NIV, ESV, and Translations
If you follow my Today’s Daily Promise devotionals you have likely noticed that I have recently been using the New International Version, having recently switched from using the English Standard Version.
In this post I want to explain why I have been using the NIV again.
This story has to begin in 1980 when I became a born again believer in Jesus Christ, (you can read about my miraculous conversion at my Adopted by God page), I was given a King James Version Bible and encouraged to read it daily, which I couldn’t do.
I found the King James Version difficult to read because as it turned out, I was functionally illiterate. I was an 18-year old kid who could function by recognizing words on signs, on store products, but not so functioning enough to read through the narrative of Scripture in the King’s English.
Fortunately, a friend who also had a conversion to Christ about the same time as did, knew exactly what my struggle was. So he took me to a bookstore in the local mall and showed me the exact Bible that helped me. That Bible was a new 1978 translation called the New International Version.
It was an absolute blessing to me that made the very word of God come alive for me, and even grew my vocabulary and inspired my ability to read, write, and spell. Later in my Christian life as I entered vocational ministry I moved on from the brown hardcover NIV to the 1984 NIV Study Bible in beautiful genuine leather.
NIV to ESV
I still have that exact Bible and I used it in all my pastorates, radio broadcasts, and all my ministry roles right up to starting what is now CrossHope Chapel my current church in 2011.
It was prior to launching my current church plant that I made the decision to switch from using the NIV to the ESV. I wrote a post on CSB, ESV, and Translations where I lay out some positive points on the ESV translation if you are interested.
So why did I set down my NIV when I started my current church? Unfortunately, in the early 2000’s the publishers of the NIV were in a public relations battles with conservative evangelicals because the new owners of Zondervan, the publishers of the NIV, decided to add some new versions of the NIV, including a gender neutral edition and dumb-down readers edition.
The publisher has since done away with the controversial gender neutral edition, made public apologies, and refocused back to it’s 1984 version objective of being faithful to the text yet dynamic in translation.
The 1984 NIV was the original version before the reputation of the NIV got smeared among American conservative evangelical churches and within Southern Baptist churches. In 2011 a revision with some word changes were made, not much different as what the New American Standard Bible has recently done in its recent 2020 revision from its 1995 version.
There seems to have been a turn in the right direction in recent years, as far as the reputation of the NIV after trying to redeem its brand, in that you can now find the support from conservative Baptist ministers as John MacArthur, David Jeremiah, and Charles Stanley. These men and some of others have all recently put their names behind the 2011 NIV with their own NIV Study Bible editions.
I have received criticism during my entire public ministry life for using the NIV and I expect some of that may be revived because of going back to the NIV. However, I have found that most criticism comes from an ignorance of knowledge regarding the dynamic and literal translation process.
A dynamic translation is one that leans toward translating the meaning or authorial intended thought from the biblical text into our modern language for accurate understanding. A literal translation leans toward sticking closer to the word for word translation even if the meaning is not clear in modern language.
Here is an example from Acts 9:31 which includes a translation of a Greek phrase “to build up.” Notice that the ESV below translates that phrase literally, but the NIV translates its meaning:
Acts 9:31 (ESV) — “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Acts 9:31 (NIV) — “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”
The KJV translated that phrase “edify” which simply is an archaic word, but the authorial intent and meaning is to build up in strength not in quantity.
By the way, in case you’re wondering which versions of the Bible are considered to be more of a literal word-for-word translations, and which versions of the Bible are considered to be “dynamic” with more of a thought-for-thought translations, consider this analysis:
In 2016 Dr. Andi Wu of the Global Bible Initiative that filtered nine top translations through some type of computerized statistical analysis ranking them according to “Readability” and “Fidelity”. Here are the outcomes of that analysis…
Readability= NLT 70.08% NIV 67.20% CSB 66.75% NET 66.28% NRSV 63.08% ESV 62.36% NASB 61.65% NKJV 60.32% KJV 48.83%
Fidelity= ESV 68.74% NASB 67.99% KJV 66.58% NKJV 65.21% CSB 64.75% NRSV 60.51% NET 53.94% NIV 53.10% NLT 39.90%
Those versions that ranked highest in “Readability” are more thought-for-thought translations, while those versions that ranked highest in “Fidelity” are more word-for-word translations.
It is also worth knowing that not every Bible version is made by actually beginning with the original manuscripts. For example, the ESV is made from the 1971 edition of the Revised Standard Version, not by laying out the thousands of original manuscripts and translating from scratch, though they would have referenced them as needed. The NIV is an actual full Bible translation from scratch using the available original manuscripts, not by simply updating from another published Bible version.
When it comes to study and preparation for teaching through the Bible verse by verse as I do at CrossHope Chapel, I regularly reference the text and various translations of that text, but it does add a level of credibility to the NIV for being an actual Bible translations based on the actual original manuscripts.
Back to the NIV
Several weeks ago I grabbed my old 1984 NIV Study Bible while researching something and admittedly I paused and asked myself, Why again am I not still using this Bible?
On that day I thought I was reaching for my ESV Study Bible but it turned out to be my old NIV Study Bible. Immediately, I remembered how heavily marked and noted its pages were, representing all the years of my ministry and the memorization of Scripture in the NIV wording.
An odd thing about me is that I like to have one Bible that I stick to for personal reading, pastoral teaching, use in my writing, and my own general study so that I become familiar with pages and passages through markings and highlights. I may reference or refer to differing translations, but my own preference is to have a single go-to Bible that I can mark and memorize.
I have another reason for dusting off my NIV that may seem odd to you, but I have found myself reflecting on Christ’s message to Ephesus in Revelation 2:5 where He counseled them to “do the things you did at first” as the answer for regaining their first love.
Honestly, I have been in a somewhat stale season of life and I haven’t been real sure if its dealing with an aging slow down, the recent deaths of my elderly parents, the stress of a pandemic and political resets of 2020, or a spiritual plateau.
I’m thinking it’s all of the above, but I have found that spending time with my Lord through my NIV has been the most refreshing thing going on again in my life.
If you ask which Bible version is the best one, my answer is the one that you will use. I once heard David Guzik, a Calvary Chapel pastor and author of Enduring Word Bible Commentaries say that and it is spot on!
I have every translation available to me through apps on my smart phone and I have about 15 various Study Bibles within reach on my desk in my pastoral study. I use them for reference, but I am not one of these guys who can juggle multiple translations in public ministry use like my daily devotionals, teaching at church, or when writing articles.
Whatever Bible verses and passages I have memorized are in the NIV and/or KJV. Even during these past 10-years of ministry using the ESV, the NIV and KJV were my go-to searches.
My choice for going back to the NIV is a personal one, yes I have some data to base it on, but really I am choosing to pick up my NIV again because I am somewhat emotionally attached to it. I’ve realized that the NIV is my familiar friend with a wealth of markings.
I suppose that another reason why after 10-years into CrossHope Chapel, my current church plant ministry, that I no longer care about someone who may have a bias toward the NIV coming into our fellowship on Sunday morning when I am teaching from it.
We all need to use a Bible we can read, we can understand, and grow closer to the Lord Jesus with, because it really doesn’t matter what translation you may bring with you to CrossHope Chapel as long as you make it your friend.
If Toby Kieth can have a friend in a red solo cup, you can have a friend in a Bible.
At CrossHope Chapel we have a variety of Bible translations represented and since we discuss the verse by verse teaching in real-time, it makes it rich for our fellowship to hear from various versions and even various study notes.