The NIV and six degrees of Rupert Murdoch

We see it in panicked blog posts and garish YouTube videos, and hear it in whispers from concerned friends! That Rupert Murdoch is trying to take your Bible away from you and make you use the NIV Bible instead! That he is a friend to the Vatican and a pornographer and the guy who put shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on TV, and so he must be involved in some sort of Illuminati/Vatican/Jesuit/New World Order/Antichrist/Satanist conspiracy. And of course, anyone who helps in the production of Murdoch’s Bible, any pastor or seminary professor who recommends it, must be under suspicion of being neck-deep in the conspiracy.

Rupert Murdoch – I won’t be defending him; frankly, I don’t have to defend him

The narrative boils down to:

Rupert Murdoch owns a publishing company that sells Bibles in the New International Version. Therefore, it is said, should we not reject the NIV, given that Murdoch might be trying to destroy the church’s faith in God’s Word? And so, shouldn’t we just stick with the King James Version, which is tried and true?

Is it a handy edition of the NIV from Zondervan…or is it the open gate to perdition?

The above logic is a double-edged sword, since with a flip of the wrist we can turn it in another direction, one which is just as valid:

Rupert Murdoch owns a publishing company that sells Bibles in a particular version. Therefore, should we not reject that version, given that Murdoch might possibly be trying to destroy the church’s faith in God’s Word?

Now wait before you answer that question, because I am speaking of course of the

1611 King James Version of the Bible

Hold on, you say! That cannot be true!

Here is the proof: Murdoch has an investment in Zondervan, and Zondervan sells the King James Bible!

“Rupert Murdoch – propagator of the King James Bible!”

But rather than deal in innuendo, let’s work with the facts:

The fact is, Rupert Murdoch had no more influence in the translation of the New International Version, which has been a work in progress since the 1960s, than he had in the translation of the King James Version of 1611. Both versions predate his connection with any publication of any Bible (1988), which involvement began centuries after the production of the KJV and years after the worldwide publication of the NIV (the NT came out in 1973, the full Bible in 1978).

Now: There is a play called “Six Degrees of Separation,” which was made into a 1993 movie starring Will Smith. [1] A young man shows up in an affluent couple’s NYC apartment and falsely claims to be a friend of one of their sons and also the child of Sidney Poitier. He manages to worm his way into their lives, with bad results.


The title is based on the notion that every individual is connected with every other in a chain that has six links or less. It was a parlor game created earlier in the 20th century, a game that was later turned into “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” The goal in this modern version is to link any actor at all with Kevin Bacon – who has made a long list of movies and thus has plenty of connections – using six links or less.

Here’s one example: singer/actor David Bowie.

Okay: Bowie starred in ‘Labyrinth’ with Jennifer Connelly. Connelly was also in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (2001) with Ed Harris. Harris also starred in ‘Apollo 13’, in which Kevin Bacon played astronaut Jack Swigert. Bowie to Connelly to Harris to Bacon, only three degrees of separation! (see this and other examples here). 

Kevin Bacon in “Apollo 13”

One of the lessons from six degrees of separation is the cliché, “It sure is a small world!”

May I suggest that the Rupert Murdoch connection with the NIV version is a circumstantial one, one which ultimately is as meaningless as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Here are the links in this particular chain:

  • Rupert Murdoch is the head of a conglomeration called News Corp, which buys and sells companies, especially those which are media of communication
  • HarperCollins has been one of the News Corp businesses since 1987
  • HarperCollins bought Zondervan (a publicly-traded company, hence open for acquisition) in 1988. Zondervan has the US rights to publish the NIV and its Spanish counterpart, la Nueva Versión Internacional

Thus, the most someone could say is: Murdoch is at this moment – but decades after the NIV project was launched in the 1960s – the major shareholder of News Corp, which is turn is the major shareholder of HarperCollins, which in turn is the major shareholder of Zondervan, which publishes the NIV.

By my count: four degrees of separation.

But wait! There’s more! Because we must keep in mind that Zondervan is not the translator either of the NIV or the Nueva Versión Internacional; nor does it “own” it. The copyright is held by Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society).

The NIV owned by Biblica (International Bible Society), NOT by Zondervan, not by Murdoch

Biblica commissioned the NIV translation, which was produced by an independent group of scholars called the Committee on Bible Translation. Zondervan merely has the right to publish it in the US (Hodder & Stoughton has it in the UK), but it cannot influence or alter the text in any way.

Let’s expand our statement above to take that into account. The most someone could say is:

  • Murdoch is the major shareholder of News Corp,
  • which is turn is the major shareholder of HarperCollins,
  • which in turn is the major shareholder of Zondervan,
  • which publishes the NIV in America,
  • but neither Zondervan, HarperCollins, News Corp, nor Murdoch have the legal or contractual ability to tweak one jot or tittle of the NIV as produced by the Committee on Bible Translation and copyrighted by Biblica, nor the NVI.

Murdoch to the NIV  (and the NVI) – now five degrees of separation.

Let’s apply it to the parallel scenario that I hinted at above, the KJV: Murdoch is the major shareholder of News Corp, which is turn is the major shareholder of HarperCollins, which in turn is the major shareholder of Zondervan, which publishes the KJV, but neither Zondervan, HarperCollins, News Corp, nor Murdoch have added or removed one jot or tittle of the KJV as produced by the committee of 47 Anglican scholars in the early 1600s. [2]

Murdoch to the KJV – five degrees of separation.

Likewise, it’s five degrees for the other versions that Zondervan publishes: New American Standard, New King James, the Amplified, the NIV.

Rupert Murdoch is not the producer of the NIV, but a business investor, a person who has indirectly acquired some stock in Zondervan and gains, one would suppose, a few pennies every time an NIV is sold. And even more pennies every time a Zondervan version of the KJV is sold (it’s too old to be copyrighted, thus the shareholders get to keep more). But he is no more closely connected to the shape, the text, of the New International Version than you are, or the Crown Prince of France, or, well, Kevin Bacon. [3]

In fact, I personally am more closely related to the NIV than Murdoch is, given that some friends of mine and a couple of acquaintances are on the NIV Committee on Bible Translation: so, from Gary to two translators of the NIV, 2 degrees of separation. [4] And I could also add that I got permission to use the copyrighted NIV when I wrote my commentary on Thessalonians: maybe 1 degree of separation. [5]

“Six Degrees of Separation” is an intriguing play and movie. The game too is amusing, whether the classic version or the Kevin Bacon manifestation; but these are parlor games, Dad Magic, not careful scholarship. The Murdoch Conspiracy is about as convincing as a number trick of “take your age; double it; add 24, etc.”

Use the NIV if you wish, or the NASB, or the KJV or the NKJV – please, just use some Bible! But to argue on the basis of a parlor trick that we should reject the New International Version is foolishness and the bearing of false witness.

NOTES:

[1] http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108149/

[2] The name 1611 KJV is a bit of shorthand; the KJV was for two centuries regularly updated; what is known as the “1611” version is actually an edition published in the 19th century.

[3] In a supremely amusing turn of events, Kevin Bacon is mentioned in a 2009 post by Bill Mounce, in which he ponders whether the NIV improves the ESV translation of Luke 17:35; Mounce alludes to the Bacon movie, “Footloose” to prove his point.

[4]  And even if close friends of mine were involved in its production, I would not hesitate for a moment to condemn the NIV, if there were evidence that it was a Satanic plot to destroy our minds.

[5] Full disclosure: one of my books was published by Zondervan; another book in which I was a collaborator will also appear under their banner; I do some freelance editing for them as well. But no-one pays me to endorse the NIV or defend it!

“The NIV and Six Degrees of Rupert Murdoch,” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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