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!

The Son of Man

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been occasionally using the newest version of the NIV translation in my Bible study to compare it to the earlier version published in 1984. I’m not pretending that I’ve made some kind of exhaustive study and compared every difference I find to the original languages of the verse in question. Instead, I’ve mostly been just reading and gathering thoughts as I go.

One of the most “controversial” aspects of this newest version of the NIV is its use of “gender inclusive” language in many parts. The stated goal of this is that some passages which in English use male pronouns or other words (like “man”) were never meant to have an exclusively male meaning, so the translation has been made to reflect this. For example, the older NIV for Psalm 1:1 states, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” The translators for the newest revision of the NIV would argue that this verse doesn’t strictly refer to a male, but is a reference to any person. So the newest version translates Psalm 1:1, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked.”

A lot of these kinds of changes are initially jarring to those who know the previous version. But the more I think about many of them, the more sense they make. I wouldn’t want my children to someday read psalm 1 and come away with the idea that it is referring only to men. It’s not.

At the same time, I’m not sure every change like this has always been made for the better. There are a few times that I haven’t studied enough to know whether I truly agree that a change was justified. In other cases, such changes have obscured an important part of Scripture.

Take Psalm 8:3-5. Here it is in the NIV 1984 translation:

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

And here is the same passage in the newest revision of the NIV.

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

5 You have made them a little lower than the angelst
and crowned themt with glory and honor.

Did you catch the difference? It comes in verses 4-5. On one level, perhaps, the meaning hasn’t been changed. “Son of man” is a term for a human being, so changing it to “mankind” doesn’t change that. And this psalm does speak of God’s love in making all of mankind the crown of his creation. These verses, however, have more than one fulfillment. Jesus referred to himself most often as “the Son of Man.” These verses are also fulfilled in him, the Son of Man to whom his heavenly Father has subjected all things. Hebrews 2:5-9 uses these verses to refer specifically to Jesus, not just to mankind in general. The older version of the NIV allows for both fulfillments (or layers of meaning) in these verses in Psalm 8, the newest version of the NIV takes away the meaning that points to Christ. (Granted, there are footnotes in the new NIV at these verses that call attention to these changes.)

Any change that makes Christ harder to see in the Old Testament is a problematic change, in my opinion. Good pastors and teachers of the Word could of course explain the meaning behind the new translation and still teach the truth about Messianic prophecy. But will they? Do we really want a barrier in place that makes it more difficult to see Christ in the Word?

These are just my thoughts on these verses. This isn’t to say, again, that I am an expert on these translation issues and have the one right opinion on the matter. Nor is it to say that the newest NIV hasn’t also made some improvements over older versions (which I hope to have posts about in the future.) I just wanted to point this one possibly dangerous area out for your consideration. I’d appreciate your thoughts on the matter!


Mo’ Translations, Mo’ Problems

If you just knew me from this blog, you could already guess that I believe the Bible is important. I mean, I’m posting a Bible reading schedule daily. Also, the fact that I’m a Lutheran pastor should’ve clued you in on this. But I want you to realize that the Bible is more than just important to me as a Lutheran Christian, it’s pretty much the most important thing for my faith that God has given me.

The Bible isn’t just the “story of Christianity;” it’s the source and norm of our faith. It was given, word for word, by God himself to the human beings that wrote the words down. It is the story of our salvation in Jesus Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit, speaking of God the Father’s indescribable love for sinful people like me. Plus,  not only does it tell the gospel message of Jesus; it gives the power to have me believe it.

So, yeah. It’s important.

Because I have believe this about the Bible, it’s obvious I want to be able to read the Bible in as accurate a way as possible. The original books of the Bible were written mostly in Hebrew and Greek. I’m thankful that I can read and translate these languages due to my education in the WELS worker-training system, but I use English for the majority of my day-to-day reading. Because of this, I need to use a translation.

But which translation to choose? Well, for most of my life, this has been easy. I grew up using the NIV (New International Version). For me, basically until my college years, the NIV was the Bible. I had little contact with other translations,  nor had any need to seek out other translations arisen for me (or for the WELS for that matter.)

Well, that’s changing now. The NIV is coming out (has come out) with its first revision since 1984. Right now it’s only available in online versions, like Bible Gateway. Check out this page from Bible Gateway to learn more information about this new version. This revision, from what I can tell, is much more extensive than previous versions. It’s not something that will go unnoticed. The time will likely come, also, when this new revision is the only version of the NIV available, with the 1984 version going out of print.

Because of this, I (and my congregation and synod) need to evaluate this new version and see if it’s worth continuing to use in church. The synod needs to decide if it will update it’s publications and other materials with the new translation also. If this new version of the NIV isn’t acceptable, the next decision will be: which version should we use?

I’ll be following this post up in the near future with thoughts on this new translation, plus the “old” NIV as well as other translations available. In the meantime, check out the new translation and see what you think for yourself. Plus, I’d love to hear comments (whether on this post or future ones) about your thoughts on Bible translations.

One thing I like about this little “dilemma:” it’s forcing people to look closely at the text of the Bible. In my book that’s a blessing.