Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

I was 11 when I was first given a free NIV New Testament at secondary school by the Gideons.

It was a bit of a Godsend. My passive nature was making me an easy target at that big angry school, and I was very unhappy there. The New Testament that I'd been given contained a 2-year reading-plan, which I determined to complete, reading a passage a night. Why sure I would get behind, but I would also catch up.

On the night of January 18th 1983 I was in bed reading to my mum Matthew 10:16-31. It was about Jesus sending the disciples out to work on his behalf, and contained the line "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves." My mum used this verse to suppose that I was like a sheep going to school amongst wolves. I didn't know until that moment that she and my dad knew how unhappy I was there. I think it was then, or maybe shortly afterwards, that she told me they were considering sending me to a different school.

I didn't know anything about the other schools in the area, but I did recall that there was one called "Christ's School." I very much wanted to go there, purely because the name made it sound like the best one, although I knew what a completely irrelevant reason that was. Anyway, it turned out that that was the same school that my parents were considering moving me too.

So they moved me there, and it did turn out to be a markedly gentler school. Over the next couple of years I was much happier, and nailed the reading-plan, completing the New Testament at 13 or 14.

I don't know what eventually became of my little NT from school, (the picture at the top is of a friend's duplicate) but I somehow still retain one page of the reading plan, which now lives in my pocket Good News Bible as a bookmark.

On Saturday 17th August 1996, I was given a copy of the full NIV Bible by Audrey.

Today I finished it.

I guess that it's because we had used the simpler Good News translation at school that I had assumed the NIV to be something of a step-up. Certainly, I've rarely heard a bad word said about it. In tests, several people I've known (who've expressed a preference) have preferred it.

Certainly, the preface to this '96 edition makes it sound like the most thoroughly-researched Bible-translation ever, and that's even allowing for how so many Bible-translations tend to open by crowing that about themselves anyway.

This weighty paperback isn't nearly so well-travelled as my pocket Good News Bible though, although it did come with me to NZ in Feb '04, and is now just as dilapidated, as you can see above. However over the years I have repeatedly found two opinions forming in my mind about its prose:

1. Its wording reads more easily than other translations.

2. Its wording reads more awkwardly than other translations.

As I've never held both the above two - fairly polarised - opinions at the same time, I guess they might depend upon which other version I was also dipping-into that season.

As an alternative means of reconciliation, or maybe an additional one, in a wholly non-judgemental way, I also find the NIV Bible to be thoroughly bland. Little about it stands-out to me as particularly good or bad. For me, it's become the control Bible by which I form opinions on all the other English translations. Now that I think about it, I guess that's actually a good thing, right?

The one and only negative opinion I've formed is that I find its footnotes system quite muddly. It identifies each comment with a letter of the alphabet, but starts again at 'a' as soon as the next chapter begins. That's a whole lots of 'a's, often confusingly sharing the same page. The Good News on the other hand goes right through to 'z' before repeating itself.

Also, footnotes get recycled, so that, for example, the footnote for the word "Babylonians" in Jeremiah 32:4 says "Or Chaldeans; also in verses 5, 24, 25, 28, 29 and 43". Those other verses don't direct you back to that footnote though, so anyone dipping-in at verse 5 or later will miss this. This happens rather a lot in the NIV.

I do quite like what they've done with Matthew 18:24 though:

As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents[f] was brought to him.

f24 That is, millions of pounds

Nice and exacting. Or, if you prefer the version currently on

g. That is, millions of dollars

It's true – the Bible really is relevant to everyone. But hopefully not in this instance prophetic, or sterling may be doomed.

However the other good thing that I'll always remember the NIV doing for me is introducing me to what may well be my favourite verses in the whole Bible. I came across them on a sojourn in the UK some years ago, but once back in NZ, and separated from the volume, I was at a complete loss to locate them again. Scrolling through pages on the internet just isn't the same as thumbing through the pages of a book. So when I touched-down in the greyer hemisphere once more, I located the passage in question, and later shared the following in an email to fellow Brit Karen:

"There's a bit in Ezekiel that I came across, lost, and then managed to find again. The world makes a bit more sense, and I feel as though I've finally reached the crest of a very tall hill that God's been leading me up, and am finally walking down the other side."

They're not words that I felt personally convicted by, but they have since reshaped much of the perspective through which I encounter the Bible, and my relationship with God, and I suppose will continue to do so. There's another translation of them in the sidebar, but here's how the NIV put them:

If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. And if I say to the wicked man, 'You will surely die,' but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right- if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live.

- Ezekiel 33:13-16 (NIV)

It's about the future, not the past.

(review of Good News Bible here)
(review of The Message Bible here)

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