NIV 2011: A Review

NIV 2011: A Review February 21, 2011

I was impressed by the recent review of the NIV 2011 by Bridget Jack Jeffries, a student at TEDS, a Covenant Church member, and a blogger. Bridget’s review is in The Priscilla Papers, and it is a good time to express our admiration and regret at the death of Catherine Clark Kroeger, who began The Priscilla Papers.

A brief sketch: the NIV came out in the 70s, it continually was revised, the TNIV came out in 2002, it was blasted uncharitably and became a translation whose reputation had been maligned and had a hard time making a go of it. It’s sad and it’s a shame what its critics said. For me it’s nothing more than a bitter chapter among evangelicals who had more fear than intellect at work. But that’s behind us. Zondervan and the Committee on Bible Translation have worked together to “update” the NIV into the NIV 2011. (A Roman couple to the left.)

This is where Bridget Jack Jeffries’ review in The Priscilla Papers comes in. As a teen Bridget became aware of Phoebe — a servant (or deaconess) and not a deacon — and Junia — who had become the male Junias. She liked the TNIV when it came out and was hurt both by the campaign against it and by the decision to retire the TNIV. So, Bridget examined the passages that pertain to women’s issues and gender-inclusiveness.

What do you think of the NIV 2011? What are you hearing about it?

I won’t summarize the whole article. She examines Psalm 68:11 (NIV 2011 is excellent on seeing women singing; she calls it the NIV-11, which looks like some medical category to me); Romans 16:1-2 (NIV 2011: deacon and benefactor); Romans 16:7 (NIV 2011: Junia and “outstanding among the apostles”); 1 Cor 11:2-12 (the issue of “have authority over her own head” seems to be motivated to keep everyone happy); 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (“assume authority”); 1 Timothy 3:11 (“their women” and not “their wives”; female deacons are in view).

Inclusive language: NIV 1984 was more masculine; TNIV was more egalitarian; NIV 2011 is in between. Right here one can find evidence of why the NIV 2011 exists. She thinks the results are “inconsistent.” Mankind and man and humanity and people … she sees lots of diversity in translation and nothing consistent. Salvation passages are gender inclusive; female leaders are not feminized into things like prophetesses or deaconesses. They are prophets and deacons. Good for the NIV 2011 on that.

“In most cases, I am adequately, if not deeply, satisfied with the NIV-2011’s treatment of gender” (28). But she makes an important point that many are making: “I cannot help but wonder if the translators did not sometimes act out of a desire to please hierarchists and egalitarians alike.” She sees the inconsistency on inclusive language to be perhaps a “misplaced desire to please everyone.”

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  • Peter

    Everything that I’ve learned about the NIV-11 I’ve learned here at Jesus Creed. This, along with the fact that those in the pews with electronic bibles are generally reading the NIV-11 while the older NIV is read from the pulpit, has made me want to replace the pew bibles at my church.

  • I was willing to go to bat for the TNIV, even to push it as the default for publication and teaching in my circles. But I don’t find anything about the NIV2011 that makes it the better choice in any category, except for habit. I’m done with the NIV tradition.

  • Scot McKnight

    Ken, which translation are you using?

  • Thanks for the pointer to this story.
    [FYI: The link on Bridget’s name goes to a Patheos login. Did you mean here?]

    Still, Payne’s research on 1 Tim 2:12 “assume authority” is the best, which I’ve summarized here

  • Scot McKnight

    Paul, thanks for pointing that out. Yes, and I repaired my link.

  • Clay Knick

    I have used the NIV as my primary reading bible for over 30 years. When the TNIV came out I used it along with the NIV. Since the NIV 2011 came out on Kindle I’ve been using it and will continue to do so. When the print edition arrives I’ll use it for reading and for comparison when I study for sermons. It will be used right next to the NRSV, RSV, & NASB.

  • Dan

    As a pastor and adjunct faculty member, I am greatly encouraged by the TNIV and NIV 2010(2011). The translation has improved vastly from the 1984 edition, which I did not like at all. The TNIV is far more readable for my congregation and is slightly more to the formal equivalence side than the 1984 edition. As I’ve seen thus far in the NIV 2010 (2011) that has been a standard they’ve held.

    I don’t mind using it in the classroom at all.

  • I am adrift, Scot. I like a lot about the ESV but hate its origins and I imagine Jeffries above might have some comments on various features (e.g., Rom. 16:7). I like some of the things the CEB has done here and there. I’m not sure it’s formal enough for assignments in detailed observation but my popular writing these last months has bounced between it and the NRSV. Be interested to see what you think…

  • Tim

    I think it’s a translation that reads extremely well, but remains somewhat hostile to good textual scholarship. There also remains a tendency to skew the text in subtle ways to harmonize apparent discrepancies, and bury textual corrections that offend inerrantist sensibilities in the footnotes (if they are included at all).

    For instance, Deuteronomy 32:8 in the new NIV reads:

    “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
    when he divided all mankind,
    he set up boundaries for the peoples
    according to the number of the sons of Israel.[b] ”

    Now, that (b) leads to a footnote that says:

    “Masoretic Text; Dead Sea Scrolls (see also Septuagint) sons of God”

    The Masoretic text here says “Sons of Israel” while the Septuagint and an OLDER document from the Dead Sea Scrolls reads “sons of God” (named El, specifically).

    Why is this a problem? Because the Canaanite Deity, also named El, had a consort, Athirat, with whom he had 70 sons. Now, it turns out that the numbering of the nations in Genesis totals 70. So by extension, there would total 70 “sons of El” for the God of the Bible, corresponding to 70 “sons of El” for the God of the Canaanites. Many Fundamentalist Evangelicals ascribing to a strict Biblicaly inerrantist hermeneutic, suffice to say, don’t feel particularly comfortable with this “coincidence.” And as, in my view, the NIV caters to the demographic, the textual correction, rather than revising the main text as it ought to according to best practices in textual scholarship, is instead buried in the footnotes.

    Most modern translations now appropriately correct this text to read “sons of God.” But sadly, the NIV lags behind for, what is in my view, uncompromising a priori ideological commitments that do violence to the text.

    You can read the passage in the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible (translated by professionals unafraid of good scholarship) below:

    “When the Most High gave the nations each their heritage, when he partitioned out the human race, he assigned the boundaries of nations according to the number of the children of God”

    *children is substituted for sons according to new egalitarian language.

  • I heard from someone who attended a meeting with NIV translators on hand, from the CBT, that they simply resorted to using Collins Dictionary in some way in regard to deciphering what use was most prevalent now. Hence mankind over humankind (not a like of mine, but I can live with it), a continuation of “they” in places using what is judged to be generic (singular), etc. So that being the case, the translators simply went along with the results from what I understand, applying them evenly, as I understood second hand from one of our pastors who attended the event.

    I prefer NIV 2011 and it does make some improvements over the TNIV while missing perhaps on some, but overall I think it is an improvement over the TNIV from what I can catch.

  • JohnM

    This is the first I’ve heard of the NIV 2011. Out of curiosity I recently asked at a large Christian book store which translations were selling the most nowdays. The answer was (still) the NIV. I was a little suprised. The woman answering didn’t specify which version of NIV, perhaps I only assumed it was the original. In any case I think the original is going to die hard at the popular level. ESV, by the way was cited as second.

  • AHH

    This review is limited to the gender issues, which of course are quite important.

    Scot, are you aware of any review that covers other issues? In particular, the issue Tim @9 raised of how the NIV appears to fudge some passages to hide what might otherwise be uncomfortable to those with inerrantist presuppositions?
    I’m thinking for example of the insertion of “had” in Gen. 2:19 (without even a footnote that “made” instead of “had made” is the natural reading) and the use of “virgin” in Is. 7:14 (at least giving “young woman” in a footnote).

  • JohnM,

    Unless I’m mistaken, the NIV 2011 is not yet available in print form, so the bookstore is probably referencing the “old” version (last updated in… ’84, I think).

    I’d be curious to know if “Christian bookstores” sell more of NIV (not terribly surprising to me) while other types of stores sell more of other translations. The NIV might still be on top, but I’d like to know for certain.

  • sfg

    Re #8 – A post from Craig Bloomberg’s blog tells how the translation team used Collins Dictionary linguistic corpus.

    “…In other words, in most instances, more valid forms of inclusive language for humanity have been substituted for more controversial ones.

    Someone may ask, but how were the most “valid” forms determined. The answer is by means of an unprecedented survey of the Collins Dictionary linguistic corpus—a database of over four billion words of current, written English, ranging from theology textbooks to printed sermons, to secular journalism and everything in between. The goal of the NIV has always been to use the language that most approximates how the vast majority of English speakers and writers are actually speaking and writing at any given time, not how they once did and how a few might wish they still did. The results of this survey have been scrutinized very carefully, therefore, while at the same time recognizing that the immediate context of any passage always potentially trumps standard usage of a given expression if something about that context makes it too unintelligible.”

  • Watchman

    Everything I know about the NIV 2011 is from hearsay so I don’t know if any of the claims I am hearing are true or not. But, what I have heard is that the editors of the NIV have changed some of what has historically been masculine into the feminine gender. I am assuming this revisionism is due in part to the egalitarian political correctness that has transcended our Western society over the past 50 years. If this is true, then there is no need for me to revert back to the NIV and instead continue with the most accurately translated version of the ESV where political correctness has properly been put into its proper place… thrown out the window.

  • Rachel

    I know I’ve said this before, but I still don’t really understand: why are complementarians here (and so often) called “hierarchists”, in spite of our preferred terminology? Isn’t that the equivalent of calling all egalitarians “feminists”? (That’s not to say that this never happens, of course, just that it is presumably irritating to some when it does.) It seems to make the debate more us-and-them than I think is needed amongst evangelical brothers and sisters! Any thoughts?

  • I’ve been reading the NIV 2011 for a few months now and have liked it very much. However, I came across this today:
    Luke 6:45b “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
    I have to say, from a grammatical perspective, I hate the way that sounds. I much prefer the old NIV: “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
    I don’t think the 2011 is trying to get rid of the masculine language, because in the rest of the verse it keeps the masculine pronouns intact. So I’m not sure why they chose this particular phrasing, or why they ended a sentence with a preposition. Yuck!

  • Daniel

    In the end, are most of the cheerleaders for this translation excited over the gender inclusive language or are there other translation issues at play? Just reading the responses to the original post it seems the large intent of the NIV revision is to placate the feminist Christians. (I realize this phrase is not usually used at this particular blog but it is a nod to Rachel @16).

  • smcknight

    Rachel, it is the language used in the article. I respect your pushback and agree with it.

    Daniel, the focus of the review in this instance was the concern about how women are translated … we’ve had other posts about the NIV 2011 that did not concern this issue at all.

  • Daniel #18, the aims of all these translations (TNIV, NIV2011, ESV, NRSV, NLT, CEB…) is at least to be gender accurate (since most of the time the NIV uses “he,” there is no “he” really there). Then most of these also do a dynamic equivalence of “brothers and sisters” when they believe the original meaning included women as well as men. The goal is not to be inclusive in any instance when the original meaning was not inclusive.

    However, the TNIV was the version for egalitarians to cheerlead. The NIV2011 in my mind is a step back from the TNIV and far from cheerleading it, I’m done with the whole tradition.

  • Ben Wheaton

    But Ken, isn’t that the whole problem? The TNIV was the “tribal bible” of egalitarians. The NIV 2011 is trying to be broader than that. I don’t think it will succeed, given the fragmentation already present in the market, but Zondervan didn’t want the TNIV to be a niche translation.

    I vote for going back to the Vulgate.

  • smcknight

    Ben, it would be more accurate to say the TNIV was “successfully labeled/libeled” as an egalitarian Bible.

  • Daniel

    Scot @#19, OK, I’ll have to do a little searching to see what other translation issues are addressed. I know the gender approach is almost the only issue for some people but, as was mentioned in #9, there are other issues that, at least for me, are important. I was not trying to divert the discussion. But I agree, the particular focus of this blog post is the gender issue.

  • Ben Wheaton

    To a certain extent that’s true, Scot, but egalitarians adopted that labeling and ran with it; Ken’s comment that, “the TNIV was the version for egalitarians to cheerlead” was what I was referring to. Egalitarians vociferously supporting it gave the impression that it was “their” Bible.

  • Clay Knick

    Let’s see: one group has the ESV. Another the TNIV. We’re divided by translations. “I am of ESV,” says one. Another, “I am of TNIV.” And someone else says, “I am of the NIV.” Almost makes one wish for the day when there was a common bible like the KJV or RSV. Hmm…those were the days?

  • John

    Clay makes a good point. Is there any one translation that at least most evangelicals can agree on? The NIV seemed to fit that bill over the last few decades, but now there are so many new ones it’s hard to say. I’d just as soon go back to the RSV.

  • discokvn

    @ 25&26 give me my hcsb


  • Michael

    There’s a lot to like and dislike about the new 2011 NIV. The same goes with the ESV too. But I still keep finding myself returning back to my good ole NIV 1984. Why? Comfort, ease of reading and understanding, memorized passages, etc.

    I really wish Zondervan wouldn’t stop publishing the NIV 1984. It’s my hope and prayer that Zondervan keeps publishing the NIV 1984 either under the “NIV 1984” or “NIV Classic” version. If they stop it all together or pull it from the shelves, I’ll be forced to go with the NIV-11, ESV, or HCSB!

    Thoughts anyone?

  • K.

    A gender-inclusive version is definitely a good evangelical tool because believe me, the pronouns used make a difference to many non-Christians. In debates like this over the language of the Bible, I just remind myself that gender-inclusive or masculine exclusive, the role of women is rising in society and in the church, thanks be to God, and once God has lifted us up, no one can take us back down.

  • this guy has done a comparison of the niv2011 with the tniv and the niv1984. tons of info on his site.

  • Darryl Rowe

    Well…I was all for the TNIV and have it in Zondervan Study Bible form and in electronic form. I now have a NIV 11 and since my electronic versions allow for text comparison I’ll simply mark up the NIV 11 where I feel the TNIV was “better.”

    Perhaps when all the furor dies down, the next revision of the NIV will make it even better. I consider the NLT okay, but too dynamic for my taste, leaving only the NRSV and NIV 11 to chose from. So…NIV 11.

  • Chris

    Having just purchased two leather-covered (with guilded-edge pages) of the NIV 2011, I can’t help but believe every time a newly-copywrited version of Scripture comes into vogue, someone at the top of a corporation scores a financial win.

  • I prefer the more modified-literal texts for personal study and teaching,
    but I have used the NIV-2011 quite extensively, and have found it to
    be an excellent translation most of the time. I refused to allow myself to
    be held captive by “traditional” translation terminology and compared
    the NIV-2011 to Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. In doing so, I have been
    quite pleased with its textual accuracy. There are places where I would
    have chosen different phrasing, nevertheless, in large part the translators
    did their work well.

    It would probably help to remember the design of the NIV-2011 is not
    to be gender inclusive, but to be gender accurate, and in doing so, it was
    necessary to make some concessions because English is a receptor
    language, and as such it is not always a “perfect” expression of the
    original languages of sacred scripture. So far I have found no “howlers”
    in it.

    I personally believe the NIV-2011 is the “best” idiomatic English version
    that is currently available. The NRSV could have been, but it has so many
    idiosyncrasies. I love the NRSV’s translation philosophy; as literal as
    possible and free as necessary. If you are wanting a great “foursome”
    in your study, work with the ASV-1901, NIV-2011, RSV/NRSV, and the