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NIV, ESV, HCSB, NET no longer the word of God?

November 2, 2011

Rod Decker blogged on the fact that the NIV 2011 has put “selah” in the footnotes,

I just noticed something in the NIV-11 that hadn’t registered before. In the Psalms, the word selah is not printed in the text. Instead there is a footnote marking the places where it occurs. This may make some traditionalists unhappy (and ruin a few sermons that hinge on that word! :) ), but I think this is a very good move (no pun intended). Selah is a bit mysterious, but probably is a musical notation that may have indicated a rest/pause. When reading Scripture orally, it should never be read and it should certainly not be made into a matter of exegetical or homiletical significance. (I’ve often heard it used as an indication that some statement is particularly significant: “think of that!” is the usual idea that I’ve heard.) To do so would be a bit like singing these actual words in the Hallelujah Chorus: “Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest Hallelujah! rest.”

Jim Hamilton responded with this,

Will the ancient culture in which the Bible was written be accurately represented by the texts that come down to us from it, or will our culture be allowed to emasculate those texts and reshape them into our own cultural image? Are those ancient texts allowed to say anything that seems foreign to modern readers, or are they only allowed to say things that we already know from our own culture? If they are allowed to say things that we don’t understand from our own culture, if they are allowed to be ancient and foreign to us, why the need to remove Selah from the text and place it instead in footnotes?

I am not entirely sure why the removal of “selah” to the footnotes would line up with the emasculation of the text, but perhaps this makes sense to Dr. Hamilton. He continues,

If the NIV 2011 does not reverse itself on this issue, can we say that it faithfully presents the text of Psalms as it has come down to us? If it does not, can we regard it as the word of God? Article X of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancystates: “We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.”

He also wrote the following,

When I read an ancient text from a different culture, I don’t want to look into a linguistic mirror. I would like for that text to feel a little foreign, to feel a little ancient. I don’t want it only telling me what I already know. This word Selah occurs over and over all across the Psalter and into Habakkuk 3. One of the challenges of reading and understanding the Bible is paying attention to all the things the Bible says that we don’t understand, studying those things, and trying to come to a place where we begin to learn what the biblical authors were talking about and how they talked about it.

I think most of the community of this blog would agree with this last paragraph. But does that justify the threat in the former paragraph? Do we want to say that on the basis of relegating “selah” to the footnotes, a Bible translation should not be regarded as the word of God?

Dr. Decker responded here and here, asking,

If it is invalid to move a musical notation to a different location on the page (yet still retain it clearly in the translation) as does the NIV11 with Selah, what are we to think of translations that outright omit multiple instances of words that are incontrovertibly part of the original text? Translations which contain no note, no explanation at all—which just omit them altogether. If we were consistent in our argumentation at this point, then I think that we would be forced to conclude that any such translation must be judged to have violated the ICBI Chicago Statement because they have not faithfully presented the text of Scripture as it has come down to us.

rebutting Dr. Hamilton’s post with this example,

In Mark 1 there are 30 instances of sentences beginning with καί. If I counted right, there are 35 sentences in the chapter (i.e., which end with a period in UBS/NA text). So the textual data seems pretty secure and perhaps even “culturally significant” since it likely tells us something about Mark’s mother tongue.

So how do my two translations fare when evaluated in terms of their accurately reflecting every word of the Scriptural text? Translation A clearly omits any equivalent of καί four times. No note. No explicit translation. It’s just gone. If we argue that we must translate every word in order to be faithful to a high view of Scripture, then we have a problem. Four times in only one chapter Translation A has been unfaithful and omitted words from the text. That is surely grounds for suspicion. Translation A has failed to present the text faithfully. We should surely, then, not encourage the use of any such translation that is so careless and should seek a more reliable guide. Perhaps Translation B will prove more faithful. Unfortunately when B is examined, the problem is far, far worse. Translation B omits καί 23 times! In one chapter. No note. No explicit translation. It’s just gone. Surely we have now moved into dangerous territory. If Translation A evidences an unfaithful attitude toward the inspiration of every word of Scripture in the original text, then surely Translation B is obviously the product of biased, liberal scholarship which denies the inspiration of Scripture and emasculates its meaning. There must surely be some sinister plot afoot here; Translation B is certainly accommodating an evil social agenda of some sort.

And here is Dr. Hamilton’s rejoinder in the comments,

I think you’re comparing apples to oranges. As you know, there are “function words” and “content words.” The question about Selah is whether it is merely a “function word” – a musical notation – or whether it might in some way also be a “content word” that communicates meaning rather than merely facilitating the communication of meaning by serving some syntactical purpose/holding together words that communicate meaning.

I think you would agree that function words are flexible as we move from one language to another, and it seems to me that the examples you give above can all be viewed as function words.

Content words, on the other hand, ought to be represented in the translation.


From this interchange, I have deduced that Dr. Hamilton believes that one may be justified in suggesting that the NIV 2011 is not “the word of God” according to the Chicago statement, based on the fact that it removes to the footnotes “selah,” a content word which is of unknown meaning, but perhaps means “rest” or “pause.”

What then does Dr. Hamilton have to say about those translations which remove the word “men” from the text, or at least, to put that in other words, leave the word aner (plural) untranslated? The NIV 2011, the ESV, HCSB, and the NET Bible all leave the word aner (plural) untranslated 13 times in the book of Acts. The word aner certainly is a content word, and removing it from the text, without any mention of it at all in the footnotes, could well be said to emasculate the text.

Personally, I think that it may refer to “fellow citizens” or “friends” as an honorific, but the NET Bible note suggests that it may be intended to convey masculine semantic meaning. Here is the note for Acts 1:16,

39tn Grk “Men brothers.” In light of the compound phrase ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί (andre” adelfoi, “Men brothers”) Peter’s words are best understood as directly addressed to the males present, possibly referring specifically to the twelve (really ten at this point – eleven minus the speaker, Peter) mentioned by name in v. 13.

I can’t actually agree with this note, given that Mary, the Lord’s mother was present when this speech was made. However, the actual meaning of ἄνδρες deserves attention of some kind. Surely, if it was put into the word of God, we don’t need to leave it out, without even a mention in the footnote.

Shall we then propose that, on the basis of the practice of not translating ἄνδρες 13 times in the book of Acts, the ESV, NIV, HCSB and NET Bibles should no longer be considered the word of God?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2011 12:56 pm

    This post seems very similar to your post last week.

  2. November 2, 2011 1:35 pm

    That is perhaps because the new information is in the last few paragraphs. In fact, this matter of aner is now being taken up by Jim Hamilton and Rod Decker on Rod’s blog. I felt that it needed context, so yes, the first part of the post seems like a repeat.

  3. November 2, 2011 2:06 pm

    Sorry, I must be missing something here. I looked at the three posts you linked to in this comment (which you also linked to last week) and all the comments are from October 28 or earlier.

    Now maybe some links are missing (you write “Dr. Decker responded here and here, asking,” but your links are to the same URL; you write “And here is Dr. Hamilton’s rejoinder in the comments,” but there is no link). But I did not see from the links or quotes that you gave that “this matter of aner is now being taken up by Jim Hamilton and Rod Decker on Rod’s blog.”

  4. November 2, 2011 2:30 pm

    In the c omments on the posts which I linked to.

  5. November 2, 2011 2:39 pm

    Thank you for alerting me to the fact that one of my links is missing. Here is the most recent post on Rod’s blog.

  6. November 2, 2011 2:47 pm

    Well, let’s look at those comments.

    Post 1 you linked to was:

    The last comment there is dated October 28. I see no reference to “aner” — maybe I missed it.

    Post 2 you linked to was:

    I also did not see any reference to “aner” here — maybe I missed it.

    Post 3 you linked to (twice, saying “here and here”) was:

    The last comment there is dated October 28. I see no reference to “aner” — maybe I missed it.

    So I’m genuinely confused. Most of the discussion is on October 28 or before, the same day as your post.

    Now there have been a few more comments on Hamilton’s blog, which I reproduce below, but I do not see how they relate to “aner”:

    Ben November 1, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Dr. Hamilton,

    If the issue is whether or not Selah is a function word or a content word, then shouldn’t that be the focus of the argument? Why, then, would you jump to the conclusion that the NIV2011 does not match up with the CSBI? They obviously believe it is a function word and, thus, feel no need to reflect it in the translation itself (just like every translation does with function words w/out anyone questioning their adherence to the CSBI). You disagree, so you believe it should be left in the translation. Thus, you disagree on the nature of Selah, not on inerrancy.

    Perhaps it would be better to amend your original accusation regarding the NIV2011 and inerrancy, since that’s not really the issue. It seems at best uncharitable.


    JMH November 2, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Thanks Ben,

    I think if we disagree on this point, it follows that for me they don’t meet the requirement of Article 10 of CSBI on this point. The same could be said of other translations at the points where they misrepresent the original.

    I don’t think it’s uncharitable to call a spade a spade,


    Stephen Shead November 2, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    But in that case, why invoke the CSBI at all? The point applies to all translations, period.

    However, the way you invoke the CSBI seems to suggest something more – like, this particular (in your opinion) error is motivated by a heterodox (non-Chicago) theology, and/or it is a level of error which means we must reject the NIV 2011 wholesale as being “the word of God”.

    If you were not meaning to suggest that, why invoke the CSBI?

    Ben November 2, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Dr. Hamilton,

    Thanks for the response. I agree in principle that there’s nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade. My point is that I’m not sure that’s what you were doing in the OP. It seems the real point of contention is on two fronts: 1) whether or not Selah is a function or content word. There is obviously disagreement on that, but I think it’s fair to say there’s no slam dunk case one way or the other. 2) The issue of translation philosophy: given that there is debate about Selah, is it legitimate for a translation to make a call on debatable interpretation issues and reflect that in the translation, or should they make no judgment call on the word’s purpose/meaning and just transliterate it. I think this is perhaps the crux of the issue, and why you are bothered by this decision. You prefer translations that do less of making judgment calls (since every translation does this to a degree), so you don’t like the NIV’s translation philosophy.

    That means, again, that the point of disagreement is not on the matter of inerrancy but on the other two issues. I have no problem with you arguing for your translation philosophy as superior to the NIV’s. The reason I say that your original statement is uncharitable is that it certainly seems to imply the charge of heterodoxy. Since that is no small charge, and since your further comments reveal that it’s not really the issue, I suggested that you consider amending or at least clarifying your original statement. It’s one thing to say that certain translations are better than others. It’s another to say that it’s not the Word of God.



    To try to summarize: if this were about calling a spade a spade, then I think we would need some kind of statement from the CBT saying in effect “we don’t believe it is necessary to faithfully represent the original.” Then we would have a spade, and you could call it such. I think instead, we have an opinion–you don’t think the NIV2011 faithfully represents some of the Psalms, but that’s b/c of your differing interpretation of Selah and your translation philosophy, not b/c of their belief in inerrancy.

  7. November 2, 2011 2:51 pm

    I have now given the missing URL. Thanks for sticking with this.

  8. November 2, 2011 3:01 pm

    Thanks for copying these comments to this blog. In the past, there was a scholar’s statement against the TNIV. But now we can see that some feel that Dr. Hamiltion may be working up to charge of heterodoxy against the NIV 2011.

  9. November 2, 2011 3:21 pm

    Suzanne wrote me the following message:

    You are absolutely right that I missed a link…. When I said “here” and “here” the second link should be

    In this comment, Suzanne said she had updated the post, but I did not see that (for future reference, you need to press UPDATE in the box once to update the URL, then press UPDATE on the right to update the post, and then press OK to disregard the automatic proofreading suggestions — so you need to approve three times), so I will update it now.

  10. November 2, 2011 4:08 pm

    I meant that I had added the link in the previous COMMENT. I can’t log in to this blog from this workstation, as a blogger. Thanks for updating the post for me.


  1. ἄνδρες ἀδελφοί « BLT

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