Revisiting the NIV: Why I’m switching

So, back in January, I wrote a post about why I use the New International Version (NIV) for teaching and preaching as opposed to the King James or other translations. It was a response to a question which had been asked by one of our newest attenders and others, which you can read here: In the eight months since then, though, a number of things have happened which compel me to revisit the subject.

First and foremost, in March, Zondervan, the company which publishes the NIV, released an updated version of the translation. (For the sake of clarity, I will call this new version the NIV2011, and refer to the old version henceforth as NIV1984.) Let me be clear: from what I have seen, the NIV2011 is an excellent translation of the Bible. It is generally accurate in its formal (i.e., word-for-word) translation; the translators have worked hard to faithfully balance the literal translation and the conceptual message so that we can understand what’s being said; and the refresh has incorporated a number of key changes to the English language so that the NIV2011 seems fresh and contemporary in its reading. But this refresh of the NIV has brought with it a couple of serious issues.

First, Zondervan has announced that it will no longer produce the NIV1984, which has been my primary text for preaching and teaching since I entered the ministry 9 years ago. Since one of my greatest passions is to see people “get” Scripture, I am very mindful of anything which may introduce confusion into the equation. It’s one thing to say that I’m reading out of the NIV, and you’re looking at a different version, so it will be different. It’s another to say I’m reading out of the NIV, and you’re reading out of a different NIV. Especially when you consider that the NIV2011 will now be marketed with the same logo and branding as the NIV1984, and you can often find the two side-by-side on the store shelf, that’s confusing.

And second, while I do believe that the NIV2011 is a generally good translation, I must acknowledge that I believe it leans more toward the dynamic or conceptual end of the translation spectrum. Again, let me be clear: this is not necessarily a bad thing. But for preaching and teaching, I very intentionally chose the NIV1984 for its balance between the two because, while I want people to be able to understand what the Bible is saying, I am also very aware that sometimes, there is importance in what wasn’t said or even how something was said. For instance, in Galatians 3:15, the NIV1984 reads, “Brothers, let me take….” The NIV2011 reads, “Brothers and sisters, let me take….” The original Greek text does not include “and sisters.” This is not because Paul didn’t want to include female believers. Quite the opposite, in fact. In verse 26-28, the chapter reaches its climax when the apostle proclaims, “You are all sons of God” – an important distinction because sons were heirs and first-rate citizens of the culture of the day – “through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, Paul was aiming to tear down every distinction we can make between people who are in Christ. He wasn’t excluding women; he was promoting them! And while the NIV2011 is certainly faithful to the idea that Paul was trying to include the women of the Galatian churches, it simultaneously misses that he was also trying to give them a boost to equality in the church as a whole.

A second reason which compels me to revisit the matter of my version of choice is found in the fact that I am keenly aware that sometimes a change in perspective can open the door to a whole new understanding. The NIV1984 is a great translation, but as many have noted, it was done with a particular evangelical slant. And sometimes, there are verses in it which just don’t make sense. Reading Scripture in a different version can lead to real spiritual breakthrough.

A third reason I am compelled to re-examine my use of the NIV1984 is reading level. Actually, to be honest, this was the reason I initially entertained the idea of switching versions. You see, the NIV1984 has been generally deemed about an 8th grade reading level, but I’ve seen some that called it higher. A study conducted in 1992 and released in 1993 placed the average American’s reading level at 8th grade, but it is generally accepted that people prefer to read a little lower than their actual reading level. This is why Reader’s Digest has long aimed for a 6th grade reading level, and many American newspapers target a 4th grade reading level. So the fact that the NIV1984 has an 8th grade reading level makes it uncomfortable reading for a lot of Americans.

And the final reason I am reconsidering my version of choice is peer pressure. Well, not really. But in recent months – possibly because of my initial post – I have become increasingly aware of a number of ministry colleagues who already use something other than the NIV1984, including the New King James Version (NKJV), Contemporary English Version (CEV), English Standard Version (ESV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and more. Many of these esteemed colleagues swear by their new versions of choice, and I readily admit that their input has been influential in making me revisit the decision.

So given that it will only become increasingly difficult to secure copies of the NIV1984, the question of whether or not I will stick with the NIV1984 has been answered for me. At some point, I will be compelled to switch. This raises two additional questions: What version will I move to, and when will I make the transition?

The answer to the first question has been agonizing. Initially, I considered the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), which is a variant of the NIV aimed at children, but I found a couple of serious drawbacks to it, not the least of which is that, because it is aimed at children, virtually every copy I’ve ever seen was for a children’s Bible, with lots of pictures of little kids and more. To many who may happen to be in our pews, that would be insulting. I also considered the New Century Version, a copy of which I received as a teen and still enjoy to this day. With a third grade reading level but a more mature target audience, I thought it would be awesome. But I have found that it’s simply not readily accessible; you can’t go into any Christian bookstore and find a copy. So I broadened my search and considered a large number of translations, including all those mentioned by colleagues and more.

In the end, I narrowed it down to two: the English Standard Version (ESV) and the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). Both of these versions are excellent. The ESV leans a little more toward the formal or literal translation. I think the HCSB sometimes feels a bit archaic in its choice of words. I have found awesome resources in both versions. The ESV Study Bible is probably the best study Bible I’ve ever seen. And the HCSB Study Bible is right up there, too. (To be fair, I don’t own a copy of the HCSB Study Bible, but I have been making extensive use of, which offers many of the resources in the hard copy online, for free (for now?)!) I have come to love both of these, and I have found in the last several weeks that I am reaching for them more than I am any version of the NIV.

For a time, I contemplated switching back and forth between the two, depending on which one had the better translation. But I have realized that this would be as confusing – or more s0 – than using two different versions of the NIV.

So which one shall I use?

Well, in the end, it comes back to the very thing that started this. I noted above that I had initially entertained the idea of switching versions because of reading level. It turns out, reading level is the deciding factor at the end. The ESV has a 10th grade reading level, while the HCSB weighs in at about 8th grade.

So ladies and gentlemen, in the coming weeks and months, I will be moving to use the HCSB as my primary preaching and teaching text.

The question now becomes, what does this mean for the people in our church?

Well, we will probably change out the pew Bibles at some point in the future. But I don’t think it means that you have to run out right now and get yourself a copy of the HCSB. The NIV is still a great version, and I promise I will do everything in my power not to leave you behind. This will include putting the text on the screen during Scripture readings and the sermon, etc. In fact, I would encourage you to continue to use your favorite Bible, whatever version it may be. The different versions may bring out something that I miss, or correct something that I mess up!

If you have a few bucks to spare and you think you want a hard copy of the HCSB, by all means, go and get one. Alternatively, you can find the HCSB for your Kindle (or any device with Kindle Reader software) for free. This means that you can download the full version of the HCSB for free onto your computer, your smartphone, your tablet, and more.

In the eight months since I accidentally picked up my first copy of the HCSB and almost returned it (that’s another story all on its own!), I have found the HCSB to be a trustworthy and refreshing – a.k.a., great – translation of the Bible. And I hope you will, too!


1 Response to “Revisiting the NIV: Why I’m switching”

  1. 1 So, why the HCSB? « Jeremy R. Geerdes Trackback on September 1, 2011 at 3:56 pm

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