Cover Story

Five days early, Five years late

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

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

But there's more to this than money. Those close to the process speak of the feminist sympathies of some in the Zondervan organization. Close observers also point to the genuine desire of many at Zondervan to increase Bible reading, and their belief that changing "insensitive" parts of Scripture will garner more readers.

IBS-watchers contend similarly that executives there may have deferred to several seminary and English professors who argue intensely that "patriarchal" understandings and "noninclusive" language are retrograde. The IBS evidently concluded that production of a TNIV would help evangelism, while providing an additional revenue stream that would help pay for translating the Bible into other languages.

Because neither executives nor translators are replying to WORLD queries, much is not known. What were the translation guidelines concerning when and how to revise gender-related words, even if that meant mistranslating the Greek (and in effect ignoring meanings in the standard lexicons)? Why encourage poor English grammar by using plural pronouns with singular antecedents, especially when the antecedent truly is singular? How did the translators resolve differences among themselves over how to render gender-related words in specific instances?

Those who influence Bible purchases should ask such questions. The NIV is currently used by many Sunday school curriculum providers, including Cook Communications, Group Publications, LifeWay (the Southern Baptist publisher), and even Cokesbury, a more liberal publisher. Their decisions will be key, as will decisions of bookstore owners. In 1997 John Kohlenberger, author of The NIV Concordance, was invited to give a workshop advocating gender-neutral Bible translations at the Christian Booksellers Association convention. This year, so far, the CBA has issued a statement saying "our member retailers will decide for themselves whether or not to carry the TNIV."

Retailers will have tough choices to make about which Bibles to carry. Bibles are expensive and many retailers will wait to see how these new versions sell. The TNIV editions will be competing against theologically conservative translations and also Tyndale's gender-neutral New Living Translation, as well as the New Revised Standard Version, used in many mainline churches.

Parents will have a Groundhog Day sense of needing to be very careful in buying children's Bibles, since Zondervan plans to issue the TNIV in many formats, including children's and youth versions. Zondervan's gender-neutral children's Bible in 1997 had nothing on it or in it to tell parents that the version was departing from standard translating principles.

A major difference from 1997, though, is that the TNIV will be entering the market at a time when evangelicals have two additional choices in Bible translations. Five years ago the New King James and the New American Standard Bible were the two major modern English alternatives. Last year, though, Crossway Books issued the English Standard Version, a conservative revision of the Revised Standard Version. In addition, Broadman Holman, publishing arm to the Southern Baptist Convention, has put out the Holman Christian Standard Bible New Testament; the Old Testament is due out in 2004.

Will those two new versions find large audiences? Seminaries, Sunday school boards, and other groups will weigh in, and so will individual buyers. If discerning buyers decide fidelity is important, the future of the TNIV and the NIV will not be decided in a HarperCollins boardroom or in the offices of IBS or Zondervan. Those in the pews will make their choices known.

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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