Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bibles for Sale

I think I've hit upon an important project that I could pursue for the coming year: I'm going to publish an annotated volume of Herman Wouk's epic novel War and Remembrance. The book was published in the year 1978, and I figure that there must be a tremendous need for someone to decode all of the archaic language from way back in those ancient days in order to make Wouk's work accessible to modern readers.

Balderdash? Nonsense? You bet it is. So is the announcement that the New International Version translation of the Bible needs to be updated.

There is no good linguistic reason for an update. Yes, language changes over time. But language doesn't change THAT much over the span of a mere thirty years. Especially not with regard to the Bible. Yes, "google" is a verb now, and the NOUN (as fits this context) didn't exist in 1978. Yes, we have words that have entirely passed into and out of English usage since 1978 (some friends picked on me recently for employing the word "Balkanized," which meant nothing in 1978 and apparently means nothing in 2009). But none of those words appear in the Bible, nor should they.

The vocabulary and grammar employed in preparing a translation of the Bible has not changed enough in thirty years for normal Bible readers to notice or care. To state that Bible translations have to be updated from time to time is not the same thing as having a compelling case for updating a translation after a mere thirty years. If you can't put together a translation of the Bible that can last for at least a century, then, in most cases, you've done a rotten job.

There is no good textual reason for an update. The field of textual criticism simply hasn't generated so much new information in the past 31 years that we need to have yet another revision of Bible translations.

Apart from a linguistic reason or a textual reason, among the reasons left standing is the economic reason. New translations boost Bible sales. That's a reason for Zondervan to produce a new translation.

Of course, you'll need to ask yourself whether it constitutes a good reason for you to buy one.


Bob Cleveland said...

Does this mean it's time to give up my Good News For Modern Man?

Bart Barber said...

Bob, you relic!

selahV said...

Bart, Send all old copies of the NIV to me. We have a prison ministry here in OK where our inmates won't mind using the outdated copy. Many of them are still reading the King James Version and getting saved. Go figure. selahV

Dave Miller said...

I kinda wondered about his. Frankly, being a cynical old codger, I am wondering if NIV sales have been weak and they were afraid that the ESV is taking over.

I do not think that I am alone in leaving the NIV behind because of the TNIV controversy.

I find myself wondering if this is a chance to get back in the good graces of conservative evangelicals (who are responsible for most Bible purchases, right?)

Chalk this up to the grouchiness of age.

Dave Miller said...

Yo, yo, dude. I mean, homey, how much has language changed in the last 30 years?

Anonymous said...

'fo shizzle, ma nizzle!

Joe Blackmon said...

#!&&@ please.

Dave Miller said...

Bart, this comment stream has taken a disturbing turn. I am proud that I contributed greatly to that!

Todd Benkert said...

So, basically, all the other translations should be allowed to make revisions every 10-15 years or so, but the NIV should remain static forever? Kind of a double standard if you ask me. Sure, we need to review changes with scrutiny, but lets not allow an anti-NIV bias to hold Zondervan to a different standard than we do every other translation on the market.

Todd Benkert said...

From Albert Mohler's blog post on the issue: "No translation, no matter how worthy, can remain static and unchanged without the consequence of becoming dated and increasingly out of touch with the development of language."

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy reading the KJV about as much as any version.

But in teaching I use the NASB and am moving to the ESV, slowly!

I have never been against the NIV, but understood it for what it was - less of a formal equivalence and more dynamic equivalence, and written at a lower level academically so it is more easily read. That's fine.

I did not like the gender changes that were intentionally introduced to the NIV NT, and now will be in this new version. Apparently, someone has an ax to grind (at least that's what it sounds like to me). It's one thing to be on one side of the spectrum of formal equivalence to dynamic equivalence, but it's another for a relatively new modern translation, that's already up to date, to start making more changes that seem to be politically motivated. Even if not motivated, have such a political effect.

I don't have the same reaction to the New Living Translation, which I enjoy very much. Just didn't get the attitude coming out of that one that I do coming from all the discussion around the New NIV.

Still, everything aside, we could have worse problems.

Can't wait for the GBLT friendly bibles to come out some day. I am joking, but only half way. The mainline Protestants are on board. Seems they will have to find a bible to use, so they'll have to get busy on some changes.

And then, 10 or so years later, we'll have some squishy "evangelical" jump on board and we'll be off to the races.


Bart Barber said...

Good morning, Todd,

I'm not trying to be unfair here, and I have no anti-NIV bias. I own a few NIVs and I present NIrVs when I give Bibles to children.

Also, I am not aware of having ever weighed in on any other translations or "updates." I will do so now, just to add information for our conversation.

I think that the NASB update was a good thing, but only because the initial NASB was flawed. The retention of Thees and Thous made the NASB outdated when it was first released. Can anyone really say that about the NIV?

I agree with Dr. Mohler's statement in the abstract, but I don't think that it automatically justifies any and every translation revision project. Do you? Do you think it would be a worthwhile thing for the NIV to release a new update every six months? Why not?

The solution to this controversy—the framework for having this kind of discussion—is to move beyond the realm of generalities and indicate any specific major change in the English language occurring from 1978 to 2009 that necessitates the enterprise of releasing a new translation of the Bible. I'm not aware of any such change. Perhaps you are. I'm all ears.

Certainly this announcement was not prompted, I don't believe, by the hoards of people dissatisfied with their NIVs and sending in complaints to Zondervan about how "dated" the translation is.

Bart Barber said...

Forgive the double-post, but I should clarify one thing: I do use the NASB myself, and I have made the occasional lighthearted NIV joke. But I have never dissuaded a congregant from using the NIV and, much to the contrary, have recommended it to others depending upon the circumstance (e.g., how well they read).

Todd Benkert said...

If there is no new scholarship, then why have there been 100's of new commentaries published since the publishing of the NIV? What are our PhD students writing about in their dissertations if there is no new scholarship? Evangelical and Southern Baptist scholars commonly lament particular renderings in the NIV because they poorly convey the meaning of the text. Should not these renderings be reconsidered in a revised translation?

While I don't have time to argue specific translation issues with the NIV (which I presume will be addressed in a revision since they were changed with the TNIV); I offer a few examples where I think a revision is in order: Matt 11:12; Acts 17:26; and numerous places in which the NIV translates sarx as "sinful nature" where it shouldn't have (in my opinion).

Language itself is indeed dynamic, and the most obvious example -- and the one for which the TNIV has taken the most criticism and the NIV2011 will be closely scrutinized -- is that the English language no longer uses masculine pronouns to include both genders. This awareness is evident in most modern translations, including ESV, NLT, and HCSB, which all are more "gender-acurate" (forgive the buzz word) than the old NIV. I first became aware of this change in language when my seminary paper was marked in red because I didn't follow the 3 pages of gender-inclusive language guidelines of Southern Seminary's style manual.

Lastly, I'm not trying to be disagreeable, nor do I think the CBT should get a free pass. The NIV2011 should receive close scrutiny. Further, concerned exegetes ought to take advantage of the opportunity to make suggestions to the committee now. Still, I cannot agree that no revision is needed.

John T. Meche III said...

Did I miss something? I thought the NIV was being updated to replace the TNIV due to all the controversy over it.

Anonymous said...


The concern about the gender issue is not over 'gender accuracy' but over what could be called gender bending.

The limitations of the English language and the usage rules for using the masculine are not a concern. By all means change the English translation if thay is all that is at stake.

But, for example, if Jesus or Paul or whomever spoke or wrote son, man, men etc. that should be translated as written. if it has application to both genders, then the preacher should say so. But the text should not be altered.

I am no expert but that is something that I would be concerned about.

The other issue is the grade level that the NIV is written for. But that's a different issue. it is a concern to me but not others.


Bart Barber said...


If the purpose of the revision is to fix things like the "sarx" situation (I entirely agree with you, which might not surprise you), then I say:

1. Great! Fix what's broken.

2. But that has not a thing to do with having to update to keep up with linguistic drift. "Sinful nature" was no better a translation in 1978 than it is today.

I'm not convinced that this will be the purpose of the revision. Has CBT given any indication that they are planning a major shift in their translation philosophy?

Also, with regard to scholarship, I didn't say that there has been no scholarship in the intervening years. I'm just saying that there has been no scholarship that warrants a new version of the Bible. That's groundbreaking research indeed when your dissertation requires everyone to put out new versions of their Bible texts! If such a dissertation has come out recently, then I confess that I've missed it.

Todd Benkert said...

I'm not suggesting that one dissertation should require an entire translation revision. I am saying that the cumulative new scholarship over a 30 year period warrants that translations be revised from time to time.

On the language issue, I still submit that the gender language issue is an important shift in English, even if the TNIV overreached. All of the newer translations, including ones affirmed by a majority of Southern Baptists, have language that is MORE inclusive than the NIV text. (incidentally, it is my understanding that the HCSB underwent a revision this year, but without the fanfare). My hope is that the NIV2011 will be brought up to date with other translations on this issue, without going overboard and resulting in the kind of problematic translations many saw in the TNIV.

As for our ongoing friendly Blog disputes. Feel free to assume we are in agreement 90% of the time.
I just enjoy a healthy debate from time to time. :)

Have a great service this morning and a blessed day!

-- Todd

Bart Barber said...

Ahhh....the HCSB...I'm not sure there was much of a need for that translation to exist at all in the first place. That one, too, was more a business decision than a linguistic or a spiritual decision, I suspect.

But, I support and appreciate the folks over at Lifeway, and I'm sure they know better about the matter than I do.

Grosey's Messages said...

ummmm do you really think they will "fix" sarx? Isn't this a nice way to utilise TNIV as the "new updated version"?

Friends, its business! if it didn't fly the first time, rebadge and relabel it!

Bart Barber said...

Steve, I hope that you are not right, but I fear that you may be.

BTW, please send me an email with your mailing address. I really need to send you a check. I know that you've sent it before, but I've lost it.

To all others, we collected our Australian-themed VBS missions offering for Steve. We didn't do so for you. Submitting your addresses will not net you a check!

Grosey's Messages said...

Hey thanks Bart,
We have just concluded a 10 day partnership experience with some churches from Alabama and Georgia 9and Mississi.. (I can't spell that!) with 16 churches here in Australia. Over 150 came to know the Lord many rededications and a new commitment among many churches to personal evangelism through FAITH evangelism.
It has been a wonderfully encouraging time

Luke said...

I'll just stick with my KJV until the bickering all ceases. No, I am not a KJV onlyist. Simply, I have memorized more from the KJV, my library(made up of the older scholars) is also tied strongly to the KJV and using the KJV gives me an audience with others who would not listen apart from it. I use the NAS, NIV, NKJV and lots of others in my study but on Sunday morning, it's still KJV. Though I confess, when reading, I change the thee's and thou's to you and you all. I do that with other words as well and it is always funny that someone will come up and say, "what translation to you use?"

Sure, putting the Scripture into a language that can be understood is important but to gender bend the translation to make it acceptable to a gender bent society, no need at all for that.