NIV1984 switcheroo

Three years too late, I’m running into this controversy that is now starting to hit our shores.

In 1984 the International Bible Society published a new English translation of the Bible: the New International Version, NIV1984.  This was welcome, not only because few English speakers are conversant in Hebrew and first century Greek, but because in many ways this translation proved readable, while managing to represent the original language fairly fully.  The NIV1984 plots a course midway between overly interpretive translation, and the stilted language of overly literal translations.  It reads well.  It’s good English.  (Well, it reads mostly well: they did invent a term, which went down very poorly – instead of “flesh”, they used “sinful nature” – an abstract term to replace a concrete term, which was not a good choice.)

In 2005, having merged with another organisation and become “Biblica”, they published a new edition, the TNIV.  This edition was widely rejected and flopped.  And in 2011, they made a number of revisions to the TNIV, and published it as the NIV.  The packaging of this NIV of 2011 is the same as the original NIV of 1984.  And more recently, they withdrew publishing rights for the NIV1984, so if you find a NIV1984 for sale today you can be sure that you won’t find it next year.  Soon you won’t get it anywhere except in Skunkware phone apps.

The NIV1984 translation has 350 million copies in print.  It’s fair to say that there is significant interest in it.  For 20 years it has been read, spoken about and memorised.  This is a big deal, because the NIV2011 is a different animal.

Now there’s a problem here – while the packaging is the same, and the name is the same, the content of the NIV2011 is not the same as the NIV1984.  They are selling the sweepings as wheat, it’s marked as NIV, but it is not.

Instead of proper English, we are treated to sentences like

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. (NIV2011)

One must work with their hands?  How many people have these hands?  Why is this change made?  It is to avoid “he” and “him”:

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.  (NIV1984)

The NIV2011 rendition doesn’t apply to anyone in particular.  The NIV1984 applies to a specific man: a thief.  (If women thieves believe they are excused, all the best to them.)  A woman may well believe she is excused in the first version though, because anyone can tell you that if something applies to anyone, it applies just as well to no-one.  I don’t know that you will actually find anyone to tell you that – it’s all hypothetical when you don’t say “man”.

Now there is a fair bit of bad English going about, and some people do think that they and their are as good as him and his, but this is not the reason that there has been a search and replace job done on the text.  From the extent of the changes and what was targeted for changing it is clear that men, fathers, brothers and anything male are targets for elimination.  Eliminating maleness may agree with the spirit of the age, but it does not accurately reflect the text that the NIV2011 claims to translate into English.  Works of fiction have their own aisle.

One of the great things about the internet is that it is trivial to see how this text is translated in other languages – it’s very male:

  • Que celui qui volait cesse de voler; qu’il se donne plutôt la peine de travailler honnêtement de ses propres mains pour avoir de quoi donner à celui qui est dans le besoin.
  • Wer bisher ein Dieb gewesen ist, soll aufhören zu stehlen und soll stattdessen einer nützlichen Beschäftigung nachgehen, bei der er seinen Lebensunterhalt mit Fleiß und Anstrengung durch eigene Arbeit verdient; dann kann er sogar noch denen etwas abgeben, die in Not sind.

This was a pretty random sample.  What they did to Psalm 1 was awful.  Psalm 8 they removed the important part, so it makes no sense.  The creative headline in Matthew 1 (“Joseph Accepts Jesus as His Son”) was absolutely beyond belief.

So, I’ve said it poorly, this NIV2011 is bad.  Others have said it better:

This post was meant to be vitriolic, so I will now plagiarise someone else’s vitriol on the matter (you can find it on your favourite search engine):

The NIV 2011 is evil, catering to the homosexual agenda (which seeks to make men effeminate). By watering down and diminishing the masculinity of the Word of God in the NIV 2011, the Committee on Biblical Translation (CBT) has actually produced an effeminate and feminist Bible of the Devil.

Fiddling about with gender language is not without effect.  I am growing weary of losing friends to this evil cause.

A word of moderation after the vitriol: if this is the only Bible you have, read it.  If you have another, read that rather.

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