NSRV and NIV are Accurate Translations
1 Peter2:11-25 is one of the general epistles that is attributed to the apostle Peter but most likely was not written by him because it is highly unlikely a Galilean fisherman would be able to write good Greek. The Epistle was most likely written around the late 1st century, as Cynthia Briggs Kittredge states in her essay “1 Peter” in the Women’s Bible Commentary.
The four translations I will discuss are the Nrsv, NIV, KJV and ASV. I argue that the NRSV is the most accurate translation of the Greek passage and that the NIV is a close second because they both illustrate the devastating impact of Roman slavery and Roman oppression during the time when 1Peter 2:11-25 was written, while the KJV and ASV both downplay the impact. KJV first downplays the oppression of empire in v11, by using the words, strangers and pilgrims instead of aliens and exiles in which the NRSV states. The NIV word usage is closer to the NRSV stating foreigners and exiles. The ASV version also downplays the oppression that occurred and is similar to what the KJV says. The ASV states sojourners and pilgrims. Words have nuanced meanings, thus there are differences in meaning between aliens, exiles, foreigners, sojourners, strangers, and pilgrims while aliens, sojourners, strangers, and foreigners are similar in meaning. Exiles and pilgrims are not similar. The word pilgrims suggest that pilgrims are in the empire willingly, but NRSV translation suggests something different. The word pilgrim according to Merriam Webster Dictionary means a wanderer or traveler or someone who travels to religious sacred places but exile as the NRSV translates is a foreigner that is expelled or barred from their native country because of political reasons. Given the context of 1 Peter, it is most likely the word is exiles and not pilgrims.
Verse 12 is also slightly different between the four translations. The NRSV states, “Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge “ In v12, the NRSV says Gentiles while the NIV says pagans. This is one of the few times that the KJV agrees with the NRSV and says Gentiles. The ASV also agrees with the NRSV and KJV and says Gentiles. Gentiles are the accurate version and not pagans. Hence, it seems that even the NIV has its biases when it says pagans, which suggests otherness. Gentiles usually suggest people who are not Jewish, but the pagan translation suggests people who are not Jewish and Christian and worship many other gods. Within that same verse, there is a different translation on whether the accurate translation is desire or lust. In the ASV and in the KJV v11, it is fleshly lusts. In the NIV it is sinful desires and the NRSV says desires of the flesh. In the same verse there is also the issue of the phrase day of visitation that both the KJV and ASV use, however the NIV uses the day he visit us and the NRSV uses when he comes to judge. I believe when he comes to judge is accurate.
Another example of how KJV and ASV down playing Roman oppression are the words they use in v13. One such word means to submit. KJV in v13 says “submit yourselves to every ordinance” and the ASV says “be subject yourselves….”The NRSV says accept authority. There are differences between accept, subject, and submit. Accept has two meanings in the dictionary: to consent to receive and the other is come to recognize, regard as true, credit, and give credence. Subject, on the other hand, means to be placed under authority, and finally submit means to yield to governance and authority. These three words to the reader and the translator give three different meanings and contexts. The NRSV use of accept suggests that we recognize and accept the Romans are in charge, while the KJV and ASV are saying we place ourselves under Rome, and it is not a bad thing. Kittredge says, “The word that the NRSV translates “accept the authority of “is the Greek word hypotasso, translated elsewhere as subject yourselves, submit and be subject. The author uses the verb submit five times to the hearers in general (2.13), to slaves (2.18), to wives ( 3.1) of the holy women (3.5) who were subject to their husbands, of the angels, authorities and powers, subject to Jesus Christ ( 3.22) and to those who are younger to submit to the elders (5.5).” What Kittredge says supports my understanding that the NRSV translation is accurate version of the Greek text.
In the same verse the KJV also says king instead of emperor. The ASV also says king also in that verse and not emperor as in the NRSV and NIV. These translations do not seem to understand the political context of removing emperor and replacing it with king.
The context being that the Roman empire did not have a king over it but rather an emperor, although there were client kings such as Herod in the empire. While in the Greek word βασιλεί translates to king, I believe that the NRSV and NIV translating it to emperor are accurate because these two versions understand what was going on throughout the empire. I believe Kitteredge also supports this view when she says that the household codes given such as subject or submit to authority is used to be given to a wider context in the empire. I.e. everyone through the empire must submit to the emperor and other authorities. This is why king is not the accurate word but emperor is. The political climate during the time 1 Peter ,according to Kitteridge because of evidence from the letter, it is most likely that the community who this letter was written to were Christians in Asia Minor who were being persecuted under the Roman empire. Thus if Christians did not succumb to Roman structure, they would be victim of slander and persecution by the Romans (2.12). The NRSV and the NIV translating the Greek word into emperor instead of its direct translation of king thus understands the context of 1 Peter and the persecution of Christians during this time.
Finally, the NRSV is the accurate translation of the Greek and that the NIV is a close second because of the downplaying of Roman slavery in the KJV and ASV. Although there were many \types of slavery in the Roman empire including that of indentured servanthood, we cannot deny the brutality of slavery in the Roman empire. Slavery was almost just as brutal as the transatlantic slave trade, only difference Rome did not enslave people because of the color of their skin. The Romans enslaved everyone. In v 18 the NRSV says, “Slaves accept the authority of your masters with deference not only to those who are kind and gentle but those who are harsh. “ The NIV states, “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate but also to those who are harsh. In this particular incident the NRSV and the NIV are close in translations. The KJV translation state Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward and the ASV expresses this like Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. The Greek word for servants/slaves actually translates to slaves. The KJV and the ASV uses the word froward and not harsh. I believe using froward and not stating explicitly that it is harsh, makes me very suspicious of the translators of the ASV and the KJV. Why use froward a word normal, lay people don’t use if you were not trying to suppress the harsh reality of the Roman Empire? Jennifer Glancy in her book Slavery in Early Christianity expresses, while agreeing that 1 Peter acknowledges that slaves have to submit to authority, she believes this is troubling. If you look at the entire context of v18-25, it is implying that the wounds of slaves are not important, at least on in a physical way. The wounds that slaves get are like the wounds that Christ had gotten on the cross. Hence 1 Peter is saying slaves should not worry about justice because it would not be achieved but suffer like Christ did. The whole context of 1Peter 2:11-25 is imperialistic at the very least. Slaves have to accept the lot of not only kind masters but cruel and harsh matters which with the letter to the audience suggests that Christians must accept being killed and persecuted in the wider Roman Empire. I do not believe servant or bondservant in which the KJV sometimes translates the Greek word δοῦλός (doulos) but slave. Slave fits the harsh reality of Roman slavery and oppression. Glancy agrees with me when she says “By contrast, the author of 1 Peter claims that through their willing acceptance of unjust physical violence, slaves earn the commendation of God “
Context and translation matters especially when one is translating an ancient text. The NRSV which I believe accurately translates the Greek text to the best ability that it can, is accurately translating the Greek text properly because it understands the socioeconomic, historical and cultural contexts of the New Testament. The NIV although with its biases is a close second. I advise anyone when reading 1st Peter and any other New Testament text to read the NIV if they cannot find an NRSV copy. The KJV and the ASV uses servant is I believe a euphemism. The NRSV and to a lesser extent the NIV is not using euphemism but instead is translating over the context into English as best as they could and are not downplaying Roman oppression.
Cynthia Briggs Kittredge “1 Peter,” in Women’s Bible Commentary: Twentieth Anniversary Edition Revised and Updated eds. Carol A Newsom, Sharon H Ringe, Jacqueline E. Lapsley (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 616.
Jennifer A. Glancy, Slavery in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 149.
Glancy, Jennifer A. Slavery in Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.
Kittredge, Cynthia B. “1 Peter” Women’s Bible Commentary: Twentieth Anniversary Edition Revised and Updated eds. Carol A Newsom, Sharon H Ringe, Jacqueline E. Lapsley (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.