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Issue: "Bible translation blues," Nov. 21, 1998

A Bible for evangelicals: The genesis of the NIV

In 1965, an informal group of scholars from a variety of evangelical denominations and schools met in Palos Heights, Ill., and concluded that a new Bible translation was needed. Leaders from many denominations concurred the following year in Chicago. The Palos Heights group set up a self-governing, self-perpetuating 15-member body, the Committee on Bible Translation, and turned over to it the project to develop what became the New International Version. (See WORLD, April 19, 1997.) After the NIV was completed in 1983, the CBT decided not to cease operations, but to stay together for additional revisions. The International Bible Society (formerly the New York Bible Society) has paid the bills for three decades and reaped the revenues. The CBT retains control of the text, but IBS owns the copyright, including the right to license publishing by others. For the CBT, keeping the translation current has come to include gender-neutral language. Is this trip necessary? WORLD noted last year that the question was not one for Hebrew and Greek scholars alone, since in many cases the decision was one of whether to neuter what all agreed was a clear masculine usage- and individual Bible readers could judge for themselves whether a clear "he" should be changed to "one" or "they." For WORLD, some verses could legitimately be translated in different ways, but the overall issue was not all that complicated; "Don't Misquote God," the headline on one column read. For many academics, however, the pressure to be gender-neutral is ferocious-and, in light of the times and the apparent signals from IBS, the drive for a new NIV is likely to go on. (See the review on pages 24 and 25 of two new books that favor gender-neutral language.) The first major gender-neutral translation was the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) in 1989. Others have followed since then, using many of the same principles. They include the New Living Translation, the New Century Version, the Contemporary English Version, the original NIrV, and the NIVI in Britain. The NRSV copyright is owned by the education and ministry division of the National Council of Churches. A number of publishers, including evangelical ones, are licensed to print and sell it. According to its preface, the NCC required that "masculine-oriented language should be eliminated as far as this can be done without altering passages that reflect the historical situation of ancient patriarchal culture." Another preface, that of Hodder & Stoughton's gender-neutral New International Version, claimed that retranslation is "often appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers." (For new readers of WORLD who are not familiar with last year's "Stealth Bible" NIV conflict, the stories are freely available in WORLD's online archives at Also, a packet of stories is available for $5.00 by writing NIV Controversy, WORLD magazine, PO Box 2330, Asheville, NC 28802.)

Does it matter?

Here are three examples of how the gender-neutral NIrV that IBS recently reprinted compares with the revised NIrV:
Mark 1:17
Gender-neutral NIrV: "... I will make you fishers of people."
Revised NIrV: "... I will make you fishers of men."

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John 11:50
Gender-neutral NIrV: "It is better if one person dies for the people ..."
Revised NIrV: "It is better if one man dies ..."

Acts 1:21
Gender-neutral NIrV: "So we need to choose someone to take his place. It will have to be a person ..."
Revised NIrV: "... It will have to be a man ..."


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