Something funny is happening to our Bible readings at church. I noticed it last week.
We use the NIV at St Michael’s for our public reading of Scripture and preaching. (And Scott, please note we have at least two readings at every service, and three for our early morning service!)
Everyone on our reading roster knows we use the NIV.
But last week some of the readings were different from what we had in front of us. And others noticed too. What was going on?
As you know, rather than using their own Bible, or the large lectern Bible at church, people sometimes like to print the Bible text when they read in public. This allows them to use larger font size for ease of vision, or to add marks to aid their expression and emphasis.
In every case where there was a variation from what we expected in our NIVs, and only in those cases, it turns out the person concerned had chosen to print off the reading. And they had gone to that most helpful website for multiple Bible translations, BibleGateway.com.
There, the default translation for English users has always been the NIV.
And it still is … sort of.
As you may know, the NIV has been updated by their Committee for Bible Translation (CBT). So far the 2010 NIV text is only available electronically.
But Bible Gateway have made the 2010 version the default option instead of the standard 1984 text. And most casual users of BibleGateway will just see ‘NIV © 2010’ and will naturally presume that’s the version we have been using.
Most average church members will not even know there’s been an update. And once they’ve printed it out electronically, they probably won’t even refer back to their current NIV Bible, but will just practice off the print out. So chances are, they won’t even realize there’s a difference.
And the listeners will be a tad puzzled. It’s mostly NIV, but a few changes.
So that’s the first point of this blog. Let’s assume you still want to use the NIV that corresponds to your pew Bibles and personal Bibles.
Then you need to let your readers know that if they use BibleGateway, they must manually select the 1984 version of the NIV, rather than 2010. In the drop down menu of English versions, the 1984 NIV comes right at the bottom, just after the TNIV.
Because of the potential for confusion in readings, like we had last Sunday, I think it’s a real pity that there is not a clearer warning on BibleGateway that the 2010 NIV default text is not the same text as everyone will currently have in their printed NIVs.
That brings me to my second point of this blog. As Trevin Wax has pointed out, every church who uses the NIV will have to make a decision whether to change over to the 2010 NIV, or whether to swap to another English version like the ESV or HCSB altogether for their public reading and preaching of Scripture.
This is because the NIV copyright holder, Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society), and Zondervan (the exclusive North American publishers) have decided that once the 2010 NIV is published in hard copy (from March 2011), they will no longer print further copies of the 1984 NIV, nor of the controversial and divisive TNIV (with its sometimes excessive and ill-judged gender neutrality).
And this brings me to my third and last point. It’s really only addressed to those pastors and churches which use the NIV as their public reading and preaching Bible translation. (Perhaps in the minority on Sola Panel, I am not a big fan of the ESV, thinking it fails on its own stated terms, although it seems like the ESV Study Bible is an excellent resource for studying the Scriptures!)
It’s fine to critique a new translation almost immediately—if you are properly across the issues involved of course. And many readers of Sola Panel will have opinions on the 2010 NIV, especially on its approach to gender matters in translation. I happen to think it’s much better than the TNIV on this issue, although I am still weighing up some issues of concern. And almost all other 2010 update changes—apart from the gender related ones—seem like improvements to me over the 1984 NIV.
However my point is that before any decision to change your church’s preferred translation for public Bible reading and preaching, the church’s pastoral staff and other key leaders should use and evaluate the potential new candidate for at least six and preferably twelve months or so.
You could do this via:
- private reading and study
- asking small groups to trial the new version for a set of studies on one book of the Bible
- even letting the congregation know you are trying it for a sermon series (we did this with Titus in the HCSB a few years ago, which I think probably gets Titus 1:6 right!).
This is my criticism of some in my neck of the woods who decided to change over to the ESV almost as soon as it was published, certainly within a month or two in a number of cases.
In that brief space of time, most such churches had to be relying on the (admittedly impressive) endorsements, and possibly their pastor’s (hopefully intensive and extensive) efforts to assess the entire ESV text. But most churches could not—in such a short time—have been relying on extensive assessment, by a variety of church leaders, across a range of public and private uses, with satisfactory time for reflection and second thoughts.
By contrast, I recall some Moore College lecturers refusing to comment on the merits or otherwise of the ESV until they had trialled it for twelve months in personal use.
There are an enormous number of churches out there still using the 1984 NIV. Sooner or later we have to assess whether to update to the 2010 NIV, or whether to go somewhere else. We will need to decide. But a decision as crucial as your public Bible reading and preaching translation should not be rushed.
And that’s sometimes where the critiques flying backwards and forwards—legitimate in themselves—can cloud a mature reflection process.
Any change will have some trade offs, because no translation is perfect. Does the better translation or greater clarity of expression on some items, and the update of some now obsolete English words, make up for the moderate but definite move to inclusive language? Which changes in regards to gender issues really matter, and which are acceptable? (Even the ESV was more gender inclusive on some matters than 1984 NIV.) I need time to think carefully about these things.
Lastly, and thanks to bloggers who have alerted me, especially Justin Taylor, here is a list of resources on the changes in the 2010 NIV:
- You can view all three translations (2010 NIV, 1984 NIV, 2005 TNIV) side by side here at BibleGateway.
- Here are the notes on updating the NIV from the Committee for Bible Translation (CBT).
- As well as reading the above, anyone who wants to engage in the discussions over gender issues in translation should consult the Collins Language Study on contemporary use of gender language, commissioned by the CBT (56 page full report in pdf here).
- The NIV CBT also has a section on FAQs (how’s that for
threefour TLAs in a sentence?)!
- John Dyer has helpful summaries of what has changed between 1984 NIV, TNIV and 2010 NIV, including a couple of wordles of words removed from 1984 and added in 2010, and this excellent diagram of the percentages that are the same or change between the three.
- The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood responds to the changes in the 2010 NIV, basically praising CBT and Zondervan for being consultative and responsive to criticism in this revision, and saying 2010 NIV is a big improvement over the TNIV, but still in their view falls short on some important gender matters.
Correction: The editor made an incorrect deletion from the second last point. Please see author’s helpful comment below on ‘wordles’.