NIV 2011 Case Study: Romans 3:1-8

One of the problems with the discussion over the updated NIV translation is that it tends to make us focus on a few select passages to judge a whole translation. While that kind of discussion has its place and can be helpful, there are many aspects of translation which would never be touched on if that's the only way we evaluate.

I think one of the most helpful is to simply take passages and compare them side-by-side. I'm preaching on Romans 3:1-8 this week, so thought I might take the opportunity to show the differences between the 1984 and 2011 versions of the NIV. That's my only reason for selecting this particular passage: it's the one I'm currently working through.

There are three changes that I see as I compare these translations: verses 3, 4, and 8. Let's look at each in turn.

Romans 3:3
NIV (1984):

What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness?

NIV Update (2011)

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?

I found this one particularly interesting because as I studied yesterday, never looking at the NIV Update, I wrote in my notes on the passage that the NIV's "faith" would probably be better understood as faithfulness. It is not primarily the lack of belief, but lack of covenant obedience to the "very words of God (v.2)" that Paul is discussing. Though belief likely would be included in this understanding, the '84 rendering makes it sound as if belief is the primary focus.

So I count this one as a notable improvement over the 1984 NIV. To compare how other translations render the verse: Faith/belief—NIV 1984, NASB, HCSB, KJV, NKJV, NET; Faithfulness—TNIV, NIV 2011, ESV, NLT, RSV, NRSV)

Romans 3:4
NIV (1984)

Let God be true, and every man a liar.

NIV Update (2011)

Let God be true, and every human being a liar.

The dreaded gender neutrality shows up! The text certainly flows and sounds better with "man" than "human being." And the Greek is certainly the noun for man (which is often used of humans in general). It is clear that this refers to both men and women equally so the meaning of the text is not obscured by the gender-neutral rendering.

I don't call this an improvement, but I don't think it's reason to criticize either. For readability reasons alone, I wish they had left it as it was in 1984. Translation comparison: Man—NIV 1984, NASB, KJV, NKJV, RSV; Human Beings/One/Everyone else—NIV 2011, TNIV, ESV, HCSB, NLT, NRSV, NET.

Romans 3:8
NIV (1984)

Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved.

NIV Update (2011)

Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!

From what I can tell, the first change is an effort at clarity by giving a shorter rendering of the Greek. Is the meaning better presented even though "literalness" has been sacrificed? I think so. On the whole, I'd say this change is for the better. Longer reading—NIV 1984, TNIV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, NRSV; Shorter reading: NIV 2011, ESV, HCSB, NLT, RSV, NET

The second change is from "deserved" to "just". This Greek work is from the "justice/righteousness" family of words and is certainly more literally rendered as "just." "Deserved" is probably a fair way of bringing the concept into contemporary English, though it does lose the word family association. Overall, I slightly prefer "just" here, but realize a case could be made fir either. Translation comparison: Deserved—NIV 1984, HCSB, NLT, NRSV, NET; Just—NIV 2011, TNIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, RSV.

So as we look at the changes, overall, I think the NIV 2011 is to be slightly preferred over the NIV 1984. Probably most interesting to me is the fact that the ESV has made the same choices in the two areas (gender-neutrality and literalness) that the NIV 2011 has been criticized most for (and quite often by fans of the ESV)!
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