The world of watchers of English Bible translations was rocked yesterday by the news that the NIV Bible is to be updated in 2011. Straight away I reported on this, with little comment, in a post at Better Bibles Blog. Today, in the freedom of my own blog, I would like to make some reflections on this announcement.
In a comment on my BBB post I noted that
I now have confirmation from Zondervan that
Following the release of the 2011 NIV, we will cease to produce new 1984 NIV and TNIV products.
This certainly seems to go against the promise which IBS (now Biblica) allegedly made in 1997 that “it would in the future continue to publish the NIV of 1984 unchanged”. But there is not necessarily a contradiction here. This new announcement is from Zondervan, not from Biblica who publish their own editions of NIV. Also, Zondervan has not now promised to stop selling all existing editions of NIV and TNIV.
So does this mean the end of the road for TNIV as well as for the 1984 edition of NIV? TC Robinson seems to think so, as do some of the contributors to the discussion at This Lamp. I disagree. I expect the 2011 NIV to look very like the current TNIV, with at most a few minor concessions to those who have persistently condemned its gender related language. There will of course also be some small improvements of the kind one might expect when updating a translation a few years old. But I am expecting the new version to be much more like TNIV than the current NIV.
Why do I say that? An important issue here is the independence of the Committee on Bible Translation, which was reemphasised by Stan Gundry, Executive Vice President of Publishing and Editorial Operations at Zondervan, as recently as March this year in a post at BBB:
The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) is an independent body of OT and NT scholars …
By contract with IBS, the CBT controls the text of the NIV and the TNIV. This means that no one can revise, correct, update, or otherwise change these texts other than the CBT itself. …
The publishers must publish the text exactly as delivered by the CBT, including all footnotes, paragraph headings, etc. …
The CBT is jealous of its scholarly independence and it protects itself from pressure groups who have an agenda. …
Even though I work for Zondervan, a commercial publisher, I strongly believe that the model that exists between the CBT, IBS, and the commercial publishers is the best way to protect the integrity of any translation.
The way in which the announcement of the 2011 NIV update was made reassures me that this model, as described in such glowing terms less than six months ago, will continue to be the basis on which the CBT, Biblica and Zondervan (and presumably Hodder here in the UK) operate, the basis on which they will produce the updated NIV.
So the revised text of the NIV will be produced by the same CBT which produced the TNIV. Yes, there have been some recent changes to its membership, but the new members have probably strengthened the committee’s commitment to the translation principles behind TNIV, including its renderings of gender related language. So if the CBT is indeed independent of the publishers and “protects itself from pressure groups who have an agenda”, there is no reason for it to change the direction in which it has been going for more than a decade. That implies that in 2011 the updated NIV will look rather like the current TNIV, which will then be 6 years old, and much less like the 27 year old 1984 NIV.
So what of CBT chairman Douglas Moo’s words, as reported by USA Today?
I can’t predict what will happen with gender usage. My guess would be we made a lot of the right decisions for the T-NIV but every one of those is open for consideration. We may even be returning to what we had in the 1984 NIV.
It seems to me that with these final words Moo is trying to stop the updated NIV being condemned out of hand before it has even been completed. I’m sure it is genuinely true that every decision made in the past is “open for consideration”, and that, as Moo said in the main press release,
Every suggestion presented in writing to the CBT before the end of this calendar year will be considered for the 2011 edition of the NIV Bible
– even if suggestions from “pressure groups who have an agenda” will not be given any preferential attention. Nevertheless Moo clearly believes that CBT “made a lot of the right decisions for the T-NIV“, and probably the rest of the CBT agrees. So really what Moo is hinting at is that the update is unlikely to be “returning to what we had in the 1984 NIV” and much more likely to be a further step forward in the same direction as TNIV.
So what of the reaction of the “pressure groups who have an agenda”, specifically those who have consistently opposed TNIV because of its gender related language? Yesterday’s announcement is certainly not going to win them over to be friends of Biblica and Zondervan, or to endorse in advance the update. But they have been given no grounds on which to oppose it, as yet. Anyway the NIV consortium can hardly expect, whatever they do, to win back the support of critics many of whom are closely identified with a commercial rival translation, ESV. So I expect that behind the scenes Zondervan and Biblica have agreed to ride the inevitable storm, trusting that in the long term this will be for their commercial advantage as well as for the benefit of their readers.
I have a suggestion to make which may make their ride calmer – but they may already have something like this in mind. I suggest that Zondervan and its partners produce in 2010 a limited number of new editions of the 1984 NIV text branded (perhaps just on a new cover) something like “NIV Classic”. This will help to protect their sales during the inevitable slump before the update comes out. They will also be able to continue to sell these “classic” editions after 2011, in a low key way, to anyone who objects to the updated NIV. In this way they can also keep their promise not to change or withdraw the 1984 NIV.
However, I trust that from 2011 onwards Zondervan and Biblica will put their publishing and marketing efforts into the updated NIV, and that this will look rather like TNIV.
So I must disagree with those who see this announcement as the end of the road for TNIV. I see it as more like a prediction of its resurrection, in the new body of the updated NIV. On that basis I welcome the announcement of the NIV Bible 2011.