2011 revision of NIV Bible both pleasing and disappointing
In March 2011, the copyright owners of the most popular modern translation of the Bible in English, the New International Version (NIV), published the first revision of the NIV since 1984.
As a pastor who did not like the over-reaching political correctness of the Today’s New International Version (TNIV, copyright 2002), I was concerned when I heard that the NIV itself was going to be revised. But after studying the digital early release version in numerous passages, I have been pleased that it is more accurate, but disappointed that while the use of gender-neutral language does not go as far as the TNIV, it still goes too far.
The new NIV retains 95% of the words of the 1984 edition, but where there are changes, it communicates the original meaning better to modern readers and more accurately than before.
Let me address several issues: gender-neutral language, omission of words, and accuracy of translation.
First, the most controversial issue of the TNIV (the earlier failed attempt to revise the NIV) was its gender-neutral language. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in June 2011 saying they “cannot commend” the 2011 NIV. Why is that? The 2011 NIV does not go as far as the TNIV. In Hebrews 12, where scripture speaks of God disciplining us like a father, the TNIV changed “father” to “parent.” This implied that God was a gender-neutral “parent” rather than our “heavenly Father.” I’m glad to report that the new NIV has “father,” just as the 1984 edition had. However, the new NIV, like the TNIV, does use gender-neutral “brothers and sisters” when the context clearly means all believers. Since modern English speakers use both genders, “brothers and sisters,” when addressing all believers, not just the masculine “brothers,” it makes sense that the Bible they are reading do the same. However, this may not be acceptable to all readers, particularly in passages like Psalm 1, where the masculine pronoun is often associated with a reference to manhood. In the 1984 NIV, Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked… He is like a tree planted by streams of water…” but the 2011 NIV renders it, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked…That person is like a tree planted by steams of water…”
The 2011 NIV changes “fathers” to “parents” in Malachi 4:6, although the Hebrew word is ab, fathers. Also, Ezekiel 22:30, the famous “stand in the gap” passage used by Promise Keepers to challenge men, has been changed from “man” to “someone.” A favorite verse of the men’s group, Promise Keepers, was Proverbs 27:17, because it said that as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. However, the 2011 NIV changes “man” to “person.” These kind of changes can be found hundreds of times throughout the Old and New Testaments in the 2011 NIV.
However, the 2011 NIV continues to say “sons” in Romans 8:14 and “sonship” in Romans 8:15 in a discussion of spiritual adoption which refers to the male heir. Thus it does not use gender-neutral language in places where it would impact theology, but it does use gender-neutral language in some places that have traditionally been interpreted as references to manhood. The revised NIV also continues to maintain clear sexual distinctions between the genders in passages like Genesis 1:27, which reads, “So God created mankind in his own image…male and female he created them.”
Omission of words
The second translation issue is the omission of words. One of the biggest criticisms of the 1984 NIV was that sometimes words in the Greek text simply were not translated. The most notorious example was the Gospel of Mark, which makes frequent use of the Greek word euthus, “immediately.” For some reason, there were many verses in the 1984 NIV that simply ignored this word. But the 2011 NIV is careful to translate it as “immediately” or “as soon” etc. in every place where it is used. I have been doing a verse-by-verse study of Romans in the Greek, and comparing the old and new versions of the NIV, I found that where the old NIV omitted the word “or” at the beginning of Romans 3:29, the new NIV restored the word. And in Romans 4:1, the old NIV omitted the words “according to the flesh,” but the new NIV put the phrase back in.
Accuracy of translation
The third translation issue is the accuracy of translation. In an attempt to be easy to read, the NIV has been less precise in translating words and phrases. It’s a difficult balance for any translation, but sometimes the 1984 NIV paraphrased the text in places that caused the reader to miss the technical point that the Biblical writer was making. For example, the 1984 NIV translates Romans 3:28, “observing the law.” But the 2011 NIV translates it, “works of the law.” The Greek phrase is literally, “works of the law.”
In Romans chapter 8, Paul uses the word “flesh” as a metaphor for the sinful nature. The 1984 NIV translates it “sinful nature,” which gets the idea across, but thereby obscures the deliberate play on words in Romans 8:3 when Paul says that when we were weakened by the flesh, God sent Jesus in the flesh. The 1984 NIV has “sinful nature” in these verses, but the 2011 NIV uses the literal word “flesh.”
In Romans 8:4, the 1984 NIV says that Jesus’ sacrifice satisfied the “righteous requirements” of the law. However, the Greek word translated “requirements” is singular. The 2011 NIV changes it to the singular “requirement.” This might seem a minor distinction, but theologically the singular implies that God covers the entirety of our sin, not just some sins.
In Romans 10:4, the 1984 NIV reads, “Christ is the end of the law…” The Greek word translated “end” is telos, which means completion. Paul does not mean the law will stop, but that it will be fulfilled. Thus the 2011 NIV reads,”Christ is the culmination of the law…”
Another example is Galatians 5:22, where the 1984 NIV lists “patience” among the fruit of the Spirit. The problem is, that there are two Greek words for patience: one word means patience with circumstances, and one word means patience with people. The word used in Galatians 5:22 means patience with people, so the 2011 NIV translates it “forbearance.”
The 2011 NIV has improved the accuracy of many passages in the Old Testament, as well. Psalm 93:1 reads in the 1984 NIV, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.” This is similar to the KJV, which was misinterpreted centuries ago to mean the universe revolved around the earth. But the Hebrew word means stability, and so the 2011 NIV translates it, “The world is established; firm and secure.” Psalm 107 gives four stories of people who have reason to thank the Lord. Thus Psalm 107:2 reads in the 2011 NIV, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story,” which is an improvement of the 1984 “Let the redeemed of the Lord say this.”
Different readers will have different opinions about the appropriateness of gender-neutral language in the revised NIV. Some will like it, and others will not. Personally, I can understand the change to “brothers and sisters” or “mankind” when the context clearly refers to all people, but when the context is not clearly gender-neutral, the translation should not be gender-neutral. It is unfortunate that this issue may cloud the discussion of this revision, which is otherwise more accurate than before. People who love the NIV and do not object to gender-neutral language should embrace this revision with even more confidence in its accuracy, and people who object to the gender-neutral language will prefer translations such as the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) or English Standard Version (ESV).