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Groups differ on male-female roles & gender-inclusive Bible versions

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Two organizations with opposing views on male leadership in the church are on opposite sides of the debate over gender-inclusive Bible translation.
The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has issued a 31-page booklet, “What’s Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations?” by the council’s president, Wayne Grudem, professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill.
The booklet already has been distributed to students at Wheaton (Ill.) College and is available free of charge by phoning 1-800-560-8210.
“The accuracy and integrity of many words of Scripture are at stake,” Grudem writes, “and these are the very words of God. … The words of Scripture are not ours to tamper with.”
Christians for Biblical Equality, meanwhile, will devote the next issue of its quarterly journal, the Priscilla Papers, to the matter. The journal “will cover in depth the NIV translation controversy,” according to Mimi Haddad, CBE’s coordinator of development and public affairs.
Information about the publication, slated for release in early January, may be obtained by phoning CBE at (612) 872-6898 or writing to 122 W. Franklin Ave., Suite 218, Minneapolis, MN 55404-2451.
The debate, centering largely on the New International Version Bible translation, flows from a storm of controversy sparked by news last spring of a gender-inclusive revision of the NIV planned for the U.S. market by 2001 by Zondervan Publishing House, the NIV’s U.S. publisher, and the International Bible Society, the NIV’s copyright holder.
The reports sparked theology-related objections among a number of U.S. evangelicals to changes in various passages where the words “he,” “man,” “brothers” and “mankind” typically are replaced by “people,” “person,” “brother and sister” and “humankind.”
The controversy prompted IBS and Zondervan to announce a halt to the NIV gender-inclusive revision May 27. The NIV, for numerous years, has accounted for 45 percent of all Bibles sold in the United States.
The controversy also resulted in 14 “guidelines for translation of gender-related language in Scripture” being adopted by a group of 11 evangelical leaders convened May 27 in Colorado Springs, Colo., by James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family ministry. Among the signers of the “Colorado Springs guidelines,” as they have been called, were Grudem, Zondervan President and CEO Bruce E. Ryskamp and IBS President Lars Dunberg.
The guidelines — which, for example, state, “‘Father’ (‘paler,’ ”ab’ in the original text) should not be changed to ‘parent,’ or ‘fathers’ to ‘parents,’ or ‘ancestors'” — reflect two key points of consensus adopted at the Colorado Springs meeting: “Specifically, we agree that it is inappropriate to use gender-neutral language when it diminishes accuracy in the translation of the Bible” and “We agree that Bible translations should not be influenced by illegitimate intrusions of secular culture or by political or ideological agendas.”
More than 50 Bible scholars, theologians and evangelical leaders have publicly endorsed the consensus statement and Bible translation guidelines, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr.; Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson and his wife, Dorothy; and two former Southern Baptist Convention presidents, Adrian Rogers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn., and Jerry Vines, co-pastor of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.
Meanwhile, the IBS, in a Dec. 4 news release, announced that an already-published NIV revision, the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), has been revised to treat gender “exactly as the NIV.” The NIV, first published in 1978, typically uses a male framework akin to the King James Version.
The NIrV was a gender-inclusive translation that had been used in a study Bible for prisoners, a New Testament for Native Americans and a Zondervan children’s Bible.
The IBS release noted the involvement of Paul House, professor of Old Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary, in the revision, referring to “a team including representation from two of the denominations expressing concern about the original NIrV.”
House said he and Ben Aker, professor of New Testament exegesis at Assembly of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Mo., were asked to serve as consultants to check the IBS’ work in removing the NIrV’s gender-inclusive language.
“Their desire was to remove anything that even vaguely resembled gender-inclusive language,” House said, noting, “It was not my job to comment on the effectiveness of the translation, but simply to check as to whether they were indeed fulfilling their task. Though nothing’s perfect, it was definitely their intention to remove anything that would offend people who are opposed to gender-inclusive language.”
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has described itself as a group of evangelical scholars, pastors and authors who believe male-female distinctions are “ordained by God as part of the created order;” that marriage entails leadership by the husband; and that some church governing and teaching roles are restricted to men.
Christians for Biblical Equality, meanwhile, says in its statement of faith “men and women are to diligently develop and use their God-given gifts for the good of the home, church, and society” and the Bible “is the inspired Word of God, is reliable, and is the final authority for faith and practice.” The CBE statement of faith makes no specific reference to pastoral roles or ordination.
Both organizations have cornerstone statements: CBMW’s “Danvers Statement,” drafted during a 1987 meeting in Danvers, Mass., and CBE’s “Men, Women & Biblical Equality,” of 1989.
Grudem, in his booklet challenging gender-neutral Bible translations, writes: “Imagine that you have a translation that regularly changes ‘he, him, his’ to ‘you’ or ‘we’ or ‘they.’ Now you want to make a point in a sermon (or contribute something in a Bible study) based on one of those pronouns. How do you know you can depend on it? Maybe it is accurate, but then again maybe it is one of those ‘substitutes’ that replaced ‘patriarchal’ language. How do you know the ‘we’ or ‘you’ or ‘they’ is really what God’s Word said? Unless you can check the Greek or Hebrew text yourself, you simply won’t be able to trust any of those pronouns anywhere in that Bible.”
Grudem also writes: “Some people may think that this whole matter is a technical question that we should let Bible scholars argue about, not a question Christian lay people should be involved in. I disagree with this idea. In most of the verses … discussed, Bible scholars agree on the meaning of the Hebrew or Greek texts. In no verse … does the discussion turn on intricate and highly advanced details of Hebrew or Greek. Rather, the question is really about English. Which English expressions best translate the meaning that is there in the original? Is generic ‘he’ understandable and proper English today … ? Is the word ‘man’ an understandable and proper name for the human race … ? Does a change from ‘he’ to ‘you’ or ‘we’ or ‘they’ distort the meaning or not? Everyone who speaks and writes English can contribute legitimately to that discussion, and can come to an informed decision on it. That is why the decisions of whole churches and whole denominations are significant in this matter: these are people who speak and write English, and many of them understand very well what the issues are. They consider this an important issue for preserving accurate translations of the Word of God.”
CBE leaders Catherine Clark Kroeger, founder and president emeritus, and Virginia Patterson, chair and acting president, issued an open letter to the International Bible Society’s Dunberg after the IBS/Zondervan announcement that the NIV gender-inclusive translation was being halted, stating: “We are grieved that these actions have been planned in response to the recent controversy over inclusive language and revision plans. We believe the criticisms represent a simplistic and inaccurate view of the nature and complexities of translation issues and process; spring from social and theological agendas of particular organizations, denominations, and powerful leaders; and disregard abundant evidence that English is changing in its gender usage.”
Patterson and Kroeger warned of setting “a precedent of submitting to pressure from special interest groups, which may tend to intimidate any publisher or translation team aspiring to faithfully translate God’s Word” and of placing “the NIV and NIrV under the control of special interest groups, making it less a Bible for the whole Church.” They also called on Dunberg to initiate “a long-range program to educate the Christian public on both the nature and complexities of Bible translation.”
Among other current and future facets of the Bible translation debate:
— A half-hour tape reflecting CBE’s point of view has been prepared by the group’s Pikes Peak Chapter based in Colorado Springs. Featured on the tape, which has been formatted for use as a radio program, are Kroeger; Gene Rubingh, IBS vice president for translations; New Testament scholar Gordon Fee; and author Rebecca Merrill-Groothuis. Copies of “The NIV Radio Program” may be obtained for $5 by writing to P.O. Box 550, Colorado Springs, CO 80901.
— An InterVarsity Press book, slated for late spring or early summer, which will survey and critique gender- inclusive language in Bible translation. The author, Mark Strauss, assistant professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary, San Diego, told Baptist Press Dec. 15 the Colorado Springs guidelines “are wrong” and “have serious problems. Most of the guidelines are hermeneutically or linguistically naive. … I think it was all decided far too quickly without a real examination of Bible translation issues.”
— According to several sources, a book that also may be critical of the Colorado Springs guidelines is being written by Donald A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Carson was unavailable for comment Dec. 15 and 16. Baptist Press was not told of any books being developed in defense of the Colorado Springs guidelines in a number of inquiries to scholars.
— A conference on “Gender-Related Issues in Bible Translation,” scheduled for next February at Wheaton (Ill.) College has been postponed until Feb. 26-27, 1999, according to a worker at IBS, who said the conference is being sponsored by the Forum of Bible Agencies, a fellowship of IBS, the American Bible Society, Wycliffe Bible Translators and other Bible-related organizations. According to one news report, Zondervan was cosponsoring the conference with the International Bible Society, but a Zondervan spokesman said the company is not a cosponsor. Grudem of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood said he has been invited to present one of five papers during the conference. Grudem told Baptist Press, “To my current knowledge, I am the only scheduled presenter who has publicly spoken or written in defense of the Colorado Springs guidelines.”
CBMW’s 23-member council includes three Southern Baptist women, Dorothy Patterson; Beverly LaHaye, president of Concerned Women for America, Washington; and Rhonda H. Kelley, wife of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley.
Various other Southern Baptists are members of CBMW’s board of reference, including Paige Patterson; Chuck Kelley; R. Albert Mohler Jr.; Danny Akin, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of theology; Adrian Rogers and his wife, Joyce; theologian Carl F.H. Henry; and Jerry Falwell, pastor of Liberty Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Va., which has affiliated with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia convention.
CBMW’s flagship book, “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: An Evangelical Response to Feminism,” published by Crossway Books, was chosen as 1992 “Book of the Year” by readers of Christianity Today. According to CBMW, the 566-page book, with chapters by 22 authors, “is widely recognized as the most thorough scholarly defense of a complementarian view of the Bible’s teaching on the relationship between men and women.”
CBE, meanwhile, currently has no Southern Baptist board members, according to a spokeswoman at CBE’s Minneapolis office. Timothy Weber, formerly a church history professor at Southern Seminary and now dean of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in the Chicago area, is among the endorsers of CBE’s two-page “Men, Women & Biblical Equality” statement, as are such well-known evangelicals as former Christianity Today editor Kenneth Kantzer and speaker-authors Tony Campolo, Bruce Larson and Stuart Briscoe.