11 Reasons for the NIV - The 2011 Revision
Continuing from the previous post about Bible translations, I felt it necessary to post about why Cait and I chose the New International Version (NIV). More specifically, why we are using the latest revision of the NIV. This post is intended to be used as a reference list. I suspect that very few will take the time to read the whole thing. At the very least, it has been useful for me to write it. For those of you who didn't spend weeks researching the NIV...
The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) are 15 scholars who are tasked to meet yearly and discuss changes to the NIV. Every 10-15 years a new revision of the NIV is released according to the CBT's decisions. Originally, the first NIV was released in 1978. The next revision occured in 1984 (the most well known), 2005 and most recently 2011. I suspect that another revision will occur sometime after 2026. In the meantime, the 2011 revision (NIV11) is the current translation Cait and I are using as our daily driver. (On a side note: As I understand, every major and modern translation goes through similar process of being updated as needed.)
So without further ado...
Here are 11 reasons why Cait and I are using the NIV - the 2011 Revision.
1. The NIV's translators are trustworthy.
No person is perfect, but at the end of the day, God uses people to spread his message. Part of the Christian experience is figuring out who to trust and who not to trust. Is this person being used by God to communicate truth? Or are they letting their own desires and agendas take over? These questions have to be asked of the biblical translation teams, including the CBT.
I trust that God is using the CBT.
A little background... I attend and am on staff with a church that is affiliated with Converge. Converge supports and is affiliated with Bethel Seminary. Take a quick look at their history. One main reasons I attend Bethel Seminary is that I trust my church and my denomination.
Two out of the 15 members of the CBT are Bethel Seminary professors. Dr. Jeannine Brown was my professor this past semester for Intro to Hermeneutics. Not that I have to 100% agree with my church, denomination, professors and translators... but if I can't trust these people to carry out God's plan, who can I trust?
Some folks really don't like the NIV11, and they usually point to the ESV as the superior translation. The ESV is indeed a trustworthy translation. It is important to note that Bill Mounce was the New Testament Chair of the ESV translation committee. Bill literally wrote the textbook on Greek. It was and is used to train countless pastors. Bill was also the director of the Greek Program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where many faithful trustworthy pastors were trained.
It is also important to note that Bill Mounce is also on the NIV translation committee. The same level of scholarship that goes into the ESV goes into the NIV. The difference is translation philosophy, not translation credibility.
2. The NIV11 is our church denomination's standard translation.
Speaking of my denomination from reason #1. The NIV11 is Converge's standard translation. Not that we can't use other translations, but it is fitting that Converge supports the NIV. Refer to the Converge Brand Standards.
3. The NIV11 is approved in The Gospel Coalition's peer-reviewed journal.
Yeah. Some folks really really don't like the NIV11. These folks tend to focus on translation topics relating to gender. The fear is that a hyper-feminist agenda is seeping into the NIV translation philosophies.
A little background on this point... The Gospel Coalition (TGC) produces a peer-reviewed scholarly journal called Themelios. I love TGC. TGC takes a relatively conservative approach to gender issues. They would never be accused of being hyper-feminist. In this issue of Themelios, Rodney J. Decker reviews the NIV11. If there were any issues related to gender, they would be exposed by this article. You can read the article including links to the NIV11's harshest critiques. In summary, Decker supports the NIV11, even though it's not a perfect translation. He reminds us that no translation is perfect, but overall the NIV appropriately handles changes to the English language and fairly handles translation issues relating to gender. For example, non-christians do not widely use the term "man" to refer to the human race. "People" are referred to, followed by "humans", and "humanity."
In summary these are Decker's thoughts:
"NIV11 is... one of the more versatile choices [for church-wide use]. It not only communicates the meaning of God’s revelation accurately, but does so in English that is easily understood by a wide range of English speakers. It is as well-suited for expository preaching as it is for public reading and use in Bible classes and children’s ministries."
Decker continues in his conclusion...
"My judgment is that the NIV11 is a usable translation in many situations. It continues the NIV tradition largely unchanged, though improved in many small ways across the breadth of the canon. It is not perfect. No translation is... It has a few warts. All translations do.Overall, however, it improves an otherwise fine translation. The major sticking point for some will be the use of inclusive language, yet all recent translations (including the ESV) do exactly this. The difference is the extent of such expressions. So long as one realizes that the purpose of such language is to accurately reflect inclusive language in the original texts of Scripture, it is hard to fathom objections. Since contemporary English has changed in this regard, it is only reasonable that translations that operate on a principle of ongoing revision (as does the NIV11) reflect current usage when they are revised."
4. The NIV11 aims for an authentic reading experience.
Register essentially is reading level. Different books of the Bible have different registers. The CBT attempts to match the register of the original to today. Generally speaking, the NIV11 aims at a 7th - 8th grade reading level, which is the average reading level in America. For example, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Hebrews are translated at a higher register because the original readers would have noticed it was written in a higher register.
In my research, word for word translation approaches do not take register into account, or they don't hold it as a high value. They prioritize the individual words, not the overall reading experience. According to the NIV 11 translator's notes, "The NIV tries to bring its readers as close as possible to the experience of the original audience: providing the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning in every verse."
5. The NIV11 takes a similar approach as the translation used by the New Testament authors.
This is a complex topic. I need to do more research, but this is an important topic worth addressing. The first half (Old Testament) of the Bible was written in Hebrew and Aramaic . Thousands of years later, when the second half (New Testament) was being written, Greek was the common language. Many people used a Greek translation of the original Hebrew and Aramaic. This translation is known as the Septuagint. Included in these people who used the Septuagint were the writers of the New Testament. Even when the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament, they would quote from the Septuagint, not the original languages. This demonstrates the weight, importance and value of the Septuagint and translation style.
In a Q&A session put on by the CBT, a person in the crowd asked if they used the Septuagint as a model for translation. Long story short, the answer is yes. Just like the NIV, the Septuagint translators brought the Hebrew words into the Greek culture and language. They didn't create Hebrew sounding Greek text. ("Greekbrew" if you will.) At the same time, there was a healthy tension to keep a sense of "literalism" in regards to the original Hebrew.
A word for word translation does not mind creating this combination of languages. Today, due to the word for word translations, there is such a thing as biblical English. ("Biblish" if you will.) While there is great value in word for word translations, there is also great value in creating a translation than attempts to minimize the "Biblish". The Septuagint achieved this. The NIV11 does as well.
Also interestingly, the Septuagint was updated and changed throughout the years, just like our English translations!
6. The NIV11 translators take a similar approach as Martin Luther.
In this video, Mark Strauss, one of the NIV translators and Bethel Seminary professors, speaks on how to choose a translation. Towards the end, he quotes Martin Luther on Bible translation.
Luther believed that God spoke to people as they read the Bible for themselves. So it makes sense that Luther was very concerned about having people read the Bible for themselves in a translation they can understand. The people did not need to rely on the religious leaders of the day. Not that pastors and priests are un-important, but the people were to ultimately rely on God. For Luther, this meant translating the Bible into everyday German. Luther is quoted as saying, "I have always tried to translate in a pure and clear German."
Luther also is quoted as saying,
"I must let the literal words go and try and learn how the German says that which the Hebrew [or Greek] expresses..""Whoever would speak German must not use Hebrew style. Rather he must see to it - once he understands the Hebrew author - that he concentrates on the sense of the text, asking himself. 'Pray tell, what do the Germans say in such a situation? ... let him drop the Hebrew words and express the meaning freely in the best German he knows.'"
7. The NIV11 supports spreading the Good News about God to whole world.
The copyright of the NIV is held by Biblica. Per their website, "Biblica, the International Bible Society, is a worldwide ministry that has been helping people engage with God’s Word for over 200 years. We are committed to bringing the Bible to people in a way they understand, so they can be transformed by Christ and inspired to join His mission for the world."
Biblica rocks! They act on their convictions. It is so affirming that every NIV Bible purchased, a portion goes to supporting the mission of getting the BIble into the hands of everyone in a language they can read. You can check out their Annual & Financial Reports here. Inside the cover of every NIV Bible I've opened, has this great reminder. (Photograph above.)
8. The NIV11 takes into account latest archaeological & linguistic research.
Some folks find it frustrating when you have to re-memorize your favorite verse because it was changed. I get that. It takes time and effort to stay up to date with each change, but it is worth it. It is important to get the words right. Changes are made because they need to be, not just for the fun or frustration of the readers.
Changes in translation are due to a better understand of the original languages/culture as well as changes to our own English language. The NIV translators are on the cutting edge of research, using the latest tools such as the Collins Word Bank to really know how international English is used today.
Here are some examples from the NIV Translators' Notes:
Who would have guessed in the 1970s that, within a few decades, an ‟alien” would mean, thanks to the influence of ET and other movies and TV shows, an ‟extraterrestrial being”? In the updated NIV, ‟alien” has been replaced with ‟foreigner” or similar words in order to communicate the intention of God’s Word accurately to contemporary English readers. See, for instance, Genesis 23:4: ‟I am a foreigner and stranger among you...”"[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." We are more certain than we were forty years ago that the Greek word kataluma used in Luke 2:7 means ‟guest room,” not ‟inn.”We likewise know that those crucified on either side of Jesus (called lēstai) were ‟rebels” rather than ‟robbers” (e.g., Mark 15:27)....one shouldn’t be as easily able to misapply Philippians 4:13 now that it reads, ‟I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (i.e., to be content in all circumstances, whether in riches or in poverty), rather than ‟I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”When the NIV was first translated, the meaning of the rare Greek word harpagmos, rendered ‟something to be grasped,” in Philippians 2:6 was uncertain. But further study has shown that the word refers to something that a person has in their possession but chooses not to use to their own advantage. The updated NIV reflects this new information, making clear that Jesus really was equal with God when he determined to become a human for our sake: ‟[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”
9. The NIV11 is widely available.
Number 9 is easy. There are many different options when you are ready to purchase a physical Bible. A quick search on Christian Book Distributors reveals all your choices. The latest version of the NIV is also available online and in the Bible app. Also, as shown above, it is available in my fancy bible software. This is important for me, because I am currently a seminary student.
10. The NIV11 is great to give to people who are new to the Christian faith.
Flowing out of reasons 1-9, the NIV is great for someone new to the Christain faith. If someone who is wanting to know more about Christianity or the Bible, I would give them a copy of the NIV11. This person did not grow up in the Church. They are not used to "Biblish". I want them to have as a clear a picture of Jesus as possible. The NIV11 can help with that.
I will make the effort to become familiar with the newest revision, so I can recommend it to a friend who is receiving a Bible for the first time. I will be an example by trusting my teachers, denomination, church. I trust God will use the Bible to reach people's hearts as they read it in their own language .
11. Reading the NIV11 feels like coming home.
Over the last several years, Cait and I were using other translations as our daily drivers. We just didn't connect or understand the Bible as well. When we recently returned to the NIV, it felt like coming back home after a long time away.
I put my faith into action by becoming involved in Young Life. Young Life used the NIV84 and currently suggests the NIV11 (among others). The first time I memorized the Bible it was the NIV84. The first time I read a whole book of the Bible at once it was the NIV84. I still remember sitting in my bed, with the window open on a spring evening, reading the whole book of Matthew. I felt desperate to connect with God, and reading the Bible helped. Photographed above is the Bible I used during that season of life.
What made the NIV great to begin with still makes the NIV great. It is a translation of the Word of God into language the normal everyday person can understand and experience.
Just for clarity, I am not saying the NIV is the only translation a person needs. I am also not saying the NIV is the only translation I will ever use. It is important to use multiple translations. The actual words of God are in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. I plan to learn Hebrew and Greek and even memorize passages in Greek. But for the everyday person and for everyday reading, I recommend the NIV.
Do you have any other questions or feedback? We would love to hear from you!