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OK, so this post has sat in editing since July last year when I saw the above question on a dear friend’s blog recently.  I answered a brief ‘Yes’ but on reflection, I thought I ought to expand on my answer a little.

In 2010, Zondervan announced it’s ‘revised’ NIV (which in reality is a revision of the TNIV) which would henceforth be known as ‘NIV 2011’ – although having thumbed through a few at a recent conference, it just has NIV on the cover, so it’s not completely obvious at the point of sale that there is anything new.

I would say that anyone updating their old NIV, would not be immediately aware of any distinction from the 1984 version of the NIV.

It’s fair to say that from the early stages of it’s release (if not before), it has taken a lot of criticism from various quarters. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) were naturally concerned and although acknowledging that there had been an attempt to restore some of the incorrect translations on the TNIV, they hadn’t gone far enough. As with the TNIV, the Southern Baptist Convention (USA) almost unanimously passed a resolution (but this time tabled from the floor) to condemn this latest translation. The Presbyterian Church in the US were also unhappy with it, voicing public concern.

Caveat Lector!

“So why all the uproar and why should I be interested?” you may ask.

Well I guess that my main reason for posting this is that if your NIV is wearing out and you’re off to buy a new one, then you at least ought to be aware of what you are getting so you can make an informed choice.

A Bit Of Background

When the NIV came into the arena with it’s 1984 translation, it was the translation the evangelical world had been waiting for to replace the King James Version. (Well most of them anyway!) As usual, free copies were put into the hands of potential pastors in Bible colleges and many bought in to it without much persuasion. Even when the RAV (Revised Authorised Version – later to become the New King James Version) hit the market, it did not have a real impact on the readership and failed to get broad critical acclaim due to limiting itself to only translating from the manuscripts used on the original KJV. At that point, the NIV had well and truly cornered the market leaving the NKJV only able to secure a relatively small market share.

Tentative Steps towards . . . . ?

Having become the Bible of choice for many, in 1996, Hodder and Stoughton, the UK publisher of the NIV began to ‘tinker’ and released the first gender-neutral attempt of the version called the NIVi – NIV inclusive. The following year, World Magazine accused the version of being ‘a feminist seduction of the evangelical church ‘. A protest of evangelicals followed led by James Dobson (Focus on the family) and the version never saw the light of day in the US. An undertaking was then sought – and given – that the International Bible Society would not ‘tinker’ with the NIV again.

However, the truth was that in the background, the IBS had already secretly employed a translation committee and in 2002, they issued a letter at short-notice to the concerned parties on a Thursday, stating that they were revoking their earlier agreement and on the following Monday the press releases went out for the TNIV (Today’s New International Version). This was a further attempt to make a gender neutral Bible, and some claim it had a feminist agenda.

Not least, because of the secrecy surrounding it and the tampering with the text, it was very badly received. The Southern Baptists Conference tabled a resolution against and it was the subject of much debate and controversy. Wayne Grudem (Against) debated Mark L. Strauss (Pro) on a number of occasions and the diametrically opposed stalls were laid out.

In truth, the TNIV never made a great impact on the market and this was in part due to it standing on book-shop shelves, cover to cover with the original NIV which still had the affections of many evangelical Christians. As a result, in 2009, it was announced (this time in the open and in good time) that a new NIV was being worked on which would replace the current versions and that the 1984 NIV and the TNIV would be withdrawn on it’s release.

So came the 2011 NIV.

Raising The Issues.

The main issues that had been raised with the TNIV were based mainly on the translation of words such as ‘Father‘, ‘Brother‘, ‘Son‘, ‘Man‘ and ‘He/His/Him‘. Also, the pluralisation of some words, the omission of others and the inclusion of extra words not found in the original text. It is true that Bible translation is a broad field and there are two polar ends of the spectrum.

But is this justifiable in translating an older language to make it both comprehensible and meaningful to the modern reader?

There are two schools in Bible translation and it may help to briefly define them.

1. Dynamic Equivalence.

This approach looks at the writing of the original author and translates on the basis of ‘thought-for-thought’. It would ask the questions “What was the writer trying to convey to the reader back then? How can I best convey that same message to the reader right now?” It’s chief aim would be ‘accuracy of meaning’. To that end it would use words or phrases that may not be an accurate translation of the original text, but would convey the sense of the passage using different words.

2. Formal Equivalence.

This approach is at the opposite end of the spectrum and translates on the principles of ‘Word -for-word’. It’s aim is to accurately translate the original word into the nearest suitable English word. It would ask the questions “What was the word that the writer used when inspired by God? How can I best convey that word in the translation language?”

1a. Problems with Dynamic methods.

There are of course potential problems with both. With the Dynamic method, you are substituting a word or perhaps phrase that was not originally inspired to the author. In some cases the translation loses so much that the reader cannot engage with the writer original thought. Take Romans 13:3-4 as an example. In the English Standard Version it reads:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

But in the New Living Translation it is translated so:

For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.

You can see that the reference to the sword has been dropped, the thinking being that today, magistrates do not wear swords and in the original context, the sword was regarded as a badge of office. However, as Wayne Grudem has pointed out, the sword also alludes to capital punishment and whether you agree with it or not, by losing that reference, you lose the option for Biblical debate the topic.

2a. Problems with Formal methods

With Formal Equivalence, the problems lay in a different area. By being faithful to the original text, you face the problem that it is not always easy to translate the original text in a meaningful way. There are problems when ancient words do not have a direct or modern equivalent. Or you may need to use more than one word to render the meaning. On the other hand one modern word may have more meanings and therefore be used to translate four or five original words – not always obvious to the reader which is being used.

We can then add to that the problems of nuance, idiom and genre. Something may lose it’s meaning when translated too literally. Imagine literally translating ‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat’ into Korean (that’s not from the Bible by the way!) It would instantly lose meaning without further explanation. Poetry can lose it’s prose through translation and humour missed completely. Word order is also a problem and if the English translations all followed Hebrew or Greek word order, then preachers would sound like Yoda on Sunday mornings (which may add interest to some sermons!)

5. . . . . so which is better? There’s only one way to find out . . . .

Anyhow, both these are accepted methodologies of translation and quite often a combination of both are employed in varying proportions. (See chart below.)

There is also one more category which is used and is known as ‘Paraphrase‘. A paraphrase version is a new English version is largely based on an existing English text – effectively a translation of a translation. Examples of this include Eugene Peterson’s ‘The Message’, Rob Lacy’s ‘Street Bible and Ken Taylor’s ‘The Living Bible’. That latter was revised as a translation where the paraphrase was corrected by translation and became the New Living Translation (NLT). Paraphrasing is not translating so is not really a part of this debate.

Big questions this raises. . .

For me one of the biggest question is this:

What is the job of the translator?

Is it merely to translate or is it also to add interpretation and application?  During the translation process, the translation committees are faced with at least two main challenges.  One is to translate the words as accurately as possible into the native tongue.  The second is to ensure that meaning is not lost in translation.

But at the end of the day, is not theirs is the job of translation and only translation?

Now if we take the Greek word ‘anthropos’ it’s literal meaning is ‘man’, just as the Hebrew word ‘Adam’ also means ‘man’.   Is there ever a case where ‘anthropos’ can mean ‘man and woman’. Yes, and it is clearly defined by the context. There is legitimacy in translating these words in the way that conveys how they were understood at the time.

But then take the Hebrew word ‘Ab’ – Father.  Can it ever mean Mother, parent or parents?

No it will always mean Father, because in Hebrew it always meant Father.

Valid Objections?

‘But!’ someone might say – ‘But some of these passages that speak of Fathers, Brothers and Son etc, – they also have application to Mothers, Sisters and Daughters etc.’

And I would agree 100%.

But now we are moving into a very different discipline – ‘Application’ and in my opinion, that discipline should lay solely with the Bible teachers. The task of the translators is not to apply the Bible, but to convey as accurate rendering of the original as possible.

The task of applying the Word comes through the Bible teacher, which is a gift of the ascended Christ.

Full circle.

Where then am I going with this? I would go this far and state that the NIV 2011 has gone much further than a translation should. For years, the NIV translation committee has pushed out in a particular direction which I would sum up as ‘Egalitarian & gender-neutral’ and have driven this new reworking hard and fast in that direction.

In that respect, they are not much different to any other translation committee. The all have their biases. The question as always is ‘Which bias is the best bias to be biased by!’

My objection to the NIV 2011.

Where my objections really lay is in that the NIV has for the best part of four decades had a huge market share of Evangelical and beyond readership. Pew Bibles, Gideon’s, John’s Gospels . . . the majority are NIV.

And now, in one fell swoop, the NIV committee having seriously overhauled the 1984 work are able to slip it relatively unnoticed to a loyal readership who will unwittingly renew to this version when the old one needs replacing. I know this to be true for a fact, because I have spoken to people who have done it unawares and they are shocked when you tell them.

Well some are anyhow!

Am I arguing for a version? No. I am arguing for accuracy of translation that enables Bible teacher’s to teach as effectively as possible. I am arguing for the right of a Christian to make an informed decision on the Bible they purchase.

Well that’s my two-bob’s worth.

I’ll be interested to hear yours.