In 1965, a cross-denominational gathering of evangelical scholars agreed to start work on a modern English version of the Bible. In order to ensure both accuracy and readability, they chose to translate from the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic manuscripts.
They soon formed the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) – the self-governing body responsible for this ambitious task. Members brought with them not only decades of Bible translation experience, but an unshakeable commitment to God’s Word.
To ensure maximum accuracy and readability, the CBT assigned two lead translators, two translation consultants, and one English style consultant (if necessary) to each book of the Bible. Another team of five Bible scholars reviewed their work, carefully comparing it to the original biblical text and assessing its readability. Passages were then tested with pastors and laypeople.
The result of their labors was the New International Version (NIV), first published in 1978. The initial print run of over a million copies sold out before they were finished printing.
Publishing the NIV was not the end of the project. The mandate given to the CBT in 1965 was to continue translation work in order to reflect the very best of biblical scholarship and contemporary English.
Updates to the NIV fall into three basic categories: changes in English, progress in scholarship, and concern for clarity.
An example of a change in English is the word “alien.” Once used to denote a foreigner or immigrant, in the 1970s it began to be used to describe visitors from outerspace or extraterrestrial beings. This is why Genesis 23:4 in the 2011 NIV was updated to read: “I am a foreigner and stranger among you…”
Progress in scholarship involves biblical research. For instance, in the years between the 1984 and 2011 NIVs, scholars found that the Greek word lestai, used to describe the men crucified on either side of Jesus refers not to “robbers” but the “rebels.”
A concern for clarity can be seen in changes such as “when Jacob saw Rachel daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother” to “when Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban.”
According to the NIV charter, the Committee on Bible Translation is responsible for both monitoring developments in English usage and biblical scholarship, and employing these developments in the text. Each proposed change must be approved by at least 70% of the committee members.
The CBT has continued to meet every year since the release of the original NIV in 1978, to ensure that it remains accurate and faithful for generations to come.
“It has been a profound privilege for us as translators to return, once again, to the vision that first inspired the team who began this great work,” a statement from the CBT says. “When God spoke through the text of the Bible, he said exactly what he wanted to say in the language of everyday people. Two thousand years later, we have sought to give the world a Bible translation that reflects those same priorities: Hear God’s Word the way it was written and understand it the way it was meant! Take it, read it, listen to it, pray over it, enjoy it and use it to grow in Christian maturity!”