The NIV and the TNIV: Two Bibles with Contradictory Views

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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This entry was posted in 1 Chronicles, 2 Samuel, Book of 1 Chronicles, Book of 2 Samuel, David, Goliath, Hebrew Bible, Translating, Translation Problems, Translations of the Bible and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The NIV and the TNIV: Two Bibles with Contradictory Views

  1. Anonymous says:

    >Hi, you signed up for godblogroll but I can’t add you until you put a link to in your sidebar. Please comment there when you do that–thanks!


  2. Mark says:

    >In lieu of trackback: I linked you here.


  3. >As I see it the core issue at stake here is one of priority. Either we give priority to faithfully rendering the manuscripts to the best of our ability and according to a clearly defined approach to translation (e.g. formal or dynamic equivalency), or we give priority to some other agenda (e.g. promoting the views of “inerrancy” and “infallibility”). Only the most extremist Christians take the Bible as the literal word of God imparted word-by-word directly from God himself as similar to, say, Islam teaches about the transmission of the Quran. Christianity has historically held no such view about the transmission of the Bible, instead Christianity draws upon theologically deeper waters, from the wells of divine inspiration. God is Triune, God exists eternally in relationship within the Godhead, therefore divine meaning is both divine (perfect) and subjective (relational). I think Christianity has the real advantage here in comparison with other faiths and their scriptures because the Bible is inspired by the Triune God in relation with the author and the author’s community. Inspiration is relational, inerrancy and infallibility are logical. Inspiration and inerrancy and infallibility are not necessarily at cross purposes, but the rationalistic commitments of the latter two misplace the emphasis of understanding the Bible to understanding the words of God as a giant puzzle to be put together properly (no contradictions, etc.) instead of as revealing the Word of God who is Jesus Christ our Lord.


  4. >Excellent article. I wasn’t aware of the added text in the TNIV or of the possibility that Goliath might be a title rather than a name.


  5. >You can’t translate without adding words. Every word in any English translation is added except for transliterated words, but we don’t transliterate every word. That wouldn’t be a translation. The question is how many English words we need to add to account for the meaning of the original set of words in another language. There are two ways to think about that question. We can slavishly adhere to the form of the original, even when doing so will mislead English readers, or we can translate the meaning, even if it means there will be more words in the translation than there were in the original.As for the Samuel passage, I’m not sure where you’re getting the view that BHS is inerrant. The only inerrancy view I’m aware of is that the original manuscripts are inerrant. That means we have to reconstruct what the original text is likely to have been. The NIV takes a view on that issue that you don’t like, but it seems to me to be a bit much to portray them as denying inerrancy simply because they take a different view from yours on a specific matter of textual criticism, i.e. which words were in the original manuscript of Samuel.Also, your argument seems to me to prove too much. If you’re right, then the TNIV isn’t the only one denying inerrancy. The Chronicler himself denied it by correcting the original text in Samuel. I don’t think someone who accepts the inerrancy of the scriptures can admit such a thing and remain consistent with inerrantism.


  6. Anonymous says:

    >Why pick on the TNIV? The Hollman and NIV you referenced are just as full of loose interpretations. Do a Web search or go to a good online Bible site and compare the same verses between different Bibles and you’ll be surprised what liberties have been taken with the Word of God.Even the NIV preface states that this ‘translation’ (and I use that term loosely) is not intended for study. It was intended to be a junior high reading level Bible. It’s a cutesy ‘story book’ reader for nominal lazy American Christians. Get serious, the time is short, the Master returns soon.


  7. >I enjoyed the post, particularly the idea that Goliath may be a descriptive term rather than a proper noun. I quoted from your post at my blog this morning.


  8. R. Mansfield says:

    >It seems clear that the TNIV translators were trying to recreate the original text which would still fit in with an inerrant view of the Scriptures. We have to remember that neither the BHS nor the Masoretic Text is inerrant–only the originals. Part of good translation is getting to the bottom of what the originals contained, and sometimes that is guesswork.The NET Bible which has the same essential rendering as the TNIV and the textual note explains the issue quite well and justifies the change on the part of the NET and TNIV:”The Hebrew text as it stands reads, “Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite.” Who killed Goliath the Gittite? According to 1 Sam 17:4–58 it was David who killed Goliath, but according to the MT of 2 Sam 21:19 it was Elhanan who killed him. Many scholars believe that the two passages are hopelessly at variance with one another. Others have proposed various solutions to the difficulty, such as identifying David with Elhanan or positing the existence of two Goliaths. But in all likelihood the problem is the result of difficulties in the textual transmission of the Samuel passage; in fact, from a text-critical point of view the books of Samuel are the most poorly preserved of all the books of the Hebrew Bible. The parallel passage in 1 Chr 20:5 reads, “Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath.” Both versions are textually corrupt. The Chronicles text has misread “Bethlehemite” (בֵּית הַלַּחְמִי, bet hallakhmi) as the accusative sign followed by a proper name אֶת לַחְמִי (’et lakhmi). (See the note at 1 Chr 20:5.) The Samuel text misread the word for “brother” (אַח, ’akh) as the accusative sign (אֵת, ’et), thereby giving the impression that Elhanan, not David, killed Goliath. Thus in all probability the original text read, “Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath.”


  9. Anonymous says:

    >there is another problem i believe you have failed to address. many fundamentalists believe that translators work under the inspiration of god (and consequently do not actually need source material). you see this a lot wrt: the kjv, where people hold the translation to be more authoritative than the hebrew far as translating without adding words, the only words that are “added” in regular usage are present-tense passive verbs, like “is,” which hebrew lacks. most of the wiggle room comes from tenses, and conjugations, and punctuation, and such. but adding phrases wholesale (or opting for qere over ketiv, especially w/o footnotes) is a whole different animal. and smoothing out potential contradictions in the actual text using unrelated books as “context” is different as well.samuel and chronicles famously present contradictions elsewhere, for example in david’s sin of taking a census. in samuel, the lord prompts him to do so, but in chronicles it’s satan. what should we do in a situation like that? should we use samuel? or chronicles? or leave both along and just stick to presenting an accurate translation of the words we have, and letting the reader decide how they want to rectify the problem. or if they even think it’s a problem, or if they even think it needs rectifying.


  10. Gary says:

    >The definition for Goliath from Hebrew is exile; Goljath, a Philistine — Goliath.As two different time periods are clearly referenced, these two Goliaths could be related by the fact that they were both Philistines.


  11. >Gary,Thank you for your comment. The definition which you provided and one that is found in the Internet, is not correct. The name Goliath is not taken from a Hebrew word that means “exile.” The name is a Philistine name and archaeological evidence has confirmed this fact. Read my post on Goliath’s name here.Claude Mariottini


  12. Anonymous says:

    >In the King James it is written:”…Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite…”So if TNIV is wrong then so is the KJV. If the NIV is correct then there is an inconsistency in the bible. But that cannot be correct. So therefore the NIV is wrong. Or perhaps this is a different Goliath.


  13. >Dear Friend,The King James is also wrong. If you read the KVJ, you will notice that the words the brother of are in italics, meaning that those words are not in the Hebrew text and that they were added by the translators of the King James.Claude Mariottini


  14. Anonymous says:

    >…or we give priority to some other agenda (e.g. promoting the views of "inerrancy" and "infallibility")??2 Peter 1:20-21Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (KJV)Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (NIV)Ipsissima vox, the Latin experession meaning "the very voice" in contrast to ipsissima verba "the very words."Thought for Thought perfection.


  15. Pingback: Who Killed Goliath? – Part 3 | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

  16. Pingback: The Revised NIV: A Step Backward | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

  17. Pingback: The “not Goliath” Inscription from Tel es-Safi/Gath: Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media | Remnant of Giants

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