A photo of a broken compass lying on top of an open New International Version (NIV) Bible, symbolizing the confusion and lack of direction caused by perceived flaws in the new translation.

What Is Wrong With The New Niv Bible?

The Bible is the sacred text for millions of Christians worldwide. For centuries, believers have looked to various Bible translations and versions to help deepen their faith and relationship with God. In recent years, one of the most popular modern English translations has been the New International Version (NIV).

However, some Christian scholars and church leaders have expressed concerns about the accuracy and integrity of the latest update – the 2011 NIV Bible. If you’re wondering what all the controversy is about, here is an in-depth look at the issues surrounding the new NIV translation.

In short, critics argue that the new NIV Bible distorts the meaning of key Scripture passages, incorporates gender-neutral language at the expense of accuracy, and reflects more of a postmodern worldview rather than a faithful translation.

Read on for details on these main criticisms and how supporters of the 2011 NIV defend the updated translation.

Lost in Translation: Key Scriptures Altered in 2011 NIV

Changes to Romans 3:21-31 and Other Salvation Passages

The 2011 edition of the popular NIV Bible made several key changes to verses about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. According to one analysis, the updated NIV has altered Romans 3:21-31 and passages in Ephesians 2 by “replacing ‘faith in Jesus’ with ‘faithfulness of Jesus'” (1).

Critics argue this shifts the meaning from God justifying those who have faith in Jesus to making salvation dependent on Jesus’ own faithfulness.

Another example is in Romans 1:17. The 1984 NIV said, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.” The 2011 edition changed this to read “a righteousness that is by faithfulness from first to last.”

Critics see this as fundamentally changing the meaning of salvation by faith in Christ.

“Son of Man” Translated as “The Human One”

The most common title Jesus uses for himself in the Gospels is “Son of Man” – used over 88 times. However, The updated NIV has chosen to translate the phrase as “The Human One” instead in 85 places within the Gospels (2).

Critics argue this obscures Christ’s divine claim and weakens the theological meaning behind the title.

The original meaning emphasizes Jesus as the divine messiah coming from heaven to save humanity. Changing the title downplays his deity and role as savior in favor of simply being a human. Critics see this as distorting a key title Jesus uses to describe himself and his mission.

Critics Argue These Changes Distort Core Doctrines

Some bible scholars point out that subtle changes in translations over time can slowly shift the meanings of passages to imply something very different than originally intended. They argue that the changes in the 2011 NIV are not benign oversights but deliberate distortions impacting core doctrines about salvation and Jesus’ divine nature:

  • The meaning of salvation by faith or grace is obscured
  • Jesus’s deity, authority, and messianic role are downplayed
  • Core teachings about sin, justification, and righteousness are altered
2011 NIV 1984 NIV
a righteousness that is by faithfulness from first to last a righteousness that is by faith from first to last
faithfulness of Jesus faith in Jesus

In many passages the 2011 changes are subtle, simply adjusting one word or phrase. But critics argue the theological implications amount to significant distortions that should deeply concern Christians. They advocate rejecting the 2011 NIV for more accurate translations.

Adoption of Gender-Neutral Language

Masculine Words Like “Father” Replaced with Gender-Neutral Terms

One of the most controversial changes in the 2011 update to the widely used NIV translation is the adoption of gender-neutral language. Words that are masculine in the original languages, such as “father” and “son”, have been changed to gender-neutral terms like “parent” and “child” in many passages.

The translators say this more accurately reflects the meaning of the original text in modern English.

For example, in Matthew 7:9-11 where Jesus says:

1984 NIV Translation “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
2011 NIV Translation “Which of you, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?”

Critics argue that terms like “Father” and “Son” are integral in referring to the persons of the Trinity, and substituting other words distorts the meaning. The changes also remove many references to the special relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ as His Son which is vital to Christian teaching.

Defenders Argue Changes Reflect Updated Scholarship

Advocates of the 2011 NIV changes point out that we now have access to many more ancient manuscripts than when the translation was first completed in 1978. They argue the new gender-inclusive language reflects the latest biblical scholarship and more accurately conveys the original meaning.

For example, the word adelphos in Greek is traditionally translated “brother” but was often used generically to refer to fellow believers whether men or women. The updated NIV now translates this as “brothers and sisters” to fully reflect this meaning.

The NIV publishing committee was made up of leading evangelical biblical scholars from around the world. They insist the revisions were not motivated by political correctness but by advances in our understanding of the ancient biblical languages thanks to discoveries like the Dead Sea scrolls.

Still, many argue that the cumulative effect of hundreds of small changes is to subtly downplay the important biblical theme of God’s fatherhood. Leading Bible scholars and teachers like Dr. John Piper have rejected the 2011 update because of this perceived distortion of key doctrines.

Revisions Reflect Postmodern Philosophies Over Biblical Accuracy

New NIV Translation Committee Lacked Evangelical Scholars

The 2011 update to the popular NIV Bible translation raised concerns amongst some evangelical leaders. They noted that the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) responsible for the revisions lacked adequate scholarly representation upholding an evangelical theological perspective.

According to research, only 1 out of the 15 CBT members held a PhD in a biblical field. The rest came from non-theological backgrounds like business, education and linguistics. Critics argued that this makeup failed to provide the biblical scholarship needed for accurately conveying the Word of God.

Critics Say Worldview Shaped Translation Choices

Some evangelicals have also accused the CBT of allowing contemporary cultural philosophies and gender neutral language to guide translation choices over accurately reflecting the meaning of the original texts.

For instance, they point out that in places the 2011 NIV has shifted away from using masculine generic terms like “man”, “father” and “son” in favor of gender inclusive terms like “human beings”, “parents” and “children”.

Critics believe this reflects pressure to adopt politically correct language rather than faithfully translate the intended meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek.

While there is debate around the merits and motives behind such revisions, visibility into the CBT membership demographics and process may have eased some concerns. Perhaps future NIV updates could benefit from gathering input from a wider diversity of biblical scholars to demonstrate inclusion of evangelical perspectives.

Loss of Readability and Literary Quality

2011 NIV Uses Shorter Sentences and Simplified Language

The 2011 edition of the NIV has been criticized for using shorter sentences and simplified language compared to previous editions. While supporters argue this makes the meaning more clear, critics say it comes at the expense of readability and literary quality.

A detailed linguistic analysis by James Price of King James Only advocates found the 2011 NIV uses shorter sentences on average (18.6 words vs. 22.4 in the 1984 NIV) and simpler vocabulary. Words with three or more syllables appear less frequently.

The Flesch-Kincaid readability score is higher, indicating simpler language (Price 2011).

For many passages, these changes make little difference. But for traditionally eloquent or complex passages, the literary quality is lost. For example, Isaiah 55:12 in the 1984 NIV reads:

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

The 2011 NIV shortens this to:

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

The updated text has clearer meaning but lacks the rhythmic eloquence of the 1984 edition. Critics argue such changes degrade the literary artistry of the Bible.

Supporters Say Changes Make Meaning More Clear

Supporters counter that clarity should take priority over literary qualities. The goal of a Bible translation is conveying the intended meaning, not sounding poetically elegant. Simpler language and clearer grammar help achieve this goal.

The NIV translation committee intentionally used shorter sentences and simpler vocabulary to increase comprehension. Committee head Douglas Moo said the 1984 NIV heavily employed long, complex sentences which could be difficult for modern readers to follow (Moo 2018).

Likewise, unfamiliar vocabulary can impair understanding. Archaic words like “lest,” “behold,” and “verily” were replaced with modern equivalents. The committee aimed for a 7th-8th grade reading level based on Common Core educational standards in the U.S.

For supporters, conveying the intended meaning in clear, simple language should take priority over creating an elegant literary work. They believe the 2011 update achieves this critical goal.


The ongoing debate over Bible translations like the New International Version raises important questions for believers. How can we balance staying true to the original ancient texts with making Scripture understandable for modern readers?

Does our postmodern, egalitarian culture overly influence new interpretations and word choices? While the merits and flaws of the 2011 NIV update are hotly contested, ultimately each Christian must prayerfully study the Scriptures and decide which translation best speaks to their heart and brings them closer to God.

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