Monday, March 21, 2011

did we really need another new English Bible translation?

In a word, yes. 

I used to lament the fact that so many English Bible translations were available while some languages had none. While I do feel that whenever possible our resources should be used to bring the message of God's Word to those who have not yet had opportunity to hear, I no longer groan when I hear of another English version. The English language, like all languages, changes over time. As you may be aware, this month a revised version of the NIV was released. Danny lost his Bible several months ago, and we've been waiting until now to replace it.  Personally, I'm excited about this attempt to correct some of the errors in the 1984 NIV as well as respond to ways that the English language has changed since then. I've just finished writing my thesis on 1 Peter 2:9-10, and I'm happy to report that the NIV 2011 does a better job with the phrase laos eis peripoiesin than any other English translation to date (except for the TNIV, which is being replaced by the NIV 2011).

One positive change is a moderate step toward gender-inclusive language. The TNIV was criticized in some quarters for capitulating to a liberal feminist agenda. The NIV 2011 takes a mediating position between the 1984 NIV and the TNIV. The translators (headed by Dr. Douglas Moo of Wheaton Graduate School) did extensive research on the state of the English language so that the wrong impression was not given to readers. My daughters are growing up in a world where "man" is rarely used to refer to the entire human race irrespective of gender. I want them to have a Bible available to read that does not give the impression that they are second-class citizens of the kingdom of God. Where the Greek can be reasonably assumed to intend a mixed-gender referent, the NIV 2011 seeks to use an English term that gives the same connotations.

Gender-accuracy is not the only benefit of the NIV 2011. The translation committee has also adjusted the translation of certain phrases to more accurately reflect the ambiguity of the Greek. N. T. Wright, former Anglican bishop of Durham and now lecturer at St. Andrew's in Scotland, goes so far as to suggest that one cannot possibly understand Paul's point in Romans by reading the NIV (1984). [I read this in his recent book, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision.] In particular, Wright was referring to the phrase dikaiosune theou, which could either refer to a righteousness that God imputes to us (implied by the NIV 1984, "righteousness from God"), or the righteousness which God himself possesses ("righteousness of God," NIV 2011). Indeed, the NIV 2011 has come a long way towards recovering the possibilities latent in Greek. Therefore, in my view, it was an important, and justifiable use of resources. How many millions of people read the NIV? It is probably the world's most common translation in use today. I'm so glad that it has been updated to reflect advances made in biblical scholarship and changes to the English language. For more information on these improvements, click here

New English translations are probably the best opportunity for Bible scholars to make their work available to the general public. We know a lot more about both Hebrew and Greek than we did in the 80's. More manuscripts have been discovered, and the work done on the Dead Sea Scrolls has helped to clarify the meanings of many obscure biblical words (especially those that only occur once). So why buy a copy of the NIV 2011 if you already own a copy of the NIV?  Because it takes you a step closer to what the Bible really meant to its original audience.  In hundreds, maybe even thousands, of little places the translation committee adjusted the English to more accurately reflect the Greek and Hebrew originals.  And -- for those of you who don't plan to learn Hebrew or Greek -- that's worth celebrating!


  1. I loved your thoughts on the new NIV. I've shied away from it as a study bible (I usually lean toward the NASB) I also read N.T. Wrights' comments in the same book. You may actually persuade to trust this newer translation.

  2. Sean,

    I generally use the NAS for study as well. As you know, it's a rather wooden translation, so it doesn't do well being read outloud (but is amazingly accurate in terms of original languages). That's why I have an NIV -- to take along to church, to read to the kids, to read devotionally, or to use when I teach. I haven't read extensively in the new NIV, but I'm pretty pleased with what I've seen so far. You can read it for yourself at My impression is that it is less influenced by one particular theological camp than the ESV (which lands on the reformed side quite consistently as I understand it).
    Let me know what you think!