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, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “NIV to Be Revised – Thoughts on English Bible Translation

  1. Maybe they will finally translate sarx correctly in Paul’s letters and move that pesky heading from between Ephesians 5:21 and 22 to 5:20-21 as the TNIV did and keep it the TNIV heading – “Instructions for Christian Households” (
    The one thing that struck me funny about the TNIV was what seemed to me different fonts in the headings, almost like they had major headings and subheadings in some place ( like in Zephaniah 2 that has two headings on top of each other that in my TNIV have different font sizes.

  2. I loved the TNIV. I preached from it. I feel that the “gender neutral” move is a positive move that must be continued for our future. I feel it’s actually a more literal translation of the meaning of the original authors in the places where the TNIV made changes.
    They also made other updates that were needed from a 25 year old version.
    I’m a bit upset with the conservative academics and Southern Baptist Convention for denouncing and keeping millions of conservative Christians from updating their Bibles.
    And in another line of frustrating James Dobson moves, he used his platform to boycott the edition with his party as well.
    I hope the new NIV in 2011 continues the gender neutral move, but I am doubtful they will. It’s not a politically correct move as many conservatives would argue, it’s a contextual move for a changing world. I’m a bit miffed.

  3. No matter what the translation, we must be careful that the true MEANING is not tainted, or changed…we cannot add or take away words, lets not forget what it says in the last book of Revelations.

  4. Tim,
    As someone who grew up in the conservative traditions of the CofC, the TNIV never really made its way on to my nightstand. I had no problems with British Lit in high school due to my extensive use of the KJV growing up. I remember thinking to myself “what’s with all these idiots in my class? Can’t they read english? What’s so hard to understand?” Nonetheless, I became a radical in my family when I brought home a NKJV (which you gave me by the way) when visiting from Pepperdine. Being a creature of habit, I still use the NKJV to this day.
    I hold no special knowledge of greek and hebrew and I’m about as from from a biblical scholar as you can get. Therefore, I have no place in the argument of whether a revision is justified or not. My only fear is that the motivation behind the revision is rooted in “political correctness” as opposed to “biblical correctness.”
    As most of us know, it was the TNIV that made revisions like God created “human beings” in his own image instead of “man” or changing “sons of God” to “children of God.” While this was widely accepted amongst the more progressive churches, it was also very divisive within the conservative realms of the fold. I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure the Southern Baptists don’t use the translation at all.
    While making the bible more “hip” to attract a larger audience can surely be effective, to what degree and at what point do we disregard the conservative evangelicals? This is one of the very few times in my life I genuinely can’t offer an opinion.
    So going back to my original question, what is the motive behind the revision? Can the people responsible for making the decisions truly divorce themselves from humanistic bias and offer up a translation free from “personal interpretation?” Is it simply a revision in efforts to be more progressive? The capitalist in me says they should revise the good book every five years. I mean come on, it’s the best selling book in the world. Time to make some money! Is this revision going to get us “that much closer to the truth?” Have we been hindered by an inaccurate translation this whole time? All I’m left with is why? And is it worth it?

  5. I will miss the TNIV, but not in the near future unless they pull my paper copies and remove it from youversion and biblegateway. The reason I’ll miss it, is because I think they made great strides in conveying the meaning behind a lot of scripture. It’s too bad they’re going to change a lot of it due to feedback and “divisiveness.” However, it will be interesting to see what changes make its way to the NIV. I’m a big fan of people owning several translations and comparing between them to get a better feel for the text. (that is for those of us who don’t know the Hebrew & Greek)

  6. I’m a TNIV guy because they sent me a free review copy, and I really like the size of it (it’s a trimline edition). That’s just me being honest.
    Also, I lead in the gender-inclusive direction, so I appreciate what they did there. It does have an easier flow than the ’84 NIV.
    I wonder if a couple of centuries from now there will be NIV only churches? Seems like we get stuck every so often, doesn’t it?
    Finally, I think any doctrinal point that hangs on one word in one particular translation…may not be that central to communicating the gospel.