Untrustworthiness of the NIV

Jeffrey Khoo

The NIV is an untrustworthy version. Here are three doctrinal reasons why we should reject the NIV:

NIV Undermines the Virgin Birth of Christ

In Luke 2:33 we read, “And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him” (KJV). In the NIV, it is like this, “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” Do you see the problem here with the NIV? The NIV makes Joseph the father of Jesus! The NIV rendering of this verse is totally out of line for the following reasons: (1) the word “child” is not in the preserved Greek text, (2) the word “father” is not in the Greek, (2) the possessive pronoun “his” is connected to Mary alone and does not include Joseph. Those who do not know better would probably come to the conclusion that Joseph was the direct, natural father of Jesus. The NIV has caused Luke to contradict the virgin birth. Jesus has only one Father, and that is the First Person of the Holy Trinity. Joseph was neither biologically nor spiritually the father of Jesus.

However, NIV advocates will point to verse 41 which calls Joseph and Mary “his parents” (so KJV as in NIV). The fact that Joseph and Mary were indeed parents of Jesus—Joseph being legally a “parent” and not naturally “father” of Jesus—would prove the point that the biblical writers were careful not to attribute the title “father” to Joseph, for Jesus only has one Father, and that is His Father in Heaven—the First Person of the Holy Trinity. In verse 43, we again see the biblical writers carefully distinguishing Joseph’s actual relationship with Jesus by the words “Joseph and his mother,” again purposely avoiding calling Joseph Jesus’ “father.” Jesus Himself refused to call Joseph his “father,” and gently corrected his mother when she said, “thy father and I have sought thee” which drew this response from the Lord, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Why did not Jesus use “God,” or “the Lord,” but “Father” at this juncture. I believe it was to correct any misconception that Joseph was in any way His father for God alone was His Father.

NIV Opposes a Strictly Messianic Fulfillment of Isa 7:14 in its Study Bible

I have argued strenuously that Jesus Christ is the only one who fulfilled the precious prophecy of Isa 7:14 which concerns His virgin birth (see “The Sign of the Virgin Birth: The Exegetical Validity of a Strictly Messianic Fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14,” Master of Divinity thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1991. An edited version may be found in the January 1995 issue of The Burning Bush).

The following critique of the NIV’s treatment of Isa 7:14 is taken from Radmacher and Hodges’ The NIV Reconsidered, 52–4.

The NIV translated ha’almah in Isa 7:14 as “the virgin.” According to Radmacher and Hodges, “the use of the definite article ‘the’ with ‘virgin,’ the NIV has laid the groundwork for a quasi-liberal view of Isaiah 7:14.

“This becomes obvious when we read The NIV Study Bible note. The note states: ‘7:14 sign. A sign was normally fulfilled within a few years (see 20:3; 37:30; cf. 8:18).’ This statement leads to the legitimate inference that we should not look for a distant (that is, Messianic) fulfillment of 7:14 during the New Testament period! The flawed NIV view of Messianic prophecy is once again in evidence.

“The note continues: ‘virgin. May refer to a young woman betrothed to Isaiah (8:3), who was to become his second wife (his first wife presumably having died after Shear-jashub was born). In Gen. 24:43 the same Hebrew word (‘almah) refers to a woman about to be married (see also Pr. 30:19). Mt. 1:23 apparently understood the woman mentioned here to be a type (foreshadowing) of the Virgin Mary.’ So now the cat is out of the bag! In the NIV, ‘the virgin’ apparently is intended to refer to a specific individual who, though not previously named, is very much a part of the larger context of this announcement. To put it briefly, ‘the virgin’ refers to ‘the woman’ Isaiah is about to marry. Only if the prediction is viewed typologically, so we are told, can we find any validity to Matthew’s use of this text in reference to the Virgin Mary.

“Despite the finely honed statements of the NIV study note, what the note really means is this: Isaiah 7:14 is not a direct prophecy about the virgin birth at all. Indeed, the woman to whom it did really apply gave birth in a perfectly normal way! But nobody could deduce such a conclusion from Matthew’s use of the text.

Haven’t we been through all this before? What about the long-running debate in the 19th and early 20th centuries, between liberals and conservatives, over whether Isaiah 7:14 truly predicts the virgin birth or not? Is not the Christian public ready for an evangelical translation that concedes the basic case to liberal theology and then clings to the slender reed of typology to preserve its weakened conservative credentials? We hope not.

“Let this be said clearly. The authors of this book hold firmly to the traditional evangelical view that Isaiah 7:14 directly predicts the virgin birth of our Lord. No other reading of this text comports with the inspired use of it made by Matthew.”

NIV Removes the Eternal Generation of God the Son

The eternal generation of the second person of the Holy Trinity (i.e. Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God) is an important doctrine of the Christian Faith. The 4th century Athanasian and Nicene Creeds state that Jesus is both Son and God “only-begotten, … of the Father before all the ages.” The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) likewise followed the ancient creeds in describing the relationship that exists within the Godhead: “In the unity of the Godhead, there be three persons, of one substance, power and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son” (II.3).

All 3 ancient creeds describe Christ as only begotten, or eternally begotten. Now you know that every doctrine must be based on the Bible. Where in the Bible do we find Jesus being described as only begotten Son of God? If you have the KJV you will find it in John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; and 1 John 4:9. But if you are using the NIV, you will have a hard time finding this doctrine in the Bible. The term “only begotten” with reference to Christ has been conveniently removed by the NIV. It mistranslates the Greek monogenes as “one and only.” Problem is monogenes does not just mean “one and only.” The Greek monogenes comes from 2 words: monos meaning “only” and gennao meaning “to beget” or “to generate.” The KJV translates it literally and accurately as “only begotten.”

Do you now see why we as Bible-Presbyterians cannot use the NIV? The WCF teaches according to the Scriptures that Jesus “the Son is eternally begotten of the Father.” Now if I were to teach a class on the WCF, we come to this point on the eternal generation of the Son, and one of you were to ask me this very good question: “In which verse of the Bible is Jesus described as the only begotten Son of God?” If I have the NIV as my Bible, I will be dumbstruck. The NIV has removed this important doctrine on the person of Christ from the Scriptures. It has subtracted from God’s Word; a very dangerous thing to do (Rev 22:19). That is why we cannot trust the NIV. Why? Because instead of telling us what God says, it tells us what man thinks God is saying. The NIV becomes an interpretation, and not translation of the Bible.

NIV Attacks on the Theanthropic Person of Christ

1 Tim 3:16 has to be one of the clearest texts of Scripture proving the full deity and full humanity of Christ, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, . . . .” But if you had the NIV, you would have a difficult time proving this. Instead of the reading, “God was manifest in the flesh,” you have “He appeared in a body.” The NIV obscures (1) the deity of Christ by removing “God” and replacing it with just “He,” and (2) the humanity of Christ by replacing “the flesh,” with “a body” (a body may not necessarily be of “flesh and blood”). The word in the original is sarx meaning “flesh,” not soma meaning “body.” It is also interesting and significant to note that the KJV translators never rendered sarx as body and soma as flesh (see Yeong Shoon Lau, “A Textus Receptus-King James Version Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament,” MDiv thesis, Far Eastern Bible College, 1997, 214, 228). The KJV recognised the proper distinctions between the two; something the NIV translators obviously failed to do in their dynamic-equivalence blindness.

Why does the NIV translate 1 Tim 3:16 as “He” and not “God?” It is simply because they chose to adopt a Westcott-Hort reading of the text. According to Westcott and Hort, since the Sinai and Vatican codices read “he who,” instead of “God,” it must be the correct reading. And mind you, this is over against the majority of the Greek manuscripts including certain Alexandrian ones which read theos, “God,” instead of hos, “he who.” Many modern versions like the NIV happily follow Westcott and Hort in corrupting the Word of God. How can NIV defenders deny that the NIV is based on Westcott and Hort. How can NIV users who say they love God’s Word continue to use a version which supports the unbelieving views of those two enemies of Christ? For more discussion on this verse, see “God was Manifest in the Flesh (1 Tim 3:16),” Article #103 by Trinitarian Bible Society.


As you can see, the KJV is a far more faithful, accurate, and reverent translation of the Scriptures, using the faithful word-for-word method of translation. The NIV is an untrustworthy version because it uses the thought-for-thought method which allows man to substitute God’s words with his own thoughts, ideas or opinions. In the NIV, you might be reading more of man’s thoughts than God’s words.

We believe the Lord has preserved His Word in the majority text behind the KJV. There is the corrupt minority text, and the trouble is modern scholars/translators have used the minority which demote Christ than the majority which promote Christ. My plea is: Let’s use the version which promotes Christ, the KJV.

Dr Jeffrey Khoo is the academic dean of Far Eastern Bible College.