NIV to Be Revised – Thoughts on English Bible Translation

B12 Word came out yesterday, officially, that the 1984 edition of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible would be revised again and released in 2011. Correspondingly, Today's New International Version (TNIV) would be discontinued. This got me thinking about Bible translation.

When I was at Pepperdine, I was blessed to take quite a bit of Greek and Hebrew from two great scholars – Randy Chesnutt and Tim Willis. They were not only great scholars armed with Ph.Ds from Duke and Harvard, they were devout Christian men with a deep love for the Word and the Church. One of the great favors they did was to help me understand that, by nature, biblical translation is a mixture of art and science. It's more science than art, but there is definitely an art to it. How much science and how much art is involved may be a matter of translation philosophy…but in every translation, now matter how "literal," there is art. That is…there are difficult choices that must be made to convey meaning accurately. Zondervan (the North American publisher of  the TNIV) offers this helpful illustration on their website:

So why is Bible translation so difficult?

Well, for starters there’s no such thing as a word-for-word
translation. Anytime you translate something from one language into
another language, there is some degree of interpretation.

Take for example the Spanish phrase
“¿Como se llama?”

The most literal translation of that phrase is, “How you call?”

But a meaning-based translation is,
“What is your name?”

Not all translation questions are that easily solved, of course. But, you get the point.

The other truth is that no less than 95% of Scripture is translated virtually identically across the board–regardless of translation. English Bible translation is, on the whole, very, very good. The few significant differences among translations are a result of either differences in translation philosophy or differences in the biblical manuscripts used for translation.

My point here is that while the TNIV has it's flaws, we must take care not to make grandiose statements about "the Greek," and "the Hebrew." Language study can be immensely helpful as we study the Scriptures, but we must do so understanding that even today's best biblical scholars still grapple with our fast-moving language and how to accurately convey meaning. So, we do our own study with great humility.

Personally, I prefer translations with a more literal translation philosophy. I like the ESV, NASB95, etc. I feel more at ease as I read them. However, in some cases, these translations, in an effort to be "literal" have missed meaning.

I look forward to the revised New International Version. I'm hopeful that the philosophy and care taken in translating God's Word will result in blessing hundreds of millions of people around the world.

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have on this. I'd also like to know, which versions do you read from, preach from, etc. And, I'd like to know if you will miss the TNIV, and why?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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