In my opinion, the NIV is one of the nicest versions of the Bible. It’s easier to read and understand than the NASB; doesn’t pretend God speaks in King James English; and stays more faithful to the original Scriptures than “The Message” and similar versions. More technically, it’s a good mix of dynamic and formal equivalence, capturing the meaning of the Greek, while trying to preserve the precise wording as well. These are all reasons I enjoy the NAB, as well. while we’re on the subject.
But I have one huge beef with the NIV: its translators, headed by Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals, were so phobic of Catholicism that they altered texts of the Bible to avoid Catholic interpretations. The easiest example of this is in the NIV’s strategic translation of texts referring to Tradition.
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.‘”
The parallel passage in Mark 7 is pretty similar. Then you have Galatians 1:14, in which St. Paul says that before his conversion, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” And Paul later commands in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” Those are the only times the term “tradition” appears in the NIV New Testament: it’s always negative. So someone reading only the NIV comes away thinking that tradition is something that is always at risk of getting in the way of right relationship with God.
But that’s not all the New Testament says on Tradition. Let’s switch versions of the Bible for a second. Here’s the NAB version of a few critical passages:
- In 1 Corinthians 11:2, St. Paul writes, “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.“
- Likewise, in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, he writes: “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.“
- In the next chapter, 2 Thes. 3:6, Paul says, “We instruct you, brothers, in the name of (our) Lord Jesus Christ,to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us.“
In all of these examples, Paul is using paradosis, the exact same word used in Matthew 15, Mark 7, Galatians 1:14, and Colossians 2:8. And he’s treating Apostolic paradosis, that is, Apostolic Tradition, as something vital which all believers must be held to: ordering us to follow the. But unless you’re a really careful reader of the NIV, you’d never know this. Why? Because whenever paradosis is used in a negative sense, it’s translated “traditions,” and whenever it’s used in a positive sense, it’s translated “teachings,” with a little footnotes saying “or traditions.” Most folks likely miss that footnote, and these positive texts don’t come if you use the BibleGateway search feature to find “tradition” mentioned in the NIV.
Now the word didaktos, used in Matthew 15:9, actually does mean teachings. But frankly, even though it’s not the most accurate translation, I’m not opposed to paradosis being translated “teachings.” Just don’t selectively translate it so that it’s a teaching if it’s good, and a tradition if it’s bad. Nothing in the original text supports that. That’s just altering the text of the Bible to fit a Protestant belief, rather than deriving that belief from the Bible.
This is a huge diference, because it misleads Christians who are trying to find answers from their Bibles. While the NIV acts if the Bible condemns all tradition, the original Greek texts of the Bible make a very clear distinction: tradition from the Jewish elders, the so-called “traditions of men,” are condemned (or at least viewed with suspicion), while traditions from the Apostles are praised. In fact, we’re ordered in the name of Jesus Christ to shun anyone who doesn’t follow Aposotolic Tradition.
The trouble is that the Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals have a long-standing tradition that tradition is bad, and were willing to warp Scripture to accord with their tradition. As Christ said in Matthew 15:6, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”