What will the updated NIV look like?

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.

35 thoughts on “What will the updated NIV look like?

  1. I hope you’re right, Peter. As I said on Scot McKnight’s blog, I trust the CBT, but I don’t trust Zondervan or Biblica.

  2. In the long arc of the NIV translation I think this is a smart move on the part of the committee. However, I’m a bit unclear of how independent the translation committee is if in fact they are abandoning there decisions based on popular outcry.

    I’ve never warmed to the TNIV but partly out of tradition/affection for the NIV. My home church just switched to NIV two years ago even though a large percentage of the congregation had been using it for more than two decades.

  3. Tim, thanks for the comment and for pointing me to what Scot wrote, here and here, and the interesting comment threads.

    I note that Scot writes the following in comment 30 on the first post:

    Moo clearly says [the update] will be about 95% TNIV. That doesn’t seem worthy of any sensation.

    If it’s 95% the same as the TNIV, I’m hunkering down on the idea that this will retain the gender-inclusive element of the TNIV.

    So, TNIV folks like me, we just need to wait this one out. We got a very special uniqueness when Zondervan went from NIV to TNIV and it appears now they want to see the TNIV as what it really was: an NIV Bible. Slight revisions of the TNIV and calling the new version the NIV 2011 keeps them in a straighter line.

    That’s what I am expecting as well. The Christianity Today article (as corrected) has more on the gender language issue which is well worth reading. This is also interesting:

    CBT has made 1200 changes to the text in its database since the TNIV’s most recent 2005 revision. (About 100 of these, such as typos, appear in current print editions.)

    But I can’t find any comment from you on Scot’s blog – where is it? Awaiting moderation?

    I agree with you in not entirely trusting Zondervan. I do trust its senior staff to do the best they can, but in the end they have to do what their Murdoch bosses want, which is mainly about the bottom line. But do you have any reason not to trust Biblica?

  4. David, I don’t think it is true that “they are abandoning there decisions based on popular outcry”. Do you have any evidence to suggest this? At most they are leaving their options open, and giving some hints that they aren’t going to go back on very much at all.

  5. When I first heard this, I was pretty disappointed, assuming they were going to simply chunk the TNIV and revert to the 1984 NIV. But the news of the update has me excited. Assuming the CBT really has the freedom to translate as they see fit, I can’t see the 2011 NIV differing substantially from the TNIV. Moo implied it might be about 95% identical to the TNIV. They’re doing now what the should have done 12 years ago – going full speed ahead with an updated NIV. I just hope that both sides (pro- and anti-TNIV) will give it a fair look before denouncing it as “liberal feminism warmed-over” or “caving to the cave men.”

  6. Peter, great article. I like your idea of a NIV Classic to be released in 2010, but once the NIV 2011 is released they should no longer produce any NIV 1984 or TNIV, and commit to the NIV 2011 edition. If they don’t do this my guess is that it will fail.

  7. 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.

    I sure hope so Peter. Otherwise, the updated NIV and I will depart ways for good.

  8. Peter, yeah, I’m with you on this resurrection of the TNIV in the 2011 or something to that effect.

    A classic NIV, not a bad idea! A collectible item? Yeah, given it’s dominance for so long.

    Oh, so Are you switching or sticking with TNIV until?

  9. Pingback: Zondervan will discontinue putting out new products with the TNIV | Scripture Zealot

  10. Well, I see no major reason my end to switch either.

    Here’s the other thing: when commentators took issue with a rendering in the NIV, I noticed that a lot of them were corrected in the TNIV. Just to go along with what you suggested about this resurrection thing.

    But it all comes down to $$$… My take.

  11. Thanks, TC. I see no reason to switch from TNIV before 2011, indeed not afterwards if the update is not to my liking. But if the update is what I expect, I will switch to it when it comes out. But I’m talking about my personal use – if I were a pastor or regular preacher I might have a different perspective.

  12. Yes, TC, CBT really are responsive to comments, and are unlikely to reverse any of their past changes. And for them it doesn’t come down to $$$ – at least, I’m sure they have made sure in their contract that they get paid until 2011 whatever they come up with. Well, we’ll all see what the resurrected version looks like in 2011.

  13. Admin, that would be an honour that I do not deserve and am not qualified for. But it would be good to have people on the CBT with the kind of training and experience in linguistics and Bible translation into various languages that I have had.

  14. Peter, in the webcast on the NIV 2011 site the Zondervan CEO states categorically that it will cease production of the 84 NIV. I like your idea though.

    I wonder if Zondervan prompted this revision by saying that it was going to drop the TNIV from production due to poor sales?

  15. 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.

    With a few changes to please the appropriate critics.

  16. Mark, what you are saying is contradicted by the written statement I have, which refers only to new products:

    Following the release of the 2011 NIV, we will cease to produce new 1984 NIV and TNIV products.

    Also to be pedantic, it doesn’t say immediately after.

    I see the webcast is now back on the site. I am watching it now.

    I doubt that Zondervan would have dropped TNIV completely if there was no revision. I read that TNIV was in the CBA top ten list only a month or two ago (it’s not in the current list), which surely implies more than enough sales for a healthy profit.

  17. It was encouraging to watch the webcast, to see and hear these people and not just read their words, and see their genuine concern for the word of God.

    Mark, on the webcast Moe G of Zondervan said “We will discontinue putting out new products with the TNIV.” Later on she said “We are going to go through a transition process … We’ve got hundreds of NIV and TNIV products that we will have to migrate, so this process will probably take a couple of years. But our intention is, starting 2011, all new Zondervan Bible NIV-related products will be based on the new edition.” And then, in answer to a question “Will the TNIV continue to be published for those who like it?”, she said “Again there will be a transition period, I don’t know how long that will take, I imagine a couple of years, but we do not intend to continue to publish the 84 or the TNIV editions in the long term.” Even this last part, which comes closest to it, is far short of a promise to withdraw all of the old editions. It won’t stop them doing what they decide is best, for commercial or other reasons.

  18. Thanks for the clarification Peter. I must have missed that question. I am glad that it will take a while. I am very supportive of the decision, especially because I didn’t like the name TNIV (I preferred RNIV).

    I guess we shall stick with the TNIV for now! 🙂

  19. Kevin, I’m sure Zondervan wants a revised NIV clearly at the top of that bestsellers list, instead of a 25 year old NIV that is slipping from that top spot and a TNIV which is selling reasonably well but nothing like NIV. As we all know they are a commercial company, and they know that products have lifetimes. To keep their top spot they need new products. But they know that new products based on the old NIV are looking a bit dated – and anyway they are running out of niches for niche Bibles. What will really revive their sales is a genuinely new edition of the translation, as long as it is acceptable to the Christian public as they hope. On the back of this new edition they can relaunch all their niche Bibles and regain their market share. This is a bold strategy but one which is quite likely to work.

    I can’t help wondering now if they have come to some kind of deal behind the scenes with people like Al Mohler and Lig Duncan, if not with Wayne Grudem – not a promise that the updated NIV will be the kind of translation they would like, but perhaps they have some other project up their sleeve which will keep those people happy.

  20. Peter, my prediction is that the NIV will not be able to keep its top position in the bible market. That’s really what Zondervan really wants. They are willing to take a risk and sacrifice the TNIV in order to regain their top spot. But I don’t think that will ever happen.

    Backroom deals with Mohler and Grudem? You never know.

  21. Kevin, they obviously think it will work – although perhaps they know there is a risk. I think it is likely to work, but it is risky. I know you disagree. Time will tell. But let’s not make a second bet of this one, or we’ll get in trouble!

  22. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » NIV profits go to Bible translation worldwide

  23. I think ultimately the problem is that Zondervan’s interests and the Biblica’s are not in line here. Zondervan as a publishing concern doesn’t want to move left, to have a flag ship product (their bible) that is left evangelical through right liberal. Unlike Thomas Nelson they have an idealogical niche.

    Biblica OTOH does want to produce a right liberal – left evangelical bible (I think). They do want to use good scholarship
    They do want to be more faithful to the old testament
    They do want to reflect modern English pragmatics
    They don’t to needless offend the young and the liberal

    I felt Zondervan should move left, there isn’t a good mediating translation for liberal Christians but if they are unwilling to Zondervan should pass the rights to someone like Harper Collins and let them market this to the right demographics.

  24. Peter,

    You wrote: “I can’t help wondering now if they have come to some kind of deal behind the scenes with people like Al Mohler and Lig Duncan, if not with Wayne Grudem – not a promise that the updated NIV will be the kind of translation they would like, but perhaps they have some other project up their sleeve which will keep those people happy.”

    Just curious – anything specific that leads you to think this, or just a hunch?

  25. Tim, the evidence from this comes from statements about the NIV update by Lig Duncan and Al Mohler, which I discussed in a comment at New Leaven. These people who encouraged the campaign against TNIV have spoken out remarkably strongly against a similar campaign against the updated NIV, although Mohler seems to recognise that it won’t follow his preferred translation principles. The question now is whether Grudem will fall into line, as his initial reaction looked like the warning shot for a new campaign.

  26. Hi Peter,

    I’ve just come across your blog while searching for materials on ESV/NIV/TNIV. Thanks so much for what you share here, your articles – whether about Bible translation or not – as really really helpful.

    I’ve been using the 1984 NIV for a few years, but feel a fairly constant buzz of pressure about its accuracy from those who prize and promote the ESV. I did try to move over a while ago to the ESV, but still prefer the NIV by quite a measure. I’ve stuck with it in the end.

    Given your knowledge of the issue I have a couple of questions:

    1. What in your opinion marks the TNIV out as being superior to the NIV?

    2. Given the concern of the NIV translators to take the concerns of ‘ordinary readers’ into account what impact do you think the existence of blogs and bloggers on the issues of Bible translation will have on this revision that may not have been felt in previous editions?

    Once again thank you so much for your blog. I’ve bookmarked it and will now be a regular caller.

    Andrew Roycroft

  27. Welcome, Andrew, and thanks for your comment. Sorry to be slow replying – I have been away.

    I have three basic reasons for preferring TNIV to NIV:

    1) It is generally more up to date, reflecting 20 years of advances in scholarship and response to criticisms of NIV, also reflecting changes in the English language.

    2) Specifically, it is less guilty (although not completely guiltless) of reading the New Testament into the Old.

    3) An important reason for preferring TNIV is its gender related language. The way in which NIV uses “he” and “man” in gender generic ways are outdated at best (at least to speakers of my variety of English), and misleading at worst in that many women feel that passages which are gender generic in the original Greek do not apply to them.

    As for your question 2, I know that members of the CBT and employees of Zondervan do read at least some of what we bloggers write about NIV and TNIV. So our views are surely taken into account in general terms. However, specific requests for changes to the text should be submitted through other channels, such as the site linked to at Better Bibles Blog.

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