“Oh, be careful little eyes what you read…”
Let’s have a go at the NIV first, easily the most popular modern translations of the Bible into English.
In a word: I really have a hard time with its non-literal translation of the original languages. At critical moments it is too liberal with its translation, changing into a modern “explanation” rather than a direct translation. This can be a risky business.
Of course who doesn’t enjoy a Bible without “Thous” and “Thees” and “doest” and “wouldest”? But when a Bible translation starts to be “interpreted” by the translators then I get a bit nervous. Another writer carefully warns us on this very point:
“The moderate use of the so-called dynamic equivalence method of translation in the [NIV] version involved a trade-off in which accuracy was sometimes sacrificed for the sake of readability.” (Brent Kercheville)
Here is an additional voice: “Readability seems to have been a higher priority than anything else.” (Daniel Wallace)
Can I give you just two example of this treacherous “readability factor” that I hope will sway you?
#1. Weeds are not Tares.
In Matthew 13 we find seven parables Jesus told to express His belief about the kingdom of heaven – “The kingdom of heaven is like.” In the NIV Bible the pertinent part of the 2nd parable, the parable of the wheat and the weeds, is translated like this:
“While everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.” 13:24-25
In using “weeds” instead of the stronger (and more literal) “tares” we see where the NIV “readability factor” sacrifices the deeper meaning of the parable. A weed is simply a “generic wild plant” but a tare is an “imitation crop” which looks exactly like wheat, especially in the early stages, and later turns into a poisonous plant! Strong’s Concordance calls tares: bastard wheat; resembling wheat except the grains are black.
Can you not see the depth of meaning lost by reading his enemy “sowed weeds among the wheat” instead of tares. Tares are “sons of the evil one” who infiltrate the kingdom of heaven by Satan’s deft hand and bring in an imitation product, through false teaching, tickling itchy ears and doctrines of demons.
Not convinced…? Well, let’s try another.
2. Yeast is not Leaven.
Here is another parable from Matthew 13.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” 13:33
Once again, in using “yeast” instead of the stronger (and more literal) “leaven” we see that “accuracy was sacrificed for the sake of readability”.
Leaven, you see, is in itself a rotting, decaying process. The ancient Hebrews were never to offer it in their grain offerings and were to completely remove it from their homes during Passover. Leaven was excluded because fermentation was an apt symbol of the working of corruption in the human heart. “Leaven is actually the process of deterioration by rotting.” (Chuck Smith)
Yeast doesn’t convey rotting or corruption at all but, because yeast is what we bake with in our modern world, the translators “interpreted this word for us” and chose yeast over leaven. Ouch!
(Before I can go on, I must mention that the word used in NIV as “mixed into” is in the Greek “enkrupto”. “Enkrupto”, from whence we get our English word “encrypt”, underscores a secret hiding and encryption of the leaven into the flour missed by the translators for the sake of modernization.)
As leaven, which deteriorates its environment by decaying, was secretly hid in the flour by the woman we read that the whole batch of dough was eventually corrupted. The woman may be a similar type of an enemy that “sowed the tares while everyone slept”, but I don’t want to press this point. (If you read this chapter in its context rather than a “clip-and-paste” approach, you will see that these parables are full of enemies: birds, tares, and bad fish.)
Jesus equated leaven in the Gospels with the false teaching/doctrine and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul wrote of the “malice and wickedness” of leaven. There is no way Jesus’ audience could have interpreted this parable as the influence of good impacting the whole UNLESS He had made it absolutely clear He was changing the thousand year old usage of leaven. Using yeast only further continues to blind us to the truth of this parable.
I would like to speak of only one verse in the KJV Bible that gives me, I believe, sufficient grounds for not reading it. One could find many similar examples.
“This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” 1 Timothy 3: 1
I have high-lighted the words the office of a bishop for a reason, because in the original Greek they are only one word: “episkopē” and this word could have been easily translated as one word back into English: “overseership”. Yet the KJV uses the more formal sounding, hierarchical title of “office of a bishop” to further promote the control and authority King James desperately wanted to keep over his empire!
“King James gave the translators instructions intended to guarantee that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the Episcopal structure of the Church of England and its beliefs about an ordained clergy. The task of translation was undertaken by 47 scholars. All were members of the Church of England and all except Sir Henry Savile were clergy.” (wikipedia.com)
Please don’t cringe because I quoted wikipedia. That same verdict you can find in a hundred other places.
I cannot bring myself to read or recommend the KJV as it breathes on every page an attempt to “conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the Episcopal structure of the Church of England”. It was written in reaction to the break away Puritans and sought to redirect the people to the old power structures of the state church.
What I do recommend is the NASB. It is a more literal, “word for word” translation and does not bother with “dynamic equivalence”. At times I find it hard to read and suggest looking at other translations or the Greek original for help. At times it seems to reflect the KJV view. But if you use discretion and sound judgment I can say that the NASB puts you immediately closer to the actual words of God than almost any other translation.
P.S. Comments welcome!