Thursday, August 23, 2007

Adding To Sola Scriptura For Clarity

I had till now not joined the anti-NIV bandwagon that I've observed in several PCA churches. I remain displeased at the use of some other translation du jour (often the ESV or NKJV) from the pulpit and on the overhead while the NIV remains in the pews. I think that's inconsistent, and leads visitors to believe the Bible supplied to them by the church in the pews is unreliable. But in my devotions I just came across 1 Peter 4:6 and a bit of a shocker (for me) in the NIV Study Bible footnotes.

From 1 Peter 4:6, "For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit" (emphasis mine).

And the NIV Study Bible footnote, "The preaching was a past event. The word "now" does not occur in the Greek, but it is necessary to make it clear that the preaching was done not after these people had died, but while they were still alive. (There will be no opportunity for people to be saved after death; see Heb 9:27)" (emphasis mine).

A word does not appear in the Bible, but is necessary... sola Scriptura... not there, but necessary... sola Scriptura...?

Additions to the Bible published under the guise of being true scripture aside, I don't know that I find this addition even substantively agreeable. The previous passage in 1 Peter says, "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah..." (1 Peter 3:18-20, emphasis mine).

Peter tells us that Christ preached to those in prison who disobeyed in the days of Noah, and then he goes on to say that the Gospel was preached to those who are [now?!] dead. The two verses seem related, making the NIV translators' addition even more inappropriate. Just my layman's two cents, but my view is in accord with Clement of Alexandria, Hilary of Arles, Oecumenius and Theophylact, as they are quoted in my wonderful Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Volume XI (though opposing voices are given).


Joseph said...

Oh! The pain! Oh, my, how that changes the entire theological meaning of the text. One additional word, such distortion. Oh, it hurts!

Joseph said...

As you well point out, this verse is part of the whole of St. Peter's letter. By erroneously adding the word "now", the commentators actually managed to eliminate one of the truths of the Apostles Creed in Sacred Scripture. Sacred Scripture is sacred. It is delicate and Holy. Each word is given to us by God. How can we determine what must be added? This is why I have a hard time debating Scripture.

The pain. It actually hurts to see this. Especially knowing that most of my family members use the NIV.

Thanks for pointing this out. It's good to know.

Amy said...

Well, the NIV was supposed to be a very simplistic translation. I think it was translated for a 6th grade reading level (I'm serious, I'm not being facetious).

But no translation of SS will be perfect since they are all translations, not originals. It's why Jesus left Apostles to carry on His teachings, and didn't write anything down Himself :)

Thos said...

Let me add that the "even to" in 1 Peter 4:6 almost seems silly if the verse is only discussing preaching the Word to people who were alive.

I'm a lifetime NIV user. I have a (now elderly) relative (theologian) that co-wrote the Study Bible notes for one of the N.T. books. Another close relative proofread portions. I was raised in the Christian Reformed Church, which sponsored this translation, and is very proud of it. This was an unpleasant criticism for me to make.

The NIV was not meant to be simplistic like the TNIV (Today's NIV), which says Mary was "pregnant", in case "with child" is too confusing for people of our simple minds. (After all, if scripture is meant to be perspicuous (a part of sola scriptura, right?), why not help it out with a translation?) The NIV claims to be accurate without sounding archain - it is a "dynamic equivalency" translation, so readability was preferred to a literal translation. But adding a word not in the Greek to change the meaning of a verse so it doesn't 'conflict' with another verse in Hebrews...

Joseph said...


That is what troubles me. Not the translation itself, the addition of a word that distorts the meaning of the text. This has theological ramifications. Sacred Scripture may not be the only infallible authority in the Church, but it is an authority nevertheless. This distortion damages Scriptural integrity especially in regards to Tradition and the Apostles' Creed.

I'm not attacking the NIV itself. I have occasionally referred to it once or twice since my conversion to compare and contrast with the version I use. Where I object is when words are added or taken away where they do not serve to better explain the Greek sense. When words are added "because we decided we liked it better" is when it becomes offensive to me.

I agree with Amy that this is another reason why a Magisterium and Sacred Tradition is important, but I disagree that the NIV was written for sixth graders. I believe that my family members can read above a sixth grade level.

I hope you don't think that my beef is with the tranlation itself.

Thos said...

Oh no, I agree with you all around. It's a very readable translation, but the addition of a new word because it was necessary (and absent originally) is not to be excused, and (for bonus fare) inconsistent with sola scriptura to the max.

I can read above a 6th-grade level too, but the NIV team may have not used words above that level. I'm not sure. A 6th-grade level is probably more advanced than or at least equal with all major U.S. newspapers.