Exploring Bible Versions
teachers in accordance to their own desires." 2 Timothy 4:3
by James T. Bartsch, WordExplain.com
The New International Version rests on laudable origins. It was published as a contemporary translation for the evangelical community. The New International Version New Testament was published in 1973.The complete Bible, containing both Old and New Testaments, was first published in 1978, and revised in 1984.
In the Preface to the 1978 version, one reads that "the translators were united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God's Word in written form." Further, it was stated, "The first concern of the translators has been the accuracy of the translation and its fidelity to the thought of the biblical writers." In its Constitution, Article II, Section 1 reads as follows: "The purpose of the Committee shall be to prepare a contemporary English translation of the Bible as a collegiate endeavor of evangelical scholars, and to pursue matters related thereto."
Article III Section 3 spoke of membership on the translation committee: "Only those shall be eligible for membership on the Committee who endorse the purpose for which the Committee exists, and who are willing to subscribe to the following affirmation of faith: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written, and is therefore inerrant in the autographs”; or to the statements on Scripture in the Westminster Confession, the Belgic Confession, the New Hampshire Confession, or the creedal basis of the National Association of Evangelicals; or to some other comparable statement."
In its Preface to the 1984 edition, this assurance was given: " the translators were united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God’s Word in written form."
On a personal level, I have enjoyed insights gleaned from reading my personal copy of the 1978 version of the NIV. I have studied Hebrew and Greek, but I do not consider myself an expert in either discipline. Nevertheless, there are times when I work rather closely with the original languages. The NIV is translated from a dynamic equivalence point of view, rather than from a more formal word-for-word correspondence. For that reason, except for a brief time when I resided in Australia between 1978 and 1982, I have not preached from the NIV. There are certain passages in which the NIV is too periphrastic, too interpretive for me. I prefer a translation such as the NASB, which, in my judgment, renders the original languages more precisely. That being said, I have never, until now, actually attempted to dissuade others from using the NIV. What has brought about that change?
The 1984 revision of the NIV did not particularly generate controversy, but with subsequent editions, all bets were off. In fairness to the editors of the NIV, they did not and do not state that they had or have a feminist agenda. Their argument is that language in the Bible must conform to modern usage. But what, I ask, has driven the change in the English language as it relates to masculinity and femininity? It is the political agenda of feminism. Philosophically, the editors of the NIV are committed to the translational philosophy of Dynamic Equivalence. That means they are more committed to the reaction of the receptors of the translation (in this case, the English readers) than they are committed to representing with fidelity the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testaments. So whether the NIV editors admit it or not, concessions to political feminism became, as codified in 1992, and remain a major goal in their translation work. They have become more concerned about appearing tolerant as defined by the feminist agenda than they are about "the accuracy of the translation and its fidelity to the thought of the biblical writers." What a tragedy. Let me illustrate with a brief history of the advance of the feminist agenda in the New International Version.
In 1995 the Children's Bible was published. It was also known as New International Reader's Version. "Gender-neutral language was regularly employed in the revision, though this fact was not mentioned in its marketing. This was the NIV's first attempt to publish a gender-neutral Bible. Because it was a children's Bible, its feminist agenda was not at first noticed.
In 1996 the Inclusive Language Edition was published. This was the NIV's second attempt to publish a gender-neutral version. Initially marketed in Britain, it adhered to Gender-Inclusive Language guidelines first adopted in 1992. Publication in the UK in 1996 provoked indignation among conservatives using the NIV. The NIV Translation Committee's revision of the original languages to conform to the political doctrine of feminism is illustrated in the following philosophical statement from the guidelines adopted by the NIV Committee on Bible Translation in 1992. This was in preparation for the Inclusive Language Edition of the NIV to be published in Great Britain in 1996:
The patriarchalism (like other social patterns) of the ancient cultures in which the Biblical books were composed is pervasively reflected in forms of expression that appear, in the modern context, to deny the common human dignity of all hearers and readers. For these forms, alternative modes of expression can and may be used, though care must be taken not to distort the intent of the original text.
Furthermore, the use of gender-neutral language included for the NIV translators, a revision in grammar. Third person could be changed to second person, and singulars could be changed to plurals, again, according to the guidelines outlined in 1992. General Guideline # 8 reads as follows:
To avoid gender-specific language in general statements, a third-person sentence may be changed to second person where this adequately conveys the meaning, and a singular sentence may be recast in a plural form provided this does not obscure a significant individual reference. On the other hand, inclusive singular subjects (such as "everyone" and "whoever") may not be followed by plural pronouns (such as "they" and "their"). Any proposal that is an exception to this latter rule must be placed in the margin along with the reason.
Nothing that happened in the UK deterred the International Bible Society (IBS), which owns the copyright to the NIV, from its plans to bring the gender-neutral NIV to the United States and publish it as a new edition of the NIV. But on March 29, 1997, World Magazine published a whole issue on the "Stealth Bible," as the editors termed it. In the byline of the Cover-Story article, "Femme fatale," Susan Olasky announced, "The feminist seduction of the evangelical church: The New International Version of the Bible - the best-selling English version in the world - is quietly going "gender-neutral." Zondervan Publishing House, the publisher of the NIV in America, "took strong exception" with World Magazine's March 29 story, and the IBS also leveled criticism. On April 29, World stood by its story, and the battle was on. Joel Belz replied, "We stand by our story, and we didn't make up any quotes."
In May of 1997, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, called for a meeting of evangelical leaders in Colorado Springs. They issued a set of conservative guidelines discouraging the artificial use of gender-neutral language in translations. These were known as the Colorado Springs Guidelines. The IBS reluctantly agreed to the conservative guidelines. At least two representatives of the NIV were present at this meeting and affirmed the guidelines. These men were Ken Barker, Secretary, Committee on Bible Translation; Member, Executive Committee of Committee on Bible Translation and Ron Youngblood, Member, Committee on Bible Translation (also Professor of Old Testament, Bethel Theological Seminary West). As World Magazine perhaps indelicately put it, in an article published on June 14, 1997, IBS and Zondervan "bailed out of the stealth Bible." At that time, they agreed not to publish the inclusive language edition in America. But that promise was short-lived.
In 2002, the IBS did publish its gender-neutral version, called Today's New International Version (TNIV). This was its third attempt to do so. The New Testament was published in the spring of 2002, and the complete Bible in 2005. Yet it continued to publish the 1984 edition as the New International Version. For a full critique of TNIV, see the critique by Michael D. Marlowe.
That leads us to the present time. Up to this point, at least in the U.S., gender-neutral versions of the NIV have been kept separate from the primary editions, as reflected first in the 1978 version and second in the 1984 version. So if one wanted to purchase a non-emasculated version of the NIV, he could do so. But no more. The 1984 version will no longer survive as an option for purchase. Both the 1984 version and TNIV will apparently be subsumed under the NIV 2011, as far as I can determine. Those who wish to purchase an unemasculated version of the NIV will be unable to do so. In August of 2010, the NIV's Committee on Bible Translation issued the following explanation of changes in the NIV 2011 Edition. This explanation is entitled, Updating the New International Version of the Bible: Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation. This document can be found on the website of Biblegateway.com, which began publishing the NIV2011 online in autumn of 2010. Written editions of the NIV2011 were scheduled to begin appearing in March of 2011. The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) identifies three reasons for changing the text from the 1984 version to the 2011 version. These are as follows:
1. Changes in English.
2. Progress in Scholarship.
3. Concern for Clarity.
I do not begrudge the CBT for addressing the preceding issues, regardless of whether I happen to agree with every one of their decisions or not. But what I find particularly distressing is the stance of the CBT on gender-neutral language. "The committee initiated a relationship with Collins Dictionaries to use the Collins Bank of English, one of the world’s foremost English language research tools, to conduct a major new study of changes in gender language." Influenced by the Bank of English, here are the most significant findings that influenced the CBT for the 2011 NIV Update (in their efforts to conform the version to modern day standards of political correctness, as I see it):
• The gender-neutral pronoun ‟they” (‟them” / ‟their”) is by far the most common way that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents such as ‟whoever,” ‟anyone,” ‟somebody,” ‟a person,” ‟no one,” and the like. Even in Evangelical sermons and books, where the generic ‟he,” ‟him” and ‟his” are preserved more frequently than in other forms of communication, instances of what grammarians are increasingly calling the ‟singular they” (‟them” or ‟their”) appear three times more frequently than generic masculine forms. In other words, most English speakers today express themselves in sentences like these: ‟No one who rooted for the Chicago Cubs to be in a World Series in the last sixty years got their wish. They were disappointed time and time again,” or ‟The person who eats too many hot dogs in too short a period of time is likely to become sick to their stomach.” It is interesting to observe that this development is a throwback to a usage of English that existed prior to the solidification of the generic ‟he” as the only ‟proper” usage during the nineteenth century in Victorian England. Even the KJV occasionally used expressions like ‟ . . . let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). For that matter, so did the Greek New Testament! In James 2:15-16, the Greek for ‟a brother or sister” (adelphos ē adelphē) is followed by plural verbs and predicate adjectives and referred back to with autois (‟them”).
• English speakers around the world are using a variety of terms to refer to men and women together and for the human race collectively. Plural words such as ‟people,” ‟human beings,” and ‟humans” are very widely used. When it comes to terms that focus on humans in a collective sense, ‟man,” ‟mankind,” ‟humanity,” and ‟the human race” are all being used.
• ‟Forefather” has all but disappeared from the English language as a generic term, being replaced by ‟ancestor.” Even in Evangelical sermons and writings, ‟ancestor” is more than twice as common as ‟forefather.”
Isn't it interesting, that the CBT felt compelled to consult with a completely secular organization that has a default bias against what God says and the way He says it. It apparently was more important for the CBT to be guided by a politically correct secular institution in the area of maleness and femaleness than it was to represent accurately what God has said about maleness and femaleness in the way He said it.
In fairness to the CBT and the NIV 2011, it has been the consistent policy of the CBT to represent God in masculine terms, not in masculine/feminine terms. At least the committee has held the line on that point.
In light of research obtained through the Bank of English, whom the CBT deemed not to be subjective, here are the guidelines the CBT employed to keep from offending the modern ear as it relates to gender language:
• Using plurals instead of singulars to deal with generic forms was avoided. Except for some instances where all alternatives proved awkward or potentially misleading, singular nouns or substantive participles in the biblical languages were translated with singular nouns or noun equivalents in English (‟The one who. . . ,” ‟the person who. . . ,” ‟whoever. . . ,” and the like).
• Using second person forms instead of third person forms to deal with generics was avoided. In other words, the translation does not read, ‟You who have this-or-that should do such-and-such,” to avoid saying ‟He who has this-or-that should do such-and-such.” The exception to this rule was when a second person form was already present in the immediate context and it would be poor English style not to preserve it throughout. For example, addressing a mixed-gender audience, we would say, ‟If any of you has your car on campus, may I get a ride home?” rather than ‟If any of you has his (or their) car on campus, may I get a ride home?”
• Singular ‟they,” ‟them” and ‟their” forms were widely used to communicate the generic significance of pronouns and their equivalents when a singular form had already been used for the antecedent. For example, ‟Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Mark 4:25); ‟How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them . . . ?” (Hebrews 10:29); or ‟Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check” (James 3:2b). At the same time, recognizing the diversity in modern English, a generic ‟he” was occasionally retained: ‟If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him . . .” (Job 31:29).
• ‟People” and ‟humans” (and ‟human beings”) were widely used for Greek and Hebrew masculine forms referring to both men and women. A variety of words — ‟humanity,” ‟human race,” ‟man,” ‟mankind”—were used to refer to human beings collectively. As we noted above, modern English uses a variety of terms to refer to human beings collectively; and the committee decided to imitate that diversity in the translation, determining which expression fit best in each specific context. In making the decision whether to use ‟man” or ‟mankind,” the committee often preferred the latter for the sake of clarity. ‟Man” can mean either ‟the human race” or ‟an individual (male) human being,” and when a follow-up pronoun is required, the pronoun must be ‟he,” creating the potential for misunderstanding. ‟Mankind,” on the other hand, can only mean humanity as a whole, and the follow-up pronoun can be an inclusive ‟they.” Nevertheless, the updated NIV often uses ‟man,” particularly in memorable and/or proverbial phrases: for example, ‟The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Examples of texts that now have ‟mankind” where they didn’t before include: ‟Let us make mankind in our image” (Genesis 1:26a); ‟Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); and ‟For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
• ‟Ancestors” was regularly preferred to ‟forefathers” unless a specific, limited reference to the patriarchs or to another all-male group is intended.
• ‟Brothers and sisters” was frequently used to translate adelphoi in the New Testament, especially in the vocative, when it was clear that both genders were in view. This decision reflects the consensus view among scholars (and with basis in the dictionaries) that plural adelphoi refers to both men and women equally. Footnotes now often appear, explaining that ‟the Greek word for ‘brothers and sisters’ (adelphoi) refers to believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family.”
• While the Greek word anēr (‟man” or ‟person”) was frequently translated with masculine forms in English, it is clear in several contexts that the word refers to men and women equally (an option endorsed by major dictionaries of the Greek NT). The parallelism between James 1:7 and 8 suggests that anthrōpos and anēr are synonyms; hence, ‟That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” In Acts, expressions addressing mixed-gender audiences such as ‟Fellow Israelites” (for andres Israēlitai) accurately capture the sense of the Greek. In Acts 17:22 andres Athēnaioi cannot be rendered, ‟Fellow Athenians,” because Paul was not from Athens. But ‟people of Athens” works well, especially since verse 34 shows that at least one woman, Damaris, was among those explicitly addressed.What is particularly problematic, in my view, is the CBT's assumption that the way God communicated His Word to humanity in the two millennia preceding Christ's coming and in the century following was defective in terms of maleness and femaleness at least as viewed by today's post modern culture. It is clear, to me, in any event, that the CBT is more concerned about being politically correct according to the dictates of the political agenda of feminists than it is about accurately reflecting God's Word as He had it written. To me, this is indefensible.
Why does the CBT not employ the same logic to the question of origins?
To illustrate my point, let us take another issue. Today, the vast majority of academics and lay people in the English-speaking world do not believe in creation. They believe in evolution. In fact, a great many find the Bible's teaching on creation offensive. If we are going to use the CBT's logic on "gender language" with "origins language," the NIV 2011 ought to alter the words of Scripture to avoid offending those who believe in evolution! Here is the way the NIV 2011 should translate Genesis 1:1 if the CBT were to be consistent in the area of origins: "In the beginning God arranged for the development of the heavens and the earth." They would not dare do that, of course, but they have dared to tamper with what God said the way He said it with respect to maleness and femaleness. What a tragedy.
Dynamic Equivalence, the Trojan Horse
The NIV's "Dynamic Equivalence" is a Trojan Horse big enough to sneak into Troy a feminist agenda and unlock the gates protecting God's concept of maleness and femaleness from the unbiblical and societally ruinous onslaughts of feminism. Sadly, in a number of passages that touch on gender, the NIV 2011 is not a translation, but an agenda-driven paraphrase. If the translators of the NIV wish to push a feminist agenda on the Church, let them publish a study Bible with all the notes they wish. But leave the integrity of Scripture untouched. Don't mislead impressionable Christians into thinking that the Bible states brother and/or sister in places where it does not, or they, where the original text reads him, or children, where the Hebrew text states sons, or ancestor, where the Hebrew text states forefather. God has never been politically correct. The NIV 2011 has, in my view, made Him that way in regards to maleness and femaleness. For a fairly complete expose of Dynamic Equivalence, read Michael Marlowe's "Against the Theory of 'Dynamic Equivalence.'"
It is for this reason that I can in no way recommend the NIV 2011. It has compromised what God has said in the way He said it in the area of maleness and femaleness. Why? The CBT would deny this, but it appears Susan Olasky was right clear back in 1997 - the translators of the NIV have succumbed to the feminist seduction of the evangelical church. For the expediency of appearing to be tolerant to the world's definition of feminism and feminist approved speech, the translators have altered what God has said in the way he has said it. I call that political correctness. I am not interested in reading or preaching from a politically correct Bible.
Selected Illustrations of NIV Avoidance of Masculinity. by James T. Bartsch, WordExplain.com
NIV 2011 Translation Philosophy, August, 2010 (html format)
Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation, August, 2010 (.pdf format)
A list of current translators on the Committee on Bible Translation.
CBT Policy on Gender-Inclusive Language, adopted in 1992.
Against the Theory of 'Dynamic Equivalence' by Michael Marlowe, updated, 2010.
Gender-Neutral Bible Resources. This resource page, which I pass on to you unevaluated, has been compiled by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Wayne Grudem and Vern S. Poythress both have submitted articles listed in this compilation. Both helped devise the Colorado Springs Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture.
The Gender-Neutral Language Controversy, by Michael D. Marlowe, 2001, revised, January, 2005
Colorado Springs Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture, 1997. These guidelines express the position that "it is inappropriate to use gender-neutral language when it diminishes accuracy in the translation of the Bible."
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Responds to the New NIV(2011). This response was issued November 19, 2010.
OneNewsNow article as it originally appeared online on or about March 19, 2011: New Bible draws critics of gender-neutral language. This article can no longer be found on OneNewsNow's website.
NIV 2011: Yesterday’s NIV is now Today’s NIV: A Transformation of a Translation Reflecting Today’s Culture. A Southern Baptist critique of the NIV2011. Si Cochran is a guest blogger on SBCvoices.com. He concludes that he cannot recommend the NIV2011.