The Tentative Apologist
9/10/09 at 09:45 AM 1 Comments

What the world needs now is … another NIV revision?

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On September 1 Biblica and Zondervan announced that a revision of the NIV would be released in 2011, at which time the controversial TNIV (controversial at least to some religious conservatives) would no longer be sold.

I for one was conflicted about this announcement and this for two reasons. First, I was one of those many (if less vocal) Christians who appreciate the TNIV, and I am sad to see it go. Second, whatever the fate of the TNIV, I am far from convinced that the world needs yet another revision of the NIV. It is this latter conviction that I want to explore here.

To begin with, let's deal with the rationale for producing a new NIV. Keith Danby, the president and CEO of Biblica, explained, "We want to reach English speakers across the globe with a Bible that is accurate, accessible and that speaks to its readers in a language they can understand." Surely this is a noble goal. No translation is perfect, and so it would seem worthwhile to continue that relentless pursuit of perfection by seeking to make the NIV just that much better.

Still, does the prospect of a two year project devoted to incremental improvements to the NIV warrant the time and effort? Is it a project that we should necessarily applaud? To answer that question we should first ask: are the old NIV and TNIV really that bad? And even if they are, what about the NRSV, Good News Bible, NASB, CEV, ESV, NET and Holman CSB? Aren't these decent translations?

Not only are there many, many excellent English translations readily available, but many of those translations are packaged to meet every conceivable consumer niche. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me to discover that there is already a Soccer Mom Study Bible (with a special travel edition designed to fit in the glove box of a Honda Odyssey).

To put it bluntly, when it comes to Bible translations and editions, English speakers (at least those with some purchasing power) have an embarrassment of riches like no other people in history.

As in so many other areas, this abundance is not shared by others in the world. The good news about the good news is that over 450 languages presently have at least one complete translation of the Bible. (Though how good each of those translations is I cannot say.) An additional two thousand additional languages have at least some portion of scripture translated. The bad news is that there are still more than four thousand languages that have no portion of scripture translated.

It is against that backdrop that I ask again: if our primary goal is to bring the Bible to all people, does it make sense devote two years of time and effort into yet another revision of the NIV?

Perhaps it depends what kind of "sense" we're concerned with. While I don't want to sound too cynical here, the fact is that Bibles are big business. And with far in excess of two hundred million sold, the NIV has long been a big part of that big business. Those are the economic realities I suppose. But still it leaves me wondering, to what extent is a project like this driven by the need to bring the Bible to people, and to what extent is it driven by the need to expand market share in a highly competitive segment of the publishing industry?

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