Rod Decker on the NIV2011

Rodney Decker, Professor of Greek and New Testament at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, PA, wrote a helpful review of the newest edition of the New International Version (NIV2011) for the Baptist Bulletin.

After sketching the history of the NIV, Decker explains why an update was necessary, even though the changes amount to a mere 5% of the whole. “Our language has changed,” he writes. “That is undeniable.” Thus, the NIV2011 has replaced alien with foreigner and overweening with arrogance (Isa 16.6). “The vast majority of the sort of changes illustrated here,” Decker observes, “are . . . very good ones that contribute to understanding the Word of God in English.”

The author then offers lengthy sections on two thornier subjects, translation philosophy and gender language. With respect to the former, he observes that the popular ESV is only “somewhat more formal” than the NIV2011. He notes that “there is a surprising amount of functional equivalence in the ESV, far more than one would suspect from reading the publisher’s PR material.” Those who use the ESV, therefore, should not object to the NIV on the grounds of translation philosophy. (Decker’s full review of the ESV is available in three forms here.)

With respect to the latter, Decker observes that the reality of a shift in the English language justifies an update in translation. “Regardless of how the change has come about,” he writes, “our language has changed.” So, for example, while previous generations of English students were taught that the word men can refer to a mixed group, current usage has trended toward using the word people instead. What then should be done in translation? Decker writes, “The goal in translation is to represent the reference of the donor language in regard to gender language as accurately as possible in the receptor language. That is, if the Bible makes a statement that refers to men and women, the translation should do the same to the extent possible.” After surveying revisions in the NIV2011, Decker concludes that, far from seeking to accommodate to cultural feminism, the translation “is an attempt to express accurately the meaning of God’s revelation” to present-day English readers.

Decker concludes his article this way:

The results of the new revision of the NIV appear to me to be justifiable and in almost all cases helpful. Yes, there are a few warts (as any translation has), but I do not think they are of sufficient quantity or seriousness to detract from the far greater gains in clarity (in all areas) in the NIV11.

Whether you agree with Decker or not, his article is worth careful reading and analysis. You can read the whole thing here.

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