Since we needed to replace our worship center Bibles for the seat racks, we had a decision to make--stay with the ESV or switch to another translation.
After doing some research and consulting with our staff leaders, small group leaders, and DailyLife writers, I decided to go with the NIV (2011 Edition). I'll explain why below, and then I'll tell you what my ultimate preference would be if it were a practical solution. I'll also address some concerns that some people may have with the NIV at the end of this post.
Why the NIV?
When we switched to the ESV from the NLT (New Living Translation) a few years ago, I would have preferred to go with the NIV but chose against it for several reasons.
Most importantly, I chose against the NIV because there was a lot of confusion then between the NIV (1984 edition), the TNIV (a translation that was heavily criticized for using gender-inclusive language in places where the Bible was clearly speaking in the masculine for specific reasons), and the new 2011 edition (that had already been well accepted but was very new at the time).
There was no confusion with the ESV, and it had a great reputation among gospel-centered churches like ours.
In addition, the ESV had a better, more up-to-date study Bible. I’m a huge proponent of everyone owning a good study Bible.
But here's why I'm now switching to the NIV (2011):
- All my reasons for choosing against it are either gone or minimized. The new NIV has now been around for many years and more and more people are aware of the change.
- The NIV now has a great new study Bible. Besides, there is a free study app by FaithLife that is as good as any other study Bible and anyone can download it for free.
- The NIV is easier to read and understand, and it offers a great balance of two major translations theories, "formal equivalence" (often referred to as "literal") and "functional equivalence" (often referred to as "thought for thought"), making it more accurate and more readable at the same time.
This i not a slam on the ESV, which is a great translation. In fact, I'll still be using my ESV a lot in my personal study, and we might stick with it for DailyLife (at least for the time being). So keep bringing your ESV to the weekend if you prefer it.
My Ultimate but Impractical Preference
Among biblical linguists and Bible scholars, it's a truism that no single translation is best or perfect. Each one has flaws and strengths. Translating from one language to another, even in modern day, is extremely difficult if you want to catch all the nuances of the original. It's exponentially harder to translate from an ancient, foreign text to the present.
So my preference would be for everyone to have a good Bible app, and we could switch translations from week to week, taking advantages of the strengths in some of the leading and best translations. For example, Lifeway has recently come out with a great translation that I wish we could use from time to time.
I decided against this for a couple reasons.
First of all, not everyone has a smartphone or wants to add apps to their phones, especially people who are new to the Bible.
I could bypass this problem by having the text on the screen when we read it, but I want people to be able to refer to what I'm talking about after we have read the passage, also seeing it in contex. I also feel that putting it on the screen may discourage some people from opening their Bibles or apps or from bringing their Bibles.
What About Some High Profile Critics of the NIV?
I really can't address this here in detail, but let me just say a few things and point you to a great resource if you're interested.
First, I've read the critique of one of these high profile critics (a guy I really love and appreciate as a pastor, writer, and theologian), but I think he really misses the point on how translation work works. He seems to be a bit behind on advances in linguistics that help us better translate ancient documents.
Second, many gospel-centered scholars who were not necessarily pleased with the TNIV for overdoing gender-inclusive language are part of the team the produced the NIV (2011).
Third, an article in the Gospel Coalition's journal addresses the "controversy" in great detail and lands in favor of the new NIV. This is significant because the majority of the critics of the TNIV were members of the Gospel Coalition.
Reading the article will give you an education on translation theory, but I'll warn you that it's not a short or easy read. You can find it here, and the article is called "An Evaluation of the 2011 Edition of the New International Version."
Now let me just note that if you read this whole post, you're probably the kind of person who would do well as a DailyLife writer! Please consider it.
And let me know if you have any questions.