Friday, October 9, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 1

Have you heard that the new NIV distorts the Word of God? If so, you're in good company. Lots of people have heard this. Not having the tools to evaluate the arguments for or against a Bible translation (or lacking the time), many have decided simply to avoid any translation they've heard bad things about. And for many, that includes the NIV.

This saddens me. While someone might study the issues carefully and still conclude that the NIV is not a reliable translation (based on their own convictions), I think it's safe to say that most of those who reject it do so without understanding the issues well enough to make an informed decision.

It should not surprise you that I have an opinion on this matter. After 14 years of higher education in biblical studies, I have the tools to evaluate whether a translation is faithful to the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Of course, my training doesn't guarantee that I'm right, but I hope it puts me in a good position to evaluate the issues. So perhaps you'd permit me to address this from my perspective. (Thanks, I'll take that as a 'yes.') Whether you trust my opinion is another matter. If you do, read on.

First, the facts. The NIV was first published in 1978, representing the work of a diverse group of over 100 Christian scholars from a variety of denominations and cultural backgrounds. Quoting from the preface to the latest edition:
"The work of translating the Bible is never finished. As good as they are, English translations must be regularly updated so that they will continue to communicate accurately the meaning of God's Word. Updates are needed in order to reflect the latest developments in our understanding of the biblical world and its languages and to keep pace with changes in English usage. Recognizing, then, that the NIV would retain its ability to communicate God's Word accurately only if it were regularly updated, the original translators established The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). The committee is a self-perpetuating group of biblical scholars charged with keeping abreast of advances in biblical scholarship and changes in English and issuing periodic updates to the NIV. CBT is an independent, self-governing body and has sole responsibility for the NIV text. The committee mirrors the original group of translators in its diverse international and denominational makeup and in its unifying commitment to the Bible as God's inspired Word."
Let's be frank. Radical liberals and people known for wacky ideology do not get invited to join evangelical groups such as the Committee on Bible Translation. No. The committee is made up of best of conservative evangelical scholarship—men and women from a variety of denominational and cultural backgrounds who have spent years pouring over the Greek and Hebrew text, serving in church ministries, and achieving tenure in reputable evangelical institutions. Though no one is perfect, these are not the people your momma warned you about. Believe me. I've read their books. Heard them teach. Sat in their living rooms and prayed with them. These are godly men and women who love the church and who actively uphold the authority of Scriptures and submit their lives to its teachings.

So, what is everybody so worried about?

In a word? Change. Change is hard, especially when it touches things we hold dear. We care deeply about the Bible. We have been warned that evil people will try to distort the Scriptures. And so we're on guard. When someone comes along and says they have an improvement on the Bible we've been reading all our lives, it's natural that we should feel defensive. But while it's a good thing to be cautious and "test" what we hear, let's put away our guns. There's no sense shooting at each other.

What's wrong with the Bible we have?

In a word, change. The English language is changing faster than ever and its spoken by people all over the world. There are more English speakers outside the United States than inside it. The growing challenge is to ensure that an English Bible translation communicates well to those from a variety of cultures and those even of our own culture with no church background.

Growing up in church, we have become accustomed to the lilt of certain phrases, but we need to become rigorously self-critical. What does this actually mean? Often, we don't know. We've just been hearing it all our lives, and so it "sounds right." More importantly, what does this communicate to someone new to the faith?

In my next post, I'll share a recent example that illustrates the need for updated Bible translations.

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