NIV / TNIV Revisited: Historical Books

There is very little change between the NIV and TNIV in these books, which in a couple respects, I find disappointing, particularly related to the translation of 1-2 Samuel. But before we get into that, here are the stats:

The whole section differs from the NIV by…

  • 2.8% for Joshua through Esther
  • Joshua has a difference of – 3.3%
  • Judges – 4.0%
  • Ruth – 5.1%
  • 1-2 Samuel – 3.3% (these were originally one book)
  • 1-2 Kings – 2.3%
  • 1-2 Chronicles – 2.1%
  • Ezra – Esther – 3.0%

Now you might ask why I separated the small book of Ruth, but left Ezra through Esther together and rightfully so. The answer is simply that when I checked, all three books: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther were 2.9 – 3.1% different from the NIV, while Ruth had the most distinct difference of 5.1%.

And in fact these numbers (for Ezra and Nehemiah) are a bit too high, because there was an error in the digital versions of the population lists that made they different from each other even though they are exactly the same.

So let’s look at some of the changes between the NIV and TNIV for these books. I will give a summary of all the changes at the beginning of each book that will survey everything said.

Joshua:

The changes we find are of a very similar nature to those of the Pentateuch. There have been the typical location transliteration changes. And also, as before fathers and forefathers are changed to the more accurate and less archaic English term “ancestors,” brothers to fellow Israelites or whatever the specific referent for the context is. Also the continuation of referring to cubits instead of feet and inches in the TNIV continues as well. I appreciate “men of Israel” being changed to “the Israelites” through out all of these books.

Unfortunately, I think there is also one rendering that is more awkward than the NIV at 8.18.

A very noticeable and helpful example for our contemporary ears is in Joshua 1.4, where the NIV read, “the Great Sea,” the TNIV accurately reads, “the Mediterranean Sea,” and in 3.16, the NIV’s “Salt Sea” is updated to the “Dead Sea.”

In verse 8 of the same chapter, the NIV’s “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth,” is changed to, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips.”

Joshua 2.11 adds the words, “in fear” to the phrase, “our hearts melted,” to clarify the idiom.

2.17-19 is an excellent example of gender accuracy that even Grudem might approve of (though the ESV awkwardly maintain the “male” pronoun even though it is obnoxiously generic):

NIV: The men said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him.

TNIV: Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them.

Notice that in verse 18, Rahab’s mother is explicitly mentioned. The NIV is, in effect, saying:

If your mother goes outside your house into the street his blood will be on his own head.

This is an excellent gender correction that accurately represents the whole group and is surely what is intended by the original Hebrew.

In Joshua 6.1, the NIV’s “Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites,” becomes in the TNIV, “Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites.” This is simply better sounding English.

Through the narrative of the Israelites marching around Jericho in chapter 6, “people” is consistently changed to “army.”

The NIV’s “O Lord” in 7.8 is changed to “Pardon your servant Lord” and in verse 15, “disgraceful” is changed to “outrageous.”

Another major change in this passage is the adaption of “take” to “choose” as the Lord show Joshua who had sinned in the camp (Achan).

In Joshua 8.18, I think the TNIV’s change from “Joshua held out his javelin toward Ai” to “So Joshua held out toward the city the javelin that was in his hand,” is a more awkward rendering than that of the NIV. But the TNIV makes up for it in verse 29 of the same chapter where “hung” is changed to “impaled” – a much more vivid picture!

Not much else of significance is changed that hasn’t been mentioned for Joshua. Many of the changes above repeat themselves. Though it is notable, that “well advanced in years” becomes “very old” – better English (the former, while understandable, being verbose and unnecessary).

Judges:

Judges contains many of the same changes already mentioned in the Pentateuch and Joshua. Some of the significant chances not already noted are…

In 1.21, “failed to dislodge” becomes “did not drive out,” which is a very good stylistic improvement.

In 2.18, the Lord, relents in the TNIV, while in the NIV, the Lord has compassion, which is a change in interpretation.

A common word in Judges is “Idols.” But in the TNIV, this word is often changed to “stone images.” I think this is an improvement that is much more descriptive. Also, “iron chariots” becomes “chariots fitted with iron” throughout the historical books.

In Judges 9.22, the NIV has “God sent an evil spirit” while the TNIV has “God stirred up animosity.”

In Judges 11, Jephthah’s “adventurers” becomes his “scoundrels.”

Ruth:

Throughout the book, Moabitess is changed to Moabite.

In 2.20, “kinsman redeemer” is changed to “family guardian.” As high as the percentage of change is in this book, there are very few ones of significance.

The only change I considered a major change actually makes the TNIV more literal than the NIV.

In 2.5, the NIV has “Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “Whose young woman is that?” But in the TNIV, the translation is, “Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, ‘Who does that young woman belong to?'”

The rest of the changes have either been mentioned above or are the same kinds of changes of kinship terms as in the Pentateuch. The larger percentage of variation in Ruth can be attributed to the fact that the book is literally full of kinship language.

1-2 Samuel:

My main disappointment with these book is the lack of changes. I had hoped that with the textual advances of the past few decades for the Book of Samuel that we might see some improved renderings of the Masoretic Text, but this is not the case as much as I had hoped. There are few changes of significance in the book, to which we will now turn.

Often through the book, we see the English word “ruddy” to describe Jesse’s Sons, but the TNIV heplfully changes this word to “glowing with health.” Beasts of the field is consistently changed to “wild animals.” This is good, contemporary English does not use such genitive constructions as much, preferring adjectives.

In terms of clarity of expression, one must be impressed with the change at 1.9. The NIV’s “bitterness of soul” is changed to “deep anguish” in the TNIV and, “Hannah wept much” is changed to “weeping bitterly.”

In 1 Samuel 7.2, the NIV reads, “It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim.”

The TNIV changes this to, “The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.”

Interestingly, at 1 Samuel 14.41, the TNIV follows the Septuagint instead of the MT:

NIV: Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, Give me the right answer.”d And Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared.

d Hebrew; Septuagint “Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim.”

 

 

TNIV: Then Saul prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault,3 respond with Thummim.Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared.

3 Septuagint; Hebrew does not have “Why…at fault.

This is the same textual decision as seen in the NRSV, assuming that the MT, “suffered a long haplography caused by homoioteleuton” (McCarter, 1 Samuel, 247). This view holds that a scribe skipped all the materials between the first and third occurrences of “Israel.”

Tsumura, argues that the expansion is not original, but is an expanded description of lot casting for a later audience. He argues that such an explanation would not be necessary because the audience would already be familiar with the procedure (Tsumura, 379). Either way, this is clearly a debated passage, textually and both the TNIV and the NIV are right to leave the other reading in a footnote.

In 1 Samuel 15.32 the NIV reads:

Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.” Agag came to him confidently,c thinking, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” 

c Or him trembling, yet

But the TNIV reads:

Then Samuel said, “Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites.” Agag came to him in chains.3 And he thought, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.”

3 The meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.

This is an old challenge passage, various interpretations include: “confidently,” (NIV) “with faltering steps,” (NEB, JPS) “haltingly,” (NRSV). The TNIV follows a suggestion in HALOT on page 609 and McCarter in AB, in light of Job 38.31.

In 2 Samuel 6.20, The NIV’s “disrobing” is changed to the TNIV’s “going around half-naked.”

The phrase, “a stench in someone’s nostrils becomes in the TNIV, “obnoxious to someone” in several places.

There are other changes of less significance, but this is a representative sample.

1-2 Kings:

There are very few major changes here, and most have already been discussed above or in the post on the Pentateuch.

In 1 Kings 3.3, “statutes” are changed to “instructions” and through the book.

6.31 differs significantly (and similarly in 33):

NIV: For the entrance of the inner sanctuary he made doors of olive wood with five-sided jambs.

TNIV: For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors out of olive wood that were one fifth of the width of the sanctuary.

The kings of Israel and Judah instead of walking in the way of their fathers, they follow in the ways of their ancestors throughout the book. Also in the TNIV, kings do not walk “in the way of the Lord,” but rather, they walk “in obedience to the Lord.

1-2 Chronicles:

These two books have the least amount of change of all the Historical Books and most of the changes in these have already been documented elsewhere. For that reason, there is little more to say here.

But one could note 1 Chronicles 18.3:

NIV: Moreover, David fought Hadadezer king of Zobah, as far as Hamath, when he went to establish his control along the Euphrates River.

TNIV: Moreover, David defeated Hadadezer king of Zobah, in the the vicinity of Hamath, when he went to set up his monument at the Euphrates River.

This verse has some interestind differences both exegetically and stylistically. Regarding the latter, the verb “fight” does not usually take an oblique like “as far as.” In English “fight” is not inherently a verb of motion, but that is exactly what “as far as” would require, such as “walk” or “run,” not “fought.” The TNIV solves this issue by translating the phrase as “in the vicinity of,” which fits the semantic requirements of the verb much better.

The TNIV also seems to be more literal as well, by changing “establish his control” to “set up his monument.” My question would be whether “set up his monument” is an idiom for “establish control.” And if that is the case, does not the literal translation obscure the meaning? I can’t make a judgement on this because I do not know Hebrew. WBC gives two translations of the phrase: ”establish his rule” and in a footnote, “to restore his power.

In 1 Chronicles 23.29, the NIV’s “unleavened wafers” become “thin loaves made without yeast” in the TNIV.

In 28.9, “motive behind the thoughts” becomes, “desire and every thought.”

2 Chronicles 6:23 in the NIV has:

“Judge between your servants, repaying the guilty by bringing down on his own head what he has done. Declare the innocent not guilty and so establish his innocence.”

But the TNIV has:

“Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty and bringing down on their heads what they have done, and vindicating the innocent by treating them in accordance with their innocence.”

Part of this change is one of gender, with the thought being that surely both men and women can be guilty of sin! More interesting is the last line, though I am unable to give any reasons for either rendering. If anyone has some thoughts, I’d be interested.

In 2 Chronicles 7:21, we see the following change:

NIV: And though this temple is now so imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’

TNIV: This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?”

The difference between the two option is a textual difference. Raymond Dillard writes,

GL adds ἐρημωθήσεται, and Tg. יהא חרוב, both additions which suggest an original text that contained יהיה לעיין, “[this temple] shall be ruins,” lost through haplogr due to the similar appearance of עליון; alternatively these additions could be assimilations toward Mic 3:12 (2 Chronicles [WBC; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002], 54).

Regardless of which is original, the TNIV is definitely superior simply because it provides a footnote on the textual problem, “See some Septuagint manuscripts, Old Latin, Syriac, Arabic and Targum; Hebrew And though this temple is now so imposing, all.” The NIV gives no note of any kind.

Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther:

These three books have about the same amount of variation from the NIV, 3.0%.

One common change seen throughout in reference to the rebuilding of the Temple replaces the NIV’s
restore this structure” to the TNIV’s “to finish it [this structure].”

In Ezra 4.15, the NIV’s “a place of rebellion from ancient times” is changed to “a place with a long history of sedition” in the TNIV.

In Nehemiah 5.10, the NIV’s “But let the exacting of usury stop!” changes in the TNIV to “But let us stop charging interest!” (see a similar change in 5.7 and 11).

Nehemiah 6.14 has a very interesting change:

NIV: “Remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.”

TNIV: “Remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me.

The TNIV, rightly I think, recognizes that prophet is no longer gender specific in its referent.

In Esther 5.14 (and every other reference to the gallows in the NIV), the TNIV has become more literal, by changing “Have a gallows built, seventy-five feet high” to “Have a pole set up, reaching to a height of fifty cubits,” with regard to the hanging of Mordecai.

This is a good representative sample of the changes in the TNIV and it in fact, with the discussions in the Pentateuch covers the vast majority of the changes in the translation thus far. Comments anyone?

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