Thursday, October 11, 2007

Can the TNIV Be Used for "In-Depth" Study?

In the comments of the previous post, a reader asked this question: Can someone please explain to me how you can use the TNIV for in-depth study? I love the TNIV, but I am having a hard time using it for deep study because of the dynamic equivalence. I don't know if this is a mindset or an actual problem.

Well, I don't think it's an actual problem (for which I'll make a case below). However, if it's mindset, it may come from using formal equivalent translations for so long. I know because I've been there. Some days I'm still there, but I've made lots of progress!

Really, it may be difficult to answer your question definitively because (1) I don't know what you were using before the TNIV, and (2) I don't exactly have a definition for what you mean by in-depth or deep study. Nevertheless, I'll make some assumptions and answer the best I can.

First, let me make a clarification at the very beginning. In my reading of the TNIV, I don't consider it a pure dynamic equivalent translation at all. I consider it a median translation, sometimes more literal and sometimes more dynamic according to the decisions of the translators (and all translation requires such decisions, even interpretive decisions). On one side of the spectrum, one can find fairly literal translations such as the NASB or the NKJV. On the other end, one can find good examples of dynamic equivalency in translations such as the GNT and the CEV.

In the middle are translations such as the NIV/TNIV and the HCSB. The NRSV is a bit closer to that median range than was the RSV, and the NLT2 is not quite as far down the road of dynamic equivalency as was the NLT1.

You might even want to check out an old post of mine, "TNIV More Literal than the NASB?" where I point out renderings where the TNIV is more literal. It's so not throughout, but the TNIV is more literal in some places meaning these categories are not always hard and fast. And I've also demonstrated a number of times that the TNIV is much more formal/literal in its renderings than the NIV.

As for doing in-depth study, let me point to the example of the NIV. The reality is that there are more commentaries and reference books in the modern period based on the NIV than any other translation, and as I've pointed out, it's more dynamic than the TNIV is!

Granted most of your more "in-depth" commentaries will deal directly with the original languages, sometimes offering the writer's own translation (WBC) and sometimes not (ICC). But a number of mid-level commentaries will use the NIV and still interact with the original languages to a certain extent. The NAC is an example of that. The body of the commentary itself is based on the NIV, but the writers are free to interact with Greek and Hebrew in the footnotes, allowing the reader to go more in-depth as he or she wants to based on knowledge and ability. I might also point to the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, another mid-level series, and this based on the NLT2 (much further along the dynamic path than the TNIV) which is an attempt to facilitate serious study using a non-formal/literal translation.

Another reason for the success of the original NIV for serious study was the early development of the Goodrick-Kohlenberger numbering system which connected the translation back to the original Greek and Hebrew. If you've ever spent any time with it, you know that the GK system is more than simply the NIV version of Strong's dictionaries. It not only fixed Strong's but improved it since the GK system takes the connections of homonyms and related words into account in its system. The development of the GK numbering system for the NIV allowed access to the underlying Greek and Hebrew of the translation to anyone whether they had studied original languages or not. This gave access to significant technical works such as the NIDOTTE to all, even if the user hadn't studied Hebrew.

So, what about the TNIV? Well, keep in mind that it's a new translation. But I do know that a project is well underway to apply the GK system to the TNIV. Once that is done, the reader can have instant access to numerous reference works tied directly to the TNIV, even taking advantage of those older works written in relation to the NIV. Plus we'll be able to have tagged electronic editions of the TNIV in computer software. Currently, I still use the NASB as my default translation in Accordance because it's tagged, but I'll gladly switch the default to a tagged TNIV when it becomes available. [Note: I don't use an original language text for my default in Accordance because I prefer to have the software open to a text containing both testaments].

Also the forthcoming second edition of the Readers Greek New Testament is going to reflect the Greek text of the TNIV, a welcome update to the current edition.

All of this to say, I believe the TNIV is set quite well for serious study. So, is it a mindset issue, after all? Well, maybe. There's still a popular notion that literal = more accurate, and that
simply is not true. I've tried to demonstrate this a number of times, too. I would especially recommend two blog posts I wrote a while back:

And for a significant study of the issue, I still like the book Challenge of Bible Translation edited by Scorgie, Strauss, and Voth.

Finally, while it's good to have a primary translation (I'm working very hard to make the TNIV mine), truly in-depth/deep study is going to require reading multiple translations in parallel. Since I usually pursue any significant study of the Bible in front of Accordance these days, I have a "first tier" of sorts that I have open before me as I study. This includes either the Greek or Hebrew and then my preferred English translations: NASB, TNIV, HCSB, and NLT2. The original languages plus a variety of translation approaches help me to study and understand the passage better. I also have a second tier that I examine if I have time including the ESV, NRSV, JPS (which sometimes moves to the first tier on OT passages), NET, KJV and others.

I hope I've helped to answer the question. Further questions and your comments are welcome and encouraged.


Wayne Leman said...

Nice post, Rick.

MissionalGirl said...

Thanks for the post Rick. Before I decided to switch to the TNIV, I asked myself if I could use this translation for in-depth Bible study.

The answer is a resounding YES and using other translations like the NRSV, NASB, and even the GNT haven't hurt.

Michael said...

Great post Rick. I have a question though, where are the basic study resources for the TNIV? For instance, the TNIV Strong's concordance has been listed on Amazon as being available in October of 2005. It is still on a "pre-order" status (see: ).

Without a concordance, it makes it a bit difficult to do word studies.

R. Mansfield said...

The main editor for the concordance, whose name I'll not mention for the sake of privacy, has been battling cancer, and it's slowed the project down. It's coming though, and that work will complete the application of the GK numbers that can then be applied electronically and elsewhere.

Peter Kirk said...

Michael and others, you can use the word search facility at the TNIV website as an online concordance.

R. Mansfield said...

But Peter, I think his point is that until the words in the TNIV are tied to the GK numbers, significant word studies aren't possible. I'm assuming based upon the context of the conversation, that he wants to access the underlying Greek and Hebrew. Once the concordance project is through, this will be possible for anyone, regardless of whether one has studied original languages.

Peter Kirk said...

he wants to access the underlying Greek and Hebrew. Once the concordance project is through, this will be possible for anyone, regardless of whether one has studied original languages.

Oh dear, that's what I was afraid of! ;-) Unfortunately if you want to access the Greek and Hebrew, there is no alternative to learning those languages properly.

randytalbot said...

The problem that I have with statements that the TNIV is more literal than the NIV is that I have found no proof of this. All the Bible charts that I have seen have listed the NIV as being more literal than the TNIV such as this chart . So if the chart shows that the NIV is more literal, how can people say that the TNIV is more literal (just ignore the charts that show the contrary)?

randytalbot said...

Let see if I can make the link to the Bible Chart to work.
Bible Chart

R. Mansfield said...

Peter said, Unfortunately if you want to access the Greek and Hebrew, there is no alternative to learning those languages properly.

Essentially I agree with you, Peter. And perhaps I would phrase your statement as "there's no equivalentalternative to learning those languages properly."

However, as a practical reality, the vast majority of Christians are never going to do that. I'd even love to teach a course at church based on Mounce's Greek for the Rest of Us as a simple introduction to biblical languages. But no one's beating down my door to do this.

And while sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, I think it can be helpful to give at least as much access as is practically possible to the original languages to church members who want to "dig deeper."

Regarding the GK numbers again, most will point to the development of that system as being one of a handful of primary catalysts for the success of the original NIV Bible. This system opened up so many resources that a serious non-academic could apply and thus engage in a more-informed and serious reading of their Bible.

Therefore, it's crucial that such tagging be applied to the TNIV as well, if it's really going to be the successor of the NIV. Plus, such tagging even benefits those who have training in the languages to understand the connection of the English translation to the original text and provide access to some of the same serious resources.

Wayne Leman said...

Randy, I have responded to your important comment in today's post on this blog.

R. Mansfield said...

Randy, I'd disagree with that chart in a number of places. I'd put the NKJV at least equivalent with the NASB if not even further to the left. And I'd move the HCSB closer to the middle. The ESV is on the wrong side of the RSV. While the ESV might be more conservative in places, the RSV is going to be more literal overall. The NAB needs to move much further to the left and the NJB needs to go much further to the right.

I'm not sure what the source is for this chart, but it's not a very accurate one in my opinion.

randytalbot said...

It looks like the Bible translation Chart came for Zondervan's own website

R. Mansfield said...

Ha. That's funny. Well, it's a good thing they check into this blog now and then :-)

Peter Kirk said...

Interesting that Zondervan wants to portray TNIV as more dynamic, less literal than NIV, when in fact the opposite is true. Remember also their target audience for TNIV of 18-35's, and that more dynamic also implies further from ESV, HCSB etc. What does this say about Zondervan's marketing strategy?

Wayne Leman said...

Peter wrote:

Remember also their target audience for TNIV of 18-35's, and that more dynamic also implies further from ESV, HCSB etc. What does this say about Zondervan's marketing strategy?

Personally, I have wondered if the CBT and Zondervan are on the same marketing page. I don't think that the CBT had in mind a target audience of 18-35's. I think they were translating for a wider audience and just updating the English for them. But I think that Zondervan needed a marketing strategy and the demographic study they refer to about 18-35's and Bible usage was timely and could be used for marketing.

I think that there is often a disconnect between the R&D departments of corporations and the advertising departments, which often are hired from outside the company.

I'm in the 55+ age group and I find the TNIV better than the NIV. And I have heard something similar from other middleagers like myself.

R. Mansfield said...

Agreed. It must be remembered that the TNIV ≠ Zondervan.

Todd said...


Thank you for your post on my question, but I'm still having problems seeing what you're saying. I'm not sure how the TNIV can be used for in depth study, specifically for tracing an argument. I'm no translation expert and i'm just a beginner in the Greek language. I have been using ESV or NASB pretty extensively and I understand the disconnect when preaching/teaching with these versions. I'm just having a hard time seeing how I can study and then explain a passage using the TNIV, even though I love to read it. I just wish my brain would shut off sometimes...

R. Mansfield said...

Todd, what do you mean by "trace an argument"?

For what it's worth, I teach out of the TNIV every Sunday, and as I mentioned, it's one of the main translations I use in my preparation.

In your original question, you said you didn't know if it's an actual problem or just a mindset. Maybe it's just a mindset.

Iyov said...

I've added my two cents here, pointing out that TNIV translator Gordon Fee is on the record as saying the NIV is more literal than the TNIV in a book cited on this very blog.

David Southern said...

Hi, The inclusive language of TNIV is very much like the Anglicized Inclusive Edition of NIV (Hodder and Stoughton, not availble in USA). The TNIV is probably what the NIV would have become (and still called NIV) except for the exclusive language kerfuffle in the US. If you want to use GK numbers with TNIV, just have NIV open at the same time. They aren't all that different. Where they are, you will need to use lots of translations anyway.

David Southern

Peter Kirk said...

David, you are both right and wrong that "The inclusive language of TNIV is very much like the Anglicized Inclusive Edition of NIV". Right in that the same kinds of wording have been used, often in the same places. Wrong in that all of these instances have been carefully reviewed for TNIV, and many have been adjusted in response to valid objections made to the Inclusive Edition. There is thus much less in TNIV that anyone could object to.

R. Mansfield said...

Yes, what a lot of folks don't realize is that the TNIV is more conservative in its use of inclusive language than the NIVi was.

David Southern said...

Point taken on the more conservative use of inclusive language in TNIV. A beeter description would probably be "corrected use of inclusive language." Don Carson's book "The Inclusive Language Debate" is a recommended read, not just for inclusive language issues, but for translation theory and linguistics generally.

Sam C said...

(a belated comment)

Following up on todd's comment about the difficulties in tracing an argument.

Romans 1:18 seems to be an example of this. The TNIV omits the connecting 'for' (gar in GK?). This obscures the connection with v17.