More than 65 million copies of the New International Version of the Bible have been sold since 1978, an unparalled publishing phenomenon that its general editor attributes to what he calls the text's "ABCD."
Accuracy, beauty, clarity and dignity were the goals of all of the hundreds of theologians and scholars who participated in the decades-long undertaking, Kenneth Barker told a gathering of religious leaders this week in Salt Lake City.Barker, a theologian, consultant, author and executive director of the NIV Translation Center in Texas, said the NIV Bible was intended to balance the formal, literal translations - such as the Authorized King James Version - and the free, dynamic versions - such as the Living Bible.
The effort began in 1955 with the formulation of an idea and goals and continued for the next 23 years, Barker said. The translation itself took more than 10 years and involved dozens of committees that were organized into a hierarchy of responsibility.
The initial translation was done by teams of more than 100 scholars. Their work was evaluated and revised by an intermediate editing committee. A general editing committee then "sharpened, honed and polished" the work. An executive committee of 15 scholars - including Barker - had the responsibility of determining the final wording and content.
But the work did not end with the NIV's publication in 1978. "It is and always will be in ongoing review," Barker said, explaining that editors continue to assess concerns and criticisms.
He invited the pastors and scholars attending the Salt Lake City meeting to communicate any concerns they might have to him but warned that the NIV editing committee is a "hard-headed, stubborn" group that will not be easily persuaded to change a single word without strong supporting evidence.
Barker said translators strived to clarify passages of the Bible without sacrificing accuracy or tampering with theological concepts. To illustrate, he cited Job 36:33 from the King James Ver-sion:
"The noise thereof sheweth concerning it, the cattle also concerning the vapor."
He said, "I have never been able to unravel the meaning of that."
In the NIV translation, the passage says:
"His thunder announces the coming storm, even the cattle make known its approach."
According to Barker, the NIV editors wanted the text to flow like good English literature. "We wanted normal, natural, beautiful English." At the same time, they avoided vulgarisms and slang in order to preserve the dignity of the text, he said.
In response to a question from the audience, Barker said the most familiar passages of the Bible - such as the Lord's Prayer - were the ones that provoked the most "vigorous discussions" among the translators.
Working on the project proved to be a humbling experience, Barker said. Ideas were challenged, and editors found it necessary to rethink and revise their views when the evidence demanded it.
The NIV was financed by the International Bible Society, a non-profit organization, which leased North American commercial publication rights to Zondervan Publishing House. The NIV now outsells the King James Version worldwide, Barker said.