Report from the WELS Translation Committee on the New NIV

I have mentioned previously the issues surrounding the newest revision of the New International Version translation of the Bible that will be coming out soon. (Actually, it’s already out in electronic form; I’m just not sure if you can buy a printed copy of it yet.) As of now, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod uses the previous version of the NIV in their official publications. With this new version, the old version will soon become obsolete. The question, then, is whether or not the new version is acceptable for use among our congregations.

I have written previously about concerns I have with the new revision. Since I’ve been reading quite a bit from this version for my daily Bible readings, I’ve also come across several improvements from the previous version.

So how do you decide if the improvements are worth the weaknesses? It’s no easy question. The WELS translation committee is bringing a report about this very topic to the upcoming synod convention this Summer. Their report has been made available online.

Overall, I like the tone of the report and the rationale behind their thinking. I also like the work they’ve done to reach the conclusions that they have. I’d encourage you to read the report, especially if you happen to be a member of the WELS. You can download it here.

One more note worth mentioning: whether or not the WELS decides to go with the new NIV in its publications or not, this does not bind individual pastors and congregations to using a certain translation. There is no official translation in our synod, and individual churches can decide on their own what to use.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue. But please, if you want to comment on the new translation, read the report from the committee first!

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5 thoughts on “Report from the WELS Translation Committee on the New NIV

  1. I am surprised that the report listed the addition of “all” in Romans 3:23 as a significant improvement. It makes it appear that verse 23 and 24 are parallel constructions, but the verbs in vs 23 are indicative and “justified” is a participle. Luther, Stöckhardt, and others say that these verses refer back to vs. 22—”those who believe.” That’s why Luther translates “sie sind allzumal Sünder” instead of “Alle sind Sünder.”

    I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “significant improvement” that helps us understand what Paul means if it adds a word to the text in order for the translation committee to answer an exegetical question that might not be so clear.

    In general, I have been frustrated by several additions that the new NIV makes in order to make it clear what the writer is talking about. I’m not so sure that’s good, especially when there can be debate about what it is referring to. I’m thinking especially of filling in the antecedents for the text’s pronouns, such as in John 10:6.

    • Thanks for your comment! Hmm, I’ll have to think through Romans 3:23 a bit more. I’m not sure I’d ever thought through it the Luther / Stöckhardt way. Very interesting.

      It does bring up that larger issue of adding words to make explicit what was perhaps only implicit in the original. It has to be one of the toughest part of the translation process, and it necessarily involves some interpretation on the part of the translator. The newer NIV in general does tend to play pretty loose with these. It seems to be a general principle of how they translate, for better or worse. Most of those I’ve noticed haven’t bugged me too much. But you’re right, John 10:6 is absolutely dreadful — and completely unnecessary.

      Of course, Luther himself didn’t mind adding a word into a translation to make a point clear. In the very same Romans 3, Luther felt justified (pun intended) in throwing in a “solum” or “allein” to make the point clear, as he famously explained in his open letter on translating. (LW 35:187)

      Not that I’m ready to put the NIV translators on Luther’s level. There are plenty of frustrations there. When do such frustrations mean we have to throw it out completely and move to something else? I don’t think I’ve come up with an answer to that one yet.

      • I remember being surprised by that, too. It’s not to say that they’re right, but it would seem wise to at least acknowledge the fact that some pretty good exegetes have viewed the passage differently.

        I don’t mind the addition of words, either, if they are necessary (i.e, can’t be understood correctly without it).

        I also wish I knew where the tipping point was. But it feels like the more I see, the closer I am to that point.

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