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Updating the New International Version of the Bible: Translator’s Notes

November 16th, 2010
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There has been a great deal of anticipation about the new edition of The New International Version translation of the Bible. It was first released in 1984 and took off like a rocket, particularly among generally conservative American Evangelicals. Since then, there have been many other translations produced, as well as a growing level of concern that the NIV is not actually, in many respects, a translation, as much as it is a dynamic equivalence. The LCMS moved to accept the English Standard Version as its translation of choice in all worship materials and consequently the Synod’s publishing arm, Concordia Publishing House, has moved to use the ESV as its translation of choice in all published materials. The ESV is a more accurate translation and lends itself well to a study Bible due to its consistency in translating key terms in the original languages.

But, the NIV remains popular among some conservative Lutherans, like the Wisconsin Synod, and those who “grew up with it.” I share Gene Edward Veith’s recent comment about the NIV that what is most irksome about, on a consistent basis, and grated on my ears for the many years I was forced to endure it in church is “the utter tone-deaf resistance to metaphor, poetry, and beauty of language.” Zondervan has released a statement explaining what the changes are that have been made to the NIV. You can read the document by downloading it here: Translators-Notes I have found several much more detailed listings of changes here and here and here.

You can also review the entire new NIV translation at Bible Gateway, which is now owned by Zondervan, the publishers of the NIV. I have said this often, but it always catches people by surprise when they find out that Zondervan is owned by Harper-Collins, which in turn, is part of the Ruppert Murdoch media empire. It is important for Christians to realize that supporting the NIV contributes to the support of Murdoch’s corporation, which is one of the world’s largest providers of pornography. Something to think about.

The question now becomes what are publishers going to be asked to do with the new NIV. We at CPH have heard from Zondervan asking us to agree to use only the NIV by 2013, this is the same request that has been sent out to many other publishers. Much remains unclear about what this means for existing publications, like the Concordia Self-Study Bible which was based largely on the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Will we be permitted to keep that book, as it is, in print, or would we have to entirely revise it to use the newest NIV edition. Churches like the WELS which remain strongly attached to the NIV will need to evaluate the changes in the latest edition of the NIV, some of which I find personally very disturbing, particularly when it comes to key theological concepts.

Here is a graphic display of what has changed over the years in the NIV and the present level of changes in the 2011 NIV. HT, for the graphic and the comparative details, to John Dyer.

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  1. Clint Rogas
    November 16th, 2010 at 16:04 | #1

    Paul, you say in your post, “Churches like the WELS which remain strongly attached to the NIV will need to evaluate the changes in the latest edition of the NIV, some of which I find personally very disturbing, particularly when it comes to key theological concepts.” Would you might sharing some of the passages that you find “disturbing”? Thanks for the help.

    • November 16th, 2010 at 18:31 | #2

      Kindly read the post and follow the links. I think you need to come to your own conclusions on this. But one example: removing “sinful nature” and replacing it with “flesh.”

  2. November 16th, 2010 at 20:59 | #3

    Just remember, WELS’ Northwestern Publishing House hasn’t published a Bible under it’s imprint since the early 70s and that was the KJV. On the other hand, many WELS pastors have passed around sign up sheets every autumn promoting the Concordia Self-Study Bible every year for two decades. Now the CPH guy is the one berating them for doing so. Just saying…

    • November 16th, 2010 at 21:31 | #4

      I’ve noticed anytime somebody ends a comment with “Just sayin’” it is a passive-aggressive attempt to cover over a rude remark. You have again proven that point.

      There is no “berating” in my post and how you gather that from my comments is quite beyond me.

      A word of concern and caution? Certainly.

      Whether you, or the WELS, likes it or not, there is a now a serious issue at hand: the new version of the NIV is out and CPH may very well not be producing the Concordia Self-Study Bible any longer. Since Professor Brug in the latest issue of the Wisconsin Synod’s theological journal stated that The Lutheran Study Bible is the best choice now for Lutherans, perhaps it is a moot point I’m making.

  3. November 16th, 2010 at 21:36 | #5

    Back in October, WELS President Mark Schroeder provided an update on what steps WELS is taking regarding this new translation of NIV. I’ve provided it below.

    Original Link: http://www.wels.net/news-events/synod-budget-planning-2011-13
    (The portion below can be found halfway down the original article.)

    New International Version Revision

    The New International Version (NIV) is the Bible translation used by most WELS congregations and schools. Zondervan, the publisher, plans to introduce the revised NIV in the spring of 2011. The current version of the NIV will no longer be available after that date.

    WELS has not been given the opportunity to review the revised translation. It is possible that the new version will be an improvement over the current NIV. It is also possible, however, that changes to the NIV may make it unwise for WELS to continue to use it in worship, publications, and classrooms.

    A committee of WELS scholars and theologians, representing the Conference of Presidents, Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, and Northwestern Publishing House, has been formed to evaluate the new translation and to bring recommendations on its suitability for continued use in the synod. If the new version is judged to be unusable, that same committee will evaluate other translations and recommend which translation will best meet the needs of the synod in the future.

    • November 16th, 2010 at 21:41 | #6

      Thanks for sharing this Pastor Gumm. There is a lot of great data available now and I’m sure the WELS team can dig in. I will be very surprised if the WELS approves of adding and deleting the very words of God from a translation of the Scriptures. I’ve been looking over the many changes and it is disturbing to see how often words that are not in the text are added, and others removed. Imposing a 21st century cultural agenda on Scripture, for whatever reason, no matter how noble, or well intentioned, is bad news.

  4. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    November 16th, 2010 at 23:15 | #7

    When I took Scripture classes in college, it was all about The Jerusalem Bible for a translation, not surprising at a liberal RC institution. Which has now given way to a new “politically correct” JB.

    It strikes me that back then word was how we have to separate the essential Gospel from the cultural agenda — milieu was the more common term then — in which it is written and expressed. Now it’s how Scripture has to speak to our cultural milieu/agenda. The endgame seems the same or both — blunt those things we find uncomfortable.

    Not to mention marketing. Hard to counter newer competition with Keep buying a 1984 product.

    Having come from WELS to LCMS, I think the real WELS objection to the ESV is that LCMS scholars, not theirs, were involved. What I always heard, though, was ESV is not how people speak English now. Notwithstanding that I have never heard or been in a single conversation that struck me as NIV English.

    I cannot gauge the business impact, but as a translation, the ESV is so superior to the NIV, and as a study Bible, TLSB is so superior to the Concordia Self-Study Bible, that in terms of Bibles and study Bibles their loss would be no loss at all.

  5. Robert Franck
    November 17th, 2010 at 08:53 | #8

    Thank you for the interesting post. I read through the translators notes thoroughly. For some reason, I enjoy that kind of thing, even though I’ve been kind of leaving the NIV behind in many ways. One of the interesting things about that document is that they claim they do NOT translate singulars with plurals to avoid gender neutrality, but instead claim that the pronoun “they” in common English is now not only plural but also singular, what they call a “singular they.” It is a kind of controversial usage, and I think it isn’t the best to take a controversial grammar usage and essentially endorse it in a Bible translation when there ius an equally valid, really more valid, usage is available that follows the original grammar of the Bible accurately, namely, utilizing singular masculine pronouns as also singular gender-neutral.

    • November 17th, 2010 at 09:00 | #9

      I do not like the fact that they are adding words to the Scripture that simply are not there. Better to explain meaning, than to add/subtract from the Word of God.

  6. November 17th, 2010 at 10:14 | #10

    Since you brought up the question of the publisher and where the money goes, I just thought I’d add a reminder that the NIV (new or old) isn’t simply a project/product of Zondervan — the copyrights for the NIV1984 are in the name of the International Bible Society, now Biblica, who sponsored the project already in the late 1960s. I don’t know when Zondervan was brought in, or to what extent they are responsible for (or “own”) any of the recent translation work, but I’m not aware that anyone has ever questioned the IBS’s motives for their involvement in and distribution of the NIV.

    We’ve always bought our NIVs direct from the IBS — but I don’t know if any of those funds end up going to Zondervan or not.

  7. November 17th, 2010 at 10:49 | #11

    Almost everywhere, the 2010 NIV now renders as “flesh”what the old NIV rendered as “sinful nature.”

    Bizarrely, though, “sinful nature” is kept in two instances in the 2010 NIV – Ro 7.18 and 7.25 – even though it’s now “flesh” throughout Ro 8 (and in Ephesians & etc). I almost have to think it was an oversight to keep “sinful nature” in the two verses in Ro 7, given the obviously conscious decision to adopt “flesh” everywhere else.

    I’m an NAS man myself, but my church uses NIV, so I use it for Sunday school and etc. I haven’t spent much time with the ESV yet.

  8. Adam
    November 17th, 2010 at 12:22 | #12

    This discussion about biblical discussion is very interesting. Rev. McCain thanks for posting this with the links. As I think about this discussion I cannot help but think that this is a good reason for encouraging parishioners, who are willing, to take a basic Greek and Hebrew course.

  9. jgernander
    November 17th, 2010 at 13:22 | #13


    In the ELS we certainly do have a number of congregations using NIV because they subscribe to NPH Sunday bulletins or work often in concert with WELS congregations, particularly in schools. I don’t know what they’ll do; I agree that they really will have to make some kind of change rather than introduce this sub-par new NIV. But there are also a significant number of churches like mine that use NKJV. In our church, for years we’ve been giving every 2nd grader an NKJV “pew Bible”; also, in Bible class we provide everyone with an NKJV Bible. I have heard that the NKJV will be less and less available, and that already it’s hard to find an NKJV study Bible for confirmation gifts etc.

    We would never go to the NIV, either version of it. If there would be a change, it would probably be to the ESV as the closest relative. But even to do this would undo years of catechesis and instruction, and would be troubling to many of the people in the pew. I suppose I am being somewhat prepared for this, by the CPH Sunday School materials we use, and by the other publications (every night before bed I read from the great devotional Meditations on the Gospels, whose Bible portions are now in ESV). But this periodic change in Bible translations is distressing to me. I think it only increases Biblical illiteracy, if we can’t say Bible verses from memory because we all have different versions memorized.

    I think this hopefully communicates some of the reason why people react negatively on the subject. I (and many more of us) appreciate everything you and CPH are doing to promote quality Lutheran reading, study and teaching materials.

    Pastor Jerry Gernander
    Bethany Lutheran Church (ELS)
    Princeton, Minnesota

  10. November 17th, 2010 at 15:51 | #15

    A small correction: The NIV was first published in 1978. 1984 was the year of a significant revision, with the changes then all pretty much being improvements. For example, the 1978 version said in Acts 2:38, “be baptized…so that your sins may be forgiven,” whereas the 1984 version says, “be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins.”

    Our (ELS) church uses the ESV. It is immensely better than the NIV. But as I have used the ESV over the past few years, I have come across a few things that I wish had been rendered differently. Lutheran friends who are more knowledgeable of the original languages have told me of some other things that they would like to see corrected or modified.

    Maybe CPH and NPH – with their combined marketing clout – can together approach the publishers of the ESV with a proposal that they take another look at some of those passages, with a view to revising them. And if there is a favorable response, NPH might be able to see its way clear to embracing the ESV.

    But even with the ESV as it is – flaws and all – it is a much better option than the NIV. And now that the NIV is becoming even worse, well, I don’t see where the debate can be as to whether or not the NIV must be jettizoned. It must be.

  11. Karen Keil
    November 17th, 2010 at 15:55 | #16

    I certainly hope that the NKJV won’t be “less and less available”!!! It is one of my top favorite translations and has unique footnotes not to be had anywhere else (e.g. different renderings of NU and Majority text) for the New Testament. The latest Bible bestseller list show the NKJV third in both unit and dollar sales.

    As for NKJV study Bibles, true, they are not as abundant as for other translations. Some NKJV study Bibles:

    Thompson Chain Reference
    NKJV Study Bible
    MacArthur Study Bible
    Women’s Study Bible
    Chronological Study Bible
    NKJV Life Application Study Bible
    NKJV Wide Margin Bible (do it yourself study)

    As for the NIV 1984, TNIV and NIV 2011, even though I have copies of the first two, I’m not inclined to use the NIV as a primary translation any more. My top four: NKJV, KJV, HCSB, ESV (NASB as a fifth if five-translation list is required).

  12. Karen Keil
    November 17th, 2010 at 15:59 | #17

    I also welcome two English translations done by Lutherans to my top Bible translations list:

    An American Translation by Willam Beck (printed copies only)
    God’s Eternal Word by Rev. Clarence Pribbenow (Australia) (have the 1st edition in softcopy and printed book, and the 2nd edition in softcopy only).

  13. Karen Keil
    November 17th, 2010 at 16:15 | #18

    Misspelling correction on the Australian Lutheran translator:

    Clarence P Priebbenow

  14. November 17th, 2010 at 19:27 | #19

    NIV 2011? It sounds like a new version of Microsoft Windows.

    I’m with Karen Keil: I love the NKJV.

  15. Randy Keyes
    November 18th, 2010 at 08:36 | #20

    Last week we dedicated new Lutheran Service Book hymnals and new CPH ESV Pew Bibles to the Glory of God for use in our church. Blessed be the Name of the LORD.

    Randy Keyes

  16. Randy Keyes
    November 18th, 2010 at 09:09 | #21

    Doing some quick searches: It still leaves “virgin” in Is 7:14 and ELCA would never use it because of it’s translation of 1 Cor 6:9. I look forward to also seeing Mounce’s review and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s review. I’ll still use ESV with older folk and GOD’S WORD (gasp) with the younger crowd, but it will be interesting to see how this version pans out.

    Interesting marketing that they are releasing it on the 400th anniversary of the KJV.


  17. Karen Keil
    November 19th, 2010 at 13:01 | #22


    The words added and deleted may be due to the translation approach: “dynamic equivalence” or thought for thought , rather than a literal translation (word for word) approach.

    The 1978 NIV/1984 NIV appealed to me back in the day in its readability but as the years passed, I came to prefer more literally translated Bible translations. Dynamic equivalence goes a little too far for me now. I will probably buy a reference edition of the NIV 2011 for exhibit C of the NIV as I did in buying the TNIV reference edition for exhibit B.

    Interestingly, a positional chart of Bible translations show the ESV as more literal than the KJV and the NKJV as a little less literal than KJV. The HCSB is more literal than the NIV but a little less literal than the NKJV.


    • November 20th, 2010 at 18:05 | #23

      What’s driving the latest version of the NIV is not so much the “dynamic equivalence” approach, which is pretty dangerous actually, but added to it now an aggressive feminist agenda, which leads to obsessive gender neutering throughout the latest version of the NIV. Not good.

  18. Brian
    November 19th, 2010 at 21:55 | #24

    Pastor McCain-

    What is your opinion of the NASB as an accurate translation?



    • November 20th, 2010 at 18:01 | #25

      The NASB is the translation of choice for all Koine Greek students because it is such a literal translation, probably to a fault actually, for it sometimes gets a bit literalistic. But very accurate, the vast majority of the time, for the NT. Great for study. In the OT, because Hebrew is subject to more interpretation when translating it, it is not as literal as it is in the NT.

  19. Deaf Pastor Border Arku
    April 28th, 2012 at 09:36 | #26

    I am Deaf Pastor Border Arku the Deaf Pastor the St.Paul Evangeilcal Lutheran Church in liberia,I want to Deaf Learn sign language the Lutheran Bible Translationof the NIV Only a Deaf person knows how the Deaf think and feel and also knows their habits and culture. The body language and facial expressions of the Deaf are not merely accompanying expressions of feelings. Often it is the message itself in their language, and is an integral part which the hearing does not always understand, as the hearing regard words or obvious recognisable gestures as the only meaningful communication. thanks you
    Deaf Pastor Border Arku

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