Since you are beginning the process of revising the NIV translation for a 2011 release I wanted to take this opportunity early in the process to express a few modest suggestions that might improve a very popular Bible translation. Translation is difficult–particularly when there are so many emotional, theological, political, and economic dimensions that go along with translating the Bible–so I certainly realize that you have much work ahead and many difficult decisions to make. I am not trying to Monday morning quarterback your work–the committee is filled with many fine scholars who I know will do a great job and will produce a translation that will be useful and helpful to many people. However, I do have a few proposals that I have gathered from many hours of my own reading and reflection upon the Hebrew/Aramaic Bible alongside the NIV that I believe would improve an already very good translation:
- Eliminate erroneously tendentious translations. Every biblical translation is done with some kind of ideological bias, however, there are several particularly striking instances in which the NIV breaks established grammatical understanding and translates certain words or phrases in order to seemingly (and undoubtedly with good intentions) support particular theological concerns. For instance, in Genesis 2:19 the NIV translates a very obvious narrative preterite (wayyiqtol) as a pluperfect to seemingly obscure the fact that the orders of creation between Gen 1 and 2 are different. I do not know of another instance in which the NIV translates a narrative preterite in this way and there is no ancient translation that I know of that the NIV translators drew from to lend support to this interpretation (the LXX translates this as kai + aorist clearly reading a narrative preterite).
- Don’t avoid figurative interpretations and loose translation of idioms. There is no reason to interpret verses like Jonah 3:3 literally and invent an entire “city-visit” scheme to explain the “three-day walk” idiom. (I’ve provided more details about this verse here.)
- Fix inconsistent translations. It is very odd that the NIV translates the phrase, eshet hayil, as “a woman of noble character” in Ruth 3:11 and “wife of noble character” in Prov 12:4 & 31:10. While the exact phrase, eshet hayil, occurs only in these three verses the male version of this phrase, ish/anshe hayil, occurs 18 times and nowhere does the NIV translate this as “man of noble character.” Furthermore, hayil appears in total 231 times and in every instance of a male the NIV translates the word with a connotation of strength, wealth, or as “capable men.” So, why does the NIV break with a totally consistent translation record of hayil and ish/anshe hayil when the gender changes to female? Eshet hayil would be better translated something along the lines of “industrious or entrepreneurial woman” as this construction clearly means from the context of Ruth and Proverbs 31.
- Don’t sanitize biblical language. There is a good bit of “earthy” language in the Old Testament and an accurate translation should represent this instead of suppressing it. For instance, the NIV translates the words of an Assyrian military commander in Isaiah 36:12b as “to eat their own filth and drink their own urine.” It seems to me that the words har’ehem and shenehem translated as “their excrement” and “their urine” are stronger than this since the Masoretes presumably deemed them not polite enough to pronounce in synagogue and they left a note in the margin of this verse to instead say “their elimination” and “the water from their feet.”
There are other things I could mention but if only these issues were fixed the NIV would be all the better. Hopefully these reflections will be of value to you as you continue your work. I wish you the very best,