The new year 2011 will see some major landmarks in English Bible translation. This is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorized or King James Version, the most widely-used English Bible translation in history. Also due to be released this year is a revision of the New American Bible, the most popular modern Catholic translation. But perhaps most anticipated is the new edition of the New International Version (NIV), the bestselling English Bible of the last thirty years.
Many are familiar with controversy surrounding the release of the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) in 2002 and 2005. The TNIV was intended by the Committee on Bible Translation ([CBT] the group of scholars who maintain and revise the NIV) to be a revision of the NIV. However, the inaccurate and often inflammatory criticism of the use of inclusive language in the TNIV moved the International Bible Society ([IBS] the translation sponsor and publisher of the NIV) to release the TNIV as a separate translation and maintain the 1984 edition of the NIV as it was.
On September 1, 2009, a press conference held by CBT, Biblica (the new name for IBS), and Zondervan announced that the 1984 NIV would be revised and the 2005 TNIV discontinued. Some interpreted this to mean the TNIV was a failed experiment and the old NIV would just be freshened a bit. What was actually stated was that the CBT would reconsider every change that the TNIV introduced to the NIV, in light of external feedback, so that the 2011 revision of the NIV would actually be a revised TNIV.
As part of their process, to ensure that they were accurately reflecting common English usage, the CBT initiated a relationship with Collins Dictionaries to use the Collins Bank of English, one of the world’s foremost English language research tools, to conduct a major new study of changes in gender language. The Bank of English is a database of more than 4.4 billion words drawn from text publications and spoken word recordings from all over the world. As a result, many of the gender language changes introduced in the TNIV were verified and retained, some texts revert back to the 1984 NIV, and others are handled in a completely different way. Most notable patterns are:
Singular subjects can be resumed by plurals to avoid the use of “he” or “him”: Psalm 1:1 “Blessed is the one”; 1:3 “That person is like . . . whatever they do prospers.”
“Mankind” is used far more frequently in English than “humankind,” so “humankind” is not in the NIV 2011: Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, / in the image of God he created them; / male and female he created them.”
The phrase “God and man” as a pair is still the majority English use: Luke 2:52 “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” However, human beings collectively are usually referred to as “people” or “human beings,” not as ‘man” or ‘men.”
As in the TNIV, Junia is still female and an apostle (Rom. 16:7) and Phoebe is still a deacon (Rom. 16:1-2).
In New Testament books, at the first occurrence of “brothers and sisters” (usually just ‘brothers” in older English translations), there is a significant new note: ‘The Greek word for brothers and sisters (adelphoi) refers here to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family.”
Interestingly, the signature NIV/TNIV rendering “sinful nature” for Greek sarx is now the traditional “flesh” in all but two verses. This is a major change from the entire history of the NIV and I think will be welcomed by holiness denominations and others.
Although the print edition of the NIV will not be released until later this spring, the entire translation is available online at www.BibleGateway.com. There is also significant information at www.Biblica.com. Both sites have the extremely helpful document, “Updating the New International Version of the Bible: Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation.” This has much more information and many more examples that I can include in this column.
If you want a wealth of information, visit http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/. This site has a comparison of the full texts of the 1984 NIV, 2005 TNIV and 2010 NIV organized book-by-book and verse-by-verse.
I believe the 2011 NIV is a major improvement to the 1978/1984 NIV that incorporates the majority of the scholarly and gender language changes of the TNIV. I pray that it will be embraced by readers of the English Bible, egalitarian and hierarchicalists alike.