A war over words - the TNIV and its critics
March 21 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

A war over words - the TNIV and its critics | Friday, March 22, 2002

Friday, March 22, 2002

A war over words - the TNIV and its critics

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

The International Bible Society (IBS) is preparing to publish a new Bible translation to sell along side its popular New International Version (NIV), but conservative evangelical leaders are hoping no one will buy it.

The new translation, to be called the Today's New International Version (TNIV), was announced in a late January press release issued jointly by the IBS and its publisher, Zondervan. The New Testament will become available this spring, with the Old Testament slated for release in 2005. Promotional copies of the New Testament are being distributed to retailers and to 50,000 pastors, educators and church leaders.

According to the IBS release, the TNIV reflects a 7 percent change in the NIV that "reflects the development of language and advances in scholarship since academics began their work on the NIV more than 35 years ago," as well as "changes that are occurring in everyday English."

The revision was made by the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), a 15 member panel of scholars that was also responsible for the NIV translation.

The crux of the controversy The CBT tweaked the NIV translation in a number of areas, but critics of the TNIV quickly focused on those designed to make the TNIV more "gender accurate" by translating masculine terms generically when the reference seems to include both men and women. For example, "man" might be replaced with "person," or "mankind" with "humankind." The singular "he" could be changed to "they" or "people" if the context indicates a universal application. Likewise, "brothers" could be translated as "brothers and sisters."

From the IBS perspective, the changes are an appropriate response to the increasing egalitarianism of contemporary English. To opponents of the TNIV, the changes smack of political correctness and a bow to feminism. "This new publication is nothing more than acquiescence to feminists who are more concerned with the so-called language of 'equality' than they are with the message of the gospel of Christ," said Jerry Falwell in the March issue of his National Liberty Journal.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), an organization that promotes a literalist interpretation of family and gender issues as related in the Bible, published a short list of 26 translation changes it considered to be problematic, and a longer list of 100. Its Web site (www.cbmw.org) offers a free booklet on "What's wrong with gender-inclusive translations."

Baptist Press (BP) responded to the IBS announcement with a string of articles about the TNIV, most of them reflecting either caution or criticism. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler told BP on Jan. 28 that "those who champion a feminist agenda will cheer the announcement of the TNIV," but "the moment we begin to translate the Bible so that it will be less offensive to one group or another, we insult the very character of the Bible as the eternal, inerrant and authoritative Word of God."

In the same article, Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, "Our mission is not to make the Bible relevant to culture but to bring culture under the rubric of Scripture."

James Smith, editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, warned readers against the TNIV in a Feb. 21 editorial. "Evangelicals hold to the verbal, plenary inspiration of scripture (2 Tim. 3:16) that includes every single word of the original texts," he said. "It's quite arrogant and extremely dangerous when human beings believe they can edit God's own words."

The IBS defended the TNIV in a five page "open statement" on Feb. 12, acknowledging the opposition it had received and noting that the KJV was met with outrage when it first appeared in 1611. The Pilgrims refused to take the KJV on the Mayflower because they preferred the Geneva Bible.

The statement defended the CBT as including "renowned, conservative linguists and biblical scholars from the most trusted institutions in the world," and included a list of schools and denominations represented on the committee.

"The TNIV upholds the same standards of accuracy, clarity and meticulous scholarship of the NIV," the statement said. "There is an academic, linguistic rationale for the translation of every passage."

An earlier conflict The intensity of conservative opposition to the TNIV grows out of an earlier uprising in which some evangelical leaders exercised their influence to quash an IBS plan to introduce gender-neutral language to the NIV. In 1996, the IBS published an inclusive language edition of the NIV (the NIVi) in Europe, and was also producing a gender-neutral New International Reader's Version (NIrV) as a children's Bible in the United States.

World magazine, a conservative Christian advocacy publication based in Asheville, reported in 1997 that the IBS and Zondervan planned to produce a gender-neutral version of the NIV for the U.S. market by 2001, touching off an avalanche of criticism from leading conservative evangelicals, including some Southern Baptists.

Facing pressure from critics and a potential boycott of its products, the IBS announced May 27, 1997 that it would forego plans to introduce a version of the NIVi to the United States. The IBS said it would also revise the NIrV's gender language to reflect the NIV and negotiate an end to publishing the British NIVi.

In conjunction with that announcement, IBS and Zondervan officials signed the "Colorado Springs Guidelines" (CSG), an agreement brokered in a day long meeting by James Dobson of "Focus on the Family." The guidelines describe specific principles to guide translation of gender-related language in Scripture. They were later revised in September of 1997.

In its Jan. 28 press release, the IBS said it was withdrawing its endorsement of the CSG because the guidelines "were not consistent with the guidelines produced by the International Forum of Bible Agencies or the guidelines of the Committee on Bible Translation. The CSG did not allow for a translation that would maximize accuracy and clarity in current English idiom."

Issues of translation The conflict is related to an ongoing discussion among Bible translators. Some hold that any translation should reflect the most literal meaning of the underlying words, a philosophy sometimes called "formal equivalence." The New American Standard Version (NASB) is favored by many conservatives because it is a largely literal translation.

Others prefer an approach known as "dynamic" or "functional" equivalence, in which the translation's main goal is to convey the original language's intent, even if it means a change to the specific wording or underlying idiom. The popular Today's English Version (TEV), published by the American Bible Society, follows this approach.

Translations such as the NIV tend to take a middle ground, remaining as true to the text as possible while making changes deemed necessary to clarify underlying meanings.

The current debate grows from one's perspective: TNIV advocates say the changes in the translation of gender terms reflect a straightforward attempt to seek maximum clarity by keeping up with the evolving English language, while critics say the IBS has crossed the line from translation to interpretation.

Issues of interpretation But all translations involve some measure of interpretation. For example, the NIV translates Acts 20:30 as "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them." The TNIV substitutes the indefinite pronoun "some" for the word "men," assuming that both men and women are capable of distorting the truth. An article on the CBMW Web site, however, argues that Paul could only have been addressing men because he was meeting with the "elders of the church" (20:17). Those who follow a literalist interpretation assume on the basis of other texts that women were excluded from being church elders.

The NIV translation of James 3:1 warns, "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers." The underlying Greek has only the word meaning "brothers," but translators working on the TNIV added "and sisters," based on the assumption that both men and women could aspire to teaching. The CBMW finds fault both with the addition of a word not in the text, and with the implication "that James thought women could be Bible teachers in the early church."

Issues of concern Other Bible translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), have taken similar "gender-neutral" tracks, but none have been criticized so openly as the TNIV.

The NRSV, like the RSV before it, is rarely used by conservative evangelicals. The NIV, however, has become popular among conservatives who venture beyond the KJV. The IBS and Zondervan have announced their intention of continuing to produce and promote the NIV, but the added presence of the TNIV increases the likelihood that evangelical church members might purchase or encounter a Bible that does not lend itself to a purely literalist interpretation of gender roles. Some who promote that interpretation worry that readers will be led astray, and fear that even greater liberties may be taken with the text.

Randy Stinson, executive director of CBMW, wrote on the organization's Web site that "Unnecessarily changing the words of the biblical text in order to accommodate those who think certain phrases are offensive is dangerous and irresponsible. The question one must ask is 'What will be next?'"

Steve Johnson, IBS president for communication and development, insists that the issue is not accommodation but accuracy. In an e-mail message to BP, he said "the overriding concern of the CBT is ALWAYS accuracy and clarity. While there may be differences within the body on the specific rendering of Greek and Hebrew, the influence of social agenda into any translation is NEVER permitted. We regret that once again, the issue of providing God's word to the next generation of English-speakers has become an issue of division in the Body of Christ."

(EDITOR'S NOTE - The IBS is a non-profit society devoted to translating and distributing the Bible. Founded in 1809, its first project was a Bengali translation to support the work of missions pioneer William Carey. Both independently and in partnership with Wycliffe Bible Translators, the IBS has published Scripture in more than 600 languages around the world. Zondervan is the world's largest Bible publisher, with exclusive rights to publish the NIV in North America. More than 150 million copies of the NIV have been sold since 1978.)

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3/21/2002 11:00:00 PM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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