The Bible is God’s revelation to us. It contains everything you and I need to know in order to live as God intends us to live, (which, by the way, is eternally, as co-heirs with Christ!) Digging into the Bible and applying that amazing truth to our lives is a great privilege, and something we do each week in Grace Church as the Word of God is preached. For several years now, the version of the Bible that we have used for our preaching has been the English Standard Version (ESV). From September, we will revert to using a different translation, namely, the New International Version (NIV). I would like to take moment here to explain why.
None of the Bible was written originally in English. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the most of the New Testament in Greek. Therefore, every Bible you read is a translation. There are different approaches for how to translate original Bible language into the English language. One approach is often summarised as “word-for-word”. This means that each Hebrew or Greek word is taken in turn and an English equivalent is sought for that word. This gives the closest connection between what we read and the original language, but it can also sometimes make it harder to understand.
For example, translating John 3:16 word-for-word gives something like this:
“So for loved God the world that son his only begotten he gave…”
The alternative approach to translation is called “thought-for-thought”. Here, the translator looks at what each thought or phrase is trying to convey and then comes up with English words to convey the same idea as closely as possible. It makes more sense to read:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…”
Some would say that this is better because it aids understanding. Others would say that it adds to Scripture and risks introducing the bias of the human translators.
In reality, all the different versions of the Bible are somewhere on the spectrum from word-for-word to thought-for-thought. Both the ESV and the NIV are somewhere near the middle! Out of the two, the ESV takes a more word-for-word approach than the NIV. My preference when studying a passage of Scripture in detail is to use the ESV because I feel it takes me more directly to the meaning that was intended by the original author.
However, there are many times when I have been preaching from the ESV and found its translation to be quite unhelpful. Here is an example:
In the ESV, Acts 8:23 says this:
“For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”
This is an accurate translation of each Greek word into English. However, the “gall of bitterness” is actually a Hebrew saying that everyone in Luke’s day would have understood. (Luke was the author.) It is a bit like saying that someone is “down in the dumps”. The trouble is that now the “gall of bitterness” does not mean anything to us. The “bond of iniquity” is equally tricky! Therefore, the NIV puts it like this:
“For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
Even though there is no original Greek word in this verse meaning ‘full’ or ‘captive’, overall the meaning is more readily obtained from the NIV.
This is just one example, but I find that this happens a lot. When I am preaching I like to draw in other Scriptures to support the main teaching point, often putting these verses up on the PowerPoint. The observant among you will have realised that I have been using the NIV for this for some time! Overall, I believe it aids understanding.
So that’s the version, but which edition?
Finally, a quick note on gender inclusivity. Languages are evolving all the time. Therefore, it is inevitable that Bible translations will need to be updated from time to time to reflect changes in language usage. For example, it is becoming less acceptable culturally to refer to the human race as ‘man’, or indeed to use masculine pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘him’ to refer to people in general.
The NIV Bible that many of us would have in printed form is the edition that was published in 1984. This contained many such masculine pronouns. Take, for example, Mark 8:34:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
In 2002 (and subsequently in 2005) a new edition of the NIV, called Today’s New International Version (TNIV), was launched amid much controversy. Many felt that the over-eager removal of masculine pronouns in over 3000 verses did undue violence to the text.
As a result, the translators backtracked somewhat and reverted around 1000 verses to their original 1984 form. A new edition was launched in 2011 and was again simply called the NIV. This edition also corrects occasional translation errors from the 1984 edition. If you read the NIV online or via an App, it is the 2011 edition of the NIV that you will read. This is the edition that we will use for all our preaching from September 2017. To my ear, it lacks some of the poetry of the 1984 edition, but then I am pretty old! For someone hearing the Bible for the first time, it is more important that we avoid any potential barriers that might be caused by unhelpful choice of words. Now, Mark 8:34 reads like this:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
There is much more that could be said on this, and it may be that you have your own opinions. The bottom line is that if you want to buy a Bible to read along on a Sunday morning and then to read at home – which is a really sensible thing to do, by the way! – then the NIV is the way to go. Before you buy one, just make sure you have the 2011 edition. Then get stuck in!