By Spencer D Gear
In the church I attended on Sunday, 11 September 2011 (North Pine Presbyterian, Petrie, Brisbane, Qld.), John 11:25 was read publicly from the NIV 2011. This verse in the NIV 2011 edition has incorrect grammar when compared with the Greek (I read and have taught NT Greek) and in English. This is how the two versions of the NIV for this verse read.
John 11:25, NIV 2011: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”‘;
John 11:25, NIV 1974, 1984: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies”‘;
John 11:25 in the English Standard Version reads: ‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”‘.
The NIV 2011 rendering is incorrect grammar while the 1974 version is correct grammar. What is wrong with the grammar of “the one who believes in me will live even though they die” in NIV 2011?
(1) In English the antecedent to which the plural “they” refers is the singular, “the one”. Therefore, since “the one” is singular, “they” must be replaced with the singular. In English, these dynamic equivalent translations are possible: (a) “the one who believes in me will live even though he/she should die”, or (b) “the one who believes in me will live even though that one/person should die”.
(2) In Greek, the verb which is translated in NIV 2011 as “they die”, is an incorrect translation as the verb is apothanw, which is 3rd person singular, aorist 2, active, subjunctive of apothaneskw. Therefore, the verb needs to be translated with the singular, “that one should die”. If you want to translate with dynamic equivalence, the meaning could be, “those who believe in me will live even though they die”.
However, as it stands, the grammar in both Greek and English of the second half of John 11:25, NIV 2011, is incorrect with the words, “the one who believes in me will live, even though they die”. I urged the International Bible Society (publishers of the NIV 2011) to change this for the sake of English speakers and to be consistent with the Greek language.
At the street level when I was living in theUSA, Canada and here in my home country of Australia, many people confuse the singular antecedent with a plural pronoun which follows. However it did surprise me that the NIV 2011 inserted this grammatical error. I wonder how many other times this happens in this new revision.
I consider the NIV to be an excellent translation, as long as we understand that it is a meaning-for-meaning translation (i.e. dynamic equivalence).
This is what is stated about the NIV translators on BibleGateway, “The New International Version (NIV) is a completely original translation of the Bible developed by more than one hundred scholars working from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts”.
I look forward to hearing from the International Bible Society that this grammatical error is corrected in future printings of the NIV.
Here’s a list of the NIV translators. I know of many of these and they are fine Bible scholars in the evangelical Protestant tradition.
This Biblica (home of the NIV) article contains a section on “What Was Decided About Inclusive Language” for NIV 2011. In short, it means that inclusive language was used for “mankind” but definitely not for God.
This is the email response I received in Australia (received 13 September 2011) from the International Bible Society (Biblica) in response to my inquiry about the above information about John 11:25:
Thank you for your feedback regarding the NIV translation. We appreciate your opinion and welcome your prayers for us and the Committee on Bible Translation. We always seek to faithfully translate the meaning of the original biblical texts.
Though your grammatical explanation is correct as far as it goes, languages are inconsistent. As you know, the Greek word teknon (often “child”) is neuter, even though people of all ages have gender. What’s more, Mathew 9:2 Jesus uses it to address a seemingly a grown man. Furthermore, an inanimate plural subject in Greek often takes a singular verb (e.g., Mt. 10:2, which reads literally “the names is [sic] these”). The CBT’s response to the use of “they” as a singular referent in English is explained, along with other matters, on the following web page: http://www.niv-cbt.org/niv-2011-overview/ An excerpt is here added for easy reference:
The gender-neutral pronoun ?they” (?them” / ?their”) is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents such as ?whoever,” ?anyone,” ?somebody,” ?a person,” ?no one,” and the like. Even in Evangelical sermons and books, where the generic ?he,” ?him” and ?his” are preserved more frequently than in other forms of communication, instances of what grammarians are increasingly calling the ?singular they” (?them” or ?their”) appear three times more frequently than generic masculine forms. In other words, most English speakers today express themselves in sentences like these: ?No one who rooted for the Chicago Cubs to be in a World Series in the last sixty years got their wish. They were disappointed time and time again,” or ?The person who eats too many hot dogs in too short a period of time is likely to become sick to their stomach.” It is interesting to observe that this development is a throwback to a usage of English that existed prior to the solidification of the generic ?he” as the only ?proper” usage during the nineteenth century in Victorian England. Even the KJV occasionally used expressions like ? . . . let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). For that matter, so did the Greek New Testament! In James 2:15-16, the Greek for ?a brother or sister” (adelphos ? adelph?) is followed by plural verbs and predicate adjectives and referred back to with autois (?them”).
May the Lord bless you as you follow his Word.
Biblica, 1820 Jet Stream Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80921, www.biblica.com
I do not find this a satisfactory explanation as it violates a fundamental of English grammar. Because other translations such as the KJV in Phil. 2:3 use this incorrect English grammar, does not justify the NIV 2011 translation of John 11:25. Because the use of they/their ‘is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents’ is not an adequate explanation for violation of English grammar rules.
I’m not the only one with discomfort over an NIV 2011 translation. The Southern Baptist Convention in the USA resolved on June 14-15, 2011, as reported by Baptist Press:
The resolution states:
WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have trusted and used the 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation to the great benefit of the Kingdom; and
WHEREAS, Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House are publishing an updated version of the New International Version (NIV) which incorporates gender neutral methods of translation; and
WHEREAS, Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed our commitment to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and, in 1997, urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture; and
WHEREAS, This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and
WHEREAS, Although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and
WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and
WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.
 I sent this information to the International Bible Society, which translated the NIV, on Monday, 12 September 2011, at: http://www.biblica.com/contact-us/.
Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 October 2015.