The much-maligned TNIV will be no more. A newly revised NIV will come out in 2011, the 400th anniversary of the release of the KJV. I did not realize that the NIV had not been updated since I was in preschool.
The NIV is the most popular Bible translation in English, and it is always worth checking during Bible study because its somewhat more interpretive renderings do—despite what I grew up hearing—come from a basically conservative evangelical background.
For example, the spokesman for the translators in the press releases is Douglas Moo, who happens to be the author of what many conservatives have hailed as the best exegetical commentary on Romans. I was reading that very volume this morning, and though I happened to slightly disagree with Moo’s take on ἀγάπη in Rom. 12:9, it is an excellent, doctrinally sound volume.
A Brief Anecdote
When I was 18 years old in 1999 I wanted to know the Bible better. So I bought a Comparative Study Bible, a parallel Bible including 1) my beloved KJV, 2) the kind-of-weird Amplified Bible, 3) the new-to-me NASB, and 4) the NIV. At first I was literally (and dynamically) afraid to read the NIV column. I had been conditioned against it. But as I read it and compared it over and over again to the NASB and the KJV, I gradually came to a recognition of its character: it’s just smoother.
Where the NASB encounters a difficult phrase, it repeats it literally, sometimes resulting in Greeklish or Engrew. When the NIV hits that same phrase, it gives a slightly interpretive translation that makes total sense in the English you and I speak. The NIV’s interpretation may be one I end up disagreeing with, but never in my experience was it heretical or impossible.* I, for one, find it helpful to read a smooth translation along with my more wooden ones.
Pros and Cons
Here are two examples:
1 Peter 1:6
- NASB In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.
- NIV In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
- NASB But as for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd after You, Nor have I longed for the woeful day; You Yourself know that the utterance of my lips Was in Your presence.
- NIV I have not run away from being your shepherd; you know I have not desired the day of despair. What passes my lips is open before you.
However, some inspired ambiguity may be left out in the process, and even NIV-based commentary series like the EBC regularly disagree with its renderings.
Here are two examples—out of dozens I could have given from my BibleWorks notes—of renderings that unnecessarily limit interpretive possibilities**:
1 Thessalonians 4:4
- NASB …that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.
- NIV …that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable.
2 Thessalonians 3:6
- NASB Keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
- NIV Keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
In each of these cases the NIV’s rendering is far from heresy but slips too far into interpretation. So using other sound, conservative translations is also necessary. We English-speaking Christians have the privilege, not the curse, of having multiple good Bible translations. I encourage people, even and especially those who don’t know Greek or Hebrew, to familiarize themselves with the nature and purpose of those translations and then use them.
The Committee on Bible Translation, the group which does the translating work, is open to suggestions from scholars and laypeople. If you have a problem with the NIV’s treatment of a particular passage, write your Christian brothers a courteous note and make your best case.
*The one exception I can think of is the NIV’s—I think—impossible rendering of 1 Cor 7:36–38. But the ESV adopts the same interpretation.
**Interestingly, the ESV, my translation of choice, follows the NIV’s example in both of these passages.