Cover Story

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

Issue: "TNIV makes its debut," Feb. 23, 2002

The International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House jumped the gun by five days.

On Jan. 28 the two venerable evangelical institutions announced plans to publish Today's NIV, a gender-neutral revision of the NIV. The announcement coincided with the Christian Booksellers Association Expo, a trade show for Christian book retailers, and IBS handed out copies of its TNIV New Testament there (the whole TNIV won't be complete for another three years).

But that smooth product rollout became bumpy almost immediately, as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood rolled into action. Suddenly, like a scene from the movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray is forced to relive the same Feb. 2 until he gets it right, proponents of politically correct language were once again locked in combat with defenders of straight-up, nonideological translation.

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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.

Zondervan assured its customers that "we are in no way motivated by social or political agendas or pressures." IBS acknowledged some alterations but denied any feminist, anti-patriarchal reasons: "where a masculine, feminine, or neuter noun or adjective is changed, it can only be revised in order to be more unmistakably accurate."

But when WORLD conclusively demonstrated that both IBS and Zondervan had already published gender-neutral versions of the NIV and that many of the translating choices did not increase accuracy, the two organizations scrambled again. When WORLD quoted from the preface to the IBS-licensed, retranslated NIV that was already available for purchase in Great Britain-"it is often appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers through gender inclusive language" -IBS denials of feminist leanings rang hollow.

For two months IBS and Zondervan tried out new lines and leveled charges against WORLD, but in the meantime other evangelical organizations became involved. Southern Baptist leaders threatened to stop using the NIV in Sunday school materials. Focus on the Family President James Dobson came out against gender-neutral changes to the NIV, as did many other evangelical leaders.

By Memorial Day both IBS and Zondervan were ready to call it quits. On May 27 IBS announced that it had "abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version (NIV)," and that "the present (1984) NIV text will continue to be published. There are no plans for a further revised edition." The press release went even further: "The four-point IBS policy statement effectively eliminates incorporation of gender-related language revisions in any NIV Bible licensed by IBS to Zondervan Publishing House (ZPH), North American publisher of NIV, and Hodder & Stoughton, publisher of the NIV in the U.K."

To underscore that pledge, the presidents of IBS and Zondervan, and representatives from the CBT-the Committee on Bible Translation that is responsible for the text of the NIV-met with defenders of nonideological translation in Colorado Springs at the headquarters of Focus on the Family. By the end of the day all the scholars present had signed an agreement outlining basic principles of translation to which all sides agreed.

Therefore 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. So, despite the element of surprise in their announcement, by Groundhog Day five days later the battle was joined.

Many leading evangelical scholars -the number totaled 37 by Feb. 12-signed a statement expressing concern over "troubling translation inaccuracies" in the TNIV "that introduce distortions of ... meanings." The list of signers included Baptists such as Bruce Ware, Thomas Schreiner, R. Albert Mohler, Paige Patterson, and John Piper; Presbyterians such as R.C. Sproul, Vern Poythress, Peter Jones, Daniel Doriani, and Ray C. Ortlund, Jr.; and Lutherans such as William Weinrich and Dean O. Wenthe.

J.I. Packer, while not signing that statement, said he was "in sympathy with it" and told the Baptist Press that the TNIV "is a retrograde move.... I find it to be a passing modern fad, frankly, to object to the inclusive masculine pronoun. To change the shape of biblical verses to fit this fad leads to a good bit of under-translation. The masculine pronoun belongs in almost every language of the world. The gains that this translation seeks to achieve are far outweighed by the loss. I appreciate the NIV, and I think they have taken a wrong turn."


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