Singing the Praises of the NIV

In my last two posts, I have pointed out inconsistencies in the way the NIV translates some Hebrew words (check here and here). These inconsistencies are not helpful to pastors who preach and teach from the NIV. They are also not helpful to lay people who use only one version of the Bible and do not use other versions to compare translations of specific verses.

Today I want to sing the praises of the NIV. I do not do this very often because in many places, the translation of the NIV does not reflect the intent of the original writers of the biblical text. In previous posts, I have pointed out some of the problems I have with the NIV.

One place where I believe the NIV is superior to the NRSV, the RSV, and the ESV is in Isaiah 40:9. The verse in these three translations reads as follows:

Isaiah 40:9 (NRSV): “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”

Isaiah 40:9 (RSV): “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”

Isaiah 40:9 (ESV): “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”

Isaiah 40:9 (NIV): “You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’”

In the NRSV, the RSV, and the ESV, it is Zion (Jerusalem) who is commanded to go to a high mountain, and it is Zion (Jerusalem), who, as the herald of good news, is commanded to proclaim to the cities of Judah the advent of YHWH.

These three translations differentiate between the messenger who proclaims good news on God’s behalf in verse 6 and Zion as the messenger who proclaims good news to the cities of Judah.

In Hebrew, the construct form of the verb is difficult to understand. It literally means: “Messenger of Zion.” The Greek Septuagint translates: “The one bringing good news to Zion.” The Latin Vulgate translates: “You who evangelizes Zion.”

The verb mebasseret is a participle feminine. In Hebrew, the participle feminine form of the verb is used to denote an office or an occupation such as sophereth, the office of the sopher or scribe (Ezra 2:55; Neh. 7:5). Thus, the mebasseret in Isaiah 40:9 is a title that should be applied to someone who was appointed to proclaim good news to Zion and not to Zion as the one appointed to proclaim good news to the cities of Judah.

Thus, I believe that the NIV translation, which regards Zion as the receiver, and not the proclaimer of the good news, is a better translation.

The text in Isaiah is not calling upon Jerusalem to make known the good news to the cities of Judah. Rather, the messenger of God is to proclaim the good news to Jerusalem; he is to announce to Jerusalem (and in a sense, to the people of Israel), that after many years of lying desolate and waste, that her time of servitude has come to an end and that the time of release would soon come to pass (Isaiah 40:2).

The translation found in the NRSV, the RSV, and the ESV is awkward, because it gives Jerusalem the duty to proclaim to the other cities of Judah that the exile was over for the nation. It is also awkward to believe that the city of Jerusalem was called to go up to a high mountain and proclaim to the other cities of Judah that the Lord was about to bring the people back to the land.

Thus, when it comes to Isaiah 40:9, I have to sing the praises of the NIV. And this commendation of the NIV has something important to say about Bible translations. Every translation of the Bible has its strengths and weaknesses. No translation of the Bible is perfect, not even the King James Version.

Serious students of the Bible must learn how to use more than one version of the Bible and compare translations to gain a better perspective of the intent of the original writer. When translations differ, and they will differ, Bible students must consult good exegetical commentaries to gain a better perspective of what the biblical writers were trying to communicate to their readers and to us.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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4 Responses to Singing the Praises of the NIV

  1. >I have really enjoyed the spirit of these last few posts. I don’t have a strong feeling myself for any one translation. Of course, I am still holding out for having John 1:18 and 2 Tim. 2:2 translated appropriately. These are my non-negotiables. So I am leaning slightly towards the NRSV.

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  2. >Suzanne,Thank you for your comment. On John 1:18, are you looking for “the only-begotten God?” And in Timothy, do you like “faithful people?”Claude Mariottini

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  3. Peter Kirk says:

    >I have a puzzle about this verse. My initial thought was that NIV was more or less following KJV here. But when I looked up KJV for this verse I found that it is similar to RSV. I realised that the older version of this verse which I had remembered is actually from Handel’s Messiah, in which this form of the verse is found:O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!Now I thought (as does Wikipedia) that Handel’s Messiah was based on KJV. Obviously not, at least at this point. Does anyone know where Handel’s librettist Charles Jennens got this text from? This is a significant question because I would at least suspect that the NIV rendering of this verse is partially dependent on Handel’s Messiah.

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  4. >Peter,Thank you for your comment.I believe that the words for the Messiah were taken from the Septuagint translated into English. The English version of the LXX reads as follows:”O thou that bringest glad tidings to Zion, go up on the high mountain; lift up thy voice with strength, thou that bringest glad tidings to Jerusalem; lift it up, fear not; say unto the cities of Juda, Behold your God!”So, as you can see, the words in the Messiah and the words in the LXX are almost identical.Claude Mariottini

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