As officials at the International Bible Society last month prepared to announce publication of the gender-neutral TNIV Bible, they knew they had an ethical problem on their hands.
After all, IBS had issued a press release May 27, 1997, saying it had abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the NIV. Its then-president had signed a document at a meeting in Colorado Springs later that same day, affirming agreement with guidelines for translating gender-related language in Scripture. Members of its own translation committee had helped to draft the guidelines and signed their agreement (see main story). But it became clear that IBS and its translators not only continued the work to "regenderize" the NIV but also violated the 1997 guidelines. Now it was time to own up.
In a certified letter to assorted evangelical leaders last month, current IBS president Peter Bradley said the IBS as a matter of "integrity" was withdrawing its endorsement of the 1997 agreement and would publish the TNIV. He noted IBS's "dilemma." He acknowledged that "the TNIV, to a large extent, does not conform" to the 1997 guidelines. But these guidelines, he argued, conflict with those of the IBS's Committee for Bible Translation (CBT) and the Forum of Bible Agencies (an international alliance of about 18 missions and Bible societies that translate Scripture). He announced that IBS was pulling out of the agreement to resolve its dilemma. He didn't explain why IBS waited years to come clean with the evangelical community.
A copy of the 1999 Forum of Bible Agencies guidelines WORLD examined showed no such conflict as Mr. Bradley described. Those guidelines make no mention of gender-related language at all. Indeed, the 1997 Colorado Springs guidelines appear to be more in harmony with the Forum guidelines than whatever ones the CBT used to rework gender in the TNIV.
For example, the first of seven principles in the Forum guidelines is this one: "To translate the Scriptures accurately, without loss, change, distortion, or embellishment of the meaning of the original text. Accuracy in Bible translation is the faithful communication, as exactly as possible, of that meaning, determined according to sound principles of exegesis."
And the fifth one: "To make every effort to ensure that no contemporary political, ideological, social, cultural, or theological agenda is allowed to distort the translation."
WORLD asked Mr. Bradley for clarification in an e-mail letter listing several questions, and followed up with a phone call. An aide acknowledged receipt of the letter but said Mr. Bradley was "away for a couple of weeks" and unreachable. She referred WORLD to IBS spokesman Larry Lincoln, who also was unavailable. A voice mail request went unanswered as of Feb. 12.