April 25, 2011

Review: NIV (2011) Thinline Reference Bible, Premium Leather

I have two "addictions" to which I will confess: Bibles in general and Bibles bound in fine leather. Having such an addiction, I recently acquired the updated 2011 edition of the NIV Thinline Reference Bible in premium leather and have spent some time examining both its binding and the new translation.

As for the binding, this edition is very soft and supple. On some online sites, the leather is said to be cowhide. This may be the case, but nowhere on the Bible itself or on the packaging material does it say so. It just says "premium leather." Whatever the leather is, it feels great in the hands, very smooth and buttery soft. The Bible has a very strong smell of leather, which I like very much, like walking into a leather shop. The cover itself is sewn around the edges and everything about my copy was quite symmetrical and well made. The Bible appears to have a sewn binding so that it lays flat right out of the box, although, again, it does not say so anywhere on the box. This feature of the Bible is very nice - the Bible seems to come straight from the box already broken in and will lay flat on the table immediately.

The Bible paper is clear and bright without too much bleed through. The pages are edged in silver and will have to be carefully separated so as not to tear them. Once you have separated the pages the Bible will be perfectly limp and you will be able to easily turn to any passage. The print is good, very clear and readable. If you have trouble with smaller fonts, you may want to consider the large print version.

I have two complaints about the binding, however. First, for apparently cosmetic reasons, the binding has a sewn seam which runs from top to bottom on the front cover. While this might give the Bible a distinctive look, it also gives it a weak point where the cover will begin to bend and wear out. The cover would have been much better if it had been constructed out of one single piece of genuine leather. Secondly, the end papers are made of thin paper rather than the traditional faux leather. This will result in the cover separating from the text block with normal use.

As for the translation itself, this is where I was truly disappointed. While I applaud the translators' efforts to render the text in a more gender-inclusive fashion (something the New Revised Standard Version did over 20 years ago and the New Living Translation also does), the result in the 2011 NIV is grammatically atrocious. Consider the rendering of the last sentence in Colossians 2:18. "Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind." I will admit that my own grammar is far from perfect, yet this sentence makes me cringe. I showed this sentence to an English teacher, who was appalled. And the problem is systemic. Check out 1 Tim 5:8, 1 Tim 6:3-4a, James 4:17, 1 John 3:9, and there are scores of other similar texts. In my opinion, there is no excuse for this level of bad grammar in such a major publication.

This update is quite massive, on a par with the differences between the 1977 NASB and the 1995 update, between the RSV and the NRSV. If one is expecting the classic NIV with a few tweaks, he will be gravely disappointed. Most of the translation updates seem to reflect the scholarship of the 1989 New Revised Standard Version. Another problem, for me at least, is that while the 2011 NIV has made improvements in certain renderings, those improvements are not consistent. Consider the updating of "sinful nature" in Romans 8 to "the flesh," which is more accurate. Yet in Romans 7:14, the same phrase is rendered "unspiritual," which is just confusing. Why not be consistent?

Overall, this Bible gets high marks for the construction and binding, but very low marks for the new translation itself. Grammatically, I find many passages extremely distracting, and if I'm distracted by the horrendous grammar then I could be missing something important the Bible is trying to say.

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