A Personal Note on the NIV 2011 by Bill Mounce

Bill Mounce on October 12th, 2009.

Bill Mounce

Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

Monday With Mounce buttonI would like to take quick break from the normal function of this blog to share something on a personal nature with you. Integrity demands it, since it comes as a form of disclosure. But I am also concerned to stem any misunderstanding.

Many of you know that I was the New Testament chair of the ESV translation. This project has consumed thousands of hours, most of them enjoyable. I am happy with the ESV. As a formal equivalent translation done in the translation stream of the KJV / ASV / RSV, it has proven itself. And while the committee will be constantly looking at issues and questions submitted by people like you, my work on the ESV was largely done.

But a few weeks ago I received a most amazing email from my friend Mark Strauss (who I have been picking on lately in this blog).

What was amazing was that just the night before I was sharing with Robin (my wife) how much I missed translation work. I learned so much working on the ESV, things I have never taught in any Greek class at any level. I told her, "Wouldn’t it be amazing to be in the NIV committee? I would love it if I were asked to be on it."

Mark’s letter was precisely that. Followed up by a formal letter from Doug Moo, the Chairman, I have been asked to be part of the CBT. And a few days ago I said yes.

Here is my concern. I don’t want anyone to think that I am unhappy with the ESV or that I am "jumping ship." I am not. I thoroughly enjoy reading and studying from the ESV. But if you have been reading this blog very long, you will know that I strongly believe in different translation philosophies, that there is not a "One Size Fits All," and that the translator’s responsibility is to be consistent with that stated philosophy. So I have no trouble looking at the NIV’s translation philosophy and working within those guidelines.

My biggest concern was the gender language, and the mishandling of the TNIV rollout that has been such a problem, and how that could happen again. You should know that I have been absolutely assured that the gender language is truly on the table for discussion, and since so much of the committee has changed, it is not a foregone conclusion as to how this committee will vote. Without that assurance, I could not have joined.

I am not expecting "brother and sister" to go away (nor should it, given the NIV’s translation philosophy), and thankfully "humankind" never occurs in the NIV/TNIV. What an ugly word! But "mankind" continues to be used as a generic term in English, as does "man." I know there are people who disagree with this point, but the fact that it is used generically over and over again cannot truly be debated; the evidence is everywhere.

Have you noticed the new advertisement campaign for the Prius:

"Harmony Between Man, Nature And Machine."

I’ll bet Toyota would be glad to sell to women. And personally, I use "they" as an indefinite singular. But who knows where the NIV 2011 will go and how I will vote.

Anyway, this is all to say that I am excited about being able to get back into translation work, but please do not read this as a reaction to the ESV. To do so would be wrong.

MounceWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek (third edition coming in 2009!), and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.  

  • Brad 8 years ago

    Considering the history of the TNIV and the “hostility” with which it was met by some people who were heavily involved in the ESV translation, having someone who was heavily involved in the ESV translation involved with the NIV 2011 is some of the best news that I have heard regarding the NIV 2011. I really see an opportunity here for some breaches between believers to be repaired. And that’s in addition to the NIV 2011 gaining the insight of another eminent Greek scholar for the translation work. Very good news.

  • Russ Gaulke 8 years ago

    Bill,

    As a pastor of a church which uses the NIV, I would urge you to consider a different translation for “sarx” than the NIV’s “sinful nature”. Even the literal “flesh” would be better than, as a pastor, constantly having to deal with people using “sinful nature” as a scriptural excuse for their sin.

  • Kevin Davis 8 years ago

    Good point about the continuing everyday-use of “man.” I work in a highly secular, retail environment — mostly twenty-somethings — and I hear, not only “man” as a universal plural, but also “he”/”his” as a universal singular. E.g., “If a customer buys a Vista notebook, will he get the free upgrade to Windows 7?”

    I never hear either “she” or “they” in everyday language. Only in academic papers.

  • Stephen McDonald 8 years ago

    I’ve been reading the ESV for at least 5 years, but grew up reading the NIV. I’ve been a one-eyed supporter of each translation at one time, but I’m increasingly convinced that reading a range of literal translations with a glance at the dynamic/paraphrase end (if only to contrast what is lost with that approach) is a good modus operandi.

    I’d hate to see Evangelicals to abandon the NIV altogether, so may God’s blessings be on you and the translation team for NIV 2011!

  • Bill Mounce 8 years ago

    Thanks for the encouragement. σαρξ is a hard one, isn’t it, but I have never heard that people use it as an excuse for sin. Wow. I think there is a place on niv2011 to list requested changes (but the site is down right now so I can’t check).

  • Samuel Sutter 8 years ago

    I’m thrilled to hear this – do well! thank you for serving the Church in this way!!

  • Truth Unites… and Divides 8 years ago

    Hi Professor Mounce,

    A friend of mine happened to send me the following link very recently:

    http://www.newoxfordreview.org/article.jsp?did=0397-whitehead

    It might be of interest to you.

    Here’s an excerpt:

    “The title of my article asks if so-called inclusive language is necessary. A typical reply to this question today might well be “Necessary? We have it; it’s here; it’s not likely to go away.”

    “Inclusive language,” as today’s feminists understand the term, means avoiding the generic use of nouns such as “man” or “mankind” when referring to all human beings, and avoiding the use of the masculine gender pronouns, “he,” “his,” and “him,” either when referring to a generic singular antecedent such as “everybody” or — a much more serious issue from the Catholic point of view — when referring to God revealed and understood as “Father.” According to feminist theory, “man” and related words, as well as the masculine gender pronouns, refer primarily or exclusively to males; women are therefore held to be “excluded” by the use of these words. Hence there is the perceived need to deploy language which “includes” them, saying “person” instead of “man,” or “humankind” instead of “mankind,” for example; this is “inclusive language.””

    The author’s short bio is also interesting:

    Kenneth D. Whitehead, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, is the translator of some 20 books from French, German, or Italian, and the author or co-author of seven books.

  • Terry Thomas 8 years ago

    Dr. Mounce,
    This is great news. I used the NIV since 1979 until recently when I began using the HCSB. I never really warmed up to the ESV, it is just too KJV-ish for me. I was really concerned that the NIV2011 would simply be the TNIV redux or even worse. I am greatly encouraged, even excited to see you added to the CBT – this gives many of us who love and use the NIV the confidence that Biblica and the CBT are truly committed to an accurate, faithful translation. God bless all of you on the CBT, I now anxiously await the NIV2011.

  • John 8 years ago

    While I use many English translations, the NIV has always been the main one that Iuse for general reading as well as studying. I am not a scholar nor a Biblical languages expert, so I must rely on the translators to faithfully render these languages in today’s English, English not only for Americans but also everyone around the world that uses English. English is truly an international language and I see a median translation like the NIV as essential for all Christians, no matter the nationality. Thank you and all the CBT members for giving of your time and expertise in this update.

  • Calvin C 8 years ago

    Bill,

    I’m in college ministry with an inter-denominational parachurch organization and I’m extremely excited by your announcement and the tone you’re taking.

    We often have students from strongly Reformed and complementarian backgrounds who rabidly promote their ESV bibles and denounce the NIV, NRSV, TNIV, and other translations. Having a bridge builder like you who believes in and can work within the frameworks of different translation philosophies is a gift to evangelicalism.

  • Robert 8 years ago

    Did you father Robert serve on the original NIV committee?
    What kind of thoughts might this bring to you mind?
    Also, thank you for the work you and your father have done bringing God’s word to us all! It is most appreciated and the worth of your efforts is truely incalculable.

  • Wayne Leman 8 years ago

    And personally, I use “they” as an indefinite singular.

    Hurray, Bill! You are the first biblical scholar I have read that gave the indefinite “they” usage its accurate label. It has incorrectly been called a singular “they” for too long and by too many people, causing many to misunderstand its usage.

    As a linguist, Bible translator, and English editor, I have been interacting with the CBT for quite a few years and look forward to your contributions to it. I live just not far from you in Spokane, so I’m hoping that our paths can cross one of these days so we can have some good discussions about English Bible translation.

  • James Lambert 8 years ago

    Dr. Mounce, I want to echo what Russ posted concerning σαρξ. I am still new to pastoring and haven’t had as many conversations with confused old sinners as he probably has. But I saw the problem of using “sinful nature” for that word back in college when I was first getting into inductive Bible study and learning a little Greek. (Later I learned a little more, in seminary :)) The main problem is that “sinful nature” sounds entirely too much like the “old self” or “old man.” And those are two things we don’t want to confuse, since the first (sarx) is always with us, warring against our spirit (or the Spirit, which is another matter); while the second, according to several passages, is dead, done away with, gone, destroyed, however you want to translate it.

    We can discuss all day long the theological differences of those two concepts, and exceptions to the rules: i.e., can the sarx ever be completely defeated and put down permanently or semi-parmanently? Or can the old man even though dead still haunt us and scare us like some kind of zombie or decomposing corpse. Wesleyans and Lutherans and Calvinists will interpret those questions differently (along with Romans 7) – but I believe *translations* should accurately show that we’re dealing with two different terms, two different concepts, and so leave the finer interpretive questions open and yet offer solid guidance away from any thought of “continuing in sin so that grace may abound.”

    There are not in fact “two of me,” an old sinful person coexisting with a new righteous person. There is only a new, reborn me, transformed by God’s grace from within, and yet still struggling with sin because of the flesh, the sarx, that is still awaiting its redemption. [As a Wesleyan I read other Scriptures that say this new me could die at some point. Calvinists think otherwise. But again I’m on a tangent.] I realize that there is a difference between “nature” and “person,” and so it is possible to read “sinful nature” with a meaning that is true to Paul’s use of “sarx.” But I think it is too easy to read it otherwise, in a way that obscures the depth of spiritual transformation in the new birth, and does give us a good excuse for our continuing in sin.

    “Sarx” is a technical theological term. The NIV gets this, and makes a good attempt to put it in everyday English. But it totally obscures its connection with our physical bodies. It turns “flesh versus spirit,” the war of two different parts of ourselves, into a purely inward battle of two natures or selves. That’s why just leaving it as “flesh” might be better, even though we do have to understand that the term means more than just our bodies but also our emotions and sinful desires. No dynamic equivalence can explain *everything*; no translation can completely remove the need for teachers to explain words and concepts. So if alternatives can’t be found that avoid obscuring distinctions that would be clear in the original language, maybe some things should be left more “formal.”

    Sorry to make such a lengthy reply off the topic of your post, but seeing someone else post about something so close to my own heart just brough it out.

    I think it’s *awesome* that scholars of your stature have blogs, share your thoughts, and read replies. I am glad the NIV committee will include your perspective! Perhaps you can be inspired with some new dynamic translation for “sarx” that will satisfy everyone =)

  • Gary Simmons 8 years ago

    On the other hand with sarx, Dr. Mounce, I’d ask you to not simply translate it as “body” in Ephesians. I believe that with the ESV this was not a good decision. Soma is used for so many positive metaphors in Ephesians that it just doesn’t look or feel right to me when these two are translated interchangeably.

    I admit up front that I am no expert on Ephesians, but I have always read sarx as different from soma (and that comes from having grown up on the NIV, I admit).

    That said, I am extremely excited to hear you will be on the CBT! May the Lord direct your paths always.

  • NIV Zondervan Study Bible (Compared with ESV Study Bible) | Dwight Gingrich Online 2 years ago

    […] trust your Bible. By the way, Bill Mounce, who was the New Testament chair of the ESV translation, also works on the NIV translation team, and does not consider the NIV to be “liberal.” Here is one example of where a strength […]