Thursday, October 11, 2007

NIV Sucks Again - Romans 8:5-9

Last night, I was meant to be writing a Bible study on Romans 8:5-17, for a not-especially-educated group using the NIV. Here's the NIV of verses 5-9:

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

And I couldn't understand the passage. My problem was roughly as follows:

  • All Christians have the Spirit (v9)
  • Everyone who has the Spirit is controlled by the Spirit (v9)
  • Therefore all Christians are controlled by the Spirit.
  • But I sin, and I know the people in the group I'm meant to be leading sin too. And Paul does too (Romans 7).
  • That suggests we aren't controlled by the Spirit, and therefore aren't Christians. And neither is Paul.

My last-night solution was to hold 8v9 in tension with chapter 7 and try to believe that both were true, then look for a resolution.

But today I looked at the Greek, and realised quite how badly the NIV has mangled the passage, not only to insert the word "controlled" out of nowhere, but also to hide all the "in God" / "in the flesh" language, which is a hugely important metaphor-thing.

Nick King's translation is much much better, but also copyrighted. Here's My Literal Translation of v5-9:

5 For those who are according to the flesh think things of the flesh, but those according to the Spirit [think] the things of the Spirit. 6 For the thought of the flesh is death, but the thought of the Spirit is life and peace. 7 Because the thought of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not keep the law of God, for it can't. 8 Those who are in the flesh can't please God. 9 But we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in us. If someone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not [Christ's].

Much better (if a bit clunky), much easier to fit together with chapter 7, much closer to the genuine Christian experience - the emphasis is on our status (being in the Spirit or in the flesh) rather than our actions, which are less dependable, as highlighted in Romans 7, which are being conformed to our status and for the time being, we groan with the tension (8v23) as we wait for the redemption of our bodies, which are now bodies of death (7v24), whose deeds we are to put to death in the present (8v13). So why does the NIV get it so wrong? And why doesn't the TNIV correct the NIV's mistakes?


Anonymous said...

You're a brave man, criticising a well established, international, professional, committee-reviewed Bible translation on the basis of 1 year of Greek studies and Duff's Elements of NT Greek.

John said...

Well, yeah.

But this passage is easy Greek; the ESV (which is generally regarded as the best translation into modern English) gets the same answer as me and the NIV doesn't make theological sense at this point.

So I think it's a fair criticism. If anyone wants to argue with me, that's fine. TNIV translation team people have discussed some of my gripes about the TNIV before on here...

John said...

You've got a very good point actually. I was shocked the first time I realised just how easy it was to spot mistakes in the NIV and TNIV translation - often, as this one, mistakes that have a big theological effect.

Other than their willful avoidance of innuendo, I don't think I've spotted any in the ESV, NASB, NKJV, ... That's probably because they are aiming for a fairly literal translation. It's when good translators aim for dynamic equivalence (or gender neutrality) that they introduce errors.

Nea J Kess said...

NIV, eish!

There are so many verses that are not translated from the "original texts" Many believe it was translated from the king James version.

Anonymous said...

I don't know of any modern english versions are translated from either the texus receptus, or the
King James. Almost all of them are taken from the corrupt Alexandian text. They are a way to indoctrinate us into the Roman Catholic Church.

John said...

The New King James Version (NKJV) is translated from the Textus Receptus. And most good modern translations have the bits where the Textus Receptus differs from the WH text footnoted.

We could argue about theological biases of the different text traditions, but it doesn't actually make much difference. I don't see anything in the TR that isn't there doctrinally in the "standard" Greek text. Perhaps you could give some examples of what you mean?