Thursday, November 11, 2010

From the King James Version of the Bible to Today’s NIV: There’s a lot to be said for clarity

Recently I asked my good friend Andy if he might be willing to share on this blog his experience of discovering the benefits of reading Today’s New International Version (TNIV) of the Bible. Hear him out. I love what Andy says about this experience.

Shakespeare-presented-to-Queen-Elizabeth-I Andy: Having always maintained the King James Version was the Bible for me, I had been using it for forty years and was very reluctant to accept any other version until I was introduced to the TNIV—no small chore I might add. In conversing with a chap via email, I found my friend, Ken, always quoted from the TNIV (Today’s New International Version). I in turn used the KJV but this friend kept challenging me to try the TNIV and at times got into some serious debate regarding scriptural passages. I decided I would use the TNIV to back up my position on several issues just to prove that I was as comfortable in either version. 

Ken: Plus, Andy may have gotten tired of me replying to his emails by asking if he always spoke in Elizabethan English or if he only sounded that way when he was typing emails which included quotes from the KJV. Was he debating me or Shakespeare? If me, then I wanted to let him know that while I could understand his old English, it seemed odd to me. I’d ask Andy if he really was old enough to speak this archaic form of English. For me this issue comes down to a simple principle. I believe there’s a lot to be said for clarity.

Ken: I think my friend Andy would agree—there’s a lot to be said for clarity. Sometimes reading the Bible may leave us puzzling like the man in the Clarica commercial, but I don’t think we should be puzzling over what the English words mean. Let’s puzzle over what God’s Word meant back then and what it means to us today. In trying to show me he could be just as comfortable in the TNIV as in the KJV, I think Andy may have discovered that even he was more comfortable in today’s English.  And in my mind, that only makes sense. Even Shakespearean scholars do not go about their daily lives speaking Elizabethan English.

Glasses-on-BibleAndy: Since then I have purchased two copies of the TNIV so my wife and I would be on the same page when we have our devotions. We are very near completing the OT and look forward to commencing with the NT. One major note is that it is much easier reading in 21st century English.
    I have encouraged another friend of mine to obtain a copy of the TNIV as well. I highly recommend the TNIV to complement any serious Bible student’s library and not to gather dust but make use of it for study. This now is my study Bible even though when I read passages in it, I keep my KJV handy for reference.

Ken: After 40 years of use, I understand this, but I also know that Andy presents his ideas from Scripture with greater clarity and precision today. I’m very happy for Andy and his wife. God’s Word was not ever meant to sound “old.” God speaks to us in our own language and idiom. When you think about this, it really is odd that we would expect God to speak to us only in Elizabethan era English. From every indication we have in the Bible, God spoke the language of the people of the day: the Hebrew of Genesis is different than the Hebrew of Habakkuk, certainly different than the Aramaic chapters of Daniel, and the Greek of John’s Gospel is markedly different than the Greek of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The King James Only movement seems to misunderstand the very nature of language: it is always changing. And good Bible translation is always about making God’s Word clear in today’s language.

Before you go out and buy a new TNIV Bible like my friend Andy, I should let you know there’s big news. The TNIV is out of print (discounted sales possible) and so is the NIV. Why? They are about to publish the NIV 2011, but they’d prefer we just call it an updated NIV (which I suspect is actually a revised and updated TNIV). Here’s part of what the Committee on Bible Translation had to say about this updated NIV:

Click here for an excellent video introducing the updated NIV by Doug Moo, Chair of the Committee on Bible Translation Since its first emergence as a complete text in 1978, the New International Version (NIV) has stood as the modern pioneer of a different approach — an approach that mirrors the balance of priorities held by the KJV translators four hundred years ago. The NIV tries to bring its readers as close as possible to the experience of the original audience: providing the best possible blend of transparency to the original documents and comprehension of the original meaning in every verse. The NIV is founded on the belief that if hearing God’s Word the way it was written and understanding it the way it was meant were the hallmarks of the original reading experience, then accuracy in translation demands that neither one of these two criteria be prioritized above the other.

Built upon this philosophy, the NIV has experienced much the same reaction in the church and beyond as its beloved predecessor whose values it seeks to emulate. Thirty years after its first publication there are more than four hundred million NIV Bibles in print.

But, unlike its predecessor, the NIV was designed from the very start with a built-in mechanism to defy the attritional effects of time. Since 1978, the NIV translation team has continued to meet, year after year, reviewing developments in biblical scholarship and changes in English usage — revising the translation to ensure that it continues to offer its readers an experience that mirrors that of the original audience, and periodically releasing those revisions in updated editions of the text… A lengthy revision process was completed in 2005, resulting in the separately published Today’s New International Version (TNIV). The new 2011 updated NIV builds on both the original NIV and the TNIV and represents the latest effort of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) to articulate God’s unchanging Word in the way the original authors might have said it if they had been speaking in English to the global English-speaking audience today.

BibleGatewayThe new updated NIV won’t be available in print until 2011, but you can check it out now at Bible Gateway.  You’ll find that from this point on at this blog, I will be quoting from the NIV by default, except as always, I will quote from an alternative translation when I feel it captures the sense of the passage better. I take seriously the responsibility to always do my best to make clear what God’s Word is really saying to us. In light of what Andy has shared with us, I look forward to the positive impact the updated NIV will have on people today.

What are your thoughts on Bible translations? Has anyone else made the move from the King James Version to NIV or TNIV or NLT? If you want to know more about my evaluation of Bible translations for today, please see my post Fresh Strawberries.
Andy has indicated that he would be happy to respond to any comments as would I.


  1. Andy:

    It's great of you to post your story here and I'm happy you're having such a good experience with the TNIV.

    Could you tell me... would you have considered yourself to be a King James Only guy before this experience? I have known many King James Only people who would under no circumstances ever consider using any other Bible. They are convinced that God inspired the KJV and it is the only "authorized" translation. So I'm just curious if you were also in the camp, and if so, how did you open your mind to the possibility of using a new translation and then actually do it?

    I'm curious because I feel so concerned about these people who stubbornly refuse to read the Bible in today's English. Like Ken, I too think there's a lot to be said for clarity.

    Thanks again,

  2. Scott,

    To answer your question, I have used the KJV as far back as I can remember. I can't recall of any translations or paraphrases back in the late fifties or early sixties. Becoming familiar with KJV I slowly memorized certain key texts that I treasured and would quote them in discourses. Yes you could say that I was a King James Only kind of guy.

    I can't quote scripture to you verbatim from other translations at all, it is foreign to me.

    Also there are words in both versions that have the same meaning, for example the word "eternal" in the TNIV and "everlasting" in the KJV of John 3:16, to me the word everlasting speaks to me, it resonates more so than the word eternal. This is just me. There are many more examples that I could share. However space does not permit.

    In the 16 hundreds it was the only "authorized version or translation" for many years and it was considered God inspired. It took many years for our present day translations to follow. Allow me to ask you a question. Is the KJV bible any less inspired today by virtue of our recent translations? Also one more question, is the bible whatever translation it may be "word inspired" or "thought inspired"? Just something to ponder over.

    It is important to be open minded or one could be like the servant who buried his talent.

    I also have the RSV, NKJV, The Tanakh, Jewish New Testament, The Amplified Bible, Die Bibel "German" and Sveto Pismo "Croatian".

    Sometimes I find it necessary to go to my Croatian or German bibles because of the clarity regarding certain words and context.

    Challenges are good and Ken challenged me to get a copy of the TNIV because he had difficulty of my usage of the KJV. He wanted to get me out of the Dark Ages. ;-) I was up to the challenge and concluded that I could defend my positions using the TNIV just as handily as using KJV.

    What actually gave me more pleasure was that here was a bible that my wife and I could read and study from with greater clarity and got us into the habit of spending time together on a daily basis which both of us are thankful for. Just this morning we were reading in Luke 19 about the ten servants who each received one mina from their master and how one multiplied his mina tenfold and another fivefold and another who had wrapped it in a napkin and it makes no mention of the other 7 servants. At one time I would read just barely below the surface without question, this morning these verses jumped off the pages at us and we could not rest until we got to the bottom of the matter to our satisfaction.

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