Thursday, March 15, 2012

The NIV11 and Catholic Bibles

Over the past 30+ years, the most widely read English language Bible has been the NIV. Many people, including Catholics, are at least familiar with this translation and the impact it has had in the Evangelical Protestant community. (I even know a number of Catholics who use it as their primary Bible.) Over the years, whenever I would purchase a Protestant book on Bible study more times than not the Bible that was keyed to the text was the NIV. In many ways, the NIV was accepted by many conservative Protestants as a compliment, or even an heir, to the more formal KJV.

I sure that some of you are aware that the NIV has fallen into controversy over the past decade, beginning with the publication of the TNIV back 2005. It was meant to be an update to the NIV, with sensitivity to inclusive language. To make a long story short, it was not well received. So much so that today the TNIV is out-of-print and no new editions will be published. It was decided by Biblica in 2009 that a completely new edition of the NIV (NIV11) would be published in 2011, followed by the ceasing of publication of both the TNIV and the older NIV.

This leads to the publication in 2011 of the most recent NIV11, which sought to make the Bible "easy to understand yet rich with the detail of the original scriptures. You are brought closer to the first experience of the Bible through the NIV. When the Bible was heard and read in its own time, its message was both clear and accurate. The NIV reunites these two features for those wanting a similar experience today. Time has passed, and language and culture have changed, but the NIV brings you close to the Bible once again."

In some conservative circles, the NIV11 has failed to gain acceptance, much in the same way as the TNIV. Again, one of the main issues is in regards to its use of inclusive language. (One should also keep in mind how the ESV has begun to replace the old NIV in many circles.) The use of inclusive language is no stranger to Catholics concerned about translation, either in the Scriptures or for Holy Mass.

So, what I thought might be interesting is to list a couple of articles below, some supporting the NIV and some who do not support it. I encourage you to read them before commenting on the following question:. In regards to the NIV11, how does or does this not mirror Bible translation issues in the Catholic Church? This discussion could go many ways, particularly with the recent issues concerning the ESV/NRSV/RSV-2CE Lectionary, as well as the decisions made in regards to the NABRE.

An Evaluation of the 2011 Edition of the New International Version (Rodney J. Decker)

The NIV 2011: Preliminary Assessment (David T. Koyzis)

The Collins Bank Bible (Leroy Huizenga)


Theophrastus said...

I want to point out how little actual data we have about Bible usage. Almost all of the information we have comes from statistically flawed industry sales figures and anecdotal reports. While these may seem compelling, they cannot accurately report the "mind-share" of particular translations.

A few examples can show my point:

* The CBA ("the Association for Christian Retial") has a listing of bestselling bible translations. Now this list is problematic (in particular, it is not clear that CBA retailers are representative of broad booksales; they are focused primarily on a very particular segment of Evangelicals, and Amazon reports very different sales figures). Still, it shows the NIV (including both the NIV2011 and previous editions) as the bestselling Bible, with the KJV coming in second, followed by NKJV, NLT, ESV, and then other translations. So according to these figures, Biblica's experiments with the NIV had no effect on the rankings at all -- the NIV was number one before, it was number one during most of the period of the controversy, and it is number one now. It is true that the ESV has grown in popularity, but where did that growth come from? Did it come from lost sales of the NIV? Or did it come from eating into other traditional conservative "literal" texts -- namely the KJV, NKJV, and NASB? Or are people buying more than one Bible for us at home?

* One notices that the Common English Bible has entered the CBA top ten list. But one would not conclude from this that CEB is among the top ten most widely read Bibles in the US. Rather, it seems likely that the CEB may be in the lists precisely because it is new. If my favorite Bible is the NIV, I do not need to buy a new NIV each year -- one may be enough for a lifetime.

* The NRSV tends to show up in these lists only during the months when students buy textbooks (since the NRSV is by far the widely used translation in teaching.) From this, one might conclude that the NRSV was a negligible "collector's only" edition. But this seems at odds with the wide use of the NRSV in academia and in scholarly writings. My point is that lists like this are not accurate reflections of "mind-share." (As I noted above, the CEB is on the CBA top ten list and the NRSV is not; but one should not conclude that more people are reading the CEB than the NRSV.

We need to be careful before making broad statements about Bible sales trends. (For example, I have heard from some sources that more NIVs are being sold than ever before!)

Even if we could figure out accurate sales figures, that would still not tell us who was actually reading those translations. (One might own a translation but not read it; alternatively, one might read a translation [on-line, for example] even though one does not own it.)

What we can say is that there is a much broader set of translations for sale today than there have ever been before. There are many new Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, literary, and new-Age-ish translations of the Bible available today. The English reader of the Bible in 2012 has an unbelievable range of options.

There have also been developments in Catholic Bibles too -- certainly the NABRE Old Testament was noteworthy, and there are several new study Bibles available or in progress for the Bible. But still, I do not think the range of Catholic Bibles has kept pace with exploding number of resources outside Catholicism. The main choices available to the Catholic Bible reader are the Douay-Rheims, the RSV, the NRSV, the Jerusalem Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible. The JB, NJB, and RSV are available only in a very limited number of editions. This represents an opportunity for future growth through new translations and editions.

Theophrastus said...

Of course, I meant to include the NABRE as a major (widely available) Catholic translation.

(Somehow, in editing my comment, it disappeared.)

owen swain said...

I really appreciate the caution raised by Theophrastus and agree. However, my own anecdotal story does somewhat affirm the notion of the NIV as being the most owned, if not read and studied bible of its time.

I "came to Christ" late in 1979. The NIV was the new kid on the block. Youth pastors and campus ministries in the burgeoning Evangelical camps were eating it up while the majority of our senior or lead pastors where still hammering away with the KJV in my Pentecostal circles. The NIV took hold in the bible colleges and by the time I arrived at one the translation was the new gold standard. I used it but I never liked it. It always seemed stiff and bland. Even so, it was my main preaching translation when I entered ministry simply because it was by then the most broadly owned if not also used translation in my, not small, circles of Pentecostalism.

I moved away from it as I matured in ministry and was always eager to try what was coming along. When the ESV came along I embraced it, though in my ignorance I had no idea of its RSV base. It suited me at the time and I was more than happy to kiss the NIV goodbye. Once I began to explore the Catholic Church and began reading books on it the RSV and RSVCE became my new friend. I began to see the limitations of the ESV and, at the time, on inquiry the ESV publisher said it had no plan ever to translate the 'Catholic' books so continuing to use it seemed pointless.

As a new Catholic, hanging out with mainly theologically and culturally conservative Catholics (as in fact I still do) I was swayed against the NRSV because of its inclusive language (which seemed to make it inherently evil in the eyes of many in said crowds) while the NAB was held as a total joke, the child of 'liberal Catholics' and not fit for consumption either the text itself or its notes.

I've changed again. In no small measure because of this blog I have begun reading the NRSV and will soon deign to lower myself to read the new NAB. What will friends say of me then? I have grown to really appreciate the NRSV. I have not found it to be the horror folks have made it out to be nor somehow intrinsically the darling of the left.

All that to say that I have my hands full reading it, the NABRE and the 1966 ed of the Jerusalem Bible and really have zero interest at all in the NIV11. I suppose I feel about it a bit like I felt about the N(ew)KJV, as in, oxymoron?, as in too little too late? Anyway, my feeling could quite honestly also be a knee-jerk reaction to my 'Evangelical' Protestant days.

Francesco said...

To Theophrastus' points I would add that sales figures are going to totally miss Bibles used in Sunday worship. One set of lectionary books can be used for over well over a decade for an entire congregation.* This is especially true for churches with thick liturgical traditions like the Catholic Church and the various Orthodox, Lutheran, and Episcopal/Anglican churches. Even churches without fixed lectionaries are going to be widely affected by this: if the pastor decides that he's going to preach from the NIV, his congregation may not throw out their own Bibles and buy buy new NIVs, but he NIV is going to be what they hear.

*Rome permitting!

Timothy said...

My main point of the post is not to debate which Bible is the most read. The NIV over the years has billed itself as being the most popular English translation. So I hope I haven't hijacked my own post by what I wrote as an introduction.

Timothy said...


Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. One of the missions of this blog is to highlight the positive and negative features of each translation, recognizing that not one is perfect. Hopefully then people can make a more reasoned decision on what translation to go with, instead of relying on speculation or false information.

Theophrastus said...

People have been sniping about Bible translations for a long time -- if you doubt that, just look at the annotations in the 1582 Rheims New Testament, or in the 1560 Geneva Bible, or in the 1611 KJV's "The Translators to the Reader"; or look at the controversy over the 1881/1885 Revised Version, or over the 1952 Revised Standard Version, or over the Vatican II reforms in Bible translation.

The issue of Bible translation was even one of the factors leading to the horrible, horrible Thirty Years War. (Of course, there were other factors too.) You may remember that in the male population in the German states being reduced by half. There have been some sharp words exchanged in the last decade, but I don't remember any Christian leader calling for half of the population to die over a Bible translation issue.

A cynic might say that much of the recent dialogue about Bible translation has actually been a form of "negative advertising" similar to what we might see in a political campaign: For example, Wayne Grudem, who was a main leader in the anti-TNIV movement, was also one of the principals behind the ESV.

(Ameican Catholics have had a front-row seat over similar recent controversies over the translation of liturgy: from the New Liturgical Movement and the Tridentine Mass Motu Proprio to the new Missal.)

Prolonged arguments over Bible translation is not a new phenomenon. All, in all, I think things are much less shrill than they were fifty years ago -- and certainly far less contentious than they were 450 years ago. So, I think we are making progress (slowly).

Chrysostom said...

"...with sensitivity to inclusive language."

That is, altering the meanings of the original texts by aligning them to our sensibilities, and losing a central - nay, key - aspect of the authors' milieu - a strong patriarchy - in the process?

Unknown said...

I don't think that Bible sales statistics from CBA are all that important because they represent such a small portion of the Bible buying market (not even all Christian book stores, but only Christian book stores affiliated with CBA, and not all of those stores, but only the ones that report their data)....frankly I think more people get Bible from places like Barnes and Noble or even Walmart than at a Christian Book Store. And note that no Catholic Bibles ever appear on the CBA list, not even the NAB, which is sold quite literally EVERYWHERE (even at places like Walmart.

There is a huge market for Catholic books which is left completely out of the CBA statistics. Indeed it is not that many years ago that you used to be able to walk into the corner drug store, or a book store in an airport, or anywhere where they used to have the little spinning book stand with cheap paperbacks, and you'd find a pocket paperback copy of the Catechism. But does the Catechism ever show up on the CBA 'best selling Christian books' list? No!

In addition, there is a certain number of people (including myself) who are, for lack of a better word 'Bible Collectors' who own dozens of translations and who rush out to buy the newest translation, or update of a translation, as soon as you hear of its release. But...just because I own it, doesn't mean I ever really actually read it. Often I will buy a new Bible translation, read the introduction and a couple of the Gospels just to get a feel for it, decide I don't like it and never pick it up again.

As far as the 2011 NIV, here's the thing: outside the small group of people who hang around at places like this blog....most of the Bible reading public aren't even aware that the Bibles on the shelves today called 'NIV' don't have the same text as the ones they sold only a few years ago. The failure to give the 2011 NIV a new name (say the NIV Revised Edition or something) is somewhat deceptive I think, it is seems like a way to sneak a brand new translation under the radar and hope nobody notices.

I can only imagine how much of a hassle it will be in a couple of years at evangelical Bible studies when someone reads from the 'NIV' and everyone else in the room discovers that their 'NIV' Bible says something different.

I think the CBA stats are close to useless, I think frankly the best seller list at is probably a more reliable picture of the Bible market nation wide.

Chrysostom said...

I go to the Amazon lists too. I have always been under the impression that the CBA lists were from Southern Baptist sales alone.

Anonymous said...

Just when you think that finally the Church acquired some common sense it turns out to be a mistranslation...what a shame...
Here is the link, find out yourself what it is about, quite fun to read:

Biblical Catholic said...

"It is a case of an Italian translation not reflecting the German original"

Something is not right about this story...why is a Vatican document being published in German? All Vatican documents were still written in Latin last I heard....

Chrysostom said...

I wouldn't be surprised that if the Holy Father wrote something himself, that it would be in German, and then translated in to Latin to make an authoritative editio typica, and then translated from Latin in to everything else.

I believe his commentaries on the gospels were written in German. I don't know what his level of Latin fluency is, but I imagine he has to be mostly fluent in it (although probably not like the crazy polygloty of John Paul the Great: he spoke a dozen languages with native proficiency, I believe).

Imagine how bad the fallout from Vatican II could have been if we didn't have John Paul II's incredibly long tenure immediately after, followed by Benedict XVI - much worse. Although I probably would have liked the chain-smoking John XXIII, being a smoker myself. A Pope that one can relate to is good in a way, but the Pope, being the Vicar of Christ on earth, seems that he should also have an air of greatness about him, exalted above the destinies of us mere mortals.

Biblical Catholic said...

I could see the Holy Father writing something in German, but official Church documents are rarely if ever written by the Pope himself....

David said...

Just read Leroy Huizenga's review of the NIV 2011. I have to say I disagree with his criticism of the new NIV. Not only does it have world class scholars on the committee that make it more accurate than the NRSV, they have incorporated N.T. Wright's criticisms from the Old NIV in Galatians and Romans. Its a new month and the NIV 2011 is firing on all cylinders, as always, as the #1 bestseller at CBA. It navigates the narrow channel between the banks of the ESV and NRSV. As Scot McKnight has said, it is simply the best translation and one that he now takes as a professor to his class. There is a reason its #1, the ESV has fell to #6, and the NAB, RSV, and NRSV don't even make it into the top 10 bestsellers at CBA.I study, read, meditate, teach, and preach from the NIV 2011. I highly recommend it. One last thing, if Mr. Huizenga would have checked the Greek, he would know that the words 'their' and 'wives' are NOT in the Greek at 1 Timothy 3:11. Its the Greek word for 'woman'...implying, yes, there were women deacons.