Wallace completes NIV 2011 review

Dan Wallace has completed his blog series, reviewing NIV 2011. You can read part three here and the final part here.

Posted in: NIV

10 thoughts on “Wallace completes NIV 2011 review

  1. John Hobbins says:

    As I have already noted, Wallace concludes his series with a strong plea that, whatever its weaknesses, NIV 2011 be singled out as one of the best translations the English-speaking world has been given.

    According to Wallace’s cumulative scoring of three parameters (elegance, accuracy, and readability), ESV is the best translation of the Bible in English (24); RSV and NET tie for second (23); NIV [whole tradition] comes in third (22). Wallace does not score HCSB and NABRE: both would, presumably, score in the same range. Wallace does not score translations that strive for functional as opposed to formal equivalence: GNB, NLT, CEV, CEB, and so on.

    Further reflections here:


  2. Iver Larsen says:

    In part 3 of his review, Dan Wallace says among other things: “…in many instances throughout the NIV, I would have preferred that the translators retained a more interpretive-neutral stance as long as the English rendition wasn’t nonsense.”

    I think this tells us quite a bit about Wallace’s view of Bible translations. He is happy to have a translation that is not clear or normal English as long as it is not nonsense. However, I believe that Wallace, too, recognizes that even fairly literal versions like the NET often have to make interpretative choices. Why not openly accept that any translation is interpretive and then use footnotes to explain about various possibilities? Having such notes is one of the strengths of the NET.

    One interesting change from the old to the new NIV is that “sinful nature” has been changed to the more literal and traditional “flesh”. I agree that “sinful nature” is theologically questionable, so here at least, the new NIV is more interpretive-neutral.

    In the case of the textual variants in Mat 18:15, Wallace prefers the shorter reading, and the reasons can be found in the NET note at this place. The note includes two questionable statements. One is: “And since scribes normally added material rather than deleted it for intentional changes”. More recent research has shown that most changes are not intentional, but accidental, and that early manuscripts were in fact more likely to omit than to add. The note also claims that two particular mss are supposed to be “best” (Aleph and B), but many scholars are now moving away from this questionable assumption. Because the words “against me” occur in Matt 18:21, it is likely that the words “against you” are original at 18:15 and were omitted by accident.

    He also says that the NIV is a translation for believers by believers. I might say that it is for believers who have learned the special biblical vocabulary in English, and it is made by theologians without much appreciation for the translation principles used outside Bible translation.

    Translations can vary from the very literal ones like Young’s literal version to the free ones like the Message. Wallace does not recognize idiomatic, meaning-based translations as “translations”, but calls them paraphrases. Linguists and professional translators would disagree with him, although I would certainly agree that there is a continuum of translations with literal ones and the Message at opposite ends of the spectrum. Each translation has its own strengths and weaknesses and it needs to be evaluated in terms of the intended audience and principles used. Since the NIV is primarily intended for evangelical believers who are already familiar with Biblical English, Wallace’s evaluation is fair enough.

    What does he mean by stating that NIV is “readable”? I can read a lot that I do not understand. I suppose a passage like Rom 3:25-26 is readable, but it is not easy to understand:
    “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

    We could compare this with the “paraphrase” from NLT:
    “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

    I suppose both are readable, but one is certainly easier to understand than the other. No translation is perfect or will satisfy the wishes of every reader. In this respect, I agree with Wallace.

  3. John Hobbins says:

    Hi Iver,

    You say:

    “Why not openly accept that any translation is interpretive and then use footnotes to explain about various possibilities? Having such notes is one of the strengths of the NET.

    “One interesting change from the old to the new NIV is that “sinful nature” has been changed to the more literal and traditional “flesh”. I agree that “sinful nature” is theologically questionable, so here at least, the new NIV is more interpretive-neutral.”

    It sounds as if you prefer interpretive-neutral translation in some instances. Retaining metaphorical language, “flesh” instead of something else, even though “flesh” as a metaphor is obviously Biblish, often has the effect of staying relatively interpretive-neutral.

    It doesn’t help much to have things in the footnotes, since most people stick with the main text and may never notice what is in the footnotes. Furthermore, many of us preach from a Bible or memorize particular passages. We may prefer a translation, at least in a number of instances, which does not commit speaker and listener to one construal among several that seem more or less equally probable.

    On another note, there are plenty of professional translators of literary texts who are just as opposed to paraphrase as Bible translators often are. If this doesn’t ring true to you, I am happy to exemplify.

  4. Iver Larsen says:

    Hi, John,

    If I had the same view of translation as you and Wallace have, I would have preferred the Biblish “flesh” for the somewhat misleading “sinful nature,” but I don’t. In my own idiomatic translation I used neither of those two options in Paul’s letters.

    Whereas “most people” may not notice or read footnotes, this does not apply to a major part of the audience that NIV and NET have in mind. The kind of people who do not read footnotes prefer an idiomatic translation, because it is understandable, even without footnotes.

    I agree that many traditional pastors like you prefer an obscure and Biblish translation, partly because it gives them more leeway to interpret the text as they see fit, partly because that is what they have been used to for centuries. Those who preach primarily to non-Christians (evangelists) often prefer a meaning-based version. The strength of the meaning-based versions is that they communicate so much better to non-Christians and new Christians who have not yet learned the special dialect called Biblish. I shall never forget the lady who once said to me: “When I became a Christian I did not understand the bible and the way the Christians talked, but after 15 years I had learned that language very well. But then I realized that I could no longer speak about Jesus to non-Christians in a way they understood, so I spent the next 15 years unlearning the Biblish language that I had learned in church.”

  5. John Hobbins says:

    Hi Iver,

    I assume then, based on your last comment, that in your translation work you resolve metaphors like sarx. You do away with them, because to translate them straight up is inevitably inaccurate. I wouldn’t deny that; translation by definition is inaccurate. In my experience, however, a translation that strips a source text of its metaphors is not only inaccurate in its own way, it is indecorous. It reads like a commentary more than anything else.

    I could be wrong, but I think the goal of rendering Paul’s letter to the Romans into non-biblishy English is next to impossible. For one thing, Paul, when quoting his Bible (a literal translation of Hebrew seripture into Greek), forgot to un-biblish its wording.

    Like Wallace, myself, and most pastors I know, Paul stuck with an obscure and Biblish translation. I always wondered why Paul did that. Didn’t he realize how difficult he was being, requiring non-Jews to learn a large set of technical terms, a specialized use of metaphorical language, and, horrors of Pharasaic horrors, a forensic way of thinking about the gospel (oops! Biblish) and salvation (more Biblish)?

    All things considered, your claim that pastors beginning with Peter and Paul do this “because it gives them more leeway to interpret the text as they see fit, partly because that is what they have been used to for centuries” might not be a charitable explanation.

    In comments on these threads, I have often explained why someone like me prefers a translation in the King James translation tradition. I refer you to those reasons. If you can’t locate them, I am happy to summarize them for you.

    On another note, I want to thank you for your comments on textual criticism. The caution you have is well-taken, even if I see things quite differently. In most instances, I think Nestle, Aland, and now Holmes and Wallace do a defensible job of applying the rules of text criticism to the New Testament. There is no doubt in my mind for example that the long ending to Mark and the pericope of the adulterer in John are add-ons to a base text. I don’t see that as a reason, however, to excise such passages from the historical New Testament.

  6. Iver Larsen says:


    Just to clarify, I do not recommend stripping a translation of all metaphors. The crucial question to ask is whether the illustration used is known or not. But I recognize that one word in the source text can have multiple senses, and therefore I take the context seriously. And by context, I also refer to audience background and expectations. I don’t consider sarx to be a metaphor, but it is often used as a metonym in Greek where “flesh” in English is not used in a similar way, except in the expression “flesh and blood”. Greek generally used many more metonyms than English does. The word is used differently by Paul and John. How I deal with this word in translation, depends on my intended audience, because I am influenced by communication theories.

    Romans was probably written to an audience of Greek-speaking Jews and Gentile proselytes plus a few Gentile converts to Christianity. Most of these would be familiar with the LXX version of the quotes Paul used. The sections where Paul did quote the LXX were intended for the Jewish portion of his audience. My audience is different, but as a translator I do not have authority to take out those quotes. At that point I expect the readers to understand that Paul was talking to Jews. There is also a huge difference between quoting a text in the same language as Paul does and translating into a different language.

    I don’t advocate stripping away all Christian and Jewish technical terms, but I advocate a translation that is based on linguistic and communication principles.

  7. Adam says:

    For those interested, Wallace does not agree with the NIV2011 translation of Romans 16:1, Romans 16:7, and 1 Corinthians 14:33-34.

  8. Zach says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for years now, but this is my first comment.

    Iver Larsen quotes the NLT of the Romans 3 passage noted above and declares it to be an accurate rendering. This is fine if you’re an evangelical. However, a lot of us aren’t evangelicals, wouldn’t that make it highly inaccurate? Let the pastors translate what is in the text, beware of the interpretive gloss.

  9. Iver Larsen says:

    Hi, Zach,

    Can you enlighten me? What is it in the NLT of Romans 3 that non-evangelicans have a problem with? Where do you see it as inaccurate?

    Would you consider Paul more of an evangelical or not? I don’t know enough about American evangelicals to know where I agree and disagree with them, and I believe there is a lot of difference of opinion even within evangelical circles. Some famous American televangelists are evangelicals, but I would disagree with them in some of their teachings. Is the pastor and author Ron Bell an evangelical? Is N. T. Wright a British evangelical? I don’t know, but they both present some teachings that I am sure Paul would strongly disagree with, based on his writings that we have in the NT.

    According to normal and well accepted translation and communication theories, a translator goes through two steps. The first step is the exegesis, to understand the text in the context in which it was first spoken or written, taking into account the originally intended audience. The second step is to re-express the meaning in a new way in a new language, taking into account the new audience. Both steps have their challenges.

    For instance, not too long ago my wife and I were translating a Christian book into Danish from American English. It was written for an American audience, so the author took for granted that baseball was not a foreign idea. He used many illustrations with first base, second base etc. In my country baseball is unknown except that it is a game commonly played in the US. We know it has to do with hitting a ball, running around a field and others trying to catch the ball. Baseball metaphors do not communicate well to an audience that do not know the concept or have only a very superficial knowledge about it. My first challenge was to understand what the author was saying. I didn’t do very well. Second challenge was to decide whether to translate everything literally, but there are no words in my language for “first base”, “home run” etc. If I translate “home run” literally, which I can do because we have words for “home” and “run”, then the reader would think that someone is doing running exercises inside his home. A literal translation would be understood by Americans who had learned my language or Danish people who had been to the USA long enough to learn the intricacies of baseball. That is a rather limited intended audience. This is how Bible translation has mostly been done through the centuries, although Wycliffe and especially Luther broke with that tradition. They were persecuted for their work and ideas, because the church hierarchy believed that only priests/pastors had the right to interpret the obscure Latin translation for the uneducated masses.

    Is this not similar to your comment that pastors are the ones to explain the obscure translation to their congregations? A result of that philosophy is to discourage ordinary people from reading the Bible for themselves. It is also based on the questionable assumption that the more literal a translation is the more accurate it is.

    Trained Bible translators ought to be better qualified to exegete and re-express the original text than the majority of pastors. It is true, though, that the theological background of the pastors and translators does to a certain extent influence the translation, whether literal or not. That is one reason for footnotes that can give alternative interpretations. It is also one of the reasons behind having so many Engllish versions.

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