I’m working on an animated YouTube video on this subject. Here’s a first draft of the script. I’m going to try to whittle this down to less than 500 words, since my goal is to make this video under 5 minutes long. Let me know what you think, or if you have any ideas how I can improve it.
Does the NIV remove things from the Bible? Chances are, you may have heard somebody claiming this. Or perhaps you believe this yourself. But is it true?
The NIV, or New International Version, is a translation of the Bible originally finished in 1978, but it has since undergone a few more or less minor revisions. The NIV aims to be a more or less equal parts blend of two translation methods: word-for-word and thought-for-thought. By contrast, the Bible that for many people is THE Bible, the Authorized or King James Version, is predominately word-for-word. This difference in translation method is a big part of what produces the difference between the two translations in overall difficulty of reading: the King James Verson requires the equivalent of a twelfth grade reading level to fully understand comfortably from start to finish, while the NIV, by contrast, requires only a seventh grade reading level. In part because of this difference in reading difficulty, since the NIV’s original publication, it has become the number one selling Bible in the world and beloved by many contemporary Christians.
But some people, particularly among those who still prefer the King James Version, claim that the NIV has removed things from the Bible. And at first, this claim would appear to be true. Let’s look, for example, at 1 John 5:7-8. In the King James Version it reads:
“7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”
On the other hand, the NIV of the same passage reads:
“7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
Whoa! What gives? That’s a big difference. The NIV reading has nothing about “in heaven”or “in earth” and “Father, Word, and Holy Ghost” are completely missing. Is this omission part of some plot to corrupt the Bible?
Actually … no.
You see, both the NIV and the King James Version of 1 John are translations into English from manuscripts written in an ancient form of Greek, but they aren’t translating from the exact same manuscripts.
The King James Version of the New Testament is translated from a group of manuscripts we call the Textus Receptus, or “Received Text”. The Textus Receptus is the family of Greek manuscripts that had been preserved and copied by the Church through the Dark Ages and into the modern era. Therefore, the Textus Receptus pretty much by definition consists of late medieval copies of copies of copies. So when the King James Version was originally published in 1611, the translators had used the Textus Receptus as their source because it was the only available body of manuscripts to translate from.
Since that time, however, archaeologists have discovered many, many other manuscripts in monasteries, ancient libraries, and hidden rooms throughout what once made up the ancient Roman empire. And what we have discovered is that many of these manuscripts can be reliably dated well before the late medieval manuscripts that preserved the Textus Receptus reading at the time the King James Version was translated. These earlier manuscripts preserve a number of minor variant readings in the New Testament, one of which is found in 1 John 5:7-8. The task of sorting through all the variant readings of a given text and determining the most likely original reading is the scholarly field we call “text-criticism”.
Studying all the manuscripts of 1 John, what text-critics think is that the earliest reading of chapter 5 verses 7 and 8 was shorter than what we find in the Textus Receptus. The Textus Receptus’s longer reading, which is what we find in the King James Version, can’t be found in any manuscript earlier than the 10th century, where it occurs only in a marginal note, and it isn’t in the body of any manuscript that dates earlier than the 1500s.
In light of this evidence, the translators of the NIV have made a conscious choice to translate from the shorter reading of 1 John 5:7-8, which is clearly the earlier reading. Whenever you find a discrepancy between the NIV and the King James Version where the NIV seems to be shorter, often this is because of a text-critical difference – the NIV is translating from earlier manuscripts that just weren’t available to the translators of the King James Version. So in reality, it isn’t that the NIV has taken parts out of the Bible, but actually that the King James Version has kind of … uh … added things in.
And this isn’t really a secret. If you look carefully, most printings of the NIV will include the longer and later readings in text-critical footnotes.
It is also important to note that the NIV isn’t the only translation that tries to choose the earliest and best readings. In fact, nearly every other major Bible translation does the same thing, including translations that are descended from the King James Version, like the ESV, the NASB, and the NRSV. There are some translations that still use the Textus Receptus, like the New King James Version and the Modern English Version, but in cases like these usually the purpose of the translation project is to be an extremely faithful update for the King James Version more than to be a new and more accurate translation of the New Testament in its most original form.
There is one final question that the issue of variant readings raises, namely: does the presence of variant readings make the Bible unreliable? The short answer is no, but the longer answer will have to wait for another video.