Something Weird in the NIV Tradition

New Life
Today in church a verse was mentioned in connection with my church’s name “New Life”. The passage, Acts 5.20, was read in NIV1984 (and posted on the screen) and I turned to it in my Greek NT. To my surprise the passage on the screen did not match the text of the Greek. So here is the pertinent phrase that stood out:

“…tell the people the full message of this new life.” (Act 5:20 NIV)

All of the various streams of the NIV tradition include a similar statement about it being “new life” (NIrV, TNIV, NIV2011).*  And yet the vast majority of other English translations and paraphrases (ESV, HCSB, LEB, LB, MSG, NAB, NASB, NET, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV) which I checked all say “this life” which actually follows the Greek of the verse as noted in the bold: “λαλεῖτε…τῷ λαῷ πάντα τὰ ῥήματα τῆς ζωῆς ταύτης” (UBS4/NA28).
I wondered if I had in fact missed something in the footnotes (either of one of the English versions or of my Greek text for variant readings) that would clarify this issue. Nothing. So I’m putting out a request (since I can’t find discussion of this in any of my commentaries ready at hand) to see if anyone knows where “new” in this context enters for the translation teams responsible for its inclusion?
* The CEB, CEV, NCV and NJB also curiously include “new” before “life”. I mention these because the various groups of translators responsible for the NIV tradition are not the same as these others and yet arrived at the same curious translation.
DISCLAIMER: I regard the NIV as a very reliable translation tradition. This post in no way is intended to denigrate either the translators or their work for which I have high regard.

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6 Responses to Something Weird in the NIV Tradition

  1. biblequestion says:

    I always say, literal is better. Give the people the literal Word and let them interpret it as they are able. Elaborative pre-interpretation by translators, on the premise of clarification or “smoothing,” insults the reader by suggesting that he is not smart enough to interpret for himself. Worse, like the old saying about “a text without a context,” an elaborative addition often smacks of a possible “pretext” for an extrabiblical agenda.

    • One must define “literal” clearly for it to bear such meaning. If I could I would give people the Hebrew, Araimaic and Greek rather than any translation, but even I look at variant translations even while I translate all my preaching, teaching, devotional texts.
      And it is not insulting to clarify when in fact most readers will not understand otherwise. How many even read their footnotes? Who are we kidding, how many genuinely spend time regularly reading any translation in detail?

  2. Arnold Brouillette says:

    I am reminded of the blessing of having a low IQ. I am not even smart enough to figure out if you guys are serious or kiding about this relitively meaningless point. Jesus gives us a glimpse of how He feels about doctrine in 1Cor 13(2), 2 Tim 2(22-23), and Luke 10(25-37). I like the NIV except it not capitalizing some of Gods pronouns.

    • Thanks for your comment Arnold. Actually not one of those passages speaks to doctrine specifically. Instead you might consider the following passages:
      Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1Ti 4:16 NIV)
      For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2Ti 4:3 NIV)
      He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Tit 1:9 NIV)
      You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. (Tit 2:1 NIV)
      And to be fair, as Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching [some translations reading “doctrine”], rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” (2Ti 3:16 NIV)
      In other words, our doctrine matters and it matters greatly. However, this particular passage that I blogged about and my questions concerning it are not actually directly pertaining to any question of doctrine whatsoever. But I do still appreciate your concerns that there not be quibbling over matters that do not in the end matter. That is not my objective. My objective is to discuss this but it is not a matter of salvation by any stretch of the imagination. It is not a point for breaking fellowship (even though KJV-Only folks think otherwise), but of being precise and doing what is proper to convey the truth of Scripture. And this ought to be aim of all translations and of our teaching as members of Christ’s body. Blessings!

  3. Cale Judd says:

    Hi, Rick! Rather than there being a textual basis for the NIV here, it looks to me like the translators have inserted what they consider to be a contextual interpretation. The UBS Handbook for Acts says: “In the context the meaning of ‘this … life’ is the Christian life, therefore the basis for translating the phrase ‘new life.'” [Newman, Barclay Moon, and Eugene Albert Nida. A Handbook on the Acts of the Apostles. New York: United Bible Societies, 1972. Print. UBS Handbook Series.]

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