Was the word "homosexual" intentionally removed from the NIV translation of the Bible?

Email Received:

Some people say that the NIV Bible translation was compiled by people with hidden motives. For instance, I've heard that they removed words like "homosexual." Is this true?

Ted's Response:

There have been volumes of information written about the topic of homosexuality in the Bible. I do not have the time to go into a detailed discussion about this. I will say, though, that the notion that homosexuality has been "removed" from the NIV is false. For instance, consider 1 Corinthians 6:9,10, first in the KJV and then in the NIV:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9,10—KJV)

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9,10—NIV)
Note that the KJV uses the word "effeminate," while the NIV uses the term "homosexual offenders." There are many "effeminate" men who are not homosexuals. Furthermore, lesbians often are masculine, not effeminate. So the KJV is not very clear in its translation. But the meaning of the term "homosexual offenders" in the NIV is very specific and unmistakable.

Now, consider Romans 1:26,27, first in the KJV and then in the NIV:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. (Romans 1:26,27—KJV)

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. (Romans 1:26,27—NIV)

Both of these describe unnatural sexual relations between women and women and between men and men. Focusing on the bold sections, I feel that the NIV is much easier to read through and understand than the KJV.

The KJV reads "men with men working that which is unseemly." That could mean men in a gang who harm and steal from others, or men who act rudely and inappropriately around others, or something else besides having homosexual acts with each other.

However, the NIV more clearly describes homosexuality with the phrase "indecent acts with other men." That plainly implies homosexual acts between men.

In addition, the phrase "that recompence of their error which was meet" in the KJV presents some problems for me. On the other hand, there is no doubt about the meaning and implication of the phrase "the due penalty for their perversion" in the NIV.

Firstly, the word "recompence" in the KJV is the old-English spelling of today's word "recompense" and can cause confusion with some literate and educated readers. Also, recompense can imply a reward or compensation of some type, in certain situations. Even if it were spelled correctly, it is a poor choice of words in that context.

However, there is no doubt about what the word "penalty" in the NIV means. In this passage, it is a punishment or a consequence for corrupt or immoral behavior. It cannot mean anything else. This always is true, regardless of the context in which the word "penalty" appears.

Secondly, the KJV calls the bad thing that men do together as an "error" rather than as a sin. Some readers might question why there should be a negative consequence for a mistake that somebody couldn't help.

Conversely, the NIV calls what the men are doing with each other a "perversion." There is absolutely no doubt what that means and implies. It is a sinful act that men choose to perform with each other, and it results in a penalty.

Thirdly, the KJV goes on to add the words "which was meet." Most modern readers would stop, scratch their heads, and try to figure out what that means. One of the least common meanings of the word "meet" is to endure or suffer. So the implication of the whole phrase is that men doing something wrong would have to endure or suffer a recompense for that action. This does not address the core meaning of the passage very well at all.

The bottom line is that in Romans 1:27, the underlying meaning and implication of the passage in the KJV lacks clarity to a modern-English reader, especially one reading it for the first time. On the other hand, the connotation and repercussion of the passage in the NIV is straightforward and unambiguous. There is no need to pause and try to figure out that it means there will be a penalty for men committing the perversion of homosexuality with each other.

Personally, I prefer the NIV translation of the Bible over the KJV translation, although I often do refer to the latter to compare some passage. Several KJV advocates have told me how, for various reasons, the NIV is inferior or inaccurate, when compared to the KJV. Here are a couple of my email responses pertaining to these points:

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