The translation choices of the new NIV are similar to those of the old NIV. NIV 1984 and NIV 2011 are often but not consistently traditional in diction. Here and there new NIV returns to the wording of what one might call the “common English Bible tradition.” More typically, NIV 2011’s wording departs, sometimes radically, from the wording of the Tyndale-Geneva-KJV tradition where NIV 1984 did not. An example is discussed below.
Old and new NIV are far easier to read than KJV or ESV. NIV is the product of, and is marketed to, a broadly based, world-wide, evangelical Christian community. It is a “brand” many people know and trust. For all of these reasons, the new NIV is positioned to be the best-selling translation of the Bible in the English-speaking world for the foreseeable future. 400 million copies have been sold or distributed since 1984, the year NIV appeared.
That does not mean I am happy that new NIV will be the closest thing to a “common English Bible” for the foreseeable future. The “common English Bible” of my dreams would be more firmly rooted in the Tyndale-Geneva-KJV tradition. It would be updated linguistically where appropriate – in the realm of syntax, NIV shows the way whereas ESV does not go far enough.
In line with ESV and to a larger extent than new NIV, it would preserve important traditional renderings where defensible, and significant non-traditional renderings would be reported in footnotes. For example, given that NIV is a Christian Bible, it makes sense for it to translate Isaiah 7:14 with “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” But a clarifying footnote might read: virgin: compare LXX; Matt 1:23; Luke 1:31, 34; Vulgate. The Hebrew is less specific: young woman.
Rick Mansfield has a review up of the new NIV I recommend. However, I favor preserving a greater number of traditional renderings in a "common English Bible" than Rick does. Even when traditional renderings require clarification, in passages like John 3:16.
What Rick never explains is why he makes primary use of HCSB and NLT. It ought to be obvious: he is Southern Baptist. For the same reason, a United Methodist might make primary use of NRSV and CEB; a Roman Catholic, of (say) RSV and NAB. The sociological reasons for choosing one Bible over another tend to go undiscussed. They are often determinative.
I am a fan of what is called close reading or “explication de texte.” By that I mean reading that attends to a text’s poetics, its means and ends of persuasion, and “the thing,” die Sache, the text concerns itself with. Close reading is often defined more narrowly as reading attentive to genre, structure, tropes, diction, register, and tone, a focus on details of text and texture. Either way, is it possible to read the Bible closely, in translation?
The obvious answer is “no.” It cannot be done, any more than one can attend to the fine grain of Homer’s Iliad or Dante’s Inferno in translation. An alternative answer is “yes” - with perseverance, training, and the help of a “close translation” and commentary thereto.
A very different answer, based on classical theological assumptions, with a focus on die Sache: an emphatic “yes” - regardless of style of translation. But a defense of that answer would take us far afield.
Here is Qoh 11:1-2:
שַׁלַּח לַחְמְךָ עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם כִּי־בְרֹב הַיָּמִים תִּמְצָאֶנּוּ׃
תֶּן־חֵלֶק לְשִׁבְעָה וְגַם לִשְׁמוֹנָה
כִּי לֹא תֵדַע מַה־יִּהְיֶה רָעָה עַל־הָאָרֶץ׃
Here is my attempt at a “close translation”:
11:1 Cast your bread on the water’s surface: after many days you will recover it.
11:2 Give a portion to seven, even to eight:
you do not know what trouble will come on earth.
Here is the old NIV:
11:1 Cast your bread upon the waters,
for after many days you will find it again.
11:2 Give portions to seven, yes to eight,
for you do not know what disaster may come upon the earth.
Here is the new NIV:
11:1 Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
11:2 Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
The new NIV at Qohelet 11:1-2 is not so much a translation as an interpretation. I dissent from the interpretation – based on a parallel from Egyptian wisdom literature, the Instruction of Onchsheshonqy 19:10 “Do a good deed and throw it in the water; when it dries up you will find it.” Deeds of charity, not business ventures, are more likely at issue in Qoh 11:1-2. Targum, Qohelet Rabbah, Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Rashbam interpret in that vein; as Michael Fox puts it, the sense is “wager on charitable and gracious deeds, even if this seems like a long shot, because the unexpected may happen and your deeds pay off” (A Time to Tear Down & A Time To Build Up: A Rereading of Ecclesiastes; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, 312).
As an aside, I note: the old NLT brings out the “philanthropic” interpretation, loud and clear - but at the cost of demetaphorizing the text, a purchase price I’m unwilling to pay. The new NLT, like the new NIV, opts for the “capitalist” interpretation.
Even if I didn’t dissent from the interpretation new NIV instantiates, I would still have reservations about new NIV’s willingness to paraphrase the source text so thoroughly in order to deliver its adopted interpretation.
It so happens that in Qoh 11:1-2, new NIV follows the lead of NEB/REB. The question remains: how legitimate is it to sacrifice the wording of the source text if it gets in the way of a clear, univocal, interpretive translation? If this route is taken, isn’t an explanatory footnote the least one can offer? "Literally, ...."
NRSV, too, follows the capitalist interpretation of Qoh 11:1. But it takes fewer liberties with the source text to bring it out:
11:1 Send out your bread upon the waters;
for after many days you will get it back.
11:2 Divide your means seven ways, or even eight,
for you do not know what disaster may happen on earth.
NRSV is too free in my view, but more faithful to source diction than NEB/REB and new NIV. The advantage of a “close translation” like the one I offer above? From there, it’s possible to move on to interpretation, in more than one direction – in this instance, of the philanthropic or capitalist variety.
Does that mean I think “close translation” of the sort I offer should become the new “common English Bible”? No. I think a close translation that sticks to the Tyndale-Geneva-King James tradition where defensible, with linguistic updates in vocabulary and syntax where appropriate, would make the best common English Bible. For the passage under review:
11:1 Cast your bread upon the waters;
you will find it after many days.
11:2 Give a portion to seven,
even to eight;
you do not know what trouble
will come on earth.