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Going with the flow

Religion | Bible Study Fellowship joins controversy by adopting the 2011 NIV Bible

Issue: "Coat of many dollars," May 3, 2014

When Kitty Oman heard that Bible Study Fellowship had decided to switch to the 2011 redo of the New International Version in its teaching materials, she was concerned. She had heard of the controversy surrounding that translation, so she did some research about the issue on her own.

What she found out eventually led her to write a letter of resignation from her position as a BSF small group leader. In it she said, “BSF has been an amazing tool in my life to grow in Christ and be blessed with godly relationships that are precious to me,” but added “with sadness” that she thinks the decision to use the new NIV has “opened the door” for distortions of truth in the ministry. Others are also leaving BSF over this issue.

For readers who may not be aware of the controversy surrounding the 2011 NIV, it began in 1996 with publication of the NIV Inclusive Language Edition (now discontinued) and continued in the early 2000s with release of Today’s New International Version (TNIV). Critics such as Wayne Grudem decried many of the changes made to the widely used 1984 NIV, particularly the use of “gender neutral” language that led to plural pronouns such as “they” replacing single masculine ones like “he.” 

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Critics also disputed the translation of some important verses about gender issues. For example, 1 Timothy 2:12 changed from saying women should not “have authority” over men, to women should not “assume authority”: That understanding could allow women to be pastors and elders as long as their church duly appoints them.

It’s one thing to translate God’s Word in terms the culture will understand; it’s another to do so in terms the culture will accept.’ —Harry Reeder

The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), which is responsible for the NIV, took the criticisms into account when it produced the 2011 update, but the changes it made were not sufficient for most of the critics, since many of the plural pronouns and the 1 Timothy 2:12 wording remained. The critics are complementarians—they say men and women have some roles that are different but complementary—but the CBT includes egalitarians who downplay differences.

Critics worry that the CBT is compromising the integrity of Scripture. For example, Birmingham pastor Harry Reeder says the 2011 NIV is “more committed to being affirmed by the culture than communicating God’s Word to the culture. It’s one thing to translate God’s Word in terms the culture will understand; it’s another to do so in terms the culture will accept.”

But CBT member Craig Blomberg, a Denver Seminary professor who describes himself as a “mild complementarian,” says the CBT sought to apply research findings on English language usage and to produce what he calls an “optimally equivalent” translation. Regarding the specific example of 1 Timothy 2:12, Blomberg says “assume authority” is a neutral translation that the CBT thought did not tilt the exegesis one way or the other. 

BSF Executive Director Susan Rowan told me BSF “believes and teaches the full inerrancy of the original text of Scripture,” and “the BSF leadership conducted thorough research and consulted with several scholars to assure that the NIV 2011 continued its tradition of accuracy to the original manuscripts.”

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