Friday, September 04, 2009

'Death' of a Bible Translation - TNIV

It's official. Today's New International Version (aka TNIV) will be discontinued. The leading Christian publisher, Zondervan announced that they will no longer continue the 2002 edition. In its place, Zondervan will start to sell the "NIV Bible 2011." The official announcement is here. They will also discontinue the venerable 1984 NIV translation after the new NIV is released. Citing marketing mistakes and the divisiveness of the translation, Zondervan CEO Moe Girkins says that the new version will have updated language for readers in the new era.

I got my first TNIV at a Regent-College Tradition conference back in 2005. It was distributed free to every conference attendee. Eugene Peterson and Bruce Waltke were the speakers that day, and the chapel was filled to the brim. We had to turn many people away on registration day itself. The quality was not as good, and my TNIV's spine broke at the middle of Psalms. Not a very good quality binding. Well, what do I expect.

My second TNIV was the Books of the Bible type, where Bible reference numbers are all removed to aid reading the Bible in context, rather than to read choice verses. Remember that Paul's letter to the churches are letters. Who will ever read a personal letter halfway?

My third TNIV was a hardcover one, which all new Regent students get to receive. However, the copy I have were missing a couple of pages from John and Acts.

This all but sums up my experience with the TNIV. Not a lot of good memories but still, I learned something, which I shall describe more below. Maybe, with the discontinuation, I might even get a 4th TNIV free from places seeking to offload the discontinued translation? (my email address is at the top left)

My Comments
I suspect that this latest decision to discontinue the TNIV, and work on a new translation to be released by 2011 is more a marketing decision than anything else. Honestly, the TNIV has never been widely accepted by the Christian public. Since its initial publication, there have been much controversies (especially from the conservative Bible Belt states in the USA), over the philosophy behind the translation itself. Limited acceptance to me does not warrant the use of the 'International' label. While the word 'today' does sound contemporary, I feel that it can become dated rather quickly, which also means that the word expires itself into non-relevance over time. For that matter, the same argument can be applied to the word 'New' in NIV itself. That is why I hope the new name will be something more time-neutral. How about English International Version? How about a more humble sounding name like, Bible for the Meek? I don't know. There are already too many Bibles out there. Maybe, that is the point. Don't be too concerned about the multitude of Bible translations. We have a greater problem of people who fail to read their Bibles well, than to be worried about the various technicalities behind each Bible. Strange paradox. The more Bibles we have, the less we read.

Maybe, if multiple revisions are needed, do what Microsoft has done to their Windows product, like EIV 2011? After all, the NIV does have a 1973 and a 1984 revisions. Just look at the copyright pages at the first pages of any NIV Bible.

The other reason behind the low take-up rate of the TNIV is because of the discomfort over adding/subtracting stuff, especially the gender-inclusive language in the Bible. I do not dispute the integrity and honesty of the TNIV translators to remain faithful to the text. However, changing the language from 'brethren' to 'brothers and sisters' seems to me rather awkward. We do not need to be paranoid about females being excluded whenever the Bible uses patriarchal language. Come on. Nowadays, our society readily accept the use of 'Guys' to both men and women. I have even heard woman leaders speaking to their ladies: "Guys, listen up...."

Personally, I felt I have learned some things from the TNIV chapter.

#1 - The Need to be sensitive to a culture crying out for gender inclusiveness.
This is something I support. Whether egalitarian or complementarian, all persons are to be accepted as God created them to be. There is no need to force down this upon anyone's throat if we can all treat one another with love and respect. This is not merely a gender issue but a universal matter that concerns every living being.

#2 - The Books of the Bible Project
This creative project was based on the TNIV. By removing verse numbers and Bible references, individual books of the Bible were arranged in an order that is as chronological as possible. Without the distraction of reference numbers, one reads the Bible as intended for the original hearers. This is one way of learning to read the Bible in its right context, without feeling a need to extract verses out of our personal convenience. I have previously written on this project. You can read this here.

#3 - Wider Acceptance
Far more than marketing, is the support from the ground. If churches and individuals are not agreeable to the philosophy of the translation, there will be no lift off, regardless of the amount of huffing and puffing. Notice the sudden proliferation of Bible versions within the last decade?
  • 2000: New English Translation (NET); updated 2005
  • 2001: English Standard Version (ESV)
  • 2002: THE MESSAGE (MSG)
  • 2004: Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
  • 2004: New Living Translation (NLT)
  • 2005: Today's New International Version (TNIV)
For any version to gain readership, it needs to be trans-denominational. Scholarship alone does not help. Whenever anyone says that his translation is based on the most recent manuscripts and the latest scholarship, ask him: Which one?

Oops. Will we understand the answers? (Septaugint, Textus Receptacus, Vulgate, Coptic, Syriac, . .. . )

Sigh. What we badly need is simplicity. [By the way, there is another English translation, Baker Books's publishing the New Testament called "God's Word" and they can be downloaded for free of charge at (September 2009 only)]


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