I remember it clearly. The ubiquity of technology robs me of the memory of how I knew about it, but there was plenty of pre-internet buzz. A new Bible translation was being published and people were very excited. Including me. By the time the New International Version (NIV) was set to appear, I had read every translation of the Good Book I knew, cover-to-cover. Being a good evangelical, I started with the King James. I’d read it a time or two, then moved on to the Revised Standard Version. As you might guess, with my interests I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I do recall people complaining that it wasn’t literal enough. I’d read the Living Bible, and the Good News Bible. My favorite was probably the New American Standard Bible, though, because it was as close to languages I then didn’t know as I could get.
We didn’t have much money in my family, and since my summer jobs covered the cost of my school clothes, disposable income was fairly rare. But then a miracle. Christmas morning I opened my “big gift”—a brand new NIV. In a way that is somehow difficult to recapture these days, I was absurdly happy getting a new Bible. I started reading it right away. Little did I know it would become the best-selling modern English translation of all time. And that’s saying something—Bibles are big business. The reason for the NIV’s appeal was that it was Evangelical-friendly. No awkward issues like inclusive language, and, to be honest, a nicely rendered English.
Being in the Bibles business I decided to read about who was behind the NIV and found an unexpected connection with Rutgers University, where I used to teach. The owner of the NIV translation is Biblica. Biblica is the name of the International Bible Society, initially founded in 1809 as the New York Bible Society. In a way that’s hard to imagine in today’s New York City, that’s where the group formed. One of its founders? Henry Rutgers. Eventually the New York Bible Society became international, and like many good evangelicals, moved to Colorado Springs. The money from continuing sales of the NIV must contribute to their somewhat posh-looking campus. Meanwhile, Rutgers University has moved in quite a different direction.
Connections like this have always fascinated me. Although much detritus has flowed under the bridge with all that water, I can still feel that brief, sharp release of endorphins when I pick up my well-used NIV. I think of days of naive faith and all that has come after. Yes, Bibles are big business, and yet somehow so very small.