His Passion for the Word of God Was the Spark That Led to the NIV
Howard Long was no ordinary man. As an inventor, pilot, college physics instructor, businessman and engineer, he was passionate about many things in life. One fervent passion stood out from the rest: his unwavering dedication to his Christian faith.
Nothing brought him greater joy than discussing and sharing the Word of God with Christians and non-Christians alike, and nothing brought him greater frustration than the struggle to clearly and colloquially communicate Scripture to those unfamiliar with it.
These tensions came to a head one evening in the summer of 1955 in Portland, Oregon, where Long was traveling for business. He was dining with a fellow businessman at the historic Multnomah Hotel when the discussion, as discussions with Long often did, turned to his Christian faith. As the two began talking about spiritual issues, Long suggested they read the Scriptures together.
After the meal, Long pulled out the King James Bible and began to read aloud its familiar verses. When he glanced up to see how the man was receiving God’s message, Long was baffled by his reaction. “He got red in the face,” Long said, “and pretty soon he just exploded with laughter.”
Long could hardly believe how grossly his King James Bible had failed to communicate the Word of God. For him, the growing divide between the language of the Bible and the contemporary language of the people was reaching a breaking point. If an educated businessman found the Scriptures, the sacred Word of God, so comical, there was certainly a discrepancy between what the Bible said and what was being understood.
“Everywhere I go, in Canada, the U.S., anywhere, there are people who would like to read their Bible to their children at night,” Long thought. “And they don’t have something the children can grasp.”
When these long-simmering frustrations finally boiled over, Long told his pastor, the Reverend Peter DeJong, “We’ve translated the Bible into hundreds, a couple thousand tongues, and when we run out of tongues to translate it into, someday we’re going to translate it into English.”
Inspired by the great need they both felt for a Bible in contemporary English, the two men prepared a petition for a new translation with their Seattle church for the denomination at large, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). After initial rejection and deferral, the CRC endorsed a committee to investigate the issue in 1957.
The CRC would eventually join forces with The National Association of Evangelicals and others in the evangelical world. In August 1965, a broad spectrum of evangelical scholars, leaders and churches commissioned a new, contemporary English translation of the Bible by evangelical scholars.
Long saw his vision grow from one man, to one church, to one denomination, to a broad evangelical coalition. Ultimately, it became a reality. The New International Version of the New Testament was completed in 1973, and in 1978, the full version of the NIV Bible was published.
Today, the NIV is the most widely read Bible in contemporary English, offering readers both accuracy and readability.
“The NIV has been a godsend; it has been a lifesaver,” Long said in 1986. “It’s something people can understand.”