Friday, January 04, 2013

My Thoughts on the 2011 New International Version

Increasingly, I find myself answering people's questions about the newest version of the NIV (2011).  People want to know, especially, if it is trustworthy or if the translators have given in to a worldly agenda.  They also want to know what it's like--is it good to read?

So, in 2012, I set out to read the whole thing in my daily devotions so that I could have an informed opinion, not based on other people's research but my own.

My Thoughts?

I finished up reading it this week, the Old Testament once and the psalms and New Testament twice.

My conclusion?  The NIV2011 is a faithful translation and improvement in many ways, but it is fully a new translation with a different feel from the NIV1984.

I wasn't surprised to find out that it was a faithful translation. My old professor, Douglas Moo, is the chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation. The NIV is in good hands.

I wasn't surprised that there were definite improvements. In fact, I found one the first week I began using it (back in 2010 when it was only available digitally).

I was surprised at how different it feels to read. According to the translators, there is only about a 10% change from the 1984 to the 2011 versions, but you really feel it when you read familiar passages like Psalm 1, Isaiah 53, John 1, etc.  Not that the new translation is bad, but it certainly feels fresh and different.


The biggest change is how the translation handles gender. This is controversial [read, for example, the CBMW's evaluation of gender in the NIV 2011], and I can see why some people don't like the NIV's approach.

The NIV2011 does not mess with any of the references to God. God is not called "Mother" or anything like that. But it does try to find creative ways of not using the generic masculine pronouns and words like "brothers" to refer to people and groups that are not necessarily masculine in referent. This definitely changes the feel as you read it.

They are not doing this to be "politically correct," but to try to faithfully translate the original meaning into an English language that has changed.  Now, that translation philosophy makes some sense to me. It is a good-hearted attempt to be faithful in the task of Bible translation (see D.A. Carson's plea on this).  But, it also has its drawbacks (see Jim Hamilton's argument for formal equivalance)!

Here's how I feel about this. The NIV2011's approach to gender is not my preference. I resonate more with the ESV's approach to this (and the NIV1984's old approach).  But, if you understand what the translation philosophy is, what they are trying to do, then it is an acceptable approach with a godly motivation.  So, bottom line: I'd rather they picked a different way of handling this issue, but I don't condemn them for it, either.

What I Wish

My one big beef with the NIV2011 is that they have replaced the 1984 with the 2011. The truth is that I still love my 1984 and wish that everyone could read it if they wanted to (I know that digital version are still available).

I wish that Biblica and Zondervan were going to continue publishing the NIV1984. I don't have a problem with the NIV2011 as a good translation, but it is different enough from the NIV1984 to feel like a completely different translation.

I'd prefer to preach from the 1984. It's what I have worked with, memorized, and preached from for two decades. While I don't argue that English has changed and that new translations are justified, I also don't think our language has changed so much that the NIV1984 sounds old-fashioned and unrecognizable like the KJV does to modern ears.

I don't want to become a rigid NIV1984-Only person like some of the KJVO folks I have met, but I do wish that we still had the choice to buy, give, sell, and distribute the older version.

Publishers still print the KJV. I wish they were going to continue publishing the NIV1984. Not as the best version but as a beloved version.

Maybe Zondervan could put out the NIV 1984 as "Classic NIV?" or something like that?

Pretty please?


When people ask me what I think about the NIV2011, I always point them to the four point review done by Bible translation expert Dan Wallace. It's the best, readable, comprehensive, detailed information that I have found on this issue.

Whatever you think about different translations, the most important thing to do is to read it for yourself. Every word of God is flawless!

Your Turn

Have you read the 2011 NIV?  What did you think?


I agree, but in some cases the gender olympics does not work. see this from my blog

Thanks for commenting, David.

What, exactly, goes the "clunk," for you in that verse?

Is it "them" used as a singular?

I have gotten used to singular "they" and singular "them" enough that it doesn't clunk so much for me.

But I'm "old school" enough that "man" works just fine for me there and that "them" after "one" leaves ambiguity because it's not clear that it's a singular "them."