NIV / TNIV Revisited – The Poetic Books

For the entire section of poetic books, the amount of change from Job to Lamentations is roughly 8.3%. I say roughly because Lamentations, while being a poetic book, is separated from the others by several prophets, which makes the estimate difficult. The most change is definitely in Proverbs. Bruce Waltke did a fantastic job on his revision and his commentary is worth reading.

  • Job – 5.3% Variant from the NIV
  • Psalms – 7.4% Variation
  • Proverbs – 15.4% Variation
  • Ecclesiastes – 8.5% Variation
  • Song of Songs – 3.2% Variation
  • Lamentation – 3.1% Variation

Compared to the Historical Books, Job has a greater number of changes and many of them either clear up the ambiguity, render a phrase in better English or simply translate the original better. One common change is a result of the fact that throughout the book Job, as a representative of humanity is contrasted against God, thus the many, many occurrences of “man” are often changed to “human beings/mortals/humanity” when the context calls for it. This is a linguistically valid change and a good one at that.

One highlight to be mentioned here is found at Psalm 55.13, where the TNIV could have introduced gender changes, but rightly recognized that the setting of the Psalm is a battlefield, where nobody would have expected a women companion. The TNIV cannot be charged with simply mechanical changes, they worked hard in what they changed and what they did not.


The changes are seen right away in verses 4 and 5 of chapter one:

NIV: His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

TNIV: His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

I think its quite self-evident that “make arrangements for them. . .” is much better English than “send and have. . .” I don’t think I’ve heard someone ever use such an idiom in quite a while. The other change (i.e. the first one) is an exegetical decision. Formally, it says, “hold feasts each on his day.” The debate is exactly what is seen in the translation: either “his day” means that they took turns or that his day was his birthday.There is a “now” added in 1.11 and 2.5 to the TNIV in Satan’s discourse with God.

In 1.15 and 17, “carried them off” is changed to the TNIV’s “made off with them.” No significant difference; just a stylistic change.

2.7 has the interesting change of the NIV’s “top of his head” to the TNIV’s “crown of his head.” I can’t help but wonder if younger audiences will understand the English idiom.

In 2.9, the NIV’s “holding on to your integrity” is rendered in the TNIV as “maintaining your integrity.” Either one works, though I must admit that I like the sound of the NIV more than that of the TNIV.

One change we see with a phrase that occurs multiple times in the book is the change from “deep shadow” to “utter darkness,” which I think is a more vivid English rendering. The first example of this is at 3.5 and continues through the book.

In 3.4, instead of “sighing comes to me instead of food” the TNIV has “sighing has become my daily food.”

Job 6.6 has a linguistic change. The meaning of the phrase as both the TNIV and the NIV point out is uncertain. The word for “sap/white” only occurs here and in 1 Sam 21.13. Both translations are representative of the two most common views.

Job 9.2 in the NIV says: “But how can a mortal be righteous before God?”

The TNIV says: “But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?”

The TNIV here is superior to the NIV by recognizing the judicial context of all of verse 9 that suggests that the phrase is focusing on the hopelessness of winning a lawsuit against one’s opponent when that opponent is God himself. Verse 19 of the same chapter has a similar change for the same reason. Other occurrences of judicial changes are in 23.7; 27.6; 31.37; 33.8; 35.2;

Job 15.8 introduces a contemporary idiom to the translation when the TNIV replaces “Do you limit wisdom to yourself?” to “Do you have a monopoly on wisdom?”

The phrase “realm of darkness” replaces the NIV’s “darkness” three times in Job: 15.22; 17.13; and 18.18.

Job 38.36 is an interesting example of translation change:

NIV: Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?


Who gives the ibis wisdom about the flooding of the Nile, or gives the rooster understanding of when to crow?

These are very different translations! Based on the Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Job, the difference is related to both the obscurity of the words and also the text itself. Its worth quoting in full:

Who has put wisdom in the clouds is clear except for the words translated as clouds in line a and mists in line b. The RSV note says the meaning of both words is uncertain. The suggestions put forth by interpreters are numerous and confusing, but there are four major lines of interpretation: (1)psychological terms such as NIV “hidden parts” and “mind,” or neb “darkness” and “secrecy”; (2)meteorological (weather) terms such as RSV “clouds” and “mist”; (3)mythological terms: Pope has “Thoth,” the Egyptian God, and “Sekwi,” the Coptic name for Mercury; (4)zoological terms (names of creatures) such as Dhorme “ibis” and “cock.” TEV has followed the lead of Dhorme and made the wisdom of the “ibis” and “cock” specific by “… ibis when the Nile will flood or … rooster that rain will fall.” TEV also gives a note on the “ibis” and a note on the Hebrew text of this verse. HOTTP [The Hebrew Old Testament Text Project] admits the possibility of the meanings “ibis” and “cock,” but denies the possibility of psychological meanings such as “inward parts” and “heart.” Rowley, who summarizes many views, concludes“while there can be no certainty of the meaning, RSV gives the most probable sense.” The meteorological line of interpretation seems to fit the context of verses 34–38 best. However, TEV cannot be ruled out and is secondarily based on weather conditions.

William David Reyburn, A Handbook on the Book of Job (UBS Handbook Series; New York: United Bible Societies, 1992), 715.

The NIV’s translation, as noted, follows a questionable interpretation, while the TNIV follows the TEV, an interpretation the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project considers possible.In Job 41.13, the TNIV follows the LXX, while the NIV follows the Masoretic Text:

NIV: “Who can strip off his outer coat? Who would approach him with a bridle?”

TNIV: “Who can strip off its outer coat? Who can penetrate its double coat of armor?”

In general, the TNIV is more comfortable in preferring the LXX to the MT and The Hebrew Old Testament Text Project supports this particular rendering over that of the NIV.The Psalms:

The first twenty or so Psalms have a percentage of variation of as high as 14% (almost twice as high as the average for all 150 Psalms!) and the first half stays above 9% on average, but the rest of the collection brings the percentage down for the whole. Split another way, the first 50 Psalms vary by 10%, the second 50 by 6.6% and the third 50 Psalms by 5.6%

Most of the percentage of change consists of improvements on gender accuracy, making it clear that both men and women are included in the great overarching statements of the Psalms.

Throughout the collection of Psalms, there are several recurring changes: “fetters” becomes shackles,” “justice” regularly becomes vindication.” Several times, “truth” becomes “faithfulness,” “guide” becomes “lead,” “father” becomes “ancestors.” There are also many changes similar to those of Job since the comparison between God and man is very often frequent here also. Stranger and alien are still being changed to “foreigner” in the TNIV as seen in previous books. When righteousness is found in the NIV referring to God, its change four times to “righteous deeds” on the basis on the context: 65.5; 71.15-16; 88.12.

There are a number of changes in Psalms 1, for example, in the first verse, the words “walk in step with the wicked” is changed from the NIV’s “walk in the counsel of the wicked.” This is a brilliant change that maintains an impressive amount of literalness in translation without forsaking English clarity as the NIV did.

In Psalms 2.2, the kings of the earth “take their stand” instead of “rise up.”

In Psalm 36, “Oracle” becomes “a message from God.”

In Psalm 37.11, “great peace” becomes “peace and prosperity.”

In verse 28 of the same Psalm, the TNIV follows the LXX’s “will be completely destroyed” instead of the MT (followed by the NIV): “They will be protected forever.” The latter text assume that the antecedent of “They” is the faithful ones in the previous line.

In Psalm 51, “inner parts” becomes “womb” in the TNIV, a change that would have made grown men blush 40 years ago.

The NIV’s “strangers” becomes “Arrogant foes” in the TNIV at Psalm 54.3.

Psalm 59 sees the change of the NIV’s “protect me from” to the TNIV’s “be my fortress against.” This change is more accurate to the text and much more vivid.

In Psalm 65, we see:

NIV: Those living far away fear your wonders

TNIV: The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders

Psalm 101:3 has major changes:

NIV: I will set before my eyes no vile thing. The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me.

TNIV: I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.

This is simply better English.In Psalm 116.10, the TNIV has “I trusted in the Lord” replacing the NIV’s “I believed.”

Psalm 119.118 has “deceitfulness is in vain” in the NIV and “delusions come to nothing” in the TNIV.


The changes in this book of the Bible are so great that its impossible to document them all in this short post. Proverbs has the highest amount of change in the Old Testament and probably in the whole Bible. The reason for this is simply the nearly 1300 pages of commentary and exegesis that came from the pen of Bruce Waltke, published in the NICOT series in December/January 04/05′. Waltke is a member for the Committee for Bible Translation. I’ve read all of volume 1 of his commentary, through chapter 15 and I can tell you its some impressive and thoughtful exegesis. Buy it, read it, you won’t regret it.

The common changes include “adulteress” being changed to “adulterous woman.” This make sense. We don’t use “adulteress” any more. The words in the NIV “lack judgement” are changed “have no sense.”

Anyway, I’ll document some of the changes, but it will be impossible to do all of them since nearly 1 in every 6 words is changed.

At 1.22, the NIV reads: “If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you.”

The TNIV reads: ”

Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings.”

I think the amount of change is significant enough that I don’t need to highlight it.

In 4.7, the NIV’s less accurate to the Hebrew’s “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom” is changed to “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.” (The NIV’s rendering is kept in a footnote).

Proverbs 6:26 has a big change too:

NIV: for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life.

TNIV: For a prostitute can be had for a loaf of bread, but another man’s wife preys on your very life.

Significant for theology is what appears to be the TNIV’s rejection of Wisdom Christology (rightly in my opinion!) in Proverbs 8:23:

NIV: I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.

TNIV: I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.

In Proverbs 13:4, the NIV’s “the sluggard craves and gets nothing” is changed to “A sluggard’s appetite is never filled.”

In Proverbs 16.4, where the NIV says, “The Lord works out everything for his own ends,” the TNIV says, “The Lord works out everything to its proper end.”

Proverbs 17.11 has a big change:

NIV: An evil man is bent only on rebellion; a merciless official will be sent against him.

TNIV: Evildoers foster rebellion against God; the messenger of death will be sent against them.

“The messenger of death” makes it much clearer what kind of mercilessofficial is intended.

In Proverbs 25:11, the NIV’s “A word aptly spoken” becomes “a ruling rightly given.” This change not only alliterates nicely, but rightly notes the royal context.

Proverbs 29:15 in the NIV says “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.”

The TNIV translates instead: ” A rod and a reprimand impart wisdom, but children left to themselves disgrace their mother.”

Proverbs 30:1 is changed drastically:

NIV: The sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an oracle: This man declared to Ithiel, to Ithiel and to Ucal:

TNIV: This man’s utterance to Ithiel: ‘I am weary, God, but I can prevail.’

The TNIV adds a footnote for the NIV rendering and informs the reader that the text has been re-divided into different words (kind of like “now here” and “no where”).


Most of this book’s changes, like those of Job, deal with the contrast between God and man. Thus, man is often changed to “mortal,” human,” etc. Beyond this, there are few major changes.

But one of note is that in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “grave” in changed to “realm of the dead.”

Song of Songs:

The most common changes include: “maidens” to “young women,” “lover” to “beloved,” “desert” to “wilderness,” and the changing the gems to the correct names, such as lapis lazuli and topaz. There are no major changes in these poems.


This book has no changes that have not been mentioned elsewhere.