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Friday, May 12, 2006

another TNIV review

Phil Ward, an English Bible translator in Australia, has written a review of the TNIV titled "What has happened to the NIV Bible?" It was published in a church magazine. Phil has graciously given permission for his review to be uploaded to a website from which it can be downloaded.

Phil's review also follows, here:
What has happened to the NIV Bible?
by Phil Ward

What book holds the world record for the most number of copies sold in its first thirty years on the bookshelves?

It’s the New International Version of the Bible. It has sold an incredible half million copies each month since it was first published in 1973.

This outstanding sales success has created a difficult problem for its publishers. The English language is constantly changing and the NIV wording is now a little old fashioned. It needs to be updated, or its sales will gradually fade. But the “simple solution” of modernising the language creates a serious risk of losing the existing loyal customer base.

How can you update the product, but not lose your existing market? The solution is to have two versions. Give one version the traditional wording; give the other the updated language.

And that is exactly what has happened. The New International Version of the Bible has spawned an offspring. It’s called Today’s New International Version.

Its publisher, Zondervan, says the TNIV is aimed at the under 35 market, but in truth it’s probably written for all age groups. However, by marketing it to the younger market, its older readership will not feel threatened. They won’t feel the Bible version they have used for a generation is being taken away from them.

What is this new translation like? Most differences between the TNIV and NIV are too subtle for most people to notice. That is a major drawback for promoting the new translation. If people don’t notice the changes, they won’t talk to their friends about the book, so there will be few word-of-mouth sales. Zondervan is solving that problem with a million dollar advertising campaign. It’s believed to be the largest advertising budget in history to launch a religious book.

What are the subtle changes in the TNIV? The most frequent is the removal of sexist language. Many times the old NIV used words like “he” and “him” when the original Greek language did not specify the sex of the person. This type of sexist language has been removed from the TNIV.

Another example of this is the word “brothers.” The old NIV uses this word 339 times in the New Testament alone. However, in most cases the original Greek word means “siblings.” So the new version usually replaces “brothers” by the more cumbersome, but more accurate term “brothers and sisters.”

Other subtle alterations are occasional changes to make the translation more accurate. The last 50 years has seen a stunning 30,000% growth in the amount of scholarly material examining the meaning of New Testament words. The translators have dug into this huge new resource to try to make the TNIV more accurate. It is comforting to know that where necessary, these improvements in accuracy are found in the new version.

Weights and measures are more relevant in the TNIV. For example, in Matthew 13:33 the old NIV says, “a large amount of flour.” The new version says, “about sixty pounds of flour,” with a footnote saying, “about 27 kilograms.”

Do these changes mean there is a significant difference between the old NIV and the new? Not really. I took a section of the New Testament and counted the number of words which were changed. There were only 4 per cent. So reading the new version gives almost exactly the same impression as reading the old. The main difference is that if people are offended by “sexist” language, the TNIV will not offend them. Thus, it can carry God’s message more successfully to people offended by “sexist” language.

At this stage I need to confess that my comments in this article are biased. I am translating a Bible which I hope will be a future sales competitor to the NIV/TNIV. And from my biased viewpoint, I feel that the new TNIV needed three more major changes.

The first change I would have liked is shorter sentences. On almost every page the TNIV has sentences between 30 and 40 words long. However, the average person cannot easily understand a sentence more than 20 words long. So by dividing longer sentences into two shorter ones, the TNIV could have been much easier to understand.

The second change I would have liked is less verbosity. The TNIV New Testament has almost 20% more words than the Greek original. Some of that increase is necessary, but not all of it. A good student of creative writing can remove an average of three words per verse in either version without changing the meaning. That means that about 10% of the words are not necessary. If those words were removed, you could take 10% less time to read a given passage. But more importantly, giving the same message in less words means people absorb more of what they read.

The third change I would have wanted was replacing more of the NIV’s obsolete words. The noun “grace” (meaning “favour”) has virtually dropped out of modern English. However, the TNIV uses it 117 times. Perhaps TNIV readers would have been better served by words like “favour,” “approval,” “gift,” or “kindness” rather than “grace.” Similarly the ancient word “herald” could have been replaced with “messenger.” The word “disciple” has changed its meaning since it became part of the English language 800 years ago. It originally meant “student,” which is what the Greek also means. However, the new version uses “disciple” 315 times. Maybe it should have used the more accurate word “student.” And perhaps “the elect” could have become “the chosen” or “those selected.”

It is a dangerous thing to criticise a Bible translation. So please don’t interpret my comments as meaning we shouldn’t take the TNIV just as it reads.

Take either the old NIV or the new one just as it reads. Or take the KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NASB, CEV, TEV, or any other combination of letters which means this book is a Bible. Take it just as it reads. The Bible, just as it reads, is to be our guide.

PHIL WARD has been a full time Bible translator since 1986. He has so far spent 25,000 hours translating the Bible and expects he needs another 20,000 hours to finish the task.


At Fri May 12, 04:38:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I find it hard to believe that the average person would find every sentence over 20 words to be completely incomprehensible. It might be that the average person finds the average 20+ word sentence to be difficult, but that's weaker in at least two ways. My first sentence in this comment is over 20 words, and it's not that difficult. I counted nine sentences in Phil Ward's review that are longer than twenty words, and those aren't that hard either. Good punctuation and separation of clauses can in some cases serve the same purpose as a period and a new sentence. I'm a big fan of brevity, but I don't think the kind of absolute statement he's making is really true. This shouldn't take away from the value of the rest of what he says, but for some reason this strikes me as worth expressing disagreement.

Besides, the fact that Paul commonly wrote very long sentences, though in another language, should tell us at least something about whether such long sentences can be divinely approved. Isn't capturing the style of the original part of good translation? If we make everything simplistic out of readability when the original isn't as readable to begin with, then we're not translating accurately.

At Sat May 13, 04:47:00 PM, Blogger Joe said...

I'm certainly glad that I am not a Bible translator.

It must be very difficult to prepare a translation that reads well for an educated person and can still be understood by high school graduates, 30% of whom cannot read their own diplomas, in my state, at least.

At Sat May 13, 10:19:00 PM, Blogger lingamish said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Sat May 13, 10:35:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Lingamish lamented:

Why has it been so quiet around here? Let me guess: it's too pretty outside to spend your time sitting in front of the computer...

Hey, you must live not too far from me! It has been a beautiful spring. And I've just bought a bicycle to replace mine that a daughter "borrowed" to take to college and it never came back.

We don't endorse everything that we link to on this blog, as noted in our Links policy near the top of the right margin.

The review is timely. So much said about the TNIV has been seriously flawed. You've recognized some flaws in the review. Good. Blog on it. I'd be happy to post your comments as a blog post here or link to it from a post. I'd like more breaks: I need more time on my bicycle! Hey, I've even lost a few pounds. You don't need it yet, but I do.

At Sun May 14, 07:41:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Wayne wrote:

"You've recognized some flaws in the review. Good. Blog on it."

Naw, I was just feeling cantankerous last night. But with so many active thinkers at BBB I do wonder why there has been so little activity lately (Thanks, Suzanne for the "long hair" post, at least.).

At Sun May 14, 03:16:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy mentioned "the fact that Paul commonly wrote very long sentences". But is this a fact? As we don't have original manuscripts with proper punctuation, this statement depends entirely on how Paul's writings are analysed into sentences. If we look in Greek at many of Paul's allegedly very long sentences, e.g. Ephesians 1:3-14, we find that it is in fact broken into separate sections. Each section starts with something like ἐν ᾧ en hō, vv.7,11,13. This is formally translated as "in whom", for ᾧ is formally a relative pronoun. However, it seems rather clear to me that in this kind of context this pronoun should be analysed not as a relative but as an ordinary pronoun, and so translated "in him". Indeed this is how the Greek text is punctuated in the Nestle-Aland 27th edition, as well as how most modern English translations break up the sentence. Similarly some of the participles e.g. προορίσας proorisas in v.5 and γνωρίσας gnōrisas in v.7 could be understood as introducing new sentences, even if those who insist that every clause must have a finite verb have to force this into the grammatical straitjacket of a dependent phrase. Again, many English translations start new sentences here. The result of this kind of reanalysis of the Greek text is that no one sentence is more than two verses long - still perhaps more than 20 words, but not so extremely long as to be generally incomprehensible.

At Sun May 14, 08:37:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


I looked at the Alexandrian manuscript which is online and found a mid dot before each εν ω, and then in the P45 and found a perceptible space preceding each εν ω. Since the Darby translation connects the whole passage as one long sentence, I had always thought of it that way. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

I link to them both in my blog. I haven't got an index for the Alexandrian ms yet so I just guess and scan tilll I find whatever it is.

At Mon May 15, 03:24:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, thanks for your comments about original MSS. Until recently I had assumed that the punctuation in Greek NT editions was entirely editorial, as there was no punctuation in original MSS - indeed not even clear word divisions in many MSS. But in fact someone else recently told me that this is not the full story. Unfortunately there seems to be little information on this issue available to those of us who are not specialists in textual criticism. The Nestle-Aland 27th edition text does make the ancient chapter divisions or kephalaia marked in many NT MSS (Ephesians 1:3-14 is one kephalaion), but makes no mention of lower level divisions. The UBS 4th edition text has a Discourse Segmentation Apparatus, but this is based only on modern editions of the Greek text and on translations, not on original MSS.

At Mon May 15, 09:30:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

There are divisions into paragraphs and then there are divisions into what we might think of as sentences. These divisions precede historically the division into words. That is, chronologically, the larger divisions were marked first. So kephalaion and quasisentences, pauses in oral reading or thought breaks, and finally consistent word divisions much later. Word divisions are really not necessary for comprehension as long as there is a diaeresis to mark any double vowels that don't belong together, or the breathing marks, which came to mark a word initial vowel, and therefore mark word divisions without using spacing. That was really the role of the breathing mark.

However, it may be that there is not enough consistency or consensus about some of these divisions to put them into a text.

At Tue May 16, 06:38:00 AM, Blogger lingamish said...

Dear all,

I've deleted an earlier comment on this post because it was unfaily critical of Phil and his article. Forgive me for sometimes crossing the line!


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