For those who have followed the NIV since its inception, you will be familiar with the controversy surrounding its translation changes with each new edition. Certain groups of Christians have taken this to mean they are changing God’s Word (as if a translation was inspired), while in reality showing they do not understand what a translation is.

Seeking to shed more light on the work of the NIV translation philosophy, the Committee for Bible Translation (CBT) has written a short history, with some examples, of how these changes came to be and what they actually meant for the final form of each new translation. Since the CBT’s philosophy was to be readable and reflect current English, changes had to be made periodically because the English language changes.

Here is a short video and  excerpt about the changes:

A Unified NIV

Having two editions in print of what was essentially one Bible translation was intended to satisfy the concerns of those who did not understand or accept that masculine nouns and pronouns were no longer universally understood as referring to both men and women as well as those who wanted a translation that accurately reflected contemporary usage. Though there were good intentions behind having two different editions (the 1984 NIV and the TNIV), this made it impossible for the CBT to fulfill its mandate that the NIV would be updated to reflect contemporary English usage.

By 2009, it was time for a reunion.

Biblica, Zondervan and the CBT announced that a new NIV revision would be released in 2011, and at that time, publication of the TNIV and 1984 NIV would cease. There would only be one NIV, and it would include all of the CBT’s approved changes. The CBT had only two years to conduct a major review and issue a revision. The pressure was on.

Because the CBT had continued its work throughout the years of controversy, many revisions reflecting advances in biblical scholarship were already ready to go. But, knowing that the matter was controversial, the CBT dedicated itself to reviewing every single gender revision introduced since the 1978 edition. To get an unbiased view of how contemporary English referred to both men and women inclusively, the CBT commissioned a study by Collins Dictionaries to study the Collins Bank of English, a database of more than 4.4 billion words taken from recordings and publications throughout the English-speaking world.


CollinsData2The Collins data helped the CBT understand word usage by modern English-speakers worldwide.

The data showed that the use of “man” to refer to the human race as whole was less frequent but still quite common. Words such as “people” and “humans” were also being widely used. The study also demonstrated, as CBT had suspected, that “he,” “his,” him,” etc., had a strongly masculine meaning. In place of these traditionally neutral pronouns, modern English speakers were using the pronouns “they,” “them” and “their,” e.g., “Every person who attended received their own prize.”

It also demonstrated that gender-inclusive plural pronouns (“they,” “them,” “their,” etc.) were used far more than masculine pronouns (“he,” “his,” “him,” “himself”) when either an individual male or female was the intended meaning.

“With that data,” said Doug Moo, “we were then able as translators to say, ‘Despite our own personal preferences, this is the English that most people are speaking, and that’s what we need to use in our translation.’”


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