The Bible has few friends outside those people who are involved with the church. People who do not accept the Bible as authoritative in matters of faith and practice look for any excuse or any reason to criticize the Bible and belittle those who accept the Bible as God’s Word. It seems that the TNIV will provide another reason for people to repudiate the Bible on the grounds of accuracy.
According to “A Word to the Reader,” the preface of Today’s New International Version (TNIV), the TNIV is a revision of the New International Version (NIV). What guided the work of the Committee on Bible Translation was their “commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God’s Word in written form.” One of the goals of the Committee that supervised the process of translation of the TNIV was that this new revision “would be an accurate translation.”
According to the preface, “The first concern of the translators has continued to be the accuracy of the translation and its faithfulness to the intended meaning of the biblical writer.” To achieve accuracy in the translation, the translators “have sometimes supplied words not in the original texts but required by the context.” The purpose of this article is to study one passage in the Old Testament where additional words were supplied by the translators of the TNIV in order to clarify the meaning of the text.
Those who teach and preach from the Old Testament know that 2 Samuel 21:19 is a problematic text because the death of Goliath is attributed, not to David, but to Elhanan. Scholars have taken different approaches to explain what seems to be a contradictory statement on who killed Goliath.
The NIV translates 2 Samuel 21:19 as follows: “In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.”
This translation follows the Masoretic Text as printed in the latest edition of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. This is the same reading adopted by two contemporary translations of the Bible which take seriously the concept of inerrancy. The English Standard Version reads: “And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible reads: “Once again there was a battle with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam.” Both translations seek to preserve the reading of the Hebrew Text without compromising their view of inerrancy.
On the other hand, the TNIV translates 2 Samuel 21:19 as follows: “In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.” Here the translators of the TNIV, in their attempt to clarify the text, deliberately added the words “the brother of,” even though these words are not in the Hebrew Text.
The translation of the TNIV is based on the reading of 1 Chronicles 20:5. The Chronicler, sensing the tension between 1 Samuel 17 and 2 Samuel 21, altered the received text in an attempt to resolve the conflict. It is clear, however, that the writers of 2 Samuel knew the tradition of David’s defeat of Goliath but did not see the need to add the note that the Chronicler (and the translators of the TNIV) added to correct the reading of the text. It seems that the writers of 2 Samuel 21:19 did not see any conflict with what was written in 1 Samuel 17.
The translation of 2 Samuel 21:19 proposed by the translators of the TNIV raises several issues that must be addressed by the Evangelical community that takes seriously the issue of biblical inerrancy:
1. Those Evangelicals who believe in biblical inerrancy and presuppose the accuracy of an English translation, will be disappointed with the TNIV, because the TNIV’s translation of 2 Samuel 21:19 is not accurate.
2. Those Evangelicals who take seriously the biblical principle (based in part on the view presented in Revelation 22:18) that no one should add to the word of God, will be uncomfortable with the TNIV because the words “the brother of” were deliberately added to the text of 2 Samuel 21:19.
3. Those Evangelicals who believe in the absolute inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible will be infuriated with the TNIV. If one imagines the writer of 2 Samuel writing under divine inspiration and writing inerrantly that “Elhanan killed Goliath,” one then must wonder how a translator could override the Holy Spirit and correct what was given by inspiration. Can a human translator know for sure that what is present in the Hebrew Text today is not what God intended to have been preserved for posterity?
4. In light of the recent discovery of the name “Goliath” in the remains of the site of the biblical city of Gath, the translation of the TNIV may be suspicious (if you want to read my article on David and Goliath, click here). According to the archaeologist who found the broken piece of pottery with the name “Goliath,” the name was used one hundred years after the time of David. So, it is possible that the name “Goliath” was used to designate a special type of soldier, like “marines” or “navy seals.” If it is proved to be true that Goliath was the name of a champion warrior in the army of the Philistines, then David killed one Goliath and Elhanan killed another Goliath.
Since the preface of the TNIV says that the new translation is a revision of the NIV, the TNIV’s translation of 2 Samuel 21:19 creates a theological problem of monumental proportion. The NIV says that “Elhanan killed Goliath” while the TNIV says that “Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath.” This means that the two NIVs contradict one another.
Either the NIV is right and the TNIV is wrong or the TNIV is right and the NIV is wrong. Both translations cannot be simultaneously right. One translation is right and one translation is wrong. For those Evangelicals who take inerrancy seriously, this situation cannot remain in limbo.
Another problem created by the translation of the TNIV is the issue of usage. According to the preface, both the NIV and the TNIV were designed for public and private use. Both translations were designed for the pulpit and for the pew, for the preacher and for the average church member. But the question is: which one should be used?
If one translation is right and the other is wrong, should the pastor of a church allow a Bible with the wrong translation of 2 Samuel 21:19 be used in preaching and teaching? If the NIV contradicts the TNIV, and if the TNIV contradicts the NIV, which one should be used to teach believers the word of truth?
This awkward situation places the burden of solution upon the publishers of the TNIV: Zondervan and the International Bible Society. The publishers cannot allow two contradictory versions of the same Bible to remain on the market. They have to decide which version is closer to the Hebrew Text and decide whether Elhanan killed Goliath or whether he killed the brother of Goliath. Once that decision is made, the publishers must recall the version that has the wrong translation of 2 Samuel 21:19. Wrong must not prevail!
When all is said and done, this is the reason why I will not be recommending the TNIV to my students.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary