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James Dobson joins critics of gender-neutral NIV revision

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–James Dobson stated Feb. 5 he will not support the gender-neutral “Today’s New International Version” revision of the widely used 1984 New International Version translation of the Bible.

Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and one of the nation’s leading evangelicals, noted in a prepared statement:

— “… 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.”

— “I love the Scriptures and I know them to be the very words of God to His creation. Like most evangelical Christians, I want my Bible to contain an accurate translation of the canonical Hebrew and Greek texts. Accordingly, I will continue to speak out against any effort that alters God’s Word or toys with translation methodology for the sake of ‘political correctness.'”

— It is “particularly unfortunate that the IBS has now chosen to go its own way” by withdrawing its endorsement of 1997 Bible translation guidelines developed in the wake of controversy over IBS plans, at the time, to introduce a gender-neutral Bible in the U.S. market by 2001. Dobson stated that the IBS “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.”

The Today’s New International Version (TNIV) was unveiled Jan. 28 in an announcement by IBS, the copyright holder of the NIV, and Zondervan, the NIV’s publisher.

By the end of the week, however, a group of evangelical scholars had signed a statement declaring that “we cannot endorse the TNIV translation as sufficiently accurate to commend to the church.”

The one-paragraph statement, now signed by 31 scholars, cited “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.”

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; Wayne Grudem of Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, Ariz., and a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society; Harold O.J. Brown of Reformed Theological Seminary; R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries; John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis; 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.”

IBS, as of Feb. 6, had not returned several calls from Baptist Press seeking comment on the unfolding reaction to the TNIV.

IBS/Zondervan, on its www.tniv.info website, has listed a number of TNIV endorsers, 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.”

Much of the criticism of the TNIV has been spearheaded by 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 more than 100 challenges to TNIV gender-related renderings.

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.

In another development, Wayne Grudem has challenged the International Bible Society over its statement that the TNIV was developed in accordance with Bible translation 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.

IBS spokesmen have stated that the TNIV does not reflect an agenda for political correctness and that it continues to use masculine references to God and Jesus.

Steve Johnson, IBS vice president for communication and development, sent an e-mail to Baptist Press after its Jan. 28 news story on the TNIV, stating: “I wish to state for the record that the overriding concern of the [Committee on Bible Translation, a 15-scholar group responsible for the NIV text] is ALWAYS accuracy and clarity. While there may be differences within the body on the specific rendering of Greek and Hebrew, the influence of social agenda into any translation is NEVER permitted. We regret that once again, the issue of providing God’s Word to the next generation of English-speakers has become an issue of division in the Body of Christ.”

A Bible scholar who spoke on condition of anonymity commented to Baptist Press, however, 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.”
RELATED STORY: Dobson: ‘no statement at this time’ about gender-neutral NIV revision.