The production of the TNIV/NIV Bible–the Standard of Integrity

In a recent posting Open Scriptures I made a comment regarding the relationships between the three organizations (actually four) involved in the production and publishing of the NIV and TNIV. I believed, and still do, that the legal and contractual obligations between these partners has placed them above reproach. There were some comments which in effect questioned this. So, I contacted the Executive Vice President of Publishing and Editorial Operations at Zondervan, Stan Gundry, for his input.

The following is his reply published in its entirety with his permission. I have withheld his contact information for obvious reasons. However, he will be reading the comments to this posting. Also, if you wish to contact him directly, please contact me, and I’ll be glad to let you know how to contact him.

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The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) is an independent body of OT and NT scholars, generally representative of the denominational and theological diversity represented in English-speaking, international, evangelical (broadly defined) Christianity. Their remuneration and reimbursement for expenses comes from the International Bible Society (IBS, but recently they changed their name to Biblica; I will refer to it as IBS in this message). I have no reason to believe that they receive any kind of royalty or ongoing payment on the sale of either the NIV or the TNIV, and I am confident they do not. In fact, I have every reason to believe their pay would be considered by most people to be very modest–it is largely a labor of love and mission on their part.

By contract with IBS, the CBT controls the text of the NIV and the TNIV. This means that no one can revise, correct, update, or otherwise change these texts other than the CBT itself. In fact, the CBT itself cannot make any such changes to the NIV text as originally published without a quorum of the CBT present, and without at least a 75% majority of those present. The CBT is a self-perpetuating body and operates under its own very clearly defined rules. Even though I have known most CBT members for years, including many who have retired, even I do not know most of the rules or inner workings of the CBT. I do know there is a mandatory retirement age from the CBT, but retirees may attend and participate in their deliberations but they do not have a vote.

IBS holds the actual copyright to the NIV and TNIV, though they have no control over the text itself (that resides with the CBT as stated above). IBS in turn licenses the commercial publishing rights to commercial publishers–currently the primary publishers are Zondervan and Hodder (UK). The publishers must publish the text exactly as delivered by the CBT, including all footnotes, paragraph headings, etc. Publishers’ royalties are paid to IBS, and these funds support IBS’s Bible distribution and translation projects around the world. IBS does do a very limited amount of commercial publishing and/or distribution of these texts, but it is so small as to be inconsequential.

Zondervan does not have a representative who sits in CBT translation sessions, who participates in their discussions, or who has a vote at the table. When the CBT meets in West Michigan in working sessions, we do generally take them out to dinner once, but it is purely a social occasion and an opportunity for us to express our appreciation to them. We do occasionally correspond with or meet with the CBT chair or other members of the CBT, but these are never occasions where we attempt to tell them how they should be revising or updating the text, and if we were to attempt to do so, I can guarantee you it would be counter-productive. Such contacts with CBT members are opportunities for them to tell us what they are doing and what they wish we would do differently. The CBT is jealous of its scholarly independence and it protects itself from pressure groups who have an agenda. (Note how the 75% majority rule protects that as well.)

One of the bloggers expressed the view that Zondervan exercised considerable influence over the CBT, and he cited Bruce Ryskamp’s (Zondervan’s president at the time) participation in the meeting where the Colorado Springs Guidelines were initially framed as evidence of this. But here is the actual situation. Bruce is a business man and not a Bible scholar–he would be the first to tell you that. He attended as an observer. At the conclusion of the meeting, he was asked to sign the CSG. Initially he said, “No, Zondervan cannot abide by these guidelines because it publishes at least two translations that do not abide by these guidelines and it is not going to stop publishing them.” Eventually, Bruce did sign the original CSG, with the caveat to those present that he signed only as an observer. (BTW, in my files I have a communication from Wayne Grudem where he acknowledged to Bruce that this was indeed the case). Later that summer, when the CSG were reissued in a revised form (I trust your blogger friends do remember that within days of the original version it was pointed out that this original version had a serious error in it as it related to the translation of adelphoi), Bruce refused to sign the revised version and asked that his name no longer be associated with the CSG. He realized that his signature of the original version had been misunderstood and perhaps misused.

I know less about the inner workings of the RSV/NRSV translation committee and its relation to the NCC and its publishers. But I suspect it is quite close to the model I have described above for the CBT/IBS/publishers. I do know considerably more about the inner workings of other Bible translation committees and their relationship to the publishers, having been given this information first-hand by scholars who have worked on those committees. I regret to have to say that some of those committees not only have at least one publisher representative present and voting, but the sometimes the publisher even has the power of veto over committee decisions.  And of course, when the Southern Baptists announced their plan for the Holman Christian Standard Bible, who could ever forget Al Mohler’s famous (or infamous) statement that the SBC would have a translation it could “control”? In many cases, the copyright to the translation is held by the commercial Bible publisher or the foundation with which the publisher is closely linked.

Even though I work for Zondervan, a commercial publisher, I strongly believe that the model that exists between the CBT, IBS, and the commercial publishers is the best way to protect the integrity of any translation. I know too much about what can and has happened in other situations to believe otherwise, even though it puts Zondervan at a commercial disadvantage relative to publishers who own the copyright to their translation.

Stan Gundry
Executive Vice President, Publishing and Editorial Operations

41 thoughts on “The production of the TNIV/NIV Bible–the Standard of Integrity

  1. Theophrastus says:

    Mike, thanks for making the inquiry. The post was quite interesting — particularly the story about Bruce Ryskamp and the Colorado Springs Guidelines.

  2. Glenn Paauw says:

    Stan’s comments are quite accurate regarding the various relationships of those involved with the NIV/Today’s NIV texts. However, I should correct the statement about IBS’ publishing and distribution of these texts. On an annual basis over 9 million Scriptures get distributed through our direct channels, and while the financial picture is not enormous compared to a commercial publisher, that is not the goal. Many copies are given away in evangelism efforts in prison, in disaster relief situations, etc., and the others are made available at cost. For our part, we don’t consider this ministry distribution inconsequential. It’s why we sponsored the translation in the first place, in order to continue the evangelistic outreach with the Bible we’ve been a part of now for 200 years.

  3. Weston Ruter says:

    Mike,
    Thank you for posting this invaluable information about what goes on behind the scenes in Bible translation publication (at least in the cases mentioned here). I am comforted by what I learned. In the blogosphere, it is refreshing that you have personally sought out the matter and allowed both sides to have a voice. I hope that more information like this will be blogged about in order that all of us who are passionate about the issue of Bible and copyright can speak with a well-informed perspective on the entire issue.

    “The first to state his case seems right, until his opponent begins to cross-examine him.” Proverbs 18:17 NET

    It is easy (for me) to jump to conclusions when you only have limited information, and when all you have to debate with is a straw man. Thank you for sharing!

    Weston Ruter
    for OpenScriptures.org

  4. Theophrastus says:

    David, don’t you remember Glenn Paauw from the TNIV Books of the Bible project?

    He has worked at IBS for 20 years, and is the director of product development.

    A more detailed biography is here.

  5. Dru says:

    I’ve been away for a few days and so only just seen these two sets of posts.

    I agree that it is reassuring that the IBS is stringent to separate translation from marketing. I still think though that on the marketing side there is a tension between making as much money from a venture as possible and the desire to get the scriptures into as many hands as possible. Even if an organisation is not-for-profit, I suspect that it is all too easy to see having a good selling bible on ones books is a great way of cross-subsidising other activities.

    In my view, it certainly is not wholesome to be making money out of restricting access to words which are out of copyright and of which one is only a translator.

    I can’t help feeling that if you are a publisher, unless your underlying priority is to get your text out to as many people as possible, and after that to break even, you probably should be cross checking at least your motives, if not your licensing fees.

  6. Stan Gundry says:

    Glenn is right to have corrected the unfortunate way in which I used the word “inconsequential.” What I intended to say, but in rereading I see I did not say, was that Biblica’s (IBS) commercial (that is through retail and etail channels) distribtution of the NIV/TNIV texts is inconsequential relative to what Zondervan and Hodder do. I may be digging myself into an even deeper hole by saying that, and Glenn may still dispute even this modified statement. But that is what I intended to say.

  7. Stan Gundry says:

    I am not a copyright attorney myself, but I have had lengthy phone conversations with a lawyer who is credited with being the best in the USA. Here’s the deal, at least according to USA copyright law. Ancient texts such as those we are dealing with in the OT (Hebrew/Aramaic) and NT (Greek) are in the public domain and are not protected by copyright. In fact (and this is controversial), even the critical texts as reconstructed by textual critics cannot be protected by enforceable copyrights. The textual critical apparatus has a somewhat better claim to copyright, but to the extent that such an apparatus is a catalog of information, my sources tell me that any claim to an enforceable copyright is weakened. “Sweat equity” in the recreation of ancient texts is not sufficient to establish copyright. It takes sweat equity to create a phone book, but you cannot copyright a phone book. This is not something that the United Bible Society or the German Bible Society wants to hear or agrees to, this is what our lawyer consultants have told us.

    However, translations of ancient texts can be proetected by copyright.

    I have heard all the arguments of those opposed to copyrighting Bible translations. I am not impressed with them. For me it boils down to three principles–protection of the integrity of the text, using the revenue generated by sales to fund new projects and distribution, and the laborer being worthy of their hire. I agree that this creates a tension between the profit motive and the ministry motive. This, BTW, is a tension that all believers share whether they are working for a “profit” or a “non-profit” organization that is engaged in the selling of Christan books and Bible or related services. As a Christian, I embrace and encourage this tension. Without the ministry focus, I have sold my soul; if the bottom line is not in focus, the ministry screeches to a halt.

  8. Glenn Paauw says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Stan. You are quite right that IBS is not a significant force in the commercial Bible arena. Folks may want to know, however, that we are planning a new effort to get low-cost outreach Scriptures into the bookstores. It is evident that some of the newer translations have inflated their sales numbers in the bookstores by offering very low-cost NTs and Bibles. The actual distribution of the NIV/Today’s NIV is of course much larger than the bookstore numbers would show, since IBS’ distribution through our direct ministry channels are not accepted in the CBA listings. So the actual TNIV numbers are much larger. Hundreds of thousands of them are distributed to Young Life ministry camps, through sports ministry organizations, campus ministries, etc. This should be kept in mind when one is analyzing the sales data and the rankings of the various translations.

  9. Peter Kirk says:

    Stan, thank you for your excellent clarification of the situation in this post, and especially for what you have written about copyright of the original language Bible texts which seems to confirm what I wrote here.

  10. Peter Kirk says:

    Glenn, that is good news! Sadly some people seem to take CBA figures far too seriously. I guess Zondervan could do with a bit of competition in the bookstores, especially if they see people buying your TNIVs in preference to their NIVs.

  11. Glenn Paauw says:

    It’s probably not really an either/or. People would buy a lower-cost IBS Bible for a different reason than a higher-value Zondervan Bible. We see it as an effective partnership that helps both organizations do what they’re best at.

  12. Jay Wermuth says:

    Glenn,

    That is certainly very enlightening and makes a lot of sense, however, I still have many friends who either have not ever heard about TNIV or have only heard bad things about it. Actually, at least 95% of my Christian friends who I have talked to about the TNIV have never heard about it, or refused to use it because they heard it made God to be a she. Many of them were surprised when I told them who had endorsed it and informed them of the facts about the TNIV. Some of these people have begun to try it, but I fear that my experience is not unique. So the problem is not simply that the TNIV sales look dim on CBA reports, but that consumer awareness about the product seems to be very low.

    I would contrast this with the NLT, which has ads in Christianity Today, Charisma, web ads etc. that people look at daily. It seems like the work the NTyndale has done to get the awareness out about their translation has been far more effective than the attempts by Zondervan (granted the NLT has had longer to grow). As a supporter of the TNIV, I hope that things really do begin to change for the better and Wayne’s contact with Zondervan two days ago has me encouraged.

    -Jay

  13. Glenn Paauw says:

    Thanks for your comments, Jay. I quite agree with you. My comments re: the numbers were simply to make sure people understand the real situation. There are more TNIVs out there than many people realize. But of course, there is still a problem. One thing I’ve realized through all of this is the amazing amount of power and long-lasting effects of some Christian media. When it is turned against you, the results can be staggering. I think part of what happened is that the TNIV publishers, both IBS and Zondervan, developed a defensive mindset. We tried to be positive in our introduction of the TNIV, but it is a very hard thing to overcome suspicion. Couple that with the fact that another one of your own translations is still in the #1 spot, and you don’t want to lose that, it becomes very tricky to position your newly updated TNIV as an improvement. Clearly, the TNIV now needs an enthusiastic, non-defensive, fresh new round of promotion as a tremendous Bible translation.

  14. Jay Wermuth says:

    Glenn,

    Thank you so much for your comments. It is refreshing to hear someone from IBS acknowledge the problem. I will be watching with anticipation to see what will be done to turn the ship around on the TNIV. I have been doing all of can at my school to raise awareness, but it would be much easier if I didn’t feel like I was doing it alone. As a very minor recommendation, I find that the thing that most surprises my peers is when they find out who actually endorses the TNIV. When I mention Gordon Fee, D.A. Carson, Rob Bell, Tremper Longman etc. the atmosphere changes entirely. If anyone is reading this who has some influence in this regard, I would recommend the introduction of web bases and print based marketing that takes advantage of the fabulous endorsements the TNIV has already received.

    Blessings!

  15. Wayne Leman says:

    Clearly, the TNIV now needs an enthusiastic, non-defensive, fresh new round of promotion as a tremendous Bible translation.

    So true. Seminarians often can sort through the issues if they are given a fair and objective amount of factual information. Much of the conservative Christian public are not equipped to do so. They depend on the gatekeepers to tell them what Bibles to trust. And a huge amount of damage has been done to the TNIV. Yes, people who are willing to think for themselves and consider the data often conclude that the TNIV is neither a feminist translation nor that it refers to God as a “she” (it’s amazing how distorted the actual claims of the anti-TNIV gatekeepers get distorted, but that’s a reality we have to live with; it’s like the party game called Gossip where we all laugh to hear how different the final understanding of the game phrase is from how it started out). But many who sit in evangelical churches lack the training and knowledge to sift through these issues. They depend on their pastors or other gatekeepers to tell them which Bible versions are “trustworthy.”

    I don’t know that any amount of marketing money is going to turn this ship around. I think it’s going to take courageous conservative pastors and seminary professors who have actually studied the issues for themselves to speak up and assure their congregations that the TNIV can be trusted. It will take these same leaders asking Christian bookstores to end their boycott of the TNIV.

    By no means do I blame Zondervan for all of the difficulty the TNIV is in. It was difficult for Zondervan to plug the hole in the dike once it had been made big enough by lack of adequate research and journalism on the part of World Magazine and vocal Christian media gatekeepers. Once Focus on the Family hosts guests who tell listeners that some book or Bible version is not to be trusted, it is very difficult to turn the tide of Christian public opinion.

    I think it may take some godly interaction with the gatekeepers with the help of conservative Bible scholars to *begin* to turn the tide. Even then, it’s going to be difficult. If *I* were in the shoes of the CBT, IBS, and Zondervan, I think I would cut my losses at this point, rebrand the product (including giving it a new name and cutting its ties to the NIV), and revise it to change some of the wordings which have bothered some so much. Would that be compromise? Sure. But if that’s what is required, I think some compromise is worth it. Notice how successful NLT has been. Part of that success, I think, has been not calling it a revision of the Living Bible. It is a different product. It is a true translation. The NIV was good for its time, and it was good for many years after that. But it needs updating to be more accurate, including to be up to the level of gender-accuracy of all other recent versions, including the ESV, with regard to translation of gender-inclusive terms which no one argues about such as Greek tis meaning ‘anyone.’ There is no gender at all in that pronoun and so there is no gender in its translation in the ESV and other recent versions.

    Why not create a different Bible version from the NIV, one which is still highly accurate, revised by the same theologically conservative CBT, but revise it so much that it uses current literary English, not English which sounded fairly decent when the NIV was first published but now often sounds a little stodgy? Why not create a different product, one which has no connection to the NIV in its title. There can be some literary and historical connection, just as there is between the NLT and Living Bible. And the final product can continue to be written in a more “stately” form of English, mediating between the more literal versions and the more idiomatic versions. I, for one, believe that the CBT has far too little time to make the revisions which the version they are working on needs. The final product could eventually replace the NIV among those who value more current English, once they examine it objectively. It would still be a product of the careful, meticulous process that the CBT deliberately goes through to ensure that they have a Bible version which the evangelical public considers highly accurate as well as highly readable, while retaining the stateliness of language which the CBT has always maintained in its work.

  16. danny says:

    Good thoughts, Wayne. But I’m not sure rebranding will solve the problem, largely because that will be exploited by the current anti-TNIV crowd as “sneaking that feminist translation through the back door.” And that will probably be even worse than the current situation. What do you think?

  17. Jay Wermuth says:

    I agree with Danny. Re-branding could reignite the fire that seems to be slowly waning.

  18. Joe says:

    Re-branding isn’t the issue. “They” is not standard for singular yet, and IBS shouldn’t use it. To most people it’s still a plural pronoun, making the TNIV inaccurate.

    If they make a few small revisions then I think it could become acceptable to McDowell, Dobson, Packer, and other Evangelical leaders, and could quickly become the standard Bible translation.

    I know I, for one, would then be happy to switch to it from my current NIV.

    I am eager to benefit from the updated language, and from the updated scholarship (archeological and so on). Because of this I am eager for them to make these few revisions.

  19. Wayne Leman says:

    Re-branding isn’t the issue. “They” is not standard for singular yet, and IBS shouldn’t use it. To most people it’s still a plural pronoun, making the TNIV inaccurate.

    Yes, “they” is grammatically a third person plural pronoun. But for millions of English speakers, it also serves as a gender-neutral pronoun which takes an indefinite pronoun as its antecedent. I suspect that a majority of English speakers today use “they” in this way as an indefinite pronoun. When it serves in this way, it is semantically neither a plural nor a singular. Instead it is at that point an indefinite, just as are other English pronouns such as everyone, everybody, anyone, someone, no one, etc.

    Notice which pronoun is used by most English speakers today, at least when speaking, and often when writing in indefinite contexts. Fill in the blank in the following sentences with the pronoun (his, her, he, she, their, them, they, you, your, our, us, etc.) which is most commonly used by your neighbor, Jim Dobson, C.S. Lewis, and many others:

    1. If everyone turns in ____ book report on time, I will treat the class with pizza.

    2. Someone is at the door. I wonder who ____ are.

    3. Any nurse who wishes to keep ____ job must maintain an accurate log of medicines administered to each patient.

    4. If anyone will welcome me when I knock on ____ door, I’ll have a wonderful dinner with ____.

    5. If I find out who took my saw and didn’t return it, I’ll make ____ clean my wood shop for the next month.

  20. Michael Nicholls says:

    Today I was watching a (aussie rules) football show where the male coach said to the all-male players:

    “The first person who scores… I will buy them a beer!”

    It’s not the first time I’ve noticed the use of ‘they/them’ when the gender in question is actually quite clear. I guess you could say that in English the indefiniteness of the antecedent overpowers the genderness. People avoid ‘he/him, she/her’ because it makes the antecedent too specific. It’s a discourse feature of English. Other languages have other ways to deal with this.

    But in English we do this:

    “The first person who scores… I will buy them a beer!”

    “Johnny scored a goal.”

    “Great, I’ll buy him a beer.”

    The thing that changes is the definiteness of the antecedent. In the first case it’s unknown, in the second it’s known. We’d hardly accuse a football coach of having a feminist agenda.

  21. Joe says:

    If the number is specified somewhere else in the sentence it sounds incorrect, but is mostly understandable. If the number isn’t elsewhere in the sentence then it’s not even understandable.

    I understand it’s in dictionaries, and even used by a small segment of the scholarly elite–but it has extremely low to almost know usage among the common people. At least I wouldn’t understand it to mean plural, or my friends.

    Especially when prophecies about Jesus (especially when they are quoted in the New Testament) are plural in the TNIV and singular in the Hebrew then I feel it goes a little to far 😦

  22. Michael Nicholls says:

    but it has extremely low to almost know usage among the common people.

    Really? I would have thought it’s almost always used by the common people. I never hear “Can the driver of the blue Volkswagen Beetle please move his car…”

    If one of your friends used it in conversation would you tell them they’re wrong?

    😉

  23. Peter Kirk says:

    Joe, do you have examples of “prophecies about Jesus … [which] are plural in the TNIV and singular in the Hebrew”? I’m trying to work out if this is something that TNIV has actually done, or if it is an example of disinformation or Chinese whispers style exaggeration.

    I guess you will quote to me Psalm 8:4-6. But this is NOT, as is very clear from the context, a prophecy about Jesus. The Hebrew words literally translated “son of man” in the Old Testament never refer to Jesus, but refer to humanity in general and sometimes (especially in Ezekiel) to a contemporary individual. Daniel 7:13 is Aramaic using different vocabulary.

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