Cover Story

Five days early, Five years late

"Five days early, Five years late" Continued...

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

The Groundhog Day mood deepened on Feb. 5 when Dr. Dobson came out in opposition to the TNIV, saying, "I am disappointed over the International Bible Society's decision to withdraw their endorsement from the Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture. These guidelines were formulated ... with the full participation of IBS.... It is particularly unfortunate that the IBS has now chosen to go its own way. In so doing, it risks dividing the Christian community again, as well as damaging its own reputation and undermining the wonderful work in which it has been engaged for more than 150 years."

On Feb. 7 eight of those who in 1997 traveled to Colorado Springs to hammer out the translating principles issued a statement "call[ing] upon the International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House again to reverse their announced direction, thus keeping their word and God's." Those at the 1997 meeting who did not sign the new statement all receive compensation from IBS or Zondervan.

During the first two weeks of February, despite extensive public-relations efforts by IBS and Zondervan-including a positive feature and a four-page cardboard insert (list price: $15,707) in the Feb. 4 Christianity Today-many reporters spotted egg on the faces of the two giants.

An Associated Press story distributed on Feb. 7 connected the NIV revisionists with theologically liberal efforts of the past. The story amply quoted Wayne Grudem's criticism of IBS and Zondervan- "They have broken faith with the Christian public"-and gave the seminary professor the last word: "If you don't have a Bible you can trust, it strikes at the heart of the Christian faith."

By Feb. 12 the Lexis-Nexis record included 39 stories on the TNIV in major newspapers and magazines, with the Los Angeles Times account among those noting the agreement five years ago and suggesting some sleight-of-hand: "The Bible society isn't quite abandoning its pledge because it is not discontinuing publication of the NIV."

The Sydney [Australia] Morning Herald pegged the TNIV's appeal: "The controversial new translation is clearly pitching itself at those egalitarian-minded, gender-relaxed Christians of the Third Millennium." And a business question rose to the forefront: Would IBS and Zondervan be able to sell the TNIV to theological liberals and to confused Christians, while at the same time retaining a large share of Bible sales to theological conservatives?

Industry sources told WORLD that, according to data from the book distributor Spring Arbor, the NIV had a 33.3 percent share of the evangelical market in 1996. That dipped to 30.3 percent-a 9 percent drop-in 1997, the year of the last Bible battle. The NIV recouped most of that loss during the past four years, and recorded a 32.1 percent market share in 2001. (Last year the King James Version had a 22 percent market share, the New King James 10 percent, and the New Living 8 percent. The New Revised Standard Version and Revised Standard Version together garnered 6 percent.)

Industry sources suggested that IBS and Zondervan were attempting the difficult feat of trying to retain broad evangelical support while introducing a new version that would largely appeal to liberals. An advertising line on the TNIV website fits that theory: "The NIV is an extremely accurate Bible text, the best the CBT could produce as of 1984. The TNIV is an even slightly more accurate Bible text, the best the CBT could produce as of 2001."

Zondervan and IBS also tried to mollify critics by downplaying the magnitude of the changes, saying that the TNIV was changing only 7 percent of the NIV text. They said they hadn't changed gender references to God or Jesus, although at times they had (see "Should we trust the TNIV?"). And the translators made some choices that go even further than those made by the translators of the liberal New Revised Standard Version. Their publicists used language displaying an attempt to have it both ways: The NIV is "extremely accurate," the TNIV is "slightly more accurate" than extreme accuracy.

By raising memories of 1997, Zondervan seems to be taking a risk with its venerable NIV, which has sold more than 150 million copies since its introduction. Isn't a bird in the hand worth two in the bush? Why jeopardize NIV sales?

Neither Zondervan nor IBS would answer questions from WORLD, but industry sources speculated that Zondervan, now a division of HarperCollins, which is itself part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., is under pressure to expand its market share. Just as HarperCollins plans to bring out new Narnia books not written by C.S. Lewis but catering to some 21st-century tastes, as a way of expanding its Narnia sales, so it may bring out new Bibles with the same goal in mind.


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