Do We Really Need Another English Translation?
Most of what I post on this blog is too anodyne or too obscure to attract much by way of links or comments (or even readers?), so I was surprised to pick up some reaction on my recent post about the new NIV.
Peter Kirk takes issue with me on a number of points and he is supported by Steve, who suggests that I should edit my last post to remove some of the content. Let’s take Peter’s points one by one:
First, surely it is important that hundreds of millions of English speakers get an accurate translation, instead of the pseudo-archaism of ESV and the inaccurate mess of the 1984 NIV.
I agree that it is important that English speakers have access to a good translation. I’m also aware that people differ as to what they call a good translation. Peter is not a great fan of the ESV, but other people think it’s the bees knees. Likewise with the NIV. I agree that no English translation is perfect and it is fairly easy to pick holes in all of them; that is the nature of translation. I’ve no doubt that the new NIV will be a good translation (though not without faults) and will make an excellent addition to the variety of translations available. But the hundreds of millions of English speakers already have access to good translations, one more won’t make a great difference one way or another.
Peter goes on:
Don’t forget that many minority language translations are based on the English, with only minor input from original languages, and so the English needs to be right.
I hadn’t forgotten that. But I also know that when people translate directly from an English text, they do so from a text which is as literal as possible. Generally, in these contexts people work from the RSV or these days, increasingly from the ESV. I don’t see the updated NIV making a great deal of difference here. While on the subject, it is worth mentioning the Easy English projects that aim to produce resources for people who are translating the Bible from the English text.
And then, don’t forget that IBS, now Biblica, has poured huge amounts of its profits from NIV into supporting minority language Bible publication worldwide. So don’t bite one of the hands that is feeding your own work.
I’m very grateful that Biblica continue to fund Bible publication and translation worldwide. But surely the point is that they would be able to do this even if they simply continued to print the NIV as it is. My point is not that Biblica should stop selling Bibles, merely that we should not be putting resources into providing yet another Bible for English speakers when so many others are missing out. If the only source of revenue available to Biblica is from the new translation, then I would be biting a hand that feeds my work, but it isn’t and I’m not.
So, I’m sorry, but I remain underwhelmed by the news that the NIV is being updated, but there are plenty of other blogs that are covering this issue in great detail, so I don’t think that the world of English translation loses because of my disinterest.
So do we need another translation into English?
Well in a comment on my original post, Rombo makes an important point.
… skimming through the current composition of the Committee for Bible Translation, I do not get the sense that there is an increased understanding that both the Christian faith, the English language and Christian scholarship are now global.
The truth is that there is no single thing called English. Around the world there are all sorts of Englishes. Some only vary slightly from British or American English, others vary greatly. If we are going to have a translation for the hundreds of millions of English speakers, then those who speak different varieties of English need to be involved in its production. However, I’d have a lot more sympathy for an effort to produce localised English translations that meet the needs of mother tongue speakers of variant forms of English such as Jamaican Patois.
Meanwhile, on a lighter note, David Keen has come up with some good suggestions for rebranding the new NIV:
– Tomorrows New International Version (TNIV, not to be confused with TNIV)
– Newer International Version (NIV, not to be confused with NIV)
– Very New International Version (VNIV, which is starting to look like a Roman date)This
– Brand New International Version (BNIV, which ceases to be true as soon as you’ve bought it, and so risks making a complete liar out of everyone who owns a copy)
– New International Version 3.0, which can be released in digital form and updated by download whenever a new bit of translation becomes available.
– 21st Century NIV: bit of a hostage to fortune, as you then can’t amend it again for 89 years. Actually ’21st century’ already sounds dated.
Unless I get lots of comments and feel I have to answer, this is the last I’ll write on this till 2011 (probably).