Bible Translation

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).

This post is more than a year old. It is quite possible that any links to other websites, pictures or media content will no longer be valid. Things change on the web and it is impossible for us to keep up to date with everything.

7 replies on “Do We Really Need Another English Translation?”

Imagine the Environment Agency were to send out a warning to a multi-lingual society and started by sending the warning out in one language. A few weeks later they reword the one language warning with the ultimate message of the warning remaining the same; this continues. Surely the Environment Agency would be negligent of not spreading their life saving news to all?

I do not know about languages. Nor do I know about how inaccurate the NIV is. Eddie hit the nail on the head with “I’ve no doubt that the new NIV will be a good translation (though not without faults)”.

Eddie, thanks for your in depth analysis of my comment.

I agree that it is best for translators to work from as literal a translation as possible, so probably something more literal than any variety of NIV. But I cannot recommend ESV for this purpose because of its highly inconsistent use of “man” which depends on the translators’ theological presuppositions.

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.

On this one I will disagree with you, on the basis of the business experience of the CEOs of Zondervan and Biblica as expressed in their webcast of the update launch. They have clearly anticipated that sales of the 1984 NIV will start to drop off because this translation is becoming perceived as outdated. Their commercial judgment is that the considerable expenditure involved in the update – paying the translators and republishing a huge range of editions – will be proved worthwhile because of the increased sales that will result. If they sell more Bibles than they otherwise would have done because of this update, Zondervan will pay more in royalties to Biblica for them to use “to fund Bible publication and translation worldwide”. So everyone wins from this update, surely?


Random thoughts on this:
I doubt that English has moved on so far that a new translation is required. OK, some of the NIV seems a bit dated but it’s so little that tweaks in future publications could quite easily be made. Let’s face it, academic text books get reprinted every year and students asked to buy the latest copy, but the content rarely changes and some people can manage quite well with the earlier translations.

I suspect that this is simply a financial move. Once everyone in the world has purchased an NIV there’s little need to keep selling it. However, if people are to purchase the ‘new’ NIV then the whole marketplace has opened up again.

Then there’s the threat from the NLT, which I suspect has had an impact on NIV sales.

The strategy to stop printing the NIV is more interesting. I would expect that this is on the basis that when a church needs to start replacing its Bibles it’s going to be forced to buy the ‘new’ version, rather than hunting on Ebay for old NIV’s.

Whether it’s good, bad or unnecessary I don’t care too much. I’ll be interested to see how extensively different it’s going to be from other translations already available. Interested but not that bothered… other stuff to do.

I agree with Phil – I think much of the reason is financial. If it weren’t, why wouldn’t every language that has a Bible have access to newer translations? Language is always in flux – so probably any translation is at least slightly not fully understandable after 36 years. (1973 is when the NIV New Testament was first published.)

Me? I just love the NLT. It may not be the most accurate translation, but it speaks to my heart. It’s the closest to my mother tongue.

Maybe we should believe the 2 CEOs who say this is not a ‘commercial’ decision but a ‘spiritual’ one. They say the 84 NIV needs revising, and the TNIV has caused division, therefore a ‘unifying’ revision is needed. It will be called the ‘NIV’. We can expect a ‘balanced’ view of gender according to Doug Moo, the CBT Chair, without some of the TNIV’s mistakes, so we can assume it will be somewhat less inclusive in language than the TNIV. They are looking for a global reach in the English language, so I guess the NLT’s success in in their sights. I don’t think we should get too distressed by the decison to revise; that has always been in the CBT’s mandate. It’s the shape and direction of the revison that should make us apprehensive. The waiting begins.btw our church Bible cupboard has a few aging NIV, then TNIV, NLT, CEV (all bought at the same time). That’s 21C life folks!

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