The NIV Bible is no more. Alas.
The version that many grew up reading has finally ridden off into the sunset, never to return. Zondervan has phased it out, buried it, and replaced it with something else.
Many people denied that a significant change had taken place, and tried to act like the Bible being sold now as the NIV is indeed the NIV they grew up with. That myth was sustainable for a while, but eventually it just didn’t work. This year many Christian schools finally dropped the NIV, and replaced it with something else. Even AWANA was forced to make the change.
So what is the fuss about? If you are a parent of a Christian school attender, and you just found out you need to buy a new Bible for the year, or if you got a letter in the mail telling you that all that you can go shopping for new AWANA books, well this is for you. It is a FAQ guide to the NIV, with an explanation for why churches and ministries are dropping it:
Why did so many churches and schools change their translation this year?
Because Zondervan, the company that makes the NIV, stopped publishing it last year. It was widely used in churches and schools, and this change forced those that used to find a new translation.
What do you mean they stopped publishing it? I see the NIV still for sale in book stores.
A brief history of the NIV: Translated in 1984, it quickly became one of the most popular versions, especially in schools. Then in 2002 Zondervan released an update (TNIV), which went over as well as New Coke, and the beloved NIV was resurrected. This time Zondervan learned from their errors, and released an update that they called the NIV2011, and for one year they sold both it and the NIV. But with a name like NIV2011, shelf-life was obviously not in view, and last year they simply dropped the old and beloved NIV, and then shrewdly dropped the “2011” from the updated one. In short, they pulled a switcheroo. What you see on shelves today is the new version which is sold and marketed as the NIV.
There have been deniers about the demise of the NIV. Many people have tried to hold onto the idea that the new one is the same as the old. After all, they have the same names, so how could they be that different? But the more people have tried to use the new one, the more the changes are evident.
Here are the stats: 40% of verses have been changed from the ’84 edition of the NIV. The stat that Zondervan gives is that 95% of the Bible remains unchanged. I assume they are counting words and not verses, but even so I’m not sure how they got that number. When you consider individual words, the new version is 9% new. That might not seem like a lot, but in schools and with curriculum, verses are what is important, and that means that 4 out of 10 passages needed to be updated.
Why not just stay with the NIV? Why are people switching away?
For the school that I help oversee, it was a combination of reasons. We didn’t want to make a switch, but we realized that the new NIV was different enough from the previous version that a switch was being forced on us. Even if we had stayed with the NIV, it was a different version than the one we had been using (and this is obviously what AWANA realized as well). In light of that, we looked at the change as an opportunity for us to pick any translation we wanted. After all, if our hand is being forced, we wanted to at least choose what it was being forced to do .
Who translated the new NIV? Certainly it wasn’t the executives at Zondervan.
The committee was made up of some well known scholars. Douglass Moo (Wheaton), Kenneth Barker (Dallas), Craig Blomberg (Denver), Gordon Fee (Regent), William Mounce (Gordon-Conwell), Bruce Waltke (Reformed Theological), and Ronald Youngblood (Bethel) are the evangelical heavy-hitters. Karen Jobes and Richard France have some of the best NT commentaries, and they were on the committee as well.
Why did they make changes?
Some skeptics say they did so for sales reasons. The ESV and Holman were eating at the NIV’s market share, and this was their way of fighting back. I, however, am a purist, and think that the committee had real convictions about places where the old NIV could have done better. This was their way of making a better Bible translation. After all, scholarship has improved, and there are areas where English grammar has changed.
So what’s the problem then? Why are people leaving the NIV in droves? Why did the Southern Baptists vote their disdain for it?
Baptists voted against it because they don’t like change (ha ha; I actually link to their reasoning above, in the blue). But for the rest of us, the problems fall under a couple different headings. First, there are gender issues. Obviously English has some fuzzy gender language, and often we make single objects plural. Where the Greek might say “if any of you has his lights on, return to his car,” the NIV now would go with something like “Whoever left their lights on in the parking lot, needs to return to their car.” That’s fine and well, until you realize that many passages have masculine pronouns that possibly have messianic implications. For example Psalm 1:1 in the classic NIV vs. the New NIV: “blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” vs. “blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked.” Is there possibly an allusion to the Messiah that has been obscured with the gender neutral pronoun? And what is up with “in step” in the update? Does that not lessen the prohibition?
And that’s just Psalm 1:1. The update has these questions everywhere.
But my biggest issue with the new NIV is that they allow their understanding of “overall theology” to affect how they render verses. When I got my first copy of the new NIV, I sat down and spent almost the whole day reading it (one of the reasons I love being a pastor). I saw things I liked and didn’t like, but then I got to 2 Cor 5:17. The new NIV says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” I am not as troubled by the way they rendered that verse as I am by the reasoning they gave for how they did it. This is what their translator notes say (the link takes you to the PDF download of them):
“This time it is the Greek that is elliptical, reading simply ‟new creation.” Is it the person in Christ who is the new creation? Yes, of course. But if that’s all Paul meant, there are other more natural ways he could have said it. Given his overall theology that the coming of Christ and the new era he inaugurated began the period of the restoration of all things that would culminate in new heavens and new earth, it is likely that Paul is making a much more sweeping claim than just the salvation of the individual believer. A new universe is in the works!”
The bold is mine, and it marks the part where I decided to stop reading the NIV. It sounds like they are saying that their understanding of Paul’s “overall theology” (which in their view reads like some sort of post-millenialism) justifies moving away from a verse that is often memorized and turned to as a clear declaration of the radical nature of an individual’s salvation. In other words, they take a verse about how cool it is to get saved, and change it to what reads like post-mil who-ha. And that would be fine if they backed it up grammatically (and using the phrase “elliptical” does not count). But they don’t make the case on its own terms, and instead they import errant theology into their translation process. Blah.
So is the NIV a bad translation? Let’s cut to the chase: were demons involved in it?
The NIV is not a bad translation. All of the major English translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV, Holman, NAS, NLT) are good and trustworthy. They represent the word of God in the vernacular language, and countless people died as martyrs to grant us the privilege of having that available.
But with that said, we live in a world with different translations, and we have the ability to choose. It boils down to the fact that some of those good translations are better than others, and the dropping of the NIV gives churches and schools the opportunity to start over, and decide which of the good translations they want to go with.
Will you miss the NIV?
Ok, that is not a FAQ, but I’ll answer it anyway. I liked the NIV, and I wish I got to have a funeral of some kind for it. In the eulogy I would wax eloquently (new NIV: “discuss”) about how it brought Scripture into the modern era, and freed translations from the grip of the Anglicans and the Victorians. I would shed a tear for its translation of Romans 9, which rhetorically towered above the other English versions. And then I would read a eulogy from perhaps Psalm 23—but I most certainly would not read it from the update.