September 3, 2009

Bible revision madness

I’m only maintaining a few subscriptions to Bible blogs – a large number have become irrelevant to my current interest.  But I still read a few, and the big news this week is:  the NIV is being revised again.

In a very real sense this is completely irrelevant to me:  I did not like, read, or trust the NIV or the TNIV.  I found the translations biased, simplified, and (in the case of the TNIV) ungrammatical.  My opinion is that popular modern Bible translation theory is in a rut (as is, sadly, much discussion about it) – the only translations in the last decade or so I can get excited about are those of Craig Smith, Robert Alter, and Everett Fox. 

And, after all, translations wars are small beer anyway.  (Ignoring source text criticism issues) the original text says what it says.  Any serious discussion needs to refer back to the original text.  (However, I admit to finding English translations of the Targums and Septuagint useful.) 

Furthermore, there are already a wealth of translations into English representing reading levels ranging from grammar school to moderately sophisticated and a variety of different belief systems.  It is hard to believe that a new translation could have a real impact with readers – at best it could merely hope to jostle some other “flavor of the month” recent translation in sales rating.

Perhaps the death of the TNIV is a blow for those Evangelicals who hoped to for their translation to have an impact on secular educational materials (currently, the NRSV and RSV [and in literature, the KJV] are dominant here).  The TNIV looked to be one of the few translations that had some impact outside the Evangelical world – for example, the TNIV was used in an(outstanding) secular textbook: the Norton Critical Edition of Writings of St. Paul

One reaction among biblio-bloggers surprises me.  Many people are saying:  “what shall we do until the new edition is out” as if the TNIV were somehow rendered unacceptable by the decision to revise it.  It reminds me of the pitches given by publishers when a new edition of a dictionary or cookbook comes out – one is hardly required to buy the new edition. 

Indeed, the old editions remain on the market for a long time (and, in the used market, continue to be available even longer.)  Thus a reader who desires a copy of the “out-of-date” editions such as the RSV, Living Bible, Confraternity Bible, JPS 1917 Holy Scriptures, RV, Geneva translation, etc. has a wide variety of choices both on the new and used market).

As a reader, you can read, cite, use, and study any translation you want.  And if you are worried about there being a dearth of supplementary materials, you are welcome to use any translation you want with any commentary you want.

If you visit a university bookstore, you will find that instructors – even in the hard sciences and mathematics – regularly use textbooks from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s (and sometimes even back to the ‘30s) – indeed, one popular publisher, Dover, specializes in reprinting these volumes.

As far as the merits of the NIV 2011 are concerned, we’ll have to wait and see – it is absurd to begin to judge it before work has even begun on it.  Since the NIV took 13 years (1965-1978) for the first edition and the TNIV took at least 9 years (1996 [publication date of the NIVi] – 2005) , I’m a bit surprised that the translators feel they can do an adequate job with only a two year timeline.  But let’s wait and see.

In the meanwhile, there is little need to gnash teeth.  The ideas that inspired the changes from the NIV to the TNIV cannot be erased with the announcement of a new translation.


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

I suspect the NIV 2011 will reverse from some of the issues in the TNIV, going in the more conservative direction away from gender neutrality. Remember that that was one of the biggest complaints about the original NIV's audience about the TNIV. It's probably the popularity of the ESV that's triggered this idea for a new edition. I'll bet it's just a revision. Two years or a year and change is simply not enough time for any translation project of that scale to be completed from scratch.

I still like the NIV, actually, as I've said before. A large part of this is likely because it's the translation that I first came to appreciate the Bible in for extended reading, and it is excellent for that. There are certainly issues as you mention; however, there are also some good points. The NIV remains the only version in my knowledge ever to involve a style consultant throughout the process. That's a remarkably simple but effective benefit. And while I don't like some of the choices they've made, I'm often surprised at their skill in paraphrase, particularly in very tricky spots.

Still, nothing beats the Hebrew and the Greek, though. Those are different worlds.

Anonymous said...

The biggest news in the bible translations race for me was hearing that the HCSB revision wasn't going to be released this year.

Now what do I do for Christmas presents?

Chuck Grantham