Thoughts on the NIV2011 (Volume 1)

December 8, 2011 at 9:45 am | Posted in English Bible Translations, Questions for Pastor Glenn | 2 Comments

I made some comments about the NIV2011 translation in church on Sunday, and I want to relate those here and clear up some confusion about what was said.  Some of what I say here might sound negative, so let me begin by stating that I am absolutely thrilled that we can even have this discussion in America.  There are many people in the world without God’s Word in their language, and there are hundreds of languages that have only one translation of the Bible.  Men like William Tyndale paid a great price to give us that opportunity, and in the midst of this debate, we should not forget it.

First, I wanted to warn the congregation that if they purchase an NIV they will not be buying the same Bible they’ve used for years.  When the NIV2011 recently came out, Zondervan, or maybe the translators, opted to give no indication in the packaging that this is a completely redone translation.  This is not a minor update, like the one in 1984, as there are differences everywhere, yet the cover and the box give no indication that this is an updated version.  The only way I could tell I was purchasing a 2011 version was to open the box and read the small print on the copyright page.  This appears to me to be a shady marketing scheme.  The publishers seem to be riding on the popularity of the NIV1984 while being afraid of the failure of the TNIV, and they are hoping to sell lots of Bibles without the purchasers realizing what they are buying.  Some people in the congregation have already told me they’ve done that.  The shelf at the Christian bookstore was full of NIVs and everyone I opened to look at was the 2011 edition, yet not one gave any indication of that fact.  The NASB made a major update in 1995, but for years after the cover of the NASB said ‘NASB Updated Edition” so the buyers would know what they were getting.  I understand that languages change and that Bible translations need occasional revisions, but when the changes are this dramatic, the reader needs to know.  I praise Christian Book Distributers since they indicate in the catalog which NIV they are selling under each catalog number.  If you want to find an NIV1984, look there.

Second, and I don’t think I made this point clear on Sunday, the NIV1984 is now out of print.  So the readers, and the preachers are forced to switch translations.  I said I would be deciding in the next year what Bible to preach from, and some people asked me why I would switch at all.  It is because we are being forced to switch by those who have decided not to print the NIV1984 any longer.  If the changes made in 2011 were small changes it wouldn’t matter, but because they are so abundant, everyone in the pew using a 1984 edition and following a preacher with a 2011 edition (or visa-versa) will notice and wonder why the differences.

Third, I let the congregation know that I will be reading through the NIV2011 for my devotions and private reading in 2012, and, sometime during that year, deciding whether to switch to that version for preaching or to the ESV.  I have been reading the ESV for the past two years, and am getting quite fond of it.  As someone who grew up on the NASB, the ESV, at least in places, feels somewhat like coming home, without all the archaic language.  I know many exegetical preachers with Reformed leanings, like me, have switched to the ESV in recent years.  This is not a decision I will take lightly.  I have been preaching out of the NIV for about 24 years and have memorized thousands of verses out of it, so any switch I make will be difficult for me too.  However, I want to give the congregation plenty of warning, so the y don’t just show up one week and find I’m using an unfamiliar Bible.  I will keep them (and you) posted as I read, and will tell them weeks in advance before the switch, so they can choose to purchase a new Bible if they wish.

Fourth, I told the congregation that I am currently leaning toward the ESV for two reasons.  The worldly marketing scheme that Zondervan seems to be following is one I don’t want to support with my congregation’s dollars.  And the NIV2011 translators opted to use the plural pronouns “they” and “them” for singular nouns in some cases.  I understand the argument of common usage and see why they chose to go that direction, but that usage has always grated on my nerves, regardless of how common it might be, and personally, I would have a hard time with it.

The NIV has been a great translation.  It does a marvelous job of balancing literalness with the need to clarify some meanings, and it captured the language of my generation better than any other attempt at Bible translation.  It’s no wonder that it’s been so popular.  I have been a fan for years; I even got on the waiting list to get a first print, first edition 1978 NIV; it was the first Bible I ever read all the way through; the NIV had a profound influence on my Christian walk; but, alas, all good things must come to an end.  I hope to publish some of my thoughts over the next months on theses pages, so you can keep up with my travels in this regard.

For my conclusions on NIV vs ESV check out my post called Grieving the NIV


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  1. […] Why did Zondervan demand that all NIV1984 copies be removed? – No one has found an answer to this question.  Only speculation at the conspiracy level.  Local Christian book stores were ordered by NIV’s publisher, Zondervan, to turn in all NIV1984 versions in exchange for 2011 equivalents.  Why go to the extent of having all printed copies PHYSICALLY removed? It is the same story with all online publishers, such as Bible Gateway, Blue Letter Bible etc. They were not permitted to offer the NIV1984 online.  If you go to the Biblica website, you won’t find a single reference to the 1984 version. If you go into a Christian bookstore, you will only see NIV Bibles. There is no indication that this is an updated version, or that it is not the same as the NIV you might have at home. One Pastor says he will not be recommending the NIV to his congregation because – The worldly marketing scheme that Zondervan seems to be following is one I don’t want to support w… […]

  2. I appreciate the above comment and mostly agree with it. I say mostly because I haven’t accused Zondervan of anything; I have only said it seems that way. My readers need to know that doesn’t imply I agree with everything he wrote in the link.

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