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Sunday, April 3, 2011

What Happened to the NIV?

A year ago, in a brief article about Bible translations, I made this statement: “The NIV is certainly useful, particularly for younger readers, and for reading the Old Testament narrative passages. Many choose it as their primary Bible. Note, thought, that the NIV is scheduled to be revised in the near future, and depending on those revisions, it is possible the updates could make it become an unacceptable translation.”

It is time to go back and see what they did with the NIV, because just a few months ago, the new NIV (2011) came out.

Before it came out, many conservative scholars were concerned. This is because Zondervan introduced a TNIV (Today’s NIV) back in 2005, and it was a blatantly gender-neutral translation, a dramatic change from the original NIV (1984), and which caused no small amount of controversy in the evangelical community. Many conservative scholars rightly blasted the TNIV, and it (thankfully) never really took off.

With the dramatic changes in the TNIV, many eyes were on Zondervan to see what they would do with the long-awaited revisions to the NIV. Note that the TNIV was never intended to replace the NIV – they would both be sold. But the newly revised NIV (2011) WOULD replace the old NIV (1984), meaning that the 1984 version would no longer be published. In other words, the new NIV would be much more important than the ill-fated TNIV.

To summarize, the NIV (2011) is not as bad as the TNIV, but it is problematic in similar ways. Some of the specific problems in the TNIV have been fixed (or partly fixed) in the new NIV, but many were not. The apparent goal of modest gender-neutrality has resulted in an NIV that is not nearly as faithful to the original languages as the old NIV was. If you’d like to see a full and semi-technical review of the NIV (2011), please go to the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood website at http://www.cbmw.org/.

Just to give a few examples, in Psalm 1:1, “blessed is the man” (as found in NASB, NKJV, ESV, Berkley, RSV, NIV(1984) and most others) is now ‘translated’ as “blessed is the one” in the NIV 2011. The Hebrew word is a singular masculine noun, literally “the man”. Was it the intent of the songwriter to exclude women? I don’t think so, not at all. However, it is not the right of a translator to take a singular masculine and change it to a genderless plural. In my view, that’s not translation, that’s interpretation. God’s Word is too precise, too perfect, too verbally inspired, for anyone to be so loose with the wording. The problem of verse 1 continues to the succeeding verses, where “his delight” (most translations) is now rendered “whose delight”, and “he will be like a tree” has been changed to “that person will be like a tree”.

How about an example from the New Testament? Hebrews 12 verse 7, as rendered by the NIV 2011, states “... God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” The obvious change is the word “children”, which is rightly translated “sons” in most every other translation. The original Greek word is a masculine word for a male child. The NIV (2011) folks are so committed to their ideology that in verse 8, they added “and daughters” to the end of the verse, apparently thinking that ending the verse with the word “sons” was somehow incomplete. “And daughters” is simply not in the Greek text.

A similar problem can be found in Luke 17 verse 3. The NIV (2011) changed the wording to this: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them;”. But that isn’t what Jesus said. “Or sister” is not in the text. And the “them” isn’t really a them, it is a singular “him”. Many other instances of this and similar problems are found throughout the new NIV (2011).

In my opinion, if you have an original NIV, I’d encourage you to keep reading it. But if you’re looking for a new Bible, the updated NIV (2011) would not be on my list of preferred translations. With a number of better English Bibles available – better because they are more faithful to the original text – there is no need to settle for a translation that seems to have an egalitarian or feminist agenda. Suggested translations would include: ESV (English Standard Version), NASB (New American Standard Bible, my favorite), HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible), and the NKJV (New King James Version).

Is it sinful to read or own a new NIV? Of course not. But if we believe that God truly and fully inspired His Word (called verbal plenary inspiration), and that the smallest letters and strokes of the pen are all important (Matt. 5:18), then we would be wise to read English Bibles that carefully and faithfully translate the original text. The original Author has spoken clearly, and we should listen (and read, and translate) carefully.


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