Dynamic Equivalence and the NIV

January 27, 2010

Shortly after my conversion in the campus ministry in 1976, I purchased my first copy of the New International Version of the New Testament (NIV). What a joy it was to read the scriptures in such an accessible, natural style! My prior experience was with the KJV and (to a lesser extent) the RSV. The NIV was so much easier to read and understand than those older translations. It made Bible study a real pleasure.

The NIV became the primary translation used in the campus ministry, and later in the congregations that these campus disciples started. For the past 33+ years, the vast majority of the sermons and classes I have attended have been taught from the NIV. It is the translation that “sounds right” to me. The scriptures stored up in my heart are from the NIV.

So I am not exactly thrilled with the need to point out flaws in that translation.

Easy readability comes at a cost. Simply translating each word from the original language into modern English (an approach known as Formal Equivalence) does not result in an easy-to-read version. To improve readability, translators rearrange words and sometimes replace literally translated words or phrases with more familiar but different phrases, which in their judgment reflect the meaning of the original text. Therein lies the rub. When translators start to apply their judgment about the meaning of the text, they invariably introduce their own doctrinal biases into the result. So the resulting text tells, not what the original writer said, but what the translator believes that the original writer meant. The translator is not only translating, but also interpreting. This style of translation is sometimes called Dynamic Equivalence. In addition to the NIV, translations using Dynamic Equivalence include the Holman Christian Standard Bible and the New English Translation.

I am going to post a few blog articles pointing out some of the translation and interpretation decisions made in the NIV and in similar translations. Hopefully this will help readers develop an awareness of the effect of Dynamic Equivalence on a translation, and the need to include more literal translations in your study regimen.


  1. Something I hear in the 80s made sense to me – some versions translate word by word.. some sentence by sentence.. some paragraph by paragraph.. one needs to understand what they need to understand which version they should use.I use an assortment of translations based on what I need. these days the internet (and e-sword) make it pretty easy.

  2. I understand the NIV will be revised in 2010. Do you know anything about that?

  3. Hi John,Yes — actually it is scheduled to come out 2011. I'm quite eager to see what they do with it. Here are a couple of articles on the subject.

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