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Forty Years of the NIV Bible

Forty Years of the NIV Bible

The NIV Bible, or the New International Version to give it its full title, was first published in 1978 – forty years ago this year. The British English edition followed the year after, in 1979. However, few may be aware that the project began over twenty years earlier, with one man’s vision for a Bible translation that everyone could read. 

In 1955, Howard Long, an engineer and passionate believer from Seattle was away on business. One night he was dining with a business associate in Portland and the conversation turned to Long’s Christian faith. Long immediately opened his King James Bible and began to read to the other man, who promptly started laughing. This was not the reaction Long had anticipated! He was devastated that the language of the KJV had proved such a barrier to the man understanding the Gospel and resolved there and then to do something about it. 

Long shared his concerns with his pastor, a minister in the Christian Reformed Church, and together they petitioned their congregation and denomination at large regarding the need for a contemporary translation. Eventually, after partnering with the National Association of Evangelicals, the longed-for new translation was commissioned, and in 1965 the Committee on Bible Translation was formed to undertake the work. 

The CBT, as it is better known, was a group of renowned biblical scholars from across the evangelical spectrum. They were (and in fact, still are) an independent and self-governing body, standing separate from both Biblica, the owners of the translation, and the publishers. Their remit was to take the best available Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts and translate them from scratch, making sure they faithfully conveyed the Word with maximum accuracy and readability. This rigorous process – thought to be the most thorough of any Bible translation in history – was finally completed in 1975 and the first full edition was published in the US by Zondervan, three years later. Such was the demand for a Bible in everyday modern English that the million-copy first print run sold out before the Bibles had even left the printer. The New International Version was immediately adopted by evangelical churches and theological colleges across America. Hodder & Stoughton acquired the rights to Anglicise the and the NIV new translation quickly took hold in the UK too. Today it is the most widely read Bible translation in modern English in the world. 

The work of the Committee on Bible Translation did not cease with the publication of the first edition, however. In keeping with the philosophy of the original translation – to create a Bible translation that was simultaneously faithful to the original scriptures and in harmony with contemporary English language usage – the committee was required to pay constant attention both to changes in biblical scholarship, and to the way we speak and understand English. Thus, they meet every year to review proposed revisions to the text, but nothing is changed unless 70% of the committee agree. When enough changes have amassed, the translation is reissued. The first of these reissues was in 1984, and most recently, in 2011. It is not known when the next update will be. 

Although by 2011, the CBT had over 25 years’ worth of revisions to make to the text, in fact 95% of the result remained identical to the 1984 edition. The 5% that was updated included changes made to reflect new scholarship, changes for the sake of clarity and changes in word use. For example, through the discovery of drawings and descriptions of comparable clothing, it is thought that the word ‘ornate’ better describes Joseph’s coat in Genesis 37, rather than the ‘richly ornamented robe’ from the 1984 translation, which suggests that there were decorations hanging from it.

As an example of word changes, how many readers today would use the word ‘overweening’ in a sentence, much less be able to define it? Moab’s ‘overweening pride’ in Isaiah 16:6 and Jeremiah 48:29 has therefore become her ‘great ... arrogance’.

Much public attention has been paid to the updates in male/female pronouns in the 2011 revision. The approach taken by the CBT can best be described as ‘Gender Accuracy’, rather than ‘Gender Inclusivity’. In a nutshell, this means that where in the original language a male is indicated, a masculine term is used. If a female is indicated, a feminine term is used, and if it’s clearly inclusive then the NIV uses inclusive language too. The result is much more faithful to the original text, and also reflects language use today. 

The NIV is the bestselling Bible translation in the UK with 34% market share, ahead of the KJV (19%) and the ESV (10%). With the arrival of 2011 revision, we at Hodder & Stoughton (the UK Publishers of the NIV ) took the opportunity to reissue our entire range of Bibles. We currently have over 90 print editions available alongside a growing range of eBooks, audio downloads and apps, in order to provide individuals and churches with the widest possible range of British text Bibles. 

Since 2013 we have seen huge growth in Journalling Bibles – a format with extra-wide margins and thicker pages, which allows room for readers to reflect creatively as they read Scripture. Autumn 2016’s ‘Colouring In’ edition jumped into our top five bestsellers, and last year’s Single-Column edition illustrated by Hannah Dunnett has enjoyed a rapturous reception with booksellers – so much so that we reprinted before publication day! 

In 2014, David Suchet, famous on national TV as Agatha Christie’s Poirot recorded the NIV Audio Bible, which has sold an astonishing 25,000 copies to date. Published in November 2016, The Audio Bible in One Year is the easiest way to read the whole Bible in a year – on CD, as a download or via the app – and has remained in our top ten bestsellers all year. 

Of course the NIV Pew Bibles are our bread and butter, making up 20% of Bible sales. In 2017 we published two Larger Print editions, both with 11pt text. These are available in single editions and 10 copy packs. The Bible text is 20% bigger than our standard Pew Bibles, but keeps the same pagination, so churches can easily mix and match both print sizes.

Without the presence of bricks and mortar Christian bookshops, many churches would find it very difficult to find Pew Bibles for their congregations. Hodder Faith is keen to support the Christian trade, and since the launch of our Stockist Scheme we have seen 75 Christian bookshops sign up to receive unique promotions and instore display materials, in return for committing to minimum stock levels. Recent POS items include attractive shelf ‘cubes’ displaying the logo, and an unlimited supply of plastic bags, featuring a beautifully designed verse from Psalm 23. 

Our Bible publishing highlights for 2018 include two stunning new Journalling Bibles which both have extra pages for verse-mapping, which is a Bible study method which helps you to focus deeply on one verse at a time. October sees the publication in print for the first time of Nicky Gumbel’s Bible in One Year Commentary, with a combined Bible in One Year and Commentary to follow in 2019. 

We are also excited to kick off the fortieth anniversary year with three special ruby-themed editions – a Pocket, a Thinline and a Journaling – publishing in September. We hope all three will boldly proclaim, as the NIV so beautifully puts it, that ‘Wisdom’ – the Word of God – ‘is more precious than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with her.’ 

Joanna Davey is Bibles Editor at Hodder Faith. She is responsible for looking after and commissioning for the NIV range

Article used with permision, Together Magazine - Issue 29 - Jan/Febr 2018

NIV Bibles

NIV Tan Single-Column Journalling Bible (Hard Cover)
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Products mentioned in or related to this blog post
NIV Journalling Bible Illustrated by Hannah Dunnett (Hard Cover)
International Version, New
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NIV Verse Mapping Bible (Hard Cover)
International Version, New
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NIV: Larger Print Bible, Blue (Hard Cover)
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