The announcement that we will be getting an updated NIV has caused a bit of a stir. The TNIV, which was the last update to the NIV has not really taken off. Partly this was due to clumsy marketing, with it being presented as an alternative to the old NIV, rather than a replacement. It probably also suffered from coming out around the same time as the hugely popular ESV translation. But most of all, it found itself in limbo due to the decision to use gender-neutral language wherever possible. I think this is a shame, because the TNIV offered many improvements other than just the gender-neutral language. So this is a bold decision by the translators, but one that makes sense if the NIV is to remain in widespread use.
Here’s a few of my thoughts on the matter:
1. On the whole, I am supportive of the change to gender neutral language where possible. For example, in the NIV, Matt 5:16 reads “let your light shine before men”, while the TNIV changes this to “shine before others”, which is the same choice the translators of the ESV have made. This type of change should not be considered controversial, and has no need to be reversed.
2. My main criticism of the TNIV, from what I have read of it so far, is that repeatedly using the phrase “brothers and sisters” instead of “brothers” quickly becomes cumbersome. It is unfortunate that there is no viable single-word generic alternative in English. When this phrase is repeatedly used (e.g. James 5:7-12) it becomes jarring, particularly when read aloud. Also, as the translators have pointed out, this kind of politically correct speak is waning in popularity. We have moved on. Hopefully the new NIV will revert to “brothers” and put “brothers and sisters” as an alternative reading in the footnotes, allowing those reading it in public to choose whether to put it in or not as they go.
3. Ultimately, no translation can avoid the problem that there is a huge historical and cultural distance between us and the first readers of the Bible. More than that, the NIV is read by a wide variety of people who will detect different shades of meaning in the same English phrase. With any translation, the need for careful and prayerful study remains if we are to fully grasp the meaning of the text. If you look at who is on the CBT, you will see a collection of first-class Biblical scholars from both complementarian and egalitarian perspectives, and I have confidence that we can expect sensible decisions from them.
4. I sincerely hope that the new NIV finds widespread acceptance amongst both the reformed crowd who have preferred the ESV in recent years, and amongst those from a egalitarian perspective. It does not seem appropriate that we use Bible translations as a badge to indicate which theological ‘team’ we support. I will continue to make extensive use of the ESV for my personal Bible study, but I still feel that “dynamic equivalence” is the most appropriate translation technique when it comes to readability and comprehension.