31 thoughts on “TNIV outranks ESV

  1. Jay Wermuth says:

    This is terrific news! I hope this marks more than a small ripple for the success of the TNIV. While this won’t be enough to change the tide alone, maybe this is a sign that something is changing!

  2. Peter Kirk says:

    It would be interesting to see how total Bible sales at Amazon and other secular outlets compare with those from CBA bookstores. It might even turn out that TNIV is really selling more print copies than ESV. It would help I suppose if publishers would provide sales figures, but only if these can be trusted to be accurate.

  3. Billy says:

    Another TNIV is better than ESV thread?

    I for one am not certain what that statistic means?

    I think it means, current downloads on a hourly basis. (it says updated hourly in one spot.

    I couldn’t find it under the Main Best Sellers, the kindle version that is, as far as the print copies sold it ranks #142,708, where the ESV ranks#442

    Also in the Main Bestseller Category the Kindle Version of NASB is #1, KJV #2, Message #4, another KJV #5, The Amplified Bible #8

    I have no idea why the discrepancies?

    I personally don’t think sales is a good standard for which is the Better Bible

  4. Michael Nicholls says:

    I personally don’t think sales is a good standard for which is the Better Bible

    Good point. Otherwise this site would need to change it’s slogan from ideas for improving Bible translations to ideas for marketing Bible translations. That’s what publishers are for.

    Anyway, I thought this thread was kind of neutral, just pointing out sales statistics. I must have missed something.

  5. ElShaddai Edwards says:

    > Another TNIV is better than ESV thread?

    I hope not. My only intent was – in light of the recent discussions on this blog – to point out that Zondervan is doing *some* alternative marketing for the TNIV. Offering their product at $0 is not generating any direct revenue, but it is marketing….

  6. ElShaddai Edwards says:

    Thank you for the link, Wayne. I would hasten to say that my main takeaway was not TNIV vs. ESV (and GW), but an acknowledgment that Zondervan was doing some aggressive marketing with an alternative form of the TNIV translation.

    In many respects and qualified by the fact that I don’t know *when* Zondervan began the $0 promotion, this offer seems a response to Crossway, which began offering the ESV text as a free Kindle download at the end of February. I can only hope that Zondervan and other publishers continue to explore and market their translations with traditional and non-traditional delivery mechanisms.

  7. Wayne Leman says:

    Billy, both the TNIV and ESV would benefit from further revision. If you’d like to see suggestions for some of those revisions, here are some links:

    TNIV translation issues
    ESV translation issues

    We try on this blog to approach Bible versions in a professional way, addressing translation issues in as objective and scholarly ways as possible. We request that you change the tone of your posts to reflect our blog guidelines (top of margin). We are glad to point out positive things about any Bible versions as well as areas needing improvements. We ask that you participate in the same spirit on this blog.

  8. Theophrastus says:

    I absolutely agree that sales numbers are not equivalent to quality. I also absolutely agree that there are many problems with the CBA rating numbers (e.g., they sample from a population of bookstores that includes many that refuse to carry the TNIV for ideological reasons, they are easily manipulated by selling super-low-cost NT pamphlets, they exclude general bookstores, digital sales, academic bookstores, online sellers, etc.)

    For this reason, some comparisons (e.g., NRSV vs. ESV) are probably not well answered by CBA figures — I suspect that NRSV sales are much higher than CBA figures indicate because most of those sales are in channels outside of the CBA member bookstores. (I also suspect that in many cases ESVs sit mostly unread on their owners’ bookshelves, but that is a discussion for another time.)

    However, it is interesting to compare the rate of sales of NIV to TNIV. These two translations are more similar to each other than different, they are marketed at similar segments, they share similar translation philosophies, and one is a direct successor of the other. Furthermore, I suspect that many potential customers already own at least one NIV translation, so one would expect that TNIV sales would be boosted by the novelty of the translation, if nothing else. Yet, it seems indisputable that the TNIV has not yet even begun to approach the NIV in sales figures.

    I chalk most of the failure up to poor marketing (mostly by Zondervan), with bad luck also playing a role (e.g., the TNIV becoming the punching bag of a group of influential Christian leaders). Since the NIV and TNIV are so similar in so many ways, I think it is a meaningful comparison to contrast their sales figures.

  9. Glenn says:

    Wayne, I have read and re-read Billy’s first post in this thread several times and I can see no reason to draw his attention to the guidelines.
    Have you considered that maybe you are getting maybe just a little over sensitive? I am only asking.

  10. Wayne Leman says:

    Have you considered that maybe you are getting maybe just a little over sensitive?

    Glenn, I didn’t ask that particular question since I don’t think being sensitive or over sensitive is an issue for evaluation of comments. We try to have more objective guidelines that deal with evidence and positive communication that helps us all in our understanding of Bible translation issues. I did spend time considering whether I was making a propeer evaluation based on the guidelines. It was a considered judgement call on my part, and I recognize that I might have made the wrong call. I did my best based on several comments, not just one.

    I am only asking.

    Thanks for asking. We do want to be accountable on this blog.

    Most of all, we want there to be posts and comments which help us all move forward in our understanding of Bible translation issues. We want this blog to be informative, a place where scholarly critique occurs with a spirit of tolerance and grace toward differing opinions.

  11. David Ker says:

    I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask which is the better marketed Bible. ESV towers over the TNIV in that regard. However, comparing TNIV to ESV in terms of translation is apples and oranges. If we were to compare TNIV (an improvement on the NIV) to NRSV (an improvement on the RSV) I think we could have a lively discussion. ESV is a retrograde version of the NRSV.

    However, unquestionably ESV is a better looking Bible than the TNIV. I saw the pictures at this blog and wanted a copy just for aesthetics.

  12. Peter Kirk says:

    The main reason that NIV is still doing so much better than TNIV, at least in CBA bookstores, is marketing. If Zondervan had chosen to market TNIV as the proper successor to NIV, withdrawn most editions of NIV, and based all their new study bibles etc on TNIV, then I’m sure TNIV would be doing at least as well as NIV by now. Indeed if it hadn’t been for the misleading anti-TNIV campaign NIV would probably have been completely eclipsed. But I accept that that would have been a risky commercial strategy for Zondervan.

    I suspect that the anti-TNIV campaign has now run out of steam, and those influenced by it are mostly buying ESV not NIV. So Zondervan could now safely start to phase out NIV and promote TNIV as its new and improved successor. Given the enthusiasm in some quarters for the latest thing, they could well sell a lot of copies to people wanting to replace their NIVs with TNIVs. But, for better or for worse, that is going to be Zondervan’s commercial decision, and in the current financial climate not one they will rush into.

  13. Wayne Leman says:

    I suspect that the anti-TNIV campaign has now run out of steam, and those influenced by it are mostly buying ESV not NIV.

    Actually, many, at least in the U.S. avoid the TNIV because of the anti-TNIV campaign. They have heard that it is a “liberal” Bible, or that it is “feminist” or that it changes God to a “she”.

  14. David Ker says:

    I wonder if NLT has picked up the fallout on this one. No slander campaigns. A top-notch marketing effort. Lots of specialty editions. Could it ever be widely adopted as a pew Bible? That kind of buy-in is very slow. My home church just recently changed from NASB to NIV. Maybe 30 years from now the NLT will be adopted as pew Bible!

    By the way, earlier I mentioned NRSV and RSV. They’re absent from Bible Gateway and difficult to find. The Bible filling that gap is the ESV. For those who rejected the NRSV as “liberal” etc. it must have been a long wait for an acceptable update of the RSV. Perhaps a similar thing could happen in the NIV camp. How about NIVse? My daughter has a 1978 NIV and it reads much differently from my edition. Maybe an NIV update like Peter suggests would work if they could back-pedal on some of the hot-button issues and verses and just leave the TNIV for the specialty/youth market.

    Just blabbing…

  15. Sue says:

    Maybe an NIV update like Peter suggests would work if they could back-pedal on some of the hot-button issues and verses and just leave the TNIV for the specialty/youth market.

    Do you mean that all the singular they’s could be changed to plurals like the NRSV?

  16. Peter Kirk says:

    I did NOT suggest an NIV update, but marketing TNIV as it stands as an NIV update. As I stated before I would strongly object to any attempt to “back-pedal on some of the hot-button issues and verses”, and I am truly thankful that the CBT structure which Stan explained in another post makes this impossible.

    Anyway, today’s youth market is tomorrow’s mainstream. The 18-35s for whom TNIV was originally marketed in 2001 are now 26-43 and in another decade or so will be the main decision makers in the church. TNIV will have its time, and any attempt to turn back the tide is entirely counter-productive.

  17. Theophrastus says:

    The problem with Zondervan “phasing out” the NIV is that so many publishers have been licensed to produce NIVs that Zondervan can no longer control NIV distribution. If Zondervan were to drop the NIV, it would simply lose market share because other publishers would pick up the slack.

    To my mind, the best way to market the TNIV would be to make it better: make it an academically serious translation by producing versions with the Deuterocanonicals, by producing top notch new commentaries, by producing serious academic study Bibles (not a “warmed over” NIV Study Bible) that can compete with academic leaders such as the New Oxford Annotated Bible, HarperCollins Study Bible, New Interpreter’s Study Bible, etc. I would also suggest actually producing the TNIV in editions people want (wide-margins, quality bindings, etc.) instead of producing silly “bubble gum” editions with colorful designs.

    In other words, I would recommend that Zondervan take the high road and make higher quality product.


    In regard to David’s comments: Fundamentalists opposed the RSV (there was a Jewish member of the translation committee, it adopted some “liberal readings”, etc.) The NASB was the conservative response to the RSV.

    In contrast, I the changes between the RSV and ESV are quite minimal, and they seem to be based more on ideology than scholarship (thus, the ESV Translation Oversight Committee was heavy on theologians and publisher representatives and light on Biblical language scholars).

    For the NRSV online, I recommend bible.oremus.com.

    RSV used to be on the BibleGateway but was removed around the time the ESV came out. I do not know the sequence of events that lead to its removal: whether it was removed at the request of Crossway, the NCC, or the BibleGateway operators.

  18. ElShaddai Edwards says:

    > The NASB was the conservative response to the RSV.

    Yes, and in my opinion the story missing from all of this discussion is not what impact the ESV is having on the TNIV, but how much it has replaced the NASB as today’s formal/literal translation of choice by conservative theologians, especially since the majority of its textual base is the exact translation that the NASB was produced to counter.

  19. David Ker says:

    I’m kinda missing threaded comments…

    T. you’re more optimistic about the TNIV than I am.

    As NRSV is being side-lined this isn’t really leaving a translation that is widely accepted by academics. We might as well return to the KJV and just in time for the 400th anniversary. (I’m still holding on to my CEV though…)

  20. Theophrastus says:

    David — I’m sorry, I don’t think I understand what you are trying to say. I think the RSV and NRSV are still by far the most widely accepted translations among secular academics. I wasn’t aware that they were being sidelined — in fact, the NRSV comes in more editions than you could shake a stick at! (Even Zondervan publishes many different NRSV editions.) Both are readily available in print.

    I don’t think that the best selling book is necessarily regarded as the most important or best — I have yet to hear of The Da Vinci Code being assigned in an English Literature class. The English translations editions I see cited frequently by secular academics are (in descending order of popularity): RSV, NRSV, KJV, and — after a significant drop-off: NJPS, NAB, and NEB.

    I think the biggest news in academic circles last year was the publication of the New English Translation of the Septuagint (it is a stunning piece of work). I think the NETS will continue to be an important resource for academics and serious Bible students over the next few decades, but I’ll eat my hat if it cracks the CBA top ten.

    It may very well be that the RSV and NRSV are too formal for many readers, but I think they are both well within the range of most educated native English speakers. Their “mind share” is much greater than their market share.

  21. Wayne Leman says:

    Theo wrote:

    I think the RSV and NRSV are still by far the most widely accepted translations among secular academics.

    This is true. I believe that the NRSV has now surpassed the RSV among academics. The NRSV has not been sidelined at all. It is not used much by evangelicals (other than evangelicals within the NCC) but it is widely used by Bible scholars.

  22. David Ker says:

    T., I guess what I meant about the NRSV/RSV being side-lined is that they aren’t readily accessible on the net and in the average bookstore. When I went on a quest for the REB I saw a lot of NKJVs but not many NRSV/RSV. And yes, scads of ESVs. Glad to hear about the plethora of print versions. Maybe I can find one as handsome as that ESV.

  23. Theophrastus says:

    Here are some ISBNs for fancy NRSVs:


    I could extend this list with direct variations (different color/style leather, different sizes, variations not including the Apocrypha, annotations) at length. I would guess that there are probably at least 15 different editions of the NRSV in print in fine leather (there are numerous bonded leather and artificial leather versions as well, if you wish).

    Note that the first volume listed was published less than six months ago!

    The nicest NRSV I’ve seen has this ISBN: 1570361584. It is out of print, but readily available new, and is based on the Urbino Bible.

    I can’t speak to the situation to bookstores — in a bookstore I visit (admittedly, bookstores aimed at an academic audience), it is actually the most common translation. However, that bookstore also stocks NEBs and REBs, so it may not be characteristic of the “average bookstore”.

  24. Jay Wermuth says:


    I am curious where you find these “bookstores aimed at an academic audience”. I have not found any such stores in my area! I would love to find some of these though :). Furthermore, I hardly ever see NRSV’s in bookstores except for a small selection at Barnes and Noble. The NRSV is overwhelmingly what my professors recommend, however, I do not have the same passion that they do for the version… us young whippersnappers…

  25. Wayne Leman says:

    I am curious where you find these “bookstores aimed at an academic audience”.

    University and mainstream seminary (Princeton, Union, etc.) bookstores are good places to find Bibles aimed at academic audiences.

  26. Jay Wermuth says:

    Thanks Wayne,

    Unfortunately I am a hop, skip and a plane away from any of the “major” seminaries. My seminary has a decent selection, but our bookstore doesn’t carry the NRSV… Wierd eh?

  27. William Birch says:

    This news made my day! There is quite a cult following among young Calvinists who are enamored with John Piper (who uses the ESV like those King James Only people).

    The ESV is merely an update of the more “theologically-liberal” RSV, as some say, with only an 18% change in the text. Passages such as 2 Corinthians 1:12 from the ESV make the translation snobbish, IMO: “For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”

    Really? We behaved in the world “with simplicity”? And “supremely so toward you”? Are you kidding? Who talks like this? It is my prayer that the TNIV becomes the number one best selling translation the world over, surpassing the NIV.

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