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12 evangelical leaders voice Bible translation consensus

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–Key parties in a recent controversy over Bible translation of gender-related language have voiced common ground in a joint statement and a page of suggested translation guidelines.

“Specifically, we agree that it is inappropriate to use gender- neutral language when it diminishes accuracy in the translation of the Bible,” the statement, released June 4, noted, “and we therefore agree to the attached guidelines for translation of gender-related language in Scripture.”

Additionally: “We agree that Bible translations should not be influenced by illegitimate intrusions of secular culture or by political or ideological agendas.”

The statement resulted from a May 27 meeting convened by James Dobson, president of the evangelical ministry Focus on the Family, in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Signers of the statement include representatives of four organizations embroiled in recent controversy over the New International Version Bible translation — a controversy so intense among evangelicals that it prompted a halt in plans for a gender-neutral NIV revision.

Among the statement’s 12 signers:

— Joel Belz, publisher of World, an evangelical magazine which brought attention to the NIV revision in a series of stories beginning in its March 29 issue.

— Bruce E. Ryskamp, president and CEO, Zondervan Publishing House, the NIV’s U.S. publisher.

— Lars Dunberg, president of the International Bible Society, the NIV’s copyright holder.

— Ken Baker, secretary of the Committee on Bible Translation, a 15-member group of scholars with authority over the NIV translation.

IBS announced May 27 it would “forgo all plans” to revise the New International Version Bible translation into gender-neutral language. The IBS announcement resulted from May 22 and 24 meetings of its six- member executive committee and a May 26 teleconference of its 20-member board of directors.

In addition to voicing a Bible translation consensus, the statement from the Dobson-called meeting in Colorado Springs announced Zondervan and Focus on the Family would provide refunds to purchasers of “The Kid’s Devotional Bible (NIrV)” published by Zondervan and “Adventures in Odyssey Bible” (the International Children’s Bible translation of Word Publishing) published by Focus.

Both Bibles contain gender-neutral language but give no notice of that fact in the preface or foreword. The International Bible Society, in its May 27 announcement, said it would revise the NIrV back to “a treatment of gender consistent with the NIV,” which was first published in 1978, revised in 1983 and now holds a 45 percent share of all Bibles sold in the United States.

Additionally, the statement noted while only 5 percent of Zondervan’s Bible sales involve the NIrV and another gender-neutral translation, the New Revised Standard Version, “in fact most inclusive Bibles are sold by other publishers: Thomas Nelson/Word (New Century Bible, International Children’s Bible, Contemporary English Version and NRSV), Tyndale House Publishers (New Living Translation), World Bible Publishers (God’s Word and NRSV) and Baker Book House (NRSV).”

The statement continued: “… we call on the other publishers and copyright holders to issue similar public statements demonstrating similar reappraisals of their translation principles” akin to IBS’ May 27 halting its gender-neutral NIV revision, which had been slated for the U.S. market in 2001.

“All participants agree that our overarching concern in Bible translating is to preserve the sanctity of the truth of sacred Scripture by rendering the most accurate translation possible,” the statement noted. “In the interests of such accuracy, we all agree that modern language is fluid and undergoes changes in nuance that require periodic updates and revisions. … 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.”

Concerning a gender-neutral NIV already on the British market, the statement noted: “… many of the translation decisions made by those who produced Hodder and Stoughton’s New International Version Inclusive Language Edition in the United Kingdom were not the wisest choices. Further, the statement in the Preface saying ‘it is often appropriate to mute the patriarchalism of the culture of the biblical writers through gender-inclusive language’ (Preface to the NIVI, vii) was regrettable and sadly misleading.”

Among the group’s suggested Bible translation guidelines:

— “‘Father’ (‘paler,’ ”ab’ in the original text) should not be changed to ‘parent,’ or ‘fathers’ to ‘parents,’ or ‘ancestors.'”

— “‘Son’ (‘huios, ben’) should not be changed to ‘child,’ or ‘sons’ (‘huioi’) to ‘children’ or ‘sons and daughters.’ (However, Hebrew ‘banim’ often means ‘children.’)”

Theology-related objections among a number of U.S. evangelicals to gender-neutral translations often involve instances in which the words “he,” “man,” “brothers” and “mankind” typically are replaced by “people,” “person,” “brother and sister” and “humankind.”
While none of 12 signers of the Bible translation consensus was an official of the Southern Baptist Convention or any other denomination, Southern Baptist reaction to the Colorado Springs statement included:

— Mark Coppenger, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.: “The Apostle Paul tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, and this Colorado Springs conference statement underscores the wisdom in this: It seems now that the trend to gender- neutralize the biblical text has prompted a counter-trend to demand faithfulness to the original languages. Thanks be to God.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.: “The NIV controversy raises the larger question of Bible translation and appropriate evangelical approach to the translation of Scripture. The joint statement … is a good first step in addressing the larger issue. My concern is to see faithful evangelical Christians think through the entire translation issue in light of contemporary challenges and work together to ensure that translations are as free from external agendas and ideological influences as possible.”

The integrity of Bible translations “can only be assured when we are working within established and recognized parameters of faithful translation,” Mohler said.

He added, “Evangelicals should be concerned about the proliferation of Bible translations following variant and often market-driven agendas. As a people known by our commitment to the Word of God, we must make that commitment clear by honoring and using those translations most faithful to the original text, and avoiding translations which serve ideological or politically correct agendas.”

Prior to the IBS’ about-face on its gender-neutral NIV, speculation had surfaced that Southern Baptists might address the NIV controversy in a resolution at the convention’s upcoming annual meeting, June 17-19 in Dallas.

The Baptist Sunday School Board uses the current NIV text in many of its Sunday school and discipleship resources and in various Bible texts and commentaries.

In addition to Dobson, Belz, Ryskamp, Dunberg and Baker, other signers of the consensus statement were Wayne Grudem, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and professor of biblical and systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois; Timothy Bayly, executive director of the council and pastor of Church of the Good Shepherd, Bloomington, Ind.; John Piper, a member of the council and senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis; R.C. Sproul, chairman, Ligonier Ministries; Ron Youngblood, a member of the Committee on Bible Translation and professor of Old Testament, Bethel Theological Seminary West; Charles Jarvis, executive vice president of Focus on the Family; and Vern S. Poythress, professor of New Testament interpretation, Westminster Theological Seminary.