NIV profits go to Bible translation worldwide

Eddie Arthur, David Keen and Tim Chesterton, among others, have criticised the NIV 2011 update project in ways which I consider unfair. I commented on Eddie’s post and he replied in a further post which I was much happier with. But in view of Tim’s post the point I made needs wider publicity.

I entirely agree with Eddie, David and Tim that translation of the Bible into languages which do not yet have it is a top priority. This is the work that I gave 15 years of my life to.

But this is not the only issue in Bible translation. There are probably more speakers of English than of all the world’s Bibleless minority languages put together. These English speakers also need good translations, and sadly the ones they have so far are not completely satisfactory. There are various reasons for this, but not the least is that one of the most widely used of them, NIV, is 25 years old. I know that even within the world of minority language Bible translation a 25 year old version is often recognised as obsolescent and in need of revision. Why is a similar revision of an English translation so looked down on?

However, that is not my main point here. Rather, that relates to Tim‘s interesting suggestion:

Let all English language Bible publishers agree that they will collect a $1 translation tax on top of the price of every Bible sold. Let that money be collected and given to organisation such as the United Bible Societies and Wycliffe Bible Translators to be used to support translation projects in languages which have yet to see their first translation of the Scriptures.

But when Tim wrote this he was obviously not aware of what I wrote in a comment, although he has now acknowledged it in an update to his post:

This is indeed a great idea – such a great one that IBS/Biblica and Zondervan had it more than 30 years ago and have been collecting that “tax” for all that time on the 300 million copies of NIV they have sold. Yes, IBS has for many years been collecting significant royalties on every copy of NIV and TNIV, and using the bulk of this to support Bible translation into other languages. They have in the past given large amounts to Wycliffe/SIL to fund printing of minority language Scriptures. I don’t know the details of what they have done, but see for example this list of current translation projects, probably funded to a large extent from NIV and TNIV profits although of course they also welcome donations.

Biblica is not trying to hide what they are doing. This is from their Page Two magazine, Summer 2009:

Most of us would be at a loss to read the Bible in its original Aramaic and Greek languages. We take for granted our contemporary English translations. But many people throughout the world lack the privilege we have—to read God’s Word in their own language.

From the very beginning, this was a concern of the International Bible Society. In 1810, we gave $1,000—a huge sum at the time—to help fund William Carey’s translation of the Bible into India’s Bengali language. To date, we have printed and distributed Bibles in nearly 70 languages.

However, our best-known Bible translation is in English! In 1978, we completed the New International Version® (NIV) Bible. The contemporary-language Bible has become the most widely read and trusted translation in the world.

This year, we plan to launch four new translations, three in African languages and one in Hindi.

Then later, with some hyperbole (I for one trust TNIV far more!):

Today the NIV remains the world’s most-read and trusted contemporary English translation. Over the years, NIV royalty income enabled IBS to expand its Scripture distribution worldwide and has provided millions of people with free or highly subsidized Scriptures.

For better or for worse, money from sales of English Bibles provides highly significant funding for Bible translation into all kinds of other languages. When those sales fall, as they currently are for NIV, so does that income. When a new edition of an English translation boosts sales, there is more money for other translations. As Tim pointed out, if English speakers didn’t buy new Bibles, they “probably wouldn’t give the money saved to foreign language Bible translation projects anyway”. And if the biblical scholars on the CBT lost their jobs they probably wouldn’t be available or suitable for work overseas.

So let’s stop knocking this new initiative, and instead welcome the prospect of increased distribution of improved Bibles, not just in English but in languages from all over the world.

0 thoughts on “NIV profits go to Bible translation worldwide

  1. Peter, do you honestly think that every new translation of the Bible made since the NIV came out in 1978 has been necessary?

  2. The BT movement needs people more than cash. Recruiting has tanked and there are huge opportunities for meaningful outreach and long term missions involvement.

    I’m not sure I follow this financial argument. It’s intriguing on one hand but misguided at its core.

    The Lord said, “Whom shall I send?” We replied, “Here am I, take my check.”

  3. But how good is good enough? That’s the problem. I’ve seen the same phenomenon in liturgical circles, where no liturgy is ever perfect enough, and liturgists just have to keep on tweaking it, and bringing out another prayer book, and another one, and in each case someone else points out yet another imperfection, and so it goes on.

    It’s even more complicated when it comes to Bible translation, since equally well-qualified translators disagree about both translation theory and the way individual texts should be translated. So no one is ever going to find a translation that they are 100% satisfied with, because everyone’s ideas are going to be challenged some of the time – at least, in committee translations.

    And then of course there are market niches, which mean not only that we should have new translations, but that each individual new translation should be updated periodically. So we have the RSV/NRSV, NIV/TNIV, NEB/REB, JB/NJB, etc. etc.

    Finally, what’s so very wrong with the TNIV that it needs to be updated after only seven years (less than that with the whole Bible)? And if they’re going to be issuing updates every seven years, surely they should have the integrity not to produce leather-bound versions?

  4. Tim, I didn’t say that! Some of them have clearly been a waste of resources, although the worst offenders have not used many resources, being the work of individuals with chips on their shoulders who would not be suitable for minority language translation. That is not a reference to ESV, but quite frankly that is largely a small step backwards from RSV and so a also waste of resources.

    David, that’s a good point, but surely one major reason for low recruitment is a shortage of personal funding for recruits who have to find their own support. And the best long term strategy for getting more recruits from English speaking countries is providing good quality Bibles through which God can call them.

  5. Tim, I don’t see what your problem is. The more different Bibles, the more money for Bible translation worldwide. Or is your problem really with globalised commercialisation and the way it has got into the church? I am not going to defend Zondervan and its owners for that one.

    There are different issues with TNIV, to do with acceptability. It doesn’t need much updating. And it probably won’t get much, except for a rebranding as NIV 2011.

    I also find it hard to understand the North American obsession with leather bound Bibles. To me a Bible is like any other commodity, likely to wear out and need to be replaced after a few years. And when I get a replacement I want it to be up to date, not 25 years old.

  6. It is good to see money going to Bible translation, which is important. However, I think it might be better if the producers of the NIV were instead to encourage individuals to give to Bible translation, since I think the NT message is more about individual giving than corporate giving. Maybe all copies of the NIV should have prominently somewhere a page about foreign Bible translation and how people can help…

    [Disclaimer: They may already do things like this, but if so it hasn’t been prominent enough to catch my attention :)].

  7. Jonathan, that’s a good idea. As I pointed out, Biblica already encourages people to give to this work through their website and other publicity. I think they included publicity like this with the TNIV that I bought directly from them. But Zondervan as a commercial company can hardly be expected to distribute fundraising material with their products. Anyway, surely encouraging people to give to this work should be the job of the church, not of the Murdoch empire.

  8. If the money is needed for the worthy cause, maybe they shouldn’t be jeopardising a proven revenue stream from people who actually like and want the NIV to support this controversial move. They had a translation in each camp, now they’ll offend all and please none.

  9. John, do you know Zondervan’s business better than they do? They probably recognise that their proven revenue stream is drying up, because not so many people like NIV any more, and that they need new products to get it going again. For better or for worse, this is standard business practice. I also expect them to have the business sense not to offend too many people.

  10. And so how many people who get NIVs know about Biblica at all? I have used the NIV a lot and think about translations and translation philosophy and so forth to some extent, I only vaguely knew about the NIV/IBS?/CBT split (now Biblica), and have never looked at the Biblica website.

    I won’t disagree that the church should make people aware of Bible translation (and of many other worthy causes). However, that doesn’t stop it making sense for Bible providers to include information about Bible translation efforts (surely seems a logical place to put such information to me). If Biblica wanted to they could probably make it a condition of licensing the text or make it part of the text, like they probably make the introduction discussing methods of translation, etc. part of the text.

    Perhaps my comparative ignorance of Biblica also suggests that

  11. (Accidental submission: should read as follows):
    Perhaps my comparative ignorance of Biblica and other things not directly related to reading the text of the Bible I have bought also suggests (as alluded to in my previous comment) that it would be difficult to make information like this prominent enough to catch the eye of even a reasonable percentage of readers. Ah well, it’s a nice idea.

  12. Yes, Jonathan, I’m sure a major issue here is how to make any information about Biblica prominent without compromising the biblical text. It would make sense to put it in the introduction, which already (in TNIV) describes the CBT – but who reads that? I would suggest including a flyer or a bookmark from Biblica with every copy, and perhaps also Biblica information on the dust cover or presentation box. But it would all be subject to the agreement of Zondervan, which might not be easy to get. And even then many people wouldn’t read it.

  13. Pingback: Answers about the NIV update - Gentle Wisdom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image