Cover Story

Bailing Out of the Stealth Bible

Facing a revolt in pulpits and pews across the country, Zondervan Publishing House and the International Bible Society abandoned changes in the NIV--all the while maintaining the gender-neutral translation would have been more accurate. What's going on? And how did it happen?

Issue: "Bailing Out," June 14, 1997

In a surprise development, the board of the International Bible Society announced at 7:00 a.m. on May 27 that it will preserve the current New International Version Bible and discontinue all plans to develop a new, gender-neutral version of the NIV. The IBS board also ordered a revision of its inclusive-language children's Bible, the NIrV, to bring its gender usage into line with the current NIV, and said it would ask a British publisher to yank the NIV inclusive-language edition (NIVI) now being sold in Britain.

Later that day, at a meeting of scholars and publishing executives called earlier by Focus on the Family president James Dobson, presidents of IBS and the Zondervan Publishing House agreed to a statement criticizing "many of the translating decisions" made in the NIVI. The statement also indicated regret that Zondervan did not notify parents that the NIrV had gender-related changes, and noted that Zondervan would refund the purchase price of any NIrVs bought to date.

The decisions essentially repudiated much of the work of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), which has been working on gender-related NIV revisions since 1992. John Stek and Ken Barker, CBT chairman and secretary, both told WORLD they were not informed of the IBS board decision before the announcement. Mr. Barker and another CBT member, Ron Youngblood, were two of the theologians present at the Dobson meeting, along with Wayne Grudem of Trinity Seminary, Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary, Ligonier Ministries head R.C. Sproul, Minnesota pastor John Piper, and Indiana pastor Tim Bayly, who is also executive director of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

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The decisions came none too soon for Zondervan and IBS. The groups had been trying to ride out a controversy that threatened not only the NIV but the reputations of the organizations themselves. Ever since WORLD reported (March 29) that the CBT had undertaken to make substantial changes in the NIV, weeding out masculine nouns and pronouns and replacing them with neutral substitutes, Zondervan and IBS had been sucked more deeply into a public relations quagmire, and were expressing more and more anger at WORLD for having attracted public attention to their activities and plans.

When the controversy spread to the Southern Baptist Convention, Zondervan and IBS plans to contain the damage started to unravel. Speculation centered on the Baptist Sunday School Board (BSSB) and whether it would continue to use the NIV in its curriculum and sell the NIV in its bookstores. The issue was whether the BSSB would continue to support a Bible translation that, in the words of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler, seemed to have been revised "in order to meet the demands of political correctness and gender inclusivity that we hear called for so much in modern culture." Some Baptist officials speculated that there would be a cautionary resolution passed at the denomination's annual meeting in June.

Here's some significant chronology: On May 19 representatives from IBS and Zondervan flew to Nashville to meet with representatives of the BSSB to try to allay the Board's concerns and restore trust in the NIV. According to Baptist Press (IBS refused to answer WORLD's questions about dates), the IBS executive committee met on May 22 and 24. In an unusual Memorial Day teleconference, the 20-member IBS board of directors voted to issue the statement of withdrawal at 7:00 a.m. the next morning (see sidebar).

The other development unanticipated by Zondervan and IBS crisis managers was the intervention of Focus on the Family. James Dobson first wrote a column in WORLD (May 3) warning against "injecting feminist bias and language into the inspired text." Then, when Focus discovered that its own Odyssey Bible for children had gender-neutral language, Focus decided to withdraw that edition immediately and refund the purchase price. Mr. Dobson then asked the theologians and publishers to meet in Colorado Springs.

As the IBS board was deciding to make its dramatic announcement, the critics of unisex language were holed up in a Colorado Springs Marriott-not far from IBS headquarters-to plan how to convince IBS and Zondervan to change their ways. Mr. Grudem and Mr. Piper bore laptop computers equipped with Greek and Hebrew fonts. They and the others-Mssrs. Sproul, Poythress, Bayly, and WORLD publisher Joel Belz-sat down Monday afternoon and compiled a 10-page list of NIVI mistranslations, a set of translating guidelines for gender-oriented language, and a list of desired publishing commitments. Their goal was for IBS and Zondervan to cease work on the unisex version and to acknowledge that they no longer consider the NIVI and the NIrV to be accurate translations of the Bible. By the time the work was finished it was 2:00 in the morning.

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