Farewell to the NIV?

The New International Version of the bible was on course to become the new standard English translation; until, in an act of incredible hubris and folly, the publishers, Zondervan, decided to tinker with it and keep tinkering with it.  Not, one might add, in the interests of greater accuracy, but to make it “gender neutral”.   But “gender neutrality” is not a principle of text criticism, nor of biblical theology, but a principle of the modern political movement referred to as “political correctness”.  So the publisher has acted to corrupt the translation in the interests of a modern political lobby – an incredible thing to do.  It went down about as well as you might expect; and I have written here about the story.

This week I came across an interesting blog post entitled “Farewell NIV”.

The version that many grew up reading has finally ridden off into the sunset, never to return. Zondervan has phased it out, buried it, and replaced it with something else.

Many people denied that a significant change had taken place, and tried to act like the Bible being sold now as the NIV is indeed the NIV they grew up with. That myth was sustainable for a while, but eventually it just didn’t work. This year many Christian schools finally dropped the NIV, and replaced it with something else. Even AWANA was forced to make the change.  …

[This] is a FAQ guide to the NIV, with an explanation for why churches and ministries are dropping it:

Why did so many churches and schools change their translation this year?  

Because Zondervan, the company that makes the NIV, stopped publishing it last year. It was widely used in churches and schools, and this changed forced those that used to find a new translation.

What do you mean they stopped publishing it? I see the NIV still for sale in book stores.

A brief history of the NIV: Translated in 1984, it quickly became one of the most popular versions, especially in schools. Then in 2002 Zondervan released an update (TNIV), which went over as well as New Coke, and the beloved NIV was resurrected. This time Zondervan learned from their errors, and released an update that they called the NIV2011, and for one year they sold both it and the NIV. But with a name like NIV2011, shelf-life was obviously not in view, and last year they simply dropped the old and beloved NIV, and then shrewdly dropped the “2011” from the updated one. In short, they pulled a switcheroo. What you see on shelves today is the new version which is sold and marketed as the NIV.

How is the NIV on the shelves now different from the one I’ve been reading for 20 years?

There have been deniers about the demise of the NIV. Many people have tried to hold onto the idea that the new one is the same as the old. After all, they have the same names, so how could they be that different? But the more people have tried to use the new one, the more the changes are evident.

Here are the stats: 40% of verses have been changed from the ’84 edition of the NIV. The stat that Zondervan gives is that 95% of the Bible remains unchanged. I assume they are counting words and not verses, but even so I’m not sure how they got that number. When you consider individual words, the new version is 9% new. That might not seem like a lot, but in schools and with curriculum,  verses are what is important, and that means that 4 out of 10 passages needed to be updated.

The whole post is worth reading, and makes me deeply sad.  I have used the NIV since my first days as a believer.  I too feel loss.

But who can now trust the “new NIV”, under whatever marketing name it is produced?  Who will trust any translation labelled “NIV”?

This sort of thing should not happen.  The author is quite right to say that Zondervan have destroyed the NIV; because, since you can’t buy it, and none of us want the TNIV (or whatever they call it), it is effectively dead.

On a humorous note, old copies of the Gideons’ bible may suddenly become rather valuable!

I cannot avoid feeling that Zondervan have not acted with integrity.  It pains me to say this, since I know otherwise only good things about them.  But you don’t address a real question of the utmost urgency — is this a corrupt version? — by the sort of “switcheroo” tactics that have been employed.  No: to do that is to railroad opposition; it is the kind of tactics used by lobby groups to force unpopular measures on a democracy which is denied the opportunity to vote.

Very, very sad.  I imagine we will all use the ESV instead now.  But I preferred the old NIV.


13 thoughts on “Farewell to the NIV?

  1. Roger,

    I, too, was saddened to learn about the “new” NIV. Interestingly, I am the person who narrated the 2011 audio version for Zondervan.

    However, the real decision makers were the Committee on Bible Translation, not Zondervan.

    When the Committee was first interested in developing a new translation, Zondervan funded them and received the rights to publish it commercially. But the Committee – then under the auspices of the New York Bible Society, which later became the International Bible Society, and now is Biblica – is still the copyright owner.

    It’s my understanding that Zondervan received their marching orders from Biblica.

    The original Committee wanted to be able to change the text in the future to incorporate new discoveries to make the version more accurate. Unfortunately, the vast majority of changes in 2011 were stylistic.

  2. Thank you for these interesting thoughts. That does make sense.

    Of course all of this will be down to one man, somewhere, whoever he is. Someone at Biblica, from the sound of it.

  3. Thanks. Very much a PR site. The most likely culprit for destroying the NIV would appear to be a certain Keith Danby, as “translation sponsor”.

  4. I would tend to think it was at least a few members of the CBT. One I know had been pushing for “women’s rights” for a long time. They should have known when the TNIV failed so miserably, but they apparently didn’t learn from that experience.

  5. You are probably right; one bad apple recruits more, which is how churches end up run by people who care nothing for their welfare, or anything but themselves.

    We must never lose sight of the spiritual side to this, either. Satan must be pleased with his stooges: to destroy any trust in the standard emerging bible is quite an achievement.

  6. Unfortunately you are correct about the spiritual side of this. The NIV was clearly the dominant, and probably the most trusted modern language version. That is no longer the case.

    I knew one of the members of the original CBT personally. He mentioned how they were very careful about having any kind of agenda. They wanted to be true to the text. Now, there is an agenda . . . so I can’t really trust what it says.

  7. I agree entirely. The NIV had basically won the race. But who now would trust it? It’s quite extraordinary that the people responsible imagine that deception, smoke and mirrors, and keeping schtum is the way to win back trust.

    It sounds as if your friend is the right sort. Quite frankly I don’t want ANY ancient text translated with an agenda! Who needs it?

    I can think of an example. A portion of Chrysostom’s “Against the Jews” sermon 2 was lost and only rediscovered recently. I wanted a translation made, to fix the text.

    But there were several different agendas around. One scholar who was interested marched off in a huff, after I said innocently that some Lebanese translators had let me down. Apparently, he felt, I wasn’t allowed to mention they were Lebanese (!). Quite what a politically correct bigot like himself would have made of it I do not know.

    Then there were the anti-Jewish people, keen to stick it to the People Exploiting the Whole World.

    Then there were the pro-Chrysostom people, quite sure that Holy Chrysostom didn’t mean Jews, but, erm, maybe some people somewhere that nobody cared about.

    And then there were combinations of all these; pro-Chrysostom and anti-Jew; anti-Chrysostom and anti-Jew; pro-Chrysostom and pro-Jew; anti-Chrysostom and anti-Jew; and so forth.

    Fortunately it wasn’t a problem. Even more fortunately, I didn’t care myself about *any* of the agendas on offer (pro or anti anyone), so wasn’t influenced by any of them. And who on earth, really, would have wanted a text translated with reference any of them?

    But it’s far worse here. To translate the scriptures with an agenda — even if it was one that I happened to agree with — is a certain means to damnation of those doing it. Indeed there is a simple moral principle here: do not do to others what you would not want done to you. Mistranslating the holy book of others in order to promote some political agenda is something no honest man could do.

  8. Interesting about Chrysostom.

    I agree with your “simple moral principle.” If you’re going to translate what someone wrote, translate what they actually wrote – don’t editorialize.

    I’m reminded of efforts by some in the Church of the Middle Ages who tried to rewrite what the ancient Eastern Church Fathers wrote to fit in with their current theology. I know there was a definite effort to change what Gregory of Nyssa wrote about universal salvation. I thought modern scholarship had decided that was wrong. I guess not.

  9. I had seen a comment in a book refuting universal salvation saying that Gregory of Nyssa didn’t hold to that view. I thought the author was incorrect, so I emailed Brian E. Daley, the Catherine F. Huisking Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame to ask him about it. He responded with the following:

    “Gregory of Nyssa was regarded with suspicion, though, both in the East and the West, from at least the time of the Second Council of Constantinople, precisely because he espouses the doctrine of universal salvation and this was branded heretical, at least if affirmed as a part of Church doctrine, at that time. So Patriarch Germanus, in the eighth century, has a treatise attempting to argue that the universalist passages in Gregory were additions by a later forger – as a way of protecting his reputation. But I don’t think anybody has seriously followed that line of thought. As a Greek Orthodox theologian told me about 20 years ago, this is undoubtedly the reason why the Orthodox have not given much attention to Gregory of Nyssa until the 1940s, and why there are very few Greek Orthodox churches dedicated to him – or icons depicting him. People know he’s Basil’s younger brother, but his Orthodoxy has always seemed suspect. He wasn’t rediscovered as a theologian, really, until the 20th century – and then suddenly became very popular, both with Orthodox and with Western Christians.”

    Hope this is helpful.

  10. Hmm. Yes, that is interesting. It would be useful to know what the primary sources are for all this …. one should never believe anything about patristics without going to the sources …. but I have no time to do so now.

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