CBT chair: 'Patriarchal' culture calls for gender-neutral Bible

by James A. Smith Sr., posted Friday, May 16, 1997 (17 years ago)

NEW YORK (BP)--The "patriarchal" culture of the biblical writers requires an updated, gender-neutral translation of the New International Version of the Bible, the chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation asserted May 15 in a national cable television talk show.

While denying a "political agenda" is motivating the push for the amended translation, John Stek asserted the ancient culture was "very patriarchal, and because it was very patriarchal, that affected the language." The CBT, a 15-member team of scholars responsible for NIV translation, is working on a gender-neutral update of the NIV scheduled to be completed by the year 2001.

Stek appeared on the Fox News Channel program "Hannity & Colmes" opposite R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the leading critics of the proposed gender-neutral NIV.

"The issue is not whether a translation's politically correct, but whether it's theologically correct," Mohler said.

"I believe we have no right to tamper with the Word of God."

Such tampering, Mohler added later in the broadcast, "will come at grave costs."

If the CBT goes forward with the gender-neutral translation, Mohler declared, "I can no longer recommend the New International Version as a version I believe the Christian church should trust."

The controversy surrounding the new translation has escalated over the six weeks following the first report on the issue in the March 29 issue of World, an evangelical news magazine.

In a spirited debate between the hosts and guests, the

30-minute program included "before and after" examples from Psalm 1:1 and Genesis 1:26 and discussion of other texts impacted by the attempt to make the NIV more sensitive to gender issues.

Although the CBT and Zondervan Publishing House, the American publisher of the NIV, claim the new translation will maintain masculine identity for members of the Godhead, including Jesus Christ, Mohler pointed to Psalm 34:20 as a prime example of the danger he sees in the effort.

Holding a copy of Zondervan's New International Reader's Version (NIrV) "Kids Devotional Bible," Mohler noted gender-neutral language is not "contemplated in the future" but is available in America today and is crafted for children.

The Bible was published in 1996 and, according to the introduction, changes were made by selected individual members of the CBT in order to make the NIV more readable for children and adults with reading difficulties. The introduction does not indicate that gender neutrality was among those changes.

While the original NIV reads, "He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken," Mohler pointed out the NIrV reads, "He watches over all their bones, not one of them will be broken." Although the passage is "speaking of the righteous ... this text has been held to be a Messianic prophesy" which was fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ," Mohler said.

The Psalm 34 text illustrates the changes are "not an insignificant problem," Mohler said.

At several points in the program Mohler was careful to say that he does not question the motives of the CBT, Zondervan or the International Bible Society, the copyright holder of the NIV.

Asserting the NIV "began with a noble vision," Mohler commended Stek and the team which produced the original NIV in 1978 and said he's "willing to concede a lofty, worthy motive here," but at the same time, "I'm very concerned about the effect."

The effect, Mohler fears, will be to "serve the worldview" of "politically correct sensitivities," and especially a "feminist agenda."

Stek asserted "emphatically" the "CBT has no political agenda whatsoever." Instead, the purpose is "to get the Word of God out to as many people where there is as little confusion as possible," Stek said.

The reality that the English language is changing cannot be denied and translators "can't just stick with the old language when it is moving out from under them," Stek said.

Mohler responded, "I'm not so sure the language is changing.

I think the ideologies and worldviews behind the language are changing. The issue is how we address that. And I believe we do not properly address that by making the translation more politically correct, whether it's intentionally designed to serve that kind of agenda or not."

Although Zondervan, the American publisher of the popular NIV, has repeatedly denied that a final decision has been made to move forward with the gender-neutral Bible, the CBT chairman never gave any doubt about the new translation's availability after the turn of the century.

In contrast to Zondervan's preference for the term "gender accurate," Stek did not reject the gender-neutral label at any point during the television program.

A caller who identified herself as a female African-American from California and a male from Tennessee both affirmed Mohler's position during the program.

The woman said prayer "for guidance and humility of heart" should precede the reading of Scripture and suggested the gender-neutral changes will not be the last. "If we start to allow some of these subtle changes, we are going to have people that are always going to have justifications for adding and changing."