Interview with Douglas Moo on the Updated NIV
Today marks the online release of an update to the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, the first time it has been revised since 1984. Although the print form will not be ready for release until next year, the text is available at BibleGateway.com and Biblica.com beginning today.
I had the privilege of interviewing Douglas Moo, Chair of The Committee on Bible Translation, when the update was first announced. The Committee is an independent body of global biblical scholars solely responsible for the translation of the NIV.
Dr. Moo has been kind enough to agree to an interview once again.
Thanks, by the way, to Chris Brauns, Stanley K. Fowler (Academic Dean and Professor of Theological Studies of Heritage Seminary), and Trevin Wax for suggesting questions.
How and why did the Committee change their philosophy from the release of the original NIV to the new version?
I don’t think that the philosophy has changed in any significant way since the first translators began their work in the 1960s. The NIV has always been about trying to reproduce the experience of the first audience of the Bible for contemporary English-speakers, blending transparency to the original form and structure of the text with English that communicates naturally and effectively.
Did the controversy over the release of the TNIV modify the translation philosophy in any significant way?
No. The TNIV has many supporters and many critics. We listened to them all, assessing whatever they had to say in light of our mandate to maintain an NIV translation that is both accurate and accessible. While we assessed all the response that we have received, we made final decisions based on that mandate and on our translation philosophy. Where changes were made, they were made on the basis of progress in scholarship and/or on the basis of our understanding of current English. We have provided a document that spells out the details of our approach (PDF).
Do you anticipate that the revised NIV will bring some measure of peace among evangelicals concerned about translation trends?
I cannot predict what will happen in light of the release of the updated NIV. But I think that there is a general sense among translators and publishers of different versions that we can best celebrate the heritage of the King James Version this next year by affirming the many great English translations that are available and by getting more people to engage with those translations to that they can find the living God of the Bible.
Zondervan president Moe Girkins promised that the translation process would be as “transparent as possible” as part of an effort to overhaul the NIV “in a way that unifies evangelicalism.” How did you go about this?
In September of 2009, we clearly announced the plan to update the NIV and to replace all existing “NIV” translations (1984 NIV and TNIV) with this update. We then solicited input into the process, announcing quite widely that we would be happy to receive any suggestions for this new revision. I personally met with over 40 scholars at the annual meetings of the ETS and the SBL last November to talk about possible revisions. We have also tried to keep lines of communication open with as many people as possible.
Where will the NIV fit in relation to the ESV and the HCSB?
The updated NIV will take its place alongside the many other fine English translations currently available, including the ESV, the HCSB, the NRSV, the NKJV, the NLT, and many others. We continue to believe that the NIV has an important place in this mix of translations, with its concern to maintain as equal priorities “hearing the Word the way it was written” (trying to reflect in English something of the form of the original text) and “understanding the Word the way it was meant” (putting the Bible into natural contemporary English).
Given that English is becoming a global language, what are the challenges of doing an English translation that works for English speakers everywhere?
Recognizing the incredible spread of English around the world (with almost one billion English-speakers, most second-language), we have tried to capture as best we can a picture of the English that is actually being spoken. Toward this end, we commissioned Collins Dictionaries, the holder of the larger database of English in the world, to study certain key gender constructions. Their database includes English from the UK, the US, Australia, and elsewhere in the world, both spoken and written. Applying cutting-edge computational linguistic analysis to this database, the Collins study provided the NIV translators with an unprecedented picture of English around the world. (A copy of the Collins Report is available at www.NIV-CBT.org.) In addition, the translation committee includes members from the UK and from India.
Do you anticipate that any English version will become the common version in your lifetime?
No. Too many people are now wedded to certain translations. We can anticipate an era of translation diversity. What will be important will be to affirm each other’s work so that the name of Christ and the Christian church are not sullied by “translation wars.”
What are some challenges to being on a Bible Translation committee of which those who have never done it would not be aware?
First, I should say that I consider it to be a tremendous privilege to be on the CBT: my work on the committee is the ministry that I have most enjoyed in the course of my life. Imagine sitting around a table with 14 other scholars talking about the Bible and what it means and how to say it! There are, of course challenges. We don’t always agree and, because we are all passionate about our work and the text, our disagreements can be strong. But in the midst of these debates, there is at base a sense of unity around our common passion and common task.
Were their any particular passages that particularly ministered to the souls of the translation committee?
I can’t single out one particular passage. Throughout our work, we seek to let the Scriptures speak to us so that we give them the place they need to have in our lives.