At issue is the 2011 translation of the New International Version (NIV), which is being released six years after the full version of the 2005 TNIV translation -- which never gained wide support -- was published. Zondervan later discontinued the TNIV (Today's New International Version).
Critics said the TNIV's gender inclusivism went so far that it changed the core meaning of passages. LifeWay Christian Stores refused to carry it.
The latest round of criticism is led by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), the Louisville, Ky.-based group which was a leading opponent of the TNIV.
CBMW, which supports a complementarian position on manhood and womanhood, released a review of the 2011 NIV in late May, concluding that 75 percent of the "inaccurate gender language" it said was in the TNIV remains in the 2011 NIV. The 22-page evaluation did say, though, that the newest NIV includes "numerous commendable improvements" from the TNIV -- 933 in all. One example is Genesis 1:27, which now says God created "mankind in his own image." The TNIV had said "God created human beings in his own image."
But more than 2,700 of the problems critics identified in the TNIV remain, and because of that, CBMW says it cannot recommend the 2011 NIV. Some of the verses are particularly problematic, CBMW says, including two verses in Paul's letters which CBMW says leaves room open for female pastors.
Douglas Moo, chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation -- which translated the new NIV -- said 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."
Much of the debate focuses on translation philosophy: Is it permissible to make the English translation inclusive when the intent and application of the verse is also inclusive? Or should translators stick to the original Greek and Hebrew and let the reader do the interpreting?
One example of inclusive language in the NIV is Luke 17:3, which the 2011 NIV rendered, "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them." The 1984 NIV translated it simply "your brother" with the accompanying word "him." 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.
The fact that the 1984 NIV is being discontinued makes the current debate even more significant. Fans of the NIV who disagree with the 2011 NIV translation may have to find a different translation when purchasing a new Bible.
CBMW argues that for centuries, Bible readers have had no problem applying to a wider audience specific biblical passages that focus only on one gender. The danger in the 2011 translation philosophy, CBMW said in its evaluation, is in the translators changing "the meaning and the application of the text in ways that they may not intend or even realize."
"Our main concern is that in hundreds of places, meaning in the Bible is eroded because of the translators decisions to remove words like he, him, his, father, brother, son, and man," Randy Stinson, CBMW president, told Baptist Press in an email interview. He also serves as dean of the school of church ministries at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "God's Word is the product of his infinite wisdom and all the details of meaning are there for a purpose. ... Evangelicals have long believed that all Scripture is breathed out by God. This extends to every word of Scripture, not just basic thoughts."
Moo, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, said the translation committee was careful in its work. Many of the members of the committee, he said, are complementarians.
"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," Moo said. "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."
Among CBMW's primary concerns are two verses from Paul's letters:
-- 1 Timothy 2:12, a passage dealing with church roles which the 2011 NIV rendered, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet." The 1984 NIV translated it "have authority." No other major modern English translation translates it as "assume." The disagreement is over the Greek word "authenteo."
The 2011 NIV, CBMW charges, takes sides in the debate over female pastors. "As soon as a church adopts the 2011 NIV, 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,'" the CBMW evaluation states.
"We think there is evidence, lexically, that this particular word was used by Paul because it does have the idea of an initiation, and 'assumed authority' gets that idea," Moo said. "So rather than having the simple meaning of 'have authority' -- there is a perfectly good Greek verb that Paul could have used that meant that. Instead, he uses this very rare word that often has the sense of initiating an action."
Stinson said the "most recognized scholarship on the subject understands the word to mean "have authority" and not "assume authority."
"With the shift from 'have' to 'assume' the 2011 NIV has given a wide-open door to evangelical feminists who are advocating for female pastors, clearly in opposition to the Baptist Faith & Message 2000," Stinson said.
-- Romans 16:7, which reads in the 2011 NIV, "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." On the surface, the verse implies that Junia, a name for a female, was an apostle. The 1984 NIV actually translated "Junia" as "Junias," a male name. But the controversy isn't over the name -- newer translations render it a female name, too -- but over the latter part of the verse. The English Standard Version says they were "well known to the apostles," and the New King James Version says they were "of note among the apostles." Either one takes out the possibility of Junia being an apostle.
The term "apostle," Moo said, does not necessarily mean what is traditionally assumed.
"In our view, this translation leaves open the question: What does the word 'apostle' mean? And, very often, in Paul's letters, apostle does not mean an authoritative figure like one of the 12," Moo said. "It means a messenger sent out for a particular purpose ministry. Myself, I think that's probably what the word means."
Said Stinson, "Although the Greek term, 'apostolos,' that is used here can sometimes have the weaker sense 'messenger' (John 13:16), the new NIV does not give that as an alternative translation at Romans 16:7. Moreover, the English word 'apostle' everywhere else in the new NIV refers to the absolutely authoritative messengers of Christ, like Peter and Paul, and therefore readers of the new NIV will be led to conclude that women could be apostles of such stature -- just like Junia."
Moo said he is in "general agreement" with CBMW's position on the complementarian issue but thinks CBMW is wrong in arguing their complementarian view "entails certain decisions about how to translate the Bible."
"This is, I think, where the disagreement comes," Moo said. "People can be solid complementarians and yet have pretty significant disagreements about just how to translate."
Stinson said he agrees that a person can be complementarian and disagree with CBMW on the translation issue.
"However, our ultimate concern is about the authority of Scripture and not some specific way we think everything ought to be translated," Stinson said. "Therefore, we are concerned about and oppose any undermining of the authority of Scripture with regard to gender issues whether it be from poor interpretation of the Bible or poor translation. In this case, the 2011 NIV, at least for us, is an example of the latter."
Moo urged Christians to decide for themselves.
"I encourage people who have interests in these matters to take a look for themselves at an actual NIV rather than reading a review or criticism," he said. "Take a look at it and make a judgment of whether indeed the NIV, is, as we have tried to do, communicating God's Word accurately and reliably in contemporary English."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. The NIV, along with other Bible translations, is available online at BibleGateway.com
Read the CBMW evaluation:
Read the Committee on Bible Translators' statement on the translation philosophy:
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