December 13, 2005

Some Other Changes in the TNIV

If you didn't already know --- a new NIV translation of the Bible is now available called the TNIV. The other day, a friend of mine asked me “so why do they even need a TNIV?”

Well, Why Do We?

I remembered listening to a radio interview a while back with John Stek (the chair of the TNIV translation team) --- he made a few good, simple examples of why a newer NIV was needed. I was reminded of this interview today since he happened to answer a translation question of mine. Most of the discussion of the TNIV has focused on its gender (re)wording --- changing “man” to “human beings” and the like. A lot of people don’t like how this translation philosophy changes some passages --- but I’d rather not get into that here and instead focus on a few other interesting changes the TNIV team decided to make.

So What Planet Are They From?

One of the examples Stek gave was in the Old Testament the word “alien” was used pretty often in reference to a foreigner. However, today not only is it socially less correct, but it invokes images of little green men for anyone my age or younger. It makes much more sense to just say “a foreigner” --- of course you could just call them “an undocumented” (oh Lord I hope that will never happen.) You might be tempted to think its no big deal? Well read these verses (ESV) to anyone 25 and under see how they feel.

“Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood.”” Leviticus 17:12

“The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower.” Deuteronomy 28:43

“The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” Psalms 146:9

Frankly, I’m not sure how you can read those in the generation of the X-Files and not have at least the slightest bit of confusion.

He Owed Him How Many Talents?

Another example is in the Gospels --- Jesus tells parables in which he often used the word “talents” as a monetary unit. In the 1st Century a “talent” was a term used for a “fortune” or twenty years' wages for a common worker. However in modern English this makes little sense, and is very confusing --- we think of a talent as a non-monetary non-physical ability. The NIV and ESV handled this by footnoting every instance of the word explaining what it means however the TNIV decided to simply translate a “talent” as a “bag of gold.” Hence “ten thousand talents” becomes “ten thousand bags of gold.” Matthew 18:24 for example:

“As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.” (NIV)

“As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.” (TNIV)

Now the interesting English double meaning of the parable is lost, but the linguistic double meaning didn’t exist in the original context! Given that it has become common to translate distances into modern equivalents (miles) why shouldn’t we translate “talents” as well? However it makes sense not to translate this directly into modern terms because it ruins the ‘feel’ of the parables. This is not so much the case with “miles.” Changing the wording to “he gave him four million dollars” not only ruins it for non-Americans but also makes the parables seem out of context.

He’s so Spiritual!

The TNIV also made a concerted effort to take out the word ‘spiritual’ were it might be misunderstood in modern (pluralistic, new-age) society. For example, 1 Corinthians 2:15:

“The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment” (NIV)

“The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments” (TNIV)

I think this is a decent change, not desperately needed (and can lead to its own problems) --- but still understandable.

Here, Take my Tunic!

One change I don’t really agree with is changing “tunic” to “shirt” and “cloak” to “coat.” Matthew 5:40:

“And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” (NIV)

“And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” (TNIV)

This was no doubt done as to clarify what a “tunic” and “cloak” are --- but it this really needed? There is some level of vocabulary knowledge that I think is acceptable to expect, and seeing that there is no modern confusion with these terms (merely ignorance) this change isn’t necessary. It also ruins the feel of the stories and actually makes the wording sound too modern for my liking.

Is This Not The Translation of Thou?

There a number of other subtle changes made in the TNIV which make it more accessible to modern readers --- but the gender problems it has invoked may cause it troubles for a number of years. That said the NIV wasn’t accepted over night either, and others still insist on 400 year old KJV renderings!

If you’d like you can check out your favorite verses in the TNIV here.

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