Rejection of the new NIV

I must admit, I have never been a huge fan of the NIV Bible. In high school, I attended a church that used the King James Version, and in college I made my way quickly to the New Revised Standard Version used in my classes. I did have an NIV Study Bible, like every other young evangelical student in the 1990s, but I have always felt that the NIV's language does not have the beauty of the KJV nor the academic precision of the NRSV. My father-in-law is fond of saying that it sounds like a translation read by a robot. No soul.

That said, I am sympathetic with the NIV committee's ongoing efforts to produce a modern, accurate translation for conservative readers. I have criticisms of the theological perspective in their translation, but it is overall a good project.

Criticism of the NIV 2011

It seems that fewer conservatives in the NIV's actual target audience agree with me, however. There has been a major backlash agains the NIV's efforts to revise it's popular 1984 version. The TNIV (Today's NIV) in 2000 was quickly pulled after criticisms from prominent evangelicals, and the "NIV 2011" has also received condemnation, including from the Southern Baptist Convention.

Within the last year, Zondervan stopped selling the old 1984 version and has branded the 2011 revision as the NIV. This has led some people to write blog posts such as "Farewll, NIV." Two major areas of criticism are 1) slight changes that obscure Christological references in the Old Testament, and 2) the NIV committee's efforts to make their version more "gender inclusive." Here is one place to start.

To show you how narrow this disagreement seems from the outside, consider 1 Timothy 2:12 in the NIV and the the NIV11. The 2011 version is condemned for being too "egalitarian," that is, supporting the equality of women with men in terms of leadership.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

The difference is the verb "have" authority vs. "assume" authority. The NIV 2011 evidently leaves open the possibility that a woman might actually have legitimate authority, as long as she hasn't taken it on herself illegitimately. Also, "be quiet" is not nearly as, well, final as "be silent."

All Translation in Interpretation

This is all perfectly predictable, given the people and institutions involved. I am going to refrain (for the time being) from making any criticisms of the SBC's gender politics.

However, I want to make one point that I wish desperately that everyone in the conversation would acknowledge. All translation is interpretation. I am astonished when critics of biblical translation claim that interpretation has intruded into the process, that the translators aren't just translating the words that are there. Such a claim is nakedly rhetorical. It obscures the extent to which your own preferred translation is itself the product of interpretation. It lets you claim that your view is "biblical" while the other perspective is something other.

Consider the "Farewell, NIV" post linked above. Jesse Johnson makes two specific criticisms of the NIV 2011. First, he says that the move toward gender inclusive language eliminates "masculine pronouns that possibly have messianic implications." His example is Psalm 1:1:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked

Johnson's argument is that the "man" in Psalm 1:1 is Jesus. This reflects his Christological hermeneutic, that is, the way of reading the Old Testament that looks for subtle prophecies of and resonances with the gospel story. It's ok as far as it goes, but it is certainly not the only Christian way to read the Old Testament. My point is that a Christological reading of the Psalms is an interpretation. You cannot just presume it to be objectively true; it must be argued for as one Christian perspective on the Psalms among several.

But notice Johnson's second point: "But my biggest issue with the new NIV is that they allow their understanding of 'overall theology' to affect how they render verses." He doesn't like their change to 2 Corinthians 5:17 about the "new creation":

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

His objection is that this new rendering takes the focus away from "the radical nature of an individual’s salvation" and places it on the renewal of all creation, what he calls "some sort of post-millenialism." So he has disagreements with their understanding of Paul's communal and cosmic theology.

He claims that the NIV translators let their theology shape their translation, while he does not. This coming from a person who has just argued that we need "man" in Psalm 1:1 because that man is Jesus! How does his first point not come under the condemnation of his second?

This is a silly game. People need to be open and comfortable with the reality that theological perspectives shape translation, that all translation is interpretation. If someone diasgrees with the NIV theology, they should make that case with fair and charitable arguments, not hide behind the rhetoric of "plain meaning" or "grammatical arguments."

Johnson accuses the NIV of "importing errant theology into their translation process." Does this imply that his theology is inerrant?