Friday, March 18, 2011

NIV 2011

UPDATE: Here's some more info on the 2011 NIV from the mouth of Chip Brown, Senior VP for Bibles at Zondervan.

This article caught my eye yesterday. I had known that the 2011 NIV revision was coming out for some time now. has had it on their site for months before the print version was released. Not being a big fan of the NIV, I didn't really look into it. The 2011 NIV was thrust into my view last week, though, when one of my regular professors took ill and couldn't teach a class. He had a fellow faculty member fill in for him, who just happened to be on the translation committee that did the 2011 NIV revision. Dr. Janine Brown told us quite a bit about what it was like to be a part of that process. It was very interesting.

Among the discussions we've had in my hermeneutics class this past quarter has been a discussion as to which kind of bible translation is preferable: formal equivalence (word for word) or functional equivalence (thought for thought). The NIV is definitely more of a functional equivalence translation. That is, the translators were more concerned that the meaning of the text was communicated in the translation than they were that the actual words used in the original languages were conveyed in the translation.

Personally, I think that each philosophy has a solid argument for its use. My professors argued that functional equivalence translations were actually more accurate, because they conveyed the meaning of the text, rather than just the words (leaving the determination of meaning up to the reader). For example, Matthew 5.12 in the ESV reads: "And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying..." while the new NIV renders the same verse simply as: "...and he began to teach them." The ESV is closer to the original language, but in order to really understand it you need to know that saying that someone opened his or her mouth before he spoke is a commonly used idiom in the Greek language. It doesn't really mean anything other than that someone was speaking. The NIV translators (and other functional equivalence translators) chose to just interpret that part for you and give you something easier to read, hence "...and he began to teach them," instead of "And he opened his mouth and taught them."

The thing I don't like about functional equivalence translations is that there's always an element of trust that must be given to the translators. I have to trust that when a translator makes a leap from "And he opened his mouth and taught them," to "...and he began to teach them," that he or she knows what they are doing by making such a leap. In most cases, this is not an issue. People who translate the Bible are very smart and have put a lot of time and energy into what they do. In other cases, however, the chasm that must be leapt over in the translation process can be pretty wide, and the reader is forced to trust that the translator has made the right decision. This is more trust than I am willing to give.

Also, I think there is value in forcing oneself to get down and dirty with the text. Yes, when we convey that someone is speaking, we usually don't say "And he opened his mouth." We usually just say, "He said..." But to remove that element of the text takes me as a reader one step further from what was actually written. It might mean more work for me to understand what was actually meant by the original writing, but I'm OK with that. I'd rather put in a little more effort and maybe have to learn a bit more about the text to get the meaning myself than have to trust someone else to do that work for me.

The article that I linked to above talks about some gender issues with the new NIV revision. You may or may not remember that when the TNIV (Today's New International Version) came out, there was quite the hubub about pronouns being switched from masculine to being gender neutral. In most cases, this does not effect meaning, but in others, it does. Apparently some of those same issues exist in the 2011 NIV as well.

For example, when an author of scripture refers to his "brothers," (as in, fellow Christians) he almost certainly doesn't mean just men, but rather men and women of the faith. So the 2011 NIV renders those verses as "brothers and sisters." While I have no problem with gender inclusiveness, I think this is an issue of formal vs. functional equivalence, and again, I would prefer the formal equivalence translation. While I agree that the use of the term "brothers" refers to more than just men, it is still one step further from the original writing. And I'd like to be as close to that as possible. But maybe that's just me.

Take a look at the article. It has a lot of good information.

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