The New International Version: Inclusive Language Edition

a review by G. W. and D. E. Anderson

"...'People do not live on bread alone,...'" (Matthew 4.4)

Thirty years ago, the Committee of the New York Bible Society set out to produce a Bible which they claimed would be understandable to the masses and yet remain faithful to the original language texts. They stated that "the first concern of the translators has been the accuracy of the translation and its fidelity to the thought of the biblical writers".(1) The result was the New International Version. Although the Trinitarian Bible Society and many other Christians believe this translation failed in its faithfulness to the original language texts, the NIV regrettably has sold some 90 million copies worldwide and is expected by some forecasters to pass the 100 million mark soon.(2)

Despite this apparent saturation of the new version market, or perhaps because of it, the NIV translation Committee have determined that a new, revised edition of the NIV is in order. Because of changes (either perceived or actual) in the English language, a language which is "continuously subject to influences and developments worldwide...[the NIV] needs to be brought up to date in certain areas".(3) The "influences and developments" that the Committee had in view were apparently those brought about by issues of political correctness such as the feminist agenda, because the changes being made in this new edition are the results of the introduction of gender-inclusive language.(4) This follows the same fashionable obsessions or fads as seen in other modern versions such as the New Revised Standard Version, the Contemporary English Version and the Good News Bible 2nd Edition.

It must be noted at the beginning that this New International Version: Inclusive Language Edition does not go nearly as far in its changes as have other translations. It has retained "the gender used in the original languages when referring to God, angels and demons". However, "it was recognized that it was often appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers through gender-inclusive language when this could be done without compromising the message of the Spirit".(5)

The initial question to be asked is how one can remain faithful to the original language texts and at the same time abandon them. The cultures in which the Bible was originally written were strongly patriarchal.(6) Families were headed by fathers, and except in unusual situations the inheritance was passed from father to son. In addition, fathers were often held responsible for the actions of their children and husbands for their wives (see Numbers 30). It is the males who were to be circumcised, the males who were to go to war and the males who were to present themselves before the Lord three times each year (Exodus 23.17). Thus, it is impossible to see how one can "mute the patriarchalism of the culture" without "compromising the message of the Spirit". Since we have available at this time only the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs of the gender-inclusive NIV, the full impact of this will not be seen until the Bible is completed some time in the future. However, this trend is well exhibited in the portions of this gender-inclusive Bible which are currently available, as seen below.(7) [The Authorised Version reading of specific words is included in brackets for comparison.]

Verses in which the patriarchal culture is 'muted' include:

  • Psalm 22.4: "In you our ancestors [fathers] put their trust;..."
  • Psalm 44.1: "We have heard with our ears, O God; our ancestors [fathers] have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago."
  • Psalm 95.9: "...where your ancestors [fathers] tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did."
  • Psalm 106.7: "When our ancestors [fathers] were in Egypt,..."
  • Proverbs 17.2: "A wise servant will rule over a disgraceful child [son], and will share the inheritance as one of the family [among the brethren]."
  • Proverbs 22.28: "Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors [fathers]."
  • Matthew 23.32: "Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your ancestors [fathers]!"
  • John 4.20: "Our ancestors [fathers] worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we [men] must worship is in Jerusalem."
  • Hebrews 3.9: "...where your ancestors [fathers] tested and tried me..."
  • 1 Peter 1.18: "...the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors [fathers],"

Among the alterations which can be seen today in this attempt to "remove the obstacles to understanding experienced by some readers"(8) are several literary devices. These include:

Different words are used in order to delete perceived gender exclusiveness:

Craftsmen

  • Acts 19.24: "...the skilled workers [craftsmen]."
  • Acts 19.38: "If, then, Demetrius and his associates [the craftsmen] have a grievance against anybody [any man],..."
  • Revelation 18.22: "No worker of any trade [craftsman]..."

(Note that the Greek word rendered in the Authorised Version as 'craftsman' is the same in all three verses.)

Brethren

  • Proverbs 18.19-20: "An offended relative [brother] is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel. From the fruit of the [his] mouth one's [a man's] stomach is filled; with the harvest from the [his] lips one [he] is satisfied."
  • Proverbs 18.24: "One [a man] who has many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother or sister [brother]."
  • Matthew 7.3-5: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else's [thy brother's] eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say [to thy brother], 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person's [thy brother's] eye."
  • Romans 1.13: "I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters [brethren], that I planned many times to come to you..."
  • Philippians 3.1: "Finally, my brothers and sisters [brethren], rejoice in the Lord!"
  • Philippians 3.13: "Brothers and sisters [Brethren], I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it."
  • James 1.2: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters [brethren], whenever you face trials of many kinds,"
  • James 1.19: "My dear brothers and sisters [my beloved brethren], take note of this:..."
  • James 2.14: "What good is it, my brothers and sisters [brethren], if people [a man] claim to have [he hath] faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them [him]?"
  • 1 John 2.10-11: "Those [He] who love their [his] brothers and sisters [brother] live [abideth] in the light, and there is nothing in them [him] to make them stumble. But those [he] who hate a [his] brother or sister [brother] are [is] in the darkness and walk around in the darkness; they do not know [he knoweth not] where they are going [he goeth], because the darkness has blinded them [his eyes]."

Man

  • Psalm 8.4-6: "...what are mere mortals [is man] that you are mindful of them [him], human beings [the son of man] that you care for them [him]? You made them [him] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them [him] with glory and honour. You made them rulers [him to have dominion] over the works of your hands; you put everything under their [his] feet:" (Note that changing the singular to plural here diminishes the parallel to Hebrews 2.6-9, which has in view Jesus Christ as the Man who was made a little lower than the angels.)
  • Psalm 9.19: "Arise, O LORD, let not mortals [man] triumph;..."
  • Psalm 12.1: "Help, LORD, for the godly are not more [man ceaseth]; the faithful have vanished from the human race [children of men]."
  • Mark 1.17: "'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men and women [men].'"
  • James 2.20: "You foolish person [O vain man], do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?"
  • Hebrews 2.6: "What is a human being [man] that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (Note the inconsistency between this verse and its parallel in Psalm 8.4 above.)

Perceived gender-exclusive words are omitted:

  • Psalm 49.7: "No-one can redeem the life of another [his brother] or give to God a sufficient ransom [a ransom for him] - "
  • Mark 8.38: "All who are [Whosoever...shall be] ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation [of him] the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

Plural pronouns (and their resulting verb forms) are used in place of singular pronouns:

  • Psalm 1.1-3: "Blessed are those [is the man] who do not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But their [his] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate [doth he meditate] day and night. They are like trees [he shall be like a tree] planted by streams of water, which yield their [his] fruit in season and whose leaves do not wither. Whatever they do prospers [he doeth shall prosper]."
  • Psalm 14.1-2: "Fools say [The fool hath said] in their hearts [his heart], 'There is no God.'...The LORD looks down from heaven on the human race [children of men] to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God."
  • Mark 8.34-35: "Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: 'Those who [Whosoever] would come after me must deny [let him deny] themselves [himself] and take up their [his] cross and follow me. For those who [whosoever] want to save their lives [his life] will lose them [it], but those who [whosoever] lose their lives [his life] for me and for the gospel will save them [it]."

Third person pronouns (he, him) are changed to second (you) or first person pronouns (we, our); nouns are changed to pronouns.

  • Mark 8.36-37: "What good is it for you [a man] to gain [if he shall gain] the whole world, yet forfeit your [his] soul? Or what can you [a man] give in exchange for your [his] soul?"
  • 1 Corinthians 11.28: "We ought to [let a man] examine ourselves [himself] before we eat [and so let him eat] of the bread and drink of the cup."

Yet there are some instances in which the NIV translation Committee chose not to make alterations, some of which demonstrate inconsistency at best or a decidedly pro-feminist slant at worst. They state that changes were not made in "specific references to either males or females or in wisdom literature where young men on the threshold of adult life were being addressed."(9) Thus, the young man is still urged not to follow the immoral woman (Proverbs 6.20ff). However, if the Committee were truly seeking to alleviate alleged misunderstanding, one must wonder why the young woman is not warned away from similar folly. Moreover, the Committee recognized that it was not only men who can cause immorality but also women, and changed Mark 10.9 to read "Therefore what God has joined together, let no-one [man] separate".

Another example of this inconsistency is the change in address between the times men are addressed and the times women are addressed. In Luke 12.14, "Jesus replied, 'Friend [Man], who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?'" This is also seen in Luke 5.20, "Friend [Man], your sins are forgiven." Both of these people being addressed are men, as are the men Peter speaks to in Luke 22.58, 60. However, in chapter 22 they are both called "man". In passages in which women are being addressed, they are called "woman" (see Matthew 15.28; Luke 13.12, 22.57; John 4.21, 20.13). In other words, a man is often called 'friend', but a woman is called 'woman'. It leaves one to wonder why there is a difference in the way men are addressed, as rendered in this edition of the NIV.

Another inconsistency is seen in 1 John 2.13-14. Here John says that he is writing to fathers, young men, and children. The NIV changes "young men" to "young people", as one would expect considering the Committee's desire to make this gender inclusive. However, again we are left to wonder why "fathers" is not changed to "fathers and mothers" or "parents", as would seem more consistent. We can only be thankful that for some reason they did not make this change.

Another change which was not made is in references to monarchy. We will be brought before kings (Matthew 10.18) and are to "Show proper respect to everyone [all men]: Love the brothers and sisters [brotherhood], fear God, honour the king" (1 Peter 2.17). However, kings are not the only monarchs on earth, and 'king' is certainly not gender inclusive. Judah even had a queen for a short period (2 Chronicles 22.12). But, the NIV Committee decided at this point to limit the monarchy to kings.

The Committee on Bible Translation stated in the preface to this edition that "the feminine gender of cities and states or nations would also be retained".(10) The feminist agenda has brought about a change in the meteorological naming of hurricanes from strictly female to alternating female and male in order to avoid the allegedly derogatory reference of comparing women to hurricanes. If gender inclusiveness is to be consistent, it seems that cities, states and nations should at least be neuter, particularly in light of the derogatory comments made in Scripture regarding the godless nations.

The contention of the NIV Committee and supporters of gender-inclusive language is that the English language has changed to such an extent that words such as 'man' and 'mankind' are misunderstood by many to exclude women. However, the works of men such as Milton and Shakespeare have not been changed to remedy the alleged gender-exclusive problem, and no one seems to have difficulty understanding that sometimes 'man' in these works means one man or humankind in general. In regard to the Bible, "it is commonly alleged that formal equivalence translations are 'culturally distant' from the modern reader, that today's reader has difficulty relating to the strange cultures of Bible times; thus, what is needed is a translation which is 'culturally relevant' to the modern Bible reader. The alleged cultural problem, however, causes less difficulty than is often suggested..."(11) Is there a true need for gender inclusiveness; can people actually not understand, or do they misunderstand because they choose to do so?

Perhaps a more appropriate term than 'misunderstand' would be 'take offence'. The question would be, are people truly offended by gender-exclusive language or do they choose to be offended; and is offence a valid reason for changing not only the wording but also the impact and cultural context of God's Word? Susan Foh states that "deculturalization is a part of the biblical feminist's hermeneutic; they think that since the Bible was written in a patriarchal culture, the biblical writers are prejudiced by that culture against women's rights".(12) With the emphasis in the NIV Inclusive Language Edition upon muting "the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers",(13) one wonders if their desire is truly to help someone who might not understand or to appease the feminist agenda.

Conclusion

The politically correct/gender-inclusive agenda is usually associated with people who are liberal, theologically 'free' or neo-orthodox in theology. It is difficult to understand why the NIV Committee on Bible Translation decided to use gender-inclusive language in the Bible. The NIV is usually promoted as a conservative version translated by men who believe in the verbal plenary inspiration of the Scriptures. Even some conservative Christians who would not use the NIV have given it grudging respect because of its conservative slant. Now, however, that may change. A very good friend of the authors of this article and supporter of the Society said, when told about this inclusive version, "Oh no! No! They can't do that. That's not what the Greek and Hebrew have! How can they do that? Unbelievable!"

This is the heart cry of many who love and cherish God's Word. They see yet another version going down the liberal path. This appears to be the path being taken by the New International Version. It leaves one to wonder what will be done next.

Endnotes

(1) The Committee on Bible Translation, preface to The Holy Bible, New International Version: Inclusive Language Edition; The New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs (London, England: Hodder and Stoughton, 1995), p. vi.

(2) Kenneth L. Barker, Accuracy Defined and Illustrated: An NIV Translator Answers Your Questions (Colorado Springs, CO, USA: International Bible Society, 1995), p. 17.

(3) NIV, p. ix.

(4) Gender-inclusive language is wording that includes people of both genders, avoiding words which would specify one gender or the other. Thus, male and female are called 'people' or 'humans' without reference to gender.

(5) NIV, p. ix.

(6) A patriarchy is "a system of society, government, etc., ruled by a man and with descent through the male line" (R. E. Allen, ed., The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 8th ed. [Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1990], p. 872).

(7) Some of the changes noted were also present in earlier editions of the New International Version. However, in these verses additional changes have been made in the Inclusive Language Edition.

(8) NIV, p. x.

(9) Ibid.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Robert Martin, Accuracy of Translation and the New International Version (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), p. 40.

(12) Susan T. Foh, Women and the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ, USA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979), p. 2. This feminist deculturalization parallels the concept of dynamic equivalence translation, which tends "to engage in 'cultural levelling', that is, they tend to express biblical ideas in terms of modern customs, modern ways of thinking, and modern modes of expression" (Martin, p. 38).

(13) NIV, p. ix.

This article was originally published in the Quarterly Record no. 534, January to March 1996.

Copyright © 1996 Trinitarian Bible Society

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