The NIV and Paul’s preaching to all without discrimination (Ephesians 3:9). By Fernando Retana.

This week, our special guest is cross-cultural worker Fernando Retana. He is also a student of mine. Thank you, Fernando! If the article seems technical, it is because this is the level of graduate study at Seminario ESEPA: we do our own research on the Greek text and the manuscripts that underlie it. Fernando addresses an issue that plagues Latin American even more than it does the North: theories that modern Bible versions are the Devil’s work.

From the date of its publication, the Nueva Versión Internacional (the Spanish equivalent of the New International Version) has been the object of criticism, not only because of its modern and understandable language, but also because of the textual differences that exist between the NVI and other versions that have traditionally been used in the evangelical church in Latin America. People with great imagination have formulated conspiracy theories: one is that the translators of this Bible have made a more “progressive” translation using “gendered language”. Another theory that has been put forward is that the translators did not really know Koine Greek, but rather that what they knew was Modern Greek. According to this theory, two secular translators had to be hired to translate the Bible from Koine Greek into modern Greek so that the other NIV translators could finally begin to do their translation work.

Unlike the followers of the doctrine of the “Divine Preservation of Scripture”, who affirm that one must believe by faith that God has preserved the text perfectly word for word in the Textus receptus or in the Reina-Valera 1960 or the King James, the scholars understand that it is necessary to follow the steps already established by the science of textual criticism to determine which was the original text according to the available evidence. According to Ladd, textual criticism “refers to the study of the numerous variants in the text of the Bible and the effort to recover the original text” (1990, p.45, translation from the Spanish). The text is determined by comparing a passage in different manuscripts and studying the similarities and differences between them. These differences are called variants. A passage can have many variants; this is the preferred terminology, rather than “errors.” The textual critic also has the task of explaining why each variant is found in a given passage.

Year after year scholars discover new manuscripts. That is to say, today we have many more manuscripts than Casiodoro de Reina had when he translated the version of the Biblia de Oso published in 1569. A sign of this is that in the Nestle-Aland 27 New Testament published in the year 1993 he had used 98 papyri for the formulation of his text, while the Nestle-Aland 28 version published in 2012 used 127 papyri, and since then another 11 papyri have been added to the list (2019) of the Institute for New Testament Research located in Münster (Peterson in Hixson & Gurry, 2020, p.60). But not only do we have more manuscripts, but today we have older and better quality manuscripts. Important codices are now available, such as the IV century Codex Sinaiticus, which contains most of the Old Testament and the New Testament in Greek. This manuscript was found by Constantin von Tischendorf in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai between 1869 and 1872. In other words, the translators of the NIV and NVI relied on the best and oldest manuscripts available at the time of their translation.

Written Analysis of Ephesians 3:9

The verse in Ephesians 3:9 is one of those Bible verses that contains textual variants. Three variants can be detected in this verse. The variant to be studied in this paper is the first variant to be found which omits the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) in some manuscripts. This variant could have been caused by two situations: the copyist could have omitted this word by accident in some manuscripts or the copyist could have added this word with the intention of improving the text. To determine what was the cause of this variant and to determine which is the preferred reading, it is necessary to analyze the external evidence, the internal evidence and the literary context of the variant in question. It is important to emphasize that whatever variant is chosen, it does not alter the meaning of the text. The apostle Paul wants to imply that the Gospel should be preached to all. Not only to the Gentiles, but to all, that is, to Jews and Gentiles. Whether the reading includes the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) or omits it, the message remains the same. And the issue is made simpler by the fact that the critical text and the Textus receptus have the same reading.

The NVI (following the critical text) assumes that pántas/πάντας is the correct reading and renders it this way:

y de hacer entender a todos la realización del plan de Dios/ and to make everyone understand the realization of God’s plan

The NIV (following the critical text):

and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery

La Reina Valera 1960 (following the Textus receptus):

y de aclarar a todos cuál sea la dispensación del misterio escondido desde los siglos en Dios, que creó todas las cosas / and to make clear to all what is the dispensation of the mystery hidden from the ages in God, who created all things

And the King James follows the same line (following the Textus receptus):

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery

Let us examine the manuscript evidence (external evidence) and then the evidence of how the text flows in context (internal evidence).

External evidence

The uncial manuscripts that support the omission of the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) are: the original text of Codex Sinaiticus, which was mentioned above (IV century) and Codex Alexandrinus dated to the V century, which is one of the three most important codices available along with Codex Vaticanus and Sinaiticus. There are other later manuscripts from the X to the XIV century that support the omission of the word, but they are of lesser importance for this study. As for the geographic distribution of the evidence previously discussed, Codex Sinaiticus was discovered at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai, while Codex Alexandrinus was discovered in Egypt. This fact is important because by geographic location we can determine whether one manuscript depended on the other in its translation. In this case, it is quite likely that the Codex Alexandrinus was copied from another codex than the Sinaiticus.

The most important manuscripts that support the inclusion of the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) are: Papyrus p46 (from the Chester Beatty group of manuscripts) which contains the Pauline corpus and dates from approximately 200 AD. Codex Sinaiticus mentioned above with a correction to be discussed below; Codex Vaticanus dated to the IV century which is one of the three most important manuscripts to date; Codex Ephraemi dated to the 5th century which is a manuscript that was written on parchment on which text had already been written but was subsequently erased; Codex Beza dated to the V century; manuscript F dated to the IX century; manuscript G dated to the IX century; manuscript K dated to the 9th century; manuscript L dated to the VII century; manuscript P dated to the VI century; manuscript Ψ dated to the IX/X century. There are also other manuscripts of lesser importance that support the inclusion of the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) that are dated from the IX to the XIII century. Other witnesses that attract attention are: the well-known Majority Text and the Textus receptus; all the Latin tradition; all the Syriac versions; all the Coptic versions; and Tertullian from the II/III century. As could be observed above, the texts that support the inclusion of the word in question are older, especially since papyrus p46 is dated to the second century A.D., and Tertullian’s testimony from the II/III century is important to consider in this study.

As for the geographical distribution of the above mentioned most important documents: the Chester Beatty papyrus p46 was found in Egypt; it is common opinion that the Codex Vaticanus was discovered in Egypt; the Codex Beza which is bilingual (Greek-Latin), also known as the Western text, was discovered in the St. Irenaeus Monastery in Lyon; the Codex Ephraemi is believed that after the fall of Constantinople the manuscript was taken to Florence and later to Paris by Catherine de Medici. By determining the geographical distribution it can be determined whether one text is dependent on the other. In conclusion, with respect to the external evidence, the reading that includes the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) of the text is preferred because of the number and age of the supporting manuscripts and their geographical location. The manuscripts with the most weight are p46 (III century), Codex Vaticanus (IV century) and Codex Beza (V century). In terms of antiquity, p46 is a more weighty evidence as it is a papyrus dated to about the beginning of the II/III century. These three manuscripts belong to different text families thus confirming the inclusion of the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας). Although the inclusion of the word in question is the preferred reading, the evidence for the omission of it is also strong as this variant is supported by the original Codex Sinaiticus (4th century), however, doubts arise as to why a copyist added the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) later as can be seen in the following image. It is determined to be a later addition by the position of the added word and the style of writing.

Gary says: we have added a red arrow to show where a scribe added ΠΑΝΤΑC, “to all [people]” to the Codex Sinaiticus or Alef (א). Take note that Ferdinand does not talk about the manuscripts – as so many people do today! – without having read it with his own eyes.

In the end we opt for the text reading because of the strong evidence for p46 and its antiquity and the variety of uncial manuscripts that support the text reading of NA28.

Internal evidence

According to O’Callaghan, the main rational criteria for preferring one reading over another are: by nexus of causality, the more difficult reading, the non-harmonizing reading, the more neglected lesson, the shorter lesson is preferable, and the style according to the writer. For the study in question, the criteria to be used are: the shortest reading and the most careless reading.

As for the criterion of the shortest reading, the reading that omits the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) is favored. Although this principle cannot be accepted absolutely and generally, this criterion is useful when all possible scribal error has been ruled out. The principle of this criterion is as follows: it is easier to add than to subtract. In the case of the variant in question, it can be noted that in Codex Sinaiticus the word is added at the end of the line (see image above). The copyist may have added the word for several reasons. The most likely is that the copyist may have thought it sounded strange and wanted to improve the text by adding the word. However, it could have been for other reasons that cannot be determined exactly.

As for the criterion of the “most careless reading,” it appears that the favored reading is the one that omits the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας). The plain and rude reading is preferable over the elegant and retouched lesson. It is likely that the copyist meant to retouch since, according to Metzger, the word “make understand, enlighten, give light” (φωτίσαι) usually requires an accusative direct object. Considering this comment, it is likely that the copyist had the need to want to introduce the accusative since without the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) it would read strangely in the Greek.

According to the two criteria discussed above, with respect to the internal evidence, the preferred reading is the one that omits the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) from the text.

Literary Context

In analyzing the literary context and message of this passage, it is quite likely that the copyist added the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) because, as stated above, according to Metzger, the verb “to make understand, to enlighten, to give light” (φωτίσαι) seems to require an accusative direct object. In Walter Bauer’s lexicon we have found when and how the above-mentioned verb has been used both in the Pauline writings and the NT in general. First, the use of the verb in the Pauline writings will be studied. Ephesians 1:18 begins as follows: “I ask also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (πεφωτισμένους τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας πεφωτισμένους). One may note the article and accusative noun “the eyes” (τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς) after the verb “be enlightened” (πεφωτισμένους). In the case of 2 Tim. 1:10 there is also the accusative direct object “the life” (ζωὴν) after the verb “brought to light” (φωτ̔ισαντος). In case of 1 Cor. 4:5 the verb “will bring to light” (φωτίσει) is accompanied by the article and adjective “that which is hidden” (τὰ κρυπτὰ) which is in accusative. As for the literary context in the Pauline letters, it can be stated that the verb “to enlighten, give light, bring to light, reveal, make known” (φωτίζω) (Tuggy, 2003, p.1006), in its different conjugations, is always accompanied by an accusative direct object.

As for the non-Pauline literary context, in Rev. 18:1 the verb “was enlightened” (ἐφωτίσθη) is accompanied the preposition “with” (ἐκ) and the article and genitive noun “his radiance” (δόξης τῆς δόξης). In Rev. 21:23 the verb “enlightens her” (ἐφώτισεν) is accompanied by the accusative “to her” (αὐτήν). In Rev. 22:5 the verb “will light them” (φωτίσει) is accompanied by the preposition “to” (ἐπ) and the accusative direct object “to them” (αὐτούς). In Luke 11:36, the verb “enlighten” (φωτίζῃ) is accompanied by the personal pronoun “you” (σε). A case similar to Ephesians 3:9 is found in John 1:9 where the verb “she who gives light” (φωτίζει) is accompanied by the accusative direct object “to all” (πάντα) to refer that the true light gives light to every human being. In conclusion, in the non-Pauline literary context the verb “to enlighten, to give light, to bring to light, to reveal, to make known” (φωτίζω) is not always accompanied by an accusative direct object.


As for external evidence, the preferred reading is the one that includes the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας). This reading is favored because of the antiquity and diversity of its witnesses: p46 (II/III century), Codex Vaticanus (IV) and Codex Beza (V). Although the witnesses supporting the variant are also weighty (original Codex Sinaiticus), the witnesses for the inclusion of the word are more solid due to their antiquity and diversity.

As for the internal evidence, according to the criteria for choosing the preferred reading, the criteria of the “shortest reading” and the “most neglected lesson” favor the omission of the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας). The omission is chosen as preferred because of the principle of “it is easier to add than to take away.”

As for literary context, the inclusion of the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας) is favored because every time the verb “to enlighten, give light, bring to light, reveal, make known” (φωτίζω), in its different forms, appears, it is accompanied by an accusative. As for non-Pauline literary context, John 1:9 uses the verb φωστίζω with the same accusative adjective as Ephesians 1:9 (πάντα). In conclusion, the literary context favors the reading that includes the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας).

According to the above the preferred reading is the reading of the text, i.e., the reading that includes the word “to all” (pántas/πάντας). The arguments regarding external evidence and literary context are stronger than the internal evidence, especially since the internal evidence criteria are not accepted absolutely and generally.

Having analyzed both the external and internal evidence of the text, it is important to recognize certain issues about the Critical Text, i.e., the text on which Nestle-Aland 28 relies for the shaping of his Greek text and from which the NIV is translated. First, one may note the antiquity and quality of the manuscripts taken into account for the creation of the Critical Text. It is important to remember that manuscripts such as Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus were not taken into account for the creation of the Textus receptus. Second, the decision made for the Greek text of Ephesians 3:9 is not based on whim, but is made based on criteria already established by the science of textual criticism. The decision to choose the preferred reading of a variant is not based on agendas imposed by interest groups – the presence or absence of pántas would reveal some hidden agenda only by the wildest flight of imagination. Third, editors take into account the literary context in which the textual variant is found. They analyze the word in question in the various contexts in which it appears within the NT and in other writings of the time. These three general conclusions about the text used by the NIV show the painstaking care that goes behind the establishment of the underlying Greek text; that it is not based on political or cultural agendas. Scholars relied on already established criteria to determine the preferred reading of each variant throughout the NT.


Aland, K., Aland, B., Karavidopoulos, J., Martini, C. M., & Metzger, B. M. (2012). Novum Testamentum Graece (28a ed.). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft.

Bauer, W., ed. Danker, F.W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3a ed.). Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Codex Sinaiticus (2022). Imagen capturada del texto de Efesios 3. Recuperada el 26 de agosto de 2022.

Hixson, E. & Gurry, P. (eds.) (2020). Myths and mistakes in New Testament textual criticism. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Ladd, G.E. (1990). Crítica del Nuevo Testamento: Una perspectiva evangélica. El Paso, TX: Editorial Mundo Hispano.

Metzger, B.M. (2006) Un comentario textual al Nuevo Testamento griego. Primera edición. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/German Bible Society.

Nestle, E., & Nestle, E. (2012). Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus. (B. Aland, K. Aland, J. Karavidopoulos, C. M. Martini, & B. M. Metzger, Eds.) (28. revidierte Auflage). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft/German Bible Society.

O’Callaghan, Josep. (2000). Introducción a la crítica textual del Nuevo Testamento (2da ed.). Navarra: Editorial Verbo Divino.

Tuggy, A. E. (2003). Léxico griego-español del Nuevo Testamento. El Paso, TX: Editorial Mundo Hispano.

“The NIV and Paul’s preaching to all without discrimination (Ephesians 3:9)”. By Fernando Retana, student at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

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