Dobson: 'no statement at this time' about gender-neutral NIV revision

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--What does James Dobson think about the new gender-neutral "Today's New International Version" revision of the 1984 New International Version?

Dobson's name has been associated with the controversy over gender-neutral Bible translation since 1997 when he convened a meeting in Colorado Springs, Colo., which produced an agreement among a dozen key evangelical leaders that gender-neutral language would not be used to depart from the gender used in the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew.

In a statement issued Jan. 30, Dobson said, "None of us here at Focus on the Family are translators or expert theologians, with a requisite knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew languages. We have no statement at this time [about the NIV] and are awaiting the analysis of those Evangelicals who are theologically and linguistically qualified to assess this new translation. The initial feedback we have received has been encouraging though, it should be noted, it is not comprehensive." Focus on the Family is the widely influential ministry founded and led by Dobson.

The gender-neutral TNIV was unveiled Jan. 28 by the International Bible Society, the NIV's copyright holder. The TNIV, according to IBS, revises only 7 percent of the NIV. Gender-neutral language entails only 2 percent of the NIV revision, the IBS states.

Prior to its Jan. 18 announcement, however, Dobson's name was mentioned in a Jan. 18 letter circulated to various evangelical leaders stating that the IBS was "withdrawing its endorsement" of the "Colorado Springs Guidelines" that resulted from the 1997 meeting convened by Dobson.

Peter Bradley, IBS president, wrote in the letter, "On January 4, 2002, Dr. Ronald Youngblood, IBS Board Chairman and a member of the CBT [Committee on Bible Translation], and I met with Dr. Dobson and members of his team to seek their counsel and inform them of the dilemma we face and our decision." The dilemma, as noted in earlier in the letter, was that IBS leaders had decided that the guidelines are "too restrictive to facilitate the most accurate possible text in contemporary English."

Bradley, in his reference to Dobson, continued, "I would like to thank Dr. Dobson for his gracious, God-honoring response during this meeting. While it is clear that there may be differences of opinion among respected evangelical scholars and ministries on matters of translation, we believe our dialogue was conducted in a spirit of brotherly love and reconciliation."

Bradley did not incorporate any reaction from Dobson into his Jan. 18 letter.

Dobson's name was referenced again on Jan. 29 when Steve Johnson, IBS' vice president for development and communication, sent an e-mail to Baptist Press stating that a Jan. 28 Baptist Press news story, among other things, could have included "the status of our ongoing dialogue with Dr. Dobson and his team."

Baptist Press then contacted Focus on the Family to seek Dobson's comment, which was received Jan. 30.

Since its unveiling Jan. 28, the TNIV has been defended by IBS spokesmen as an accurate Bible translation and opposed by conservative groups such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that contend it has numerous "mistranslations" to attain a politically correct tone.

Zondervan, the NIV's publisher, joined with IBS in the Jan. 28 announcement of the TNIV. The TNIV's New Testament will be published this spring, a 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, Dobson and various 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, 1997, 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 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 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.

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