When the original Bible documents first emerged, they captured exactly what God wanted to say in the language and idiom of ordinary people. There was no friction between hearing God’s Word the way it was written and understanding it the way it was meant. The original audience experienced a unique fusion of these two ingredients.
Readers of the Bible today, however, no longer experience this fusion. The passage of two thousand years has turned the Greek and Hebrew of Bible times from living languages into historical artefacts that only scholars can understand.
If we had the original documents in our hands today, they would still represent exactly what God wanted to say. But the vast majority of people would no longer be able to understand them.
King James Version
In 1611, the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible brought English readers back as close to that original fusion as possible. As with all translations, the KJV involved some loss of transparency to the original documents. And yet that small loss in transparency was more than made up for by a tremendous gain in comprehensibility: People could hear God’s Word in their own language! The result propelled the body of Christ into a new era of personal transformation and global reformation.
But, just like the original documents, the KJV was unable to escape the effects of time. The English language changed. The “thys” and “thous” and “whosoevers” of the KJV became less and less the language of everyday people and more and more the language of a bygone age. The KJV’s ability to present God’s Word the way it was written, while at the same time allowing readers to understand it the way it was meant, began to decline.
20th Century Translations
During the last century, a number of new English Bible translations emerged to compensate for the changes in language since the translation of the KJV.
Some translations placed a high priority on reading God’s Word the way it was written — giving the modern English reader the opportunity to see much of the form and structure of the original documents. Other translations place a high priority on understanding God’s Word the way it was meant — helping the modern English reader to grasp the content of the Bible in their own words and their own idioms.
New International Version
The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) was formed in 1965 to create a modern English Bible translation from the oldest and best-available biblical manuscripts. The committee represented, and still does represent, the very best in evangelical biblical scholarship with its members drawn from various denominations and from some of the finest academic institutions in the world.
The NIV is founded on the belief that if reading God’s Word the way it was written and understanding it the way it was meant were the hallmarks of the original reading experience, then accuracy in translation demands that neither one of these two criteria be prioritised above the other. First published from 1973, the NIV rapidly became the world’s most read modern English Bible with more than 400 million copies in print.
Built to endure! The NIV was designed from the very start with a built-in mechanism to defy the attrition of time. So the NIV translation team continued to meet, year after year, reviewing developments in biblical scholarship and changes in English usage — revising the translation to ensure that it continues to offer its readers an experience that mirrors that of the original audience, and periodically releasing those revisions in updated editions of the text.
A second major NIV update was issued in 1984.
2011 edition In 2011, the CBT completed their work to further a third major update. It is this edition that you will hear read and see projected at GBC. The 1984 version of the NIV, and the 2002 version of the TNIV are now being discontinued in print in favour of the 2011 text.
A fuller explanation from the NIV translators can be found here.