For years, the NIV has been the most loved, and most hated of the modern Bible versions produced in the 20th Century. Many of us who used to be KJV-only advocates used to reserve our sharpest criticisms for the NIV. Perhaps that background is one of the reasons many of us still are hesitant to use it. We just prefer a more literal approach to Bible translation for various reasons.
With the advent of Today’s New International Version, there was an outcry about gender neutral language run too far. Partly as a result of this controversy, the English Standard Version was produced. The ESV is a conservative remake of the somewhat liberal Revised Standard Version. And the ESV took the Bible market by storm, as many Reformed pastors and teachers have made it their Bible of choice. It is making inroads into non-Reformed segments of Christianity as well.
Along the way, people like Leland Ryken, John Piper and Wayne Grudem have had some not so flattering things to say about the NIV, and especially the TNIV. And many other conservative scholars have concurred. At issue are the many places where the NIV smooths over the text to make nice sounding English, but in the process obscures the presence of important connector words like “for” and other features of the text which influence its interpretation. Many feel the NIV makes too many interpretive choices for its readers. Of course the gender neutrality of the TNIV is not a problem in the NIV, but the direction the TNIV took seems to be far afield of where conservative scholarship thinks we should go with respect to Scriptural integrity.
In light of this reaction, I was initially hopeful that the announcement of a new NIV update might promise a turn toward a better direction for the NIV. After reading the translators’ notes about the new update, I am inclined to think it actually is the positive change I was hoping for. In several cases they move toward a greater transparency to the original text. They restore many of the missing “for”s, and the gender neutral language concerns seem for the most part to be satisfactorily addressed. The tack they take is not much different than the ESV which also uses some gender neutral language in an attempt to employ contemporary English.
In this whole process I was also pleased to learn that the publishing house has little control, if any, over the actual text of the Bible translation. The translation aspects of the NIV are kept separate from the publishing and marketing arm of spreading the finished product abroad.
I encourage you to read the translator’s notes on this important update for yourself. You can also see a video introduction of the text by Douglas Moo, the chair of the translation committee. Furthermore, there are several comparison tools available for comparing the 1984 NIV text, and the TNIV and now the new 2011 NIV Update edition. BibleGateway can do that. And a couple other sites have comparison tools for comparing the various manifestations of the NIV: This site has a drop down menu to pull up the text a chapter at a time. This one offers several different comparison points between the editions.
I think this whole update was handled transparently and honestly. I believe it is a good sign that evangelicalism as a whole has a careful concern for the text of Scripture and aren’t just ready to adopt any translation that can be made. The respect and care with which the translators of the NIV handle their work has been apparent through the whole process. I think the end result will prove to be a blessing to the wider church, even with the presence of other useful, conservatively produced translations. May this lead to a greater unity and a lessening of the “Bible wars” which have been transpiring in the last decade or so. I for one, am eager to get a copy of this new NIV, to see how it compares with my ESV.
One last word: check out Rick Mansfield’s review of the updated NIV. I’m sure more reviews will be forthcoming, in the next few weeks.
~cross posted from my team KJV Only debate blog