise thereof sheweth concerning
it, the cattle also concerning the vapour." In the interests of clarity the NIV reads: "His [God’s] thunder
announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach."
On the other hand, CBT did not want to make the mistake – in the name of clarity – of
stooping to slang, vulgarisms, street vernacular, and unnecessarily undignified language. Clarity
must be balanced by dignity, particularly since CBT’s objective was to produce a general, all – church – use
Bible. Some of the dynamic equivalence versions listed above are at times unnecessarily undignified.
To sum up, we wanted accuracy but not at the expense of beauty; we wanted beauty, but not at the expense of
clarity; we wanted clarity, but not at the expense of dignity. We wanted all these in a nice balance.
So a good translation will follow a balanced translation philosophy.
A Balanced Solution to Difficulties
How should Bible translators handle difficult passages? One of the balanced ways CBT approached such problems
in the NIV was to recognize viable alternative solutions. One example from the Old Testament and one from the New
will have to suffice to illustrate the point.
In Micah 5:2 (NIV) the verse ends with "whose origins are from of old, from ancient times."
Footnotes provide this alternative rendering: "whose goings out are from of old, from days of eternity." Why did
CBT not reverse the main text and the alternative translation found in the footnotes?
It is not because of carelessness in handling Old Testament Messianic prophecies or any other
doctrines, as a few have charged. Rather, equally good and godly and spiritual scholars differ on the contextual
interpretation of certain biblical passages, and this happens to be one of them.
Those who prefer the footnote alternative naturally use it to argue for the eternal existence
of the Messiah.
Those who prefer the main text believe that the expression refers to the ancient "origins" of
the Messiah in the line of David (as indicated in the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7) and in the tribe of Judah
The majority of CBT felt that the context favored the main text: "Bethlehem… of Judah,
out of you [emphasis mine] will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel" (note the stress on the origins of
the future Davidic Ruler in the Davidic town of Bethlehem). So we put that rendering in the text and the other
one in the footnotes as an alternative. Incidentally, those who favor the main text still believe in the eternal
existence of the Messiah (and so in the eternal Son of God) and believe that His eternality is plainly taught in
other passages, particularly in the New Testament.
The second example is taken from Hebrews 11:11, which the NIV translates "By faith Abraham,
even though he was past age – and Sarah herself was barren – was enabled to become a father because he considered
him faithful who had made the promise." The alternative in the footnote was "By faith even Sarah, who was past age,
was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise." Which is correct?
As the footnote indicates, the meaning of the Greek text of this verse is uncertain and may
indicate that it was Sarah who was enabled instead of Abraham. In the main text, the words "and Sarah herself was
barren" are to be understood parenthetically (hence the dashes).
Bruce’s fine commentary on Hebrews explains why CBT made Abraham the subject in the main text
and Sarah in the footnote, though Bruce suggests still another way of working Sarah into the sentence.
(17) He also points out that the major problem is that the Greek phrase for
"to conceive seed" (KJV) simply does not mean that. Rather, it refers to the father’s role in the generative process.
A literal translation would be "for depositing sperm," thus more likely referring to Abraham.
So a good translation will use balance in handling difficult passages.
2. Concordances, Interlinears, and Triglot
|NIV Exhaustive Concordance
||NIV Hebrew-English Concordance
||NIV Greek-English Concordance
|Interlinear Hebrew-English OT
||NIV Interlinear Greek-English NT
||NIV Triglot OT (Hebrew-Greek NIV)
|New Bible Commentary 21st Century Edition
||International Bible Commentary
||Evangelical Commentary on the Bible
|Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary
||Bible Knowledge Commentary
||Expositor’s Bible Commentary
|New American Commentary
||New International Biblical Commentary
||NIV Application Commentary
4. Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
|New International Dictionary of the Bible
||Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible
|New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis
||New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology
5. Topical Bibles and Atlas
|Zondervan NIV Nave’s Topical Bible
||Topical Analysis of the Bible
||Zondervan NIV Atlas of the Bible
6. The NIV on Computer
||Logos Bible Software
||Thompson Chain HyperBible
The above works involve over a dozen different publishers. With such a wealth of supporting resources (and
still more planned for the future), it is not surprising that over 30 denominations either sanction or extensively
use the NIV.
So a good translation will have a wide range of balanced works available to support its text.
As indicated at the outset, if the church is to hear God’s word with authority, accuracy, and clarity, it must
use a good translation. Such a translation will exhibit a pleasing balance in its committee approach, in its textual
basis, in its translation philosophy, in handling difficult passages, and in the selection of tools, reference works,
commentaries, and other resources that are based on it. Among other things, we have attempted to demonstrate that the
NIV is one translation that meets these criteria.
Does all this mean that the NIV is perfect? No, it does not. In fact, no translation is perfect, for they are all
made by imperfect people. Nonetheless, as I have written elsewhere, "one advantage of using the NIV is that, in spite
of its imperfections, most expositors will likely experience the pleasant surprise that they are devoting less time
to correcting and clarifying the text than would be the case if they were using some other English Bible."
(20) I added:
Yet another advantage of using the NIV is that it is in an ongoing review process. This means that
although the text is basically established, not all renderings are "engraved in rock forever," to borrow Job’s words
(Job 19:24). We are open to achieving an even better balance in our translations.
If the reader has a problem with our rendering of a particular verse and has a strong feeling
about the matter, he or she may submit a suggestion or proposal to the IBS [International Bible Society] address
[at the end of the Preface]. CBT will consider it. (21)
Silva puts it like this:
When the editor of New Horizons asked me if I would be interested in writing a response to
criticism of the NIV, I hesitated briefly. After all, I was not involved in the translating of the NIV. Moreover,
I think the NIV is far from perfect.
During the past few years, I have been involved in the production of an "NIV-like" translation
of the Bible into Spanish. This work, which involves very close comparison of the NIV with the original, has alerted
me to numerous renderings that appear unsatisfying, problematic, or even plain wrong. In other words, my own list of
objections is probably much longer than that of most outspoken critics of the NIV.
So why would I then agree to write this article? Simply because my list of objections to
other versions would be even longer [emphasis his]. This is not to say that all available English translations
are bad. Quite the contrary! We are richly blessed by a wide variety of versions, almost all of which – when
compared with good translations of other literature – have to be regarded as clear and accurate, but never perfect.
Whether one chooses the NIV or one of the other good translations, I believe that time has come for every
denomination and every church to adopt one version as its official Bible and use it for everything – pew Bible,
preaching, public reading of Scripture, Sunday School, Scripture memorization, etc.
This is not to say that in the early elementary grades, and so at lower reading levels, one
should not use simple, easy reading versions like the New International Reader’s Version (NirV). Indeed the NirV
nicely prepares the way for the translation to the NIV (on which it is based). Bastian agrees with the basic premise
I have stated here:
The time has come for each congregation to center its life on one version… The plethora of Bible
translations into English – approximately 70 of all or parts of the Bible in this century – may only have nourished
a spirit of novelty among us, making us samplers rather than searchers.
If a church is to use the Bible systematically, it must center its whole life – preaching,
teaching, family, and personal devotions – upon one major version, because repetition aids learning. Moreover, a
congregation working from a Bible common to both pulpit and pew receives the message by the eye gate as well as the
ear gate, providing another aid to understanding…
You may not agree, or may argue that the choice is much wider than I allow [he recommends the NIV
over the RSV]. Either way, I hope you agree that the time has come for congregations to form their life around one
major version until its great words fix themselves in the minds and hearts of worshipers of all ages.
The most important thing is for a church to begin really hearing God’s word through whatever good translation it
selects. And may we all hear it in the frequent Hebrew and Greek sense of "hear": "listen, understand, and obey with
an appropriate response."
Dr. Kenneth Barker is an author and speaker living in Lewisville, Texas. Until
his retirement from International Bible Society in 1996, he was Executive Director of their NIV Translation Center.
He is one of the original translators of the New International Version of the Bible and a regular spokesperson for
its Committee on Bible Translation - the governing body that produced the NIV.
Ken Barker has given talks about the translation process of the NIV all over the U.S. and abroad, and much of
his time is spent writing, editing, preaching, and teaching. He also worked on the New International Reader’s
Version (a simplification of the NIV for those who read at a lower reading level), three books about the NIV,
and the tenth - anniversary edition of the NIV Study Bible as its General Editor.
Dr. Barker and his wife, Isabelle, have four children - Ken, Patricia, Ruth, and David - and 14 grandchildren.
When at home, the Barkers worship and serve at First Baptist Church of Carrolton, Texas. In his spare time Ken
enjoys music, reading, table tennis (ping-pong), swimming, and walking.
He holds the B.A. degree from Northwestern College, the Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and the Ph.D.
from the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning. In the past, he has served as Academic Dean of Capital
Bible Seminary, Professor of Old Testament at three theological seminaries, and Visiting Professor at two others.
He is also author of commentaries on the books of Micah and Zechariah.
1. Since I have had the privilege of working with Professor John Stek for many years on both the
NIV and The NIV Study Bible, it is a special pleasure to contribute this chapter in his honor. In particular,
I have always appreciated his excellent grasp of the whole range of biblical exegesis and biblical theology.
2. "The Story of the New International Version" (East Brunswick, N.J. [now Colorado Springs, CO]:
International Bible Society, 1978), 8.
3. K.L. Barker, "Zechariah," in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. F.E. Gaebelein (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1985) 7:635 (n. on 5:6), 639, 692 (n. on 14:5).
4. W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, tr. J.A. Baker (Philadelphia: Westminster,
1967) 2:343 n. 1.
5.B.K. Waltke, "The Textual Criticism of the Old Testament," in Biblical Criticism: Historical,
Literary and Textual by R.K. Harrison et al. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978) 77-78. Waltke’s entire article is
6. J.G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, TOTC (Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity, 1972)
7. For additional data on the original text of the Old Testament, see E.S. Kalland, "Establishing
the Hebrew and Aramaic Text," in The Making of the NIV, ed. K.L. Barker (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991) 43-50,
noting the works in the "Suggested Reading" list (49-50), particularly E.R. Brotzman, Old Testament Textual
Criticism: A Practical Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), B.K. Waltke (n. 5 above), and E. Wurthwein,
The Text of the Old Testament, tr. E.F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979).
8. D.A. Black, New Testament, Textual Criticism: A Concise Guide (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994)
9. Ibid., 63, 65.
10. For numerous examples of a reasoned eclectic approach, see K.L. Barker, The Accuracy of the
NIV (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996) 52-102.
11. For additional data on the original text of the New Testament, see R. Earle, "Establishing the
Greek Text," in The Making of the NIV (see n. 7 above) 51-55, noting the works in the "Suggested Reading" list
(55), particularly D.A. Black, New Testament Textual Criticism (n. 8 above); J.H. Greenlee, Introduction to New
Testament Textual Criticism, Revised Edition (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995); and B.M. Metzger, The Text
of the New Testament, Third, Enlarged Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); see also D.B. Wallace,
"The Majority - Text Theory: History, Methods and Critique," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
37 (June 1994) 185-215; J.R. White, The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust the Modern Translations?
(Minneapolis: Bethany, 1995).
12. See H.M. Wolf, "Literal vs. Accurate," in The Making of the NIV (n. 7 above) 125-34.
13. E.A. Nida, Toward a Science of Translating (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1964) 160.
14. See C. Hargreaves, A Translator’s Freedom (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993).
15. Several of these examples were given to me about 1990 by Dr. Marten Woudstra, former professor
of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary.
16. The Story of the New International Version (Colorado Springs: International Bible Society,
17. F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 299-302.
18. Ibid., 301-02. Morris is inclined to agree with Bruce – see L. Morris, "Hebrews," in
Expositor’s Bible Commentary (see n. 3 above) 12:119-20, 123 (n. on 11:11).
19. For more illustrations of a balanced approach to solving problems, see K.L. Barker, The
Accuracy of the NIV, particularly 19-50 (containing many examples of using Hebrew grammar, syntax, semantics,
exegesis, theology, textual criticism, etc., in solving translation problems).
20. Ibid., 103.
22. M. Silva, "Reflections on the NIV," New Horizons (June 1995), (quoted by C. O’Brien in Which
Translation? Why We Use the New International Version of the Bible at Grace Presbyterian Church (Jackson, Tenn.:
Grace Presbyterian Church, 1997) 1.) 4.
23. D.N. Bastian, "We Have Been Bible Samplers Long Enough," Christianity Today (October 8,