Out with the old, in with the new: NIV 2011 hits stores this month

Mega-publisher Zondervan printed 1.9 million copies of the updated NIV Bible in this first run, up from the original 1.4 million.

"This laydown of the NIV update is bigger than we imagined," Chip Brown, senior vice president of Bibles for Zondervan, told The Christian Post. "A couple of retailers came in a little higher after seeing the marketing and products."

This spring and summer, the company is releasing 33 titles and 177 products featuring the updated NIV text. A second batch of 188 products, including the updated edition of the NIV Study Bible, will join the new line in autumn.

The updated NIV Bible is being promoted as the first update to the NIV in 25 years. In reality, the 2005 TNIV was the first attempt to update the 1984 NIV but fallout from the evangelical community over its overt "gender inclusive" language led to its demise in 2009.

With the updated NIV Bible now in print form, it is expected that more evangelical scholars and pastors will fully weigh in on the revised translation in the coming weeks.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, one of the leading critics of the TNIV, promised a full review of the updated NIV after it goes to print. In November, when online text of the updated NIV became available, the group released a statement saying it could not recommend the new NIV Bible because of "over 3,600 gender-related problems" that were previously in its critique of the TNIV.

In other initial reviews, some evangelicals praised the clarity of the new edition while others were still unconvinced that the gender-related problems of the TNIV were resolved. Statistics compiled by Christian web techies Robert Slowley and John Dryer show that 31 per cent of the TNIV is retained in the updated NIV.

Many reviewers thus far are not fans of the mixing of gender-neutral singulars and plurals like "that person" and "they" in the new text. However, some say they favour the rendering of much-disputed verse 1 Timothy 2:12, where "assume authority" replaces "have authority", saying it leaves the question open in the egalitarian versus complementarian debate.

"We're at a place in time where as long as people aren't being unbiblical with their translation, people can agree to disagree on the rendering of certain verses. That's just the way it goes," said Brown.

"If you did your homework on other translations, the alternative is actually more heavier on gender neutrality than the NIV," he added.

Critics also say the problem with the new NIV Bible is that it forces churches to choose between switching over to the updated NIV or jumping ship to another translation altogether. Whereas the TNIV Bible was made available alongside the 1984 NIV Bible, the updated NIV Bible will completely replace the current NIV translation.

One Christian blogger, Trevin Wax, said forcing readers to update to a new version was "counterproductive".

"Translation updates are necessary, yes. But they must be done with great care. People read, study, and memorise the Scriptures," Wax wrote on his blog back in November. "Why not keep both in circulation? Goodness, we can still read translations like the King James which are hundreds of years old."

But for better or worse, the process to phase out the incumbent translation among retailers is already taking place. Brown said it will likely take a few years before existing copies of NIV Bibles exit circulation.

"Our retailers didn't want returns. They wanted business as usual," he explained. "We've been in conversation with our retail partners for well over a year so they've been managing their inventory. Our supply and retail people have kind of been crafting the timing."

For churches, the transition may be a little trickier. Aside from the initial gruelling decision of whether to adopt the updated NIV, a lot of churches spent a substantial amount of money to replace their pew Bibles during the last NIV overhaul two decades ago.

At least for the time being, houses of worship will still be able to purchase church Bibles with the old NIV edition.

"We're not just going to turn off the spigot and not let them replace their church Bibles," said Brown. "We're going to make sure they get what they need."

Ultimately, it's about getting people to engage in the Bible more, said Brown.

He believes there is room for more than one translation in the market and anticipates that the updated NIV will continue to hold the rank and respect of its predecessor, especially in seminaries.

The new NIV Bible is a good choice for those torn between "word-for-word" and "thought-for-thought" translations, says Brown.

"The NIV straddles both those and looks at each verse and renders it in a way where it is close to the original manuscript as possible but ensures that it is in the English of the day," he said.

"I think that's probably why the NIV has the market share that it has. People love it. It sounds like the way they talk but it's pastor-recommended."