LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The debate over the new TNIV Bible underscores why translators should concentrate more on word-for-word translations and less on interpretation, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said on NBC’s Weekend Today show March 30.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, appeared on the show with Grant Osborne, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Ill.). The segment concentrated on the New Testament version of the gender-neutral Today’s New International Version Bible, which was unveiled by the International Bible Society Jan. 28.
Mohler opposes the new translation; Osborne supports it.
While Mohler acknowledged that Christians on both sides of the debate “respect the Bible and want to see the Bible rightly translated,” he said that the TNIV translators have performed a disservice to biblical translations.
“There are basic principles here at stake, and our concern is that making these decisions in this translation will lead to even further compromises of the text,” he said. “The further we get from the direct word-for-word translation of the Scripture, the more interpretation enters the whole context of the translation. There is great loss there. This is the Word of God we’re dealing with — not just any ancient text.”
Osborne, though, said the translators were simply trying to make a more contemporary translation.
“The purpose has always been to keep it contemporary, to have it speak to the people, and to go with the language of the people,” he said. “Language has been changing over the last few decades, and we no longer really use ‘he’ for both men and women. The purpose of inclusive language is to speak the way the people speak, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do. Therefore, ‘whoever believes,’ translates and speaks better than, ‘he who believes.'”
But Mohler, noting that the original NIV version was completed in 1978, argued that the English language has not seen a dramatic shift in recent years.
“The problem with this new translation is that it assumes the English language has changed in a momentous way in just the last 25 years,” he said. “… I think this reflects an ideological agenda — perhaps not even on the part of the translators — but nonetheless on those who are really suggesting these changes in the language. I think it does a disservice to the Word of God.”
“Weekend Today” host David Bloom then asked Mohler if he thought the translators had a political agenda.
“I’m not even sure the translators are concerned with being politically correct,” he said. “But I think the changes in the language to which they point have been the result of political correctness, and because of this translation we are getting further and further from the original text. These translators are making some decisions that, frankly, I think are injurious to the translation. Instead of clarifying the text, they will confuse it.”
Both Mohler and Osborne were asked to comment on specific changes in the TNIV.
Mohler was asked about the change to John 6:35, which reads in the original NIV, “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.'”
The TNIV translation changes “he who” to “whoever.”
“Let’s note that the change from ‘he’ to ‘whoever’ is not just a change of pronoun,” Mohler said. “It also brings other issues of meaning concerning who ‘he’ is. I think that the translation ought to be as close as possible to the original language, and then let’s get on with the task of interpreting what the text means. But that change is not insignificant. Obviously, Jesus is saying there that whether he or she comes to Him, he will be received. But I think that this is the wrong place to make that change in the translation.”
Osborne was asked about Acts 17:22, which reads in the NIV, “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.'” The TNIV uses “people” instead of “men.”
“I think the debate there is whether the particular debate there in the Areopagus, which was the council of the city, would include the leading women of the city as well as the men,” Osborne said. “Today’s NIV made an interpretative decision that Paul was not just speaking to men there, but he was speaking to women as well.”
But Osborne said that when he was an editor of the New Living Translation — which is published by Tyndale House Publishers and also uses gender-neutral language — the word “men” was left in Acts 17:22.
“There we retained ‘men of Athens’ because we felt Paul was speaking primarily to men,” he said. “But the editors of the Today’s NIV felt that he was speaking to a larger group, and that’s a completely valid decision.”
Bloom then asked Osborne, “Doesn’t that point to Dr. Mohler’s argument, though, that it’s precisely because one version might go one way and another version might go the other way — and because we don’t know — that you ought to just leave it as it is?”
“I think the question is, ‘How do we best communicate who Paul was speaking to?'” Osborne said. “If Paul was speaking to a group of men and women, it would be best to say ‘people of Athens,’ because that would communicate to the reader today that Paul was speaking to a group of more than just men. I don’t think it’s ideologically driven. I think it’s driven by interpretation and trying to be faithful to the text.”
Click here for more Baptist Press coverage of the TNIV/NIV controversy.