What's Up with the NIV?

What’s Up with the NIV?

I’ve been using the NIV Bible now for over 30 years. In case you’re not familiar with this acronym, it stands for the “New International Version.” The NIV is one of the most popular Bible translations among evangelicals in the United States and the U.K. The New International Version project was first started in 1965 at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois. The New York Bible Society (now Biblica) was selected to do the translation. The New Testament was released in 1973 and the full Bible in 1978. The NIV underwent a minor revision in 1984 and a more extensive revision in 2011. This last revision has raised suspicions in some circles.

Big picture: the NIV is a very good translation of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The Hebrew text behind the NIV is Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia Masoretic text. Other ancient texts consulted were the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, and the Latin Vulgate. The Greek text for the NIV is the United Bible Societies and the Nestle-Aland text.

The translation philosophy behind the NIV is referred to as “dynamic equivalent.” This means that the NIV is a literal translation that attempts to capture the meaning of the original text—but more “thought for thought” rather than “word for word.” While this may sound dubious to some, it is actually a very good philosophy of translation. Other English translations, such as the ESV and NASB adopt a slightly different theory of translation known as “formal correspondence,” focusing more on word-for-word. Here’s the bottom line: both theories of translation have their pros and cons. Those somewhat familiar with the complexities of translation know that there is no such thing as “simply translating” from one language into another. The old saying, “all translation is treason,” is an old saying for a good reason. Translation is not as easy as Google might have us think!

So . . . what’s up with the latest revision of the NIV in 2011? Here’s the scoop. It is not unusual for an English translation of the Bible to be updated. For example, the first 1611 King James Bible underwent more than 400 changes by 1613. And this was a mild revision! The original NIV was “tweaked” in 1984 and kept selling under the same banner—NIV. Then in 2005, Zondervan put out the TNIV (Today’s NIV), an updated version of the NIV. But Zondervan continued to sell the 1984 NIV also. The problem was that the TNIV never gained market share. So in September 2009, Zondervan announced that a new revision of the NIV was in progress, and that once it was released, both the TNIV and the 1984 NIV would be discontinued.

When you go out to buy an NIV today, realize that it is the now the 2011 version. It is the only version Zondervan is now selling (unless you can find an older stash of the 1984 versions). The 2011 NIV is different in a number of areas than the 1984 NIV—about a 5% overall text change. And this is ok! I was at Baker Book House one day, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when they were swapping out all the old NIVs, and replacing them with the new NIVs.

I’m all for updating translations. I like my 1984 NIV, but I don’t have any problems with Zondervan for wanting to update it. But it could be confusing to people if they don’t realize that the current NIV for sale is different than the one a friend may have.

One last note: the Southern Baptist Convention passed a statement at their national conference in Phoenix (two years ago) professing “profound disappointment” with Zondervan for the new NIV. This kind of protest often happens whenever existing translations are tweaked or updated. It’s probably a good check and balance for an updated version to go through. But we need to remember that a translation such as the NIV has been thoroughly reviewed by evangelical scholars with great credentials in the original languages.

I think one of the best perspectives I’ve ever heard about Bible translations came from Dr. Bruce Waltke, the brilliant Hebrew scholar. During my doctoral program, I took a seminar in Proverbs with him. We asked him one day in class, “Dr. Waltke , what is the best English translation of the Bible?” His answer? “All of them.” What he meant is that all English translations have pros and cons, all have strengths and weaknesses, but all communicate the Word of God to us from the original languages. Perhaps the best approach is to use several different translations in our own Bible study. Even though I consult the original languages, I like to use a number of English translations to make sure I’m getting as many of the nuances as I possibly can from the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

by Jay Childs, Future Senior Pastor