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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.