One Man’s Vision for the NIV

Howard Long, an engineer from Seattle, was known for his passion for sharing the gospel and his love for the King James Bible. One day, he tried sharing Scripture with a non-Christian only to find that the KJV’s 17th-century English didn’t connect.

In 1955, Long embarked on a ten-year quest for a new Bible translation that would faithfully capture the Word of God in contemporary English. Eventually his denomination, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) embraced his vision for what would become the New International Version (NIV).

Evangelicals Unite for a New Bible Translation

In 1965, a cross-denominational gathering of evangelical scholars met near Chicago and agreed to start work on the New International Version. Instead of just updating an existing translation such as the KJV, they chose to start from scratch, using the very best manuscripts available in the original Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic of the Bible.

One year later, their decision was endorsed by a gathering of 80 evangelical ministry leaders and scholars. And so the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), the self-governing body responsible for the NIV, was born.

A Painstaking Translation Process

To ensure maximum accuracy, readability, and clarity, the NIV went through perhaps the most rigorous translation process in history. First, each book of the Bible was assigned to a translation team consisting of:
• Two lead translators
• Two translation consultants
• One English style consultant (if necessary)

Then another team of five Bible scholars reviewed this work, carefully comparing it to the original biblical text and assessing its readability. From there, each book went to a general committee of 8 to 12 scholars. As part of the final review, outside critics gave feedback. Samples were tested with pastors, students, and laypeople. Perhaps no other Bible translation in history has undergone a more thorough process to ensure its accuracy, readability, and clarity.

From Dream to Reality

In 1968, Biblica (then the New York Bible Society) came on board as the NIV’s financial sponsor, mortgaging its office space in Manhattan and New Jersey so that Howard Long’s initial dream of a trustworthy, accessible Bible translation could become reality.

But by 1975, the issue of funding reached a crisis point. The New York Bible Society had reduced its staff, drained its endowment, taken out loans and put its beautiful New York building up for sale. It was out of funds and out of options.

To come this far and not finish was unthinkable. The positive response to the New Testament showed that the English-speaking world desperately wanted a reliable Bible in contemporary language.

The New York Bible Society sought out Pat Zondervan, head of Zondervan Publishers in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His company was already involved with the NIV as publishers of the New Testament. Would it consider funding the rest of the translation?

Zondervan’s answer was yes. The publisher already had exclusive rights in the United States and would advance the society in royalties to finish the work.

Ten years later, the full NIV Bible was published. The initial print run of over a million copies sold out before they were even done printing: Such was the demand for an accurate, readable, and clear Bible. Dozens of evangelical denominations, churches, and seminaries embraced the NIV as their official Bible translation for preaching, study, public reading, and personal use. Forty-five years later, the NIV remains the most frequently used translation in churches across the US.

The Translation Work Goes On

The translators’ work didn’t end when the NIV was published in 1978. The original mandate, given in 1965, was to continue the work of Bible translation, ensuring that the NIV always reflects the very best of biblical and archaeological scholarship, and representing contemporary English.

The Committee on Bible Translation still meets every year, reviewing its work in painstaking detail. Why? Because when translating God’s inspired Word, it’s all about getting the words right.

NIV History Timeline