Brief Response to Darrell Bock

Darrell Bock has weighed-in on the discussion about the 2011 NIV. In general, he thinks the negative responses to the new translation are unwarranted. There are several remarks he makes that I think are worth responding to. Readers need to read Bock’s post for themselves, but I will try to summarize his concerns here and respond to each briefly.

1. CBMW has too much invested in the gender issue to look at these texts in a balanced manner.

I do not think this kind of statement helps to move the discussion forward. Yes, CBMW has a complementarian point of view on the gender issue. It does not follow from that observation that people with a theological point of view are unable to treat an issue fairly. If that were the case, none of us would be able to participate in the discussion because we all have theological and philosophical commitments.

Instead of ruling out a priori the arguments of complementarians, why not rather engage directly with their handling of the text? At this point, I know of at least three critical reviews of the NIV 2011 (Vern Poythress, CBMW, Denny Burk et. al), and I would love to see a serious discussion of the issues raised in them.

2. CBMW’s theory of translation was questioned in the original dispute and has been found wanting. The translators of the NIV have impeccable credentials.

Number two is a paraphrase of Bock’s remarks, but I think it captures his intent. If not, I will gladly stand corrected.

CBMW does not have a “theory of translation.” The Danvers Statement does not require adherents to subscribe to either formal equivalence or functional equivalence. One can advocate functional equivalence and still be a complementarian. It is not a litmus test. The issue here is not translation philosophy per se, but how one’s translation philosophy impacts the rendering of gender language. It is here that we believe there is an issue.

I could not agree more with Bock’s statement that “the credentials of those working on the NIV are impeccable.” He is absolutely right about that fact. In the world of biblical scholarship, these translators are superstars in my book. But as impressive as they are, their credentials do not by themselves vindicate the rendering of gender language in the NIV. Once again, we have to deal with the text itself to really engage this issue, and appeals to authority don’t really move the conversation forward.

3. Accusations of “gender neutering in NIV 2011” are misdirected because there are staunch complementarians on the committee (e.g., Doug Moo).

I understand the frustration behind this complaint, and I think it would be helpful to clarify what we are saying and not saying. The reviews have tried to focus criticism on the translation, not on the translators. In my review, for instance, I wrote the following:

“We recognize that the NIV’s Committee on Bible Translation expended a large amount of effort and scholarly discussion to make these changes. In fact, many of these improvements were made in verses that were highlighted in previous criticisms of the TNIV by CBMW and others. And there are numerous other improvements as well” (p. 18).

“This is not to presume upon the motives of the translators or their individual convictions about the gender debate. Indeed, we know that there are complementarians on the Committee for Bible Translation” (p. 22).

It has been my aim to engage the issues, not the personalities. I have no reason to believe that they are acting unfaithfully or untoward in their work as translators. I think they are motivated to render the biblical text accurately into English. When I argue that this or that rendering is “gender neutral” or “feminist,” I do not speak with reference to intent but to result. If that has not been clear so far, I hope it is now.

I think it is useful for us to be having this conversation about translation and gender language, and I am grateful to see Dr. Bock’s participation and interest as well. We come at this from different points of view, but that does not diminish my thankfulness for him, for his ministry to me over the years, and for his many contributions to the evangelical cause.


  • Darrell Bock


    Here is my core problem. When a text says anyone and then the next Greek term individualizes (but does so with “anyone” as the initial antecedent gloss), then it is clear we have multiple people who fulfill the text when they respond. Thus a rendering of them versus a singular is perfectly accurate linguistically and actually shows the scope of the text more clearly. I find cases like these to be one where either rendering can and does work in communicating meaning. Yet texts like these are what some (not you) have used as basis for rejecting the NIV 2011 and then say to add to the debate that this violates inspiration. I am crying foul on that one (especially the additional concern. It is linguistically incorrect).

    Where I do have a real problem, with your critique is to call a rendering feminist. That charge would only be the case IF it came with a denial of limits on the role of women by those translating and that has not taken place. So it injects a criticism that is not fair on the very issue you claim to be standing up for.

    One more thing. I am pleased the tone this time around is better. I just think the critique is not justified and have said so.

  • Brent Hobbs

    Denny, I think your response to Bock makes some good points. In fact, I think he would agree with a lot of what you’ve said.

    Here’s the question it raises in my mind:

    When we have the caliber of scholars that you and I both highly respect (like Bock, Moo, France, others) saying this doesn’t compromise Scripture the way CBMW says it does, doesn’t it at least make you wonder if the criticism is overblown?

    Does it really make sense that they’ve just lost their exegetical minds on this issue when they are otherwise known to be such clear-minded Bible interpreters?

    Ultimately you’re exactly right. It’s not about personalities and the merits must decide the case. Bock’s defense was a general one and I’d like to see someone try a comphrehensive, detailed defense of the new NIV and see how things shake out.

  • Barry Applewhite

    I certainly agree that dealing with actual NT verses one by one is the best way to reach a solid conclusion. But I think that is a lot to ask if you are ruling out general conclusions that lack such rigorous analysis. Bock has a few other things to do!

    I agree with Bock that CBMW’s view has to be seen as coming from an interest group. For CBMW to analyze NIV 2011 about gender issues is about like having the US Chamber of Commerce express an opinion about President Obama. You can guess where the conversation is going before you read it.

    I have a thought experiment for you. Could you get a better NT translation by replacing the the NIV Committee on Bible Translation with the members of CBMW? I for one think it is unlikely you would get many scholars who believe the answer is “yes.”

    I have dumped my share of dirt on the errors in NIV 1984, and I generally dislike dynamic equivalence as an approach. But I have seen enough to believe NIV 2011 is as good or better than any other English translation available today. The fact that it too has a few problems that need fixing is not a shock.


  • John Thomson

    A tentative question? Does ‘anyone’ necessarily mean both male and female? Is not the ‘anyone’ or ‘all’ subject to whatever constraints the author assumes (and assumes the reader understands) as he uses it.

    The case for ‘all’ having constraints hardly needs proving. Paul’s comment in 1 Cor 15 is germane.

    1Cor 15:27 (ESV)
    For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.

    ‘All’ has often assumed exceptions.

  • Michael

    Even though Zondervan is discontuing the NIV 1984, I will still use it. I like it better than the new one. I use the ESV too. Thanks

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