Recently our church switched over from the use of the New International Version (NIV) in Sunday worship to the use of English Standard Version (ESV). What a pain! I don't mean to say the transition has not gone well – it has. But it is frustrating to me on a lot of levels that this transition had to be done.
I have been a fan of the NIV (1984) for many years. I received one when I moved from junior high to high school. I used the NIV all the way through high school and college. I have been preaching out of the NIV for more than 20 years. I have read it through many times and memorized countless verses in it. The NIV was my translation.
So, you might ask, why change? In 2011, a newly revised NIV (NIV 2011) was released. I don't have a problem with translators updating a revising translations. And the newly revised NIV was quite a bit better than the troubling Today's New International Version (TNIV). At the same time, the NIV 2011 contained some content that was hard for me to swallow.
A lot of it stands and falls on gender neutral language. I don't want to get in a big debate about the merits or lack of merits of this kind of language. I don't have a problem with some, perhaps even many, gender neutral changes. If someone has an issue with “mankind”, I don't care if they prefer “humankind” instead. I also understand that language changes and we must seek to translate the ancient document that is the Bible into language that people today can read and understand.
At the same time, some of the gender neutral changes are troubling. Some muddy theological waters, such as the NIV 2011 translation of John 14:23 which obscures the personal nature Jesus Christ's presence with each, individual believer. There are many other similar examples where a plural pronoun is used to replace a masculine singular pronoun with the result that the meaning is distorted. Other changes are simply silly, like in 1 Samuel 18:12 where the translators want to avoid the polarizing word “father” and in 2 Samuel 23:8 where David's mighty men become David's mighty warriors because “men” is another bad word. (Never mind that these guys were all men – that appears to be inconsequential to the translators.) Translations like the last two make me wonder if the reason for this change is to help people understand, or to pander to some level of political correctness.
The quality of the translation aside, there is another reason we switched. Zondervan, the publisher of the NIV (1984) and NIV (2011) have decided to end publication of the NIV (1984) in favor of the newly revised version. So, if you go to a store today and buy an NIV Bible off the shelf, it will be the gender neutral version. One of the families in my church did just that, thinking to get a Bible for their daughter, only to be disturbed and disappointed at the changes. The philosophy of the publishers of the NIV seems to be, “Since the general public did not like the TNIV when we released it, we are not giving them the choice with this version. Love it or leave it!”
As a result, we are leaving it. Reluctantly. Painfully, especially for me. But we are leaving it. I need to be sure that the folks in my church are hearing a reliable translation from the pulpit and that they are reading a reliable translation at home.
Do I like the change? Not right now. After decades of reading and studying and preaching from the NIV, the wording of the ESV seems foreign. Just last Sunday I caught myself stumbling over the benediction at the end of the service. It was a passage I had used frequently in the NIV and I stumbled around as I read it from the ESV. Will those times pass? Sure they will. And in reality, those embarrassing and mildly frustrating times are very minor in comparison to the peace of mind I have in knowing that my flock is hearing and reading a more reliable translation than the troubling NIV 2011. So Zondervan, I hope you are happy. We don't love it, so we are leaving it. And so far the view from the other side, while different, is pretty good.