I never really planned on reviewing Bibles here. After all, our family stayed with the same version for years (NIV) and what was there to say about it ? All-around serviceable, very readable, and the church we went to used it, so that's why we did too.
But when I wore out my Bibles so badly that complete books were pulling out (as spiritual as this sounds, I think it had more to do with the binding than lengthy study days) we went shopping for a new Bible, and our perception of the NIV took a huge swing in the opposite direction.
We found, to our surprise, that the 2011 version made some pretty significant changes from our trusty old 1984, and by the time we made the discovery, it was too late and I had used the Bible for a while. So for during the next months I made do with it while we looked about for a new version, and we finally settled on something that is not only much better--and I might add, more biblical--but also better than the NIV altogether, I think.
Not that I dislike the NIV. I'm still fond of the 1980s version, and I'll be keeping around my old copies. But you just can't buy that one, anymore, and I think it's also been taken off online Bible websites as well. It's time to find a good, solid alternate.
Thus, I now have a couple of versions of Scripture that I think it would be fruitful to write a review on, and that's what we'll be doing here. But I have two particular reasons for choosing this week to review them.
First of all, yesterday I finished my 12th consecutive year reading through the whole Bible in a year. 12 times through the entire Bible. Praise the Lord, and I'm grateful to have established this habit. It's so familiar now that it's like brushing teeth or getting dressed in the morning. I don't give it a second thought, or debate whether or not I can get away with not reading my Bible, or whether I'm too busy for it. It just happens. Now that doesn't mean I'm perfect, by any means. I can't say I'm always excited to read it, or that I always listen very well. But the fact its, it's a discipline, and with the Lord's blessing, it's a discipline He has granted me the grace to keep steady on. And I look to Him for the grace to continue to do so. You can find the article I wrote last year about daily Bible reading here.
That's one reason that this is Bible Week.
The second reason, and just as exciting, is that Junior B is in the Bible Bee Nationals this year (this is her first year doing it!) and to celebrate that, we're going to talk about Scripture. She's memorized 600 Bible verses since the end of August, and many other folks have as well. We're gathering in Tennessee for the competition, and I'm sure she and the other competitors would appreciate prayers sent their way Thursday-Saturday. :)
Due to these two exciting milestones, it seems fitting to discuss which Bible versions are the closest to the original Greek and Hebrew, and which versions properly show the God-inspired wording of Scripture.
A Word About Interpretations
There are two methods of interpreting Scripture, and creating a translation. Before we review the Bibles, it's important to explain these two methods. And since my brother already did it so nicely, I'll quote him below.
The first method of creating a Scripture translation from the Greek and Hebrew is the 'dynamic equivalence method':
The dynamic equivalence method believes that faithful translation captures the intended meaning of the original manuscripts, using appropriate equivalents in other languages. Bible translations such as the NIV, Today’s NIV, New American Bible, New English Translation, and Modern Language Bible use moderate dynamic equivalence for their translation philosophy. ~Why I Read the ESV Bible, by Collin M.
The second method of Scripture translation is the 'essentially literal method':
In contrast, the “word-for-word” method (also known as the “essentially literal” method) states that God inspired the very words of Scripture, as well as the intended messages of those words. Therefore, we must be as accurate as possible to translating the words from the original manuscripts and the best copies of Scripture from antiquity...The King James Version employed the essentially literal method....Translations such as the New American Standard Bible, English Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, New King James Version, and New American Bible all use the same translation philosophy of the King James Version.
~Why I Read the ESV Bible, by Collin M.In other words, some versions just go for the general meaning of the Greek and Hebrew, while some advocate translating the very words themselves.
The NIV holds to the 'dynamic equivalence' method.
2011 NIV Bible
Since I would be concerned if I had to give a plot synopsis to the Bible here, I think I'll bypass that part, and go straight to my thoughts, giving them in the form of Pros and Cons.
To start out on a positive note, the layouts of study Bibles now pack in a lot more than they used to. Along with the notes at the bottom of the page, the 2011 NIV study Bible has extensive charts of themes, kings, historical events, and other important Bible trivia, expanded and updated since it's 1980s counterpart. They enhance the reading greatly, and add understanding and instruction to the text. Along with the charts and notes, it has a beautiful binding and an excellent layout. Easy to read, with a good print size, this carefully crafted study Bible makes the reading of Scripture easy and pleasurable.
Also, to further enhance the reading of Scripture, there are extensive pictures every few pages: plants, biblical locations, pictures of Egyptian drawings, pictures of coins and artifacts (including a crucified heel bone); all these things help to show how archaeology only goes to prove Scripture true. Though Scripture needs no man-made proof, the Lord has blessed us with archaeological confirmations, and the 2011 NIV Bible shows us many pictures of these proofs, without our having to go to a museum to actually see them.
Altogether, this 2011 study Bible is certainly a good aid for Scripture study; it might be useful to have on your shelf to enhance and act as an aid. The only disappointing thing in the NIV Bible is the Scripture itself, and the liberties the translators took to make it more politically correct.
Here are the cons that ultimately made me switch Bible translations, mostly due to the effect it had on me while I was reading it:
1. The 2011 NIV Bible removes most of the male-specific references and makes many passages neutral gender.
I understand that in Paul's epistles the Greek work "Brothers" can be interpreted "Brothers and Sisters", and were this the only thing that the 2011 translation changes, I could get used to it. But calling a woman a 'deacon' in the church--giving the impression that it is perfectly acceptable for women to be on the church leadership--should cause an eyebrow raising. The impression the scholars want you to get by their word choices matters, folks. They have an agenda, and it's all right to acknowledge that. This is by far the only instance. All references to fathers are taken out and replaced with 'ancestors' or 'parents'. This change takes out the message of male headship and patriarchy that are unapologetically present in unsullied Scripture, and an inescapable doctrine of the Christian faith.
The 2011 NIV Bible is not committed in this instance to purity, but to cultural acceptability, and shifts the message to make the Bible acceptable to the worldviews that have come to us from atheists and Marxists and feminists. These are hard-hitting words, I know. I fully intend them to be. When the purity of Scripture is at stake, then Christians must not excuse the scholars who dealt so lightly with the infallible and God-breathed wording that we must guard. I do not say these things in rebuke of the people who read this version, certainly. Many people read this version in ignorance of the worldview shift it supports, and it is our part to have compassion, and gently point out error to those who didn't notice, or know no better. But I do believe the Lord will hold those people accountable who tamper with His Word deliberately, and that is why I take this point so seriously.
Thus, this version compromises God-give authority, first of all.
2. The 2011 NIV Bible seriously deteriorated my vocabulary, and in some cases, polluted my mind rather than cleansing it.
The Bible is what I read the most of at this point in my life, and within a few months it had seriously deteriorated my vocabulary. It's not dumbed-down as far as some other Bible versions, but all the rich word choices that you see in more intellectual versions are carefully made more common in this version. It's not a version that pulls you up; it's a version that meets you right where you are. This may sound like a snooty reason for disliking a Bible translation, but I think especially with Scripture that is spiritually feeding us, we should be mentally challenged while reading it, not swallowing down concepts that have been pureed for easy digestion. I don't mean that the Bible should not be on the level of common man. It definitely should. But at the same time, the Bible should not be on our level at all; we seek to strive to its level, not the other way around. This 2011 version deteriorated my vocabulary--or at least, didn't maintain the level of vocabulary I had--so much that I don't think I've quite built my word selection back up to what it was before.
But that's not the only thing it did. Some of the pictures included as study aids are of nude Egyptians, and also the vile goddess Asherah, a nude woman. These things are not necessary or appropriate to be included in common study Bibles, and only pull down and defile the purity that we as Christians should be able to rely on when we seek out God's Word.
3. The 2011 NIV Bible temporarily damaged my view of the credibility of Scripture, due solely to the fault of the translation itself.
I didn't turn into an agnostic, certainly, during the time I read the 2011 NIV. But time and again, especially in the New Testament and Paul's epistles, I would read passages multiple times, trying to fit them in with what I knew to be true. One should not have to read the Bible and take captive false worldviews while doing it. The Bible should be a place of trust, a haven where we can come to receive ultimate direction, and rely on its truth. But while I read the 2011 NIV, I had neither that trust, nor was this version worthy of it. I wish I had written down the specific verses that caused me to question the logic and truth of what I was reading. I don't remember them. But I do remember morning after morning comparing these verses to different versions such as KJV, ESV, and the old NIV, and finding that it was neither the fault of my mind, nor the fault of Scripture itself, but the fault of the shoddy word choices that the 2011 NIV used.
Lest I withhold credit where credit is due, let me say that there were a few instances where the wording was actually improved, and completely acceptable and accurate. But those few instances did not balance out the majority of times where the credibility of Scripture was compromised.
I find it hard to have words to explain this; but the truth remains that while I read the 2011 NIV, I struggled with the logic of Christianity, the logic of the wording in Scripture, and why God would choose such a sloppy way to word His truth. As a writer, I'm keen to when writing rules are broken, and though I know they are man-made, and God's Word trumps in all man-made rules, the 2011 NIV is neither beautifully worded, nor an example that you can point to and say 'imitate this'. It has poor grammar, and poor structure, and it grieves me to see Scripture so sullied.
This version damaged my view of the perfection of Scripture in just a few months. It's that potent, and I had read the Bible for 10 years before that. During that time, I held on to what I knew rather than what I was reading with my eyes. I kept thinking "I know the Christian faith makes more sense than this. Why am I doubting so much now? But this just makes no logical or ethical sense to me."
And then, when I stopped reading the 2011 NIV, and switched over to a different and better version, the doubts disappeared, and the critiquing, and the inner struggles. To be honest, I forgot that I even struggled in the first place, and that confirmed in my mind that it was not the fault of my mind, or a hard heart to the Word of God, but due to very faulty wording of the version I was reading before.
The version of Scripture we read is so vital, my friends. It is the center of our understanding of God, for we cannot know God without knowing His Word. And that is why we must be so very, very careful to choose a trustworthy interpretation. I did not find this trustworthiness in the 2011 NIV Bible, and to be quite honest, I do not think this version is wise for any Christian to make part of their daily reading. It may be a resource on occasion, but certainly not for steady spiritual nourishment. Again, today's comments are meant for the 2011 version only, and not the 1980s version, which we were quite happy with, and would use today if it were still available.
The above reasons are why our family chose a different version. And that version I'll be reviewing on Friday.
It seems fitting that my 200th blog post should be centered around the Word of God. I didn't plan that, just like I didn't plan that I would finish my reading plan the same week as I hit my 200th post. It's called a grace moment; one of those numerous little occasions that show us just how much our Lord loves to tie things together in the lives of His children, and glorify Himself in the very center of all our special occasions.
If any of my readers are at Bible Bee this week, I would be delighted to meet up with you! You can find Junior B's bio on the website here, and if you find her, I'm pretty sure to be close by. :)