NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Two prominent Southern Baptist leaders have endorsed a resolution passed by convention messengers that calls the New International Version (NIV) 2011 Bible an "inaccurate translation" the SBC cannot recommend.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, say messengers were right to pass the resolution and take a stand against what the language calls "gender neutral methods of translation." Mohler, though, did say he regrets the resolution addresses LifeWay stores so directly.
The controversy over a newer version of the NIV dates back to 2002 when messengers passed a resolution criticizing the Today's New International Version (TNIV) Bible, which also employed a gender-neutral philosophy of translation for pronouns. After receiving criticism from James Dobson, Southern Baptist leaders and other evangelical leaders, the TNIV never gained widespread usage and finally was discontinued.
At issue in both cases are pronouns for humanity, not pronouns for God.
The NIV 2011 is an updated translation to both the TNIV and the NIV 1984. It maintains 75 percent of the gender-neutral changes found in the TNIV, according to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a Louisville, Ky.-based group that supports a complementarian position on manhood and womanhood. CBMW did acknowledge that the NIV 2011 had "numerous commendable improvements" from the TNIV but that the newest translation still had problems from CBMW's perspective. The NIV 2011, CBMW contends, changes the meaning of the text in numerous verses, and by changing singular pronouns to plural pronouns, "removes the emphasis on an individual, personal relationship with God and on specific individual responsibility for one's choices and actions."
The NIV's popularity -- it's the bestselling Bible translation -- is a driving force behind the controversy. Zondervan, the North American publisher, is discontinuing the NIV 1984 and replacing it with the NIV 2011.
The fact that the resolution on the NIV 2011 was debated at all at the SBC annual meeting was somewhat of a surprise, because the Resolutions Committee, the body charged to recommend resolutions to the convention, had declined it. Instead, messenger Tim Overton asked from the floor that his resolution -- previously submitted to the committee as required -- be brought forward, and messengers voted to consider it by the required margin of at least 2-to-1. After a brief debate, it passed overwhelmingly by a show of ballots, receiving opposition from only a few dozen messengers out of the 4,800 who were registered.
CBMW's lengthy NIV 2011 evaluation, released in May, helped give the resolution momentum.
"The adoption of a resolution on the NIV offered from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention has three major points of significance," Patterson told Baptist Press in a statement. "First, it demonstrates anew that a grass-roots response on the part of Southern Baptists is still a unique feature of the DNA of the Convention, something that we must never lose. Second, the adoption of this resolution demonstrates the continuing concern that the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists have for gender-neutral translations of the Scripture and the questionable advertising techniques of the NIV marketing program. In fact, Southern Baptists will continue to reject all agenda-driven translations of Holy Scripture.
"Third," Patterson continued, "this action from the floor of the Convention should send a message to all Southern Baptist Convention institutions and agencies that we are expected to pursue our ministries out of conviction rather than out of concern for profitability."
Focus on the Family also has quietly taken a stance on the NIV 2011. Its website lists a series of Bibles it recommends, specifically stating the "New International Version 1984 Edition" as an acceptable translation. An asterisk guides readers to the bottom of the list, where it says, "For a preliminary analysis of the NIV 2011 Edition, see the CBMW's review." The link takes readers to a November article where CBMW said it "cannot commend" the updated translation.
Mohler said he thought the Resolutions Committee and messengers were both right.
"The Committee on Resolutions had good reason for deciding that this was not the most timely opportunity to bring a resolution on the NIV," Mohler told Baptist Press. "I would not second guess the Resolutions Committee, and I certainly know their conviction on these issues. But once that resolution was brought to the floor, Southern Baptists simply had to support it, and support it overwhelmingly, on the basis of the fact that what it said was patently true and did reflect the established concerns of Southern Baptists."
The resolution, Mohler said, reflected his concerns "related to the gender issue and specifically related to the linkage between a verbal plenary understanding of inspiration and the importance of an accurate and formal translation."
The doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration holds that all the words of Scripture are God's words and that all Scripture is authoritative.
Douglas Moo, chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation -- which translated the NIV 2011 -- previously told Baptist Press there was no agenda in the translation process other than to render a Bible into more contemporary language. The committee did, he said, make significant changes following the controversy over the TNIV.
"Our gender decisions were made on the basis of very careful and significant research ... and the decisions we've made about gender have no motivation of not offending people," he told Baptist Press, explaining that the committee used the Collins Bank of English, a database of 4.4 billion words showing how people are speaking and writing. "The motivation, rather, is to communicate clearly to people what we think arguably is contemporary English," Moo said.
He added, "Where, in our view, the original text is intending to be inclusive then we feel our job as translators is to figure out what is the best way to make that inclusive point in modern English.
"Where the original text is exclusive, on the other hand, then our task as translators is to choose the appropriate contemporary exclusive English construction that conveys the meaning of the original. That is not to say that all of the decisions are easy ones. There are a lot of texts which are very tough to make that decision about. Of course, we struggle with those, and good scholars can come to different opinions on some of them."
An example of the NIV 2011's gender-neutral language is John 14:23, which reads, "Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." The NIV 1984 read, "Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." Changing "him" to "them," CBMW says, removes the emphasis on an individual, personal relationship with Christ. Another example is 1 Samuel 18:2, which the 2011 NIV rendered, "From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return home to his family." The 1984 NIV translated it " ... let him return home to his father's house" -- a translation CBMW said emphasizes the role of fathers in Israelite society.
Still another verse of concern for CBMW is 1 Timothy 2:12, a passage dealing with church roles. The controversy actually does not pertain to pronouns. The NIV 2011 rendered it, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." The NIV 1984 translated it "have authority." No other major modern English translation translates it as "assume." The verse, CBMW said, takes sides in the debate over female pastors. "As soon as a church adopts the 2011 NIV," CBMW said, "the debate over women's roles in that church will be over, because women pastors and elders can just say, 'I'm not assuming authority on my own initiative; it was given to me by the other pastors and elders,'"
Said Mohler, "It's very healthy that the convention sends a very clear signal that we take the issue of faithfulness in Bible translation and accuracy in Bible translation to be of utmost, nonnegotiable importance."
Overton, pastor of Halteman Village Baptist Church in Muncie, Ind., said "Southern Baptists have a long and proud history of speaking biblical truth to important issues." Overton used the 2002 resolution as the basis for writing the 2011 resolution.
"Biblica [the worldwide publisher] and Zondervan made serious errors when they chose to insert a gender-neutral philosophy of translation into the 2011 New International Version," Overton told BP. "This flawed translation undermines verbal plenary inspiration, which is a core belief of Southern Baptists. Every single word in Scripture, including pronouns, is inspired by God. When the bestselling NIV Bible disregards the smallest 'jot or tittle' of Scripture, Southern Baptists have an obligation to make a firm stand upon God's inerrant Holy Bible."
Among the resolution's highlights, it says the NIV 2011 erases "gender-specific details which appear in the original language" and "has gone beyond acceptable translation standards." It cites CBMW's 75 percent statistic and says messengers "cannot commend the 2011 NIV to Southern Baptists or the larger Christian community."
It also says messengers "respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores."
"It has been a part of established SBC tradition not to address the convention's entities by means of resolution, and this is a good policy," Mohler said. "I do regret that this resolution addresses LifeWay so directly. This puts LifeWay in an almost impossible position. The very significant complications now handed to LifeWay include the fact that the NIV is not the only English Bible to involve many of the same translation issues. The resolution rightly addresses many translation concerns, but the NIV is hardly alone with respect to those issues. Furthermore, removing a specific Bible translation is no simple matter."
As an example, Mohler cited B&H's popular New American Commentary series, which is based on the NIV translation.
"This is true across the board for many evangelical commentary series, and for a host of devotional works as well," Mohler said. "... I am confident that Dr. Thom Rainer, LifeWay president, and the LifeWay board will respond faithfully to Southern Baptists, even as they consider how they can best serve Southern Baptists in light of this resolution and its concerns. Southern Baptists need to give them time and grace to respond in the most responsible manner."
LifeWay released a statement after the resolution passed, stating, "LifeWay Christian Resources has received the resolution. Our first step is to involve our board of trustees since they are the representative body Southern Baptists have elected to oversee our work."
Other gender-neutral translations are the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New Living Translation (NLT), the New Century Version (NCV) and the Contemporary English Version (CEV).
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. To read Baptist Press' overview story of the NIV controversy, which includes quotes from Douglas Moo, who chaired the committee that translated it, visit www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=35458
Read CBMW's evaluation of the NIV 2011: http://bit.ly/mD9Vwg
Read the Committee on Bible Translators' statement on the translation philosophy: http://www.niv-cbt.org/niv-2011-overview/translators-notes/