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Bible Gateway and The Gospel Coalition have teamed up to host a discussion of English Bible translation. We have convened a team of world-class scholars representing different versions of the English Bible who will address specific passages from the Old and New Testaments and answer questions about the translation process.

We hope that by pulling back the curtain on translation, this discussion will help readers understand their Bibles more clearly and learn to love God's Word more deeply. And we pray that careful attention to Scripture will excite readers to behold God's glory as he has revealed himself to us in our own language.

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Five Most Intriguing Changes in the Updated NIV

Posted in New Testament, Old Testament, Translation Philosophy by Collin Hansen on February 28th, 2011

Last year I enjoyed the privilege of moderating the Perspectives in Translation forum at Bible Gateway. This work put me in touch with some of the world’s most gifted Bible scholars, men and women committed to helping us understand God’s Word in many varied contemporary English translations.

We launched this project around the same time the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) released the updated NIV at Bible Gateway. NIV translators Doug Moo and Craig Blomberg participated in the Perspectives forum. But so did translators and/or supporters of several other versions, including the NLT, ESV, HCSB, CEB, and NET. That made for some vigorous discussion, especially regarding the best way to render passages related to gender roles. We welcomed such debate, because translation is a serious matter that carries serious consequences for Christian faith and practice.

Now the scholars have returned to their regular tasks of teaching and writing, so we will only update the Perspectives forum if we see occasion and reader demand to convene a group discussion. We’re grateful for the significant interested readers have shown in the forum and welcome any tips for special topics we might cover.

To recap our discussion so far, I wanted to look back on the updated NIV and observe what I regard as the five most intriguing changes unveiled in last year’s edition compared to the 1984 NIV. Scholars discussed most of these changes at Perspectives in Translation. Others were covered in the translation notes released by the CBT.

5.) Philippians 4:13

1984 NIV: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

2010 NIV: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Here we have one of the most popular and frequently memorized verses in the entire Bible. According to data compiled by Bible Gateway, this is the number four most-read Bible verse. It’s easy to memorize and packs a punch. But the 2010 translation helps us to understand the apostle Paul’s intent more clearly by encouraging us to examine the context of his remark. God granted him contentment in all circumstances, whether rich or poor, well fed or hungry. Indeed, we know from Philippians 4:7 that the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God does not promise to protect believers from all hardship. But he does promise to preserve us in it.

4.) Psalm 23:4

1984 NIV: ‟Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

2010 NIV: ‟Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

I don’t remember much from Sunday school as a child, but I remember memorizing Psalm 23. The King James Version of 1611 conveyed the beauty of this chapter with lyrical, rhythmic phrasing like the “valley of the shadow of death,” retained in verse four of the 1984 NIV. Some modern translations, such as the ESV an NASB, have preserved this beautiful language. The 2010 NIV, however, has joined the HCSB, NLT, NRSV, and NET by opting for broader comprehension with a simpler modern phrase: “darkest valley.” No matter how dark things appear in our lives, God will never leave us. There can be no greater hope!

3.) Romans 8:8

1984 NIV: “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”

2010 NIV: “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”

I could have selected several other verses to illustrate this same change. The CBT’s translation notes explain that particularly in Paul’s letters, the word “sarx can mean either part or all of the human body or the human being under the power of sin.” Paul uses the word both ways, just as we use the same words today with both literal and figurative meanings. The 1984 NIV aimed to help readers by offering the figurative meaning whenever translators believed they could establish Paul’s intent. The 2010 NIV takes a more hands-off approach, more frequently translating sarx as flesh and urging the readers to make their own decisions about when Paul means to reference the sinful nature that misleads us.

Blomberg explained on the Perspectives forum more about the misconceptions prompted the CBT to make a change:

Through my seminary studies . . . I came to learn that it wasn’t as though Christians had two compartments to them, one in which the Spirit resided and one in which the flesh resided, so that one could speak of their spiritual and their sinful natures. The Spirit always indwells us, and sometimes fills us, but when he doesn’t it is because we are not fully yielded to him. Thus the flesh, as the common Scriptural opposite, is most naturally likewise understood as a power to which we can yield, to varying degrees.

2.) 2 Corinthians 5:17

1984 NIV: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

2010 NIV: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

However you translate it, this is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible. Believers cling to this promise when overwhelmed with the weight of our sin and its effects on the ones we love. The 2010 NIV helps us to more clearly understand something profound: our union with Christ has cosmic implications! Far from minimizing the significance of the new birth, Paul teaches us that same re-creative power that raised Jesus from the dead now regenerates us, who were helpless in our sins. Indeed, Jesus is making all things new.

The CBT tells us more about Paul’s teaching:

Given his overall theology that the coming of Christ and the new era he inaugurated began the period of the restoration of all things that would culminate in new heavens and new earth, it is likely that Paul is making a much more sweeping claim than just the salvation of the individual believer. A new universe is in the works!

Blomberg argued at the Perspectives forum that Paul employs an attention-grabbing structure in the original Greek in order to show us that our individual conversions are part of God’s grand creative plan. This example demonstrates how translators consider both a verse’s sentence construction as well as the broader context of biblical theology.

1.) Philippians 2:6

1984 NIV:Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.”

2010 NIV: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”

This verse belongs to a beloved section of Scripture, Philippians 2:6-11, which explains the humiliation Jesus suffered on the earth and the exaltation he enjoys in heaven. Paul tells us we have the same mindset, looking not to our interests but to the interests of others, as Jesus did by enduring death on the cross.

This verse also bears tremendous theological importance. In particular, scholars have long debated the meaning of the rarely used Greek word harpagmos. The 1984 NIV translated it “something to be grasped.” But what does it mean that Jesus did not grasp equality with God? Isn’t he in very nature God? What’s the difference?

The CBT considered new scholarship in the last 25 years that led them to believe that harpagmos carried the meaning of someone who possesses something he does not use for his own advantage. Blomberg explained more on the Perspectives forum:

The point then of the verse is not that Christ, in choosing to give up his position, metaphorically, at the right hand of the Father in order to become human, gave up his deity or even his divine attributes, but that he didn’t consider them as something to be used to his own personal advantage. Evangelical theologians have often spoken of Christ giving up the independent exercise of his divine attributes apart from when it was his Father’s will.

More than any other change, I think, this verse illustrates how Bible translators serve the rest of us. A verse that has baffled me for so long now comes into clearer focus thanks to careful study of the original language in its ancient context. And now that I know more clearly what Jesus Christ did for me, I praise him and ask for the Spirit’s help in serving others to the glory of God the Father.

Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition and editor of the Perspectives in Translation forum at Bible Gateway. He is the co-author of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir.

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Note from Bible Gateway:

Looking for an opportunity to connect with other Christians who are passionate about carrying out the Great Commission in a world of rapidly-changing technology and social trends? The Gospel Coalition 2011 National Conference takes place in Chicago this April 12-14, and there’s a huge amount packed into its three days. More than 60 teachers—including Don Carson, Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, John Piper, and others—will lead workshops about diverse topics like business leadership, inner-city church planting, counseling, and sharing the gospel with Muslims. The conference website has a full speaker list and workshop schedule.

As an added incentive to attend, The Gospel Coalition (in partnership with Zondervan) will be giving away a premium copy of the NIV Thinline Reference Bible (ebony leather edition–a $129.99 retail value) to 35 conference registrants. It’s a powerful resource for pastors, seminary students, and Bible readers.

The Gospel Coalition partnered with us last year to create the Perspectives in Translation forum about Bible translation. They’re doing valuable work, and we encourage you to consider attending their national conference. Everyone who registers for The Gospel Coalition conference between now and Tuesday, March 8, will be eligible for the NIV giveaway.


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What Do We Know About ‘Harpagmos” in Phil. 2:6? Craig Blomberg

Posted in New Testament by Craig Blomberg on December 27th, 2010

Moderator’s note: Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most beloved passages in Scripture. It’s also one of the easiest to misunderstand. Scholars today continue to wrestle with the interpretive challenges posed by these demanding verses. Advances in this debate actually led the Committee on Bible Translation to make a change on Philippians 2:6 in the updated NIV compared to the 1984 version. So I asked scholars to respond, and CBT member Craig Blomberg shared his thoughts on a challenging Greek word and the implications for our understanding of Jesus.

Question: What do we know about harpagmos in Philippians 2:6?

We know that the word occurs once only in the New Testament, in this passage. We know that it does not occur in the Septuagint, although the cognate harpagma does, which refers to the unlawful seizure of something. We know the root verb harpazö, from which we get our English “harpoon,” means to grab or to seize something suddenly. In the rare instances in which harpagmos appears in non-biblical literature it means something akin to “robbery” (cf. KJV), but that scarcely fits in the context of Philippians 2:5-11 on Christ’s incarnation. Nouns in Greek that end in –mos ordinarily have a verbal dimension to them, hence many translations speak of “a thing (or something) to be grasped” (ASV, NASB, ESV, NRSV, NET, original NIV). But this does not catch the somewhat negative overtones of the cognates, so something like “a thing to be seized” meaning “something to be taken advantage of it” (see Fee’s Philippians [NIGTC], 206-7) probably is best.

The point then of the verse is not that Christ, in choosing to give up his position, metaphorically, at the right hand of the Father in order to become human, gave up his deity or even his divine attributes, but that he didn’t consider them as something to be used to his own personal advantage. Evangelical theologians have often spoken of Christ giving up the independent exercise of his divine attributes apart from when it was his Father’s will.

The Holman Christian Standard captures this nicely: “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.” So, too, does the NRSV with its rendering, “something to be exploited.” The updated NIV is almost the same as the HCSB: “something to be used to his own advantage.” The New Century Version substitutes “benefit” for “advantage” and gets at almost the same meaning.

My first-ever exegetical paper in seminary, in a second-year Greek course, assigned us Philippians 2:5-11. I remember after doing all the research way back then, that it struck me that a very nice rendering would be “a prize to be clung to.” Several translations use the verb “cling” (NLT, TCNT, Phillips) and Knox’s translation offers “prize to be coveted,” but mixing and matching the two comes out, in my opinion, particularly elegantly. But it probably starts to move one just a little bit closer in the direction of functional equivalence than would be appropriate for a translation like the updated NIV.

Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.


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What Factors Determine How We Translate 2 Cor. 5:17? Craig Blomberg

Posted in New Testament by Craig Blomberg on December 23rd, 2010

Note from the moderator: The updated NIV made a noteworthy change in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as compared to the 1984 NIV. I invited several scholars to respond, and CBT member Craig Blomberg explained more behind this alteration.

Question: What factors determine a translation of 2 Corinthians 5:17?

When my now 23-year-old daughter was 10, she invited two girlfriends her age who were not Christians to come to our church for the children’s Christmas program/service that she was singing in. The two friends seemed to appreciate the music and worship quite a bit. When the woman who was then our children’s director got up at the end to give an invitation to receive Christ, she read 2 Corinthians 5:17 out of the King James Version, her lifelong preference. After she read aloud, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” one of the girls sitting with my wife and me turned to her in disgust and asked quietly, “Does your church always use language like that?” All of the good of the service was undone with one unnecessary gender-exclusive reference that was unlike anything this 10-year-old had been exposed to in her home or in her public education.

Of course, this is only one of the translational problems in this verse. There is the textual problem of whether the verse ends just with kaina (“new”) or adds ta panta (“all things”) either before or after kaina. There is the question of whether the ellipsis before kainē ktisis (“new creation”) is even to be filled in with “he (or she) is,” or whether Paul is thinking more probably about the arrival, in part, of the new creation worldwide. This is related, thirdly, to whether or not ktisis should be translated “creation” or “creature.”

Let’s begin with the textual question. Textual critics are confident that the original reading was the shorter one, with just the word “new.” The last three (Greek) words of the verse then become, “Behold I have made new things (or things new).” Because verse 18 begins with a reference to “all things,” scribes likely added this to the end of verse 17 as well trying to clarify Paul’s meaning. That they did so in two different positions, that “new” is the shorter and harder reading, and that the best and most reliable manuscripts strongly support “new” all combine to make this a fairly straightforward decision.

But as so often is the case, textual variants may correctly interpret the meaning of the original, especially when it appears there are gaps to be filled in. Paul regularly looks forward not just to individuals becoming new creatures but to the arrival of a new creation (see esp. Rom. 8:19-23). How, then, would Paul have expected his audience to understand his meaning at the end of verse 17?—presumably by his language in the first part of the verse. The Greek does not actually supply a subject and verb before “new creation/creature,” which is unusual for Paul if he is saying simply that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. It is more likely that he is getting his readers’ attention by a staccato-like construction that makes them realize that he is talking about more than just the expected results of conversion—personal transformation—but about the arrival, even if only in part, of a whole new creation. Thus the Holman Christian Standard Bible writes, “there is a new creation,” as does the New Revised Standard Version and the New Century Version.

Clearer still is the updated NIV: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” The footnote, however, acknowledges the possibility that the second clause could be translated, “that person is a new creation.” Neither of these constructions requires any gender-exclusive language. In fact, the only masculine word in the whole verse in the Greek is “Christ.” Tis, or “anyone,” is a two-gender pronoun. That is to say, its masculine and feminine forms are identical; only the neuter differs morphologically. The KJV, the NKJV, the old American Standard Version, and the New American Standard Bible all put “he is” in italics to show that they were adding something that corresponded to nothing in the Greek. Unfortunately, more recent translations that don’t use this convention but still preserve the gender-exclusive language become the most misleading of all (e.g., the ESV, NET, or the 1984 NIV).

Craig Blomberg is distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary in Littleton, Colorado. He has been a member of the Committee on Bible Translation since 2008.


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