NIV – TNIV Comparison Revisited: The Pentateuch


I was thinking about some of the comments left for my post comparing the NIV and the TNIV.

One, in particular, Lingamish, wondered about what exactly some of the more significant changes were.

Thinking about it more, I thought it would be helpful to do a bit of a survey, going through the sections of the Bible with four questions in mind:

  1. What is the amount of different for individual books?
  2. What is the amount of difference for the various sections such as the Pentateuch?
  3. What are the significant (meaning drastic, not necessarily exegetical) changes in each section of the Bible?
  4. What are the more insignificant changes?

And with these questions in mind, I’m beginning a new series, which will go through the Pentateuch, the Historical Books, Psalms and Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Letters, and the Apocalypse.

And so this first post will look at Genesis through Deuteronomy:

In the TNIV…

  • The Pentateuch as a whole varies 3.6% from the NIV
  • Genesis varies 1.9%
  • Exodus varies 2.6%
  • Leviticus varies a whopping 7.9%
  • Numbers varies 4.1%
  • Deuteronomy varies 2.8%

So what are these differences?

Most of them are minor changes such as changes in the spelling of many proper names and adjusting measurements from English terms of feet or inches back to cubits and the like, musical intruments from English “harps” to “stringed instruments” and other similar changes. Sapphire is changed to lapis lazuli (this happens with other precious stones as well). These are small but important changes, that actually pushes the TNIV to be closer to the original language.

Others are like the a difference in preposition in Genesis 1.26-30:

NIV: …and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground (26)

TNIV: …so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

But in this verses above, there is the more significant change from the NIV’s “over all the earth” compared to the TNIV’s “and all the wild animals.” The TNIV has a note saying, “Probable reading of the original Hebrew text (See Syriac); Masoretic Text the earth. The Hebrew Old Testament Text Project view both readings as potentially being original according to William Reyburn and Euan Fry (A Handbook on Genesis [UBS handbook series. New York: United Bible Societies, 1997], 50).

Another larger change in Genesis is found at 25.18:

NIV: His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Asshur. And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers.

TNIV: His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt, as you go toward Ashur. And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.

Of the changes here, the first “eastern” clarifies the geography for the readers, the second is simply a variation on the spelling of Ashur. Its is the third that we’re interested here.

There are two ways to understand this phrase. It could mean…

  1. Ishmael’s descendents were hostile to Abraham’s other descendents
  2. Ishmael’s descendents could not get along among themselves at all.

Both the NIV and the TNIV leave these two options open as possibilities, but the TNIV clarifies that brothers are not immediate brothers. Hebrew seems to use the word “brother” to refer to a number of relationships where English does not. Thus, TNIV takes advantage of other kinship terms in English to specify what the passage is saying.

The most insignificant change in Exodus is more likely than not 2.5, where the NIV’s “river bank” is changed to the TNIV’s “riverbank.”

Other changes include (these go beyond Exodus) “alien” to “foreigner.”

In Exodus 3.15b, the NIV says:

“This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.”

whereas the TNIV says:

“This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”

The Translator’s Handbook on Exodus writes:

This is my name forever refers to the name yhwh, not to the “I am” on which the name is based. Thus I am to be remembered only confirms the previous statement. Remembered here means “called to mind,” “kept in mind,” or “not forgotten.” Throughout all generations refers to all future descendants as the ones who are to remember this name. 3.15 TEV expresses it well: “this is what all future generations are to call me” (69).

The TNIV appears to seek to express the purpose of the remembering. Future generations are not simply supposed to remember God’s name, but to act on it and call God by name.

In Exodux 8.21, the TNIV improves on the clarity of the NIV’s:

If you do not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you and your officials, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians will be full of flies, and even the ground where they are.

By changing the last phrase, “the ground where they are,” to, “the ground will be covered with them.” This is clearly the sense of the statement.

In Exodus 21.16 the order of clauses is rearranged:

NIV: Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.

TNIV: Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

Another important change in Exodus for clarity is the change of “ark of the Testimony” to “ark of the covenant law.” This change occurs multiple times, one of which is Exodus 25.22.

Leviticus, as noted above, contains the most significant amount of change. The main reason for this is gender. Since the law all are directed to men in the NIV, the TNIV has adapted them so that they apply to everyone, male or female, which is surely the intent.

Leviticus 5.2 is significantly different (actually 5.1-5 is significantly different, verse 2 is the most so):

NIV:Or if a person touches anything ceremonially unclean—whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground—even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty.


Or if anyone unwittingly touches anything ceremonially unclean—whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground—and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt;

I’m really not sure why these changes are here. I know the “anyone” seeks to convey the fact that both men and women are included in this, but why the plural animals are changed to singular is unclear to me (UPDATE: Peter Kirk has observes that the singular/plural change in this verse is a matter of literal accuracy to the Hebrew text)

In Numbers, the same changes take place: “Testimony” & “covenant law.” There is a similar improvement as noted about in the use of kinship terms. Thus, “the families of Levi” becomes, “the ancestral tribe of the Levites” and “forefathers” becomes “ancestors.”

In Numbers 4.6, the “hides of sea cows” becomes “a durable leather” in the TNIV. This change is seen in the previous books, but its common enough in Numbers to be mentioned here.

The NIV’s “thigh wastes away” in 5.22 and 27 becomes, “womb miscarries” in the TNIV.

The passage about the Nazirite vow in Number 6, the TNIV uses the word “dedication” instead of the NIV’s “separation.”

In Numbers 16.22, where the NIV translates, “God of the spirits of all mankind,” the TNIV translates, “God of every human spirit.” This is definitely better English.

Of the 2.8% change in Deuteronomy, there are not any changes of significance that have not already been mentioned above.