CBMW (an organisation which stridently opposed the TNIV) has posted a preliminary evaluation of the 2011 NIV. Unsurprisingly they conclude that “we still cannot commend the new NIV(2011) for most of the same reasons we could not commend the TNIV.” However, I think there are a number of problems with their analysis which I’d like to raise here in order to provide a little perspective.
A major portion of the review discusses Rev 3:20 in the three editions of the NIV (the original, the TNIV, and the 2011 NIV). A number of the points raised in the review are observations upon which comments and criticisms are based. I’ll address myself primarily to those criticisms.
3. This is still going to leave pastors and teachers with the rather onerous task of repeatedly advising the flock: “that is a singular ‘they’” or “that is a singular ‘them.’” And in many important verses, a reader will not be able to tell if “they” is meant as singular or plural from the new NIV(2011) English text alone (see John 14:23 for example).
In light of the fact that the number of the pronouns in John 14:23 is not actually ambiguous, this objection appears to be, at best, an overstatement. Consider the supposedly problematic John 14:23 in the NIV(2011):
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
The antecedent for the italicised pronouns is clearly “anyone” which is not a plural. In contemporary English, the singular “anyone” effectively disambiguates the ambiguous pronouns (just try saying “anyone who are going…” — it clearly doesn’t work with the plural verb, does it!).
These same objections could have been raised to the dropping of “thee” and “thou” and the expansion of the use of “you” in English in times past. How often do we hear pastors/teachers suffering under the onerous task of having to explain the number of every second-person pronoun in the English translation they’re using?
4. Furthermore, ironically but importantly, “that person” has a very cold, impersonal feel in comparison to both “them” and “him.” That is not how we speak when we want to maximize the warmth and intimacy of our relationship with someone in English. “That person” is how we speak about someone we don’t know. The new NIV(2011) is going to struggle with that, regularly.
I agree — “that person” is somewhat impersonal and so fails to adequately reflect warmth where warmth is implicit in the original. However, the problem reflects a deficiency in early 21st century English — whereas “that person” sounds cold, for many readers “he” lacks the inclusivity today that it once had (and often has in the original). We either leave everyone feeling cold or give everyone the impression that women are excluded. I don’t think there’s currently a satisfactory solution in English, so whichever way the translator goes they’re going to have to compromise (as translators ever have!).
Fourth, there are some significant problematic passages in the new NIV(2011) that have been retained from the TNIV, not the least of which is the deliberately ambiguous rendering of authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12 as “assume authority.”
Although the review mentions problematic passages (plural), only the rendering of this one hapax legomenon in this one passage is explicitly identified. Obviously this is the watershed passage for CBMW and, I suspect, their evaluation of the worth of a translation rests largely on how it renders this one passage.
And then there are passages where the familiar and beloved poetry of a half-millennium of the Bible in English are lost, Psalm 23:4 being a prime example. “Darkest valley” (an unfortunate holdover from the TNIV) is just never going to be able to compete with “valley of the shadow of death.”
NIV(2011) is not alone in adopting this rendering — NLT, NET, and HCSB all render בגיא צלמות “darkest valley.” HALOT suggests that the LXX rendering σκιὰ Θανάτου probably derives from “popular folk etymology” which understood צלמות as a combination of צל ‘shadow [of]’ and מות ‘death’ (note that the LXX reading makes no specific reference to a “valley”). HALOT prefers (probably correctly) to see the term derived from a Semitic root they designate צלם II meaning ‘to be dark, gloomy’ (cognates are found in Arabic, Ugaritic, and Akkadian). So from the lexical viewpoint the NIV et al. are employing a legitimate reading of the Hebrew which differs from the “traditional” reading primarily because it seeks to reflect the lexical semantics more precisely. CBMW thus criticise the new NIV when it is insufficiently “literal” in some places and then criticise it when it is more literal elsewhere. I get the feeling there’s no way to win here!
Our initial analysis shows that the new NIV(2011) retains many of the problems that were present in the TNIV, on which it is based, especially with regard to the over 3,600 gender-related problems we previously identified.
Their previous analysis of the TNIV is pertinent at this point:
“he” is changed to plural “they” 271 times (and to so-called “singular they” 112 times), “he” is changed to “you” 90 times, to “we” 9 times, and simply omitted 48 times. “Father/fathers/forefathers” are removed 39 times. Singular “brother” is changed to “brother or sister” or something like “believer” 43 times. “Man” (when translating the male-specific term aner) is changed to things like “people” or friends” 26 times. In each case these changes remove details of meaning that are there in the Greek text.
The underlying problem here is that CBMW appears to assume that there is a simple semantic equivalence between the original languages of the Bible and English. However, in some instances, when the original languages use a term inclusively (e.g. ἀδελφός; cf. Rom 14:21), translations which opt for non-inclusive English actually alter the meaning of the text! This means that, for many such passages, versions like the ESV are potentially less accurately conveying the meaning of the original than the 2011 NIV. Hence “the over 3,600 gender-related problems” misrepresents the significance of the translation choices. Many of these changes represent a more accurate communication of the meaning of the original than strictly “literal” translations.
That is, of course, not to say that there are no problems with inclusive language in some places, and the 2011 NIV has sought to address such problems in the TNIV.
The 2011 NIV is not a perfect translation — there is no such thing. But perhaps it isn’t quite as bad as some make out.
For a balanced and more comprehensive review of NIV2011 see Rod Decker’s article in Themelios.