Wednesday, April 25, 2007

TNIV is more literal

I have been reading through 1 Corinthians first in Greek and then in the TNIV as preparation for taking a course from Gordon Fee this summer. In 1 Cor. 3 verses 16 and 17 I felt immediately that something was different. It seemed at first as if something had been added but the meaning had not been changed. However, the rhythm of the sentence was different.

Sure enough, the words "yourselves" and "together" had not been there in the KJV, the only translation that I am likely to remember offhand, nor were these words evident in the Greek.

    Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. TNIV

    Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple. NIV

It is simple enough to see why these words were added. In Greek the word "you" is in the plural, and in English there is now no other way to indicate this distinction without adding a word. It could be "all" as in "you all" or "all of you", but the the TNIV has opted for "yourselves" and "together" in these verses.

Here are some other examples of how the TNIV has made the plural "you" clear in English. I consider this to be a great improvement in literalness over the NIV.

    Luke 22:31

    "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. TNIV

    "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you[a] as wheat NIV (with footnote)

    Luke 17:21

    nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst TNIV

    nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within[a] you." NIV (with footnote)

In some way, this appears to be less literal because a word is added, but I would judge it to be more literal, more transparent to the Greek. It is the only way to represent the meaning that is clear in the Greek.

So the question then becomes whether or not a translation should represent the plural "you" each and every time it occurs. There are three options, represent the plural by some means every time, none of the time or only when necessary to disambiguate, as the TNIV does.

It would be somewhat unnatural to indicate the plural every time - in fact, many translations leave it out altogether or put it in the footnotes. I appreciate the approach taken by the TNIV since a Bible should be understandable when read out loud from the pulpit or at the dining room table.

I personally consider this to be a small example of where the TNIV is more literal than the NIV and most other modern so-called literal translations.

Does anyone know of other cases where a plural "you" has been made clear in the English translation, or maybe cases where it should be made clear but hasn't been?


orthodox said...

ohNo no no no no, please no!

Yes, "you" in modern english no longer conveys the plural, but is ambiguous. But plural does NOT indicate that they are all operating as a group. This is the Roman Catholic claim for Mt 18:18, that all the apostles together may bind and loose. That is a possible interpretation, but it is not a necessary interpretation. It can equally mean that all the apostles as individuals can bind and loose.

What the TNIV is doing here at 1 Cor. 3 verses 16 and 17 is it is forcing onto the text a group interpretation. The Holy Spirit can no longer be understood to dwell in individuals, and no longer are individuals temples of the spirit. Now only the group of people are God's temple, and the Spirit dwells vaguely "in our midst".

Is this a possible interpretation? Sure. But now the TNIV has forced one viewpoint on the text, whereas before it was ambiguous, just like the original Greek was.

And the NASB wins here because it indicates with a token that the word is plural.

At Luke 22:31 the TNIV forces the other interpretation on the text, that all of them as individuals are sifted as wheat.

At Luke 17:21, the TNIV again opts for the group indwelling of the Spirit with the vague "in your midst".

There is nothing either literal nor accurate in taking an ambiguous text and forcing only one meaning onto it.

Peter Kirk said...

Orthodox, I take your point. And I think it is valid in Luke 17:21 where TNIV is taking a different interpretation from NIV. But then there is no way in English of being ambiguous between "in" and "among", quite apart from the singular or plural issue, so a translation has to interpret one way or the other, and footnote the alternative.

But I fail to see how "you yourselves" in 1 Corinthians 3:16 implies operating as a group. "You together" in the next verse is clearly implied in that "temple" is singular - the Greek cannot mean that each person is an individual temple. I'm sorry, but your interpretation "individuals [are] temples of the spirit" is simply wrong for this verse, here, although of course this is stated of individual bodies in 6:19.

Apprentice2Jesus said...

Okay, I'm jealous. You get to sit in on a course taught by Gordon Fee!

Suzanne McCarthy said...


First, I have a personal bias towards a translation that makes the meaning clear without the footnotes, since I was raised with Bible reading being a primarily oral activity. But I see this as my own bias.

Next, I checked the commentaries and they agree that in 1 Cor. 3:16 the primary sense is that we as a church are the temple of God. The truth that our bodies are the temple is taught in 1 Cor. 6.

All recent translations line up with the TNIV in Luke 17:21. The TNIV is now simply in line with all the others at this point, but improved from the NIV.

In Luke 22:31 without the addition in the TNIV text, the meaning is that Peter himself alone will be sifted as wheat.

So, in each case, without the TNIV additions to the text, an impermissabale meaning will be read into the text in English.

Gary Zimmerli said...

If Jesus said to Peter, "Satan has asked to sift all you guys like wheat," I think I'd like to know that.

R. Mansfield said...

You know, I don't think I had ever looked at the Greek for Luke 21:31 before. Until today, I'd always assumed the reference was just to Peter.

Suzanne, you are my Teacher of the Day!

And would this make for an error in the KJV since it uses "you" instead of "ye"?

Suzanne McCarthy said...


The cases of thou/thee and ye/you seem to be poorly understood. "Thou" is the nominative, the subject of the verb and "thee" is the accusative, the object. However, if you are a Quacker then you may say "thee" for both the subject and the object, as in "I love thee, dost thee love me?" But, of course, in Elizabethan English, "I love thee, lovest thou me?" Something like that. Maybe someone will come along and improve on this.

So in the plural "ye" is the nominative, the subject, and "you" is the object, the accusative. "Ye are my friends" and "I hold you in great esteem."

None of this should be confused with the "ye" in "Ye olde bookshoppe" in which the "ye" is really simply "the" but spelled in a different script which confused people.

But, having said all this, I was brought up on the King James Bible, and I knew this stuff - more or less - but I still misunderstood all three of the references which I cited in my post, until I read them in the TNIV.

So I now have to confess that I am also one of those who thinks they understand the King James version but doesn't always. This I learned from you.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


The short answer is "No, it is not an error in the KJV."


Most versions footnote this, but I prefer to have the sense made clear in the main text for pulpit reading, if possible.

Jeremy Pierce said...

The NLT also gets this right in v. 16 ("all of you together"), although it just has "you" in v.17. The ESV does indicate that it's plural via a footnote.

R. Mansfield said...

Suzanne, thanks for the clarification. I either did not know about or didn't remember the nominative/objective distinction of ye/you in Elizabethan English (don't tell Sidney J. Landman, my Shakespeare teacher from college). I did, however, know about the thorn as an abbreviation for the th sound in "the" and do my best not to sound like a know-it-all when I correct those wanting to say, "Ye olde ice cream parlor."

Speaking of pulpit Bibles, or actually the text read aloud, I recently got the TNIV Audio Bible (not the Bible Experience, but the earlier one). I've been very impressed with the way the TNIV reads aloud (I rarely HEAR the TNIV) as I've listened to the recording. So far I've heard about the first 30 or so chapters of Genesis, and I don't know who the fellow is reading it, but he is an excellent reader. Genesis has become a story again to me thanks to his masterful delivery.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


Yes, most recent translations do a good job in the notes, and it some ways that is preferable, in other ways not so much. It all depends.


I haven't heard any of audio yet. I'm glad to hear it sounds good.

I googled into a book of sermons by Lancelot Andrewes, the chief translator of the KJV and he sounds just like the KJV. He uses "ye" as subject and so on.

Kevin said...

Thanks for the little lesson for Rick on the Elizabethan English Suzanne. I wish I knew that when I was still reading the KJV many years ago.

It's interesting that Jesus makes a distinction between whom he is speaking to, and whom he is speaking about. In Lk. 22:32, Jesus is speaking specifically to Simon Peter (singular); but in 22:31, Jesus is speaking about "all of you" (plural). It's a distinction between two back-to-back verses I did not notice before.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am not sure that it is always significant. It seems to me that there are times when the Greek switches back and forth from singular to plural in general imperatives and it doesn't seem to mean much.

It is occasionally interesting as we see in these verse but perhaps often not really that important.

Kevin said...

Yes, it's likely not anything important. What I meant was that the intention of the writer in using the plural "all of you" might be more clear or obvious when juxtaposed with a singular use of "you".

Jim Getz said...

I just can't get past the fact that neither the TNIV nor the NIV were designed to be literal translations. They're both firmly under the dynamic equivalence banner. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that, it's just not their thing.

Peter Kirk said...

Jim, you are wrong. Just compare TNIV or NIV with, on the one hand an unambiguously formal equivalence translation like NRSV or ESV and, on the other hand, a real dynamic equivalence translation like NLT or GNT/TEV. You will find that (T)NIV is much closer to the first group. That is because the translators' philosophy is basically the same: be literal as wherever possible, depart from literal renderings only where really necessary. The main difference between (T)NIV and NRSV/ESV is that the translators of the former have been a bit more careful in their assessment of what departures from literalism are really necessary, not allowing so barely comprehensible literal renderings to slip through unmodified. That is why these four versions must all be classified as "modified literal", and so fundamentally different from NLT and GNT/TEV which are true dynamic equivalence translations.

Wayne Leman said...

Jim, my own quantified studies of a number of different translation parameters supports Peter's claim as well: the NIV and TNIV are essentially literal translations, qualitatively different from true DE translations such as the TEV, CEV, and to a lesser extent, the NLT. The NIV and TNIV differ only quantitatively from more literal versions such as NASB, NKJV, and ESV. But they all still contain a very large number of literalisms.