The Bible Translation War – 2 Years Later – NIV vs ESV


Bible Translation discussion – NIV1984 to NIV2011 and the ESV

Why was an updated NIV translation released? 3 reasons were given for the need for an update

  1. Update in English general language usage,
  2. Provide scholarly updates and
  3. To provide clarity in phrasing.

The full translator’s notes can be read here: NIV Translator’s Notes. Another change made in NIV2011 was to include more gender-inclusive language – such as ‘brothers and sisters’ in place of ‘brothers’. Some commentary on gender neutrality and the history of NIV2011 see: Bible Version Wars – NIV vs ESV.

The use of the plural forms, such as they and them, in place of singular masculine forms was another change in direction. For example Hebrews 2:6 looks like this in the 3 versions:

  • NIV1984 – “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
  • NIV2011 – “What is manmankind that you are mindful of himthem, thea son of man that you care for him?
  • ESV – “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?

Modern English and Clarity Phrasing changes look like this example in Romans 1:4:

  • NIV1984 – and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • NIV2011 – and who through the Spirit of holiness was declaredappointed with power to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • ESV – and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

More information on these examples including additional details can be found in these two links:

How much has changed in the new version? NIV2011 Publishers say that 95% of the text remains the same as NIV1984, however, others have reviewed the changes made in comparison to the NIV1984 and found that 19030 verses (61.1%) are the same, and 12056 verses (38.8%) have changes made to them. It depends on if you are counting words or verses.

translation scale 

The ‘More Literal’ and ‘Less Literal’ Scale for Bible Translations

2 Years after the NIV update

I found something very odd when I went to look back to the research that I had done in 2012 when the International Committee was looking at ESV vs NIV2011. At the time of the change, there was information to be found in a lot of places, including institutions such as Focus on the Family, Bible Gateway, Southern Baptist Convention etc. There was also, of course, much talk in the blogosphere. At the time of my research, I had links to a few of these organizations’ sites only to find that 2 years later, these pages no longer exist. Focus on the Family no longer information specifically pointing to the NIV. It does however, have a page that lists translations that they recommend and the NIV is not included in their list of recommended translations.   The only place to find information from the time of the change is to try to find reputable writings in blogs. Here are a few examples:


Why did Zondervan demand that all NIV1984 copies be removed? – I have not found an answer to this question yet. Local Christian book store were ordered by NIV’s publisher, Zondervan, to turn in all NIV1984 versions in exchange for 2011 equivalents. I can understand an edition going out of print, but why go to the extent of having all printed copies PHYSICALLY removed? It is the same story with all online publishers, such as Bible Gateway, Blue Letter Bible etc. They were not permitted to offer the NIV1984 online.  If you go to the Biblica website, you won’t find a single reference to the 1984 version. If you go into a Christian bookstore, you will only see NIV Bibles. There is no indication that this is an updated version, or that it is not the same as the NIV you might have at home. One Pastor says he will not be recommending the NIV to his congregation because – The worldly marketing scheme that Zondervan seems to be following is one I don’t want to support with my congregation’s dollars.

Copyright differences – If Zondervan can remove all rights from printing NIV1984 in order to push the NIV2011, what is to stop them from doing it again 5 or 10 years down the road with an even newer version of the NIV and forcing organizations to make impacting and costly changes all over again? ESV’s publisher, Crossway has attempted to make the ESV translation easily and readily available to all. Here is the ESV Copyright information.

Publisher differences – ESV is published by Crossway, a multi-denominational non-profit organization. NIV is published by Zondervan which is owned by Harper Collins, a division of NewsCorp (owned by Rupert Murdoch).


Choosing ESV

Many well-known evangelical leaders have made bold statements declaring their support for the ESV. John Piper of Desing is one of them. He states the following : We are building all our future ministry around the ESV…. The ESV satisfies the preaching, memorizing, studying, and reading needs of our church, from children to adults.” John Piper, Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Additional commentary on the ESV choice:


If you go to the Biblica website (for NIV information) and the ESV website, you will see that they both have their share of supporters:

NIV Endorsements

ESV Endorsements

But I wondered if there was a connection between these well-renown speakers, the books they have published and their publisher and it turns out there is a definite correlation. For example, Andy Stanley recommends the NIV Bible. All have Andy Stanley’s books have been published by Zondervan. This is what I was able to find out:

ESV is recommended by: Publisher of Author’s books NIV is recommended by: Publisher of Author’s books
Focus on the Family Focus on the Family Andy Stanley Zondervan
Desiring God (John Piper) Crossway Craig Groeschel Zondervan
JI Packer Crossway Jim Cymbala Zondervan
R. Albert Mohler Jr. Crossway & SBTS Scot McKnight Zondervan
Francis Chan David C. Cook Charles Stanley Thomas Nelson (also owned by Harper-Collins/ Newscorp)
Kevin DeYoung Crossway
Ravi Zaccharias formerly Zondervan, now FaithWords

What do Other Quizzing and Bible Memorization Organizations use?

  • Nazarene Bible Quizzing – Same Quiz Material Cycle, NIV2011
  • Free Methodist Bible Quizzing – Different Quiz Material Cycle, NIV2011
  • World Bible Quiz – ESV

written out


In summary, based on my research, I would not choose the NIV2011 for my own personal Bible study. This is mostly due to the liberties that have been taken in the translation to provide ‘clarity’, as well as updating the use of English language. And having spent the last 2 years getting into the ESV translation to teach quizzers, I have come to appreciate it more and more and it has become my defacto translation.

However, I think the NIV translation committee had good intentions and I think it is a translation that God can use. It has some possible readability advantages that MAY make it easier to memorize. My biggest concern about using the translation for quizzing is that I no longer have faith in the publisher to stand by this translation, to not pull it whenever they see fit, or want to make additional profits etc. My recommendation would be to work with a non-profit organization like Crossway and continue with the well-respected ESV version.


NIV2011 Readability, and therefore (maybe) easier to memorize Risk of publisher not being trustworthy
  Common translation, found in homes, preached with Some feel that the translation is less true and/or makes compromises; not recommended by some Christian organizations. A number of churches would withdraw from C&MA quizzing if the NIV is used.
ESV Continuity, we have been using it for 2 years; not to introduce a 3rd version Some have found it more difficult to memorize than NIV1984
Trustworthy literal translation, well respected




8 thoughts on “The Bible Translation War – 2 Years Later – NIV vs ESV

  1. Our family had been involved in Bible Quizzing with the C&MA in the U.S. for several years. We quizzed with the ESV in Romans and our kids didn’t find it harder to memorize, but se sat out last year for Acts for several other reasons. We found out that they decided to go with the NIV 2011 for this year. We will not be quizzing and know several other families that have decided to not quiz for this reason. One friend told me they may do some fun quizzing on the ESV version on their own. I happened on to your blog when I was doing some research around this subject and was just wondering what you decided to do and what you know of other churches. I’m wondering if there will be a large drop off in participation, and if there is, if the C&MA will consider going back the ESV for 2016-2017.

  2. Hi Diana, the C&MA decided to go ahead with NIV2011 and hopes to re-evaluate in one or two years. In the Eastern Canada District, there was no drop off in participation due to the version change, although some were disappointed. Now that the quiz year has begun, we will hear more from other districts as to whether or not a number chose not to participate.

    This year is Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians which is great material to be memorizing. I hope that kids have an opportunity to quiz in either version 🙂

  3. After doing some thinking and alot of research I would recommend the HCSB for anyone that wants an English translation that uses modern English. It is very readable plus its more literal than the NIV. It has an wealth of textual footnotes that are very helpful for interpreting and therefore applying God’s word. I trust the publisher who is behind the HCSB. For me what Zondervan did with the NIV 84 edition was cruel and heartless. Thinking about all the people that have grown up reading it and memorizing it and then the publisher taking it off the shelf seems very non-Christ like. It seems wrong to me to do that to people. It’s as if they did not think through their decision. Their decision has influenced a lot of peoples lives in many ways. I liked the NIV 84 but I will use the ESV and HCSB instead of the using a bible by a publisher who, at anytime could take it away. Sorry to ramble, I just feel bad for the ones who have spent so much time using it and it being taken away. It seems that the Lord sure did use the NIV 84. I’d people still want to have it they can get an Thompson Chain reference bible, Ryrie study Bible and Schofield reference bible that uses the NIV 84 text.

    • Holman is already planning to replace HCSB with CSB. They’ll do the same as the NIV did between the 84 and 2011 soon enough. Plus, honestly, the HCSB is a hideous translation. Translations that change Christ to Messiah when the text in Greek clearly says Christos ought to burned.

  4. I was the NT Chair of the ESV and am currently on the CBT, so I thought I would chime in.

    Rupert Murdock does NOT own the NIV. The copyright is held by Biblical, the International Bible Society.

    Zondervan, which is owned by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which is owned by HarperCollins, which is owned by Newscorp, of which Murdock has a controlling share (I am assuming — it is a public company so he does not “open” it). Zondervan has the right to print the NIV in certain regions of the world and some control on the electronic distribution of the text. HarperCollins is a massive publisher and I am sure publish books that evangelical Christians would not approve of, but they have never exerted any force on the CBT to translate a certain way.

    By the way, no one but the CBT, the Committee on Bible Translation, controls the text of the NIV. It is comforting to know that we are allowed, and in fact charged, to ignore everything in the marketplace except the nature of the English language around the world and the progress of scholarship.

    The decision to pull both the TNIV and the NIV 1984 was a marketing decision made by the then president of Zondervan, Moe Gerkins. Since the NIV, from its charter, was charged to be continually updated, it made sense to only have one NIV. They stopped selling hard copies at some point and gave the electronic folks some time before they had to pull all their electronic. Zondervan did NOT pull hard copies from the stores, and you can still find them from time to time.

    You are right that how you count changes is significant. Let’s say that a verse has 20 words and one word was changed; do we say that a verse was changed or the word was changed?

    I would assume that as the ESV goes through revisions, they will only be selling the current version. I can’t imagine any Bible publisher is going to keep previous editions around. It would make marketing impossible. For the NIV, just check the copyright on the inside copyright page. 2011.

    By the way, it was nice to read your article. So many of these types of discussions get emotionally charged and perpetrate false information . Thanks for how you asked the questions. I thin k I answered what I could, but if I missed something please let me know.

    Bill Mounce

    • Thank you so much Bill Mounce for taking the time to provide some inside background and information! You are indeed in a unique position to comment, having been involved with both translations if I understand correctly? This is much appreciated, although I wish we had some of this information at the time that quizzing committees were trying to reach a decision. It’s really too bad that the marketing decisions regarding the new NIV translation negatively affected the reputation of the translation. I will post a link to your comment to the C&MA Quizzing community. Again, thanks so much for your insight.

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