Is the NIV Bible good or bad?

My first Bible was the NIV

I began my Christian journey at 19 years old, and I was reading through “The Student Bible” New International Version (published in 1996 by Zondervan). It was given to me at some point during my teen years, but I never had any time for the Bible until I was miraculously converted in my college dorm room. One afternoon I noticed that I was just sitting on my bunk bed reading the Bible, and this had been a regular occurrence for several days. This was totally unusual for me, and so I began to notice other changes in my affections too. God saved me from my sin, from myself, and from His wrath.

I continued to read this “Student Bible” for some time, but someone gave me a burgundy, leather-bound New American Standard Bible (NASB) with my name engraved on the cover when I was in my early twenties, and my old paperback “Student Bible” was shelved. At the time, I did not know much about the various Bible translations, but I felt I had crossed a maturity threshold when my Bible was covered with leather and no longer had the word “Student” splashed across its face. Over the years, I have come to understand much more about translations and the intent behind each one. It has been more difficult to keep up with all of the more recent translations, but I try to keep my awareness at a reasonable level. As a pastor, church members will occasionally ask me a question about Bible translations, and I like to give them a quality answer as often as I can.

As I became more aware of the intentionality that drives each Bible translation, not to mention the various texts consulted by interpreters, I actually continued to like the New International Version (1984 NIV). Some translations seek to be more of a word-for-word translation, others seek to be a thought-for-thought translation of the original language, but the NIV aimed for a middle ground between the two. Some translation committees (the groups of scholars investing time and effort into translation) hold a higher view of Scripture than others, and this too has a dramatic effect upon their translation. The NIV (published in 1973 and revised in 1978 and 1984) sought to be “a contemporary English translation of the Bible.”[1] In this translation, the committee also remained conservative in their scholarship and maintained a high view of Scripture.

I believe that the 1984 NIV is a good translation of God’s Word. It is not my favorite for personal study, nor is it my first choice when reading Scripture publically, but I still like it. I have even recommended it to some readers at times. This is why the developments of the NIV over the last decade have been so disappointing.

New International Controversy

In 2005 there was a controversial translation published by Zondervan called “Today’s New International Version.” Among the scholars listed on the Committee on Bible Translation for this project were some noteworthy individuals (Gordon Fee and Douglas J. Moo). This particular translation was in line with the general philosophy of the NIV translation from the beginning, but it also made significant changes to gender-specific language, which earned this translation the moniker “the Gender-Neutral Bible.” While those who investigate the TNIV may view the debate from varying perspectives, it is clear that gender-inclusive language was intentionally an aim of the translators.

A Washington Post article depicts the controversy over translations with a reference to one of the less significant passages. Pointing to Mark 4:25, the article cites the 1984 version of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible where Jesus is quoted saying, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” The article goes on to say, “Today’s New International Version [2005 TNIV], changed that to: ‘Those who have will be given more; as for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’”[2] There seems to be little here for major concern. No violence appears to have been done to the meaning or intent of the text. But this is an example from a passage that blurs the translation’s design to pull away from the purposeful language of the biblical text.

The 1984 NIV translates Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The 2005 TNIV translates the same passage “So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This too may seem less than offensive in the eyes of many, but there is great significance to the words God intended divinely-inspired authors to write. It is no small matter that both maleness and femaleness are distinctions under the original creation of “man.” There is much more to delve into here than a brief article will allow, but gender-neutral language leaves much theological import on the table.

In spite of the controversy (maybe precisely because of this gender-neutral language), the TNIV has sold well from the shelves of Christian bookstores. One might understand that widespread trust and acceptance is one of the major rubs of the controversy to begin with. Many people like and trust the NIV Bible, so it is not a surprise that many would also embrace the newer translation in the same vein. Those who advocate against the gender-inclusiveness of the TNIV seem to sound their alarms in the direction of deaf ears.

Even though the TNIV did sell fairly well, the Committee on Bible Translation sought to reattempt a better launch of an updated NIV. It may be difficult to show that the committee was motivated by the stinging reception that the TNIV got when it was published, but it would seem that the experience likely provided at least some provocation for the 2011 NIV translation. This latest translation has done away with 25% of the gender-inclusive language adjustments from the 2005 TNIV, but that means that 75% of those adjustments remain.

We are not free to do as we please

The serious question that one must consider is not, “Is there room to allow for more gender-inclusive language in the biblical text?” Instead, one should ask, “Should anyone feel at liberty to adjust the biblical text where it may better fit the cultural norms of the day?” No doubt, many will argue that the gender-neutrality of many passages is no significant adjustment. However, it may also be argued that it is precisely in the gender-specific language of the biblical text that we are able to see the only rationality that will undergird value and distinction for both males and females. There is much at stake here for the observant Christian, and there is good reason to avoid gender-neutrality. God has created “man” in His image, and He has created “man” male as well as female (Gen. 1:27). This truth is more profound than most understand, and it is exactly what our gender-confused culture needs to know.

Like the TNIV, the 2011 NIV has also sold very well in Christian bookstores. Most Christians do not seem to have much difficulty accepting this translation as one of quality, and many celebrate the gender-neutrality of the 2011 NIV. After releasing the 2011 NIV, the Zondervan Publishing House discontinued both the 1984 NIV and the 2005 TNIV. The New International Version of the Bible is now exclusively the 2011 NIV. Even my favorite online Bible study tool (biblehub.com) displays the 2011 NIV as simply “NIV.” For these reasons, I no longer use the NIV Bible.

I still like the 1984 NIV, and I would still encourage anyone who enjoys this translation to keep reading it. It saddens me to be forced into including the 1984 NIV with the 2011 NIV, but because of the confusion between the two (both are called NIV) this is what I must do.

Therefore, I cannot endorse the 2011 NIV, and thus I cannot endorse the NIV anymore.

 

The Southern Baptist Convention Statement on the NIV

It may also be helpful to note that the Southern Baptist Convention (that is the collective of Southern Baptist pastors and church representatives from all over the nation) has publically and adamantly denied an endorsement of both TNIV and 2011 NIV (See the SBC Resolutions below). I am not one to follow a crowd just for the sake of avoiding what usually accompanies a solitary stand, but I appreciate the significant effort regarding biblical fidelity of the SBC.

Over the years, the SBC has ebbed and flowed, as have the Southern Baptists who comprise the group. But, the SBC has earned Southern Baptists the identity of being a “people of the Book” for good reason. Southern Baptists are a people who are constantly going back to the Book (the Bible) to reaffirm adherence to it, and to submit to God’s Word rather than to cultural expectations. God’s holy Word is too important to capitulate to the socially acceptable language of the day. It is my strong conviction that the Bible should be readable and accessible to all people everywhere, but this does not mean that it should be made more palatable or inoffensive to all people everywhere.

 

SBC Resolutions

WHEREAS, Many Southern Baptist pastors and laypeople have trusted and used the 1984 New International Version (NIV) translation to the great benefit of the Kingdom; and

WHEREAS, Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House are publishing an updated version of the New International Version (NIV) which incorporates gender-neutral methods of translation; and

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists repeatedly have affirmed our commitment to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15-16) and, in 1997, urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture; and

WHEREAS, This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language; and

WHEREAS, Although it is possible for Bible scholars to disagree about translation methods or which English words best translate the original languages, the 2011 NIV has gone beyond acceptable translation standards; and

WHEREAS, Seventy-five percent of the inaccurate gender language found in the TNIV is retained in the 2011 NIV; and

WHEREAS, The Southern Baptist Convention has passed a similar resolution concerning the TNIV in 2002; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 14-15, 2011 express profound disappointment with Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House for this inaccurate translation of God’s inspired Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage pastors to make their congregations aware of the translation errors found in the 2011 NIV; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community.[3]


[1] http://www.bible-researcher.com/niv.html

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/17/AR2011031703434.html

[3] http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1218

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