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Changing God's words

Religion | In trying to make the Bible more accessible to today's young readers, the TNIV toys with Scripture's meaning and accuracy

Issue: "Lebanon: Democracy now," Feb. 26, 2005

Purportedly "sexist" language has become taboo in some circles today. "Mankind" must be changed to "humankind," "he" must be changed to "he or she," and words like "businessmen" or "mailman" are taboo.

Bible translations such as the New Revised Standard, the Good News Bible, and the New Living Translation have also adopted regendered language, and now the most widely used contemporary translation, the New International Version (NIV), is imitating them with Today's New International Version (TNIV).

Some Bible scholars think that's great. Craig Blomberg, a Bible scholar at Denver Seminary, tells of young people and new Christians asking "Why are the Proverbs written only to men?" because of all the language of "fathers," "sons," and that generic "he." Mr. Blomberg says, "It is still hard for them to get it out of their heads that the Bible isn't outdated or biased against women in ways that it never intended to be."

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But other Bible scholars, and many evangelicals generally, have three questions about editing the Bible to respond to that concern. The first arises from the basic Christian understanding that all Scripture is inspired by God. Sometimes God's writers used words like "anthropoi" that refer to no specific gender, so they can legitimately be translated "people" rather than "men." But when the inspired words clearly specify one gender or one person, should translators change "fathers" to "parents" and "he" to "they"? Does this imply that God really didn't know what He was doing?

If this first question emphasizes God's glory, the second concerns church teaching. The NIV, unlike some already-regendered versions, has become the standard pew Bible in thousands of churches, and its images stick in our heads. For example, think of this NIV picture of the wicked man in chapter 15 of the book of Job: "he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty."

Compare that with the image produced by TNIV translators: "they shake their fists at God and vaunt themselves against the Almighty." An author who wrote about a lonely individual, only to find that his editor had turned his passage into a story about a mob in rebellion, would be rightfully angry.

A third question about the TNIV involves honoring agreements. In 1997, following WORLD's exposure of the plan to change the NIV, James Dobson brought together evangelical leaders and the presidents of the International Bible Society, which holds the NIV copyright, and NIV publisher Zondervan. IBS, which had been roundly criticized by many evangelicals, quieted the furor by announcing that there would be no "gender-related language revisions in any NIV Bible licensed by IBS." Yet, the introduction to the new Bible begins, "Today's New International Version (TNIV) is a revision of the New International Version (NIV)" (p. A14)-and that's what the agreement did not allow.

God's glory, church teaching, honesty-but does any of this really matter in comparison with the opportunity to de-genderize biblical language? Bible scholar Wayne Grudem, in the review of the TNIV that follows, argues that it does.

-The Editors

Eight years ago I compared 15 Bible passages in the New International Version (NIV) and the NIV-Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI), which had already been published in England ("Comparing the two NIVs," WORLD, April 19, 1997). Zondervan and the International Bible Society were quietly making plans to publish a similar gender-neutral NIVI in the United States, but when the Christian public saw the actual changes that had been made to the NIVI in the interests of "inclusive language," many decided they could not trust such a translation.

Now in 2005 Zondervan and the IBS have published another revision of the NIV called Today's New International Version (TNIV). Has it corrected the gender-neutral translation policies that were found in the NIVI? Yes, in one of the 15 passages (Proverbs 29:13). But in the other 14 passages it is disappointing to see that nothing has changed (in 11 passages) or that partial corrections were made that did not really solve the problem (in three passages). In spite of a handful of helpful changes, the gender-neutral translation philosophy of the 2005 TNIV is essentially the same as that of the NIVI that caused the controversy of 1997 in the first place. It is the same committee giving us essentially the same Bible.

Genesis 1:26-27

Current NIV: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image. . . ." So God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them.

TNIV (2005): Then God said, "Let us make human beings in our image. . . ." So God created human beings in his own image . . . male and female he created them. [identical to NIVI (1996)]

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