Scot McKnight’s Plea for a Uniting Bible

In a recent post, offering somewhat of a review of the updated NIV, professor Scot McKnight hopes that this new NIV can be a uniting Bible:

It is my hope that this Bible can be a uniting Bible. Bibles should not be tribal, and they should not be known for a given posture on politically hot theological topics, nor should they be used as a litmus test of who is the most faithful. They are designed so that we might hear a faithful word from God, and that we might be able to read it and teach it with confidence.  read more…

I too would like there to be a uniting Bible, thus putting an end to Bible tribalism (you know, ESV for those who are both Calvinists and complementarian).  But I’m afraid that the updated NIV is not it.

Yes, in many ways the updated NIV is an improvement of the 1984 NIV.  But its translations philosophy still leaves many disappointed.  Personally, I wish more connectors were restored.

Though Bibles should not be tribal, the fact of our various Christian denominations, church traditions, various reading of certain texts, all contribute to this tribalism.

It’s a complex matter.

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43 Responses to Scot McKnight’s Plea for a Uniting Bible

  1. Thank God there are still many conservative minded Christians using the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB! Here plenty of folk gather around the Word in translation. I think the new NIV’11 is much better in the Book of Romans, but it is still not my translation method or philosophy. But then I am over 60, classic Reformed Anglican, and Anglo-Irish. Oh yeah, a conservative also! I wonder who can tell? 😉

  2. T.C. R says:

    Fr. Robert,

    I hear you.

    But if a particular Bible translation comes down to a litmus test of fellowship, then we have serious problem on our hands.

    • TC,

      I would agree with that! But the blessings of the KJV have been beyond our mental and even spiritual ability I think! But I am British! 😉

      • T.C. R says:

        Yes, something must be said about the enduring impact of the KJV. It’s amazing!

        I know in the past I’ve slighted the KJV. But I recant. 😉

      • TC,

        Your a grand fellow, and a prince among men! Being able to make such a statement. There few good Christian bloggers, especially at the top who could make that! 🙂 (And I am being serious here!)

    • exegete77 says:

      I also can see that “translation unity” may be false as well because unity is not based on doctrinal agreement. Doctrine is always decided by the original language texts. Thus, for us as Lutherans, we do not endorse any particular translation. It might even be an opportunity to talk about not only translation philosophy but also the underlying theological and doctrinal presuppositions, which moves beyond just a statement like “the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God.” Many can agree with that statement, but disagree about everything else (what it actually teaches).

      For Lutherans, the liturgical use of a translation is important, yet seldom is that a factor within the translation process. Interestingly the LCMS used NIV for the hymnal project Lutheran Worship because it could use if copyright free for the hymnals, not because it was the best translation available. A short-term financial solution back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. But then everything became NIV-centric, as a result. So the LCMS was left with a default translation and paid through the nose. In 2006 with the new hymnal, the LCMS used ESV, not claiming it was the best, but because it offered a liturgical continuity of Lutheran worship based on the KJV/RSV heritage.

      (For the record, I am not a pastor in the LCMS 🙂 )

      …just some meanderings from an old (Lutheran) codger…


  3. Peter and Paul had their disagreements. Why would things change among us lesser beings?

    A uniting bible sounds like an sideways call for a uniting theology. That’s not going to happen until Christ returns and does his Capt. Kirk imitation:

    “You–over there.
    “Now talk!”

  4. T.C. R says:

    Fr. Robert,

    I appreciate your kind words. 🙂


    Isn’t there the Lutheran Study Bible based on the ESV?


    Good observation on what appears a “sideway call for a unity theology,” which isn’t going to happen. I hear you.

    • exegete77 says:

      TCR: “Isn’t there the Lutheran Study Bible based on the ESV?”

      Yes, but again, that choice (published 2009) followed the decision to use the ESV for the hymnal (Lutheran Service Book (LSB) published 2006). Just like the 1986 Concordia Self-Study Bible used the NIV, because Lutheran Worship (LW) in 1982 used the NIV.

      Further, the WELS (Wisconsin Synod), which used NIV in its Christian Worship (CW) hymnal, and hence all later study material, is examining whether they should turn toward a different translation in light of the changes in NIV 2011.

      Note again, I mention this to show the influence that liturgy has on Bible translation for Lutherans, which further influences other uses of translations. I am not critizing these decisions of the LCMS or WELS, only noting the history of the choices related to liturgy and Bible translations. Lutherans take seriously the liturgical use of a Bible translation.

  5. ScottW says:

    A “uniting Bible” for whom? the bible tribalism, in my opinion, is basically an Evangelical phenomenon. The problem is that once you start this process, it’s hard to stop, just like the mushrooming of groups in the wake of the Reformation. In some ways it’s sort of an oxymoron.

  6. T.C. R says:

    |The problem is that once you start this process, it’s hard to stop, just like the mushrooming of groups in the wake of the Reformation.|

    Scott W,

    After all, we’re children of the Reformation. 😉

    • Yes, I am much a child of the Reformation myself. Here is the Word of God put forth on display, always first and foremost! Our dear Orthodox Brethren have great creedal history, but not much in the way of “biblical” or “evangelical” revival. I am thinking of the great English revival, which with the KJV Bible, simply changed and saved the British Commonwealth! Here we in the West have the likes of the Wesley brothers (we should note here too the great Puritan heritage that affected John Wesley), Watts, Whitefield, and even Methodist Calvinism. Also here are people like Jonathan Edwards in America. We should remember also that Whitefield is buried in Boston, USA. 🙂

  7. Jon Hughes says:

    If it comes down to a choice between the NIV (2011) and the ESV for broad acceptance – which it may well do – I’d have to go with the ESV. I’ve recently read Leland Ryken’s book, “Understanding English Bible Translation”, and found his arguments for an essentially literal translation to be compelling. I realize that he is not without bias, being the literary stylist for the ESV, but sensed that he was writing from the heart.

  8. Dan H. says:

    There is, of course, this tiny elephant in the room:

    • Jon Hughes says:


      I love the KJV, have used it often, and have more than once tried to make it my main Bible for devotional reading and personal study.

      The problem is when I find myself quoting it to others, especially in an evangelistic context. It ends up creating the impression that God’s Word is archaic, outdated and irrelevant; especially as far as young people are concerned.

      I believe that the grand old Authorized Version is unsurpassed in terms of majesty, cadence and rhythm – and a version like the ESV gratefully borrows from that tradition.

      • Dan H. says:

        While all of this may be true the fact remains that more people both own and read from the King James Version than the NIV. I’m just curious as to why McKnight, when looking for a ‘uniting bible’, chooses to ignore the bible which so many already own and read.

      • Dan,

        That “elephant” is not so tiny in reality! 😉 For us Brits its the 400th year of the 1611 KJV!

  9. T.C. R says:


    What are some of these compelling arguments that Leland has made?

    Dan H,

    Such really depends on who were polled, since the NIV84 has been the bestselling for many years now.

    • Jon Hughes says:


      Of the top of my head, translation should be just that, translation – not interpretation; keeping the ambiguity that is in the original, where multiple meanings may be in view – rather than going with a rendering according one of a number of possible meanings, and thereby producing a reductionist translation; sticking to the form, not the meaning, in translation (the former is the work of translators, the latter is the work of pastors); cadence (e.g. Psalm 24:1 – done well in the KJV and ESV, but not so well in the NASB and NIV); literary qualities, especially in the poetry sections; translating the Bible with language that brings people ‘up’ to the language of the Bible rather than bringing everyone ‘down’ to junior-high level vocabulary; remaining in the culture of the Bible, so keeping “greet one another with a holy kiss” rather than changing it to “give each other a hearty handshake”!; retaining theological words (e.g. justification, propitiation) as they can be easily learned – after all people doing math, for example, at school have to learn difficult words – Ryken feels that people wouldn’t call for this kind of dumbing down in any other sphere of learning. Ryken also favours a translation in the Tyndale tradition, and seems to be a big fan of the KJV.

      • T.C. R says:


        I appreciate the follow-up. I share similar sentiments on the issue. But it’s a tricky thing. At one level, all translation is a form of interpretation. Regarding theological term, I see the point. But even here matters can be complex. At the same time, I think the Bible should be understood clearly in the target language – idiomatically speaking. I think at the end of the day it really comes down to perspectives. But I do favor a middle of the road translation.

        By the way, the ESV is not without its problems. I hope Leland is aware of that. 😉

      • A agree with Jon somewhat, but also TC. For example, Rom. 3:25 and “propitiation” (hilasterion). The word comes from the Sept. or LXX, and in Ex. 25:17 “kapporeth” (cover) is rendered ‘hilasterion epithema’, propitiatory cover, the cover of the ark on which the blood was sprinkled as the means of propitiation. Which is better rendered expiation (RSV). The point is the death of Christ is a declaration of the judgment of God against sin, and Christ Himself (His perfect Person: the Lamb of God) is that Judgment & Expiation. But with both the will of the Father and the Son together! See Gen. 22: 6 ; 8 “both of them together”. This is typology of course.

        Thus Christ bore the wrath of God against Sin, but never the “wrath” of the Father. For the Father never had such for His Son! “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1), but never the life and love of the Father. The ontology of the Triune God cannot be touched here! Note too, Heb. 9:14, and the work of the Triune God in redemption.

        So on Rom. 3:25, the new NIV’11 looks much better here: “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 righteousness, because in his forbearence he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” And we really must see verse 26 also: “he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

    • Dan H. says:


      I would wager that many who regularly read the NIV also own and have at least a little familiarity with the KJV. I’m not sure the same could be said about those who regularly read the KJV. There were also a lot of KJVs sold prior to the introduction of the NIV that still float around many living rooms, basements, and bedrooms which were inherited from relatives.

      Not everyone shares our weakness for purchasing the latest bible translations and our content with older family bibles. (I cut my own teeth on my father’s confirmation Bible, and old RSV and did not buy my own bible until going off to college)

      I’m not necessarily saying that the KJV is the best candidate for a “Uniting Bible” but as the last bible that served that general function I find it odd that McKnight wouldn’t even bring it up.

      In fact, he really doesn’t give any actual reason other than the fact that he likes it.

  10. T.C. R says:

    Fr. Robert,

    Good stuff!

    I too tend to favor the NIV’s rendering, given the fact that the Greek hilasterion involves not only “propitiation” but “expiation” as well (see Moo’s Romans commentary for a healthy discussion).

  11. exegete77 says:

    One other thought about translations, and that relates to continuity of faith expression. This relates to liturgy and memorization. It helps when the 80 year old and the 5 year old can express the faith in the same way (speaking of rhythm and cadence). So I proposed many years ago, following James Voelz and Charles Arand, to modify the Lord’s Prayer slightly (only five word changes, but the rhythm and cadence are identical:

    “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done…”

    I have used that in congregations and it is amazing how well that works.

  12. Theophrastus says:

    If it were to be a uniting Bible, it would require the Deuterocanons/Apocrypha, would it not? The refusal to produce one is a declaration that the NIV is not for the Orthodox, not for Catholics, and not for Lutherans and Anglicans who expect them in a Bible.

    • exegete77 says:

      Indeed, one of my favorite Bibles is the revised RSV 2002 St. Joseph edition with the Apocrypha. Excellent font, size, handy for travel, etc.

    • exegete77 says:

      Oops, that should be the Ignatius Second Roman Catholic edition, which was published in 2006, but was first published in 2002.

    • dutchanglican ~ Hans says:

      Yes Theo I wholeheartedly agree, being a reformed anglican myself… this means that the RSV/NRSV still is the uniting bible (RSV more so than NRSV have to admit!).
      If only the NRSV would get an update some day soon… now that would be great! I also am reminded of the ESV including the apocrypha… yet the ESV is not ‘uniting bible material’ I fear.

  13. dutchanglican ~ Hans says:


    For someone living a far way off (the Netherlands) we share the same taste in bible versions… Over the years I have followed your struggle with the newer versions (from TNIV to ESV and then NIV2011 and now apparently ESV for expounding and NIV2011 for reading?) and I have been through a similar process.
    My first english bible was a NIV and then I moved first to the NRSV, then the ESV and NLT and now… erm…. well I just ordered a NIV2011 thinline reference to take with me to church (I attend an anglican parish here in the Netherlands with elderly ppl where the New English Bible is as new as a version gets lol!)
    In the UK the Good News Bible and the NIV have both been quite popular and the ESV and NLT both are a bit under the radar.
    The NRSV of course has less opposition since we Europeans are a tit bit more… liberal I guess! It’s the default church bible over here (in my parish as well).
    As for that horrid plural ‘they’ lol… in dutch we have a word that is gender neutral and singular: “mens” (cf. german Mensch). It simply means human person and is used for instance in the NBV (new bible translation) of 2004 which as a translation is inbetween the CEB and the NIV and of course the default church bible of all dutch protestant churches.

    • Simon says:

      Yeah the ESV is a shocker in some places – like Romans 16:7 and Junia. It’s funny that when Junia/s is translated as part of the apostles, she becomes a man – like in the NASB. When she’s excluded from the apostles, she’s a woman – like in the ESV. This seems something deliberate as well. ESV, as we know, was a reaction against “gender neutral”, “feminist” versions like the NRSV. The translators of these versions were obviously beholden to the “sinful” feminist movement, so they just bowed to political pressure and made things female when they were meant to be male…. I mean the immaturity of the CBMW is unbelievable!!! The fact that a couple of fundies thought it was necessary to found such an organisation just baffles me. Then to make their own translation, ensuring that gender inclusiveness, where it was originally intended, was removed is just so arrogant. The treatment of Junia in the ESV is simply disgraceful.

  14. To put all conservative Reformed in a tight theological can is again very wrong! As TC knows there are few Reformed Brits who comment here, and they are not all ESV zealots! Thank God the Reformed Church is much bigger than just the American scene.

    • Simon says:

      I take your point. It’s just that the Reformed guys in the US are particularly loud, really condescending and, you could say, that some even lack love. Sometimes they are even explicit about lacking love. I have a copy of the ESV Study Bible (aka the Reformed manifesto). In their commentary on the famous verse “God is love” in 1 John, the first comment they make is “God isn’t only love”. Almost immediately they draw our attention away from what John is saying here to the sort of harsh, angry God they want to portray much of the time. It doesn’t really occur to them that God’s discipline is an act of love, that His judgment stems from His love etc. I think John’s point is that the essense of God’s whole being is love, and this permeates in everything He does and is. To try and compartmentalize God’s character and take focus away from His love, is perhaps because they are uncomfortable with a God who really does love everyone. A God that doesn’t have vengeance at the heart of His actions, but rather love. Ultimately the American Reformed are unhappy with an idea of God who loves those who are not like them. And when I say “like them”, I mean in every possible way. Only those who worship like them, vote like them, believe the sames things as them etc etc you could go on. I can see why Calvinism appeals to such people. The idea of a group of elect, white protestant, republicans – and if you’re not white American then you have to behave like one when you get converted to Reformed theology – who God loves and no one else. Of course i’m generalizing. But I think there’s some truth to the caricature.

      I was once enamoured by the preaching and teaching of the likes of John Piper… he still is a powerful preacher. But the intolerance for anyone who holds ideas that are different to what he would consider orthodox is just breathtaking. And, as I’ve often heard, many Calvinists rationalize their behavior against those who are against them with stuff like “they’re not my brothers, so I don’t really have to love them or have anything to do with them”… Nevermind the fact that Jesus taught us to love our enemies, our neighbors etc. This often does not come into their thinking – loving one’s enemies seems to be a particular problem for American evangelicals (as it is for most of us I’d say, but most of us don’t ram our brand of Christianity down people’s throats the way the yanks do, hence the hypocracy is heightened in America).

      Perhaps the extreme excesses of the US Reformed movement need to be tempered by the Europeans or the Koreans. They just seem to go overboard. Many of them are unwilling to debate in a reasonable fashion. They cling to their beliefs without really questioning them. I mean sometimes Piper seems fearful of Christians ideas that are not his own. Fearful that his idea of Christianity and faith will be shattered if there’s any truth to NT Wright or whoever. People who just don’t see abortion as a critical issue and who point out the hypocracy of those who are so vocal against it, but do little (usually nothing) to alleviate the underlying problem.

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