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Bible society counters criticism of gender-neutral TNIV translation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An International Bible Society spokesman said May 29 that a statement signed by 100 Christian leaders opposing the Today’s New International Version “is not new and continues to misrepresent the changes made in the TNIV” from its 1984 predecessor, the widely used New International Version translation of the Bible.

Larry Lincoln, director of communications for the IBS, which is the copyright holder for the TNIV and NIV, said in a prepared statement released to Baptist Press, “It’s unfortunate that some Christians continue to misunderstand and misrepresent the TNIV, while a generation hangs in the balance.

“Although well-meaning, the critics continue to confuse sound Bible translation principles with a particular ideology. The bottom line is the changes reflected in the TNIV do not equate to changing the roles of men and women in the church or the family,” Lincoln maintained.

Lincoln was reacting to a May 28 statement coordinated by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Signed by 100 Christian leaders, including the current and several former Southern Baptist Convention presidents, the statement noted that the TNIV “makes significant changes” in the gender language in the NIV. Those charges are a key reason why “we cannot endorse the TNIV as sufficiently trustworthy to commend to the church. We do not believe it is a translation suitable for use as a normal preaching and teaching text of the church or for a common memorizing, study, and reading Bible of the Christian community,” according to the statement.

Lincoln, in his prepared statement, maintained that the TNIV “is a highly accurate translation that is being widely embraced by the evangelical community. Support continues to grow among respected linguists, translators, biblical scholars, pastors and other church leaders as they carefully review this new translation.”

Lincoln said a list of TNIV supporters can be accessed on the Internet at the TNIV website, www.tniv.info. The statement opposing the TNIV and the list of 100 Christian leaders who signed it, meanwhile, can be accessed at www.cbmw.com.

The IBS news released noted: “The TNIV was developed by the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) — the same group that produced the NIV, the most widely read translation today. The CBT includes renowned, conservative linguists and biblical scholars from the most trusted institutions in the world. They come from a variety of denominations and theological backgrounds. Their work on the TNIV reflects the latest advances in biblical scholarship, making the TNIV one of the most accurate translations available today.

“The approach used to translate the TNIV is not new,” the IBS news release continued. “In fact, the TNIV was developed using the same translation philosophy that was followed for the NIV. Use of inclusive language in translation also is not new. There have been at least 20 new Bible translations and revisions since the 1980s, and with one exception, all of them use inclusive language to a greater degree than the NIV.”

Criticisms in the CBMW statement of the TNIV’s gender changes are “inaccurate,” the IBS news release stated.

“The TNIV replaces masculine nouns and pronouns, when they are used generically, with more precise language (e.g., ‘people’ instead of ‘man’),” the IBS stated. “The TNIV uses inclusive language only where the original text refers to both men and women. In fact, the TNIV translators worked with numerous conservative, evangelical scholars to review their work and ensure its accuracy. If the text specifically refers to men, the TNIV uses masculine language. All references to deity remain masculine. While these changes impact less than two percent of the text, they improve the reader’s understanding of Scripture.”

The IBS said it “continues to receive strong support for the TNIV because it meets the needs of many people — especially pastors, teachers and younger Christians who have been searching for a Bible that combines the accuracy of the NIV with the clarity of contemporary English. While some will continue to prefer the NIV just as it is, the TNIV offers an additional choice among the NIV family of translations. The NIV will continue to be published in its current form without change.”

The statement signed by 100 Christian leaders in opposition to the TNIV underscored the significance of the issue, stating, “The TNIV raises more concern in this regard than previous Bible versions because, riding on the reputation of the NIV, the TNIV may vie for a place as the church’s commonly accepted Bible. We believe that any commonly accepted Bible of the church should be more faithful to the language of the original.”

Citing three key areas of TNIV gender renderings, the CBMW statement pondered, “We wonder how the TNIV translators can be sure that this masculine language in God’s very words does not carry meaning that God wants us to see.”

Those concerns were:

“– The TNIV translation often changes masculine, third person, singular pronouns (he, his and him) to plural gender-neutral pronouns. For example, in Revelation 3:20, the words of Jesus have been changed from ‘I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’ to ‘I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.’ Jesus could have used plural pronouns when He spoke these words, but He chose not to. (The original Greek pronouns are singular.) In hundreds of such changes, the TNIV obscures any possible significance the inspired singular may have, such as individual responsibility or an individual relationship with Christ.

“– The TNIV translation obscures many biblical references to ‘father,’ ‘son,’ ‘brother,’ and ‘man.’ For example, in Hebrews 12:7, the NIV says ‘Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?’ But the TNIV translates Hebrews 12:7, ‘Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their parents?’ The reference to God as Father is lost. In numerous other verses male-oriented meanings that are present in the original language are lost in the TNIV.

“– The TNIV translation inserts English words into the text whose meaning does not appear in the original languages. For example, in Luke 17:3, the translators changed ‘If your brother sins, rebuke him’ to ‘If any brother or sister sins against you, rebuke the offender.’ The problem is, the word ‘sister’ is not found in the original language, nor is ‘against you,’ nor is ‘offender.'”

The TNIV’s New Testament, which was published this spring, will be followed by the complete Bible, “expected in 2005,” according to IBS and the TNIV’s publisher, Zondervan.