Version Confusion

Unbeknownst to them, the good folks at Biblica threw my life into crisis back in November.

I’m just now starting to recover. . . I think.

You see, as you are probably already aware, the NIV Committee on Bible Translation (NIV-CBT) is updating the text of the NIV. Significantly. The  updated version of the most popular translation among Evangelicals (hereafter referred to in this blog as the NIV 2011) is completely replacing the older text (the NIV 84).  In other words, any new NIV products put out by Zondervan (the publisher) or sold at your favorite Christian bookstore will contain the new NIV text beginning this year. The NIV 84 text will no longer be published. Additionally, there will be no separate designation to differentiate the two texts. The new text is also simply called the “NIV” the same as the old. This will undoubtedly lead to a few years of confusion in pews and Bible classrooms as people make the transition.

The change is substantial; although the Biblica website states that “about 95%” of the text is the same on a word for word basis (other research puts that figure closer to 91%), when you consider that this affects approximately 40% of the verses, this is no small upgrade from the NIV 84. You can find some excellent detailed analysis of the changes here if you want to read all the gory details. The 2011 text actually bears a much greater resemblance to the TNIV another revision of the NIV released by Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society) in 2005. The updated 2011 text will fully replace both the TNIV and the NIV 84.

The two shall become one.

Of course, the link in all of this to the topic of Hiding His Word is the conundrum faced by those of us who have been doing memory work for many years in the NIV 84, a text that we have come to know and love. It raises questions like these: Do we continue to memorize in our beloved NIV 84, a version that is going out of print? Are we prepared to switch to the NIV 2011, and do we now work with both versions co-existing side by side in our brains? Or, do we need to go back and re-learn all of those old passages in the updated text? (If you have ever tried learning the same verse in two different versions, you can appreciate the challenge in doing this.)

Maybe more fundamentally, are we satisfied that the updated 2011 text more faithfully communicates God’s Word in modern English? What changes were made that would affect nearly 40% of the verses?

For you, maybe this is a non-issue. If so, you will probably not understand my personal crisis. That’s OK. Don’t try. Most of my friends give me funny looks and start slowly heading for the door when I start blabbering on and on on this subject. If you are with them, feel free to skip this post, make your own way to the door, and come back next time.

For the rest of you, the dilemma raised last November with the release of the updated text really caused me to re-examine the basic question: Which English translation is the best for Bible memorization?

This is obviously a loaded question that doesn’t have a quick (or single) answer. But, if you aren’t headed for the exit yet and would care to join me, I would like to explore the topic in a couple of more parts. First, I’d like to re-examine briefly the two main schools of thought behind Bible translation and the merits of each, and then I’d like to take a closer look at the NIV 2011 itself and examine the nature of the changes from the earlier text.

To conclude this section, it’s good to regain a little perspective. I live and work in a country (Papua New Guinea) where there are over 800 languages. Most of these don’t have *any* translation of God’s Word. When I sit back and see the wealth of English translations on my shelf, I’m somewhat embarrassed by it all. (OK. Calling this a personal “crisis” is definitely an overstatement.) Many countries don’t even have the opportunity to have this discussion.

Nevertheless, since like most of you, I am nowhere near to being fluent in the Biblical languages, I want know that the English Bible I’m hiding in my heart conveys the message as close as possible to what the Author intended.

Thus, for me this is a worthwhile matter to pursue.


About Neil Burleson

I serve as a missionary in the country of Papua New Guinea.
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