The church we have attended in St. Louis these last five years uses the NIV in the pews and during services, and I’ve had lots of good experiences with the NIV, and probably wouldn’t want to attend this church!
That said, the church my wife and I are/will be attending in East Lansing, Michigan had to replace its worn-out pew (really, chair) bibles a few years ago, and when doing so switched from the NIV to the ESV. And the senior pastor there, Kevin DeYoung, has now written a 32 page pamphlet entitled “Why Our Church Switched to the ESV”. And it taught me a couple interesting things about the NIV I hadn’t known.
1. The NIV translators often remove ambiguities that exist in the original Greek or Hebrew texts. DeYoung gives several examples of this. Here is one example from 1 Thessalonians 1:3. The NIV reads,
We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
However, the ESV retains the ambiguity in the original language, reading,
remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here, it isn’t clear, for example, if it is your hope that is steadfast, or if steadfastness is being inspired by hope, as the NIV translators have decided.
2. In the interest of clarity, the NIV sometimes makes poetry less poetic, and proverbs less proverbial sounding. Take Psalm 78:33, in the NIV,
So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror.
Versus the more literal ESV,
So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror.
Interesting. I’m certainly not saying you should go dump your NIV (clarity is something to be appreciated, after all, especially when you are reading alone and not having the text explained to you by a pastor), and there are judgment calls in any translation work. (Which is one reason it is good to read multiple translations if you have the time, and the NIV could certainly be one of them.) But it’s good to know what you’re reading.
If you want to read the whole 32 page pamphlet, follow this link and click “Download PDF Version” toward the bottom of the page.