Welcome to “Mondays with Moisés” at The Voice of Stefan! Of course, there simply aren’t enough days in the week to praise the excellencies of our Infallible Hero, but this occasional feature will grace your computer screens, well, whenever I wish to post a “Sundays with Silva” but can’t manage to do it by the end of the Lord’s Day. This installment, in which Silva introduces an article for the OPC’s magazine New Horizons addressing criticisms to the NIV from various quarters, seemed appropriate to me in light of the recent news regarding that translation.
“When the editor of New Horizons asked me if I would be interested in writing a response to criticism of the NIV, I hesitated briefly. After all, I was not involved in the translating of the NIV. Moreover, I think the NIV is far from perfect. During the past few years, I have been involved in the production of an ‘NIV-like’ translation of the Bible into Spanish. This work, which involves very close comparison of the NIV with the original, has alerted me to numerous renderings that appear unsatisfying, problematic, or even plain wrong. In other words, my own list of objections is probably much longer than that of the most outspoken critics of the NIV. So why then would I agree to write this article? Simply because my list of objections to other versions would be even longer. This is not to say that all available English translations are bad. Quite the contrary! We are richly blessed by a wide variety of versions, almost all of which—when compared with good translations of other literature—have to be regarded as clear and accurate, but never perfect.”
(Moisés Silva, “Reflections on the NIV,” New Horizons [June 1995], quoted by Kenneth Barker, “Hearing God’s Word Through a Good Translation,” in Arie C. Leder [ed.], Reading and Hearing the Word: From Text to Sermon. Essays in Honor of John H. Stek [Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary and CRC Publications, 1997], pages 30-31.)
When I first read these comments by Silva a little over a decade ago, I couldn’t help but to nod in agreement. At that point, I had been preaching regularly in English for a little over a year, and since the Bible in my congregation’s pews was the NIV, I had finally resigned myself to using it in all my preaching and teaching. As you might guess from the tone of my comments, this was a difficult decision to make: I had never been a fan of the translation, and in fact had gone out of my way to avoid it until I it was (in a sense) forced upon me. But by the time I laid down my preaching Bible to enter the waters of Baptism in the Orthodox Church a few years later, I had developed a very deep appreciation for the NIV born from struggling to preach and teach its words week in and week out. Oh, there still were plenty of exegetical decisions made by the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) that seemed less than fortunate to me, and a few that appeared to be so thoroughly mistaken as to be shocking; however, having became thoroughly familiar with the way the NIV works as a translation through relentless use, I learned to trust it as a basically reliable (though far from perfect!) text for preaching and teaching. To borrow the words of our good friend Kevin Edgecomb,
“There’s nothing dirty, little, or secret in my love for the NIV. From start to finish, most particularly in the savvy yet vanishingly rare instance of having hired a style consultant, the NIV project was exemplary. I’m often in awe of their skill at paraphrase. The quality of the English is a perfect middle, not too elevated, not too, er, plebian. It’s a great translation, and probably the most successful yet.”
Although I haven’t used the NIV as my primary Bible for any purpose in several years, I was enthusiastic about the release of the TNIV in 2005, and as early readers of this blog might recall, I spent several months trying to obtain a copy of it (which were, alas, not all that easy to find in Puerto Rico). Once I finally got a hold of one, I was impressed by the quality of the translation: indeed, many of the exegetical mistakes of the 1984 edition that had previously troubled me were now corrected, and it was on the whole a superior text to its older counterpart. The story of the regrettable and unedifying campaign of disinformation to which the TNIV was subjected has been told many times, and I need not repeat it here. Now that it had been announced that the TNIV will be retired from the market, I can only repeat what Rick Mansfield so poignantly said in his eulogy for that translation: “[A]s for me, I’ll always remember the TNIV with great fondness. It was surely the best translation that nobody ever read” (emphasis his).
All that said, I have great hopes for the NIV 2011 project, which will replace both the 1984 NIV and the 2005 TNIV. Of course, it will not be a perfect translation. There will doubtless be many problems with it—at least as many as there are with any other translation out there in the market. But we have seen already in the TNIV what the CBT can accomplish when it sets itself to the task of revision, and on those grounds, there is no reason to be anything but hopeful.