After the NIV, then what?

Sometime soon every church that uses the New International Version for their public reading and preaching of Scripture will have to decide on a new English version.

As most people now know, the NIV has been updated by their Committee for Bible Translation. The new NIV text (hereafter NIV11) has been available electronically since late 2010, and in new hard copy editions since early 2011. The NIV copyright holder Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society) and Zondervan (the exclusive North American publishers) have decided that now the NIV11 has been published they will no longer print further copies of the 1984 NIV, nor of the controversial and divisive TNIV.

Over the next couple of years it will become progressively harder to purchase the NIV84 (or the TNIV), unless you find a store with old stock. In my region of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney (where I serve), almost every parish has been using the NIV.1 So it affects lots of us.

It’s fine to use a variety of English translations for our own private study and edification. Also in some small groups of sufficient experience and educational level, the use of multiple versions can bring additional insight. But the big question is this: how do you decide which translation to go with at church? It’s a big decision, which we must live with for a generation, as we can’t afford to change every few years.


The first criterion I mention is readability, though not necessarily first in importance.

We are blessed to have many choices, and in the English-speaking world most options available come to us with high levels of scholarship, albeit with different translation philosophies. One of the prime matters these philosophies affect is readability.

In this article I’m especially addressing evangelical churches, where we place a high premium on the verbal inspiration—so accuracy matters in the translation of the words of the word of God—and where, by and large, we are fairly middle-class and book-friendly. I’m focusing on people who have been educationally and philosophically comfortable using the NIV84. What are the alternatives as it disappears?

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the ESV, even though it can be seen as more accurate and is certainly more ‘literal’ than the NIV.2 A key reason is readability. In the small groups, congregations, and conferences where I have heard both translations read, I hear people stumbling far more often when reading from the ESV than when reading from the NIV.

Clearly some congregations can cope with more literal translations like the ESV. Excellent, if this is your case!3 However, I caution that sometimes leaders in a church are at the higher end of the educational spectrum, and project their own ease with harder literary constructions onto everyone else.

We may wish general reading abilities were higher. But we need to work with reality. For me (and I serve a middle class parish right next to a university), my subjective judgement is that the ESV is an educational step too high for too many people in our congregations and among those we wish to reach in terms of reading ability. For this reason, I am not persuaded it’s a frontrunner for where we should turn.

In terms of an accurate translation which is sufficiently readable, I see two realistic and live possibilities: the NIV11 or the HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The HCSB is pitched at a similar level as the NIV11 in the spectrum between essentially literal and dynamic equivalence. My judgement so far—and I notice others have made similar assessments4—is that the HCSB is a little further along the spectrum towards the literal end than the NIV. Generally it follows Greek word order a little more than the NIV (but not always). But in terms of readability, it is definitely closer to the NIV than the ESV. I will make some more specific comments about both the HCSB and the NIV11 below.

But how should we make the decision between these two candidates (and any others you consider)?

Not in a rush, nor unilaterally

Don’t rush. Unless your church’s pew Bibles are just about to fall apart, and urgently need replacing, you have a year or two before deciding.

If you leave it much longer, the decision may be made for you, because everyone who goes to buy an NIV, which they know you use at church, will soon automatically be sold the NIV11.

But in the meantime, I advise you begin the educational process:

  • Advise people who do public Bible reading at services which version
    of the NIV (or other version) you want them to use
  • Explain that people purchasing a new Bible may want to hold off
    until the decision is made, unless they are content to use a version
    that may not be the one chosen for public use at church.

But please don’t rush to the decision. And don’t make it unilaterally.

One of the strengths of Matthias Media’s ‘trellis and vine’ view of ministry is the high value it places on the ‘laity’. We value the ministry of all believers, and we often have a strong and educated laity. We do not believe our churches should be captive to the whims and potential idiosyncrasies of our pastors.

So pastors should share this decision with their church members, especially the lay leadership. (By contrast, I was shocked to hear of a pastor who changed his church over to the NLT with minimal notice or consultation, even with his church council.)

That said, Bible translation is not a simple matter. There are many complex subtleties. Knowledge of the original languages is a big help, so too is theological expertise. Therefore, as pastors invite others into the decision-making process, the influence of the theologically trained ministry staff is still going to
be very high.

But that complexity should make those with the training all the more aware that it is unwise to rush to judgement. Instead we should be aiming at thoughtful and mature assessment. My contention is that before any decision to change your church’s preferred translation for public Bible reading and preaching, the church’s pastoral staff and other key leaders should use and evaluate the potential new candidate for at least six and preferably twelve months. Even if the pastor takes the most responsibility for the decision, he gets to notice how the translation is working for others.

This was my criticism of some in my area who decided to change to the ESV almost as soon as it was published, within a month or two in some cases. Most churches could not—in such a short time—have been relying on extensive assessment, by a variety of church leaders, across a range of public and private uses, with satisfactory time for reflection and second thoughts.

It’s fine to critique a new translation almost immediately if you are properly across the issues involved. But sometimes, if critiques and endorsements immediately start flying—some legitimate, some knee-jerk and half-baked—it can cloud a mature reflection process.

Ten key steps

Putting it positively, here are ten key steps for a church’s pastoral leadership in making a decision:

1. Don’t rush

At the risk of repetition, a decision as crucial as your translation for public Bible reading and preaching should not be rushed. Allow twelve months for your church to decide.

2. Narrow down the live options

For me the options are the HCSB and the NIV11 as a good balance of accuracy and readability, unless someone persuades me soon to add to that list.

3. Use both translations side-by-side

Use both translations (and any other candidates) side-by-side and start to form impressions. Take notes on key observations from your personal Bible reading, from Bible study groups, from hearing it read and preached at church.

This means that even though I did not need another copy of the Bible, I have forked out to buy copies of both the HCSB5 and the NIV11.

4. Involve others

Involve others in your church, especially lay leaders, since it should not be the pastor’s decision alone. Educate them on the options. Invite them to start thinking it through. This increases ownership of any eventual change, which is so important since our translations can be very dear to us.

5. Trial the options for public reading

Remember a church Bible translation is for reading aloud, so ensure your candidates get trialled for public reading, not just silent study. A pastor might use the HCSB for one series and then the NIV11 for the next. You would supply the text week by week in the weekly bulletin (or on the projector). It means that his preparation will (hopefully) be grappling with the Greek or Hebrew behind the English, and everyone will be grappling with how it sounds as a spoken text. At our church, we are also trialing both translations for the non-sermon Bible readings.

6. Trial the options in small group study

You could also trial each translation for a series of Bible studies in small groups. Alternatively, members of suitably literate small groups could try both candidates at once, perhaps half using one, and half the other. Doing so would help people notice the similarities, differences and potential eccentricities.

7. Search out reviews

Search out reviews—proper academic ones too, and not just blogs—on both the NIV11 and HCSB.  In brief I have found Rod Decker, Professor of Greek and New Testament at Baptist Bible Seminary, most helpful on the NIV11,6 and Thomas Nass, Professor of Hebrew at Martin Luther College, most helpful on the HCSB.7

And please don’t just rely on celebrity endorsements (or criticisms). Much as we respect them, we are in a dangerous situation if we simply rely on what favourite pastors or admired theologians say. It is not always the case that celebratory endorsers have read the whole book carefully and studied it in detail.

8. Consult others and consider portability

I am not sure a radical congregational individualism on this matter is any more praiseworthy than radical personal individualism. So consult others in your circles to find out what they might be doing.

Portability across congregations is an advantage, given the high mobility of our society. One of the good things about the NIV was its very wide acceptance among evangelicals. So it might be a pity to decide to go with one of these new translations only to find out that most others in your circle have decided to go another way.

9. Weigh the value of continuity

Some have rushed to reject the NIV11. One of the reasons I have discouraged this is that the NIV has been the Bible translation that a couple of generations of Christians have grown up with across the evangelical world. So the NIV provides the verses people have memorized, and the biblical phrasings that echo in their minds.

Therefore, if wisdom judges it legitimate on other grounds, one big factor in favour of adopting the NIV11 is in allowing people to keep continuity in their Bible translation, since NIV11 keeps 95% of the text the same as NIV84.8 Weigh the value of continuity.

10. Don’t make gender the only issue

Try not to make the important gender issue the only issue you use to assess the translations.9 For a start, all recent translations are more gender inclusive than NIV84, as it wasn’t an issue then.10

The HCSB has a fairly mild gender inclusivity, just like the ESV has (e.g. using ‘person’ or ‘one’ for ‘man’, where it’s generic, e.g. 1 Tim 2:1, 4).

The NIV11 is more gender inclusive than the HCSB or ESV, but not as radically as TNIV. This time, the NIV11 argues its case for its approach on the basis of careful research by Collins on current English use, including in evangelical literature.11

Resist making a shibboleth out of one verse. I am thinking of 1 Timothy 2:12 and the NIV11’s adoption as “assume authority” as the translation of authentein. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood believe this translation inevitably pushes an egalitarian understanding of this crucial verse, and is enough to torpedo the NIV11.12 However, as a definite complementarian, I (and others) would counsel a little more caution.13 Everyone will find somewhere they think a particular translation gets a particular verse wrong, but it seems unwise to dismiss a translation just because of one contested verse.

If we were to do that, we should perhaps reject the HCSB also. Mark Thompson from Moore College compliments the HCSB as a “crisp, fresh translation which wonderfully conveys the meaning of Scripture” at many points.  But at the point of Philippians 2:7-8, he says, “the imperfection is so serious as to make it difficult for me to recommend it at all. In fact, at least at this point it opens the door to heresy”, namely that of docetism.14

If we are to reject a translation on the basis of a misleading translation of one word in one verse, arguably we’d be on firmer ground if we selected one which goes to the most central matters of orthodoxy—namely the person of Christ in his deity and humanity—over one on gender.  Better still would be to avoid making one verse the standard by which a whole translation rises or falls, at least until you’ve had a long look at the merits of all the rest of it.

I repeat my advice that we should not rush to premature conclusions.

Some notes on the NIV11

The NIV11 varies from the NIV84 in only 5% of the total number of verses. [Update: this statement is incorrect and should read “About 95% of the text in the NIV11 is exactly the same of the NIV84 text it replaces.” In a comment below, Robert Slowley reminded me that a larger percentage of verses has changed, although quite often just a word or two, or punctuation. See his resources for details.]

The Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation gives a good overview of the rationale for the changes made.15

Leaving gender aside, where the NIV11 varies from the NIV84, it mainly reflects scholarly advances in semantics and syntax (the meaning of words and phrases) over recent decades, or an abandonment of language that is starting to sound old or obsolete. Many changes make the NIV11 slightly more ‘literal’ compared to the NIV84.

In the matter of messianic prophecy, the NIV84 capitalized references in some Old Testament passages which were recognized as direct prophecies of Christ in the NIV84. The NIV11 removes the capitalization, which means they can be read as ‘typical’ statements with immediate referents in history and ultimate prophetic fulfilment in Christ (e.g. ‘Son’ to ‘son’ in Ps 2:7, 12; ‘Lord’ to ‘lord’ in Ps 110:1).

Another good thing about the NIV11 is that they have restored some (but not all) of the connectives like ‘for’16 and ‘therefore’, which the NIV84 often left untranslated, and was a point of criticism when the ESV was being promoted.

Many people disliked the NIV’s translation of sarx as ‘sinful nature’ rather than ‘flesh’. The NIV11 restores ‘flesh’ in many places, and as far as I can see, only leaves ‘sinful nature’ in a couple of verses in Romans 7.

However, the change in the Gospels from ‘Jews’ to the interpretive translation ‘Jewish leaders’ goes the other way, for the sake of avoiding anti-semitism. Likewise, the NIV11 uses the ‘Lord’s people’ or similar in place of ‘saints’ to avoid Roman Catholic notions of the especially good person. I am also surprised that the NIV11 kept the erroneous translation of ‘Greek’ as ‘Gentile’ in Romans 1:16.

But overall, so far my preliminary judgement, leaving aside the gender related issues, is that many of the changes in the NIV11 seem like improvements over the NIV84.17

Some notes on the HCSB

The HCSB is an entirely fresh translation.18 A paper from its current general editor gives a good overview of its distinctives.19

Its stated philosophy of translation is ‘optimal equivalence’—trying to be literal where possible, but idiomatic where needed to convey meaning effectively. As I said earlier, like the NIV, it is more readable than the ESV, but like the ESV, it’s a bit more precise than the NIV to the underlying Greek or Hebrew.20 It certainly uses modern language and avoids archaisms.

It has a number of notable features, some of which may be considered quirky. For example, HCSB consistently uses ‘slave’ for doulos, not ‘servant’. It often uses ‘instruction’ for torah not ‘law’. Both of these decisions have some scholarly support.

It sometimes uses ‘Yahweh’ rather than ‘Lord’ to translate the Hebrew tetragrammaton for the personal name of God, but it is not always obvious why it does so in some verses but not others. It is not always even consistent within the same verse (e.g. Exod 15:3; 2 Kgs 3:11) or when the New Testament quotes the Old Testament (e.g. compare Joel 2:32 with Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13)!

It also capitalizes pronouns for God and Christ (except for ‘who’), something I am not convinced about, especially given the original Hebrew and Greek texts did not have such markers.

It uses ‘Messiah’ as a translation of christos in many passages, which some scholars now think appropriate when the word is used in a Jewish context. The NIV11 also does this, but almost exclusively in the Gospels and Acts. However the HCSB often also does it in the epistles, but inconsistently (e.g. in Colossians, compare 1:27, the “mystery, which is Christ…”, and 4:3, “mystery of the Messiah”).

The HCSB uses lots of footnotes (more than the NIV and the ESV) and also bullet notes about 150 words or phrases that are defined or described in the appendix. One reason for this is that it also uses more traditional theological terminology than the NIV11, for example, using ‘propitiation’ instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’ (Rom 3:25), and ‘saints’ instead of ‘God’s holy people’.

Another interesting feature of the HCSB is that it uses lots of contractions, like ‘don’t’ and ‘God’s’.  Perhaps this helps explain why its overall word count is lower than the ESV or NIV or even the NASB.

Another quirk of the HCSB I noted was that in Romans 1, the HCSB flips between ‘good news’ and ‘gospel’ as the translation for the Greek word euangelion (and repeats this inconsistent translation at later points in Romans). Likewise, it is inconsistent in translating dikaioō, flipping between ‘declare righteous’ and ‘justify’ throughout Romans, even in the space of a few verses.21


I think both the NIV11 or the HCSB would serve us well if either was the only live option for a new recent English translation. We are privileged to have such excellent translations.

My aim at this point is not to push for either, rather it is to avoid us rushing to premature conclusions without a significant period of collegiate use and careful research and reflection on the potential candidates.

Lastly, I commend four suggestions from Don Carson’s research manager, Andy Naselli, on how to disagree about Bible translations.22 He suggests we should:

  • Understand alternate positions, and their best arguments
  • Accurately articulate objections to one’s own position
  • Avoid blowing the issue out of proportion
  • Not despise or slander an opposing position.
  1. In over 50 parishes, I found only one church plant using the ESV, and one church of one parish using the NLT; another parish had reverted from the ESV to the NIV84.
  2. I think the ESV often falls short on its own stated terms, with too much archaic language and overly complex sentence structures. And despite its claims, it fails to use the same English term wherever possible to translate the same Greek term, despite the availability of computer searches to help achieve that goal.
  3. If you have made a different judgement about the ESV’s quality and suitability for the church you serve, and have already changed over, I am not trying to change your mind. In fact, you don’t have the problem I am referring to. You can merrily keep using the ESV!
  4. Rodney J Decker, ‘An Evaluation of the 2011 Edition of the New International Version NT’, pp. 5-6.
  5. A tip here is to ensure you buy the current edition of the HCSB. The full HCSB was first published in 2004, but there was a second edition published in 2009/10. It’s not a major overhaul, but there are many little changes, notably a large increase (from about 75 to 500) in the number of times ‘Yahweh’ is used in place of ‘LORD’. (In a similar way, the NIV, first released in full in 1978, received a minor update in 1984.)
  6. Decker, ‘Evaluation’, full details at note 4.
  7. Thomas Nass, ‘An Introduction to the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)’. Rick Mansfield also reviews it.
  8. This idea of continuity through revised translations is not novel. It features in the KJV, RV, RSV, ESV procession, as well as the NKJV, by a different route.
  9. Daniel Wallace, Professor of New Testament and a complementarian, says, “… the gender-inclusiveness of the NIV 2011 creates some problems of style and even meaning in a few places”, but he concludes, “At bottom, I think the gender issue has been overblown”. ‘A Review of the NIV 2011: Part 3 of 4’.
  10. Interestingly, Decker notes that Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology uses ‘people’ more frequently than ‘man’ for generic references (p. 21), and almost exclusively uses the term ‘brothers and sisters’ in place of ‘brothers’ (p. 22).
  11. ‘Summary of Collins Corpus Report’, CBT.
  12. ‘An Evaluation of Gender Language in the 2011 Edition of the NIV Bible’, CBMW, pp. 6-7, 9.
  13. For example, Decker, ‘Evaluation’, p. 28 (noting he is a complementarian on p. 35). Or see the report for the complementarian Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (hereafter WELS) by Paul O Wendland, ‘Evaluating the NIV11’s Translation of authente in in 1 Timothy 2:12’, p. 4.
  14. In a blog post, Thompson notes the HCSB of Phil 2:7d, “And when He had come as a man in His external form…” (my emphasis) inadvertently suggests the humanity of Jesus was something external only, just a ‘shell’. ‘Why I don’t like the Holman Christian Standard Bible’.
  15. ‘Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation’, CBT.
  16. E.g. in Romans 1:16, but not Romans 1:18.
  17. The WELS Translation Evaluation Committee’s ‘Supplemental Report for the 2011 WELS Convention’ reports that the results of a book-by-book analysis by their scholars was that of changes from the NIV84 to the NIV11, “Significant improvements outnumbered the significant weakenings by a factor of nearly two to one, while modest improvements outnumbered modest weakenings by a factor of three to one”, p. 5.
  18. You can read the publishers’ information.
  19. Edwin Blum, ‘A Comparison of the HCSB with Other Major Translations’.
  20. Nass, p. 7, gives a few examples where being more literal means it is not as smooth as the NIV11, e.g. 1 Cor 7:37, 12:23; Eph 1:10.
  21. The NIV11 also does this, whereas the ESV is consistent with ‘justify’.
  22. Andy Naselli, ‘How to Disagree about Bible Translation Philosophy’.

22 thoughts on “After the NIV, then what?

  1. In today’s digital age, we are spoiled for choice – whether its reading the Bible on an electronic device (e.g. I have Olive Tree Bible Reader, the ESV and Accordance on my iPhone), the web or using a computer.

    These apps usually have multiple translations you can buy and install, and then view the same verses side by side.

    So part of the process of increasing biblical literacy I think can come from using two or more translations side by side, as well as using notes and cross-references to see the links between passages.

    I am surprised too, when many churches have data projectors, that speakers don’t make better use of PowerPoint and Keynote to help unpack the passage. Flowcharts, mind maps, showing two different translations side by side etc. could all be used to help engage the audience.

  2. Good article. While taking time to check translations carefully, consider the Common English Bible, a new translation from 120 translators who belong to 24 denominations. Pew Bibles and church Bibles are coming in spring 2012.

  3. Great article. Balanced & helpful. I think our church might update to the NIV11 at some stage (we have NIV84). The balance between formal and dynamic equivalence is difficult, but the NIV does a pretty good job overall. In preaching, if I have any reservations about how the NIV handles a text, I make it my job to address it briefly.
    Nice work.

  4. Didn’t the English-speaking Church use the KJV for hundreds of years? And people of all classes were perfectly able to understand it. I really doubt that the ESV is too hard to read for church use. There are some clumsy phrases, and some things I definitely wish could be improved, but calling it too hard is a bit much to my mind.

    That actually does worry me because conservative evangelicals have (in my experience) not been great at reaching out to less-educated non-Christians. Now we’ve woken up to this but are being hyper-sensitive about things like this – which actually ends up patronising them rather than discipling them. One excellent church planter I know teaches Greek to young lower class men on a housing estate (whom the world has given up on) for their discipleship.

    Anyway, read Ephesians 2:4-5 in NIV versus virtually any other English translation (and the Greek, if you like). The NIV (84 and 11) is twisted around for no benefit and reads much worse.

    • I love the way the NIV reads there! “The great love with which he loved us,” doesn’t sound natural to me as an English speaker. I think this is an example of the NIV following its philosophy to make the Bible sound natural in the English language. I also disagree that the church was perfectly able to understand the KJV for hundreds of years. I think some misinterpretation has led to division in the church. Coming from a Pentecostal background, at least some of our doctrinal distinctives might have been different had we had access to alternate versions, IMHO.

      On a positive note, I think teaching NT Greek is a great way to disciple people! Great idea!

      • Teaching NT Greek is a great idea. I have had a small class (with differenrt people) for three years and they find he insights they get very helpful. No one has yet reached independent stage. One “problem” with knowledge of biblical languages is that the more you know the more complex the translation question can become!

        Being a layman with no theological training means that some of the theolobical issues are avoided, but that is of course a disadvantage.

  5. “The NIV11 varies from the NIV84 in only 5% of the total number of verses.”
    This is incorrect, could you please update the article?

    CBT in their translator’s notes state “First, it’s important to stress that about 95% of the text of the updated NIV is exactly the same as the 1984 text it replaces.” That’s 5% ‘updated text’.

    Updated text is not the same as ‘updated verses’. In fact only 61% of the verses in the NIV2011 are the same as in the NIV1984. 31% of the verses in the NIV2011 are the same as the TNIV rather than the NIV1984. 8% of the verse are entirely novel.

    You can see all the statistics, and the complete list of all changes in the computer analysis I made of the NIV1984, TNIV, and NIV2011:

    John Dyer has also produced an excellent graphic which shows the percentage changes relative to the earlier versions:

  6. Our church is a wide mixture of ages and educational levels. We have made the switch from the NIV84 to the ESV about 3 years ago. Everyone seems to follow along just fine with the ESV – even our children’s classes use it without any problem. Our youth group has been using the ESV for about 10 years.

    In our teaching and preaching to adults, we find that the ESV gives us a more literal translation than the NIV, and a more readable translation than the NASB. For our expository preaching and teaching, the ESV is a perfect fit.

    Also, some of our die-hard KJV folks find that the ESV has many literary resonances with that old version, and so it seems to be a great fit where we are. Every church setting is different, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion here, but I don’t think it requires an advanced educational level to make sense of the ESV. We are glad to have made the switch.

    • Just to add… The ESV study Bible is an excellent resource for more serious Bible students. It is the best Bible-study value I have ever seen, and buying the hard copy also gives you free anywhere access to the online study Bible. In my opinion, that is another good reason to go with the ESV.

  7. Thanks everyone for the comments. I have to be quick because we are in the middle of our diocesan synod over the next few days, so time is scarce.

    @Paul, firstly, please use your full name in posting, according to our site rules.

    Thanks for mentioning the CEB. I did not know much about it. On a very quick look I noticed the following…
    (i) According to the information provided it is a hybrid translation approach, mix of dynamic equivalence and formal equivalence, although my very brief judgment from their sample comparison passages they provided is that it is further down the dynamic equivalence pathway than the NIV or HCSB, and getting closer to CEV or GNB.
    (ii) Not surprisingly then, its reading level, according to the info they provide, is one (school?) grade level lower than NIV and HCSB.
    (iii) It is much more gender inclusive than both HCSB/ESV and also NIV11, in some ways that on a quick look I would have some question marks over.
    (iv) The sponsoring denominational publishers are mainline US protestant denominations such as PCUSA, TEC, United Methodist.

  8. @Paul Huxley, on the comparative reading difficulty of the ESV, there will be different subjective judgments. It is certainly clear from my information that on standardised reading tests, it takes a higher average reading grade to cope with than NIV and HCSB, which are about the same.

    In this blog, I am not trying to convince those who think the ESV is suitable for their situations to change. However many share my subjective sense that ESV causes too many struggles and stumbles for too significant number of people in their congregations and among whom they are trying to reach. It is to these that I am writing.

    By all means challenge us to do better in educating our congregations. However, our primary purpose is to educate them in the Word of God, not to improve the overall standard of English literacy among English speakers. We are Bible teachers not English teachers.

    Of course, as people of the book, Christians have always been interested in literacy. And exceptional or determined pastors may do exceptional things (like teaching Greek to some housing estate dwellers) . But I am not sure that exceptional examples are the best way of indicating what general practice should be.

  9. @Robert, thanks for your very helpful work, and also for linking to John Dyer’s work. I actually linked to him in my initial post (back on solapanel) on this topic when I discovered the change to the NIV last year.

    Most importantly, thanks for picking up my careless (and incorrect) paraphrasing of the NIV CBT’s claim about only 5% changing. I will see if we can get that re-worded in the article.

  10. @Neal, thanks for your comments. I have warmly commended the ESV Study Bible elsewhere, and promoted it as a very good resource for personal use at our own church.

    Anecdotally, I can provide examples of churches which moved over the ESV (which was a bit of a trend in my church circles a few years ago) and some of which have moved back to NIV.

    As I say, for the mix of people we have, including international students and non-university trained workers, my view is that the English reading level required of ESV is just a bit too high. I also find plenty of university lecturers bemoaning the poor English standards of their English as a first language students in writing and comprehension! And I have heard enough uni students stumbling over reading the ESV in small groups etc to confirm this concern.

    That said, I recognise others make a different call on this matter, and I have no brief to persuade you to change your mind and I really don’t want to discuss this particular topic much more, as it takes away from the more important point about the proper principles for a process of discernment when a congregation needs to change its preferred ‘pew’ Bible for public reading and preaching of Scripture.

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  12. Thank you for your excellent article. I agree that the ESV is not always easily understood. Sometimes it gives the appearance of intelligibility (so people think “I do understand all those words”) but in fact, the meaning has not been communicated with clarity.

    You haven’t said much about the NLT in this article, though I assume you have evaluated it’s strengths and weaknesses. I personally think that the NLT communicates an element of meaning which is often missing in the more literal translations. It communicates on a heart level more than the NIV and HSCB and engages the emotions in a way more similar to how original languages would have engaged the emotions of the original readers, and so in that sense, is more accurate. I find especially for OT narrative and prophecy that the NLT is clearer than HCSB and the NIV.

    Another reason for using it in church is that the NLT is the only one of the three to be specifically designed to be read aloud and heard (which is one of the main reasons we would use it in a congregational setting). Whenever I’ve read the NLT aloud in group settings people often thank me for choosing that version, because it was meaningful for them.

    Perhaps you have reasons for not wanting to use it, I’ve read many objections from people like Leland Ryken, for example, but most of his objections pertain to the 1996 version, not the updated 2004.

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

  13. I thought that your comments on the educational levels of different parishes was interesting. However I noticed something very interesting when I was attending Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (USA); Tenth Presbyterian Church, which has a fairly well-educated congregation, used the NIV. But most black churches, which usually had a much lower educational level, would stick with the old KJV. The apparent reason? African-Americans typically like the rhythmical cadences of the KJV. As I heard one black preacher put it: “Between King James and King Jesus I ain’t never had no problems!” — But really, you would have to hear a Black sermon to understand why most modern versions would fall flat in a typical African-American church service.

  14. This is a very belated comment Sandy, since I’ve been tied up and only just got to read your excellent article. I just wanted to make a couple of points about the HCSB. I agree it often has a good turn of phrase but has some quirky bits too.
    In particular, I find the decision to capitalize the pronouns for God and Christ to be rather jarring. The Introduction to the HCSV mentions this as a sub-point under the general comment “In keeping with a long line of Bible publications the (HCSV) has retained these features found in traditional Bibles:” Now the KJV didn’t do this, nor the RV nor the RSV nor the NIV. So I find this comment very strange. This convention has been generally followed in Christian poetry and music, but not Bibles. I see at least two serious problems:
    1. The original manuscripts didn’t have an upper/lower case distinction, so a distinction that isn’t in the original text is being introduced. Speaking as a one-time Bible translator, the job is difficult enough without adding an extra unnecessary problem, whether to capitalize or not. There are many passages (e.g. the Servant passages in Isaiah) where it is far from clear whether a divine reference is intended or not, or where it may not have been intended by the original writer, but can be read into the passage in the light of later revelation. This is just one more headache for the translator.
    2. Capitalized pronouns in quoted speech from pagans or God’s enemies is simply weird! E.g. “Crucify Him!” or “Are You the King of the Jews?”

    • Michael, thanks for your kind comments, and I am with you in not really liking the capitalisation of pronouns for deity.

      However as a footnote, I seem to recall the RSV – though not capitalising pronouns for deity – did do a sort of similar thing by using ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ for God whereas it used ‘you’ for us humans, something also totally unsupportable in the original languages.

  15. Chris, sorry for late reply, but comments closed automatically, and we have re-opened them. I have checked the NET Bible online a number of times and have it in my Accordance suite, but to my knowledge it is not widely available in published book form in Australia. And I am looking for a suitable ‘pew’ Bible as the default version for use at church and by members. So to be an option here, a version needs to be widely available in a variety of published formats in Australia. Whatever it;s merits, NET falls short here.

    Donna, likewise, sorry for slow reply. Just quickly, I agree NLT is a big improvement over Living Bible, and it is interesting you see even a notable improvement in the second edition of NLT. For my preferences, and also for my circles, however, it is significantly further along the translation philosophy spectrum of dynamic equivalence towards paraphrase at times, and for that reason I have not considered it further. I would prefer more transparency to the original versions so long as it does not compromise readability too much.

    The NIV/HCSB reading level is a suitable one for us at church. However, in certain circumstances in ministering to people with English as a Second Language, I would be open to using something like NLT or CEV.

  16. Since we received the Briefing in the mail, I’ve been reading Genesis and Job in the HCSB using YouVersion, planning to read through the entire HCSB over my summer holidays to check it out. I’ve never run across this version before this article. So far, I like it (writing as a person with no Greek nor Hebrew training, but having successfully completed four years of university). In response to several commenters above, I have found the HCSB comparably readable to the NIV, and more readable than the ESV. I have found many of the sentences in the ESV unnecessarily long and unwieldy, particularly in the epistles. Actually, almost every verse I look up in the ESV, hoping to find clarification for understanding the NIV, is less clear and more convoluted than the NIV.

    We don’t have “Pew BIbles” at my church (strictly BYO) but as the Children’s Ministry Worker, I have been approached several times in the last 12 months to recommend a Bible for parents to purchase for their children (grades 1-3, usually) for their first “real” Bible. I have always recommended the NIVUK because we use the NIV84 in our Sunday School classes and it has spelling that won’t confuse children learning Standard Australian English in their schools. It is also available in a large print font which is great for children learning to read.

    The NIVUK is published (in Australia, at least) by the Bible Society in Australia Inc., not Biblica nor Zondervan, as the NIV84 is. Does anyone know if the NIVUK is going to be discontinued along with the NIV84, with its American spelling? If it isn’t going to be discontinued, then this discussion becomes academic. All those congregations who use the NIV84 just need to buy their Bibles from the Bible Society in Australia, and enjoy reading about the Saviour, instead of the Savior.

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