Yesterday I talked about the new NIV Zondervan Study Bible edited by D.A. Carson, T.D. Alexander, Richard Hess, Doug Moo, and Andy Naselli. This NIVZST comes out just 50 years after the “initial cross-denominational gathering of evangelical scholars who met outside Chicago in 1965 and agreed to start work on what is now known as the New International Version” (read about the anniversary here). It’s easy to think of Bible translators as sitting in their ivory tower, drinking their frappe lattes, and talking about which way a verse sounds better. It’s as if they say, “We pray over it and say amen, but at the end of the day we just flip a coin.”
That sounds quite terrible, actually. Thankfully with the NIV that is not the case. I can tell you just from my small exposure to learning Norwegian, translating the bible is actually much more difficult than that. Try reading every word, sentence, and paragraph Genesis, Acts, or Isaiah over, and over, and over again. You’re parsing the Greek, the Hebrew, or the Aramaic to know what is being said. You then not only have to bring it over into the English language, but into the proper, most widely used colloquial terms. What good is it to translate God’s word into English is the average person on the street can’t understand it? One thing we shouldn’t forget is that the translators of the NIV are also teachers, scholars, authors, pastors, husbands, and wives, etc. They have lives beyond sitting around a table for endless hours trying to choose the perfect word. Yet they take their job seriously so that you can understand the Bible that sits in front of you.
Making a Translation
Bill Mounce, an expert in Greek who posts about biblical Greek in a series called Mondays with Mounce, said, ”You have to make the translation reflect the actual nature of the author. Paul has a really good command of Greek, and the beauty of that needs to come through in our translation.” And Karen Jobes, commentator on Esther and 1 Peter and the first woman to join the Committee of Bible Translation (CBT), agrees that “We don’t want it to be our voice. We really do want it to be accurate and clear, and that involves facing hard issues.”
The people who work on translating Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts into a coherent and understandable English translation are evangelical Christians who want to spread God’s word in the most understandable way possible. They know that not every Christian will learn Greek and Hebrew, nor will every Christian spend the required hours to dig through the smorgasbord of manuscripts to find the best reading.
As the translators of the King James Version, 1611, said, “But how shall men meditate in that, which they cannot understand? How shall they understand that which is kept close in an unknown tongue?” The NIV Made to Read link reminds us, “Modern people should be able to learn about God’s power, love and redemption from a Bible in up-to-date language.”
Language is not static. Life and culture change, as do tastes, likes and dislikes. Metaphors come into being, and words exhale their last breath.
For us English speakers who don’t read Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, we don’t understand the great effort it takes to translate these languages into English. (I’ve quickly learned this fact when it comes to learning Norwegian). Doug Moo, a Pauline and New Testament expert, spent years studying and talking to other experts on the best way to translate the Greek word sarx, which is translated as “flesh.”
In this link Karen Jobes talks about translating Ps 23. Most Christians have Psalm 23 memorized, and the NIV translators didn’t want to make any unnecessary changes. But Psalm 23.4 doesn’t actually refer to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” It refers to darkness. “Jobes believes the translators have helped to make the verse more precise than ever before.
‘We may feel we’re in the valley of darkness in lots of different ways other than with impending death,’ Jobes said…. ‘Accuracy and clarity have to trump tradition,’ CBT member Karen Jobes said. ‘Sometimes we ‘ruin’ our own favorite verses for the sake of accuracy and clarity.’
The translators seek to make the NIV relevant, not to people-please, but so more people can pick up the Bible and understand what it is saying.
The Made For You link lets you read about the issues on the use of masculine nouns and pronouns no longer being universally accepted as referring to both men and women. The CBT “commissioned a study by Collins Dictionaries to study the Collins Bank of English, a database of more than 4.4 billion words taken from recordings and publications throughout the English-speaking world.”
“With that data,” said Doug Moo, “we were then able as translators to say, ‘Despite our own personal preferences, this is the English that most people are speaking, and that’s what we need to use in our translation.’”
This data made it impossible to accuse the CBT of bias.
Why can’t the CBT leave the NIV text alone?”
But the answer was obvious: because the text is only as accurate as it is understood. “If we were to use in those contexts, ‘He who takes up his cross, follow me,’” said CBT chair Doug Moo, “it would communicate to a contemporary English audience a masculine sense that the original text did not have in mind at all.”
The translation needed to reflect the English that people were actually speaking. The goal was not to be trendy. The goal was good translation.
Here you can read endorsements from Christian leaders like Philip Yancey,
Pastors like Max Lucado and Rick Warren,
Biblical Scholars like Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, Jason DeRouchie, George Guthrie, and more.
The NIV Bible has been around for 50 years, and I hope it will be around for at least another 50. The scholars put in both the time and the effort to make this the best translation it can be for the English-speaking world, and they will never stop seeking to continually refine it as long as it means more people can understand God’s Word.
NIV Products Page
- NIV Bible App
- Products Just For You
- Watch the Philosophy of the NIV video.
- NIV Made to Read
- NIV Made to Study
- NIV Made to Share
- NIV Made For You
- The NIV Exhaustive Bible Concordance, Third Edition: A Better Strong’s Bible Concordance
- The Greek-English New Testament: UBS 5th Revised Edition and NIV
NIV Zondervan Study Bible
- Hardcover: 2912 pages
- Contributors: 60+
- Articles: 25+
- Maps: 90+
- Publisher: Zondervan; Har/Psc edition (August 25, 2015)