Almost a year ago I posted an open letter to the NIV translation committee highlighting some suggestions that would improve the NIV.  I haven’t looked at it in detail but as I looked over the updated NIV that was made available online today I was disappointed to see that *none* of my suggestions were adopted.  Here’s the scorecard:

Suggestion: “Eliminate erroneously tendentious translations…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).

Result: Keep the erroneously tendentious translation, “Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky.”

Suggestion: “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.”

Result: Keep: “Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.”  The TNIV abandoned Wiseman’s city-visit scheme which is good, I wish though that they didn’t add the “to go through it.”  If they are going to idiomatically render this verse–which they did for the phrase “Now Nineveh was a very large city” (the Hebrew actually reads, “Now Nineveh was a city big to god/the divine realm”) then they should go all the way and just say:  ”Now Nineveh was a very large city–it was huge!”  Why idiomatically render the first half of a sentence and then literalisticaly translate the idiom in the second half?

Suggestion: “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…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.”

Result: Keep the flagrantly inconsistent and theologically deficient (I have a forthcoming article on the theologically deficient facet) in Ruth 3:11 “a woman of noble character.”

Suggestion: “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.”

Result: Keep on sanitizing biblical language by keeping the euphemisms in place.

Conclusion: So, I am pretty disappointed with this new release.  I didn’t expect that the translators would drop everything and hang on to my every blog post, but I did expect that they would do their job and competently fix and update a Bible translation.  Now, I haven’t looked at other passages besides these, but the reason why I pointed out these passages a year ago was because they illustrate underlying ideological and methodological flaws in the NIV translation committee’s perspective, understanding of the Hebrew language, transmission history of the text, and historical and cultural background.  These flaws are not particular to the NIV, they are common to most of the other translations as well.  However, I thought that maybe with this update some of these would be mitigated but literalistic ideological idiosyncrasies and/or commercial interests won the day.

Let’s hope for a better outcome for the CEB Old Testament translation.   With the translators that are involved with the project I am optimistic.

About the author

Charles Halton

26 Comments. Leave your Comment right now:

  1. by Kyle Greenwood

    I doubt it’s so much a translator issue, as much as it is a publisher issue. I know that one of the translators of NIV (not sure if he is on TNIV committee) pushed hard for a more literal rendering of the days sequence in Genesis, based on the use of the definite article (e.g. “a first day”, “a second day”…”the sixth day.” – see NASB), but his input was flatly rejected.
    By the way, when I showed this nuance to my students, they were pretty upset that their Bible translations were not being honest with them.

    • @Kyle: It’s not a publisher issue. Neither Biblica, Hodder & Stoughton, or Zondervan get a say on the rendering of the text. It’s all CBT.

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  4. by Robert

    Charles,

    Just a clarification, please — you really want the NIV to translate something like “to eat their own shit and drink their own piss”?

    Not that I’m disagreeing; I just want to be sure that’s what you’re advocating.

    Robert

  5. by Lawson Stone

    Gotta say I agree on all the points you made. For Jonah’s big city, I always liked my own suggestion, “a God-awful big city” but you can imagine how that would go over (I’m thinking lead balloon). I also note that the variations in how the Passover is prepared, that vary with sources, is obscured by just translating “roast” and “boil” as simply “cook” in both places in the old NIV.

    I quit using the NIV simply because it seemed to use the translational theory of Special Pleading.

    And I’m a pretty conservative guy on most points, too!

  6. Hey Kyle, I bet you are right about the publisher overruling translators–I’ve heard that this happens a lot.

    Hi Rob, yes, “to eat their own shit and drink their own piss” is exactly how I’d like them to translate it. If this is uncomfortable for them then they can include a note saying “When preaching or in uptight company say ‘excrement and urine.’ ” ;)

    Lawson, I totally agree with you, the translational theory of Special Pleading is the thing that irks me the most about this whole thing. And, I think they should let the Chronicler harmonize the Passover stipulations but let the texts stand as they are.

  7. As I’ve learned, the sad reality is that when it comes to the texts of the Hebrew Bible, there just isn’t any substitute for turning to the Hebrew itself and no popular English translations can be trusted. I wish it were otherwise. I hope Robert Alter is able to finish his work on the entire Tanakh.

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  10. by Jeff Cooley

    The new translation of Ezek 20:25-26 is a bit of an improvement:

    NIV Ezekiel 20:25-26 I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; I let them become defiled through their gifts– the sacrifice of every firstborn–that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.

    NNIV Ezek 20:25-26 So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.

    The old translation clearly and quite deliberately mistranslated a couple of very simple Hebrew sentences to eliminate the obvious theological problems that modern evangelicals would have with the text. The Hebrew is something a student could translate at the end of their first year. The new one is still not right, of course (“other” – seriously?) but better.

    Suffice it to say, there is a reason my wife’s former Greek professor resigned from the original translation committee.

    Haven’t checked out how they handle the killer of Goliath questions yet . . .

  11. “The brother of” Goliath the Gittite. Source. That is what you’re referring to, I suppose?

  12. I thought you and your readers might find it useful to know that I’ve just put up some pages that show how similar the NIV2011 is to the NIV1984 and the TNIV. My pages also show each verse where the NIV2011 differs from the NIV1984 or the TNIV in an easily read / clear manner.

    The pages are online @ http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/

    I’d appreciate any comments or suggestions if anyone has any. Please either email me robert@slowley.com or leave a comment on my blog post http://community.livejournal.com/robhu_bible/4977.html

    Thank you,
    -RobHu

  13. It’s worth having a look at John Dyer’s stats (he’s done a diff on the versions):

    http://donteatthefruit.com/niv2011-changes/

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  15. Robert and David, thanks for the links–those comparisons are very helpful.

    Jeff, glad that there is a bit of improvement on the Ezekiel passage–I hadn’t noticed that difference so thanks for pointing it out.

  16. I’ve significantly updated my NIV2011 comparison pages. I’ve improved the wording, fixed the colouring in of changes (and made it clearer), made some of the tables clearer, fixed some mistakes that made some of my numbers slightly off, and have added more explanatory text.

    Perhaps the biggest additions though are these two new pages:

    Top 250 added / removed words:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/most_added_removed_words.html

    Top 250 most changed verses:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/most_changed_verses.html

    You can also look at the details of the changes within a book (this was always there, but some people didn’t realise), e.g.
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/Genesis.html

    The start page itself can be found @
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/

    -RobHu

  17. I’ve just updated it again. The measure used for how different a verse is has been improved, and you can now see every instance of when a word has been added / removed.

    For instance here is the list of every time the word ‘humankind’ has been added or removed when going from the TNIV to the NIV2011:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/words/tniv_humankind.html

    The full list of changed words can be found here:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/most_added_removed_words.html

    -RobHu

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  20. by Joseph

    I love how the pingback thinks my blog is titled ???????.

  21. My computer generated comparison of the NIV2011 with the TNIV and NIV1984 has had many major updates:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/

    1. Greek text – now includes the SBLGNT with apparatus

    2. Hebrew text – HBS text included (experimental)

    3. Most changed verses list compared with both TNIV and NIV1984:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/most_changed_verses_tniv.html
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/most_changed_verses_niv1984.html

    4. List of (possible) proper noun changes:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/proper_noun_changes.html

    5. List of word changes relevant to the gender language debate:
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/cbmw_words.html

    6. List of all words in text (warning: page is very large)
    http://www.slowley.com/niv2011_comparison/all_words.html

    Plus many many bug fixes, improvements in presentation, and other minor fixes.

    -RobHu

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  25. Pingback: The Revised NIV: A Step Backward | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

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