IBS/Zondervan's 5-page defense of NIV revision sparks more debate

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)--Another round of debate over the new gender-neutral "Today's New International Version" took place Feb. 12-13.

The International Bible Society and Zondervan publishing house issued a five-page "open statement" Feb. 12 defending their TNIV, which is a gender-neutral revision of the widely used 1984 New International Version translation of the Bible.

On Feb. 13, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood responded to the IBS/Zondervan open statement, continuing CBMW's stance that the TNIV contains a number of inaccuracies in its gender-related translations obscuring the original Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew languages' references to deity.

The IBS/Zondervan's www.tniv.info website provides a defense of 23 Bible passages as translated in the TNIV, while the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood's www.cbmw.org website provides a 12-point "Concise listing of TNIV inaccuracies" as well as a list of 100-plus challenges to various TNIV renderings.

The TNIV's New Testament will be published this spring, according to an IBS/Zondervan news release, and the complete Bible is "expected in 2005." IBS/Zondervan have noted that the TNIV does not alter direct masculine references to God or Jesus. IBS/Zondervan also reiterated Feb. 12, "... we will continue to publish the NIV without changes or updates, and we will continue to earnestly promote the NIV."

Among IBS/Zondervan's points in its Feb. 12 open statement:

"Biblical scholars sometimes have differences of opinion on the translation of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. However, these differences on linguistic issues should not be confused with social or political agendas. The [15-member Committee on Bible Translation responsible for the TNIV and NIV] have devoted their lives to reaching the world with the Good News of the Bible. Accusations that these godly servants have been influenced by feminism or political correctness are false."

Among the CBMW's responses:

"We do not deny the godliness of the CBT nor do we believe that they are maliciously hurting the body of Christ, nor do we believe that they think lightly of God's Word. Whether or not any individual translators have a bias against certain kinds of male-oriented meanings in Scripture is not for us to say. What we can say, however, is that the TNIV has eliminated numerous examples of words like 'father,' 'brother,' 'son,' 'man,' and 'he/him/his' in passages where a male aspect of meaning was present in the original Greek text. This process has produced results that are very similar to the goals of politically correct language advocates, and so the result is hard to separate from what it would be if that were their bias."

Among other points in the IBS/Zondervan open statement:

-- The CBT "includes renowned, conservative linguists and biblical scholars from the most trusted institutions in the world. They come from a variety of denominational affiliations and theological backgrounds."

-- "There is an academic, linguistic rationale for the translation of every passage," with specific reference to the passages cited at the IBS/Zondervan TNIV website. Bible scholars discuss the meaning of the actual Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew text -- "sometimes for days" -- with the help of such resources as lexicons and original manuscripts, IBS/Zondervan stated. In selecting an English word or words that "most accurately and clearly convey the meaning," the scholars "also work with numerous conservative, evangelical scholars to review their work and ensure its accuracy."

-- The Committee on Bible Translation "has earned the trust of over 150 million people (those who have had and used the NIV during the last 25 years) primarily because they have done their job well by clearly translating the original Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew languages into the English language without sacrificing accuracy. The TNIV upholds the same standards of accuracy, clarity and meticulous scholarship of the NIV."

-- "Dozens of scholars ... have spoken publicly in favor of the TNIV." The Zondervan/IBS list of TNIV "endorsers" includes Craig Blomberg, professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary; John Kohlenberger, editor of the "Exhaustive Concordance to the Greek New Testament"; Mark Strauss, associate professor of New Testament, Bethel Seminary San Diego; Linda Belleville, professor of biblical literature, North Park Theological Seminary, Chicago; John Ortberg, teaching pastor, Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago; author Philip Yancey; Robert C. Andringa, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, Washington, D.C.; Gordon Fee, professor of New Testament studies, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia; and Bruce K. Waltke, professor emeritus of Old Testament studies, Regent College.

-- "History tells us that nearly every new translation is controversial in the beginning, but then usually goes on to serve a useful purpose. The passion with which people from all sides are responding to Today's New International Version (TNIV) is part of the normal discourse in updating translations for the next generation. Perhaps the most classic example is the furor that broke out in 1611 over the King James Version (KJV). People were outraged that the older English translations would be supplanted. Nine years after its publication, the Pilgrims still refused to take copies of the KJV on board the Mayflower, the Geneva Bible being their version of choice for the Plymouth Colony."

CBMW, in its one-page response to the open statement, noted:

-- "The fact that IBS and Zondervan have produced a list of scholars who endorse the TNIV still does not address the specific instances in the changes [to the NIV] that we have made available to the public. Again, we state that we are not critical of the good work these two organizations have done in the past. We are thankful for that work, and for much of their present good work. However, we are very concerned about their intention to use the good name of the NIV in order to lend credibility to the TNIV which we continue to believe should not be commended to the church."

The Feb. 12 IBS/Zondervan statement addressed IBS' announcement Jan. 28 that it was "withdrawing its endorsement" of Bible translation guidelines signed in a 1997 meeting convened by Focus on the Family's James Dobson that included IBS and Zondervan representatives. IBS/Zondervan noted that the "Colorado Springs Guidelines" contained two sections, the first of which contains "philosophical principles associated with Bible translation." The IBS/Zondervan statement noted, "We unequivocally support the tenets set forth in this section, including:

-- "We agree that the overarching concern in Bible translation is to preserve the sanctity of the truth of sacred Scripture.

-- "We agree that the goal of all translation should be to render the most accurate translation possible.

-- "We agree that Bible translation should not be influenced by illegitimate intrusions of secular culture or by political or ideological agendas.

-- "We agree that there are limited times when the use of gender-accurate language enhances the accuracy of the translation, but overuse can become an instrument of distortion."

The 1997 wording of the latter principle, however, was: "We agree there are limited times when the use of gender-neutral language enhances the accuracy of translations, but that the trend in usage of gender-inclusive language can easily become -- and because of overuse, in too many cases, already has become - an instrument of distortion of the Biblical text."

The IBS/Zondervan statement reiterated IBS' concern stated Jan. 28 that the second section of the Colorado Springs Guidelines contains "some very specific guidelines" that "upon further review and consideration, and in consultation with a broader group of evangelical scholars, ... are too restrictive to facilitate the most accurate possible text in contemporary English idiom."

"As a result, IBS, after much prayer and consideration of their highest mission of reaching the world with accurate and clear translations of the Bible, withdrew its endorsement as a matter of integrity. The guidelines that have served the CBT for decades and those of the International Forum of Bible Agencies (IFBA) continue to guide their work. IFBA is a large body of translators including Wycliffe, Summer Institute of Linguistics and others who are responsible for 90 percent of Bible translation work."

CBMW responded that the IBS/Zondervan statement "makes it sound as if [they] rejected the CSG and replaced them with better, more widely accepted guidelines. But as can be seen from a comparison of the [IFBA and CSG] documents, the guidelines now adopted by IBS and Zondervan do not have any rules regarding the translation of gender language. (See cbmw.org for a copy of the guidelines of the International Forum of Bible Agencies and the Colorado Springs Guidelines.)

"In fact, the current controversy is an example of why guidelines need to be established as they were in 1997," CBMW stated. "Contrary to the IBS and Zondervan claim that these guidelines are 'too restrictive to facilitate the most accurate possible text in contemporary English idiom,' they're actually designed to help insure accuracy and assist in prohibiting certain cultural pressures from infiltrating the translation process."

The Feb. 12 IBS/Zondervan open statement also included a list of denominations represented among those involved in the TNIV translation/revision process -- with the words "Southern Baptist" atop the list.

On Feb. 13, Bill Merrell, vice president for convention relations with the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, issued a statement distancing the SBC from the TNIV.

"This regrettable citation could give the impression that some association exists between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Today's New International Version (TNIV) translation project, or that we are giving the translation our endorsement," Merrell stated, noting: "Such an association or endorsement does not exist.

"We are very concerned that the stated values and principles of the Southern Baptist Convention not be distorted or misrepresented, even inadvertently, in the interest of overzealous marketing," Merrell said, citing a resolution passed during the 1997 SBC annual meeting on Bible translation.

"It particularly addressed, though it was not limited to, the use of so-called gender-inclusive language," Merrell said. "We urged Bible publishers and translation groups to continue to use time-honored, historic principles of biblical translation. We further urged them to refrain from any deviation to seek to accommodate contemporary cultural pressures, and we stressed our intention to support the most accurate translations."

The IBS/Zondervan statement gave no further details related to placing "Southern Baptist" or any of the other nine denominations on its list, including "Independent Baptist," "Assemblies of God" and "Presbyterian Church in America."

A one-paragraph CBMW statement lamenting the TNIV has now been signed by more than 35 scholars. The statement notes: "In light of troubling translation inaccuracies -- primarily (but not exclusively) in relation to gender language -- that introduce distortions of the meanings that were conveyed better by the original NIV, we cannot endorse the TNIV translation as sufficiently accurate to commend to the church."

CBMW signatories include two Southern Baptist Convention seminary presidents, R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Paige Patterson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Wayne Grudem, research professor of Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary and a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society; John Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis; R.C. Sproul, president of Ligonier Ministries in Orlando, Fla., and professor of systematic theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Harold O.J. Brown of Reformed Theological Seminary; and Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. of First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Ga. Another leading theologian, J.I. Packer, did not add his name to the signatories, but told Baptist Press the TNIV is "a retrograde move ... . The masculine pronoun belongs in almost every language of the world. The gains that this translation seeks to achieve are far outweighed by the loss."

A collection all BP stories posted thus far relating to the NIV/TNIV controversy can be viewed at http://www.bpnews.net/bpcollectionnews.asp?ID=19.

Download Story