NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Concerns and questions of the Baptist Sunday School Board were aired May 19 to representatives of three organizations facing controversy over the New International Version Bible translation.
No statements, however, were issued after the meeting by officials from the Southern Baptist agency or the three organizations — Zondervan Publishing House, the International Bible Society (IBS) and the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). Zondervan, IBS and CBT are embroiled in objections by numerous evangelicals to a “gender-neutral” NIV planned for the U.S. market in 2001.
The Sunday School Board uses the current NIV text in many of its Sunday school and discipleship resources and in various Bible texts and commentaries. First published in 1978 and revised in 1983, the current NIV holds a 45 percent share of all Bibles sold in the United States.
Ted Warren, BSSB executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a statement several days before the meeting, “We are concerned about the proposed gender-neutral version. We are in the process of gathering facts and identifying their implications before we consider options about the continued use of the current NIV.”
Warren and Gene Mims, BSSB vice president of the church growth group, were among board officials at the meeting, held at the board’s Nashville, Tenn., headquarters. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., also was in attendance. BSSB President James T. Draper Jr. was out of town.
Bruce Ryskamp, Zondervan’s president and chief executive officer, and Ken Barker, CBT secretary, were among the NIV-related representatives at the meeting.
Zondervan, the NIV’s U.S. publisher, is based in Grand Rapids, Mich. The IBS, the NIV’s copyright holder, is based in Colorado Springs, Colo. The CBT, meanwhile, is a 15member group of scholars with authority over the NIV translation and the revision now under way of the text into gender-neutral language.
An evangelical magazine, World, based in Asheville, N.C., highlighted the NIV gender-neutral issue in articles in its March 29, April 19 and May 3 issues.
A gender-neutral NIV already had been published in Great Britain, titled the “NIV Inclusive Language Version,” World reported, promptly stirring theological 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.”
Also, World reported, Zondervan already is publishing an NIV-related gender-neutral translation, via its U.S. release of a devotional Bible for children last year. Zondervan’s introduction to the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) says it wanted the text to say “just what the first writers of the Bible said,” utilizing the best and oldest copies of Hebrew and Greek texts for reference. Nowhere, however, in the children’s Bible or the promotional literature is reference made to the genderneutral language it uses.
Speculation has surfaced that Southern Baptists may address the NIV controversy in the form of a resolution at the upcoming annual meeting of the convention in Dallas, June 1719.
Concerns of a number of evangelicals were unchanged by a May 14 statement by Zondervan and the IBS that they are “unequivocally committed to continue to publish” the current NIV text “without any changes or revisions.”
Zondervan and the IBS acknowledged, however, they will “continue to move forward with plans for the possible publication of an updated edition of the present NIV.”
Zondervan and IBS said they “never have considered, nor ever will consider, any changes in the NIV text that would use feminine pronouns to describe the deity or deny the masculinity of Jesus. Nor would we approve any changes that would diminish or eliminate the divinely ordained uniqueness of men and women. No changes will be approved that are contrary to the original biblical text in any way.”
The Zondervan/IBS statement also volunteered a “rigorous review process will include consultation with biblical scholars, theologians and church leaders representing the evangelical tradition and will be subject to final approval by the Board of Directors of IBS.”
Zondervan officials have acknowledged efforts in damage control as the issue of a revised NIV has gained widespread national attention. “It could certainly have a chilling effect on sales of NIV,” predicted Bill Merrell, vice president of convention relations for the SBC Executive Committee, in an interview with the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer.
Nothing less than the integrity of the Word of God is at stake,” Mohler was quoted as saying in a Baptist Press article May 15. “The issue is whether we accept the revealed, inerrant and infallible Word of God on its own terms. Or whether we, claiming modern sensitivities, will seek to revise the language in order to avoid offending persons on a number of issues.”
Mohler said he believes an underlying agenda is directed at the Bible because it is divine revelation. “What you have is persons claiming, ‘The only way this can speak to me is if it addresses me on terms I will accept.'”