I’ve spent some time looking over the recently revised New International Version of Scripture. The online version has been available for two weeks now.
NIV readers who had philosophical misgivings about the TNIV (primarily because of its rendering of the text in a gender-neutral manner) will be happy to see that some of the more controversial revisions in the TNIV have been modified. Still, the NIV 2011 appears to retain its overall commitment to a gender-neutral translation philosophy.
I don’t want to use this space to get into a debate about the merits of gender-neutral translations. I’ve read through the TNIV on several occasions. I’m a big fan of The Bible Experience as a way of listening to the Bible being read (or better said, “performed”). In seminary, I was required to read books on both sides of the discussion. Good brothers (or should I say, brothers and sisters?) may disagree sharply about translation philosophy. Yet surely we can agree that a person’s conviction on this matter should not cause us to look upon one another with scorn.
The problem I see with the NIV 2011 is that the publisher (Zondervan) seems to be putting churches and church leaders in a position where they are forced to make a choice. A few years ago, upon considering the resistance from some evangelicals toward the TNIV, Zondervan assured Bible-readers that the 1984 NIV would remain available. But no such assurance is given now. In fact, the publisher has expressly indicated the desire for the NIV 2011 to replace both the original NIV and the TNIV.
Though many evangelicals have gravitated toward other translations (such as the English Standard Version or the Holman Christian Standard Bible), most evangelical churches continue to use the 1984 NIV as their common text. NIV Bibles occupy the pews in thousands of churches, giving it the prominence of being a kind of “default” contemporary translation.
But the widespread use of the NIV as a “standard” English translation will probably disappear. Why? Because this most recent revision (one that straddles the fence between dynamic and formal equivalence, between gender-neutral and gender-specific language) seals the translation philosophy for the NIV as it eventually replaces the 1984 version.
Many faithful NIV readers will not overlook the differences between the original NIV and this recent revision. I don’t foresee pastors and churches quickly updating all their literature and switching to the new NIV in the coming decade. Since the old NIV will eventually be out of print, pastors and churches will be forced to make a choice. Either make the move to the NIV 2011 or move to another translation altogether.
We live in a world of constant updates. The programs on my computer require me to update often. A trustworthy program in one decade may require an update installation in order to continue to function properly. But the Bible is not like a computer program. Translation updates are necessary, yes. But they must be done with great care. People read, study, and memorize the Scriptures. To force readers to update to a new version is counterproductive.
I am at a loss as to why the NIV 2011 will force the original NIV out of commission. Why not keep both in circulation? Goodness, we can still read translations like the King James which are hundreds of years old.
It’s ironic that the NIV 2011 revision is scheduled to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the King James Version, the most popular and most influential English translation of all time. Unfortunately, the launch of this new revision will have the opposite effect of the KJV. The King James Version united Bible readers around a common text. I’m afraid the NIV 2011 will speed up the growing fragmentation of evangelicals in regards to Bible translations.