"Dishonest and grossly unfair," snapped Paige Patterson of Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. "A retrograde move" based on a "passing modern fad," sighed renowned Anglican theologian J.I. Packer. "Toys with translation methodology for the sake of political correctness," said James Dobson, the Focus on the Family president known for his books and radio show.
Patterson, Packer, Dobson and dozens of other distinguished theologians and evangelical leaders were responding to a Jan. 28 announcement by the International Bible Society. The venerable IBS said it was moving speedily to publish a revision of the most-used Bible in the United States, the New International Version, which will reduce the presence of words such as "he" and "man" that feminists find objectionable.
The revision will be called Today's New
International Version, and as experts in Greek combed through the hundreds of changes that IBS and its partner, Zondervan Publishing House, are making, they found political correctness overcoming a reverence for the New Testament and Christ Himself. (The Old Testament translation is still several years away.)
For example, the New Testament book of Hebrews points out (in the NIV translation) that Jesus "had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest ..." The TNIV reads, "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest ..."
Wayne Grudem, seminary professor and past president of the Evangelical Theological Society, asks, "Did Jesus have to become like a sister 'in every way'? ... This text does not quite proclaim an androgynous Jesus, but it comes close."
Sometimes the retranslation result is ugly, ludicrous or both. The NIV's Gospel according to Mark includes the famous, "'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and
I will make you fishers of men.'" The TNIV makes the apostles seem like slave traders: "'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will send you out to catch people.'"
Western, Bible-based culture emphasizes individual reward for endurance under trial, and not merely group identity. But to rid the Bible of the generic "he," the TNIV often turns singulars into plurals. The Epistle of James in the NIV, for example, reads, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life ..." But the TNIV verse reads, "Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life ..."
The sense of betrayal among many evangelicals was heightened by memory of an agreement five years ago. In 1997, IBS and its partner, Zondervan Publishing House, were planning to bring out a feminist version, but opposition among evangelicals forced them to pledge to stick to non-ideological guidelines. Now the publishers are breaking that agreement.
The funny-sad thing is that these changes won't soothe ardent feminists. Detroit Free Press columnist Desiree Cooper wrote: "I'd argue that the IBS isn't going far enough. Even as they are changing 'brothers' to 'brothers and sisters,' one thing will remain the same: God will still be a 'He.' Wait a few years, Ms. Cooper, and your wish may be granted.
Will this new translation fly? There's a lot of marketing muscle behind it; Zondervan is part of HarperCollins, which in turn is part of the Rupert Murdoch empire. And, as President R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said, "They are counting on concerned evangelicals to have short memories,"
But the TNIV also has powerful opponents. No one is authorized to treat the Bible like silly putty," said William Merrell of the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee. Merrill noted that the Bible's integrity is "threatened by intrusion of hypersensitivity and political correctness. You cannot apply the changing cultural mores to determine what the word of God says."