Cover of an TNIV NT, 2002
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USA Today reports that a new version of the New International Version will hit bookstores in March, 2011. The translation takes into account the criticism that the Committee on Bible Translation – who first created the NIV in 1978 – received from their 2005 edition of the Today’s New International Version, which featured inclusive language. That is, places where scripture refers to man or mankind, words like people or human beings were used instead.

As you may remember, this change did not fly with some big time evangelicals like James Dobson and John Piper. Apparently they asked the Committee not to produce a gender inclusive version of the Bible and when the TNIV was released anyway, “Dobson accused translators of distorting the word of God,” according to the USA Today article.

So, in the new version of the NIV most of the original gender-exclusive language was retained, though not all. This is particularly poignant news in light of the discussion (which I’ve been involved in) transpiring in the comments section of Sessions’ post on Molly Worthen’s New York Times Magazine article. This debate shows that the translation of scripture is being influenced – always has been influenced – by political debates and, in this case, threats of being perceived too liberal by the version’s target audience.

In the USA Today story, Jay Phelan, senior professor of theological studies at North Park Theological Seminary, explains the heart of the problem, “The whole idea that we want to make this constituency or that constituency unhappy is wrong…You don’t do a translation that way. You don’t say ‘this will make the liberals unhappy’ or ‘this will make conservatives unhappy.’ Your job is to produce the most accurate translation possible.”

If the point of creating new translations is to make scripture accessible to contemporary readers without compromising the original text (to the extent that that’s possible), refusing to let “human beings” stand in place for “man” – as in “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness…” – can’t be anything more than political posturing. Clearly, the meaning is not changed, contemporary readers understand “man” to include men and women, and yet the TNIV was the object of scorn from many evangelicals. Are they really afraid that offering inclusive language will alter the meaning of scripture, or could they perhaps be afraid of something far more insidious?

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to NIV Bible: Sorry Ladies, You’re Still Men

  1. Jonathan says:

    I am a fan of the TNIV in general, and I think the NIV2011 is a step backward in some respects. However, it retains a lot of gender-accurate renderings (Genesis 1.27 is “man” (NIV1984) -> “human beings” (TNIV) -> “mankind” (NIV2011)). In addition, it retains the singular “they”.

    Since the NIV2011 is being marketed and sold as the “NIV”, and is replacing the 1984 edition, it’s still a step forward, I think. The TNIV was a dead-end.

  2. Zogood says:

    Anybody for a return to The Vulgate? The Septuagint?

    Having learned Greek and translated chunks of the New Testament myself, I think, as always, it is best to stick close to the text as often as you can.

    When in doubt, read the church fathers and see what they thought of the passage and rather than translate toward modern misinterpretations of ancient history, get the facts as close as you can to firsthand.

    • How would you say that the TNIV did this when the intent was to make it gender inclusive where the context shows that the word used was gender inclusive? This isn’t an issue of misinterpretation or staying as close to the text. If anything using a term that doesn’t imply gender inclusivity in modern language where it’s clear the term is intended to be inclusive would actually be moving away from the text.

  3. Zogood says:

    Anybody for a return to The Vulgate? The Septuagint?

    Having learned Greek and translated chunks of the New Testament myself, I think, as always, it is best to stick close to the text as often as you can.

    When in doubt, read the church fathers and see what they thought of the passage and rather than translate toward modern misinterpretations of ancient history, get the facts as close as you can to firsthand.

  4. more Cowbell says:

    I agree with Zogood. Let the interpretation be done by the reader, not by the translator.

  5. JRod says:

    Personally I think Christians should give up reading the NIV (or TNIV) altogether since it tends to be idiomatic and interpretative in its very nature. For example, the NIV consistently renders the Greek word “sarx” in Romans as “sinful nature.” This is an interpretation not a translation. The more accurate rendering should be “flesh.” In general, translations that tend towards dynamic equivalence are more helpful when engaging in serious Bible study. In this respect the NIV falls short. My preference is the NASB although it does not take issues of gender inclusivity into consideration.

  6. Timothy Zila says:

    This is sort of tangential, but as someone who works with interlinear and in the Greek (although, alas, I do not yet know Greek), I dislike the NIV because they are constantly twisting the text to reflect their interpretation, which is either slightly or significantly different than what the text actually says. Now, in some cases, you can legitimately make a slight change to clarify what the Biblical author is saying. But, more often than not, the changes I’ve seen in the NIV are changes that twist the text in order to fit one audience’s interpretation of the text instead of leaving it more open ended.

    In other words, the NIV straddles the line of being a paraphrase. Which is not what it proclaims itself to be. True translations should leave interpretation up to the readers, not to certain denominations. (Which is why it’s unsurprising that they’re changing the 2011 edition to fit what certain denominational leaders want.)

  7. Ian Clark says:

    I have been a huge TNIV fan. I am not going to be using the NNIV. I’m seriously considering using the NRSV from now on. BTW, I’m a conservative evangelical, just not a paranoid & sexist one.

  8. Aaron Swink says:

    I’m fine with using gender inclusive language when appropriate, but the use of “they” for a singular pronoun is just bad grammar in my understanding. It significantly changes the imagery and even the meaning of not a few passages, such as in Job when “shaking his fists against God” becomes “shaking their fists against God” so the image being a solitary person, crying out against God, is now an angry mob. Maybe not the most significant example, but it’s the one I could think of off hand

  9. John says:

    Christopher Hitchens rejected the gender neutral language of substituting “brethren” with “my friends,” calling it a “slightly ingratiating obeisance.”

    “[T]to suggest that Saint Paul, of all people, was gender-neutral is to re-write the history as well as to rinse out the prose,” Hitchens noted.

    http://www.christianpost.com/news/atheist-hitchens-praises-king-james-bible-49686/

  10. Brad says:

    I believe the Gensis verse that you have quoted does only refer to man…because Eve was created a time after Adam, so Human Beings is incorrect and does change the meanings

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