Bible scholars quickly begin debate of new gender-neutral NIV revision

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The accuracy of the new "Today's New International Version" revision of the popular New International Version has quickly become a topic of debate among Bible scholars.

"Accuracy and clarity are prime with us," said Larry Lincoln, communications director for the International Bible Society, copyright holder of both the new TNIV and the 1984 NIV.

On the other side of the debate, Randy Stinson, executive director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said the TNIV contains "absolute mistranslations." The CBMW's Internet site,, already cites three key examples.

Lincoln told Baptist Press that the TNIV should be called a "gender-accurate" translation instead of the term used by some in the media, including Baptist Press, as "gender-neutral." The TNIV, he said, uses "generic language" for men and women "only when the text was meant to include both men and women." An overview of the TNIV is available on the Internet at

Lincoln noted that the TNIV makes no changes in Scripture's male-oriented references to God and Jesus.

Stinson of the CBMW noted that the three examples of mistranslation on the organization's website are "representative types of changes that they've made," referencing the International Bible Society and the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), a 15-member group of scholars with authority over the NIV translation, such as the revision of the text into the TNIV's gender-neutral language.

Of the changes, Stinson said, "They're significant. They do change the meaning. These are absolute mistranslations."

IBS and CBT may cite a Greek dictionary lexicon to defend their revisions, Stinson said, but those revisions "are just not the case with the major reputable lexicons."

Steve Johnson, IBS vice president for communication and development, sent an e-mail to Baptist Press after its Jan. 28 news story on the TNIV, stating: "I wish to state for the record that 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."

Several Southern Baptist leaders were quoted in the story as seeing a thrust for political correctness in the IBS effort to release a gender-neutral revision of the NIV.

The three references cited by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood as mistranslations in the TNIV are:

-- Revelation 3:20: "I will come and eat with them, and they with me."

"The removal of 'him' and 'he' completely drains the passage of the individual nature of the relationship between a person and Christ," the CBMW states on its website, noting that the TNIV has "many instances where the singular generic 'he' is replaced with the plural 'they' or 'them.'"

-- John 11:25, in which Jesus is translated as saying: "Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die."

The CBMW's concern: "Not only does this convolute the personal nature of the relationship between a person and Christ, but it betrays the fact that Jesus himself used the generic 'he' even though he was speaking to a woman (Martha)."

-- Acts 20:30: "From your own number some will arise."

The CBMW's concern: "This is problematic because the Greek word for 'aner' is translated 'some' when this is a specific word that can only mean men. Not only is this a mistranslation but it communicates the idea that the passage may also refer to women who would 'arise.' Since this passage refers to the elders, that would not be the case. Even if one affirms that there actually could have been women elders, it is still not appropriate to change the translation to reflect this belief."

"Evangelicals must be able to count on Bible translators to have accuracy as their primary objective and not cultural appeasement," Stinson writes on the CBMW website. "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?'

"As Evangelicals we affirm the verbal inspiration of scripture which means each word is inspired by God. The conscious and unnecessary mistranslation of these words by IBS has produced an unreliable edition of the Bible about which all Christians should be concerned," Stinson wrote.

The CBMW also complained that "IBS has broken its agreement it made in [a] 1997 press release, 'The International Bible Society (IBS) has abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version (NIV).' Although they will certainly argue that this is not the NIV but the TNIV, the public should not appreciate this kind of double talk."

Lincoln of the IBS stated that less than 2 percent of the TNIV involves gender-related revisions of the NIV. Other changes account for 5 percent in an overall 7 percent revision of the NIV, he said.

"We're concerned about a generation of people who are turning their backs on the Bible because they don't see it as relevant, largely because they don't understand it," Lincoln asserted, noting that 100 million people in America are under the age of 30 and that language has changed since the NIV New Testament was initially published in the 1970s.

The TNIV was announced to the public in a Jan. 28 news release by the International Bible Society and Zondervan, the publisher of the NIV. The TNIV New Testament will be published this spring, the news release stated, with the complete Bible "expected in 2005."

Controversy over gender-neutral translation erupted in 1997 when World magazine, based in Asheville, N.C., reported that the IBS had decided to produce a gender-neutral NIV for the U.S. market by 2001 but had made no announcement of its plans. World's 1997 articles appeared in its March 29, April 19 and May 3 issues. A storm of theology-related objections was raised by a number of U.S. evangelicals over various revisions to the NIV.

The IBS, in a May 27, 1997, news release, announced a reversal, saying it would "forgo all plans" to revise the NIV translation. The Colorado-based IBS, in its May 27 statement, also committed to revising its New International Readers Version (NIrV) Bible "to reflect a treatment of gender consistent with the NIV." The NIrV was a gender-neutral translation already used in a Zondervan Publishing House children's Bible. And the IBS committed to negotiate an end to the publishing of a gender-neutral NIV text already completed by the Committee on Bible Translation and released in 1996 in England by Hodder and Stoughton.

Also on May 27, 1997, key parties in the controversy found common ground in a joint statement and a page of suggested translation guidelines now known as the "Colorado Springs Guidelines," or CSG. "Specifically, we agree that it is inappropriate to use gender-neutral language when it diminishes accuracy in the translation of the Bible," the statement, released June 4, noted, "and we therefore agree to the attached guidelines for translation of gender-related language in Scripture." The statement also noted: "We agree that Bible translations should not be influenced by illegitimate intrusions of secular culture or by political or ideological agendas."

However, in announcing its TNIV Jan. 28, the International Bible Society acknowledged in a separate letter to various evangelical leaders, dated Jan. 18, that it was "withdrawing its endorsement" of the guidelines.

Among the statement's 12 signers in 1997 were Bruce E. Ryskamp, Zondervan's president and CEO; Lars Dunberg, then-president of the IBS; Ronald Youngblood, now chairman of the IBS board of directors and a Committee on Bible Translation member; Wayne Grudem, then-president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; John Piper, a member of the council and senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis; and theologian R.C. Sproul, chairman of Ligonier Ministries.

The IBS now has difficulty with the part of the CSG involving "some very specific guidelines [about translation of gender-related terms] that those present generally agreed with, or at the time were willing to endorse," the Jan. 18 IBS letter states, referencing the 1997 Colorado Springs meeting convened by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.

"However, upon further review and consideration, and in consultation with other evangelical scholars, IBS has determined that many of the technical guidelines are too restrictive to facilitate the most accurate possible text in contemporary English," the IBS letter states.

In its Jan. 18 letter, the IBS noted that its ongoing work has been conducted "in accordance with its own guidelines and the guidelines established by the International Forum of Bible Agencies," which encompasses "18 of the leading global translation ministries, including IBS, Wycliffe Bible Translators, United Bible Societies, Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), New Tribes Mission and others ... responsible for more than 90 percent of the translation work done around the world [and seeking to do] uncompromisingly accurate translations in contemporary language."

The IBS letter did not list the other guidelines nor discuss whether those guidelines address gender-related translation issues.

Download Story