More Thoughts on the Updated NIV of 2011
Editor’s note: Last month, Ben W posted an article that was supportive of the NIV 2011. The piece below, which was written by Chris Kelly and first appeared on his own blog, presents a different view.
As most of you know, the NIV Bible has been used by millions of readers since it first appeared in 1984 and is one of the best-loved translations for many reasons. But this year those who hold the copyright to the NIV have introduced an updated version on BibleGateway.com, and their plan is to replace the 1984 version with this new version. This new translation is not only needless and dishonest, but harmful in the following respects:
It is an attempt to win the approval of people. It is a capitulation to the whims of men and women of this godless age rather than a resolve to be faithful to the word of God. It will lead to the loss of a great and beloved translation, which is being replaced with a lesser, though newer one.
One does not need a crystal ball to see into the motives of the folks at Biblica, the newly named International Bible Society. For already, they have produced two similar translations under different names, first 1n 1996 the New International Readers Version, then in 2001 the Today’s NIV. The updated NIV-2011 resembles the TNIV far more than it resembles the original NIV of 1984. Why take something really old and conform it to something newer that one already has in print? Why give the new translation an old name?
This move cannot be honest. Even Professor Moo’s explanation defies common sense. He talks about “transparency”, which is a modern euphemism for “conformity”, in the way that chameleons are “transparent” by blending in with their surroundings. When I expected to hear “faithfulness to the original text”, what I hear is “conformity to the contemporary English usage”. (I am simply translating Dr. Moo’s words for clarity and ease of understanding to non-academics.)
Conformity to what? To a culture steeped in feminism and immorality; conformity to a language that demands political correctness over truth; conformity to a Christianity that is increasingly lukewarm and unwilling to challenge people of this age.
I don’t remember reading this goal in the 1984 version Translators’ Preface. They write instead of “continuity with the long tradition of translating the Scriptures into English” and of “accurate translation, clarity and literary quality”. The 1984 NIV was popular for all these reasons. The 2011 NIV is something else. 5% has been changed, by Moo’s estimate, “not just here and there, but in every verse“. It sounds as if what he means (if again I may “translate”) is, “The spirit of this translation is updated, and you will sense it in every verse”.
No clairvoyance is needed. The words of these translators tells it all. The 2011 Translators’ Notes read: “When the original Bible documents first emerged, they captured exactly what God wanted to say in the language and idiom of ordinary people. There was no friction between hearing God’s Word the way it was written and understanding it the way it was meant.”
Au contraire! The word of God has always rubbed some people the wrong way, because “the wisdom of God is foolishness to men”. It rubbed the educated the wrong way because the New Testament was written in common Greek. It rubbed every Gentile the wrong way because it was written by Jews. It rubs all sinners the wrong way because it demands holiness. This goal of “reducing friction” is exactly the goal of making the Bible more acceptable to our generation, to make it less abrasive.
Then there is a scholarly argument that the KJV was out of date (after 400 years) and likewise the NIV is now in need of an update, if we would maintain the lack of friction they imagined the KJV had in its day. But after only 30 years, they suggest there is a similarity. Has our language actually changed that much in 30 years? Of course it hasn’t. But our culture has changed dramatically; many, many things that didn’t cause friction then rub people the wrong way now.
The point here isn’t to argue whether some might need a newer translation, or one that doesn’t cause any friction to their modern mindset. The point is, they’ve already given us such a translation twice. So why not just make these little updates to one of the two other NIV-like versions? The 5% changes to the original NIV would only constitute around 0.5% in the TNIV. Really! Here is an example, that is quite common. Look at Phil 3:10 in the old and new NIV and the TNIV:
NIV (2011): I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
TNIV (2005): I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
NIV (1984): I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
Why replace the NIV with the TNIV? or give the TNIV the name NIV and leave the older, more familiar NIV in the dust? I have suggested that money or pressure from feminists are at the root of this move. I ask Professor Moo, then, please tell us the full rationale.
I was told by members of my church that strong language wasn’t necessary in this matter, that I needed to be more “christian” in how I write. But sirs, the Bible is the word of God and you know this. I’m sure you value it as such, just as all true believers. It has always been a touchy matter to tamper with the words in this Holy Book. I will, then, be Biblical in my criticism. Romans 12:2 reads,
And do not be conformed to this world …
Is this not your goal in these changes? It is HIS word, not yours or mine. It is not for us to make it less abrasive, but to translate it faithfully and preach it boldly. The very roughness of the original, which you consider outdated, was assuredly rough to those who heard it then. You know this is true. It was never a politically correct book. Do not do this to the Bible.
What is more, it is unbecoming of us to conform the Bible to the culture in ANY age, especially one that is increasingly immoral. Spurgeon wrote (on March 28th in his devotional Faith’s Check Book):
It is for the saints to lead the way among men by holy influence: they are not to be the tail, to be dragged hither and thither by others. We must not yield to the spirit of the age, but compel the age to do homage to Christ. If the Lord be with us, we shall not crave toleration for religion, but we shall seek to seat it on the throne of society.
Shall we adapt our Holy Bible to the whims of an unholy age? I trow not! Men, do not be the tail of society, be leaders. Do not follow feminists who take offense at the word He—for indeed this constitutes the bulk of the substantive changes you’ve made. Do not follow bean counters who’ve noticed the dismal sales of your TNIV. Do not foist upon Christians something totally changed in spirit from what we have loved and read. It will not be blessed by God. The Spirit in which it was surreptitiously replaced on BibleGateway back in January tells it all, it is a Spirit we do not know.
PS: My son just reminded me that I need to consider other people’s viewpoints (bias) on this, or I risk being ignored by all who don’t share my own. I admit that 40 years ago, when the Living Bible and the NIV first came out, I heard the same points I’m making now being argued about those translations. I brushed them off as being from old-fashioned people who resented anything new. At that time, I did not consider those people’s points of view at all. I’m older now, and I am a little better at recognizing my own as well as others’ biases. I want to be fair. Thus, I do not condemn the TNIV or NIrV or ESV or any translation at all. I’m not on a crusade to bring back the King James. But I insist that replacing the NIV with the TNIV is needless and hurtful to Christian tradition. And I suspect, but not insist, that this move is purely driven by business goals (translated, “greed”).