Today's NIV - Yesterday's Problems Revisited Today

by G. W. Anderson

In 1990, the Society reported in our article on the New International Version that the translators believed that the work of translation was never finished,1 indicating that new editions of the NIV would periodically need to be published, no doubt replacing the old, ‘archaic’ editions of the NIV from the last quarter of the 20th century.2 In 1995, such a move was made by the International Bible Society in their publication in the United Kingdom of the New International Version: Inclusive Language Edition New Testament Psalms and Proverbs.3 The entire Bible was due in 1996. It was assumed that this ‘gender inclusive’ Bible would be available throughout the world as the newest edition of the NIV. However, the response to this New Testament brought a halt to IBS's plans.

On March 29, 1997, World magazine, a well-known Christian periodical, published a cover story by Susan Olasky entitled “The Stealth Bible: The Popular New International Version is Quietly Going ‘Gender-Neutral’”. This article was a powerful rebuke of the International Bible Society and the publisher Zondervan, and provided a strong foundation for the upsurge against the growing tendency toward gender neutrality. Both those who had rejected the NIV and those who embraced it argued against the NIVInclusive. The outcome of the fierce debate was that the NIVI would not be published in the United States but would be available in the UK; however, it was soon available to any around the world with Internet access. In response, on May 27, 1997, ‘The International Bible Society issued a press release saying it “has abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version (NIV)”.’ It stated further that ‘The present (1984) NIV text will continue to be published. There are no plans for a further revised edition’.4

A meeting of conservative Christians was held May 27, 1997, at Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA, to discuss legitimate ways of translating Greek and Hebrew words in instances in which they are truly gender non-specific. A document was produced called the ‘Colorado Springs Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture’. The finished article was signed by those attending, including Ken Barker, Secretary of the NIVI Committee on Bible Translation and Bruce Ryskamp, president of Zondervan. Following this, several national newspapers, including USA Today and the New York Times, carried stories ‘reporting that plans for a gender-neutral NIV had been cancelled’.5 In conservative Christian circles, the controversy thus subsided. Perhaps the entire episode should have served as a sign of the storm of protest to come.

On January 28, 2002, the International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House announced the publication of Today's New International Version, a revision of the trusty old NIV which was designed to incorporate ‘gender-accurate’ use of language. On February 23, 2002, World magazine replied with another cover story by Susan Olasky: ‘Five days early, Five years late: The upcoming publication of a politically correct revision of the popular New International Version Bible seems like a scene from Groundhog Day’. She stated that, ‘It was all reminiscent of the battles fought five years ago, beginning in March, 1997. That's when WORLD surprised IBS and Zondervan by breaking the story that the NIV was quietly going gender-neutral. IBS and Zondervan scrambled to get their side of the story out, taking advantage of the Internet to post open letters on their websites, and initially charging that WORLD got the story wrong’. In light of signatures of Barker and Ryskamp on the ‘Colorado Springs Guidelines’, Olasky commented that, ‘when IBS and Zondervan announced plans for the TNIV last month, it was not merely a new product rollout. The two organizations were breaking well-publicized agreements that had seemed to deliver them from a public-relations quagmire. They were admitting that work on a gender-neutral Bible had continued despite IBS's pledge that it would not.’6

Apparently in the minds of the International Bible Society, producing a gender-neutral Bible had become necessary — as if, between the year 1997, when they signed the agreement, and 2002, when they published the TNIV, there had been considerable changes in the linguistic world. The preface to the TNIV states that, ‘While a basic core of the English language remains relatively stable, many diverse and complex cultural forces continue to bring about subtle shifts in the meanings and/or connotations of even old, well established words and phrases.’7 Part of these ‘complex cultural forces’ has caused the IBS to make what it classifies ‘gender-related’ changes. ‘All gender-related changes in the TNIV are made to update masculine terminology that, in view of the immediate context, is often misunderstood and clearly used with generic intent. The changes do not have any doctrinal impact upon the text of Scripture’. However, the publishers were quick to point out that ‘The TNIV is not merely a gender-accurate edition of the NIV. More than 70 percent of the changes made were not related to gender’.8

Many view the changes engendered by these ‘complex cultural forces’ as being nothing other than the feminist agenda and political correctness to which more liberal translators have succumbed. And the placating words of the translators have not diminished the firestorm of protest against the TNIV. Institutions and individuals around the world have taken strong stances against the publication of the TNIV. The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has taken the lead in opposition. They have produced numerous articles which go into great detail in displaying hundreds of inaccuracies9 and instances in which the TNIV has altered and changed the NIV10 in ways which exceed the ‘gender-accuracy’ for which the translators claim to have striven.

The Council's website also provides a list of some one hundred Christian leaders who ‘have issued a joint statement that claims they cannot endorse Today's New International Version (TNIV) that is produced by Zondervan publishers and the International Bible Society’, stating that ‘the TNIV goes beyond acceptable translation standards in several important respects’.11

Many in this group of well-known pastors, educators, missionaries and scholars support the NIV and other modern versions, and no doubt few would support the principles and policy of TBS. It is doubtful that any two would agree on every theological point. However, these men and women have come together to protest something they see as harmful to the Christian church in a unanimity which shows the depth of concern which many in the fundamentalist, evangelical and reformed ministries have at the publication of the TNIV. Recently, two diverse conservative Christian denominations, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church in America, each issued a statement from its yearly meeting rejecting the TNIV. As more and more people become aware of what the translators and publishers are doing, it is likely that further articles and statements of condemnation will be forthcoming.

This writer has not seen this level of condemnation of a Bible version since the publication of the Revised Standard Version in the 1950s. One quotation stands out as showing the feeling of betrayal and anger which many are experiencing. Vern Poythress, in stating his opposition to the TNIV, sums up the normal evangelical view of gender-inclusive language.

“One can see in this extreme an affinity with political correctness and the modern culture wars. Political correctness includes an extreme, unnatural fear that someone, somewhere, sometime, for the flimsiest of reasons, might feel “excluded” or might misunderstand. It then distorts sound reasoning, sane communication, and other social realities for the sake of the triumph of its own vision of correctness. A person who has this fear will, as a matter of a general principle, remove the maleness in cases like Hebrews 12:7, for fear that females feel “excluded”. And of course this is exactly what the TNIV appears to be doing, when it engages in programmatic alterations of gender about which its preface speaks: ‘Among the more programmatic changes in the TNIV is the elimination of most instances of the generic use of masculine nouns and pronouns’. (“A Word to the Reader”, p. vii).”12

As the Lord wills, issues relating to the gender and other problems in the TNIV will be addressed in detail in the coming issues of the Quarterly Record.

Endnotes

1 G. W. and D. E. Anderson, What Today's Christian needs to know about the NIV (London: Trinitarian Bible Society, 1992), p. 4, quoting Edwin Palmer, et al, ed. The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1984), p. ix.

2 previous editions copyright 1973, 1978 and 1984.

3 In January 1996, the Trinitarian Bible Society published a critical review of the New Testament in Quarterly Record No. 534.

4 Vern S. Poythress and Wayne A. Grudem, The Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy: Muting the Masculinity of God's Words, p. 20. Downloaded from http://keptthefaith.org/docs/gnbc.pdf, June 2002.

5 Ibid., p. 21.

6 World Magazine, volume 17.7, February 23, 2002.

7 Today's New International Version, “A Word to the Reader” (Colorado Springs, CO, USA: International Bible Society, 2001), p. vii.

8 http://www.tniv.info/quickfacts.php, accessed 29 August 2002.

9 http://www.cbmw.org/resources/tniv/inaccuracies.pdf, accessed 29 August 2002.

10 http://www.cbmw.org/tniv/short-list.html,accessed 29 August 2002.

11 http://www.cbmw.org/tniv/leaders.html, accessed 29 August 2002.

12 A Preliminary Response to Ellis W. Deibler: The Real Problem with Gender-Neutral Translations By Vern S. Poythress, Ph.D., Th.D. downloaded from http://keptthefaith.org/docs/Poythress_response.pdf, June 2002.


This article is taken from Quarterly Record no. 561, October-December 2002

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