The 2011 NIV: Facing the Challenges

I hope the revision of the NIV Bible is wildly successful, both in its faithfulness to the original languages and in its reception by the public. If it is not faithful to the original languages then I hope it is a commercial failure. I am not an expert in marketing or business. I am not an expert in linguistics. I am not an expert in Bible translating. I am simply a pastor who love’s God’s Word and desires to help people be transformed by God’s Word. So it is with much humility that I offer my thoughts on what it will take to make the 2011 NIV a success:

1. The 2011 NIV needs to maintain the current NIV’s reputation for smooth reading, clarity, and accessible vocabulary. The NIV is a pleasure to read. It is not choppy or rigid. It is not too free that one senses there is a lot of interpretation supplied by the translators. These qualities need to be retained. In fact, I would argue that it needs to avoid making too many changes to the current NIV text or NIV supporters will feel like it’s an entirely new translation.

2. When it comes to the gender-neutral language debate, the 2011 NIV needs satisfy the complementarian base more than the egalitarian base. I know that the verbalized goal of the CBT is to not to seek to please men or factions, of which I agree and am grateful, but the reality is that they are either going to lean toward a translation philosophy that is more in line with the egalitarian wing of the evangelical world (employing gender-neutral language) or they are going to lean toward a translation philosophy that is more in line with the complementarian wing of the evangelical world (maintaining traditional gender language). Let’s face it, the commercial risk of offending the complementarian wing is far greater than offending egalitarians. If egalitarians revolt against a traditional gender language version, they are basically revolting against 2,000 years of translation history, as well as the original languages themselves.

3. Zondervan and Biblica need to package the 2011 NIV with a uniform style and image. A logo and name alone will not unify the product line. Here is where I think they could really steal a page from the Crossway/ESV playbook. They need to decide on a fashion code/style guide that would define the NIV “look” and then stick with it for a few years. For example, I think it would be wise to offer two fonts for adult Bibles: the Palatino font that was so loved through the history of the NIV and a pleasant traditional font similar to Times New Roman, perhaps something like Garamond. Bibles geared toward children or teens could have a couple of fonts as well. Part of the problem with the TNIV was they only seemed to offer that awful, strange, make your eyes hurt font. Maybe they were marketing the TNIV toward a younger crowd, but it was repulsive to a lot of people (I’m purposely exaggerating my own distaste for the font for effect).

4. The 2011 NIV needs to win pastors over to both the version and the design. If they win the pastors, they win the congregations. Winning the pastors means listening to the pastors. There are a LOT of pastors that are passionate about the Bible to the point that they are passionate and picky about the color of the Bible they preach from, the type of leather used, and the size, weight, and thickness of the Bible they use. I know a pastor who won’t use anything but a black Bible. I know another who prefers only a non-paragraph, verse-by-verse layout of the text. I know of others who would love to see the single column format overtake the double column format in popularity (I’m on that bus!).

They should commission Cambridge and R. L. Allan to produce many high-end NIV layouts. They should establish kiosks within Christian retail stores with samples of these high-end Bibles in the store. If they handle them, they will want them. They should offer pastors a significant discount on these high-end Bibles during the year 2011.

5. The 2011 NIV needs to come out of the gates with excellent design and quality materials and binding. As Christianity continues to decline and secular influence increases in North America, those who are Christians will be driven to become more serious students of the Bible, which will result in a demand for better made Bibles. They might as well develop a reputation right from the start for the 2011 NIV as a high quality Bible. One of the best ways to do that is to not produce a single bonded leather Bible. Wanna go cheap? They should go hardback, polyurethane mix, or paperback. But for leather Bibles, they should only use real leather. This will impress the Mavens (most notably J. Mark Bertrand), so that good rumors will be spread about the design and quality of the NIV.

6. The 2011 NIV needs to establish a strong internet presence, including getting on Facebook and Twitter asap. The NIV Study Bible was a HUGE success. Congruent with the release of the 2011 NIV, they should put the entire NIV Study Bible online for free, accessible to everyone. If that is totally unrealistic, then they could put the code to unlock the online version in every NIV sold (except outreach editions), not just the NIV Study Bibles.

7. Zondervan and Biblica need to loudly sing the praises of the KJV in 2011 (the 400th anniversary of the KJV). I suppose this would be more in Zondervan’s area of responsibility rather than Biblica. This would show that the NIV is standing on the shoulders of the KJV. They could tie the purpose of the NIV to the Translator’s Preface of the KJV.

8. The 2011 NIV doesn’t need to try to compete with the formal translations as being better for in-depth study. Instead, the new NIV needs to position itself as THE most trustworthy functional translation. If I could speak to the marketing department I would say: “Promote the NIV as a reading Bible. Emphasize Bible reading. Emphasize reading the whole Bible. Emphasize reading through the Bible in a year. Promote Professor Horner’s Bible reading plan. I know a lot of Christians who enjoy reading the NIV over the formal translations. Leverage that reality. Promote the NIV as an outreach Bible. Tell the story of the layperson who was the catalyst for the NIV in the very beginning. He wanted a Bible he could use in witnessing. His desire set the wheels in motion for what eventually resulted in the NIV. Celebrate that story.”

Back in the late 70s, my Mom wanted to get me a Bible I could easily understand so she bought me a Children’s hardback edition of the NIV. Since I had only been reading for a few years by that point, there is a real sense in which I was raised on the NIV. I am thankful for the NIV and still enjoy reading the NIV. Yes, I use other versions. In fact, I think every Christian who wants to get serious about studying God’s Word should use more than version, preferably at least one formal translation and one functional translation. For several years now the NIV has dominated among English translations. I suspect that in recent years, that dominance is being challenged, with the success of the NLT (New Living Translation) and ESV (English Standard Version). But if done well, the 2011 edition of the NIV certainly has a good chance of retaining the NIV’s place as the best-selling English Bible.

Anyone agree or disagree with these ideas? Any additional ideas?

12 thoughts on “The 2011 NIV: Facing the Challenges”

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Gary. My hope that is enough of us write about these issues, more people will notice and care about these issues. Thanks for caring and spreading the word.

  1. Pastor Brett,

    I’m also super late to this blog series. But I’d like your help on this issue. As a 31 year old layman, I’ve been a long time NIV user. Although it isn’t perfect and it has its share of problems, I love the NIV! My heart’s prayer is that the NIV 2011 update is closer to the NIV rather than the TNIV. I have numerous passages memorized from the NIV. The past 5 years I’ve tried soooooooo many times to switch to the ESV. My current pastor uses it and preaches from it; but doesn’t deter others from using their preferred translation. His mindset is “just READ IT!”.

    I like how the ESV is word-for-word, theologically conservative, retains great words like propitiation, and its beautiful. I just have a difficult time falling in love with it. It just seems that most of the time its just not as readable as the NIV. My heart wants to stick with the NIV because its so familiar; but I’m very anxious to know how the NIV 2011 turns out. My hope and prayer is that it’s more conservative than the TNIV but retains some of the textual accuracy of it. I’d love to know your thoughts and some advice on this too. Overall, I just want to get one bible and stick with it! Can you help and offer recommendations???


    Michael in Houston, TX

  2. Michael,

    I feel your pain! I was basically raised on the NIV. It came out at about the same time I was hitting an age (8) to really read and comprehend the Bible well. I switched to the NASB in college and stuck with that up until about 8 years ago, when I then switched to the ESV.

    But I still struggle some with its readability, and for the life of me cannot figure out why they didn’t update some of the language (e.g. “superflous” in 2 Corinthians 9.1; and “at table” 23x in the Gospels), especially when I am sitting down to read long sections at a time. It is definitely smoother than the NASB for reading, and for that I am grateful. I do think that the ESV is a nice “middle ground” between the literalness of the NASB and the readability of the NIV. I can’t bring myself to use the NIV all the time because language and word studies cause me to get frustrated with the NIV. I know not everyone has that problem, but I do.

    So, as for advice or recommendations, I am not quite sure what to say. As far as I can tell, here are your options:

    (1) Consider trying the Holman Christian Standard (HCSB) for a season. It is really the most recent “new” version. Even the ESV is not really a new version. It is simply a conservative update of the RSV. If anyone doesn’t believe me on that, just set the old RSV beside the ESV and read the two together for awhile. I don’t know whether Crossway/Good News should be applauded for unveiling the ESV in a way that most people thought it was actually a new version or if they should be chastised for deception. Either way, it was brilliant. The ESV is a huge success. But I digress…the HCSB is truly a fresh version, arguably the first new one since the NIV of 1978. I’m using it a little here and there. Make sure if you are going to try it that you get the latest update because hundreds of positive changes were made (e.g. flood replacing deluge in Genesis).

    (2) Be patient and wait and see how the 2011 NIV turns out. I am hopeful that it is going to be close to the original 1978 NIV, only making the necessary and appropriate changes where English language has changed. It looks like they realize the TNIV was pretty much a disaster in the way it was handled and they were humble enough to own up to it. Hence my hope.

    (3) Lower your expectations. Finding one lifelong Bible is something that a lot of us dream about, but few of actually experience. Enjoy the variety that we have. Today I read from 3 different versions (KJV, NIV, and ESV) when reading my 10 chapters for my daily Horner’s reading plan. I know this goes directly against Professor Horner’s advice to pick one Bible, not just one version, but one Bible, and stick with it. But what can I say? I like variety. It keeps things fresh! Using multiple translations is also very insightful and helpful when doing in-depth Bible study, provided you ask questions when doing it. In other words, don’t just say, “Oooh, I like the the way that version says it!” Instead, ask,”Hmmm, I wonder why this version chose to phrase it that way…or use that word?”

    I hope that helps. Let me know how things go. And thanks for posting. Come back to the blog often.

  3. In my humble opinion, the NIV 2011 would win over many, if
    1) they had footnotes that marked every non-literal departure from the original.
    2) That plus including ALL TR textual differences in the footnotes (what better time than this)?

    This would do the following:

    1) Make it a primary translation to study from, while not sacrificing ANY readability (since it is just footnotes). These footnotes would make referencing other english translations LESS necessary. Currently with the NIV/TNIV this is not even close to an option. This would probably win adults over from any other readable translation of the bible. They get their readable cake, and can eat the literal meaning in one bible.

    2) Speak to any reasonable KJV person who is struggling with that translation, but is paranoid about not having the traditional text. These footnotes are completely defensible since they would be included for tradition-sake (it’s the 400th anniversary, etc). This would win over folks from the: KJV, NKJV, ESV, NASB – etc, crowd

    That’s what I was hoping for.

    Alas, they will not be doing this, and the NIV 2011 will probably just be a rehash of the TNIV with as much gender-stuff as the ESV.

    It will not change anything for the NIV, other than win back those who got scared off by the TNIV, but primarly wanted something readable.

    That is my prediction.

  4. Jon,

    Great ideas. The only thing wrong with those ideas is that I did not think of them myself!

    On a practical level, footnotes for every non-literal departure would AND footnotes for every divergence from the TR would require WAY too much space on the page since there are so many departures from formal translation as well as so many points of divergence in a functional translation like the NIV.

    Furthermore, I think you are correct in assuming they would never do that, which is a shame, because that could go a long way in dispelling a lot of the unfounded rumors regarding the motives and agenda of the people behind the NIV.

    I truly believe that the people behind the NIV want to get God’s Word into the common people’s langauge. I don’t think there agenda is to minimize the deity of Christ or the blood of Christ.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  5. Me either.

    The NET bible abridged notes editions make the case that it is possible to footnote all those departures – but it would be way too much work to meet that deadline, even if they wanted to. 🙂

    I currently use the ESV as my primary translation, as it falls nicely between the NKJV and NIV. Actually I just ordered a used NKJV/NIV parallel bible from which should be arriving in August.

    I have penned in most of the traditional TR stuff into the margins of my ESV Personal sized bible.

  6. Hello,

    I am fearful of all the new bibles, and that they are comming in what we think are the true last days.

    There certainly is much confusion that God is not the author of.

    I have E-sword and a ton of bibles for it, and as i have cross referenced, i have found verses missing, changes of words.

    for some time we have been able to produce 16.7 million colors on a computer, but try looking at two that are only a very tiny shade away from each other and you cannot tell them appart with the nakid eye.

    I have a srongs, a Naves, a KJV, a thesarus, a dictionary and several bible programs, with all of these i find subtle changes in flavor within many passages.

    all i can think of is that the same serpent that said, “yea hath God said” is still attacking and disputing the Word of God in these last days.

    Time april 20 1981, “even apart from such oddities there is an unprecedented confusion of choices in standard full-length bibles”.

    if nothing else the bible sellers have in and of themselves divided christians with their 150 million dollar a year sales as of 1981.

    God dose not cause confusion.

  7. Brett,

    Great points. BTW, I am a SWBTS grad too (M.Div 84 when there was no option BUT to have languages!)

    The way the updated HCSB text stands, I think it does what the NIV people SAY they want to accomplish. Sadly I doubt that text will become as popular as it should – it is still wrongly perceived as a “Baptist” edition.

    Unlike the HCSB, the NIV is already a Global text. I hope it can overcome the TNIV blunder and it’s forays into politcal correctness and recover.

    I plan to review an early copy, but for now I have to say again, the HCSB update is a tremedous job that fills a niche the new NIV can only hope to fill.


  8. Spent over a decade with The Navigators and the KJV, then in ’85 picked the NIV as the best translation. Researched again in ’03 and picked the ESV but couldn’t get into it, going to the updated NASB more and more until it became my “go-to” Bible. In ’09 I picked the NET Bible for study (along with my NASB and others), and the TNIV. I am somewhat disappointed with the 2011 NIV where they have “backed off” in many places from what they had in the TNIV, but I will do a comparative analysis and see….

    As it stands, for me there are only 4 worthy choices: NRSV, NET, TNIV and NLT. With preference to the NET and TNIV.

  9. Based on what the CBT has said, they didn’t “back off” from a commitment to “gender accuracy” as the NET people would say it.

    Instead, they used the Collins Dictionary database to determine the way they wished to finalize a translation based on current usage as observable through the options found in various types of English communications. They did that precisely to be as objective as possible. That step is a unique one and I think it worked well for them.

    As with everyone else who’s used it, I love the NET notes. But I find translation rough around the edges.

    For people wanting accurate and readable translations that are “mid range” (neither wooden nor too loose) the NIV update and the HCSB update are the two top contenders in my opinion.

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