November 17, 2010
Bible Version Wars: NIV vs ESV
Last month biblegateway.com uploaded the 2011 New International Version edition, the most far-reaching update to this version since 1984. I want to talk about the changes that have been made and suggest that you, like me, “click like” on this version. But first I thought it would be good to review some of the recent controversies surrounding this version.
1995: NIVI – New International Version Inclusive-language
In 1995 the NIV introduced a major update called the NIVI (New International Version Inclusive-language). The purpose of the edition was to update the English of the NIV to reflect contemporary usage. For example, “people” was replacing “man” in common parlance. Also, the plural “them” or “their” was and still is often used as singular in order to avoid the male pronoun, or the awkward “he or she.” At no point has the NIV changed gender language relating to God.
The NIVI was first released in the UK, where it was well accepted. However, an article in World Magazine in 1997 caused alarm by suggesting that the NIVI was an attempt to introduce PC terminology on the sly (Susan Olasky, Femme fatale: The feminist seduction of the evangelical church). This led to a great controversy in which institutions such as Focus on the Family, Jerry Falwell (yes, he was himself an institution) and the Southern Baptist Convention weighed in against the innovations. The rhetoric was high and heated, as you can imagine. Focus on the Family was not happy when they realized that they had been using a gender inclusive edition of the NIV in some of their curriculum. In 1997 Dobson organized a conference of concerned parties at which the International Bible Society (behind the NIV) agreed that they would not pursue the inclusive language translation. This convention also established guidelines for communicating gender inclusiveness in conservative Bibles.
2005: TNIV – Today’s English Version
Instead pursuing an update, then, the International Bible Society and Zondervan developed Today’s New International Version (TNIV), which incorporated many of the NIVI changes. The New Testament came out in 2002 and the entire Bible in 2005. The “regular NIV,” however, continued to be published and available as the standard and the TNIV was an optional edition. TNIV was more strategically labeled as “gender accurate” instead of “gender inclusive.” But it’s worth noting that only about 1/3 of the changes made in that edition were related to gender. The rest of the changes had to do with precise renditions of the biblical text and incorporation of new scholarly discoveries.
2001: ESV – The English Standard Version
But a storm had began to brew earlier. Already in 1998 Wayne Grudem had gathered a group of like-minded leaders and began talking about creating another version that would not, as they saw it, cave into the pressures of modern society. This group, with JI Packer as lead editor, undertook a revision of an older Bible version called the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Back in the middle of the 20th century the RSV was considered a liberal leaning version, which for example, famously translated “a virgin will conceive” as “young woman will conceive” in Is. 7:14. The update to the RSV was called the English Standard Version. It removed archaisms, adjusted some of the “liberal” passages, and used some gender inclusive language. For example, replacing “man” with “people” where appropriate. About 3-4% of the text of the RSV was changed to create the ESV. This version was published in 2001 by Crossway.
In a side note, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) had already removed all masculine oriented terminology from the RSV in 1990, but NRSV is not usually used by evangelicals.
2004: HCB – Holman Christian Bible
A final entrant into the new millennium version race was the Homan Christian Standard Bible, in 2004. This was created by the Southern Baptist Convention which, as already mentioned was also concerned about the NIVI back in 1997. In style and language it stands somewhere between the more literal ESV and the NIVs. This Bible was not an update of an existing translation, but a project fresh from the latest manuscripts. It was published in 2004 by Broadman and Holman, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.
First, these are all good Bibles. Even if you disagree with the TNIV, it is still a great version and the gender renderings don’t really make a difference to the meaning of the text (granted, some would disagree with this). As noted, in each case only a small percentage of the text has been affected.
Second, it is important to recognize that the impetus behind the TNIV was not adjustment to a contemporary ideology, but an adjustment to contemporary language. More on that in the next post. In fact the translators of the ESV and NIV are all primarily interested in translation theory. No one questions whether inclusiveness is implied in various biblical passages (for example, where “brothers” really means “brothers and sisters”). The question is how to communicate that meaning to a contemporary audience in the best possible manner.
Now we are ready to talk about the 2011 NIV in the next post!
- A Users’s Guide to Bible Translations, David Dewey
- How to Choose a Translation for All it’s Worth, Gordon Fee and Mark L. Strauss. Fee is one of the NIV translators. This book does not explicitly address the controversy, but you will get an insight into the thinking that is at work in the NIV.
- Translating Truth: The Case for and Essentially Literal Bible Translation, Wayne Grudem and others. This is the ESV approach.