New Coke/Coke Classic
Most of you probably remember Coca-Cola’s brief foray into changing the formula of the popular soft drink. It was called “New Coke” and it was an attempt by Coca-Cola to gain market share among a key demographic, youth, an age group that was favoring Pepsi. It backfired. Although “New Coke” showed promise in many parts of the country, it was soundly rejected in the South, where Coca-Cola us based (Atlanta).
The strong Southern rejection spread. Comedians mocked Coke, fans at a Houston Astros baseball game booed a Coke advertisement. Within three months, Coca-Cola announced the return of the original formula, in a product called “Coke Classic.” Loyal Coke fans rejoiced. On the Senate floor, Arkansas Democrat David Pryor called the decision by Coca-Cola “a meaningful moment in U. S. history.” I’m not sure what that says about our country; perhaps it says more about the gentleman from Arkansas. Nonetheless, America as a whole must have agreed because the brief “New Coke” fiasco and it’s merciful conclusion thrust the Coca-Cola company into a period of renewed success as king of the soft drink world, a success that has been uninterrupted even to this day.
Biblica and the NIV Translation
Formerly known as the International Bible Society, Biblica is the worldwide publisher and copyright holder of the New International Version of the Bible. A self-governing group of Bible scholars, known as the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) is responsible for the content of the NIV. Originally published back in 1978, the NIV went through an update in 1984, which was followed by a couple of decades of remarkable popularity among English Bibles, even supplanting the venerable King James Version (KJV) as the best-selling English Bible. In 2009 Biblica announced that they would be releasing an update again in 2011, not coincidentally on the 400th anniversary of the KJV. The “new” NIV was indeed released in March of 2011.
“And what does this have to do with Coke?”
Glad you asked.
Parallels Between New Coke and the New NIV
I believe there are intriguing parallels to be considered between “New Coke” and the new 2011 NIV translation. With “New Coke” casual drinkers of colas probably didn’t notice much difference and probably didn’t care. In the same way, casual readers of the Bible probably haven’t even noticed the massive change between the 1984 edition of the NIV and the new 2011 edition. The word massive is not an overstatement. While some Bible translation “updates” are relatively minor, the updates to the 2011 NIV are anything but minor. It is almost like a new translation. According to Robert Slowley’s research, only 61.1% of the verses in the 2011 edition are the same as the 1984 edition. That’s a lot of changes, most notably seen in the embracing of an entirely new approach to translating gender language. Sadly, I’m afraid that the average layperson is not even aware of these changes.
When the “New Coke” hit the shelves a sizable number of die-hard Coke drinkers revolted and, as referenced above, Coca-Cola acquiesced and put the original formula back into production. The “classic” version was a success. For a fairly long period of time “New Coke” and “Coke Classic” were both available on the shelves. Unfortunately, such a massive revolt has not occurred with the “New NIV.” In fact, the NIV continues it’s run of success, in spite of the major change. I say this is unfortunate because I believe the 1984 NIV, with all its faults, is still much to be preferred over the 2011 NIV. And I am not alone. Even though the success of the NIV continues, there are signs that the NIV’s overwhelming dominance is waning. According to the Christian Booksellers Association, the New Living Translation (NLT) outsold the NIV in total numbers of units sold last month (the NIV has regained the #1 spot this month). A simple google or bing search of “ESV” “NIV” and “switch” will yield plenty of evidence that numerous pastors and churches have switched from the NIV to the ESV, at varying degrees because of frustrations with the 2011 NIV.
But some folks are not eager to make a switch…to the new NIV, the ESV, or any other translation. They have read the 1984 NIV for years. They have taught from the 1984 NIV for years. They have memorized numerous Scriptures from the 1984 NIV. And although there are some 1984 editions still available on bookstore shelves, there is a day coming in which they will be gone. The 1984 NIV is completely out of print. At least these die hard NIV fans could still access the 1984 NIV text via their computer, tablet, and smart phones. Popular websites and applications like Bible Gateway and YouVersion continued to offer both the 1984 edition and the 2011 editions of the NIV. Until now. According to a recent World Magazine editorial, Biblica asked these popular Bible sites to pull the ’84 version from their offerings.
Shutting Down the ’84 NIV
Pardon my descent into the common vernacular, but that ticks me off. There is NO valid reason for Biblica to seek the removal of the digital editions of the 1984 NIV. Thankfully, I did not purchase the latest update for my Logos Bible Software. Had I done so, I would have lost the 1984 NIV, a translation which is always a major part of my weekly research. ** 8/1/13 – I stand corrected. Owners of the ’84 NIV on Logos Software are reporting that after the upgrade they are still able to access the ’84 NIV. That’s good news!
Under “Core Ministry Strategies” on their “About Us” page, Biblica states, “Biblica offers programs and resources to churches and ministries to engage people more deeply in Scripture for life application and transformation.” For me, as a pastor, engaging more deeply means access to multiple translations, especially ones which are carried by many of my church members. The second most carried Bible into my church each Sunday is the NIV, specifically the 1984 edition.
Biblica also states, “We understand, of course, that there are other translations for churches and individuals to choose from, and we welcome them. We live in a generation that is privileged to have access to some very fine and scholarly Bible translations. Our main concern is that people should be reading the Bible, not that they should be reading a particular Bible translation.” Apparently they welcome other translations of the Bible, just not a previous edition of their own translation.
I honestly have no idea why Biblica wants the old NIV to completely disappear. I understand not wanting to devote resources to the continued production and binding of traditional paper, ink, and leather Bibles with the 1984 text. But it is no problem to Biblica for Logos, Bible Gateway, YouVersion and other digitally-based resources to continue to offer the 1984 text. Are they afraid people are going to compare the new to the old and criticize the new? Are they ashamed of the old? What gives?
It’s Time for “NIV Classic”
Coca-Cola did the right thing. They gave people what they wanted. For several years both New Coke and Coke Classic were available on the shelves. Coke Classic eventually outsold New Coke to the point that the continued production of New Coke was impractical. I have never met a single person who is upset over the demise of New Coke. I basically grew up (from 8 yrs. old to 20 yrs. old) on the NIV, the original and then the 1984 edition. In college I heard that the New American Standard Bible (NASB) was more a more literal translation, so I switched. About ten years ago I switched to the English Standard Version (ESV). So there is a sense in which I really don’t have a dog in this fight.
But I sympathize for the many Christians who have used the 1984 NIV for decades now and have no desire to switch. I’m guessing this is a fairly large group. In a few years, their 1984 edition Bibles are going to be wearing out (especially if they are bound in bonded leather). They are going to go buy and new NIV, and, unaware of the change, they are going to be scratching their heads and wondering why the wording is different. They will be wishing they had kept their old NIV and gotten it rebound.
It’s time for Biblica to reissue the 1984 NIV as “NIV Classic.” I guarantee it would sell well. If they are unwilling to do this, they should be willing to give away or sell the 1984 text to a publisher who would like to put it back into print. The World Council of Churches was generous enough with the RSV to grant or sell the rights to the 1971 update of the RSV to Crossway, resulting in the ESV. At minimum they should return to allowing Bible Gateway, YouVersion, Logos, and others to offer the 1984 version digitally.
The new NIV might taste good to a lot of people. But for the sake of those who love the taste of the 1984 NIV, Biblica needs to bring back the classic NIV.