How does Bible revision work? [see details]?

My spiffy NIV Study Bible has listed three different sets of editors; one for the original 1985 version, one for a 2002 version, and another for 2008. My question is, what exactly needs to be revised? If they've made an accurate translation of the original Hebrew, does it really need to be revised?

I ask this because I've been exploring different contradictions in the Bible. Using the below link, I would look up in both my ESV and NIV Bibles to verify the contradiction. But I've found that didn't line up on the website, wasn't lining up with both of my bibles. For example, there was a discrepancy in the age that Jehohoichin was said to have begun his reign. One verse says 18, the other 8. I check my Bibles (yes, Bibles, capitalized and pluralized - but what do you expect from a pastor's kid?! :P ) and both verses say 18.

Obviously something's amiss here. And with the multiple revisions and my unfortunately poor experiences with the Christian culture, I can't help but wonder if any factual errancies in the bible were simply covered up with some revising. I feel like the only way I could put this matter to bed for me, would be to go back to the original Hebrew/Greek text of the Bible, unfortunately, it's all Greek to me...


Wow! I go to lunch and come back and there's already so many thoughtful, well-written answers. Thank you!

I do understand the difficulties of translating between languages. I'm a French student, and I've probably driven my French teacher insane with how many times I've made up words in order to reconcile the differences in translation. That's why I feel the only way I'd be satisfied with discerning any discrepancies in the Bible.

My main issue comes down to one of Biblical inerrancy. It's what has been ingrained in me since birth, and until recently, had I been asked if the Bible was infallible, some sort of muscle memory would have brought forth an instant yes. I'm just trying to sort out my beliefs for myself, and it's quite the Herculean task.

Just one other specific question concerning contradictions in the Bible. In 2 Samuel, there seems to be a discrepancy between how many children Michal, daughter of Saul, had. There are two verses, one that says she had no kids, another th

10 Answers

  • 8 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    New scholarship in terms of grammar, lexicography, and textual criticism [studying the variant manuscripts to determine what best reflects the original] are just a few of the factors which merit continual improvements.

    Translation is not a mathematical one-to-one mapping of a word in the source language to a word of the target language. (Especially in the U.S. where most people are monolingual, there is little understanding of how much translation is "art" more than "science.")

    Numbers in ancient texts are particularly problematic in terms of variant manuscripts and interpretation.

    In the case of NIV, there has also been major efforts to reflect the changes in gender expression in modern English. Indeed, modern languages change rapidly -- so Bible editions must be revised to reflect those changes in the target language.


    By the way, the website needs to be taken with huge doses of salt. [I purposely used a tongue-in-cheek reference to an English idiom involving salt to make my point.] Take for example their complaint about a Genesis passage:

    "Snakes, while built low, do not eat dirt"

    Even many children can figure that one out. We have similar expressions in English. When an amateur drag-racer says in a challenge to his opponent: "Eat my dust!" he is not making a dietary recommendation. Obviously, he is saying that he will outrace his opponent in such a way that dust from the road will be flung by his wheels into the trailing driver. Likewise, the Hebrew text is saying that the snake will be relegated to crawling on the ground where he will "eat dust/dirt". It is kind of pathetic that the authors of the website were confused by such a simple idiomatic example.


    Source(s): Bible translator, professor, commentator (retired) D.Phil (Oxford, Near Eastern Languages)
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  • 8 years ago

    The "New International Version" (NIV) is often called the "Nearly Inspired Version" because it is more of a thought-for-thought translation than an accurate literal translation with allowances made for grammar. Very often the issues revolve around gender. Examples include original references to "brothers" that gets translated to "brothers and sisters" or "sons" that gets translated "children". I'm sure arguments can be made in defense of Zondervan's translators and using inclusive language. Certainly the NIV is the second most common English language translation (trailing behind the KJV mostly for copyright issues. We use the NIV in church, but I'm more inclined to use the ESV, NASB, or the New King James. There are at least a dozen other English language translations available ((21st Century KJV, American Standard, Amplified, Common English, Contemporary English, Darby, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Lexham, The Message, NCV, TNIV, Young's Literal Translation, Wycliff) and it becomes a personal preference in the end.

    As for inerrancy, I say sure. The problem isn't with the inerrancy of the bible, but with the translation into languages. That is why there are so many translations.

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  • 8 years ago

    There are hundred of different translations. The problem is complicated.

    There is no <<single>> source for much of the bible. And the FIRST documents have long ago disappeared into dust. Biblical translators work from copies of copies of copies of copies of copies of the originals. For some portions of the bible, there are many dozens of copies, and they do not all say the same thing. Sometimes the differences are copying errors - recall that almost no one was literate then, and it was mostly monks scribing away for years who would copy these things. Sometimes there was text added, removed or changed during the copy process - sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally.

    Translations, like the famous King James Version, and many others, often had political motivations behind the exact wording. If you are a poor scribe in a monastery, you are going to write what the king's church tells you to write.

    The translators job means that they try to reconcile all of the differences into something that they believe represents something close to real.

    IF you <<really>> want to explore the issues that accompany biblical translations, I can recommend that you start with a book called "Misquoting Jesus", by Bart Ehrman. He discusses those issues in a lot of detail for just a few of the more well known parts of the New Testament.

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  • We don't have anything close to the original manuscripts, all we have are "copies of copies", each with its own set of variant readings (errors) so the best we can do is compare the variants, correlate the variants to the age of the manuscripts, and estimate what the original probably said.

    As more scholarship is done, previous estimations are found to be less probable than once thought. After a while, the number of readings in an established edition that are now questionable becomes large enough to warrant a new revision.

    And then everything got accelerated with the discovery of the "Dead Sea Scrolls", and other manuscripts more ancient than anything we had before.

    And, some discrepancies were in the originals, as these were written by a variety of people, usually long after the events they are describing.


    A common misaprehension among the KJO (King James Only) crowd is that through some feat of magic the King James is a "Literal: Word for Word" translation. As noted by Aonghas Shrugged ( and which can be attested to by anyone who has learned a second language) translation simply does not work that way.

    "Literal: Word for Word versus Dynamic Equivalence: Thought for Thought" refers to how archaic figures of speech are rendered, not how the translation as a whole was done. The King James has far too many inaccuracies for this claim to be even briefly entertained: For example one time here on Y!A R&S someone asked whch translation rendered a certain passage correctly, the King James or the NWT, where a certain word in the King James was rendered as "Jesus" while in the NWT it was given as "Jehovah". iirc, the poster of that question was a KJO who thought he had a gotcha against the JWs. He was half right: In the Greek the word used was "kyrios" which as any Jr. High Chorister can tell you means neither "Jesus" nor "Jehovah", but means "Lord".

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  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

    1) My question is, what exactly needs to be revised?

    Wording. Usually, a revision improves Bible accuracy and precision of translation. Sometimes a revision will make other perceived improvements, such as spelling, a reduction of sectarian bias, or (in the case of the NIV) the introduction of gender-inclusive pronouns into the text. I (and common convention) refer to this type of revision as an "update":

    2) If they've made an accurate translation of the original Hebrew, does it really need to be revised?

    The question displays a lack of familiarity with language, with the Bible and with translation. Translation is not a "precise" science. Both knowledge of the Biblical languages (there are 3 - not just Hebrew) and knowledge of the process of language translation improve over time. What's more: the English language also changes over time (most significantly, since the 1984 NIV, the introduction of gender-inclusive pronouns into our language).

    So: a 1984 translation can be extremely accurate for its time, but 27 years later be significantly modernized and improved in quality with an update. (In my opinion, the NIV *has* improved noticeably, though some shortcomings were introduced in the new update as well).

    3) Obviously something's amiss here.

    Regarding Jehoiachin's age: there are two variant readings available in source texts for 2Ch 36:9 (which in the primary Hebrew source text reads "eight" rather than "eighteen"). (Source: New Jerusalem Bible Regular Edition. Exact wording of the notation: " 'eighteen' versions; 2Ki 24:8; 'eight' Hebr." - meaning "several versions read '18', and this agrees with 2Ki 24:8, but the primary Hebrew source reads '8' ") Apparently the NIV translators of 1984 either considered the alternate sources to be unreliable or were not aware of the alternate sources. The 2011 NIV translators appear to have changed their opinion (in agreement with the translators of most modern Bibles) that the alternate sources which read "eighteen" are reliable and more likely to be correct than is the primary source.

    4) In 2 Samuel, there seems to be a discrepancy between how many children Michal, daughter of Saul, had.

    This is not a contradiction but - rather - a relatively common failure to properly understand the English!!! 2Sa 6:23:

    does not read, "Michal had no child from the time she was born until the day of her death". It is - clearly - referring to that point in time

    Look up the meanings of the word "unto" or "until" in any English dictionary and you will see that this is a case of poor (but remarkably common) English comprehension on your part rather than an actual contradiction.

    Final note: there *are* contradictions in the Bible. Here are all of the genuine (actual) contradictions that I have been able to discover so far (after reviewing literally dozens of claimed Biblical contradictions):

    - Jim

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  • 8 years ago

    You are correct... only by comparing a bible against the original Greek or Hebrew text can one really understand what is being said. One of the reasons is that the english language does not have words with the same meaning as many particular Greek or Hebrew words, so the meaning has to be given using english words that are as close as possible to the original meaning.

    These new editions ARE NOT word for word translations... they are either paraphrased or thought for thought translations which often change the meaning or context of scripture.

    Actually, these can be quite dangerous because in some cases the writer / editor could be adding their belief or interpretation into the original text steering the reader away from truth.

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  • Sídhe
    Lv 7
    8 years ago

    I'll speak directly to your "age of Jehohoichin" issue.

    The NIV added this little footnote: "2 Chronicles 36:9 One Hebrew manuscript, some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac (see also 2 Kings 24:8); most Hebrew manuscripts eight"

    What this means is that biblical scholars found a few manuscripts out of all the manuscripts we have that said "18" rather than "8". Therefore, they used THAT one. However, most of the Hebrew manuscripts said "8" and the KJV used THAT one.

    Fact is that there's LOTS of different versions out there going over centuries, especially from long before the printing press and Bibles were hand-copied creating lots of little variances from one copy to the next.

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  • Vin
    Lv 7
    8 years ago



    If you change enough words you can get a new copyright.

    The Devil is the author of confusion. He doesn't want us to find out about him.

    Read the Authorized KJB and you will be OK. (400 anniversary this year)

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  • 8 years ago

    The Bible is not Gods word so it needs to be revised from time to time.

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  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

    It doesn't.

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