Controversial 'gender' translation is to be phased out as new one aims to cement share in increasingly competitive Bible market
The best-selling New International Version (NIV) is to be updated for the first time in 25 years, while the controversial Today's New International Version (TNIV) is to be phased out after the revision.
The move was announced last month by Zondervan, which publishes both the NIV and TNIV; the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT); and Biblica, holder of the NIV copyright.
With more than 300 million copies sold since its first publication in 1978, the NIV is the world's best-selling Bible translation, although more recent translations such as the English Standard Version (ESV) and New Living Translation (NLT) have grown in popularity in an increasingly crowded Bible market
The NIV's market share percentage last year was 34%, followed by the King James Version (KJV, 14%), New King James Version (NKJV, 13%), NLT (13%) and ESV (4%), according to Zondervan research. In 2005, the NIV had 35% of the market, followed by KJV (15%), NKJV (13%), NLT (11%) and ESV (2%).
"I don't believe this is a commercial decision," Zondervan CEO and President Moe Girkins said of the planned NIV update. "I believe it's a right decision."
Comprising a team of global biblical scholars, the CBT is slated to finish its revision—which will reflect changes in English usage and advances in biblical scholarship—late next year, with publication of the new NIV in 2011. The year will mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Version, and will be "a great celebration year for the Bible," Girkins said.
"We want to reach English speakers across the globe with a Bible that is accurate, accessible and that speaks to its readers in a language they can understand," said Keith Danby, global president and CEO of Biblica, formerly IBS-STL Global, during the news conference in September at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill. He added that the original charter called for the NIV to be evergreen, with revisions and updates.
Previous efforts to remake the NIV for contemporary audiences in different editions have been hindered by controversies regarding gender language. Zondervan released a New Testament of the TNIV in 2002 and the complete Bible in 2005, which critics decried for changing some gender-specific pronouns.
Zondervan reported that in 2007—two years after the release of the complete TNIV—it had sold 1 million units, including the company's celebrity-driven audio Bible, Inspired By… The Bible Experience.
But during the September press conference, Girkins said the TNIV had "divided the evangelical Christian community," and the Grand Rapids, Mich., publisher will phase out the translation in a period of 18 months to three years after the release of the revised NIV. Zondervan currently has more than 200 products featuring the NIV and TNIV, company officials said.
The CBT has invited questions and comments on the new revision process at the Web site www.nivbible2011.com. Christian retailers with concerns about the TNIV and critics of the translation were glad to hear that it will be phased out.
Beverly Hall, manager of Salt Cellar in Lawton, Okla., said the TNIV should be discontinued. "It has been a hard sale for us and generally has been a marked-down or return item," she said.
"The main reason we have seen (from) our customer base is the gender-neutral aspect of the TNIV has not been well-received. The TNIV products currently in our store are majority mark down and we will be doing deeper discounts to liquidate them further."
Hall added that the NIV was not her top-selling Bible, but it did produce good sales. "Hopefully, as they update the NIV, it will not just become the TNIV with a new title," she said. "I feel like sometimes we try to hard to be relevant with today's culture. To simplify the Word doesn't mean to compromise the meaning."
Lorraine Valk, co-owner Banner Books Parable Christian Store of St. Joseph in St. Joseph, Mich., said the TNIV had been "a hard sell" to her customers, and had "under-produced in the market."
Brenda Harrison, co-owner of Lighthouse Christian Bookstore in Bedford, Ind., said the NIV was her best-selling Bible, but she carried only a small stock of the TNIV.
"When the TNIV first came out, we did not want to carry it because of the gender-inclusive language," she said. "We saw no point in it, and felt uneasy about this change. We did start carrying a few, since we had customers asking for it. … I hope that this updated version will not be with the gender-inclusive language."
Evangelical Christian Publishers Association CEO Mark Kuyper said that he looked forward to the updated version of the NIV.
"I admire the courage demonstrated by Biblica, the Committee on Bible Translation and Zondervan to acknowledge and respond to the challenges offered by readers and the academic community regarding the TNIV," he said.
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author, said the "unfreezing" of the NIV was announced in a way that was "respectful and honest."
"Those of us who have had significant concerns with TNIV should communicate these concerns respectfully, candidly and directly to the Committee on Bible Translation, Zondervan and Biblica," Mohler wrote on his blog.
"We must all pray that their work will produce an updated translation we can greet with appreciation and trust," he added. "We must take the Committee on Bible Translation at their word that they will consider these concerns."
CBT Chairman Douglas Moo said during the news conference that the new NIV will include a "complete review of every gender-related change since the publication of the 1984 edition."
"We recognize that not everyone will be happy with all the decisions that we make," said Moo, adding that 95% of the revised NIV would be the same as the current version.
Girkins added: "We are expecting less than 5% of (the NIV) to change. Zondervan has great respect for Doug Moo and the CBT. They are committed to reconsider all critical input."
She said the move to update of the NIV was not a unilateral decision. "Zondervan and Biblica have ongoing strategic-planning meetings for all NIV- and TNIV-related products," Girkins said.
"The idea surfaced in one of these strategic meetings. In the end, it was a joint and unanimous decision by the leaders of Biblica, the CBT and Zondervan that was then presented to the Biblica board of directors, who unanimously approved the go-ahead."