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.