“I have a great devotional bible…”

These are words I hear periodically in our parish bookstore (which I manage).  Typically it is in the context of me attempting to sell them an Orthodox Study Bible.  Certainly I have as a goal the desire to sell product as we try to make the bookstore successful, but my primary goal is that the customer get something that will be edifying.  Since there is currently  no Orthodox Study Bible, I know that the devotional will either be Catholic or Protestant, and most likely Protestant (just based on numbers).  In either case, the theology in the devotions will likely then be erroneous at times.  As long as the reader is aware of that it might not be much of a problem, however that is sufficient for me to simply stay away.  Some people have the bible and simply use it as a bible, ignoring, for the most part, the devotions.  This would generally be okay, but if the bible is a Protestant devotional bible, then I know it is very likely one of the most insidious translations out there.  My goal in writing this post is to provide some basic reasons as to why all Christians should avoid the NIV, as well as why they should prefer a Septuagint based translation over any other.

The translators of the NIV are guilty of a certain level of intellectual dishonesty.  It is a common view of Protestantism, held by both Protestants and non-Protestants, that it promotes the idea that all people can read the bible for themselves and reach their own doctrinal conclusions.  To some degree, this is what the reformers and proto-reformers (Wycliffe, etc.) were after, although the classical reformers did understand that the me and my bible attitude of modern evangelicalism would not fly.  The NIV seeks to effectively limit people from truly exploring the scriptures themselves by pursuing a translational approach known as “thought for thought.”  That is, the translators give us, as readers, what they believe the idea was that a particular author was trying to get across.  What this means is that the translators will give us their doctrine disguised as Scripture.

Selective and Misleading Translation

What happens because of this?  The first thing is that the translators will translate identical Greek words quite differently in order to support their doctrinal positions.  The most cited and perhaps egregious example is the handling of the Greek word παραδόσις.  The word means tradition, and appears in the NIV New Testament as tradition whenever tradition is spoken of in a negative light (Matt 15:2, 15:3, 15:6, Mark 7:3, 7:4, 7:5, 7:8, 7:9, 7:13, Gal 1:14, and Col 2:8), and only once when it is spoken of in a positive light (1 Cor 11:2), and this appears to be only in more recent editions, as originally it was translated as teachings in this verse, as it remains translated in 2 Thes 2:15 and 3:6.  In the latest editions, it appears that at least a footnote is used to indicate that the word could be translated as tradition, which is something of an improvement.

Similar things are done with the Greek word σαρξ which literally means flesh.  The translators of the NIV insert their theology by at times changing the translation to sinful nature, which alters the actual meaning.  Also, the word εργον, which means works is only translated as works when it appears in a negative sense, and to something else (things I have done or some such).

Mistranslation seems to infect the entire book, and you can read more about that here.  This is, in my opinion, the number one reason to avoid the NIV.

The Septuagint

Virtually all English translations of the Bible have, as the basis of their translation, the Masoretic text (MT).  The MT was produced beginning in the 7th century but was based largely on a particular text type of the OT that had existed at least as far back as the Qumran community.  It was the case that there were many different variant forms of the Old Testament.  Of those, one was the MT or proto-MT, and another was the septuagint, or LXX.  There were other text traditions as well.  We know from its use by New Testament and from statements by Jewish scholars and historians (most notably Josephus and Philo) that the LXX was widely used throughout the Jewish world up through the beginning of the Christian era.  It began to be jettisoned in favor of the MT text type by Jews as the LXX provided much more scriptural support for the Christian claims about Jesus than the MT.

The LXX itself is a translation, but its roots lie in the second or third century BC.  It then reflects another textual tradition.  The legend is that a group of 70 scholars (hence LXX) was assembled by Ptolemy II to produce a Greek translation of the Torah for use by Jews (in particular in Alexandria) who were no longer fluent in Hebrew, but well understood Koine Greek.  It represents a different text tradition from that behind the Masoretic text.  Not only are there some verse changes, but the canon (or list of books) is more extensive in the Septuagint than in the Masoretic text.

For the Orthodox Christian, it is sufficient to say that the LXX is the Old Testament of the Orthodox Church.  Thus, it is the text that should be first and foremost used by Orthodox believers.  However, it is worthwhile to explore issues related to both the canon and the textual variants.

Textual Variants

The first problem with the Masoretic text is that it was not the text favored by the authors of the New Testament.  Following is a table describing some key instances where a quote in the New Testament, typically regarding a messianic prophecy, comes from the LXX and the parallel MT passage is significantly different.



I wish I could recall the original source for this diagram.  I used to use it when teaching a catechumenate class in the Episcopal Church over a decade ago, but ran across it recently in a blog post from 2012.  It may have come from the Orthodox Study Bible project (lxx.org when that domain still existed).

Recently, I participated in a program where we had the goal of reading the Orthodox Old Testament in 100 days.  It was quite a task, but enormously beneficial.  There were numerous places where I learned something new by virtue of the fact that we were using the LXX.  For instance, when using the LXX we learn that Adam and Abraham were not sleeping when God interacted with them, as Masoretic based texts would have us believe.  Rather, they were in a state of ecstasy – a trance of sorts.  When Jacob wrestles with God in the book of Genesis, the Masoretic text tells us that Jacob named the place Peniel, “…because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”  That is, in spite of the fact that he saw God face to face he managed to live.  The Greek of the LXX varies on two key points.  The first is that the Greek doesn’t support the presence of the word “yet”.  Further, it states that Jacob’s soul was saved.  So instead of being preserved from physical death, we learn that Jacob’s soul is saved with the implication that his soul was saved because he saw God face to face.  The latter is definitely a Christian perspective and the former reflects the Jewish views about God.  There are numerous other examples of this sort of thing throughout the Old Testament.  Particularly fun are the places where the Hebrew word “anointed” appear.  The LXX, of course, would have the Greek word Χριστοσ, so the English is translated straight across as Christ.  Makes certain passages really stand out.

For a more detailed review of Masoretic vs. Septuagint texts, I would recommend starting here.

The Canon

The other issue with variants is the canon itself.  There is so much beauty and depth excluded from the Old Testament by excluding the books now called Apocrypha by most protestants.  In particular the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus (Sirach).  Of particular note is the impact of excluding the book of Tobit.  The famed questioning of Jesus by the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-32 is not simply referring to a story the Sadducees made up in their cleverness, but, in fact, refers to events in the book of Tobit.  That book is largely a tale of redemption.  In the words of Fr. John Peck, the story is about:

A loving Father, sends his only Son, accompanied by a holy Spirit, to rescue a helpless Bride held captive by an evil spirit who fills her life with hopelessness and death. This Son defeats the evil spirit, saves the Bride, and takes her back to live with Him in the Father’s house.

When Jesus chastises the Sadducees for not knowing Scripture, he is particularly pointing to this story which is a foreshadowing of the incarnation (and note that Christ views Tobit as Scripture).


A large number of Bibles have been published providing devotionals for different groups of people based on varying needs.  Virtually all of these are based on the NIV, which is problematic for anyone wishing to really study the Word of God.  What you are presented with is a text that is both mistranslated to push a specific religious perspective and truncated to limit the reader’s ability to fully appreciate the Old Testament and both its prophecies and how it informed the writing of the New Testament.  This would be problematic for everyone, and then for individuals who are not Evangelical, you have the additional problem that the theology in any such devotions would be specifically Evangelical and thus filled with numerous errors.  For those reasons, my response when met with that phrase is that they should get an Orthodox Bible, prayer book, and maybe the writings of one of the numerous saints of our Church, and go with that.

Response to a Request

On the Facebook page for my parish (which I help manage), we received this recent post:

Please read and answer the verse in the Holy Bible Exodus 23;20-21, John 5;43, Proverbs 30;4 and Micah 6;9, Isaiah 24;15, Malachi 1;11 KJV.

I will admit that I’m not entirely sure what the poster is after, but I will do my best.

Here is the first passage, from the KJV:

20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

Of course, the Orthodox Church doesn’t follow the Masoretic text for the Old Testament, which is the basis of the KJV Old Testament (although the KJV as an overall translation is used).  Instead, we use the Old Testament of the ancient Church, which is based on the Septuagint.  However, for the sake of this first passage, the translation is largely the same, so we can work with it.  The biggest difference is that the word “place” is actually “land” which makes more sense in the context.  The “Angel” from the Greek Αγγελοσ, means messenger, so, of course, this passage refers to Christ, who is the messenger who is to bring us into the land God has prepared, and, at the same time, is able for forgive our transgressions.

The next passage is from the Gospel according to St John,

 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.

This passage is from Christ speaking to the Jews, and essentially chastising them for not receiving the messenger (referred to in the Exodus passage above).  Blessed Theophylact provides us with this:

The Lord continuously exalts the Father, saying that the Father has sent Him, and that He can do nothing without the Father.  He does so to disprove every allegation that He is arrogant.  But another shall come, the Antichrist, who will attempt to show that he alone is God.

Proverbs 30:4, again, is one of the Old Testament prophecies of Christ.  As the OSB notes, this verse asks six questions.  The answer to the first five is Christ, and the answer to the sixth is Christian.  The verse in the LXX is, “Who ascends into heaven and descends?  Who gathers the winds in His bosom?  Who wraps up the water in a garment?  Who rules over all the ends of the earth?  What is His name, and what is the name of His children, that you might acknowledge it?”

The Masoretic text of Micah varies a bit more extensively from the LXX for this verse, with the Masoretes having, “The Lord‘s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it.” and the LXX having “The Lord’s voice shall be proclaimed in the city, and He shall save those who fear His name.  “Hear, O tribe, who will put the city in order?””  Regardless of the translation, the answer to the question is, again, Christ.

Isaiah, similarly, diverges a bit from the LXX, with the LXX reading, “Therefore the glory of the Lord will be in the islands of the sea: the name of the Lord, the god of Israel, will be glorious.”  The islands are the churches that will be established in the sea of lost humanity, with the name of the Lord being proclaimed by them.

Finally, we have Malachi, 1:11, “For from the rising of the sun even to its going down, My name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering, for My name shall be great among the Gentiles, ” says the Lord Almighty.”  This, of course, speaks of the time when Christ’s Church will be established, where incense will always be offered (as it continues today in the Orthodox Church).

I suspect that the individual posting the question was after the “name of God”, in the sense of the tetragrammaton of YHWH.  The actual pronunciation of this name, of course, is lost to history, although Greek texts, where the pronunciation was indicated, seem to lean toward Yahweh.  Later, during the development of the Masoretic text, scribes added the vowel points for the “Adonai”, which made the name render more like the Jehovah that the Jehovah’s Witnesses prefer.  Of note is that the translators of the LXX opted, instead of transmitting the tetragrammaton to use the Greek word “Kyrios” or Lord.  Rather than just a title, it became used as the name of God.  The New Testament authors continued to follow this pattern.  Of course, with the incarnation, we have a very specific known name for God, which is Jesus Christ.

Of course, the other aspect of the word “name” is that it implies a personal knowledge of the person because you know their name.  This comports well with the Christian understanding that we are to develop an actual relationship with Christ.  The Orthodox Church continues to hold the name of God in high honor, as well.  Of particular note is that the Church prays without ceasing (per St. Paul’s instructions) by invoking the name of God, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”