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Bible translation concerns rekindled by NIV International Bible Society

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–The Bible translation debate has now stretched into its third year with an announcement by the International Bible Society — the guardian of the New International Version — that it is developing a new “inclusive” Bible translation that would reduce the amount of masculine language utilized in the popular NIV.

It is yet to be seen, however, how heated the new round of debate will become.

Thus far, WORLD magazine, a prominent critic of the International Bible Society’s handling of the NIV, and Religion News Service have carried articles about the latest revelation, which critics say violates a 1997 IBS pledge not to make any changes in the NIV.

The WORLD article was published June 5, available on the Internet at worldmag.com in the newsweekly’s archives section, while the RNS article, which quotes concerns voiced by R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was published June 9.

IBS maintains it is making no changes to the NIV, but simply developing a separate new Bible translation, which has not yet been named.

Mohler told RNS he felt “a sense of betrayal” because the 1997 agreement, forged in a late-May meeting by representatives of both sides in the dispute in Colorado Springs, Colo., now seems to have “no effect.”

“It does appear that they’re going to revise the text but they will not call it the NIV, which was not at all what the understanding was in 1997,” RNS quoted Mohler as saying. “It appears in this case that we have a translation problem of the document two years old much less one of 2,000 years.”

In the RNS article, Mohler acknowledged “legitimate linguistic issues” in contemporary Bible translation, but voiced concern that changes in gender language could alter the theology at the core of various passages by removing “what is in many cases a clear gender reference in the original text.”

For example, Mohler cited Psalms 34:20, which in the 1984 NIV states: “He protects all his bones; not one of them will be broken.”

RNS recounted that a British version of the NIV — the center of controversy in 1997, a controversy which prompted the IBS to assure evangelicals it would maintain the NIV — reads, “He protects all their bones; not one of them will be broken.”

Mohler views the verse as a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, RNS reported, quoting him as saying: “In removing the masculine reference, they just obscured, if not obliterated, the messianic reference in the text. Israel was not looking for a plural messiah but a singular one … and a rather gender-specific one.”

According to an International Bible Society news release May 14, the agency’s board of directors had “reached two important decisions” in a recent meeting:

— “First, it reaffirmed its prior commitment ‘to continue to publish the 1984 New International Version (NIV) with no changes whatsoever, with the confidence that this classic text will be a blessing to the Church for many years to come.’”

— “Second, the Board went on to state, ‘at the same time, IBS continues to explore its options with respect to additional Bible publishing in the English language.’ This decision affirms the ongoing work of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), the group that originally translated the NIV.”

In what was described as “a specific message to the CBT,” the IBS board stated, “IBS encourages the CBT to continue translating the biblical text with clarity, accuracy and faithfulness, so that this work can be reviewed by the IBS Board for possible publication” of a new English translation.

RNS described the IBS decision as “quietly announced.”

But it soon yielded a headline in WORLD stating, “There they go again …” followed in large print by: “Just when you thought it was safe to forget about feminist Bible translations, an International Bible Society decision suggests that a new threat may soon appear.”

The magazine, in its article, stated, “If the IBS announcement is greeted warmly over the next month by key Christian leaders, that will be good news for those wanting a regendered translation stylistically similar to the New International Version (NIV), but bad news for those who care about biblical accuracy.

“The trial balloon also provokes questions about whether IBS is sticking with its own policy statement and the Colorado Springs agreement reached two years ago, or whether it is parsing the English language to evade an agreed-upon covenant,” WORLD stated.

The Colorado Springs agreement involved the IBS; Zondervan Publishing House, the publisher of the NIV; and vocal critics of gender-neutral translation such as James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, and leaders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

“From the beginning,” WORLD said, “critics of regendered translations wondered if IBS would keep its word, or was merely waiting until evangelical guards were down.”

WORLD quoted a letter written by Eugene Rubingh, IBS vice president for translations, on March 19 of this year, which the newsweekly said it had received from “the head of a Bible ministry.”

Rubingh, in the letter, wrote, “I, the CBT and practically everyone involved, thoroughly support gender-accurate language. The matter is one of timing, of finding the appropriate hour to move ahead.”

In the May 14 IBS news release, Ronald Youngblood, chairman of the IBS board’s translation committee, said, “We are grateful for the truly amazing reception accorded the NIV through the years. But since language is continually developing and since new archaeological and other discoveries are constantly being made, responsible translation work never really ends. That is why IBS must be open to the future.”

No changes will be made in describing God or Jesus Christ in male terminology in the new translation, the IBS Internet site states, according to RNS. IBS spokesman Steve Johnson told RNS the new translation, which will use the NIV as a “building block,” will not likely be considered for publication until 2003 or 2004.

Of the IBS announcement, RNS quoted Catherine Clark Kroeger, president emerita of the Minneapolis-based Christians for Biblical Equality, as stating: “We’re turning cartwheels. We have wanted to make the Bible accessible to women, and we were very upset that the people obstructed access to the spirit of the Bible.”