The Wright way of reading along with the NIV…

Posted: 18th May 2009 by ElShaddai Edwards in Faith & Theology, Uncategorized

Note: this is a salvaged draft of something I wrote in late April, but never got around to publishing. I’m revisiting it now because a few bloggers have recently posted or commented on N.T. Wright’s criticism of the NIV as a Protestant translation in his recent book, Justification.

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I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that my church is standardized on the NIV for its pastoral and pew Bible translation. As a conservative evangelical Baptist church, this shouldn’t raise any eyebrows, except perhaps for the fact that we don’t use the ESV. However, I’ve never used the NIV myself, preferring the NASB in my youth and an eclectic mix of translations for the past few years. Instead, I usually bring a TNIV or HCSB to church with me – I’ve found that more often than not those two translations are close enough to the NIV that “readalong distractions” are minimal.

There were a few discrepancies today (April 26), however, that held my attention a little longer – mostly because they were directly related to the point that the pastor was making. So I wanted to take a closer look – first at the NIV “original”, then at the TNIV that I was reading along with, plus the HCSB for comparison sake.

For the past six months or so, we’ve been studying 1 Peter, verse by verse – today was 1 Peter 3:17-22, plus a few verses out of Romans.

1 Peter 3:18

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring you to God, after being put to death in the fleshly realm but made alive in the spiritual realm.

Is the preliminary point that Christ died or that Christ suffered? And where did the universalism go in the TNIV?

Romans 1:17

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” For in it God’s righteousness is revealed from faith to faith, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.

This verse is consistent with the criticism that N.T. Wright levels against the NIV – that the “righteousness” is positioned as something given to us, rather than something inherent to Him, as in the TNIV and HCSB.

Romans 3:25

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.

The TNIV reads the clearest (to me) here, but I do like how the HCSB retains “righteousness” instead of switching to “justice” and manages to include a “passover” reference in this passage. My issue with the NIV and HCSB is that it is unclear who is placing faith in Christ’s blood – us or God.

  1. John Hobbins says:


    Thanks for posts like this. They illustrate the kind of problems readers run into, and the inadequacies of translations out there.

    Some brief comments.

    (1) “died” versus “suffered” is a text-critical issue. Some manuscripts read one way, others, the other way. The fact is pointed out in the ESVSB and in the NRSV apparatus.

    (2) “once for all” in the sense of “once for all time.” Which is exactly how ESV, disambiguating, translates. The Greek is simply “hapax,” as in hapax legomenon, something said once only.

    (3) Wright’s criticism of NIV Rom 1:17 is spot on, though that doesn’t mean Wright is right wherever and whenever he understands what are thought by others to be objective genitives as subjective genitives. “Faith of Christ” often if not always is “trust of Christ” (objective genitive) in Paul, IMO.

    (4) “though faith” in Romans 3:25 is absent in some very important manuscripts. It is considered a post-Pauline addition on that basis by many text critics.

  2. Clint Walker says:

    I look forward to reading the new NT Wright book. Unfortunately, I am not finished with the old one. And that takes enough work of its own to think about. But I am interested enough that I bought it and have it on my bookshelf ready to read. Thanks ElShaddai.

  3. Peter Kirk says:

    As John starts to point out, “for all” in 1 Peter 3:18 is not in the Greek at all, and so the apparent (but surprising) universalism of NIV and HCSB, also RSV, has in TNIV been rightly banished to where it belongs.

  4. Peter Kirk says:

    I have a different issue with Romans 3:25 in NIV and HCSB, as well as KJV, which is that they imply that the blood is the object of faith, a view rightly rejected by RSV as well as TNIV. Now “faith in his blood” is a literal translation of the Greek text which just could be read in this way, but the comma in NIV is interpretive. The RSV and TNIV translators have pr0bably correctly understood “in his blood” as going with the sacrifice of atonement. Even without the comma NIV’s English would not be understood in this way, but it is probably the correct meaning. Again TNIV wins, and demonstrates the dangers of literal translation.

    • I agree, Peter, though I have to admit that the TNIV’s mix of punctuation is rather confusing when taken with v.26 as well:

      God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

      Are the dashes being used together to identify a parenthetical thought or separately within each sentence?

      • Peter Kirk says:

        I agree these dashes are confusing. But surely, since they are separated by a full stop (period), they should be considered as in separate sentences. The real problem is that the dash device is being overused. It really isn’t appropriate in the second sentence, where a semicolon would be better, but it would be better still to restructure this part.

        • Yes, it was the period after “faith” that gave me pause with respect to the dashes. Plus having two consecutive thoughts begin, “He did [this/it] to demonstrate his justice […]” You have to read it again just to make sure you weren’t reading the same sentence twice…

          The second dash was inherited from the NIV, where it wasn’t so much a structural problem because of the “faith in his blood” wording. It’s almost like they revised 3:25a to get rid of “through faith in his blood” and didn’t look at the rest of the passage, but I wouldn’t assume that…

  5. Thanks for the clarifications, John and Peter – without that context, it’s pretty easy to read the NIV/HCSB’s righteousness in the 1 Peter verse along the lines of the musketeers’ motto: “all for one, one for all”…

  6. Clint Walker says:

    This discussion reminds me of the book by Richard Hays in Galatians. Maybe you should check that out ElShaddai. It looked a little over my head at the moment, but I looked up book reviews.

  7. John Hobbins says:

    Richard Hays, a great scholar by the way, holds to the subjective genitive point of view (“faithfulness of Christ”). It is worth working through the arguments, though I remain convinced that the traditional view (objective genitive) is correct.

    What is most fun about this exchange is Peter’s approach to ESV. He seems to treat it as Lord Voldemort is in the Harry Potter series: too dangerous to name.

    I wonder if there are any study Bibles, besides NET, that present the options with a degree of equanimity in the notes. Both NLTSB and ESVSB have no discussion of the question at Rom 3:22 and Gal 3:22.

    It would be nice if someone got around to publishing a study Bible that adequately introduces readers to questions of interpretation that have been and continue to be debated.

    • Peter Kirk says:

      John, I did not mention ESV because I did not consult it for my comment, which I made in a bit of a hurry, for the very simple reason that I don’t own a copy. I consulted some print versions which I had in easy reach, plus HCSB which I also don’t own but which was quoted in the post. I have a perfectly good RSV and see no reason to spend good money on a minor and not very good revision of it. Anyway, why pick on me? ElShaddai avoided quoting these verses in ESV, mentioning this version only to say that his church doesn’t use it.

    • Peter Kirk says:

      An alternative reply to John:

      John, I did not mention ESV because I was following the advice of Ephesians 5:3-16, which can be summed up as “don’t even talk about any evil”. These are things which “must not even be named among you” (v.3, RSV). So surely I was right not to refer to a version which contains half of the word “evil” in its very name! Note that I was consistent, not discriminatory, in avoiding quoting any version with the initial letter of “evil” in its name. 😉

  8. John Hobbins says:


    Your second reply persuadeth me.

  9. matt says:

    The word “blood” in scripture is a key word which indicates suffering. By water and by blood, means by purification and by suffering. Faith in his blood speaks of the faith which jesus had in his suffering. He walked with God in faith through suffering.

    My RSV says, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in christ jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

    Here it is very plain that justification (to be made right in God’s sight) comes through redemption (forgiveness from sin, or deliverance from sin) which is in christ jesus (anointed jesus), whom God put forward as an expiation (sin or atonement offering) by his blood (suffering), to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins (NIV says left the sins committed before hand unpunished)

    Now whose sins are we talking about here? Jesus sins’ or our sins. I only say this because the high-priest’s function according to Hebrews is to provide a ONCE FOR ALL sacrifice for his OWN sins BEFORE he can provide purification of sins for his people. The sacrificial act of atonement MUST PRECEDE the INCEPTION of a holy ministry, else the high-priest is unable to provide forgiveness of sins for his people!!! Why does Paul speak of the crucifixion as a portrayal. Maybe Jesus had to be crucified so that people would understand the suffering which a person has to go through in order to be sanctified (made holy). This would make sense, as the apostles themselves all speak of the same patient endurance through suffering which is by faith.

    This is a very important point, esp since we are all told to believe jesus was always holy. He knew no sin, omits to tell us if there was a point at which he knew sin. If the scripture had said he NEVER knew sin, we could say for certain that he never sinned. Also backing up the theory that Jesus might not alwyas have been holy is this:

    If he had been holy from birth, then why in John 17:19 does he say that he sanctified himself? A holy man has no need of sanctification. Only the unholy require it because sanctification is the work of the holy spirit to purify a person from sin.

    Secondly, if Jesus was always holy, why did his ministry only start in his 30’s. What was he doing before then? Surely if he was always holy, then he would have had a life-long ministry.

    Thirdly, Heb 7:6 “for it was fitting that we should have such a high-priest (Jesus), holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. To be separated from sinners means that a man is set apart for holy use, or consecrated and this by sanctification. Sanctification is by the purification/forgiveness of sin.