September 1, 2009
Correcting the 'Mistakes' of TNIV and Inclusive NIV, Translators Will Revise NIV in 2011
"We fell short of the trust that was placed in us."
Note: An earlier version of this blog post said that Keith Danby's remark that "some of the criticism was justified and we need to be brutally honest about the mistakes that were made" was in regard to the Today's New International Version. He was discussing the earlier New International Version Inclusive Language Edition, released in the U.K. in 1996. I sincerely apologize for the error.
In announcing a major revision of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society and Send The Light, or IBS-STL) CEO Keith Danby said decisions surrounding the release of the NIV inclusive language edition and the 2002 revision, Today's New International Version (TNIV), were mistakes.
"In 1997, IBS announced that it was forgoing all plans to publish an updated NIV following criticism of the NIV inclusive language edition (NIVi) published in the United Kingdom. Quite frankly, some of the criticism was justified and we need to be brutally honest about the mistakes that were made," Danby said. "We fell short of the trust that was placed in us. We failed to make the case for revisions and we made some important errors in the way we brought the translation to publication. We also underestimated the scale of the public affection for the NIV and failed to communicate the rationale for change in a manner that reflected that affection."
Danby said it was also a mistake to stop revisions on the NIV. "We shackled the NIV to the language and scholarship of a quarter century ago, thus limiting its value as a tool for ongoing outreach throughout the world," he said.
"Whatever its strengths were, the TNIV divided the evangelical Christian community," said Zondervan president Moe Girkins. "So as we launch this new NIV, we will discontinue putting out new products with the TNIV."
Girkins expects the TNIV and the existing edition of the NIV to phase out over two years or so as products are replaced. "It will be several years before you won't be able to buy the TNIV off a bookshelf," she said.
"We are correcting the mistakes in the past," Girkins said. "Being as transparent as possible is part of that. This decision was made by the board in the last 10 days." She said the transparency is part of an effort to overhaul the NIV "in a way that unifies Christian evangelicalism."
"The first mistake was the NIVi," Danby said. "The second was freezing the NIV. The third was the process of handling the TNIV."
Doug Moo, chairman of the the Committee on Bible Translation (which is the body responsible for the translation) said the committee has not yet decided how much the 2011 edition will include the gender-inclusive language that riled critics of the TNIV.
"We felt certainly at the time it was the right thing to do, that the language was moving in that direction," Moo said. "All that is back on the table as we reevaluate things this year. This has been a time over the last 15 to 20 years in which the issue of the way to handle gender in English has been very much in flux, in process, in development. And things are changing quickly and so we are going to look at all of that again as we produce the 2011 NIV."
I don't think any member [of CBT] would stand by the NIVi today," Moo said. "But we feel much more comfortable about the TNIV." He expects many of the TNIV's changes to appear in the updated NIV.
"I can predict that this is going to look 90 percent or more what the 1984 NIV looks like and 95 percent what the TNIV looks like," he said. "The changes are going to be a very small portion of the whole Scripture package."
Nevertheless, Moo said, the NIV does not currently reflect developments in the last 25 years of scholarship in Bible translation. CBT has made 1200 changes to the text in its database since the TNIV's most recent 2005 revision. (About 100 of these, such as typos, appear in current print editions.)
"I sit in a church where the NIV is pew Bible," he said. "But Sunday after Sunday I hear the preacher say, 'I don’t think the NIV is quite right here.' And I feel like saying I as a member of the CBT, 'Yes, but we've changed that!'"
Likewise, he said, the NIV is a translation that strives to reflect contemporary idioms and there have been significant changes to the English language in the last quarter-century.
"The English is understandable but not natural to people anymore. It's not what people are saying day to day," he said.
For example, Girkins said, the NIV uses the term alien rather than foreigner. Using contemporary English is particularly important internationally, Danby said, because that in some parts of the world the NIV is used for teaching English as a second language.
A question of process
Most translation revisions are not met with as much fanfare as today's announcement. But most translations have not been on top of the best-seller list for a quarter century. Nor had other translation committees previously announced that they would not update their text. Most importantly, other translations had not been the focus of boycotts, Christian bookstore chain bans, Southern Baptist Convention resolutions, and other outrage that accompanied the TNIV's release.
"We're trying to do this right and be as transparent as possible," Girkins said. The NIV team has already created a website, NIVBible2011.com, to solicit comments from scholars and Bible readers. Moo says the CBT will read and consider every suggestion received by the end of the calendar year.
Is the team's repeated emphasis on transparency and openness an admission that World Magazine was right when called the TNIV a "Stealth Bible" in a 1997 cover story that was the first volley against the translation?
"We're not saying the TNIV was a stealth Bible," Girkins said. "But the ways it was brought to market weren't transparent. We didn't bring people with us and caught people by surprise. ... We made a big press announcement today because want people to get on the page with us. We don't want to imply that we're going to overhaul the NIV. We could be giving the impression that this is a lot bigger than it is."
The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association reports the NIV is still the best-selling Bible translation overall, though specific Bibles in other translations are outselling NIV Bibles. Last month, for example, the English Standard Version's Outreach New Testament and the New King James Version's Text Bible outsold the NIV's Adventure Bible. The TNIV is not among the top ten best-selling translations and no TNIV edition is among the best-selling Bibles. One bright spot for the TNIV, however, has been in sales to the Amazon Kindle e-reader, where the TNIV is the third-most popular translation (behind the NIV and King James translation).
The New International Reader's Version, a version of the NIV translated into simpler English in 1996, will stay as it is, Girkins said. The translation has had more commercial success than the TNIV; The NIRV Adventure Bible for Early Readers, for example, was last month's tenth-best selling Bible.
John Stek, who served as chairman of the the Committee on Bible Translation during the creation of the TNIV and the ensuring debate over the translation, died June 6.