Monday, May 7, 2007

Is the TNIV a Dynamic Equivalent translation?

Some bloggers are debating whether or not the TNIV (and NIV) is a Dynamic Equivalent translation. Kevin Wilson, of the Blue Cord, blogged on Analysis of the ESV. Kevin stated:
Interestingly, the ESV does not have a lot in common with the NIV, even though both were produced by conservative, evangelical scholars. This is due to the different translational philosophies. The ESV (along with the RSV and NRSV) employ a word for word translational approach (although not as strictly as the ASV and NASB). The NIV on the other hand uses a phrase by phrase approach (usually called a ‘dynamic’ approach).
Peter Kirk, one of the TNIV Truth bloggers, disagreed in a comment on Kevin's post:

I was surprised that you claimed a large difference between ESV and NIV and that that was because of a fundamentally different translation philosophy. In fact I am surprised how close they are, considering that NIV is a new translation, and ESV is an adaptation of ESV [RSV] which is itself an adaptation of ASV - yet ESV is closer to NIV than to ASV!

In fact it is very misleading to claim that NIV uses a a phrase by phrase approach or a ‘dynamic’ approach. In fact the approach of NIV is only rather slightly different from that of ESV and NRSV, with the translation departing from the literal only where the translators consider that necessary. The difference is that the NIV translators depart from the literal a bit more than the ESV translators - but in fact not a lot more. For a real phrase by phrase or ‘dynamic’ translation, see NLT, TEV/GNT or CEV. In fact it would be interesting to see your graph redone with those translations added. I suspect that you would find NIV much nearer to ESV than to any of them - and that the three of them would be more widely spread than any of the more literal group.

Kevin responded with the post More on the ESV. Kevin quoted Peter and reiterated:
Kirk goes on to say:
In fact it is very misleading to claim that NIV uses a a phrase by phrase approach or a ‘dynamic’ approach. . . For a real phrase by phrase or ‘dynamic’ translation, see NLT, TEV/GNT or CEV.
This is the claim that is made by the NIV itself and most scholars would place the NIV into the category of dynamic.
Mike Aubrey commented on Kevin's post, linking to a post of his own which had a chart which displayed more Bible versions than the chart in Kevin's first post. Mike noted:
I’m providing a few more translations for a better context…but its pretty clear in both of them that the NIV/TNIV are roughly midway between the ESV and the NLT.

From this graph, I’d have to say that Kevin and Peter were each about half right, respectively…
I commented on Mike's post yesterday but that comment isn't displayed yet and I neglected to make a copy of my comments which I sometimes do.

Today I commented on Kevin's second post:
"while the Good News Bible is much looser than a dynamic translation"

Actually, Kevin, the GNB was produced by the American Bible Society, where Eugene Nida, the originator of dynamic equivalence translation theory worked. The GNB was produced to be an example of DE translation. The GNB and its successor the CEV are the two prototypical examples of DE translation theory. If we are going to categorize Bible versions as being DE, we need to do so relative to their similarity in translation philosophy to the GNB and CEV.

To be "looser" than a DE translation is to be what non-technicians call a paraphrase, and among the paraphrases would be the Living Bible, The Message (even though it was translated from the biblical languages it is ranked as a paraphrase as the term paraphrase is used by non-technicians), Philips translation, and the Cotton Patch translations.

The NIV is clearly not as literal a translation as the ESV or NASB, but it is not really a DE translation. It is, rather, a modified literal translation, as is the NET Bible.

The NLT is on the low end of the DE translations. It has many literalisms which are characteristic of FE translations.

None of this takes away from what you and Mike Aubrey have noted, that the NIV is somewhere between the NASB and GNB translations in terms of degree of literalness. It is not easy to assign a category label to the NIV/TNIV in terms of the three main categories usually described: Formal Equivalence, Dynamic Equivalence, and Paraphrase.

My own sense and that of many of my colleagues in the missionary Bible translation effort has been that the NIV is essentially a Formal Equivalent translation with some features of a DE translation. Mark Strauss and Gordon Fee who are on the CBT for the TNIV call Bible versions between rather literal and DE translations "mediating versions".

My own quantified studies, based on translations of specific passages, supports the claim that the NIV and TNIV are approx. half-way between the fully FE translations and true DE translations. The kinds of literalisms in the NIV and TNIV versions, however, do not allow me to label either version as a DE translation. They were not translated according to the DE translation theory as it was developed by Eugene Nida.

My studies can be accessed from this webpage:

(UPDATE, May 8: Today Kevin has blogged another irenic post, Even More on the ESV, in response to my comments. Stay tuned. There may be more to come.)

From my point of view, this good debate shows how difficult it is, at times, to categorize some things in life. The charts which Kevin and Mike have displayed show us the positions of Bible versions relative to each other in terms of degree of literalness. Sometimes knowing a degree of difference or a point on a continuum is more valuable than category labels, such as whether we can categorize the TNIV as Dynamic Equivalent (DE) or Essentially Literal (EL).

I would continue to maintain that in terms of how DE and EL translation approaches have been described, the TNIV (and NIV) are in the EL category, but they are less literal than other versions such as the NRSV and ESV which easily take the EL label. And I consider this moderate positioning of the TNIV on the translation continuum to be one of the assets of the TNIV. Because it is less literal than a number of other English Bible versions, it usually reads better than they do. And it is more easily understood when it is read. Yet, the TNIV is, in my opinion, just as accurate, and in some passages, more so, than more literal translations, since literal translation does not equate with accuracy, as I have written elsewhere in an essay When literal is not accurate. Literalness and accuracy are two different translation parameters.

The TNIV is a trustworthy Bible version which reads relatively well. Those churches and individuals who are accustomed to the NIV will notice few differences if they follow public reading of the NIV with a TNIV which is in their hands. And since the TNIV has increased accuracy over the NIV in a number of passages, I would encourage churches and individuals who have been using the NIV to transition to the TNIV.


Suzanne McCarthy said...


I am very glad you wrote this. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding on this point.

Here, for example, Tim Challies writes about the NIV,

- As we see, the NIV renders the verse in a way that is consistent with the original text

- The NIV does a good job, only changing Sheol to grave

- The NIV remains consistent with the text.

- Once more the translations are varied with the NIV being most literal and the CEV straying furthest from the text.

And so on. The TNIV is identical with the NIV in all the places that Tim cited.

On the CBMW website, the translations are described in these terms.

Two popular translations do not fall exactly into the previous categories. The New International Version (NIV) and Today's New International Version (TNIV) contain substantial elements of dynamic equivalence translation mixed with a basic commitment to essentially literal translation, so they are a mixture of the two types.

Yet, listening to a conference session recently I heard this,

1. formal equivalence

- represent exact words and exact meanings

2. dynamic equivalence

- thought for thought

3. paraphrse

- Living Bible, Message
- one person's opinion

orthodox said...

I find this article to be rather absurd, in trying to attach an essentially literal label to the NIV. That the NIV isn't as dynamic as it could be doesn't alter the fact that it is well and truely devoid of any commitment to formal equivilence.

R. Mansfield said...

Orthodox said, "That the NIV isn't as dynamic as it could be doesn't alter the fact that it is well and truely devoid of any commitment to formal equivilence."

And I say, thank goodness for that! The last thing we need is another formal equivalent translation that awkwardly tries to represent the original languages in a stifled form of English (although I give credit to the NRSV as being more readable than the others).

I tend to like Strauss' recent position in calling the TNIV a "median" translation--between formal and dynamic/functional. I would place the HCSB into that category as well.

Regardless it is erroneous to call the NIV or TNIV a straight dynamic equivalent translation because they are not. And the TNIV is more literal in places than its predecessor.

Mike said...

Thanks Wayne for your input. When I get a chance, I'm going to read that article about literal translations you linked to.

Personally, I wasn't dealing with the labels at all, but just wanting to compare how the translations relate to each other.

PS - My wife and I will be starting the SIL certificate program is just about two months now...

anonymous said...

OK. Now I'm confused. Besides quoting assertions such as "ESV is an adaptation of ESV" you here say the TNIV is not a dynamic translation. And yet even Zondervan's own official web site says the NIV and TNIV are dynamic translations (all quotes below are from

"the NIV's consistent dynamic-equivalence translation"

"I will use the TNIV in my teaching and writing because it more accurately reflects the original texts in dynamic equivalence."

"There are two fundamental approaches to translation theory . . . . These are 'dynamic/functional equivalence' rendering and 'formal equivalence.' . . . The TNIV makes it clear it is a functional equivalence translation."

So now we see the evolution of a term: First, we had the terminology "interpretation." Then, in an effort to scrub that up, we had the terminology "dynamic equivalence." But that phrase soon acquired a negative overtone, so further scrubbing changed the terminology to "functional equivalence." Now, in this lengthy post (the longest to date on this blog) we see even more loaded terminology: "accurate."

George Orwell wrote about this trend to artificial "academic sounding" language (and I recommend reading his full essay:

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision.

We see here the complete evolution of newspeak: words are redefined to mean exactly opposite what they originally meant -- until all meaning is lost. ("War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength").

Wayne Leman said...

words are redefined to mean exactly opposite what they originally meant -- until all meaning is lost

Excellent point! And that is why we need to reserve the label dynamic equivalence for those Bible versions translated according to the translation theory developed by Eugene Nida who originated the term dynamic equivalence and defined it.

Chuck Huckaby said...

I tend to agree that the TNIV has moved more towards a basically literally translation where possible and still be English.

I think this explains my previous comment on the Wesleyan pastor who switched from the NLT. I complained about what I viewed as inconsistencies in this regard and perhaps it's best explained by the TNIV not falling into any rigid category and, at times just going with a KJV rendering to cut down on the letters to the complaint department.

I was glad to see this irenic discussion on the subject too. I had hoped that would happen here, but when I noted what seemed to me an obvious Wesleyan/Reformed divide among acceptance of the TNIV I was immediately suspected of starting an ad hominem attack!

So it's not just on the ESV side that things get a bit snide rather quickly.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I had hoped that would happen here, but when I noted what seemed to me an obvious Wesleyan/Reformed divide among acceptance of the TNIV I was immediately suspected of starting an ad hominem attack!


There seems to be a lot of confusion all around in this thread and I personally confess to being confused.

Could you elaborate more on the Wesleyan/Reformed divide.

anonymous said...

Diana Butler Bass on the NIV

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yes, but she has the same publisher as the NRSV!


Obviously this is one of those "endorsements".

anonymous said...

Fully disclosed in the article (however, it is true, the article had the flavor of an advertisement for the HarperSF NRSV, with the coda and photos of the editions.)