Archives For Doug Moo

NIV and Bible Translation: Fifty Years On

Greg Strand – February 23, 2015 2 Comments

At the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting last November, Doug Moo, Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies, Wheaton, and Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation, gave a lecture as part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the New International Version (NIV). The lecture was sponsored by Zondervan, publisher of the NIV.

The NIV New Testament was published in 1973, with the whole Bible being completed in 1978. 1984 marked the first update/revision, so most who use the NIV either personally or in churches, use the 1984 edition. The next and most recent update was released in 2005, which raised concerns among some, and which was published separately as the TNIV. The most recent revision was released in 2011, which is the only NIV now available (since Zondervan no longer publishes earlier translations). 

In his introduction, Moo explains the reason for the 50th anniversary now.

In December of 1964 a joint committee of representatives from the Christian Reformed Church and the National Association of Evangelicals met in Nyack, New York, and issued invitations to a translation conference. That conference met in August, 1965, at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois. Two key decisions were made. The first was that “a contemporary English translation of the Bible should be undertaken as a collegiate endeavor of evangelical scholars.” The second was that a “continuing committee of fifteen” should be established to move the work forward. The “committee of fifteen” was ultimately named the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) while the “contemporary English translation” became the NIV.

This means that although the NIV was not published as a whole translation until 1978, Zondervan has decided to celebrate those early days when these critical decisions were made to undertake a “contemporary English translation of the Bible.”

The emphasis of Moo’s lecture was on translation and understanding the purpose of translations, which he concludes Evangelicals still don’t get. Specifically, Moo focuses on linguistics as it relates to translations (pp. 3-4):

I highlight three basic and generally agreed-upon linguistic principles that have too often been ignored in modern Bible translation. First, linguistics is not a prescriptive but a descriptive enterprise; second, meaning resides not at the level of individual words but at the level of collocations of words in clauses, sentences, and ultimately in discourses; and third, the meaning of individual words is expressed not in a single word gloss but in a semantic field. 

Zondervan is now making the manuscript of that lecture available: We Still Don’t Get It: Evangelicals and Bible Translation Fifty Years After James Barr

I attended and appreciated Moo’s lecture.


Books At a Glance interviewed Doug Moo about the publication of his recent commentary on Galatians and other issues related to the book. (This is part of the excellent Baker Exegetical Commentary series edited by Bob Yarbrough.) Two questions and responses interested me, which I have excerpted from the longer interview.

In this question he is asked about soteriology in general and justification in particular. This has been the heart of the discussion in the New Perspective on Paul. Is justification just forensic and declarative, an end-time verdict brought to the present time through faith in Jesus Christ so that “having been justified, we have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1)? Or is there any sense in which justification has any future connotations whatsoever? Are the two biblical and theological notions antithetical?

Without undermining that justification is a “definitive, once-for-all verdict pronounced at the time of conversion,” Moo concludes there is some future aspect to justification, which has been the position of some in Reformation theology. But he notes, “the integration of this future aspect [of justification] with the pretty clear suggestion of a definitive verdict at conversion is a challenge.”

Books At a Glance:
You’ve become quite famous for your Romans commentary. Is there anything about Paul’s soteriology that you’ve modified in your Galatians commentary in comparison to something you may have written in your Romans commentary (e.g. Justification, law)?

I am either unimaginative or stubborn (or both!), but I have not changed much in my “take” on Paul’s soteriology – except at one point. When I wrote my Romans commentary, I took what might be called a “standard” Reformation approach, arguing that Paul sees justification as a definitive, once-for-all verdict pronounced at the time of conversion. And texts such as Rom. 5:1 and 5:9 can certainly support such a view. But as I entered deeply into the argument of Galatians, and especially the exegesis of 5:2-6, I began to see a different perspective. Here, I concluded, Paul suggests that “righteousness” (the verdict of “being justified”) is pronounced in the future for the believer. This future element of justification also seemed to me to make sense in the context of the argument of Galatians generally. So I am working to integrate this future aspect of justification (a perspective we find also, I think, in James 2) into my overall understanding of justification in Paul. Of course, it should be said that, as R. Gaffin has pointed out, a future element of justification has had a solid place in certain strands of Reformation theology – so I don’t think I am departing from the tradition. But the integration of this future aspect with the pretty clear suggestion of a definitive verdict at conversion is a challenge.

In this question, Moo is asked about what advice he would give to those preaching through Galatians. His response: “integrate with historical and systematic theology,” because in order to understand the central element of Christian theology one must get a “sense of how Galatians ‘plugs into’ larger historical and theological frameworks.”

Books At a Glance:
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to pastors who plan to preach through Galatians?

Integrate with historical and systematic theology. It goes without saying that Galatians, like any other book of Scripture, must be set in its first-century context, with due regard for the issues Paul and the “agitators” were fighting about. And the relevance of these issues and the answers Paul gives for the contemporary church will very much depend on our understanding of those contextual matters. But the ultimate “point” of Galatians is to form our views of central elements in Christian theology: the place of the law, justification, the work of the Spirit, etc. Understanding and effectively proclaiming these theological issues cannot be effectively done without a sense of how Galatians “plugs into” larger historical and theological frameworks.


Moo addressed the topic of “The New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Bridging Christocentric and Christotelic” last week at our EFCA Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Scriptures. Recordings of all the messages from the Conference will be posted soon.