DTS Magazine

DTS and the NIV: 50 Years and Counting

Dallas Theological Seminary’s role in the faithful translation and interpretation of God’s Word continues with the work of DTS Department Chair and Senior Professor of New Testament Studies, Buist M. Fanning. Fanning is a contributor to the recently released NIV Zondervan Study Bible, a new evangelical study Bible published by Zondervan in August 2015. Fanning wrote the notes for the book of Hebrews, a paragon text for this particular project’s main emphasis, biblical theology. Fanning says, “Hebrews profoundly portrays the depth and richness of who Christ is and what he accomplished for our salvation. I love how Hebrews pulls the whole Bible together in presenting this picture of Christ and his saving work, and I tried to bring this out in the notes.”

I think it is vital for readers and students to see the Bible’s larger story as well as the specific teachings of the individual books.

While still giving pastors, scholars, and lay Christians access to the latest scholarly thought in the verse-by-verse study notes, the NIV Zondervan Study Bible editors and contributors nonetheless included material that helps readers recognize the structure of biblical revelation and the progressive acts of God. “One of the reasons I really enjoyed working on the project,” Fanning said, “was the emphasis of this study Bible on biblical theology—how the themes of Scripture develop across the various portions of the Bible to contribute to the full message of the Scripture as a whole. I think it is vital for readers and students to see the Bible’s larger story as well as the specific teachings of the individual books.”

Sample notes from Hebrews in the NIV Study Bible

Fanning stands in a line of other DTS faculty and alumni whose work has played an important part in the world’s best-selling modern English translation of the Bible. In fact, 2015 marks the 50-year anniversary of the commissioning of the NIV, originally the passion of an ordinary Christian businessman interested in sharing with nonbelievers the Scripture he loved in a translation they could understand. In August 1965, a broad spectrum of evangelical scholars, leaders, and churches commissioned a new, contemporary English translation of the Bible by evangelical scholars. Fanning observed the translation from the perspective of a student at the time. “I remember years ago when several of my professors during my student days at DTS were heavily involved in working on the NIV translation: Bruce Waltke and Ken Barker, both of whom played an important role with the translation over the years.”

The New International Version of the Bible … was never conceived of as a static text.

The constitution for the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) had included a mandate to periodically examine and fix translation issues. So the New International Version of the Bible, released in its entirety in 1978—which received an overwhelmingly positive reception and immediate adoption by numerous Christians—was never conceived of as a static text. New studies, archaeological finds, and changes in the English language would inevitably call into question some of the original translation decisions. In a few decades it would no longer resonate with contemporary English speakers, if translators left it alone.

Then DTS professor Bruce Waltke served on the CBT, which met in the early 1980’s to debate proposed changes. Members made adjustments in spelling and punctuation and discovered ways to make certain passages clearer for readers. Some revisions required lots of debate; others were more straightforward. “Zondervan was shocked that we made so many changes between 1978 and 1983,” recalls CBT member Bruce Waltke. “The translation had been well received and well established.”

Fanning sees the careful scholarship and biblical fidelity of pioneers such as Waltke reflected in the current CBT, now chaired by Dr. Douglas Moo. Fanning said, “Their tradition of solid scholarship and fidelity to God’s word continues into the present. The CBT works to ensure that the NIV reflects the finest of evangelical biblical scholarship as well as the best ways to express the Scripture’s message in contemporary English so that it communicates clearly to a wide range of readers.”

Sandra Glahn
Dr. Glahn serves as associate professor in Media Arts and Worship and is a multi-published author of both fiction and non-fiction. She is a journalist, and a speaker who advocates for thinking that transforms. Dr. Glahn’s more than twenty books relate to bioethics, sexuality, and reproductive technologies as well as ten Bible studies in the Coffee Cup Bible Study series. She is a regular blogger at Engage, Bible.org’s site for women in Christian leadership, the owner of Aspire Productions, and served as editor-in-chief for Kindred Spirit from 1999 to 2015.
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