Lovers of the Bible had every right to rejoice last week as word went out that the International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House had made a hard and perhaps costly decision to abandon plans to develop what they called a "gender-accurate" version of the New International Version. Our cover story this week, starting on p. 12, provides some of the details of how that decision came about.
No one should pretend, however, that IBS's and Zondervan's commitment signifies anything like agreement among evangelicals about basic faithfulness in Bible translation. Based on their own words, IBS and Zondervan cancelled the project because of pragmatic market considerations. In most of the press releases and in an interview on National Public Radio's Weekend All Things Considered, spokesmen for the NIV continued to argue that what they had planned was entirely proper-but that their evangelical audience simply wasn't ready for it.
So, appreciative as I am of the IBS-Zondervan action in scuttling their plans, I continue to doubt whether decision-makers in those two organizations have yet really heard the essence of the complaints of the people. If they had, they wouldn't continue to work so hard to justify a very flawed effort that their market has rejected-for reasons not of prejudice but of deep principle.
All of us have been affected by modern secular feminists. All of us, among other things, have changed our language patterns. But having acknowledged that, we'd better also set our guard that we not go too far-that we not accommodate ourselves too willingly to an alien spirit. In WORLD's assertions that the IBS, Zondervan, and the Committee on Bible Translation have participated in the "feminist seduction of evangelicals," we have never suggested that those three organizations share the ultimate goals of modern secular feminism. But we did very much suggest that the NIV's sponsors were going way too far to accommodate the enemy.
Too strong a charge? Let's test its validity. Almost certainly, no issue is more sensitive than the gender treatment given to members of the Godhead. If a translator gets careless on that front, how could there be trust on other issues?
So understandably, IBS and Zondervan were eager to assure their market that they had not in any fashion tinkered with something so basic and inflammatory. In its widely disseminated Q&A response to our first article, IBS asked: "But in the Bible, God is called 'He' and Christ is called 'Son.' Will these pronouns become inclusive, too?" IBS answered: "Of course not! Where the masculine or feminine was intended, no change will occur. For example, where an orphan is called 'fatherless,' it will not become 'parentless.' 'Son of God' will never become 'Child of God,' as another English version has it. God's 'kingdom' will never become 'dominion' as that same version states. Only those changes which contribute to accuracy will be allowed."
Zondervan's website, also offering a brisk Q&A format, asked: "Will revisions affect the masculine tense [sic] of God?" The answer: "Absolutely not. God, Jesus Christ, and Holy Spirit will remain in the masculine tense, as will any other word specifically referred to in that tense in the original biblical languages."
But in fact, the now famous British version of the NIV (authorized by the IBS) and the children's version of the NIV (authorized by the IBS and published last year by Zondervan) regularly ignore those commitments. Strict accuracy fell by the wayside in favor of a steady rejection of words like "man"-even when "man" refers to Jesus.
Where the traditional NIV tells us in John 11:50 that "... it is better for you that one man die for the people ...," the two updates say that "... it is better for you that one person die for the people...." Where Philippians 2:8 in the traditional NIV reads, "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death," the British and children's editions say, "And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself and became obedient to death." The list of examples could be extended significantly.
The point is obvious: On the issue of greatest concern-the manner in which the translations refer to the persons of the Godhead-the effort fails. If it fails at its most critical test (at the very point where assurances have been most explicit), what are we to expect when our guard is down? Whether such "translation" is agenda-driven or simply a concession to others, the pattern is unmistakable. And it is a pattern even now being defended as "accurate" by IBS and Zondervan, at the very moment that they are withdrawing it from the market.
IBS and Zondervan are understandably zealous to regain the trust the NIV once enjoyed. We have wanted the same-and in a meeting with some of the NIV's sponsors two weeks ago in Colorado Springs, also described in this week's cover story, we thought the NIV folks were beginning to understand our concerns.
Public trust in the NIV will be dramatically increased only when all the parties sponsoring the NIV start showing that same good spirit. It's time to quit issuing condescending statements about the traditional NIV's audience, as if we were all 17th-century stick-in-the-muds. It's time too to quit trying to defend and justify the erroneous directions the NIV has taken over the last couple of years. To the NIV's sponsors, we say: Just admit the wrong, and get on with the right. We'll support you.