Does the NIV remove the blood of Christ and deny the atonement?

by Luke Wayne
10/31/18
Return to King James Onlyism

There is a common accusation among KJV Onlyists (and those who have been influenced by their literature) that the New International Version (NIV) translators removed the blood of Christ and downplayed the atonement. The NIV is often denounced as the "bloodless Bible," and there is often suspicion in some corners of the King James Only movement that the NIV translators were engaging in a nefarious effort to systematically undermine Christian faith in the blood of Christ. Such claims, however, are utterly unfounded and serve as a fine illustration of the strained reasoning on which so much of the KJVO movement rests.

Removing the Blood?

The NIV lacks the word "blood" in only ten verses where the word is present in the KJV. Of those, half of them are related to the episode of the woman who came to Jesus for healing from an issue related to blood. Not only does this story have nothing to do with the sacrificial blood of Christ, the NIV does not remove blood from the story at all! It simply uses a different form of the word:

  KJV NIV
Matthew 9:20 "...issue of blood..." "...subject to bleeding..."
Mark 5:25 "...issue of blood..." "...subject to bleeding..."
Mark 5:29 "...the fountain of her blood was dried up..." "...her bleeding stopped..."
Luke 8:43 "...issue of blood..." "...subject to bleeding..."
Luke 8:44 "...issue of blood..." "...bleeding..."

The change from "blood" to "bleeding" is hardly an effort to remove blood from the story, and again, the story is not about Christ's atoning blood. Another of the verses is also related to the medical condition of a person who was healed:

  KJV NIV
Acts 28:8 "...a bloody flux..." "...dysentery..."


In this case, the word blood is indeed absent, but the disagreement here is clearly a matter of exactly what medical condition the text implies. The Greek word used here is δυσεντερία (dysenteria). The word simply means "a bowel ailment" and is literally the word from which we get our English word "dysentery." The NIV is quite reasonable in its rendering here, and again, this is not a reference to the sacrificial blood of Christ. Of the remaining four verses, three of them are related to humanity or to human decent (as we might call someone a "blood relative.") The NIV translators simply interpreted the idiom:

 

  KJV NIV
John 1:13 "...not of blood..." "...not of natural descent..."
Acts 17:26 "...of one blood..." "From one man..."
Galatians 1:16 "...flesh and blood..." "...human being."

The KJV is certainly the more literal translation of the words in the Greek text here. The NIV is seeking to render the meaning of the idioms rather than the meanings of the individual words within the idioms. Still, the substance is the same in both translations, and at any rate, none of these are references to the blood of Christ either. So, out of the entire Bible, there are only ten verses where the KJV has the word "blood" and the NIV does not, and of those ten, nine of them are mere matters of translation and have nothing to do with the blood of Christ whatsoever. This leaves only one verse that actually pertains to the blood of Jesus Christ, and that is Colossians 1:14.

"Through His Blood"

So, all the claims against the NIV as the "bloodless Bible" and the conspiracy theories about shadowy efforts by the NIV translators to undermine faith in the atoning blood of Christ come down to just one verse. Does this one verse support such claims? No. The passage reads:

"In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins," (Colossians 1:14, KJV).

"in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins," (Colossians 1:14, NIV).

Here, we certainly have a reference to the redeeming nature of the blood of Christ in the KJV, and the blood is not mentioned here in the NIV. It should also be noted that there is nothing unique about the NIV here. Most modern Bible translations read the same way, and some King James Only literature will point that out, but somehow it is the NIV specifically that seems to always get labeled with the "bloodless Bible" rhetoric. Now, before we look at the reasons for the different reading in Colossians 1:14, there are a few things worth noting. First, the NIV still mentions the power and work of Christ's blood only a few verses later in the same chapter:

"and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross," (Colossians 1:20, NIV).

The NIV also has pretty much the exact phrase in Ephesians 1:7 that the KJV has repeated in Colossians 1:14:

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace," (Ephesians 1:7, NIV).

If this is a conspiracy to hide the atoning blood of Christ, its a really poorly executed one! Indeed, the parallel in Ephesians gets us to the real issue behind the difference. Some manuscripts of Colossians have the phrase "in His blood," at 1:14, but most do not. Given the two readings, scholars today assume that a scribe familiar with Ephesians may have accidentally written the phrase into Colossians on account of how similar they are. Indeed, even without being able to read Koine Greek, one can look at the Greek behind Colossians 1:14 and the Greek behind all translations of Ephesians 1:7 and see that the only difference is which word for "sin" is used at the end:

"ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν [διὰ τοῦ αἵματος] αὐτοῦ τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν," (Colossians 1:14, brackets around the questioned words).

"ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν διὰ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτοῦ τὴν ἄφεσιν τῶν παραπτωμάτων," (Ephesians 1:7).

It is certainly easy to imagine a scribe copying the letters of Paul and getting to "ἐν ᾧ ἔχομεν τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν" in Colossians and, having perhaps even just recently finished Ephesians and being well familiar with its beautiful words, writing "διὰ τοῦ αἵματος" before "αὐτοῦ τὴν ἄφεσιν" without even thinking about it. I certainly make those kinds of mistakes myself occasionally when I am transcribing things. The most ancient manuscripts do not contain the phrase "through His blood," in Colossians 1:14. The vast majority of all Greek manuscripts, even those in the Byzantine tradition (the manuscript family favored by King James Onlyists), do not contain these words in this particular verse. And it is not only modern translators who acknowledge this. The old Wycliffe Bible from long before the KJV reads simply:

"in whom we have again-buying and remission of sins," (Colossians 1:14, WYC).

The words are also absent in the ancient translations like the Latin, Coptic, and Syriac. Even if one rejects all of this evidence and insists that the KJV is right to side with a minority of late manuscripts here, it is still clear that the NIV translators are not conspiring to remove anything. They are accurately translating the text as it appears in both the most ancient and the most numerous manuscripts.

The Blood of Christ in the NIV

Up to this point, we have only looked at the negative evidence (i.e. what is absent in the NIV). What KJVO advocates often fail to note is everything that is not absent from the NIV. When one observes what is present in the NIV, one can hardly maintain the claim that the NIV translators were seeking to downplay or remove the atoning blood of Christ. Take just a few examples:

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect," (1 Peter 1:18-19, NIV).

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ," (Ephesians 2:13, NIV).

"God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished," (Romans 3:25, NIV).

"and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood," (Revelation 1:5, NIV).

"How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" (Hebrews 9:14, NIV).

The NIV makes no alteration to Jesus' words at the last supper, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," (Mark 14:24). The NIV translators even added the heading "The Blood of Christ" before the section of scripture beginning in Hebrews 9:11. Examples could be further multiplied, but this is more than enough to show that there was no effort whatsoever by the NIV translators to remove, obscure, or de-emphasize the importance of the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ. No one sincerely reading through the New Testament of the NIV is going to miss the clear and repeated testimony to the atoning blood of Jesus.

Conclusion

Much of popular, street-level King James Only argumentation comes down to things like this.

  1. Identify a difference between the KJV and modern translations.
  2. Ignore the logical reasons for that difference.
  3. Assume that the KJV, rather than the original text, is the standard by which all translations must be judged, thus making any difference a "corruption of Scripture."
  4. Read the worst possible motives into the difference.
  5. Hyperbolize the small difference into a broad brushed characterization of the entire translation.
  6. Condemn the translation, its translators, and anyone reading from it.

In the case of the NIV, the accusation of a debased and deceptive "bloodless Bible" actually comes down to a difference in three words from one verse. The NIV contains the very same words in another verse. The NIV testifies repeatedly to the redeeming blood of Jesus throughout. The NIV adds section headings that draw one's attention to the centrality of Christ's blood. None of that matters. The difference is easily explained by just looking at the manuscripts. Unimportant. All that matters is that the NIV lacks a set of words that are present in the KJV. The crime of the NIV is not "removing the blood of Christ." It manifestly has done no such thing! The real crime of the NIV is differing from the King James in any noticeable way whatsoever. For all the apparent zeal for the blood of Jesus, the fact of the matter is that, when all the smoke clears and you look plainly at the issue, the King James Onlyist is never really defending the blood, the cross, or the atonement. They are defending the wording of the KJV. When this becomes the center of your religion and your highest concern, an entire translation can and will be demonized for daring merely to accurately translate reliable manuscripts that differ somewhere from the KJV. King James Onlyism cannot take a calm, collected look at the facts and draw reasonable conclusions. To do so would be to abandon King James Onlyism, because King James Onlyism doesn't fit the facts.