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IBS defends NIV gender revision; Dobson, others urge halt to TNIV

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–A statement issued by the International Bible Society declares, “There is an academic, linguistic rationale for the translation of every passage” in its new gender-neutral “Today’s New International Version” — “and political correctness is most certainly not one of them.”

Meanwhile, eight of 12 evangelical leaders who signed 1997 Bible translation guidelines relating to gender have issued a statement urging a halt in publication of the TNIV, a gender-neutral revision of the widely used 1984 New International Version for which the International Bible Society is the copyright holder and Zondervan is the U.S. publisher.

The IBS, in issuing the TNIV, noted that it “consulted with numerous conservative, evangelical scholars prior to the release of the text. These scholars have unequivocally confirmed the accuracy and integrity of the TNIV.”

The IBS statement, dated Feb. 7, did not specify the scholars involved in its consultations nor examples of the rationales for any of its renderings. Steve Johnson, IBS vice president for development and communication who circulated the statement, could not be reached Feb. 11 for additional information.

In announcing the TNIV Jan. 28, however, the IBS listed a number of endorsers on its www.tniv.info website, including author Philip Yancey; Craig Blomberg of Denver Seminary; Gilbert Bilezikian and Gary Burge of Wheaton College; Mark Strauss of Bethel Seminary San Diego; and John R. Kohlenberger III, editor of “The Exhaustive Concordance to the Greek New Testament.”

The IBS assertion of “an academic, linguistic rationale for the translation of every passage” is an apparent response to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which has posted on its www.cbmw.org website a 12-point “Concise listing of TNIV inaccuracies” and a longer list of 100-plus challenges to TNIV renderings of various Bible passages.

The IBS statement noted, “There is room for differences of opinion on the translation complexities of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic [the original languages of the Bible]. However, differences of opinion on linguistic issues should not be confused with feminist or social agenda. The [Committee on Bible Translation, a 15-scholar group responsible for the NIV text] has not mistranslated or diluted the Holy Scriptures and such allegations are ill-founded and have no basis in fact. Critics have sadly confused matters of accuracy in translation with dangerous social agendas. The two have no connection. Accusations that the godly members of the CBT have been influenced by feminism or political correctness are false, damaging and simply absurd.

“IBS is hopeful that allegations of social agenda could be replaced with reasoned dialogue on the matter of translation,” the statement noted.

Meanwhile, eight of the 12 signatories of the 1997 “Colorado Springs Guidelines” urged in a Feb. 7 statement, “We call upon the International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House again to reverse their announced direction, thus keeping their word and God’s.” In 1997, they noted, the IBS and Zondervan announced they had “abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version” after a storm of controversy with the evangelical community over a gender-neutral NIV revision planned for the U.S. market in 2001.

The 12 original signatories of the Colorado Springs Guidelines — including four representatives of the IBS and Zondervan — reached the accord in a daylong meeting in Colorado Springs convened by James Dobson, founder of the influential Focus on the Family ministry.

“God has entrusted the Church of Jesus Christ with the very words of Scripture, and all those who disseminate that Word, whether from pulpits or printing presses, hold a sacred trust,” the eight leaders, including Dobson, said. “To change the text of God’s Word so that masculinity intended by the authors of Scripture is muted, and thus risk indirectly obscuring both the archetypal fatherhood of God (as it is manifested in man’s relations), and the true identity of Jesus Christ, is to violate the Word of God; to do so after promising not to do so violates one’s own word.”

Thus, the eight leaders said, “We call upon the International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House again to reverse their announced direction, thus keeping their word and God’s.”

Other signers of the Feb. 7 plea included Wayne Grudem, research professor of Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary and a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society; John Piper, senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis; and R.C. Sproul, president of Ligonier Ministries in Orlando, Fla., and professor of systematic theology at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The eight leaders also stated, “Evangelical Christians confess the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture. Plenary means ‘every,’ verbal means ‘word.’ Thus God inspired each of the words of the original text of the Bible, not simply the concepts behind those words.”

The IBS, in announcing the TNIV Jan. 28, said it was “withdrawing its endorsement” of the guidelines.

In its Feb. 7 statement, the IBS noted, “With regard to the Colorado Springs Guidelines (CSG), IBS withdrew its endorsement after much prayer and consultation with evangelical scholars. Upon further review, the CSG were not consistent with the guidelines produced by the International Forum of Bible Agencies, or the guidelines of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). The CSG did not allow for a translation that would maximize accuracy and clarity in current English idiom. As a result, IBS withdrew its endorsement from the CSG.”

Although Dobson has joined critics of the TNIV, the IBS voiced appreciation for “ongoing meetings (1999-2002) with Dr. Dobson and his executive team. These meetings were intended to bring greater clarity and understanding to the issue, as well as involve the ‘opposing position’ a chance to represent their concerns to the CBT.”

Grudem, in a Feb. 6 Baptist Press story, challenged the International Bible Society over its statement that the TNIV was developed in accordance with guidelines of the International Forum of Bible Agencies (IBFA), which encompasses such ministries as Wycliffe Bible Translators and New Tribes Mission.

“I personally feel misled,” Grudem wrote in an e-mail to various individuals. In checking the IBFA guidelines, Grudem noted, “I found that they say nothing about the controversial areas of translating gender language!”

Grudem also wrote that the IBS, in stating that it was withdrawing its support from the 1997 accord known as the Colorado Springs Guidelines in order to follow those of the IBFA and IBS’ own guidelines “gives an impression of ‘academic cover’ under which they did their work. But the guidelines did no such thing.”

In an interview with Baptist Press, Grudem cited three of the seven guidelines of the International Forum of Bible Agencies that he said IBS has violated in its TNIV revision of the NIV:

— Guideline 1: “To translate the Scriptures accurately, without loss, change, distortion or embellishment of the meaning of the original text. Accuracy in Bible translation is the faithful communication, as exactly as possible, of that meaning, determine according to sound principles of exegesis.”

— Guideline 4: “To represent faithfully the original historical and cultural context. Historical facts and events should be expressed without distortion. At the same time the translation should be done in such a way that the receptor audience, despite differences of situation and culture, may understand the message that the original author was seeking to communicate to the original audience.”

— Guideline 5: “To make every effort to ensure that no contemporary political, ideological, social, cultural, or theological agenda is allowed to distort the translation.”

Grudem reiterated a key contention of TNIV critics, that the TNIV fails to accurately translate masculine singular pronouns — he, him, his — which are used in a generic way in Scripture and in much of contemporary language.

A Bible scholar who spoke on condition of anonymity, meanwhile, commented to Baptist Press that the TNIV and proponents of politically correct speech at least share in common an agenda against masculine terminology. The use of he, him, his and “man” are “the kind of language that has been called ‘sexist’ by proponents of politically correct speech for years,” the scholar said. “The bias against masculine nuances and meaning are characteristic of the pressures for politically correct speech on university campuses for decades.”

In earlier developments following the Jan. 28 announcement of the TNIV:

— Dobson announced Feb. 5 he will not support the TNIV, stating: “… I have now received sufficient feedback from a large number of evangelical scholars to convince me that this new work is a step backward in the field of biblical translation. Accordingly, I am now adding my name to the list of those who disagree with the liberties [the International Bible Society] has taken with God’s Word in the new translation.” Dobson said he will “continue to speak out against any effort that alters God’s Word or toys with translation methodology for the sake of ‘political correctness.'” The IBS, he said, “risks dividing the Christian community again, as well as damaging its own reputation and undermining the wonderful work in which it has been engaged for more than 150 years.”

— A one-paragraph statement lamenting the TNIV has now been signed by 35 scholars. The statement notes: “In light of troubling translation inaccuracies — primarily (but not exclusively) in relation to gender language — that introduce distortions of the meanings that were conveyed better by the original NIV, we cannot endorse the TNIV translation as sufficiently accurate to commend to the church.” Signatories include two Southern Baptist Convention seminary presidents, R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Paige Patterson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Grudem; Harold O.J. Brown of Reformed Theological Seminary; Sproul; Piper; and Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. of First Presbyterian Church, Augusta, Ga. Another leading theologian, J.I. Packer, did not add his name to the signatories, but told Baptist Press the TNIV is “a retrograde move … . The masculine pronoun belongs in almost every language of the world. The gains that this translation seeks to achieve are far outweighed by the loss.”

The TNIV’s New Testament will be published this spring, according to an IBS/Zondervan news release, and the complete Bible is “expected in 2005.” They said the NIV also will continue to be published.