Controversial revision of Bible receives approval

CHRIS GARDNER
Last updated 14:24 28/01/2012

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A biblical scholar from Cambridge who had a hand in translating the world's most popular English Bible has given his blessing to a controversial new revision.

Murray Harris, whose speciality is koine or Hellenistic Greek spoken between 330 BC and 330AD, told the Waikato Times he supported the latest revision of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible which has been criticised by some Christians as being too inclusive when it came to translating gender related words.

A lot of the debate is around the word adelphoi which can mean brothers or brothers and sisters, depending on context. Critics prefer it to only be translated as brothers. The US based Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood complained the NIV 2011 kept most of the 3,600 gender-related problems it had found with the 2005 revision called Today's New International Version (TNIV).

Mr Harris, professor emeritus of New Testament Exegesis and Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, disagreed with the criticism.

The former faculty member of the Divinity School at the UK's Cambridge University helped translate the New Testament books of Colossians and Ephesians from the original anicent Greek into English ahead of their first publication in 1973 and reviewed other translators work for the New Testament books of Romans and Hebrews.

The whole NIV text was reviewed by the Committee for Bible Translation, on which Mr Harris served until about 10 years ago, resulting in the publication of the revised editions in 1984 and 2005.

``General the changes in the TNIV have been incorporated into the NIV 2011,'' Mr Harris said. ``In no case has there been a change that alters any Christian truth. It's on textual matters.''

Mr Harris said a  lot of the changes had been to clarity language which was unclear, such as in the book of Romans Chapter 3 Verse 25 which has read: ``God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.''

It now reads: ``God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.''

Asked whether the revised NIV was the most accurate translation of the Bible yet, Mr Harris said: ``I would not like to say the most accurate, but it is as accurate as can be expected.

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``I think the NIV 2011 reads better than new Revised Standard Version. For accuracy and clarity it's hard to beat the NIV 2011. It's what we call the crown jewel and is the finest version to eclipse the King James Version in terms of sales.''

Don Moffatt, a Hamilton based lecturer in biblical studies, said most of the controversy around the TNIV was an emotive reaction based on tradition rather than good translation practise.

``Those who stirred up the most trouble were generally people with little or no knowledge of the original languages or of translation processes. The translation committee reviewed all the cases of gender neutral language  and I'm pleased the committee retained the emphasis on keeping the language inclusive where warranted.''

He downloaded a copy of the revised NIV after the Times contacted him and, after a brief review of the revision, said he was generally happy with it.

``Most of the modernising word changes seem to be fair and reasonable, for example ankle chains to anklet. They also reflect advances in the understanding of the original languages.''

Mr Moffatt was pleased the translators had made it clear in the revision where there was ambiguity around a word.

``It allows general readers to raise questions about ambiguous texts rather than assume they are unambiguous,'' he said.

He thought the committee had handled controversial texts with care.

``No translation is perfect. Like any scholar I can find things I'd quibble about but in general I think the translation committee has done a good job.

Dr Bob Robinson, senior lecturer at Laidlaw College's School of Theology, Mission and Ministry studied under the late Francis Foulkes, another New Zealander involved in translating the original NIV.

``I think Francis might be disappointed that NIV 2011 doesn't go as far as it could in inclusive language,'' Dr Robinson said.

Mr Foulkes was also part of the international Committee of Bible Translation which delivered the original NIV translation in the 1970s.

Dr Robinson said Mr Foulkes  would almost certainly approve of much of the latest revision.

``I say that both because of years of working with Francis and because of published material from him in which he defends the principles of Bible translation that undergird the NIV and the importance of inclusive language,'' Dr Robinson said.

Dr Robinson described himself as a fan of the revised NIV.

``The NIV is easily the most widely accepted and used Bible in New Zealand Protestant churches as a whole, and certainly in the (still-growing) evangelical and charismatic/pentecostal parts of Protestantism.

``In a number of key passages in Paul the tone is less defensively Protestant and more faithful to the original Greek. It's more inclusive, than the original NIV, in its people reference, but not as inclusive as the TNIV. That's a pity.''

Dr Robinson said most of the alternatives to the NIV were worse.

``Either archaic or too loose or modern but too stilted. The New Revised Standard does compete but, despite being around since, 1989 simply hasn't gained traction in the churches  and certainly not among young people.''

Dr Robinson put much of the NIV's popularity down to its being published by Zondervan, an American giant among Christian publishers, which put out a range of editions.

``This not only means that a huge range of editions are available but an extensive range of related electronic material as as well - and that's an important plus in a digital age.''

The NIV 2011 willl be on sale, with other Bible translations, at the Manna Christian Store.

 

New International Version (2011) Study Bible

(Zondervan, )

Reviewed by Chris Gardner

Have you ever tried translating one language into another? It can be difficult rendering the simplest of modern English phrases into another languages with different grammatical rules.

The simple English word ``sorry'', for example, is translated in German into ``es tut mir leid'' which, when literally translated back into English, means ``it gives me pain''.

So imagine the difficulty facing the Committee on Bible Translation whose members translated the original 66 books of the Bible into English in the 1970s.

Their source material was written between about 3,500 years and 2000 years ago in ancient versions of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.

Previous English translations, the most loved being the King James Version published in 1611, were word for word translations. They would have been clunky to their original English audience, and are clunkier still to a modern reader not used to the use of words like thy, thou and whosoever.

The NIV translation moved away from word for word towards the thought for thought method of translation so was easier to understand for modern readers.

The first NIV translation of the 27 books of the New Testament was published in 1973 and the 39 books of the Old Testament followed in 1978.

The English language has changed considerably since then, and scholars have a much better understanding of the source languages, prompting a few revisions since then.

The last, Today's New International Version, took 10 years to complete and was published in 2005 to an outcry from some conservative Christians for its gender inclusive language. Where the original text said ``sons of God``, for example, but the committee thought it meant both men and women, they translated it as ``children of God''.

Ninety five per cent of the 2011 revision is exactly the same as the 1984 text.

The word ``saints'', used 68 times in the 1984 translation, is now translated as ``God's people''.

Film directors Steven Speilberg and George Lucas are to blame for one major change.

The word ``alien'', which crops up 102 times in the 1984 translation, has been changed to ``foreigner'' thanks to the modern meaning of the word explored in films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET the Extra Terrestrial and the Star Wars franchise.

Another change, because of evolving English, is around the nation Moab's ``overweening pride'', written of in Isaiah 16:6, which is now rendered as ``great arrogance''.

The Greek word kataluma, previously thought to refer to an ``inn'', is now understood to mean ``guest room'', which changes the Christmas story as told in Luke somewhat.

The Easter story, told in Mark, is also changed with the revelation that those crucified either side of Jesus were, in fact, ``rebels'' and not ``robbers'' as previously translated. And, where the Gospel of John blames the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus in previous translations, the 2011 holds the ``Jewish leaders'' responsible.

Many modern editions of the Bible have charts, to help you convert ancient measurements into metric or imperial measurements if the translator hasn't already done so, and maps.

But the Study Bible, just one of many different 2011 editions, goes much further. So much so that a colleague who picked a sample off my desk remarked, ``Oh, a Bible with pictures.'' It has 400 full colour photographs, maps, charts and illustrations to help make those alien, sorry foreign, biblical lands more real.

There are many ways of dividing the Bible up. The most common is Old Testament, written before the birth of Jesus, and the New Testament, written about his birth, life, death and resurrection and the effect he had on the then known world.

Scholars divide it into six section. The Pentateuch comprised the five books of Moses, then there's History, Poetry and  Prophets in the Old Testament. The New Testament starts with Gospels and Acts, written by those who knew Jesus, Letters, from early disciples to the growing church, and the Revelation of John.

All six of these sections get an introduction, from the Committee on Bible Translation, as do each biblical book. The book of Genesis, for example, gets a six page introduction which looks at authorship, audience, date and theme. This can be very useful for the first time reader, and refresh those returning to a particular book.

Once you get into the main part of the Bible the NIV 2011 text is accompanied by notes which take you through a commentary of the text one verse at a time.The most fascinating of the 20,000 study notes are the archeological ones which pair verses with actual sites.

www.thenivbible.com

- © Fairfax NZ News

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