There is a post making the rounds on Facebook, being shared by concerned and well-meaning Christians, which claims that Harper-Collins owns the rights to the NIV and ESV and is intentionally altering the text of the Bible.
The post argues that Zondervan, the publisher of NIV and ESV, is owned by the international publishing conglomerate Harper-Collins, which in turn is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Harper-Collins, under one of their other imprints, also publishes books like The Satanic Bible and The Joy of Gay Sex, and is intentionally altering the text of the NIV and ESV in comparison to the King James Version, leaving out many important verses with nefarious intent.
The post then proceeds to list some of these differences and calls on Christians to share the post and to stop using recent editions of NIV and ESV.
Even when we have doctrinal or other disagreements, we should stay honest and check our facts before making allegations.
While it is true that Zondervan, the Christian publisher who publishes the NIV in the United states, was bought by Harper-Collins in 1988, they do not “own” the NIV. Rather, the NIV is owned by Biblica, formerly the International Bible Society and Send The Light Inc., who license it to Zondervan for the American market and to Hodder & Stoughton for the UK market.
Since Harper-Collins does not own the text or the copyright to the text, they do not make changes to it, either.
The ESV, on the other hand, is owned by Crossway, a ministry of Good News Publishers, who also publish it themselves. Additionally, editions are published by Oxford University Press, and a handful of other small publishers. Harper-Collins publish just one edition of the ESV, the “Jesus Bible”, a study Bible with supplementary material by Louie Giglio, Max Lucado, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, and Randy Alcorn. Again, none of these other publishers own the ESV text or the copyright and do not make changes to the text.
So why are there differences between the King James Version of the Bible and these newer translations, and does this matter?
First, the KJV was first published in 1611, and after a proliferation of poorly edited and produced variants in the next 80 years, in 1769 Oxford University produced a revised and corrected text which has become the standard text all current editions still use. The language of the KJV is thus between 300 and 400 years old; one would expect differences in wording between a translation produced 400 years ago and a translation produced 20-50 years ago.
Secondly, the KJV of the New Testament was translated from the Textus Receptus (“received text”), a Greek text of the New Testament produced by Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1516, by comparing and compiling the most ancient Greek manuscripts known and available at the time. By the time the RSV, NASB, NIV, ESV, CSV and all the other modern translations were produced, many more ancient manuscripts had been discovered, and scholars B.F. Westcott and F.J.A. Hort of Cambridge, and then German scholars Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland produced a complete New Testament text based on a wide collection of ancient manuscripts known as the Alexandrian text-type. Nestle & Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece was used as the basis for most of the newer translations. The Old Testament in all of these translations (KJV and newer) is based on the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures, so there are far fewer differences in the Old Testament.
What about these differences, though?
In most cases these are situations where it seems that scribes had inserted text fragments from an account in one gospel into the same account in a different gospel, and it is important to note that almost always these were not simply deleted but rather relegated to a footnote, with an explanation why. The most prominent difference is the “long ending” of the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20), which is missing in the most ancient manuscript copies of the gospel and is thus marked accordingly (though not omitted in NIV and ESV).
And does it matter?
It is good to keep in mind that this is not a new problem but has been with us (the church) and Israel for a long time. Most Christians do not realize it, but all those places in the New Testament where Jesus or on of the apostles quote from the Old Testament? They are not quoting the Hebrew or Aramaic text our Bible translations are based on, but rather the Septuagint, also called LXX after the seventy scholars who tradition says produced it. It is a translation of the Jewish Bible, together with the Apocrypha and Deuterocanonical books, from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek, produced sometime between the third and second century B.C. in Egypt.
By the time of the New Testament, Greek was the lingua franca or trade language all around the Mediterranean, the language in which the New Testament was written, and the language in which both Jesus and the apostles read and quoted Scripture ( = what we today call the Old Testament). They were apparently not at all bothered by the fact that there are some significant differences between the Hebrew and Aramaic text, and the LXX translation — at least they do not express any such concern anywhere in the pages of the New Testament. One of the very important doctrines that go along with the doctrine of the Inspiration of the Bible is that of the Preservation of the Bible: that God, in his providence, preserves his word so that in every generation those who want to know his will can know it, based on whatever spoken, written, printed, or digital versions and copies of the Bible are available to them — be it the Hebrew and Aramaic books of the Old Testament, or the Greek translation of the same which differs in some significant ways, or the Jerome’s Latin translation known as the Vulgate, on which older Catholic Bibles are based, or the Greek manuscripts Erasmus used to construct the Textus Receptus the KJV was translated from, or the Alexandrian-type manuscripts on which Westcott, Hort, Nestle and Aland based their Novum Testamentum Graece, which most newer versions of the Bible were translated from. People have come to faith even by reading the New World Translation produced by the sect known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, which most Bible scholars agree is intentionally mis-translated in places to support the JW’s unorthodox ideas.
Far more important than which translation of the Bible you read is that you read it at all and are open to God speaking to you through it, together with a willingness to obey what he is saying.
But what about the Satanic Bible and The Joy of Gay Sex?
I agree that it is a sad state of affairs that books like this are being written, published, and purchased by readers, and it also incongruous that a publisher would publish both Christian books and such trash. But the sad truth is, smaller book publishers are finding it more and more difficult making ends meet, and as a result most of the major Christian publishers have been acquired by huge, multinational corporations which can then operate more efficiently. BTW, the popular Olive Tree Bible App on Apple, Android, and Windows devices and PCs is also owned by HarperCollins.
Rather than complain that the general publishing business of HarperCollins publishes books which reflect the perverted nature of our secular societies we need to be thankful that by purchasing Zondervan and preserving its Christian identity they actually serve the Christian community. The same goes for Thomas Nelson (also HarperCollins), Hodder and Stoughton in the UK (owned by Hachette of France, which very likely also publishes books we find unpalatable), or for Multnomah Press which is now part of Crown Publishing/Penguin Random House, a subsidiary of the German Bertelsmann Group.
We will see how long the remaining Christian publishers, which are organized as businesses, will survive; Publishers like Moody Press or Banner of Truth or the Bible Societies survive not primarily as commercial enterprises but as donation-supported ministries.