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The NIV Bible: Purpose Driven Advertising

A Christian bookstore chain recently sent out a large flyer of several pages announcing a sale of materials for Father’s Day. It features a full-page ad for the New International Version of the Bible. There is a picture of Rick Warren and a quote: “I bought my first NIV 30 years ago, and it’s been my primary teaching Bible ever since.” Warren is billed as “Founder and Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church, best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.” At the bottom of the page we read this:

The NIV continues to grow in popularity because it is:

  • Faithful and accurate to the Word
  • Beautifully yet understandably written
  • Impeccably researched
  • Among the most relied on for primary resource, reference and support materials

Let’s examine these statements. Are they accurate, or just more purpose-driven hype?

1. The NIV continues to grow in popularity . . .

This sales pitch is horribly flawed. The person who wrote it was clever, however. He or she knows that your modern professing Christian is a sucker for something that is billed as being “popular.” Jesus said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). This tells me that anything that continues to grow in popularity should be suspect.

2. Faithful and accurate to the Word . . .

I must take strong exception to the endorsement. The NIV is not even a good translation of an inferior text! Though it claims to be a translation, it is, in reality, a paraphrase. It leaves about 5 percent of the words in the Greek New Testament untranslated.

I took an advanced biblical Hebrew reading course with a professor who was one of the NIV translators. One day we were reading through Amos 1. In the NIV, Amos 1:3 states: “. . . because she threshed Gilead with sledges having iron teeth.” The word “teeth” is not in the Hebrew text, but was added by the translators. The professor justified the addition. He said it made the meaning of the text clearer. But should a translation put words in the mouth of the prophet? Do we think we are smarter than God?

3. Beautifully yet understandably written . . .

Not so for both. Nothing matches the beauty of the Authorized Version, which is one of the reasons why it is so memorable and easy to commit to memory. As far as it being “understandable,” the NIV actually takes some plain words in the AV—”den” and “anger”—and puts them at a higher reading level—”haunt” and “indolence.” Most people know what “anger” is, but not everyone understands the word “indolence.” The NIV changes “waves” to “breakers,” “craiftiness” to “duplicity,” provoke” to “exasperate,” “amazed” to “aghast”, “storm” to “tempest,” plus many more. I would recommend Laurence M. Vance’s 600-page book Archaic Words and the Authorized Version, available through Southwest Radio Church Ministries, for thousands of examples of such changes.

4. Impeccably researched . . .

The NIV translators use dynamic equivalency, paraphrastic translation techniques, and feel free to omit words found in the original-language manuscripts. This negates any positive contributions from research. In addition, the heavy reliance on the manuscripts Vaticanus and Sinaiticus casts a dark shadow on the claim that the NIV is “impeccably researched.”

In the NIV, the account of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) is footnoted with the words, “The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11,” yet this can’t be treated as the final word. The passage was known by the church fathers and Augustine, who commented: “Certain persons of little faith, or rather enemies of the truth faith, fearing, I supposed, lest their wives should be given impunity by sinning removed from their manuscripts the Lord’s act of forgiveness toward the adulteress, as if he who had said, Sin no more, had granted permission to sin.” Research that leaves out important items of information can’t be “impeccable.”

5. Among the most relied on for primary resource, reference and support materials . . .

This is a conjectural statement having no credibility whatsoever. “Relied on for primary resource” by whom? Even many Christian writers who are not “King James Only” do not like the NIV, but prefer the NASB because of its accuracy (the NASB is an excellent translation of inferior texts).

Rick Warren has a twofold connection with Zondervan: this publishing house has published the NIV Bible and Warren’s immensely popular Purpose Driven Life.Zondervan claims that the book’s popularity is “epidemic” and has reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list. This book is intensely popular with a broad spectrum of evangelicals, as well as with a multitude of the unregenerate.

How does this square with our Lord’s warning: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown’s heretical novel, properly so named because of its attack on the veracity of the New Testament and the very Person of Christ, has been on the Times’ bestseller list for some 50 weeks. Popularity is a poor measure of excellence.

Has the modern Church Growth Movement produced true disciples? Christ told His followers to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), and every Christian would love to see that become a reality. However, a Barna Research Update (May 24, 2004) concludes: “Faith has a limited effect on most people’s behavior.” It explains that multitudes of professing Christians show no distinctive Christian lifestyle. James 2:26 states: “Faith without works is dead.” Isn’t there something highly suspect about a movement that produces “dead faith”?

In my position at Southwest Radio Church Ministries, and as a Southern Baptist having a Ph.D. from a Southern Baptist seminary, I get to hear from lots of Southern Baptists. Significantly, there is a growing groundswell of opposition to Bibles like the NIV and the Purpose Driven movement. We don’t like the new theology, the new methodology, and the new approach to the local church and its ministry.

The church is in a sad state of disrepair. If we could liken it to a building, it is a building in which the windows are broken, the roof leaks, and paint is peeling off of cracked siding. Weeds are growing in the front yard and the rusting hulks of old cars and trucks are scattered in the back yard. Our prayer must be, “Wilt thou not revive us again: that they people may rejoice in thee?” (Psalms 85:6).

(Excerpt from the August 2004 Prophetic Observer)

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