NASHVILLE, Tenn. Six years after the evangelical world debated the merits and appropriateness of making Bible translations more gender inclusive for words dealing with people, the divide is becoming evident once again.
At issue is the 2011 translation of the New International Version, which is being released six years after the full version of the 2005 Today’s New International Version translationwhich never gained wide supportwas published. Zondervan later discontinued the TNIV.
Critics said the TNIV’s gender inclusivism went so far that it changed the core meaning of passages. LifeWay Christian Stores refused to carry it.
The latest round of criticism is led by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the Louisville, Ky.-based group which was a leading opponent of the TNIV.
The council, which supports a complementarian position on manhood and womanhood, released a review of the 2011 NIV in late May, concluding that 75 percent of the “inaccurate gender language” it said was in the TNIV remains in the 2011 NIV. The 22-page evaluation did say, though, that the newest NIV includes “numerous commendable improvements” from the TNIV933 in all. One example is Genesis 1:27, which now says God created “mankind in his own image.” The TNIV had said “God created human beings in his own image.”
But more than 2,700 of the problems critics identified in the TNIV remain, and because of that, the council says it cannot recommend the 2011 NIV. Some of the verses are particularly problematic, it said, including two verses in Paul’s letters, which the council said leaves room open for female pastors.
Douglas Moo, chairman of the Committee on Bible Translationwhich translated the new NIVsaid there was no agenda in the translation process other than to render a Bible into more contemporary language. The committee did, he said, make significant changes following the controversy over the TNIV.
“Our gender decisions were made on the basis of very careful and significant research ... and the decisions we’ve made about gender have no motivation of not offending people,” he told BP, explaining that the committee used the Collins Bank of English, a database of 4.4 billion words showing how people are speaking and writing. “The motivation, rather, is to communicate clearly to people what we think arguably is contemporary English.”
Much of the debate focuses on translation philosophy: Is it permissible to make the English translation inclusive when the intent and application of the verse is also inclusive? Or should translators stick to the original Greek and Hebrew and let the reader do the interpreting?
One example of inclusive language in the NIV is Luke 17:3, which the 2011 NIV rendered, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” The 1984 NIV translated it simply “your brother” with the accompanying word “him.” Another example is 1 Samuel 18:2, which the 2011 NIV rendered, “From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family.” The 1984 NIV translated it “ ... let him return home to his father’s house”a translation the council said emphasizes the role of fathers in Israelite society.
The fact that the 1984 NIV is being discontinued makes the current debate even more significant. Fans of the NIV who disagree with the 2011 NIV translation may have to find a different translation when purchasing a new Bible.
Wider application assumed
The council argues that for centuries, Bible readers have had no problem applying to a wider audience specific biblical passages that focus only on one gender. The danger in the 2011 translation philosophy, the group said in its evaluation, is in the translators changing “the meaning and the application of the text in ways that they may not intend or even realize.”
“Our main concern is that in hundreds of places, meaning in the Bible is eroded because of the translators decisions to remove words like he, him, his, father, brother, son, and man,” Randy Stinson, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood president, told Baptist Press in an email interview.
He also serves as dean of the school of church ministries at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“God’s Word is the product of his infinite wisdom and all the details of meaning are there for a purpose. ... Evangelicals have long believed that all Scripture is breathed out by God. This extends to every word of Scripture, not just basic thoughts.”
Moo, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, said the translation committee was careful in its work. Many of the members of the committee, he said, are complementarians.
“Where, in our view, the original text is intending to be inclusive then we feel our job as translators is to figure out what is the best way to make that inclusive point in modern English,” Moo said. “Where the original text is exclusive, on the other hand, then our task as translators is to choose the appropriate contemporary exclusive English construction that conveys the meaning of the original. That is not to say that all of the decisions are easy ones. There are a lot of texts which are very tough to make that decision about. Of course, we struggle with those, and good scholars can come to different opinions on some of them.”
Moo said he is in “general agreement” with council’s position on the complementarian issue but thinks that group is wrong in arguing their complementarian view “entails certain decisions about how to translate the Bible.”
“This is, I think, where the disagreement comes,” Moo said. “People can be solid complementarians and yet have pretty significant disagreements about just how to translate.”
Stinson said he agrees that a person can be complementarian and disagree with the council on the translation issue.
“However, our ultimate concern is about the authority of Scripture and not some specific way we think everything ought to be translated,” Stinson said. “Therefore, we are concerned about and oppose any undermining of the authority of Scripture with regard to gender issues whether it be from poor interpretation of the Bible or poor translation. In this case, the 2011 NIV, at least for us, is an example of the latter.”
Moo urged Christians to decide for themselves.
“I encourage people who have interests in these matters to take a look for themselves at an actual NIV rather than reading a review or criticism,” he said. “Take a look at it and make a judgment of whether indeed the NIV, is, as we have tried to do, communicating God’s Word accurately and reliably in contemporary English.”
To read the council’s evaluation, visit www.cbmw.org.
To read the Committee on Bible Translators’ statement on the translation philosophy, visit www.niv-cbt.org.