The who's who of translations
April 12 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

The trouble with translations | Friday, April 12, 2002

Friday, April 12, 2002

The trouble with translations

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

A recent article in the Biblical Recorder explored criticism that the International Bible Society's (IBS) Today's New International Version (TNIV) has been receiving, largely because it includes more gender-inclusive language than the New International Version (NIV) it is intended to update.

In 1997, the IBS bowed to heavy pressure from critics and withheld U.S. publication of a gender-inclusive NIV. It also acquiesced to a list of translation guidelines hammered out at James Dobson's Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs. These came to be known as the Colorado Springs Guidelines (CSG), and they deal entirely with translation principles related to gender issues.

As the IBS Committee on Bible Translation continued work on an update of the NIV, its members found the CSG too restrictive for what they believed to be the best translation methods. As a result, the IBS disavowed some of the guidelines and forged ahead with a new translation that includes more gender-inclusive language than the CSG would allow.

The IBS policy shift angered some of those who thought their influence had halted publication of a gender-inclusive NIV, and several critics were featured in a series of articles published by Baptist Press.

Our article about the TNIV was accompanied by a companion piece noting that the Southern Baptist Convention's new Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) also includes far more gender-neutral language than the King James Version (KJV) or the NIV.

Some readers thought the purpose of the article was to brand the HCSB as no different from the TNIV, and thus accuse the SBC pot of calling the IBS kettle black.

This was not the case, however, as the article pointed out some ways in which the HCSB employs translation methods similar to those in the TNIV, and other ways in which it clearly differs. It also quoted LifeWay spokesmen who asserted the HCSB's goal of providing an accurate and precise translation of the text without bowing to cultural pressure to produce a "politically correct" translation.

And that's where the rub comes because the HCSB does offer a more precise translation of the text, meaning that it avoids adding some of the superfluous male-dominated language of earlier translations that were culturally influenced and politically correct in their own day.

This does not make the HCSB a "gender-inclusive" translation by any stretch. The HCSB follows the Colorado Springs Guidelines to the letter. It translates the specific Greek words for "man" and "brother" literally, and does not add words (like "and women" or "and sisters") that aren't in the text.

By consistently following the guidelines, however, it likewise does not add many of the male terms - also not in the text - that were inserted by the KJV translators and generally retained by the NIV. This makes it, not gender-inclusive, but more gender-neutral or gender-accurate in those translations.

Jimmy Draper, president of the SBC's LifeWay Christian Resources, is hesitant to speak negatively about a competitor but eager to say a positive word for the HCSB, which LifeWay publishes. The goal of its translators, he told me, is not to concern themselves with other English translations, but to accurately translate the Bible from its original languages.

And I say, "Good for them."

Now, equally sincere and comparably educated Bible translators can reach different conclusions about what is the most precise rendering of the Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew that underlies our English Bibles, but all of them should strive to provide an accurate and understandable translation for today's readers.

An issue in the current spotlight lies with the Greek usage of relative and indefinite pronouns, and with adjectives and participles that are used as substantives. For example, the Greek adjective dika�ou, found in James 5:16, literally means "righteous." Used substantively, as it is here, it means "a righteous one." Since the word has a masculine ending (though the same form is used to indicate neuter gender), early translators rendered it as "a righteous man" (as in the KJV and NIV). The HCSB avoids the unneeded gender reference by translating it as "the righteous."

In Mark 4:9, the Greek phrase underlying the KJV's "he that hath ears to hear, let him hear" begins with the relative pronoun h�s, which can be translated with "who," "which," "what," or "that." The relative pronoun can have masculine, feminine and neuter forms, however, and the form in Mark 4:9 is masculine. Thus, the KJV translators rendered it as "he who ...," and the NIV kept the male-specific pronoun. The verb for "has" (or "hath") and the following two forms of the verb "to hear" have no inherent gender, and must take their cue from the subject. Thus, one who translates "he who has ears to hear" will also translate "let him hear."

But, when the relative pronoun was used without a specific referent to males or females, it was customary to employ the masculine form in a generic sense. Thus, the HCSB rendering "Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!" is right on the money.

Such word wrangling may sound strange to those unfamiliar with the rather complex declensions of languages that assign gender, case and number to every noun, pronoun, adjective and participle.

But the scholars responsible for the HCSB - undergirded by the Colorado Springs Guidelines - understand that the New Testament Greek's gender-specific endings do not always require a gender-specific translation. Thus, the New Testament translation they have given to Southern Baptists naturally includes more gender-neutral language than the KJV and the NIV - not because they added "politically correct" language, but because they avoid adding male-specific language not demanded by the Greek.

And I again I say, "Good for them."

Some Baptists believe the King James translators were uniquely inspired in their choice of manuscripts and in their translation of them. Thus, any new English rendering of the Bible will be problematic for them.

For those who are open to continuing advances in manuscript and language study, however, new translations can offer new insight in our reading and study of the Scriptures. And I say, "Good for them."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - The Colorado Springs Guidelines are listed on the Internet at comparative study of gender language in the KJV, NIV, TNIV and HCSB is available at, where David Stratton has posted his research at our request.)

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4/12/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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