Next month sees the publication of the latest NIV Bible, the text of which is already available online at www.biblegateway.com. Since its first publication in 1978, the translation team have met every year to review developments in biblical studies and the way language changes. Their aim is to ensure that people today can hear God’s Word the way it was written and understand it the way it was meant.
Around 95% of the text remains the same as the 1984 version. According to the translators, the changes that have been made are to reflect changes in English, progress in scholarship and a concern for clarity. Particular attention has been paid to gender language. Every change related to inclusive language for humanity which was introduced into the TNIV in 2005 has been reviewed for this version.
You can read the translators notes on the website of the Committee on Bible Translation where there's a comprehensive section on inclusive language for humanity (there is no inclusive language used for God in the new NIV). In order to be more objective, the committee used the Collins Bank of English to conduct a major new study of changes in gender language. The Bank of English is a database of more than 4.4 billion words drawn from text publications and spoken word recordings from all over the world. It can be used to identify the way that language is actually being used, rather than how people would like language to change or stay the same. So for example, it's common for people to use the gender-neutral 'they' instead of 'he or she'/'him or her' - so the NIV does too. People still use a variety of terms to refer a group of men and women or to humanity in general, including 'people', 'human beings', 'the human race' and 'man' and 'mankind' - so the new NIV does too.
Comparing Genesis 1:26-27 in different NIV versions:
- the 1984 version was 'Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth,and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
- the TNIV has: 'Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
- and the new NIV goes for: 'Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Personally, I find 'man' or mankind' to be exclusive terms when they are used to mean all people, as they define the male as the norm - but obviously I'm in the minority. The gender-neutral language of the TNIV caused huge controversy in some quarters so I can see why the CBT have opted for trying to reflect the way the English language is being used, rather than making changes that are more ideological.
A few of the key texts on gender roles have also been changed to reflect the latest biblical scholarship. For example, in the 2011 NIV I Timothy 2:12 has been slightly changed. From the translators' notes: '1 Timothy 2:12 now reads, ‟I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” Much debate has surrounded the rare Greek word authentein, translated in the 1984 NIV as ‟exercise authority.” The KJV reflected what some have argued was in some contexts a more negative sense for the word: ‟usurp authority.” ‟Assume authority” is a particularly nice English rendering because it leaves the question open, as it must be unless we discover new, more conclusive evidence. The exercise of authority that Paul was forbidding was one that women inappropriately assumed, but whether that referred to all forms of authority over men in church or only certain forms in certain contexts is up to the individual interpreter to decide.'
I wrote a while ago about using inclusive language Bibles, liturgy and songs as a way of putting equality into practice. The NIVis still my preferred translation and I look forward to getting a copy of this new version.