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.