Monday, August 15, 2011

Issues with the NIV 2011: "The saints" are no more

There are no more “saints” in the NIV 2011. The term has been completely removed and replaced with various alternatives. I find this very troubling.

Consider the following analysis of how many times the word “saints” appears in the most standard English translations of the Bible:
    NIV 2011:0

As the reader surely knows, the English word “saint” comes from the Latin “sanctus,” which means “holy” or “holy one.” It has been used for centuries as the common English translation of two Hebrew words in the Old Testament and one Greek word in the New Testament.

There are two nouns in Hebrew that have traditionally been translated as “saints” in English: Chasidim and Q’doshim. The primary meaning of Chasidim is either “recipient of mercy” or “merciful or faithful.” In most of the cases where that word occurs in the Old Testament, NIV 2011 translates with “faithful people,” “faithful ones,” or “faithful servants.” This change may be justifiable (see Professor Brug’s comments below), but most English translations have, nonetheless, historically translated the word with “saints,” and Luther’s German translation had “Heiligen” (“saints, holy ones”) for this word.

The primary meaning of Q’doshim is “holy ones.” In these cases, the NIV 2011 translates it as “holy ones” or “holy people” most of the time. Again, this change is justifiable. One may argue about whether or not it is helpful or necessary to do away with the term “saint.” It has served the English language well for four hundred years and remains in common usage in most translations of the Old Testament.

Hagioi is the Greek word in the New Testament that has traditionally been translated saint. The word hagioi means “holy” or “holy ones.”

Here is the breakdown of how many times the word “saints” appears in the most standard English translations of the Old Testament:
    NIV 2011:0
As one can see, only the Holman Christian Standard Bible and the NIV 2011 completely erase the word “saints” from the Old Testament.

But the NIV 2011 is boldly going where no standard English translation has gone before by entirely eradicating the word “saints” from Holy Scripture. Here is the breakdown of how many times the word “saints” appears in the most standard English translations of the New Testament:
    NIV 2011:0
The NIV publishers did this already in 2005 with the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) translation, in which the word “saints” totally disappeared for the first time. Professor John Brug of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary wrote a brief review of the TNIV, commenting on that change:
      2. Concerning “saints,” current usage (as reflected in major dictionaries of the English language) burdens it with meanings that lie outside the sense of the original-language words. The main Old Testament term that has traditionally been rendered “saints” refers to those who are faithful to God. The New Testament term primarily designates those who have become followers of the Christian Way as people consecrated to God and thus belonging to the Lord in a special sense.

    The motive here seems to be to avoid the Catholic connotation of “saint.” This change would not necessarily be bad if hagioi was consistently translated with an expression like “God’s holy people” as it is in Ephesians 1:1 TNIV, but sometimes it is translated with a more non-descript term like “God’s people” as it is in the passages listed below.

    Passages in which “saints” (Greek hagios, plural) become “believers include:”
    Acts 9:32 TNIV; Acts 26:10 TNIV; Rom 15:31 TNIV; Rom 16:15 TNIV.

    Passages in which “saints” become “people” or “God’s people” include:
    Rom 8:27 TNIV; Rom 15:25 TNIV; Rom 16:2 TNIV, Rom 16:15 TNIV; 1 Cor 6:1 TNIV, 1 Cor 6:2 TNIV; 1 Cor 14:33 TNIV; 1 Cor 16:15 TNIV; 2 Cor 8:4 TNIV; 2 Cor 9:1 TNIV; 2 Cor 13:13 TNIV.

    This continues a tendency which exists already in the NIV to “homogenize” terminology and to blur the distinction of synonymous or parallel terms. It is true that in the Old Testament chasidim is the common title of God’s people just as hagioi is in the New Testament. Chasid, however, does not mean “holy one,” but “recipient of mercy or merciful or faithful.” In the Old Testament of the NIV and the TNIV this term is sometimes simply translated as “godly one” or some equivalent. In the New Testament the same function of serving as the common name for God’s people is served by hagioi. The terms chasidim and hagioi are thus the same in function, but not in meaning. The NIV often blurs such distinctions. This translation rule is not in itself a big deal, but it is just another sample of what is a tendency of both the NIV and the TNIV to be too careless or casual in preserving the distinctiveness of biblical terms. Another example is the frequent translation of hesed simply as “love,” blurring the distinction from ahavah. There is, however, a hint of a theological problem here. Does the translators’ comment that “holy people” refers to “people consecrated to God” over-emphasize the sanctification aspect of the term at the expense of the justification aspect of the term?

I won’t comment any further on the change in the Old Testament passages. As stated previously, these at least seem to be justifiable translations of the Hebrew words.

But the New Testament changes do violence to the inspired words of Scripture.

The phrase “hoi hagioi” (“the saints / the holy ones”) occurs 61 times in the Greek of the New Testament. In 22 of those instances, NIV 2011 translates “holy people” or “holy ones.” This would be acceptable, except that in 17 of those 22 cases, the word “God’s” or “his” are added as modifiers even though there is no equivalent form in the Greek. For example:
    Colossians 1:2 – “To God’s holy people in Colossae” (lit., “To the saints/holy people in Colossae”)

    Ephesians 5:3 – “… because these are improper for God’s holy people.” (lit., “…because these are improper for saints/holy people”)

    Philemon 5 – “…because I hear about your love for all his holy people” (lit., “…because I hear about your love for all the saints/holy people.”)
The question is not whether or not “the holy people” belong to God. Of course they do! It is obviously not introducing any false doctrine to call “the holy people” “God’s holy people.” The issue is not one of doctrine, but one of faithfulness to the inspired words. When God wants to speak of believers in Christ as “his people,” he does, as in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 and 2 Thessalonians 1:10, or in 2 Cor. 6:16 or Hebrews 8:10. But the idea of “belonging to God” is not there in the Greek text, nor is it required to complete the thought in most of the cases where the NIV 2011 adds it to “holy people.” Its addition seems rather capricious.

In the TNIV, “saints” was translated as “believers” at least four times (see Professor Brug’s review above). In the NIV 2011, that number has been reduced to one. Only Acts 9:41 translates “saints” as “believers.” The meanings of the two words are not at all related. To translate as the NIV 2011 does is irresponsible, as if the meaning of the original word were no longer relevant.

Of the 61 occurrences of the phrase “hoi hagioi” in the Greek New Testament, 38 remove all reference to “holiness.” Instead, NIV 2011 uses phrases like “the Lord’s people, God’s people, his people, the people of God.”

Again, there is no doubt that “the saints” are, in fact, “God’s people.” But the inspired text does not say, “God’s people.” It says “the saints / holy ones.” Man (note the generic use of the word) has no right to tamper with God’s inspired words.

The publishers of NIV 2011 justify this change with their claim that “the New Testament term primarily designates those who have become followers of the Christian Way as people consecrated to God and thus belonging to the Lord in a special sense.” They are obviously keying off the root meaning of “holy,” which is “set apart for sacred use” or “consecrated.” But then they ask us to take the logical leap of reasoning that since they are consecrated to the Lord, therefore they belong to the Lord, and therefore the idea of consecration in the inspired text becomes irrelevant. The kind of theological gymnastics required to reach their conclusion is better left to the scholars. As for the rest of us, the translation “saints” (or “holy people”) works just fine.

And better than fine, the translation “saints” is extremely helpful when studying the Scriptures with people of Roman Catholic background. Roman Catholics are generally taught that “the saints” are on a higher level than the average Catholic, that “the saints” have worked so hard at serving God that they have gained extra merits that they can share with the believers who haven’t attained “sainthood.” It is usually quite a revelation to these Catholics to see how often all the believers in the New Testament are referred to as “saints.”

So instead of fulfilling their stated goal of ridding people of the idea that “the saints” are an exclusive group of super-Christians with whom the average believer has little in common, the NIV 2011 actually reinforces that idea, since the average Christian loses the title “saint” in their novel translation, while “the Saints” recognized by the Roman Catholic Church continue to be called “the Saints.”

Much more will be said about the NIV 2011 in weeks to come. The tragic loss of the word “saint” is but one reason among many why the NIV 2011 should not become the official translation of WELS publications.

Below is the entire list of passages in the New Testament in which the Greek phrase hoi hagioi appears. If you hover over the passage with your mouse, you should see the verse displayed in the TNIV, which is almost identical to the NIV 2011 in its treatment of “saints.” (RefTagger still doesn’t have the NIV 2011, and I didn’t have time to manually copy in all the verses.)

Matthew 27:52 TNIV
Acts 9:13 TNIV
Acts 9:32 TNIV
Acts 9:41 TNIV
Acts 26:10 TNIV
Romans 1:7 TNIV
Romans 8:27 TNIV
Romans 12:13 TNIV
Romans 15:25 TNIV
Romans 15:26 TNIV
Romans 15:31 TNIV
Romans 16:2 TNIV
Romans 16:15 TNIV
1 Corinthians 1:2 TNIV
1 Corinthians 6:1 TNIV
1 Corinthians 6:2 TNIV
1 Corinthians 14:33 TNIV
1 Corinthians 16:1 TNIV
1 Corinthians 16:15 TNIV
2 Corinthians 1:1 TNIV
2 Corinthians 8:4 TNIV
2 Corinthians 9:1 TNIV
2 Corinthians 9:12 TNIV
2 Corinthians 13:13 TNIV
Ephesians 1:1 TNIV
Ephesians 1:15 TNIV
Ephesians 1:18 TNIV
Ephesians 2:19 TNIV
Ephesians 3:8 TNIV
Ephesians 3:18 TNIV
Ephesians 4:12 TNIV
Ephesians 5:3 TNIV
Ephesians 6:18 TNIV
Philippians 1:1 TNIV
Philippians 4:21 TNIV
Philippians 4:22 TNIV
Colossians 1:2 TNIV
Colossians 1:4 TNIV
Colossians 1:12 TNIV
Colossians 1:26 TNIV
1 Thessalonians 3:13 TNIV
2 Thessalonians 1:10 TNIV
1 Timothy 5:10 TNIV
Philemon 5 TNIV
Philemon 7 TNIV
Hebrews 6:10 TNIV
Hebrews 13:24 TNIV
Jude 3 TNIV
Jude 14 TNIV
Revelation 5:8 TNIV
Revelation 8:3 TNIV
Revelation 8:4 TNIV
Revelation 11:18 TNIV
Revelation 13:7 TNIV
Revelation 13:10 TNIV
Revelation 14:12 TNIV
Revelation 16:6 TNIV
Revelation 17:6 TNIV
Revelation 18:24 TNIV
Revelation 19:8 TNIV
Revelation 20:9 TNIV


Benjamin Rusch said...

As I was translating, fighting through the book of Philemon, doing my Bible translation comparisons (available here), I noticed this ἁγιοι phenominon too.

What is the antecedent of "his holy people". Who is "his"? Search through the context of the sentence: is it "God" as in Philemon 4-5? Is it "Jesus Christ" as in 1 Corinthians 1:2? Or "The Father" as in Colossians 1:12? Or "Lord" as in Jude 3? Yes, I'm nitpicking, but I don't like inconsistencies concerning the holy trinity.

As a side note, when I arrive in heaven, the title "The Lord's holy person triumphant" would sound just a little...lost in translation?

Anonymous said...

"O, when the saints, go marching... OUT?" Forgive me, but I coundn't resist.

Scott E. Jungen

Anonymous said...

Thanks. Great Article. Great Point.

Please continue to publish these sorts of things. I find it very useful to direct people here who haven't formed an opinion about the NIV 2011.

Is there any way that you could put a sidebar link to all articles related to NIV 2011? A lot of people I'm directing here are not the most familiar with navigating anything internet-related (the older generation). I know you already have the "recent posts" menu, but maybe it would help If there was something big and obvious that said "Why We Think the WELS should reject the NIV"

Andy Groenwald

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Done. See "Issues with NIV 2011" in the right-hand column.

Joseph Jewell said...

This is exactly the kind of work that needs to be done (or collected) and needs to be made public (or more accessible) prior to the 2012 District Conventions. Thank you! An "Issues with NIV 2011" link, hopefully with a growing collection of evidence, is an excellent contribution.

Thank you!

Benjamin Rusch said...

If it's more evidence people want, I'll contribute another one of my bible translation comparison notes.

You'll have to skim these two documents below and draw your own conclusions. My notes contain some translation jargon, but I've also tried to include less "meaty" information.

So far, I like NIV2011's translation of Philemon and 3rd John. The translations are usually quite accurate, while using good English.

Aside from gender-inclusive language, and two missing "saint"s, there are only minor hiccups in these two books, where I believe the translators went a little too far searching for modern-day English grammar and terms.

Brian G. Heyer said...

1. For all the "holy people," who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

7. O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as "His people" who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

10. But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The "Lord's people" triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Our culture holds "saint" in a much higher and rarely achievable regard than does Scripture. Eliminating the word from Scripture erodes the comfort of knowing we are at church every week in the common company of Saints, and not merely 'holy people."

Anonymous said...

What will Intrepid Lutherans do if the WELS accepts the NIV 2011?

Tom Wyeth

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

What will Intrepid Lutherans do if the WELS accepts the NIV 2011?

Use something else!

Anonymous said...

Pastor Rydecki, I'm curious about how you would go about using something else. People are always quick to say that the WELS doesn't have an official translation and that congregations are free to use whatever they want. I suppose that that's theoretically true, but I just don't see how it would work practically. How can you use something else when everything published by the synod, including hymnals, Bible studies, catechisms, Sunday school curricula, etc., would use the NIV 2011?

I would think the only option would be to use the ESV so that you could use all of the wonderful material produced by CPH. But if a congregation were exclusively to use hymnals, Bible studies, catechisms, Sunday school curricula, etc., produced by the Missouri Synod, why would that congregation not just join the Missouri Synod?

Personally speaking, that option is beginning to seem more and more attractive to me.

Mr. Adam Peeler

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Good questions, Mr. Peeler!

Some things can be sacrificed for the sake of unity. Others can't. I would include the very Word of God among those things that can't be sacrificed.

So if CPH produces materials that convey the Word of God more accurately in some cases than NPH, then I say, go with CPH in those cases. Or there's Pax Domini Press. Or produce it yourself. (I haven't used a store-bought Bible class in years.)

Is this ideal? Of course not. But I hope the leadership in our synod is taking note that, for as unified as our synod wants to be, a Bible translation full of inaccuracies will be too much for many to swallow for the sake of unity.

WELS members love the Word of God more than they love the WELS as an institution. I sincerely believe that. May it always hold true!

Pastor emeritus Nathan Bickel said...

Thank you for your excellent article! The more I read about the NIV11, the more I am amazed that it is even considered for Christian and Lutheran usage.

My wife and I are presently members of a WELS congregation. We have been having a very tough time thinking how it would be conscionable for us to remain with WELS should WELS choose the gender neutral Bible (NIV11) for its official publications. The very reality that WELS is considering the NIV11 is distressing and also, revolting to us.

We believe the choice is both simple and clear. I continue reading literature from WELS and our local congregation that WELS is committed to sound doctrinal Christian belief and practice, based upon the inerrant Word of God. However, the very consideration of the gender neutral NIV11, renders that repeated resolve, inconsistent (incompatible).

Adopting a gender neutral Bible is tantamount to messing with God's Word. I prefer to liken it to "molestation" of God's written revelation. Adopting gender neutrality in Scripture, has the effect of humanly micro managing and tweaking Scripture to suit one's own (carnal political correctness, Bible study slothfulness, or, whatever) ends. There is no Scriptural or rational excuse to intentionally remove and / or alter / edit Scripture's patriarchal language. Doing so would be akin to literary revisionism, - as the altering of other literary works of antiquity, such as Homer's Iliad, Caesar's Gallic Wars, Josephus’ writings, etc. Even in the secular world, I’m convinced that many would consider this, type of "editing alteration," unconscionable and irresponsible.

Scripture, itself makes it clear that "every word of God is pure." Scripture, also states that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God" [God-breathed - the very words] - [Proverbs 30:5-6 ; 2 Timothy 3:14-17]

If WELS leadership and congregational pastors would be (Biblically) wise, (and aware of the offense they are conveying), they would drop the NIV11 consideration from their mix of options. Presently, I'm reminded of the Scriptural reality: ".....Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you....." [2 Corinthians 6:14-18 - in context]

It speaks volumes that the large [Christian] Southern Baptist Conference gave thumbs down to the NIV11. Knowing that the Southern Baptists are committed to the doctrinal teaching of Biblical inerrancy as well as the continued (such) profession of WELS – we ask ourselves the rational question: “How can WELS persist in riding the fence, including a gender neutral translation in the mix of its consideration for a new translation change for synodical and congregational publications?”

Again, I believe, it all boils down to shifting the patriarchal language of Scripture [the manuscripts] and “adapting” the present culture’s ever changing language usage. It will be utterly gagging to my wife and me, (should WELS adopt the NIV11) to hear WELS synodical leadership and pastors profess the “inerrancy of Scripture” having [then] decided that the NIV11 was acceptable for synodical publications and congregational usage!

Pastor emeritus Nathan Bickel

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