TNIV, R.I.P.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It’s official: After a turbulent few years, Biblica, the organization formerly known as the International Bible Society, who holds the copyright to the all-time best-selling New International Version of the Bible (NIV), has decided to pull the plug on the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) and update the NIV.

Apparently, we should expect a new product in 2011 that will replace the NIV completely.  But it will not go as far (re: gender language for human beings) as the TNIV did–kind of a via media that will hopefully please TNIV and NIV enthusiasts.

I often though the overall strategy for the TNIV and NIV was a strange one (shared by Biblica and Zondervan publishers).  Zondervan released the TNIV with an expensive ad campaign to reach a younger generation.  But as soon as the TNIV was criticized by conservative Christians who didn’t want anyone tinkering with their beloved NIV, the publishers immediately recoiled and made the TNIV a parallel-track, back-burner publication.  Indeed, they even continued to release new specialty Bibles using the NIV, thereby cannibalizing their TNIV sales and choking off any chance that it would survive.  Apparently they didn’t want to alienate their base by the appearance of being too politically correct.  Rick Mansfield, who writes This Lamp, has a nice post about the TNIV/NIV controversy that I largely agree with.

In reality, the TNIV was a great update to the NIV.  Most of the changes were sensible, based on how our language has evolved and advances in biblical scholarship.  For instance, it makes sense to generally translate the ubiquitous New Testament word adelphoi as “brothers and sisters,” rather than just “brothers,” since the epistles were written for a mixed audience.  My only qualm was when the TNIV went too far to avoid singular pronouns (the so-called generic he) and either pluralized or used a singular they/them/their.  I do agree that singular they is now a mainstream part of our North American vernacular, but that doesn’t mean it’s good, proper English.  I’m going to post feedback on the NIV Bible 2011 Web site, encouraging the translation committee (called the Committee on Bible Translation) to imitate the God’s Word (GW)* translation of the Bible when dealing with gender language (which, we can all agree, is the main source of conflict).  For instance, see how Psalm 1 is treated:

Psalm 1:1a, 3a NIV                  Psalm 1:1a, 3a TNIV            Psalm 1:1a, 3a GW

“Blessed is the man…”             “Blessed are those…”           “Blessed is the person…”

“He is like…”                                “They are like…”                    “He is like…”

In this case–and the Bible is fully of examples when an individual person is specified–the God’s Word does the best job in keeping the individual in focus without drawing unnecessary attention to the masculine referent.

I would encourage everyone who has an opinion to share it–thoughtfully, graciously, and kindly–at the NIV Bible 2011 Web site.  Please pray for the Committee on Bible Translation, that they would be captive to the Holy Spirit and not the spirit of the age, whichever one it might be.

* As a side note, the GW is a very good translation that is largely unappreciated and underrated.

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3 thoughts on “TNIV, R.I.P.

  1. It sure is a good thing God made the Bible an open source document. We’ll get one we all like eventually.

    I’m being sarcastic.

    But seriously, does this make the TNIV the Windows Vista of Bible translations

  2. Of course, Ray, just one of the problems with trying to iron out these sorts of translation issues is that neutering the language often irons out the Christological wrinkles in the text. In the example you cite, changing the “Blessed man” to the “Blessed them” or the “Blessed person” removes (or inadvertently hides) the dimension of thinking of the “Blessed man ” as Jesus, the New Adam, the only one who never, ever “walked in the way of sinners or sat in the seat of scoffers.” I would argue that we need to translate the text as best we can, warts and all, or at least with what we think are warts and all, and mess with it as little as possible.

    (Peter Liethart had an interesting short comment on these issues in the most July/August Touchstone. I can send it along if you don’t have access to a copy.)

    Dave Pepper

  3. I’m right with you, Dave. I wince at politically correct renderings that unnecessarily mangle and obscure the original text. I’m actually a big fan of extensive footnotes that make the original languages more transparent. For instance, when Jesus says, “Let your light shine before anthropoi,” I would render that “people” and put a footnote that says: Greek anthropoi. Or some such variant.

    The messianic allusions are the thing that suffers the most in gender accurate translations (See Psalm 8!). Psalm 15 asks, “LORD, who can dwell in your tent? Who can live on your holy mountain?” (HCSB) If you answer, “Those who live honestly, etc.” then the answer is no one can live on God’s holy mountain since no one is righteous. But if you answer it in a singular fashion: “The one who lives honestly,” then you can think about Jesus being the perfect one who alone can approach the Father on our behalf.

    I still dig the ESV for its purported accuracy and its evangelical heart (unlike the NRSV, it has the courtesy to capitalize “Holy Spirit” throughout the canon). The only thing that chafes me about the ESV is its traditionalism, not its literalism. (See Psalm 25:7: “Remember not…” sounds too much like a cheesy “Lord of the Rings” movie line.)

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