Why I use the NIV

At the end of one of our adult Sunday School classes yesterday, an interesting conversation came up when a guest mentioned that she preferred the King James Version over the New International Version, finding it easier to understand and more reliable in translation from the original Hebrew and Greek to English. I wish I had been there for the discussion, just to hear what others had to say, but sadly, I was in another part of the church. Maybe even more sadly, from accounts that I have heard, the conversation resulted in frustration for both the guest and several of our regular attenders. So I thought I would take just a moment this morning to explain the reasoning behind our church relying primarily on the New International Version.

First, to be absolutely clear, the preference has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the King James Version’s translation. Even today, 400 years after it was first printed, the King James is an extremely reliable translation which is exceptionally faithful to the original language. In addition, the King James Version does an outstanding job of maintaining the poetic aspects of Scripture. Without a doubt, the Psalms rhyme and flow far better in the KJV than the NIV or pretty much any other translation. And while the NIV replaced the KJV as the best-selling book a few years back, the fact remains that it will be a long, long time before the KJV doesn’t have the most copies in circulation.

Nor does the preference have anything to do with The Wesleyan Church. While the majority of Scripture references in the Discipline (i.e., our denomination’s book of doctrines and policy) may be from the NIV, there is no directive mandating the use of the NIV in Wesleyan congregations.

So why is it that I use the NIV almost all the time when reading or quoting Scripture? Well, the short answer is that I am, at heart, a pragmatist. And since our purpose is to make more and better disciples, and a key component of doing that is helping people understand and apply the Bible to their lives, I use the NIV more often than not. The longer answer includes three reasons:

First, as noted above, the King James Version is 400 years old. Published first in 1611, it was written at a time when the English language itself was not completely formalized. For instance, the spelling of many words was very much up for debate. And while the KJV was instrumental in nailing those issues down, it was also written at a time when people didn’t speak like they do now. Simply put, they used “thee” and “thou” and “shalt” and a whole bunch of other vocabulary that is simply not part of ordinary speech today. And that is a critical point. You see, one of the biggest reasons that the KJV came into existence in the first place was so that the Bible would be available in the vernacular or ordinary speech of its day. Why? Because the scholars who worked on its translation wanted to make sure that normal people could understand and apply Scriptures. If our objective is to help people understand and apply Scriptures – and it is – then we should use a version of the Bible which renders the message in ordinary speech that people can understand.

Second, the New International Version, in particular, strikes a very strong balance between literally translation and conceptual communication. What I mean is this. If you line up all the different Bible versions on a spectrum from absolutely word-for-word translation to simply communicating the broad ideas, the NIV falls right in the middle. The team of scholars who created it worked very hard to make the sayings and style of the original writers comprehensible for us today. And they did so while resolving to remain very, very close to the original text. Now, there are some obvious difficulties doing this (e.g., we don’t have originals of any Scriptural passage), but generally speaking, they did a remarkable job. In other words, the NIV is practically custom-tailored for those interested in understanding and applying Scripture.

And finally, the NIV has taken the crown of best-seller. According to Zondervan, the company holding the NIV’s copyrights, the NIV has sold more than 215 million copies worldwide. While it will still take a long time before there are more copies of the NIV than the KJV in the wild, according to the Christian Business Association, sales of the NIV exceed those of the KJV in both dollars and sales. This means that, no matter how you slice it, more people are buying the NIV today than the KJV. So if a new Christian walks into our church with the Bible they just bought at Wal Mart or the Christian bookstore, the chances are that it will be an NIV. And while popularity certainly shouldn’t be the deciding factor, it is nonetheless important to consider.

So, that’s why I use the NIV over the KJV most of the time. But I want to make something else very, very clear here. I have three different varieties of King James Bible on my phone right now. When I am doing my personal devotions, I very often have the KJV at least nearby so I can check it out. And when I am preparing a message, I almost never approach the pulpit without at least glancing through the KJV for three reasons: it is (1) that good, (2) that prolific, and many of the commentators I rely on most utilize(d) it.

And finally, for the record, I am not irrevocably wed to the NIV. I have on more than one occasion seriously contemplated using alternatives that are even easier to understand. For instance, it is estimated that the NIV requires an 8th grade reading level. Studies show that the average American adult can read between the 8th and 9th grade levels, but according to the 2010 Census, more than 25% of the people in my ZIP code aren’t adults. And according to Des Moines Public Schools ITBS 2009 scores, only 55% of 8th graders and 59% of 11th graders are considered proficient readers (i.e., able to read at grade level). (And by the way, those scores are improved over what they were just 5 years ago.) This data would suggest that, at some point in the future and in some audiences, it may be prudent to use something other than the

So there you have it. Why do I use the NIV? Because it is a perfect fit for what I am trying to do in my role as pastor. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the perfect version for you. There are plenty of other great versions out there, including the KJV! The best advice I can give you is simple: find the version that you can understand and apply, and then do exactly that!


3 Responses to “Why I use the NIV”

  1. 1 David Keys January 11, 2011 at 4:02 am

    I too have primarily used the NIV for preaching and Bible study. The NIV translation is more accurate than the KJV in some passages, because it is based upon more ancient Greek texts which were not available to the translators in 1611. I am always amused that some people define accuracy as that which conforms to the KJV, not what comforms to the original languages!

    People who grew up with the KJV often under-estimate how confusing it is to many others who do not know that language. Sometimes words mean something slightly different now than they did in 1611.

    I like the fact that the NIV is pretty faithful to the meaning of original languages. When I want a more word-for-word literal translation, I consult the ESV or the NASB. The International Children’s Bible (NCV) is pretty good for use with younger kids. I don’t like using the Living Bible or the Message for bible study, because at some points they stray quite a bit from the original text (although the NLT is OK).

    I like the fact that there are quality study resources available to supplement the NIV. There are concordances, interlinear texts and commentaries based on the NIV. The NIV Study Bible is the first thing I would add to the text itself.

    One concern I do have, is that the translators that oversee the NIV continue to change it. The TNIV (2005) has been criticized as making too many changes in the name of “non-sexist language.” And now they have come out with the NIV (2010) which makes even more changes. When I refer to using the NIV, I mean the 1984 edition. The latest edition changes up to 40% of the text used in 1984; if they want to do that they should give it a new name and stop confusing people!

  2. 2 Paul Ingram February 9, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I grew up in the church using the KJV exclusively. In fact we were warned about other translations being of the devil, but I decided to research the issue for myself and found a lot of what was being said was fearmongering.

    I highly recommend you read the below book which explains how we get our translations today and what goes into translating the Bible.

    The book is:
    How to choose a Translation for all it’s worth.


  1. 1 Revisiting the NIV « Jeremy R. Geerdes Trackback on August 31, 2011 at 6:06 pm

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