The controversy over the new NIV

Some of the more conservative churches have decided to reject a new translation of the New International Version Bible (Known as the NIV 2011) because of changes in how the Bible treats gender.

This story about how the more conservative Lutherans rejected the NIV 2011 is fascinating.

Here is an example of how the new version changes the language and an explanation of why this is not acceptable to the more conservative churches:

Genesis 1:26-27 in NIV 2011 reads: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind [collective noun substitution for “man”] in our image, in our likeness, so that they [the plural pronoun is in the original] may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind [collective noun substitution for “man”] in his own image, in the image of God he created them [plural pronoun substitution for “him”]; male and female he created them.”

In the first substitution of “mankind” for “man,” the particularity of the first man is made unclear. The rationale for this would seem to be the desire to emphasize that all humanity is created in God’s image, but the original text itself had made that abundantly clear already by paralleling “man” in the first clause of verse 26 with “they” in the following clause. In verse 27, the second substitution of “mankind” for “man” again undermines the particularity of Adam’s creation. Moreover, when coupled with the substitution of “them” for “him” as the verse continues, the progression of the verse is obfuscated. The original verse itself progresses from the particular creation of Adam-the one man who is father of all creation, created in God’s image, and in whom all will die through his sin (Rom 5:12)-to the male and female, which is paralleled to him. The original text then preserves both the particularity and universality which NIV 2011 undermines.

For the record, I think all people interested in the Bible should read different versions. Remember, the original text was written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. It was translated into 17th century English for the original King James Version, and then some changes were made for the 19th century version, which Joseph Smith read. The version we read at church includes modern commentary and chapter headings. So, we do not worship the “church Bible” — we worship the Savior, and read about Him in the Bible and modern-day scriptures.

As an adult convert to the Church, my first Bible was a children’s Bible. I also read a comic book version in Spanish (which was quite good, by the way). When I finally read the KJV, I noticed an amazing number of stylistic references to 19th and 20th century literature, and everything fell into place. (Read “Grapes of Wrath” by Steinbeck and notice all of the stylistic similarities to the KJV).
But I would like to note that even as a well-read adult I found much of the New Testament, especially Paul, incomprehensible in the KJV.

A personal recommendation: supplement your reading of the KJV with the NIV or another version. You will find the Bible much easier to understand that way.

As to whether the 2011 NIV is acceptable, well, perhaps not. I am sure there are some good things about the translation, but there are also appear to be some questionable areas. I would like to hear from Biblical scholars who are certain to know more about the subject than I do.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

21 thoughts on “The controversy over the new NIV

  1. Every Bible has to deal with the issue of gender. This is not unique to the NIV 2011, and I’m certain that the translation committee (which is theologically conservative to begin with) has made justifiable decisions in these cases.

    The (also conservative) New English Translation renders the verse this way:

    “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea….”

    The footnote indicates that the Hebrew word ‘adam can be singular or plural, depending on the context, and the reference to a collective “they” means that it refers to mankind (male and female), not men (males only).!bible/Genesis+1:26

    (The NRSV also uses “humankind.”)

    FWIW, we find these sorts of judgment calls in the mighty King James Version as well. Take a look at Matthew 5:9:

    “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

    The word translated “children” here is υἱοὶ (hweeoi), which means “sons” (male plural). The literal translation here is that peacemakers are “the sons of God.”

    Does that mean that only males can be peacemakers and therefore sons of God? Or can peacemaking women also be daughters of God? The translators had to make a call based on their theology, which was that both men and women can be children of God; hence the translation we now have.

  2. BTW I heartily agree with your recommendation to supplement your KJV study with at least one or two other major translations.

    Personally I recommend a good NRSV study Bible. HarperCollins’ is popular; I own Oxford’s.

    I also like the NET Bible because of its detailed footnotes, many of which explain the different ways a verse could be translated.

    The NASB is good, and as close to a “word for word” translation as you’re going to get and still be readable.

    The ESV is a more conservative branch of the NIV. It’s good, but be on the lookout for Calvinist bias in the translation.

    The Catholic Church recently released an update to the NAB. (It uses “human beings” in Genesis 1:26 as well.)

    The NIV is the most popular English Bible. (It outsells all other English Bibles combined.) It’s not my favorite, but popularity has to count for something.

  3. I agree with you about Paul. His occasional high-falutin sentence structure is sometimes hard to follow.

    I have 4 volumes that I keep handy when I read the Bible during those 2 years of our 4 year Sunday School (Gospel Doctrine) cycle.

    1. LDS edition of the KJV.

    2. A four translation “Today’s Parallel Bible” from Zondervan, consisting of KJV, NIV, NASB, and NLT. NASB = New American Standard Bible, NLT = New Living Translation (a paraphrase). ISBN 0310918367

    3. The Jerusalem Bible, Reader’s Edition, 1968. An extremely readable and accurate paraphrase. In my opinion the later editions (after 1968) got too doctrinally liberal in their translation. This is a great Bible to read to children, and I’d say it’s good for teens who don’t have a scholarly attitude towards Bible study. I love this translation as it makes reading the Bible more enjoyable. There’s a tone of voice in the translation that just makes it more comfortable to read, more down-to-earth, less high-and-mighty, less stuffy.

    4. Amplified Bible.
    This Bible gives in-line clarifications to get better nuances or connotations in those places where you can’t get a single English word to correspond close enough to the ancient word.

    Zondervan has an even better 4-translation parallel edition out now, replacing the very loose NLT paraphrase with the Amplified Bible:

    When I buy my next Bible, I will likely get that one.

    I tend to agree with the critics of NIV 2011. It strays too far from the original text (or what we consider today to be the oldest extant texts).

    I can’t point to examples off the top of my head, but the original NIV appears to me that modern doctrines and attitudes had affected some of the translation.

    In between the NIV and the NIV 2011, there are at least a couple other NIV translations.

    There is the NIrV, or New International Readers Version. It has shorter sentences, and is targeted to a lower age and grade level than the NIV. It’s intended to sound better when read out loud compared to the NIV. So the NIrV is a good Bible to read to children.

    There is the TNIV, or Today’s New International Version, an updated NIV. I forget the consensus of how that one is viewed.

    You can get a lot of these translations in paperback form for about $3 or $4 plus shipping from

    You can also get them individually and in bulk (cases of 24, etc) from the American Bible Society,

    and from Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society)

    I’ve bought a lot of Bibles, English and foreign language, from the latter two.

  4. This seems to be nothing more than simple ignorance.

    Unlike English, Hebrew is a gender specific language that does not have a common term for any mix of men and women. Thus, the generic English term ‘humankind,’ which is how I refer to the male and female created in Genesis, the Hebrew always favours the masculine term, man, even though the Bible narrative goes on to say ‘male and female created He them.’

    There is no doubt that God created humankind, and if Hebrew had had an inclusive term for men AND women, such as ‘humankind,’ then that is what it would have said.

    Another instance of where English translators got this right is in the term found in English Bibles, ‘The children of Israel.’

    In English, ‘children’ can refer to boys, girls, or a mixture of boys AND girls.

    The literal Hebrew term translated as ‘the children of Israel’ is ‘bnei-yisrael.’

    The literal translation of bnei-yisrael is ‘the sons of Israel,’ and means not only sons, but daughters as well.

    Those that read the Bible only in English are severely disadvantaged and frequently fail to grasp the intention of the original monographers.

    The original readers of the Hebrew biblical texts, however, suffered from no such disability. They understood what they read in its context and made the accommodation in their minds as they read, and as they continue to do so today.

    Much ado about nothing by the misinformed and the uninformed.

  5. Speakers in General Conference not infrequently broaden a scripture to explicitly include both sexes, something along the lines of “‘Let every man’—and I might add ‘every woman’—’learn his [or her] duty.'”

    It does cause me to wonder at times about the limits of such editing.

  6. The NIV was produced in the 70s; the current edition is 1984. In 2002 and 2005, an update was published, called Today’s New International Version of TNIV. It’s movement towards gender inclusive language where possible was very controversial among conservative Evangelicals and it was not warmly embraced.

    So the 2011 NIV was a project to basically revisit every decision made in the TNIV in light of feedback and criticism received. The majority of the TNIV changes were kept, so many who did not like the TNIV are not going to like the 2011 NIV any better.

    In general I’m sympatheic to the 2011 NIV changes.

    Here’s a cool website that not only gives stats on the changes, but by clicking onthe biblical books you can see every variation among 1984 NIV, TNIV and 2011 NIV. Do some poking around in there for yourself and you can draw your own conclusions:

  7. Biblical theology is complex. We lack the original manuscripts to really do a comparison. The JST is very incomplete as is was done by subject not pages. The Old Testament is not a chronology and outside the the first five books requires some deep study. The Book of Moses helps us with some that was left out. There are many mission pieces. The Book of Mormon will always be the best companion study to the bible as they did have at least a copy of the old testament record with them to date in the Brass Plates.

  8. Good for the conservative Lutherans for putting their foot down. The 2025 version will say “humankind.”

    Translators frequently sacrifice poetry for clarity. That’s what is so horrible about a lot of these new translations. The KJV was written by real poets, who knew how to make the English language flow.

    “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.” This has a nice cadence to it.

    When you stick “mankind” it stutters and breaks the flow. Preaching is so much more powerful in KJV language, because it carries you away in the mighty flow of it’s words.

    The scriptures must seduce and inspire, not just to educate and indoctrinate.

  9. Finding a balance between readability and accuracy is really, really difficult.

    As Nate points out, the KJV truly excels in the quality of its prose. I mean, can you imagine Handel’s Messiah using verses from the NIV? Or Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting from the ESV in his “I Have a Dream” speech? The KJV inspires in a way that no other Bible translation ever will.

    The problem, of course, is that the KJV is a horribly, terribly flawed translation. It uses late, unreliable Hebrew and Greek manuscripts; the translation is frequently inaccurate; and English has changed a lot in the last 400 years. There are literally hundreds (perhaps thousands) of places where the KJV’s rendering, at best, is misleading and, at worst, is completely wrong.

    So keep the KJV for your ward Christmas party nativity readings and so forth, but to actually understand what the text is trying to say, use one or two reliable modern translations.

    (The NRSV works very well because it has the same sort of cadence and textual rhythm as the KJV.)

  10. I love the Amplified Bible. It makes the Scriptures come alive and helps me understand passages and words that can be difficult to interpret.

  11. “but to actually understand what the text is trying to say, use one or two reliable modern translations.”

    Question about that. Does this mean we can’t understand the Book of Mormon? I know what Nephi had to say to people who didn’t understand Isaiah, and it wasn’t find a different translation. – So was Nephi right or wrong? Both?

    This isn’t an “I’m more spiritual than you” moment, because I think there are lots of times I don’t fully get it either…

  12. Chris:

    Question about that. Does this mean we can’t understand the Book of Mormon?

    The English in the Book of Mormon mimics the KJV style, but it’s much more up to date and not nearly as complex.

    For example, when the Book of Mormon uses the phrase “by and by” (Alma 32:42; 55:11, 14; 3 Nephi 27:11; Ether 5:1), it means “after a while,” which is the same as it means to us today. When the KJV uses the same phrase (Matthew 13:21; Mark 6:25; Luke 17:7; 21:9), it means “immediately,” i.e. the exact opposite of what it means now.

    That doesn’t mean the Book of Mormon is easy to understand. There are words it uses that have fallen out of common usage (like harrowed) or meant different things at the time or in context (like compass). Webster’s 1828 dictionary is very helpful while reading the Book of Mormon (or the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price, for that matter).


    We also don’t have an original document to compare the English translation to, as we do with the Bible, so we are going on faith that the translation is accurate.

    I know what Nephi had to say to people who didn’t understand Isaiah, and it wasn’t find a different translation.

    Nephi’s interpretation of Isaiah is very interesting. Nephi takes Isaiah and applies the prophecies to his own unique circumstances — the exodus of his family from Jerusalem, the destiny of his descendents, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in the last days. He “likened” Isaiah unto himself and his people (1 Nephi 19:23; 2 Nephi 6:5). In most cases, Isaiah’s original meaning and intent wasn’t what Nephi was explaining.

    Nephi also had the advantage of being able to read Hebrew, while most of us are reading an English translation of Hebrew.

    So I happen to agree with Brigham Young in this matter:

    “…[If the Bible] be translated incorrectly, and there is a scholar on the earth who professes to be a Christian, and he can translate it any better than King James’ translators did it, he is under obligation to do so…. I think it is translated just as correctly as the scholars could get it, although it is not correct in a great many instances.” (JD 14:226–27.)

  13. Great thread and comments. I personally use the NASB and the New Jerusalem Bible, as well as the NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint) since I prefer the LXX in some cases.

    And yes, Bible translation and striking that perfect balance between faithful adherence to the text and modern, literal English can be extraordinarily difficult.

    Some things just don’t translate well. There are Arabic words that just defy English.

  14. Michael Towns is right. Anyone who has ever translated from one language to another knows how difficult it is to catch both meaning and nuance.

    One example is Genesis 2:20b, which the KJV renders as “but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.”

    The first problem is the archaic language. “Help” is a noun and “meet” is an adjective. A more modern phrase would be “a helper suitable for him.” But the 400-year-old language barrier often causes people today to merge the two words into a single noun, “helpmeet,” which has a tone of subservience.

    Nothing could be further from the truth, though. The nuance in Hebrew here is an equal companion who has different but necessary qualities. A strict translation would be “a helper according to the opposite of him.”

    So the NET probably comes closest in this verse: “but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found.”

    Not only is this much better than the KJV, it also matches the teaching we’ve received from modern prophets on the proper marriage relationship of men and women.

  15. An ‘helpmeet’ is still in common usage in the part of the world in which I was born and raised. It means ‘an assistant or helper that is appropriate or suitable.’

    In common usage there is not hint of subservience, although it is understandable how some could take it that way.

    The essential thing about understanding the Bible to get the sense of meaning that the original write had at the time of writing.

    Linguistics alone will not help anyone achieve this. I would recommend scholarly ‘Introductions’ to both the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures, because these supply much more than exegesis, covering social, historical, cultural, etc contexts that enables modern readers to stand in the place of the original target audiences.

    When we can feel what the ancient Israelite felt when his sandals pinched his feet, and appreciate as fully as possible the whole range of matters and events that surrounded him and impinged on his sense of being, can we begin to understand what he [and she] understood when reading the original monographs.

    It is certain that the later AV [the 1611 is virtually unreadable for today’s people – has the most dramatic and majestic language of all the versions, but whilst its literary beauty is rightly admired, it errors get in the way of the purposes for which we have a Bible in the first place.

    That purpose is to learn and understand what God has said and done throughout history for the blessing and salvation of those that obey him.

    Neither beauty of language, archaisms, false interpretations, errors in copying, cynical redactions, nor amendments to accommodate changing theological fashions must ever be allowed to prevent our understanding what God has revealed of his own mind for our benefit.

    Even an expert level of facility in Biblical languages will not serve to bring us into the intentions of what is written unless we use a multidisciplinary approach to knowing and reading the Holy Bible.

  16. Such is the fate of many words as their currency is changed and used by successive generations.

    I thank God for my wonderful helpmeet / helpmate.

  17. I think that the plural 3rd person nouns in those verses justify the substitution of “mankind” for “man” when the Hebrew word is more like how I often say “humanity” or “humans”.

    Then again I’m getting old and I’m not sure if I remember it correctly, although I was there.

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