The NIV is no more. Well the old one that is. The new NIV is filled with more translation decisions that I don’t like. Some of my dislike, I confess, is born of familiarity. But not all of it.
Caveat: No I have not read the whole of the new NIV and compared every verse, but I have done some. My rejection of the NIV as my primary Bible translation is older. I haven’t actively read the NIV for a significant amount of time. I stopped using the NIV years ago when I was translating and preaching through Romans. I kept finding so many obviously interpretive translation decisions which I felt should have gone the other way that I opted for the NASB (1995 update).
Translation is Treason
It is worth noting that I’ve found the same in the NASB, ESV, KJV, NKJV, and whatever else there is out there. “Translation is treason” goes the old proverb among translators. But to not translate is unacceptable. A translation must be made. But as soon as you translate, you begin to interpret. Your very interpretive bias demands it. The receptor language is changing, the donor language is still being learned about. Translation is treason.
Do we choose formal equivalence like the NASB or ESV? That means we seek something like a word for word translation – a label that is deceptively over-simplistic. There is no such thing as perfect semantic range match between languages. Anyone who claims otherwise does not know their own language. Perhaps then we should seek dynamic equivalence like the NIV or on the extreme The Message. At least an honest appraisal means that a thought for thought translation like that is doing interpretation disguised as translation.
Both approaches are flawed if they are adhered to relentlessly or recklessly. A woodenly literal translation of a passage which does not account for idiom and cultural context can be just as guilty of poor interpretation as a wildly paraphrastic one.
Assuming the idiom: “You let the cat out of the bag” – how do we translate that into a receptor language? Better yet, how do we translate that into a receptor language that doesn’t know what a cat is? This happens all over the Bible.
Do we stay rigidly literal and translate it as “you have let the <substitute animal or transliteration> out of the bag?” Or shall we take it’s meaning and translate it with dynamic equivalence: “You revealed the secret”? Behold the burden of translation. Assuming the receptor language doesn’t know the idiom’s meaning at all we have options. We can footnote it and hope that people read it, we can create a study Bible that explains it, or we can let the dynamic thought for thought translation explain it – but lose some of the impact of the idiom in the flow of conversation.
All translation is treason. But it is a sweet treason when we are translating the word of God. Whatever you may think of one translation over another, keep in mind that the people doing the translation work are scholars. They know their languages, or they wouldn’t be on the committee. (Well I hope so anyway.) But they are also human. I once spoke to Louis Goldberg who was one the first NIV Bible Translators. He spoke about the “horrors” of translation by committee. At the time he assured me that he would never do committee translation again. That’s why you’re bibles are filled with footnotes.
This points to the value of comparing multiple translations and asking the questions that they give rise to. All translations are flawed. But they are, I am convinced, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God.
After all as Cripplegate states:
The NIV is not a bad translation. All of the major English translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV, Holman, NAS, NLT) are good and trustworthy. They represent the word of God in the vernacular language, and countless people died as martyrs to grant us the privilege of having that available.
While I don’t read the NIV today, and probably won’t bother to spend much time with the new one, I still value it as a translation.
Whatever we do, keep reading the Bible for it is the word of God. From the beginning to the end. in the word and trust the Holy Spirit of God to guide you. And if you can, study the languages until you realize just how much you don’t know. Then equipped with humility you’ll be ready to keep learning even if you read the new NIV.