Dan Wallace concludes by strongly endorsing NIV 2011

Dan Wallace contra mundaneDan Wallace has now completed his four part review of NIV 2011.

Last week I posted here about part 1 of the series. I now regret describing it as “excellent”, as I later discovered some serious issues with Wallace’s history of Bible translation, most noticeably the way in which he silently ignored all dynamic equivalence translation.

Then I posted at Better Bibles Blog about part 2. Since Wallace says that literal translations “will inevitably be uneven and inaccurate” and ignores dynamic equivalence translations, it is not surprising that he expresses a quite a strong preference for the mediating style of translation of NIV.

Nevertheless, given Wallace’s reputation as a strong complementarian, I expected part 3 of the review to start with a big “but” concerning gender language. I would not have been surprised to see something like Denny Burk’s condemnation. But the matter of gender was ignored, apart from the following:

At bottom, I think the gender issue has been overblown by people who have reacted to what they thought the TNIV would say, long before it was published, and the same attitude has carried over to the NIV 2011—even though for both translations it is difficult to find passages where they are at fault.

The serious issues I do have with part 3 relate to the way in which Wallace appears to commend translation into odd English. As I wrote in a comment at BBB, he practically identifies strange syntax, memorability and elegance:

the language [of NIV 2011] is so much closer to the way people speak today than just about any other bona fide translation that it is not memorable. … The KJV reigned supreme on memorability (or elegance) …

Well, as foreign hotel signs often demonstrate, any fool with a dictionary can write translated sentences which are so odd that they are memorable, but does that imply that they are elegant?

Then part 4 Wallace concludes that NIV 2011, while not being perfect, is one of the “gems” among translations:

for readability, the NIV 2011 has no peers. … As with the handful of other exceptional translations, the NIV 2011 definitely should be one that the well-equipped English-speaking Christian has on his or her shelf, and one that they consult often for spiritual nourishment.

I would not describe what Wallace wrote as a gem of a review. But I am encouraged by his conclusions. Here is a major complementarian leader not just being lukewarm about NIV 2011 but giving it a strong endorsement. I hope this will help many people to stop fighting the battles of the 1990s, as Denny Burk is still doing, and to unite around this generally excellent new edition of NIV.

16 thoughts on “Dan Wallace concludes by strongly endorsing NIV 2011

  1. Hi Peter,

    On the readability issue, I would say that Wallace is correct: NIV 2011 – like NIV 1984 – has a breezy style. But what if you think, as I do, that a translation ought to be faithful to the stylistic choices of the original? From this point of view, it has to be said that NIV is an unfaithful translation. It is breezy in countless passages in which the Hebrew or Greek is not. It is fresh in many passages in which the Hebrew and Greek have a traditioned quality, with stereotyped language of the kind one expects in a hallowed tradition of expression.

    On gender in translation, Wallace is one of many complementarians who are comfortable with most if not all of the translation choices of NLT or the new NIV. There are also plenty of egalitarians who are comfortable with most if not all of the translation choices of ESV and HCSB.

    I hope you take notice of that more often. You sometimes come across the egalitarian equivalent of a Denny Burk.

    The wars on this issue are far from over. They invest the Catholic world no less than the liberal Protestant and the evangelical world.

    For further reflections of Wallace’s review, go here:


    For a discussion of gender in translation in NABRE (OT), a Catholic translation, go here:


  2. “come across [as],” of course.

    But I take that back.

    A true egalitarian equivalent to Denny Burk would have to be able to skateboard in mid-air. Somehow I don’t see Peter Kirk doing that. Though I bet he does other things just as cool.

  3. Thank you, John. NIV 2011 certainly has its weaknesses, and I agree with you that one of them is a lack of sensitivity to the variety of styles in the original.

    But I am interested in your claim about “plenty of egalitarians”. Can you please substantiate this with some names of egalitarians who have endorsed ESV? I have never seen anyone, unless you are claiming yourself to be an egalitarian.

  4. I have been following some of the debate across bloggs with interest. I don’t imagine that the Parish will be replacing its NIV84 pew and lectern bibles soon. Hardly our priority. But I will add NIV11 to my own shelf for study and sermon prep in due course.

  5. Peter,

    I have often argued for egalitarianism on my blog; I have also criticized “biblical” egalitarianism. I’m guessing that you conflate the two.

    For the way I argue for egalitarianism, in which I do not deny the patriarchalism inherent in the Bible, see the dialogue I had with Michael Heiser not too long ago:


    At the bottom of that post, there are links to the entire series.

    Biblical egalitarians will not endorse a translation that does not encode their understanding of the relevant issues. I assume you fall into the (to my mind Bible-distorting) category.

    Biblical complementarians will not endorse a translation that does not encode their understanding of the relevant issues.Your friend Denny Burk falls into that (to my mind Bible-distorting) category.

    Among the unpolarized by the Bible battles in which you have taken an undiplomatic position – the unpolarized are in the majority, thank God – there are plenty of complementarians and egalitarians who are comfortable with most if not all of the translation choices of NLT and NIV on the one hand, and RSV, NIV 1984, ESV and HCSB on the other .

    I don’t know why you don’t get this. Perhaps you spend too much time online, which is full of angry people, recovering-this and recovering-that.

    I have served three parishes in the last 15 years. They are United Methodist parishes, with a majority of people who self-identify as egals. The first parish, when they had the funds to buy pew Bibles, chose ESV rather than NRSV or NIV 1984. Few if any of them get bent out of shape about things like “brethren” vs. “brothers” vs. “brothers and sisters” unless you tell them they should.

    The second parish, with an egalitarian evangelical majority, was happy as could be with NIV 1984, and still is. NIV 1984 of course is quite similar in diction to ESV in most of the relevant passages.

    The parish I now serve is an RSV parish. They have never seen the need to update to NRSV, and would go with ESV if asked to choose between ESV and NRSV. That’s because ESV is closer to the RSV they dearly love.

    Wake up and smell the coffee. The world is full of egals and comps who do not choose a Bible translation based on how that translation handles gender-in-translation questions.

    I do not expect you to ever be anything less than an ideologue on this question, but perhaps you can at least respect the point of view of those of us who are not.

  6. Colin, it’s not really all that different from NIV 1984, so upgrade at your church need not be a top priority.

    John, I understand that churches are full of people who are ignorant of the real issues and follow their leaders’ lead when choosing Bible translations. I also understand the argument that the Bible is patriarchal and ought to be rejected as such, but I have good exegetical arguments for rejecting that understanding. And you still haven’t given me the name of any egalitarian who endorses ESV.

  7. I was disappointed by Dr. Wallace’s comments about Mark 16:9-20 and the charge of a “tradition of timidity.” As if there’s no possibility that the real situation is that Bible translators are grossly misinformed about the evidence pertaining to the passage, or that they are simply not as willing as Dr. Wallace is to embrace a reading attested by a very small minority of MSS (be they ever so ancient, they are over a century younger than the earliest evidence for the inclusion of verses 9-20), or, in the case of Mk. 1:41, a reading attested by only one Greek MS. The Newer I.V.’s loose renderings are not the only problem; there are also some real problems in its base-text.
    (And for some details about the evidence pertaining to Mk. 16:9-20, I welcome you to view the three-part lecture on YouTube I just made on the subject.)

  8. Peter,

    You say:

    “churches are full of people who are ignorant of the real issues and follow their leaders’ lead when choosing Bible translations.”

    You are making this up.

    Plenty of *comps* are comfortable with NLT and NIV 2011 but that doesn’t mean they are ignorant of the real issues.

    Plenty of *egals,* Catholics, Protestants, even atheists, are comfortable with RSV, NIV 1984, ESV, or HCSB. That doesn’t mean they are ignorant of the real issues.

    They endorse one or more of these translations with their actions; they endorse one or more of the above with a vote, if they sit on a committee and vote in favor of adopting or keeping one of the above translations. They quote favorably one or more of these translations when they write, and without disclaimer.

    You yourself note that a church which uses NIV 1984, a translation just as full of generic masculine language as ESV, need not consider it a priority to switch to NIV 2011.

    Nonetheless, you react with disbelief when I observe that plenty of egals are comfortable with RSV, ESV, and HCSB, not just NIV 1984. I have no idea why you are unable to accept the fact that most comps and most egals are light years away from your divisive and polemical stance.

    As far as I can see, when it comes to ESV, and perhaps only ESV, you belong to a tiny intransigent group of polemical egals. I believe you are making things worse rather than better by taking the approach you do. That is the reason I am commenting here.

  9. John, I share with you experience in helping church members to decide on a Bible translation, and am well aware that for many of those involved in making the decisions gender issues are of little importance.

    I would have thought what I wrote about NIV 1984 proves that I do not have any “divisive and polemical stance”. But I do believe in good exegesis and accurate Bible translation, and on these matters NIV 2011 is a great step forward.

    Meanwhile, what have I written recently against ESV as a translation?

  10. Peter,

    I f you are saying that you are no longer at war with those who are comfortable with ESV and prefer it to other translations, that is excellent news. At the same time, I trust you will continue to point out instances in which translations in particular and ESV in particular might be improved.

    As you say, NIV 2011 is an improvement over NIV 1984 in many ways.

    At the same time, more care could have been taken on gender-in-translation issues. NIV 2011 could have used more generic masculine language than it did, in set phrases like “God and man” and “man and beast.” It could have used more generic masculine singular language where singular they constructions are awkward.

    As for ESV, it too deserves praise. It is a revision of RSV and in most cases revises wisely. As a rule, it returns to the Masoretic text, a significant step in the right direction. In over 800 cases, ESV de-masculinizes the language of RSV. In most if not all cases, that was appropriate.

    At the same time, the syntax of ESV is wooden and unwieldy where the source text’s syntax is not. There is plenty of room for improvement here, above and beyond a few loci in which I think ESV get things seriously wrong. But that is true of every translation.

    Not only am I happy to endorse both ESV and NIV 2011; not only do I make a point of not criticizing someone in Bible study when they read from their beloved “Living Bible” or “King James” for example, but I think it’s essential that we prove by our words and actions that we are able to point out bright spots in all translations, and problem areas in all translations.

    If we don’t do this, we are I believe doing the devil’s work without realizing it.

  11. Thank you, John. My evaluations of NIV 2011 and of ESV are not so different from yours. But I would consider the latter’s unnatural language to be such a serious weakness that I would not endorse ESV in the same way that I endorse NIV 2011. And that is quite apart from the gender issues.

    On the gender issues, I don’t think “more care” is what is missing with NIV 2011. A great deal of care was taken to reach the best possible compromise, from their point of view.

    I do not criticise people for their personal choice of Bible either, or discuss it with them unless they bring up the subject. I might make a critical comment if they are promoting to others a version which I think is inappropriate.

  12. Peter, a little help please. I don’t know where to ask this question. It’s about canon. I’m far out of my depth regarding canon. My sometimes Quaker-bias (Bible second-authority, Spirit first-authority) diminishes my interest and impoverishes my appreciation of canon and canonicity. I’m barely able to keep up with Hobbins and Henry Neufeld and the rest of the voices on their stuff about inerrancy, no less canon. I’m having a fun discussion over on “Jawbone of An Ass” where Eric is starting a new series on canon. I had already started a sideways thread on various canons at my house (“Terminological Tumblers ~ Terminology Science ~ Standardization and Canon,” http://randomarrow.blogspot.com/2011/07/terminological-tumblers-terminology.html) – where I am in need of a link – I need a link to another site which gives a fair overview of biblical canon. Maybe a link that reviews a plurality of voices? I’ll probably ask John too. But I’m asking you – just for a link or two? Cheers, ~ Jim

  13. John, you’re welcome.

    Jim, that’s a good question you are asking. I wish I could give you a clear answer. I haven’t read much recent material on this. I think I would say that the Holy Spirit, rather than the church, defines the canon of Scripture. But I don’t have any clear answers about how its borders are defined.

  14. Peter, thanks. John gave me a good link. Clean, easy, concise intro he has written – elegant 50 pages. I may look for another link with a disagreeable voice or two. Just to cover the bases. Thanks. ~ Jim

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