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Prayer and the NIV

By Mark K. Lewis

religion, articles, christianity

It never ceases to amaze me how deceptive and incorrect the New International Version is. I am also saddened by this fact because so many people use this rendition, thinking it to be an accurate translation of God's Word. It rarely comes close to that.

My latest tussle with the NIV came while studying 1 Timothy 2:8, which reads (in the NIV) "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing." The King James has "I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting."

Liberals do everything they can to undermine this passage, arguing that it does not mean that women cannot lead men in prayer. One ingenious twist asserts that "men" (v. 8) and "women" (v. 9) should actually be translated "husbands" and "wives" and thus does not pertain to general Christian duties at all. It is easy to see, when one looks at the NIV, how a novice could easily conclude that there is no prohibition here of women leading men in prayer.

Is the NIV's language an accurate translation of the Greek? It is not even close. Literally the Greek reads, "I will therefore to pray the men in every place lifting holy hands without wrath and disputing."

The changes in the NIV aren't even subtle, and alter the meaning and emphasis in the verse. The participle "lifting" is changed to an infinitive "to lift"; the infinitive "to pray" is changed to a prepositional phrase "in prayer." The definite article (the) before "men" is omitted. Thus, the emphasis in the NIV's rendition is on lifting up holy hands when men pray, completely destroying the contextual sense of the passage.

There is nothing in the NIV indicating that it is men who are to lead in prayer; only that men should lift up holy hands everywhere when they pray. Such an interpretation opens the door to mingling the roles of the sexes and this disingenuous translation provides no restriction on women leading men in prayer.

Paul is contrasting the roles of men and women in prayer and teaching (1 Tim. 2:8­15). The New King James accurately renders verse 8, "Therefore I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands." Notice the men pray everywhere, not just "men pray everywhere" (the King James omits "the" in its translation; the ASV, NASV, and NKJV all include it).

Paul indicates who is to direct this worship activity-"the men." The lifting up of holy hands is incidental, though not unimportant; it indicates that a proper character is necessary for prayer to be heard (cf. Jas. 1:5; posture is not Paul's point in 1 Tim. 2:8). In contrast to what men are to do, in verse 9, Paul says "in like manner also, women adorn themselves in modest apparel." In verses 11­12, "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man but to be in silence."

The men are to lead in prayer and in teaching while the women are to be in subjection and adorn themselves with "good works."

Error can be so subtle, and can slip in hardly noticed. The NIV's, "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer" sounds harmless until one realizes that Paul is not giving instructions on posture in prayer, he is contrasting the work of men and women. The men are to pray everywhere, and "the women" are to adorn themselves modestly.

Paul's teaching is an instruction on who is to do the public praying just as verse 12 indicates who is to do the public teaching. Does "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer" give any indication that there is an interdict on women leading men in prayer? If one uses the NIV, to what passage would he turn to argue that women must not lead men in public prayer?

It is obvious why liberals, who want to blur the roles of men and women in the church, would favor the New International Version. And that is why we suggest the NIV is wrong and should be used with extreme caution.


Published July 1997