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.
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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.