The move to NIV 2011 by Biblica and Zondervan and the end of the public use of the NIV 1984 edition by the end of 2012 means some major changes for church bodies and individual congregations. Churches will no longer be able to publish bulletins or projections using NIV 1984. And publishing houses will no longer be able to use NIV 1984 in any published books/study guides, etc. Some have moved to the NIV 2011 without much hesitation (doesn’t mean they didn’t study it, but the conclusions were essentially, “stay the course with NIV”).
Others are carefully examining the NIV 2011 to see what significance there is in the changes in NIV 2011. And others are checking and testing alternate translation choices. How does this affect the individual Christian who has been using NIV 1984 for personal study? There really is no immediate affect on individual use. It may cause a little confusion if the church body uses NIV 2011 or another translation.
The Revolution in Bible Publishing
The days of one printing of a translation lasting a life time are long gone. The rapid advances in printing technology over the past 75 years means that time for making changes between printings is insignificant. Computer technology in the last 15 years has brought more dramatic changes on this scene. In 1996, the publishing of NET on the web as a digital product prior to the production of any printed copy signaled the revolution was upon us. Thus, we see that even recent translations like ESV and NLT have been revised within a few short years of the first edition. For instance, that which was published in ESV 2001 is different than ESV 2007, which is different than the ESV 2012. And don’t expect that trend to change.
Is this significant for us who are users of the translations? Yes, in at least two ways.
1. Memorization: Over the centuries memorization of Scripture was an integral part of Bible learning. With frequent changes that we have witnessed, this begins to erode memorization.
2. Worship: In a liturgical church, whether hymnal or projection, the liturgical portions need to be consistent for worship continuity. Further, with constantly evolving translations, the liturgical portions may not match public use of Scripture elsewhere in church life. Even with the same hymnal, editions printed may vary from one to another (a copyright issue on how much change can be made? After all, Biblica/Zonderan changed the field by declaring an older revision as no longer usable.).
This environment highlights one of the negatives of having translation efforts done by para-church companies. Church bodies, while represented by occasional scholars, have little to say about translation efforts. In other words, the Church, as the user of the translation has little influence on the translations being made available. I have noted elsewhere that most translation groups come from broadly Reformed/Evangelical background, and so are much less sensitive to the liturgical life of the church and the relationship between worship using translations and Bible studies using translations.
As Lutherans, we do not ever endorse one translation as the translation that must be used. We recognize that all translations are just that, translations that attempt to help us better understand the original language texts. For doctrinal discussions and disputes, the matter is always decided by referring to the original language texts (Greek for NT and Hebrew/Aramaic for OT).
Lutheran publishing houses carry several translations, even if one is used in a specific hymnal (i.e. ESV in Lutheran Service Book [LSB, 2006] from Concordia Publishing House). Note that even as recent as this hymnal is, the translation is ESV 2001 that does not include the latest revisions, which began appearing in 2007, let alone electronic changes that have more recently been made.
The publishing house issue is also critical. I serve as a pastor of a congregation in a small Lutheran church body. We depend on two major Lutheran publishing houses for many of our needs: CPH (LCMS) and NPH (WELS). Thus, if we as a congregation select a translation, that also influences whether we will have support materials (Sunday School, Catechism, etc.) with the translation we have selected. Do we just adopt what one of these two publishing houses choose? Not that easy to do.
The Hunt for a Translation
Now what? Let’s look at some options:
1. Stay with NIV 1984: This might make sense for congregations that had purchased pew Bibles with all NIV 1984 Bibles. The congregation I currently serve did that many years ago. The downside? Any replacement Bibles will be NIV 2011. So the problem isn’t really solved, only postponed.
2. Move to NIV 2011: While the total change is 6%, there are critical changes, some good, and some less than desirable. We have to examine those changes.
3. Move to another modern translation: As we look the landscape of 75+ English translations, I have narrowed that list down to the following: ESV, HCSB, and GW.*
So, in the coming weeks, I will begin posting some comparison passages using these four translations: NIV 2011, ESV, HCSB, and GW. As time and space permit I will include some comparisons with NAS and NLT. So bear with me in the process. If you have suggestions, questions, or additional insights, I would appreciate hearing from you, either here or at my email: exegete77 AT gmail DOT com.
* What about NAS, NKJ, NLT, NET, NABRE? The NAS and NKJ are excellent translations, even better than ESV in my opinion. However, the attempt to maintain original language style (formal equivalence or similar term) makes them difficult translations to read (I know all the arguments about “teach them to read at that level,” but that does not deal with, nor change, the mission environment in which we live). Especially for oral reading, the style for each is prohibitive in our environment. BTW, this will be a negative for the ESV as well. The NLT is a mixed bag as a translation; in some areas it is outstanding, in others, it has some significant problems. NET is an interesting study Bible, but having tried using it in an oral environment, it has too many drawbacks. NABRE (2011 edition —Roman Catholic approved translation) is very good in places, but not as good as I had expected