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The newest NIV


By Terry - Posted on 26 November 2010

 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the Authorised (ie King James) Bible (AV). Whist no one would be silly enough to suggest today’s AV is exactly the same as that original1, it has nevertheless stood the test of time and still accurately reflects the understanding of the manuscripts used in its initial translation.2

I first picked up a copy of the NIV in the mid 1980’s. I still have it & use it from time to time, although these days I tend to use the ESV for everything except the public reading of Scripture. At those times I still use the NIV simply because I know those who have brought their Bible to church would most likely be using it.

Dynamic or formal equivalence
There are three main ways to translate a text such as the Bible and each time a publisher sets itself the goal of producing a new version (which is necessary each and every time the Bible is printed in a new language) the decision must be made to produce it one of three way: dynamic equivalence, formal (ie literal) equivalence or paraphrase.

Dynamic equivalence – Translating the thoughts of the sentence, not necessarily each word. Using this method, the translator has decided the text will read better if the basic meaning of the sentence is conveyed accurately even if the literal words cannot be supported in the original. I think it’s fair to say this is the most common form of translation today. The NIV uses this method somewhat, although it is quite a balancing act. This explains why revisions are necessary: the source documents remain the same, but the English language changes.

Formal equivalence – This method tries to render each word accurately regardless of the awkwardness this creates. It should be noted that every English Bible is dynamic in one sense because the structure of Biblical Greek is so different, but a formal equivalent tries not to be swayed by what sounds nice, but sticks to an accurate rendering of each word wherever possible, including making each whole sentence make sense. The ESV stands on this side of the fence, as does the RSV, NASB and AV.

Paraphrase – This third method takes the original thought and turns it into poetry. A paraphrase is like a preacher explaining it in his own words. None of those words may be present in the original, but the reader will easily understand the translator’s view of what the passage means. Obviously you have to trust 100% the translator’s understanding of the passage because with this method, all of the interpretation is done for you. Notable paraphrases include The Living Bible, The Good News Bible, The Contemporary English Version and The Message.3

It’s probably worth me declaring my hand at this point because you will understand where I’m coming from as I give my thoughts on changes to the NIV. I prefer a formal equivalence translation. I know they don’t sound so good when read publicly (and so I often do use dynamics for public reading), but I am happy to do the research myself and try to come to an understanding of what the text means. For that, I need to get as close as possible to the original, so when I study, I use a formal equivalent.

The need for change
The publishers explained the reason for their revision:

The chief goal of every revision to the NIV text is to bring the translation into line both with contemporary biblical scholarship and with shifts in English idiom and usage. In 1984, various corrections and revisions to the NIV text were made. A lengthy revision process was completed in 2005, resulting in the separately published Today’s New International Version (TNIV). This updated NIV builds on both the original NIV and the TNIV and represents the latest effort of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) to articulate God’s unchanging Word in the way the original authors might have said it if they had been speaking in English to the global English-speaking audience today.

The changes became necessary, we are told, due to three factors: changes in English, progress in scholarship and the need for clarity.

We know the English language is fluid. Every day there is a new word invented, so the words used in our Bibles must be constantly analysed for appropriateness.

Scholarship obviously plays an important part in any translation. It tells us new information on the names of various false gods, customs and practises. These are given in English so they best describe what is taking place, but sometimes we just don’t know. When scholars make a breakthrough, I think it ought to find its way into our English Bibles. Where was Jesus actually born? Is it false god or demon? Sycamore or fig tree?

Clarity is a concern for the translators as well, but achieving it can be difficult. The idea that the Bible was originally written in street language anyone could understand is all pervasive, but I’m not sure the issue is so simple. It seems to me there are many places where striving for understanding is called for – in any language. It’s an even bigger problem when Hebrew or Greek words carry with them masculine or feminine terms or perhaps nuances in the original language which English simply doesn’t have.

TNIV
I did not purchase the updated NIV of 2005, known as Today’s New International Version. For me the revision, which was born out of the inclusive language debate, went too far & I found myself turning away to look for something else. The ESV filled the void and I have not gone back.

It’s not that I objected to the revision4, but I quickly picked up the sense that there were changes being made simply for the sake of political correctness.

Is it really necessary to change ‘Let us make mankind in our image’ into ‘Let us make human beings in our image’? Was it really it necessary to go to “mankind” from the KJV’s “man” in the first place? Were women really so offended that the English text needed changing? Was it a barrier to the gospel?

Or I suppose we should allow the question to be asked, did “man” accurately reflect the Hebrew original in the first place? After all, the Hebrew word is actually adam. “Let us make adam in our image”. How would you translate that? If you take the view that God is only talking about Adam, the first man, then what do you do with Genesis 5:1 which reads, “He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them adam”?

I guess I just did not agree that these were changes which were crying out to be made. Not like James 1:21 which, in the AV, famously refers to ‘superfluity of naughtiness’. The NIV’s ‘moral filth’ tells me exactly what I need to know in a language I understand.5

NIV 2010
Now, publishers Biblica have announced the release of an even newer New International Version which allows the pendulum to swing back a little. This new version will be in print early in 2011, but is already available online at BibleGateway  and at Biblica.

Guess what Genesis 1:26 says now? “Let us make mankind in our image”.

History will record the TNIV as a rather weak attempt to appease the culture. It was not a paraphrase, but rather the basic NIV (95% they tell us) with certain male-female distinctives blurred so as not to offend anyone. It was an updated language Bible, but because it altered so many well loved verses, it died a natural death.

New translations of the NIV are the work of a body called the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). When I looked at the list of names on the current committee, I found myself wanting to go back to the NIV for another look. These are some of the most respected theologians the world over. Their books line my shelves: Douglas Moo (Chair), Craig Blomberg, Gordon Fee, Richard T France, Bill Mounce & Ronald Youngblood among them.

Any product resulting from the collaboration of these minds deserves our attention. It would seem rather disingenuous to praise a commentary by one of these men (e.g. Moo on Romans, France on Matthew or Fee on Corinthians) but then say a translation of the Bible which they have all worked on is unworthy.

As part of the process of revision for 2010, the CBT also reviewed and reconsidered every single change introduced into the TNIV relating to inclusive language. That is a pleasing thing to hear.

Some changes were preserved, some were rescinded in favour of the 1984 rendering (such as Genesis 1:26) while many were given a third and new interpretation.

I think it is fair to say the 2010 NIV is what the CBT wishes it produced five years ago. It would have saved a lot of angst and they may have saved a few customers along the way too.

So how does it stack up? Let’s look at a few examples given by the committee itself. But first, an encouraging disclaimer from the CBT.

Nowhere in the updated NIV (nor in the TNIV, nor in any of the committee discussions leading up to either version) is there even the remotest hint of any inclusive language for God. The revisions solely surround inclusive language for mankind6.

That’s reassuring, because I think if we discovered the CBT was trying to find ways of removing the masculine language from descriptions of the Godhead, we would not just be avoiding the NIV, but burning it. What we have here is the earnest attempt to get it right. Let’s open the pages and see how they got on.

In each example, I will use the explanation by the CBT for the change and follow it with my own thoughts.

Luke 2:7 - We are more certain than we were forty years ago that the Greek word kataluma used in Luke 2:7 means ‟guest room,” not ‟inn.”

For this they are to be congratulated. The concept of Mary & Joseph scurrying all over Bethlehem looking for a motel is totally ingrained in our thinking. And totally wrong. The translators here have agreed with majority of scholarly opinion that Mary & Joseph stayed in the guest room of a house, not in the animal shed of an “inn”.7

Exodus 4:14: Aaron’s ‟heart will be glad when he sees” Moses, but today we would just render this Semitic idiom as ‟he will be glad to see you” — as the updated NIV does.

This one is a waste of time. If the original Hebrew uses a word similar to ‘heart’, why not use it in English? If it doesn’t, get rid of it. The CBT’s reasoning that “today we would just” say something different is not enough of a reason to change it. If it was wrong in the first place, fair enough, otherwise this one did not need to be altered.

Mark 15:27: We likewise know that those crucified on either side of Jesus (called lēstai) were ‟rebels” rather than ‟robbers”.

OK, good point. If the Greek really means “rebel” then that’s what we should have. Insinuating that they were robbers when they weren’t is misleading. Would “criminals” have been so bad? The KJV has “thieves”, which is obviously along the lines of “robbers”, so which is it? Were they insurrectionists or kleptomaniacs? (I’m glad neither version uses those words!)

Philippians 4:13: The 2010 NIV reads, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (i.e., to be content in all circumstances, whether in riches or in poverty), rather than ‟I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

This could be a valuable change, especially in light of those who enjoy finding ‘proof’ in the Bible that God puts no limits on the success of Christian endeavour. The change from “everything” to “all this” destroys some poetry but is probably worth it. Nevertheless, I prefer the KJV and ESV’s “all things”. That’s the way I like the verse to sound, but if it is misleading, then I’m happy to accept the change.

1Timothy 2:12 now reads,‟I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” Much debate has surrounded the rare Greek word authentein, translated in the 1984 NIV as ‟exercise authority.” The KJV reflected what some have argued was in some contexts a more negative sense for the word: ‟usurp authority.” ‟Assume authority” is a particularly nice English rendering because it leaves the question open, as it must be unless we discover new, more conclusive evidence. The exercise of authority that Paul was forbidding was one that women inappropriately assumed, but whether that referred to all forms of authority over men in church or only certain forms in certain contexts is up to the individual interpreter to decide. Footnotes to verses 11 and 12 also inform the reader that anēr and gunē here could mean ‟husband” and ‟wife” rather than ‟man” and ‟woman.”

You can’t blame the CBT for looking carefully at this one again: the stakes are so high. Whatever English word they use, someone will make too much of it while others will not see the force in it. Obviously, it was felt the AV’s “usurp” allowed a certain amount of authority provided women asked for nicely while the original NIV’s “exercise” was definitely an action word, which left open the possibility that a woman could be the head honcho of a church provided they did not actually practice it. Now we have “assume” which is deliberately ambivalent & I am happy with that. I’m happy with it for two reasons: I think the issue is so important I do not want Christians simply reading a word & looking no further into the issue for clarification and, secondly, I think the next two verses give the context for this curious comment. The reason for all this is creation. What God did in the created order must be expressed in the Church. How you do that is obviously problematic, but that is not the NIV’s problem. 

Psalm 23:4
1984: ‟Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” 

Updated NIV: ‟Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  A footnote on ‟valley” gives the alternative, ‟the valley of the shadow of death.” 

No! No! No! This time I don’t really care if “shadow” was not the original. They are messing with a classic & should just leave it alone. Pick on another verse please.

2 Corinthians 5:17
1984: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Updated NIV: ‟Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Fair enough. The new has come, the new is here: whatever. Sounds the same to me & either way you get the idea. Again, I want whatever gives me something close to what Paul wrote that day.

And just in case you think the CBT does not appreciate the KJV, here’s one to turn back the clock to the good old days.  

NIV 1984: For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

NIV 2010: ‟For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

Has anyone really improved on the KJV rendering of these three expressions, to which the updated NIV returns?

Revelation 3:20
It is unlikely, however, the CBT will please anyone by coming up with a third translation on several passages which it obviously believes have not been rendered accurately yet. Revelation 3:20 is a good example.

A group known as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has taken issue with the CBT's approach to the gender-neutral issue with several new interpretations favouring neither the 1984 NIV nor the TNIV but by taking a "middle ground".

What we have in the 2011 NIV at Revelations 3:20 is neither the masculine “him” or neutral “them” but “that person”. 

NIV (1984):   Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

TNIV (2005):   Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.

NIV (2011):   Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Other general alterations

Leaving aside specific verses, there are a multitude of changes to commonly occurring words and phrases. The CBT explains:

‟Saints” often becomes ‟God’s people,” ‟the Lord’s people,” ‟the Lord’s holy people” and the like. Most people today think of a particularly good person when they hear the word ‟saint,” whereas in the Bible it translates terminology that regularly refers to all believers.

Actually, I think this is a pity. I have often taken up the issue of saints with friends who have a Roman Catholic background and have regularly referred to the New Testament’s usage of “saints” in respect of all believers, not just the special ones. Removing the word now makes that line of attack difficult. I notice the CBT does not say they made the change because the word ‘saint’ can’t be supported linguistically, but because the English word is too often misunderstood or perhaps carries baggage with it. Perhaps it does, but I think we are missing a great opportunity for evangelism here, so I give this one the thumbs down.

Christ or Messiah?

Certain uses of ‟Christ” are now ‟Messiah.” This was true particularly in the Gospels and Acts, where the word seemed to retain its titular sense of the coming deliverer of the Jews rather than its more common New Testament usage, in which it seems to be virtually equivalent to a second name for Jesus.

Well done CBT! They have pinpointed a problem not so much in the English language, but in how we have come to use it. We have first names and surnames and so did Jesus: Jesus Christ. Right? Wrong. The Christ is the Messiah and that meant something significant in first century Judaism. It carried with it a whole host of meanings; not all of them accurate. In time perhaps we too will use ‘messiah’ like a surname. After all, ‘Jehovah’ was quite a common word last century & it has faded from our vocabulary. For now, though, the word messiah should be kept. It’s one of those Hebrew terms like Hallelujah we want to use ourselves, even though we don’t speak Hebrew.

Spirit or spirit?

More uses of ‟spirit” and related forms, especially in Paul’s letters, are now capitalized. Ancient Greek did not make any distinction between upper-case and lower-case letters, so we cannot know for sure whether ‟spirit” (pneuma) should be capitalized or not. The sense of scholarship today is that ‟spirit” was not widely used in the ancient Mediterranean world for the disembodied part of a human being. The committee therefore decided to capitalize ‟spirit” whenever a reference to the Holy Spirit made good sense in a given context.

We must get this one right. The CBT has my permission to meet every week until this is sorted out. Spirit with a capital “S” refers to the Holy Spirit, but spirit with a lower case “s” refers to that part of humanity. On this issue we can only pray the CBT is given whatever resources it needs to keep working at it. As they have indicated, the New Testament Greek used uncial letters, not upper & lower case, so this is a tough one. We’re praying for you boys!

Apart from the above cases, there are hundreds of examples of text tweaking where pronouns have been inserted to make the text flow or words such as “O” have been left out (eg “O Lord”) or similar. No one should be greatly trouble by all this. Admittedly, some verses won’t sound as nice, but that’s more of a personal preference. In many cases, had these alterations been there from Wycliffe’s day, we would not bat an eyelid.

My verdict
As a Bible, the NIV is pretty good. I do not hold to the view that the NIV is a satanic last days’ deception designed to divert the Church away from God’s Word. Usually, that view is held by King James only people. They ought to walk more humbly before the rest of us, especially in light of the shortcomings it has.8

To be honest, one of the best features of modern Bibles is their maps and illustrations. The ESV Study Bible has done particularly well in this area and I guess when we see the hard copy of NIV 2010 we will judge it along similar lines.

As for the text itself, from what I have seen, I would give it the thumbs up. I would suggest that if you use it for congregational reading in Church of a Sunday, then there is ample reason to switch over to the 2010 text. They have improved it in several areas and have corrected a few errors in the previous rendition. Not all of it sounds great to the ear, but most of that is personal prejudice.

One thing which is not often noted is how ‘American’ the NIV is. We still see words such as “ax” and the American spellings of “savior”, “neighbour” and “honor” remain whereas English grammar requires the letter “u” before the “r”, but I think we can put up with that.

For personal study, I will stick to the ESV. I cannot see a reason to move across to an NIV which is still a dynamic equivalent and 95% the same as before, but for the public reading of Scripture, I think the NIV is still first among equals.

 

Footnotes
1. Actually, some do claim they are the same. See www.jesus-is-lord.com which shows a couple of facsimiles of an original KJV which are referred to as, ‘The exact same text as we have today!’ That is not literally true. The letter “J” was missing for a start and the letter “s” was rendered with two letters depending on whether the sound was that of the hard “s” as in ‘state’ or the “z” sound as in ‘Hebrews’. Not only that, but the original Authorised Bible also contained the Apocrypha and the 1611 AV underwent a major revision in 1769.

To view any page from an early version of the KJB see here.

The British Library’s copy of the original Gutenberg Bible can be viewed here.

2 .For more information on the history of the KJV, and several others, go to Gospelhall.org.

3. One of the most exhaustive sources available on the web is at www.bible-researcher.com.

4. It is part of the charter of the NIV Committee for Bible Translation that they meet annually to discuss changes in English word usage and look at the latest scholarly opinions however, the NIV is not owned by a publisher as such. It is owned by a non-profit organization called Biblica (which used to be known as the International Bible Society). Zondervan holds the exclusive North American rights to publish the hard copy NIV.

5. The best treatment of the inclusive language debate I have read is Don Carson’s The Inclusive Language Debate – A plea for realism, 1998, Baker Books.

6.  I wonder if the committee voted on using ‘mankind’ in this statement!

7. Yes, animals stayed indoors too. The best discussion I have seen on this topic is in Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes, 2008, IVP.

8. For example, in Romans 8:26 the Holy Spirit is famously referred to as “itself” which is obviously a denial of the trinity. The original AV scholars would not have meant to deny the trinity, so we should cut them some slack (after all, the Greek is neutral), but could anyone seriously argue this verse should not be updated? For a general discussion of the King James only issue, see Don Carson’s The King James Version Debate – A plea for realism, 1979, Baker Books.


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