What Now Shall I Read? A requiem for the NIV

The NIV (New International Version) translation of the Bible was the Bible I first encountered the Scriptures with. I used it exclusively from my freshman year of high school until I started Seminary. I began to use the TNIV (Today’s New International Version) when the full version came out in 2005.

I liked the TNIV because it addressed many (but not all) of the translational errors of the 1984 NIV, but more important, it used gender inclusive language where the text itself seemed to indicate that this was appropriate. There was a large controversy regarding the TNIV, like it was some sort of liberal agenda at work, and this stifled the broader appeal it might otherwise have had among the evangelical community. Nevertheless, I found it to be a non-perfect, but adequate and readable/preachable translation.

But this week, the NIV 2011 was released electronically. The NIV 2011 will supersede and replace both the 1984 NIV and the TNIV. Many things have been changed for the better. Some things haven’t. Below is a comparison of a few verses from the 1984 NIV, the TNIV, and the NIV 2011. I will address the changes afterward.

NIV TNIV NIV2011
Gen 1:6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 

Matt 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.

1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus

Gen 1:6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 

Matt 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human

Gen 1:6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 

Matt 25:31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.

1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus

In the first two examples, you can see how the NIV2011 has taken the updated, better translation of the verse. Thus “expanse” is properly rendered “vault” (actually “dome”, but lets not get picky) and the “heavenly” glory properly gets replaced to fix the addition of “heavenly”, fixing the bias of the 1984. However, notice what happened with 1Tim 2:5. The TNIV authors made a conscious decision to use inclusive language where appropriate. The word “anthropos” in Greek, while masculine,  is not necessarily gender specific to males. It can and does mean “humanity”. There is another word to use in Greek that is specific to maleness, but that is not used, and clearly here, the author wanted to communicate that Jesus is the mediator for all humanity, not just for men.

So why make the change backward? Politics. When the TNIV hit the scene, there was a backlash from people like James Dobson (Focus on the Family), crying that the TNIV translators were liberals and trying to make God a woman, etc… This whipped up such a frenzy among conservative evangelicals (the NIV’s prime audience), that the TNIV, while being the third most downloaded electronic version, did not have nearly the commercial impact it might have.

So the translators gave in to pressure and went backwards. Because they were convinced it was right to do so? To remain true to scripture? No. Doug Moo, Chair of The Committee on Bible Translation, said (speaking of the TNIV), “We felt certainly at the time it was the right thing to do, that the language was moving in that direction.” Has the language stopped moving in that direction? No. In fact, there is a constantly growing cry for more gender-equal language in scripture translation. No one is asking you to translate the Bible in a way that is false. We are asking for responsible use of gender language in our Holy Scriptures.

All of this to say that while I applaud the NIV for fixing some of the larger errors in translation from the 1984, the giant step backwards in gender language, while not a complete deal breaker for me, leaves a bad taste in my mouth regarding the NIV2011.

Over the next few weeks or more, we have some guest bloggers from other Biblioblogs stopping by to give insight into their preferred Bible translations for our discussion. After we have had reasonable discussion, in which I wrestle with issues raised, I will choose my new translation in conversation with you all.

This should be fun.

0 thoughts on “What Now Shall I Read? A requiem for the NIV

  1. Mark Stevens

    Great post Chad but I would make one comment based on your comment regarding the repeal of human beings in favour of mankind.

    I agree with you that mankind is not appropriate however I think the CT would argue they are not going backwards but reflecting the still wide use of the term in society at large. They have provided the data given to them by Collins Dictionaries concerning the use of mankind, humanity, human being etc. The stats tell us that mankind is still used quite a lot (man is not). However, the word is used more in the Evangelical world than it is in the rest of the western world. They made their decision based on this data.

    I would prefer a word other than mankind but what? Human Being is too clunky. Is humanity acceptable? people or persons?

    Thanks for the thoughts! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Optimistic Chad

    Mark, I agree with your assessment. I read the translator’s notes in which they gave the reasoning for the changes. But to be honest, as the NIV does not claim to be a word-for-word translation, they are already taking some liberties with the text in favor of understandability. I wish they would have used that wiggle-room to keep to their earlier commitment to inclusivity like they did with the TNIV. Thanks for your comment!

    Reply
  3. Robert Slowley

    My computer generated comparison of the NIV2011 with the TNIV and NIV1984 has had many major updates:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/

    1. Greek text – now includes the SBLGNT with apparatus

    2. Hebrew text – HBS text included (experimental)

    3. Most changed verses list compared with both TNIV and NIV1984:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/most_changed_verses_tniv.html
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/most_changed_verses_niv1984.html

    4. List of (possible) proper noun changes:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/proper_noun_changes.html

    5. List of word changes relevant to the gender language debate:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/cbmw_words.html

    6. List of all words in text (warning: page is very large)
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/all_words.html

    Plus many many bug fixes, improvements in presentation, and other minor fixes.

    -RobHu

    Reply
  4. JR

    I think they used “mankind” in that verse to keep the parallelism with the “man” Jesus.
    In other places they use humanity, etc.

    Reply

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