What Are the Difference Between NKJV & NIV?

by Mark Kayo

Scriptural paleographers and textual critics serve as scholars who have committed their lives to comparing Bible manuscripts. As with any language translation, many differences exist and may not translate literally from one language to the next. Modern versions of the Bible tend to gravitate between one of two translation methods: formal equivalency, a more literal translation method, and dynamic equivalency, which tends to focus more on meaning than literal text. There are differences in every version of the Bible today. Comparing these different translations may prove especially helpful when reading or studying the Bible.

Different Reading Levels

The issue of readability always comes into play when comparing different translations of the Bible. For example, the standard King James Version (KJV) made reading and understanding the Bible easier for people in the 1600s. Today's KJV reads at a 12th-grade level. The New King James Version (NKJV) reads at a 9th-grade reading level, while the New International Version (NIV reads at a 7th-grade level. The NKJV serves as a more literal translation of the Bible, following more closely to the original Hebrew and Greek texts. The NIV also adheres closely to the literal texts but provides more of an intended meaning of Scripture.

Example of Language Translation Problems

Sometimes, literal translations between languages do not communicate the same message in both languages. Several years ago, Braniff Airlines opened a new route into Mexico. To emphasize their airplanes had all-leather seats and passengers could "fly in leather," they created ads which read "Vuela Braniff, Vuela encuero." The phrase translates to "Fly Braniff. Fly naked." A good example of the literal meaning reading different from the intended meaning. For the NKJV and the NIV, or any Bible version, translators make a determination between the literal meaning and the intended meaning of original texts.

Formal Equivalence (NKJV)

The formal equivalent method of Bible translation stays closer to the actual, literal translation of the original text or manuscript. This method of translation also attempts to adhere more closely to the original Greek or Hebrew texts while still providing a readable Bible in our modern language. While formal equivalence in translation should not provide the only measure of accuracy, the NKJV does a very good job of providing a translation that is close to the literal texts while still maintaining a 9th-grade readability status.

Dynamic Equivalence (NIV)

A type of meaning based translation also referred to as functional equivalence, dynamic equivalence translators read the verses in the original source language, consider all other applicable themes and doctrinal issues from the rest of Scripture, and then attempt to reflect the thoughts or intentions of the original writers. The translators will then communicate those source-language thoughts and writings into the target language at a 7th-grade reading level. While the NKJV sticks to a more literal translation, the NIV finds a good balance between a literal translation and the original intent of the inspired authors.

Translations Compared

Both versions supply some good examples of formal equivalency as compared to dynamic equivalency. One example in the New Testament book of 1 Peter chapter 1, verse 13 reads, "gird up the loins of your mind" in the NKJV. The NIV renders this verse as "prepare your minds for action." The NKJV more closely communicates the literal translation while the NIV attempts to capture the intended meaning phrased for a more modern audience. While the NKJV may serve as a more literal translation, the NIV leans more toward the intended meaning of Scripture while still respecting the literal translation.

About the Author

Mark Kayo has been a writer for over 30 years and has work published on various websites. He has over 25 years experience writing copy for advertisements, marketing projects, catalogs and television commercials. Kayo has a bachelor's degree in advertising and marketing.

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