The Revised NIV: A Step Backward

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

The committee planning to revise the New International Version (NIV) has completed its work and the new revised translation has been published online. The new revised edition of the NIV will be released to the public in 2011, in time to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Version.

Preliminary reports on the revised edition of the NIV have been disappointing. Charles Halton discusses some of the theological and tendentious translations present in the old edition of the NIV that needed to be corrected in the new NIV. None of his suggestions were adopted by the committee revising the NIV. Charles concluded his evaluation of the new NIV by saying: “I am pretty disappointed with this new release.”

Joel M. Hoffman has another post dealing with the issue of inclusive language in the new NIV. According to Joel, the new NIV has reconsidered the inclusive language of the TNIV and decided to preserve many of the changes introduced by the TNIV. Joel concluded his post by agreeing with most of the changes: “So it seems that the new NIV translation tries to preserve gender accuracy in its translation, even if in practice the translation is inconsistent and falls short in places.”

As for me, I had criticized the TNIV and praised the NIV for its handling of 2 Samuel 21:19 [here]. The issue I raised in my post concerned the accuracy of the translation of the biblical text and how a translation faithfully expresses the meaning intended by the biblical writer. My judgment was that the TNIV did not clearly reflect what was written in the biblical text.

The TNIV translated 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.” The translators of the TNIV tried to clarify the text by deliberately adding the words “the brother of,” even though these words do not appear in the Hebrew text.

The NIV translated 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 reflects the Hebrew text, even though the text is controversial because it has Elhanan killing Goliath.

As I wrote in my previous post:

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 revised NIV abandoned the correct translation of the Hebrew text and reverted back to the erroneous translation of the TNIV. In the revised NIV, 2 Samuel 21:19 reads as follows:

19 In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair[a] the Bethlehemite killed the brother of[b] Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.

The passage has two footnotes. Footnote [a] says: “2 Samuel 21:19 See 1 Chron. 20:5; Hebrew Jaare-Oregim. Footnote [b] says: “2 Samuel 21:19 See 1 Chron. 20:5; Hebrew does not have the brother of.”

My question is: if the Hebrew does not have the brother of, why then include these words in the translation? The reason is that the revised NIV is trying to harmonize 2 Samuel 21:19 with 2 Chronicles 20:5 and eliminate a problematic text that has caused much discussion in scholarly circles.

However, as I wrote in another post [here], if Aren Maeir’s discovery proves to be conclusive, the translators of the new NIV will regret this change.

Maeir, the head of the archaeology department at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, digging at the site of the ancient city of Gath, the place where Goliath lived, found a shard (a broken piece of pottery) containing an inscription in early Semitic style spelling with the name of Goliath.

The shard is dated after the time of David, but the name Goliath appears on the shard. Thus, as I have suggested, it is possible that Goliath was the name given to a group of Philistine soldiers. I wrote on my post on the TNIV:

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.

This is the reason I believe the revised NIV is wrong in adding the words the brother of to what is in the biblical text. To me, it is a step backward.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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12 Responses to The Revised NIV: A Step Backward

  1. I agree, but I am not a fan of either the NIV or the TNIV. However, in my pastoral preparation in creating the CALL TO WORSHIP I use the TNIV because it does use gender inclusive language. It saves me the time to make the changes myself, although it is correct that the TNIV appears to be inconsistent in it's gender neutral application. For academic study however, I primarily use the ESV, NRSV,and the NKJV. The latter because I was raised with the King James Language. It is also the lanquage I first memorized Scripture. For pastoral reasons when creating more avant-garde CALL TO WORSHIPs I use Gene Peterson's, 'The Message Bible.' However, I find I often have to spend time enhancing Peterson's text to make it more readable when being used by my lectors. There is probably an application for each version of the Bible. But I agree, in actual study and preparation we need to be adamant about the accuracy.This was a great post. I never thought of the 'Goliaths' being the equivalent of the "Seals.'


  2. Jim,

    You have a good point there. Every translation is useful and has a place in the Christian life. I have done what you are doing: when preparing a call to worship, I tried to be inclusive. The NIV could be inclusive and accurate in its translation, but theological bias made the translators add words to remove objectionable problems.The study of the Bible requires a Bible that presents a faithful translation of the text. I always recommend my students to use at least three different translations so they can compare one text with another and thus see the differences in translation.I wish you well in your ministry.

    Claude Mariottini


  3. Ah Claude I did like the TNIV for the readable English but your points on adding brother to Goliath when the words are not there are worrying.Thank you for the Heads up.



  4. Ron,

    The TNIV had its good points, but it had also many weaknesses. Have you ever asked yourself the reason the publishers of the TNIV ceased publishing it?

    Claude Mariottini


  5. robhu says:

    I thought you and your readers might find it useful to know that I’ve just put up some pages that show how similar the NIV2011 is to the NIV1984 and the TNIV. My pages also show each verse where the NIV2011 differs from the NIV1984 or the TNIV in an easily read / clear manner.The pages are online @’d appreciate any comments or suggestions if anyone has any. Please either email me or leave a comment on my blog post

    Thank you,



  6. Charles says:

    I agree with you–harmonizations shouldn't be a part of translations…let commentators discuss this stuff or put it in a note.


  7. Christine says:

    it appears as if those who would assume the mantle of scholarship, even with respect to that which does not require true scholarship, find their 'scholarly' calling in bickering over absolute nonsense. I guess everyone needs to feel important. The fact that all of he translations above are dealing with fictitious persons and stories equally proven fictitious by a percursory overview of the authentic historical record appears to have absolutely no bearing whatsoever in this dialogue.I guess when one gets a PhD in 'falsehood' then he or she must be as well versed in it as is anyone else who would be deemed qualified. Saying "I teach Old Testament is no different from saying …"I teach Mother Goose". The fact that you've been taught to read into text that which has never existed seems to have absolutely no bearing upon those of you who have invested so much time and energy into…THE GREAT LIE. Sad…truly sad, when all of that intelligence could've gone to something much more substantive….like actual education.


  8. Christine,

    Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, your comment does not deserve an answer. Your words were discourteous, impolite, and boorish. Someone said that you know whether a person has education or not by what they write. Your words prove the point.When you have something constructive to say, write again.

    Claude Mariottini


  9. JJ says:

    The NIV is translated from already corrupted manuscripts and is unreliable.


    • Dear JJ,

      I am sorry to say this, but your comment about the NIV is not correct. The NIV as well as most new translations of the Bible use the most reliable manuscripts available to scholars today.

      Claude Mariottini


  10. Jeremey says:

    I in no way doubt that you have you your research. But where you forgot to do your research is in God’s word. If you clearly read the text it is talking about the same Goliath as the one David slew. Also the text in 1 chronicles 20v5 it is the exact same battle as 2 Samuel 21v19. So which one is correct, who did David kill whom did Elhanan kill? Also when you look at the Hebrew of 2 Samuel 21v19 there us a difference in characters which designates that they are referring to the brother of Goliath.


    • Jeremy,

      I can assure you that I have researched God’s word, both in Hebrew and in English. The words “the brother of Goliath” is not in the Hebrew text of 2 Samuel 21:19. If you check the KJV you will notice that the words “the brother of” are in italics to emphasize that the words are not in the Hebrew text. The Revised NIV adds “the brother of” even though they know that the words are not in the Hebrew.

      If you want to read more about this topic, visit my article on Studies on David and Goliath. Be sure to read part 1,2, and 3 for you to get the who picture.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini


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