On Tuesday Zondervan, Biblica and the Committee on Bible Translation issued a joint statement announcing a new revision of the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible to be released in 2011. They also announced that when the new edition is released, the TNIV will be taken off of the market.
For those of you who are just joining this conversation and are wondering why this is important, let me bring you up to speed. In 1997 the translators of the NIV promised no revisions to the NIV. It was a defensive maneuver. Controversy had erupted after it was revealed that the translators intended to publish a “gender accurate” revision of the NIV. The backlash was so severe that the plans were scrapped and they promised to freeze the NIV in its current form. Several years later, the translators introduced a “gender accurate” version of the NIV under the title Today’s New International Version (TNIV). The release of TNIV was met with the same controversy that attended the defunct 1997 revision. Too many evangelicals simply were not interested in a “gender accurate” translation of the Bible. To many, the “gender accurate” approach looked more like a gender-neutral approach, and this was unnacceptable. As a result, the TNIV performed miserably in the market, and now it is all but dead. . . sort of. The 2011 revision of the NIV will be based on the TNIV, though we still do not know the extent to which gender-neutral translations will be included.
Why is this important? Why should you care? It’s important because we are talking about the proper translation of God’s word. In effect, we have opposing opinions among evangelicals about what makes a proper translation. One of the reasons that we have so many English translations of the Bible today is because of this disagreement. The Bible that you carry to church with you every week reflects the philosophy of one or more of these opposing viewpoints. In short, every time you read your Bible, this issue affects you.
I am the editor of the Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, a publication which has played no small part in opposing the TNIV. But my interest in this discussion is not merely academic. It is also pastoral. I count myself among those who think that the TNIV and other gender-neutral translations do not reflect the most reliable approach to rendering the Bible in English. The translators who claimed that generic masculines are no longer understood in the English language way overstated their case. In fact, the case was never really made so much as it was assumed. I suspect, furthermore, that this supposition is due more to pervasive feminist propaganda in the culture than to any profound changes in the English language (though I do not wish to imply that TNIV translators are consciously trying to promote a feminist agenda).
For this reason, it would be a mistake for NIV revisers to continue what amounts to a gender-neutral approach to translation. This approach produced profound distortions in the TNIV (e.g., Hebrews 2:8, which the TNIV renders as “human beings” against “Son of Man” in the NIV). Yet according to Doug Moo, the verdict is still out on this question. Ted Olsen reports that,
“Doug Moo, chairman of the the Committee on Bible Translation (which is the body responsible for the translation) said the committee has not yet decided how much the 2011 edition will include the gender-inclusive language that roiled critics of the TNIV. ‘We felt certainly at the time it was the right thing to do, that the language was moving in that direction,’ Moo said. ‘All that is back on the table. This has been a time of transition in the in the way the English language has handled gender, and it is in flux and in process as things are changing quickly.'”
I’m holding out hope that the Committee on Bible Translation will not do in the NIV 2011 what they did in the TNIV. If they do, I would oppose it, and so would many others. The NIV would then become the new “divisive” translation, and I don’t think that helps anyone.
That being said, I’m glad that the TNIV is going off the market. For the sake of the countless numbers who read the NIV, I hope its gender-neutral translation philosophy disappears too.