What's it all about?

National | Translation accuracy requires eternal vigilance

Issue: "There they go again," June 5, 1999

About two and a half years ago WORLD began work on a series of stories regarding the NIV and the decision of its translating committee, the Committee for Bible Translation (CBT), to regender the Bible-a decision, when we reported it, that set off a firestorm.

WORLD writers and editors were not looking for trouble when we began investigating the matter. But then we saw the changes and were appalled. Some just sounded awkward: "fishers of men" becoming "fishers of men and women." But others changed meaning.

For example: Doing away with "blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked," referring to individual courage; instead, "blessed are those ..." No more "God created man," referring to the unity of mankind; instead, "God created human beings." Forget that God "protects all his bones," referring to Christ; instead, God "protects all their bones."

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In researching the stories we talked to members of the translating committee and people at the International Bible Society, which holds the NIV copyright. We also explored the connection between the move to regender the Bible and feminist pressure in the culture and the church.

The story came out in March 1997 with a provocative cover headline, "Stealth Bible." The reaction was instantaneous: IBS denied the reports and put a scathing rebuttal on its website. Zondervan, the NIV's publisher, posted a denial on its website. Even some readers who oppose unisex trends in society thought maybe WORLD had got it wrong. Why else would IBS and Zondervan, respected organizations that had done wonderful things in the past, complain so vociferously?

The future of WORLD was in doubt. But our follow-up article three weeks later included side-by-side comparisons of several verses, interviews with more experts, and comparisons of statements made by evangelical company spokesmen with the regendered NIV edition published in England. The debate shifted. James Dobson came out strongly against the new language, and so did Southern Baptists.

When Lifeway Christian Resources, the publishing wing of the Southern Baptist Convention and the largest Sunday school curriculum publisher in the world, threatened to discontinue use of the NIV, the battle to preserve it was won-for the time being. In May 1997 IBS reconsidered and issued a statement disavowing future plans to regender the NIV. It also promised to revise the NIrV, a regendered children's Bible that had already been published in the United States with no warning of the change in content.

Meanwhile, James Dobson invited a group of men to the Focus on the Family headquarters to hammer out principles of Bible translation. Invitees included the presidents of Zondervan and IBS, members of the CBT, and critics of regendered translations. Although all sides agreed to and signed a statement opposing regendering, the truce was relatively short-lived.

Efforts to undo the Colorado Springs accord began soon after the ink had dried. Academics who favor massaging the biblical texts went on the offensive. Within two months of the agreement, John Kohlenberger, editor of the NIV Concordance, scathingly criticized concern about regendered language in a speech at the Christian Booksellers Association convention. Two critical books came out last year, and a major conference on gender and translation was planned, but then scrapped, due to insufficient support.

For nearly two years advocates of regendering have portrayed WORLD, Southern Baptist leaders, Focus on the Family personnel, and other critics as naive, ignorant, and Neanderthalish in ideology. The arguments of scholars such as Vern Poythress (see WORLD, Nov. 21, 1998) have been overlooked. Instead, regenderists have asserted that biblical wording must change or else women will feel that the Bible is not relevant to them.

Despite the academic fuss, there is little indication that evangelicals in the pews are demanding regendered Bibles. Even IBS's recent research, according to the organization's Eugene Rubingh, "indicates very limited interest in change." This appears to be a classic case of some evangelicals stampeding to catch up with a cultural trend, in this case feminism, that may already have peaked.

So where are we now? Do we need to "get with it"? Or do we believe, in the words of Mr. Poythress, "that God will use these differences between the Bible's way of talking and that of our modern cultural elite in order subtly to rebuke and reform us, to give us life and healing and peace?"

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.


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