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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The End of NIV 1984

After over 300 years with the King James Bible as the universally-read English Bible, the 20th century was the one in which multiple English translations flooded the market. Now, incredibly after just 27 years, the New International Version has been deemed out-of-date and in need of a revision. The classic New International Version Bible (copyright 1984, now called the NIV1984) is now not available for purchase. Zondervan has recalled all the copies, according to a local bookseller, and is shipping them overseas. Only the "new" NIV, hereafter known as the NIV, will be available.

There are many good reasons for this and I don't deny them. Yes, thanks to Spielberg et al the term "alien" carries extra terrestrial connotations. I'm sure using "foreigner" speaks more clearly to the modern reader. And, to be sure, scholarship has opened our eyes to more accurate meanings. And then there is the gender issue.

I know many people have reacted extremely negatively to the NIV's revisions because the translators have chosen to use more inclusive pronouns. This pronoun fight amuses me a little. The hard truth is that English speakers no longer use "he" or "brothers" to universally refer to mankind--err, humankind. We may hate that this is the outcome of feminism, but it doesn't change that it is indeed the outcome. This is a change in English usage; it is not an alteration in the Scriptures. If "brothers" continued to faithfully communicate the meaning, it would continue to be chosen. The Committee on Bible Translation has explained themselves on this issue, and I accept their explanation. I do not see an agenda in the translation. It seems to me that the NIV is a worthy dynamic equivalent translation.

However, the very fact that the NIV 1984 is no longer available is forcing churches and Christian groups everywhere to take stock. New NIV 1984 pew Bibles are unavailable. Do we change out the whole set of pew Bibles to the new NIV? Or, if we are changing anyway should we consider New American Standard? English Standard Version? Holman Standard Christian Bibles?

What about the versions that we memorize together? What about kids in AWANA?* Sunday school children are given Bibles as gifts--what now?

The NIV revisions have only changed 5% of the words throughout the text, but the problem is that there is enough of a change that one can't just carry on and use both interchangeably for memory work.

As it happens, I haven't been using NIV 1984 for about seven years or more, since my personal Bible became an ESV. I really love the ESV, which is a literal translation and as such in a different category from the NIV,  but in recent weeks I've been reading a Holman translation. Watch for a follow-up post coming soon in which I review the Holman Christian Standard Bible as a possible alternative for you.

How did we come to this? We are told that English is changing very rapidly--so fast that even the translations for modern readers, like the NIV 1984, are now considered "old." This is true, but one can't help being nostalgic for an earlier era.

It wasn't that long ago that people of all classes learned to read with the King James Bible. If a word sounded strange because you never used it in everyday speech, well, you learned what it meant and carried on. The English speaking world shared several things in common: the King James Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, and Shakespeare. Yes, English changed, but when we all shaped our education around old but excellent English writing, we passed the torch of beautiful English, at least in some way, on to the next generation.

Now, however, television and movies are the keepers of our tongue. People change their cadences to mimic popular sit-com speakers. Hip phrases go in and out of fashion as quickly as our clothing. Old meanings that we all used to recognize are slipping away from common knowledge. Inside jokes allude to movie lines, not lines from the King James or Shakespeare.

If old and dated English is an obstacle to reaching readers with the Gospel, than by all means, let's get a new translation. But forgive me for feeling a little disappointed that Bible translations are now on a 25 year update cycle.

This is the first in a series of posts on the topic. Watch for my review of the Holman, a post looking at the actual NIV revisions, and a post with links to other buzz on this topic.

Image is the author's photograph of her personal ESV Bible.
*According to AWANA's Facebook page, they are thinking and praying over this issue very carefully, as well as surveying their participating churches. If you want to give input to this process, contact your AWANA missionary.

1 comment:

Laura at By the Bushel said...

Excellent post. I personally use a New King James Version. I prefer the cadence I grew up with. The phrases mean more to me as I did hear them explained discussed, and the defining of the unknown words created more of an understanding than more 'work' to ascertain their meaning. I still prefer it. I thinnk I always will. My husband uses the now, old NIV. And I see the purpose in why many use the NIV. When my kids have participated in outside memorization of Bible, I'm always a little surprised that they are required to memorize NIV. I still have them memorize some in the NKJV. ... Using monetary resources wisely seems to be what will effect the choices of excellent programs like AWANA. The meaning (5% of changes) of those words would be of little impact with a child who is regularly directed in Bible study. However, a typical child who might be confused by one gender being the preferred of the two and distracted by the need to explain this nuance, and therefore utilizing the limited attention span that is often the case...-- I can see why programs would change to the now NIV.

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