In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned in passing my gripes with the inconsistencies of the NIV translation that I encountered in the process of writing devotional readings of John 17-21 for Asian Reflections 2008. In this post, I would like to highlight just one of them.
In John 18:18, NIV reads: "It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself." The passage is located within the context of Peter's denial of Jesus.
Moving on to John 21:9, NIV reads: "When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread." This context of this passage speaks of Jesus' restoration of Peter.
With the help of Bibleworks, I discover that the Greek word, anthrakia, translated "fire" in 18:18 and "fire of burning coals" in 21:9 is the same word. Anthrakia literally means "a charcoal fire" (BDAG, s.v.). However, NIV curiously omits "charcoal" or "burning coal" in 18:18 and simply translate it as "a fire." Unfortunately, this error remains uncorrected in TNIV.
This is surprising, and is another example to highlight one of the inconsistencies of the NIV translation. If one were to follow the flow of the narrative of the Fourth Evangelist carefully, one cannot help but to notice the deliberate choice of the word "anthrakia" in both the accounts of the denial and restoration of Peter. The smell of the burning coals is too strong to be missed. It is as if the Fourth Evangelist is using this word to conjure up the familiar smell of the burning coals to remind the readers that Jesus brings Peter to his lowest point of failure in order to bring him up to a position where he could be restored and recommissioned as a follower of Jesus by responding to the Master's call, "Follow Me" (21:19).
By mistranslating anthrakia simply as "fire" in 18:18 is to miss the point of the Fourth Evangelist. This is unfortunate. This particular inconsistency is even more obvious when a comparison is made with other translations. For example, ESV, NASB, NET, NLT, NRSV, and RSV all translated anthrakia as "a charcoal fire" both in 18:18 and 21:9.
Hopefully, this small example serves to illustrate the importance of the study of biblical Greek and the need to consult several translations if one were to carry out serious and in depth Bible study. There is simply no short cut if one wishes to dig deeper into the Scriptures. But the reward of drawing out significant insight and life-transforming truth awaits those who are willing to go deeper.