Bible Translation as Battleground
Problems in Gender Changes from the New International Version to the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition
by John Piper
For two months [April and May] a serious debate has been going on among evangelical leaders concerning the use of gender-inclusive language in English Bible translation. The controversy was unleashed by an article in World magazine alerting the public to apparent plans on the part of the International Bible Society (IBS) and Zondervan Publishing House to revise the NIV with inclusive language. A glimpse of what this would look like was possible because the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI) was already issued in Britain.
The NIVI is not published or sold in America. Nevertheless the Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV in America is ultimately responsible for its revisions of the NIV through a five-person British committee who did the actual rewording of the NIV for the British NIV Inclusive Language Edition. Until the IBS, who own the copyright of the NIV, announced on May 27,1997, that they were not moving ahead with an inclusive language NIV for North America, plans were being made to consider a similar inclusive language revision of the NIV for North America. Owing to public opposition, this trajectory was altered.
Nevertheless, Zondervan and IBS had already published in North America a simplified edition of the NIV called the New International Readers Version (NIrV), which is basically an inclusive language edition rendered for those with a third-grade reading level. The NIrV is not identical to the NIVI in its gender-neutral renderings, but clearly shows the direction that Zondervan and the IBS were moving until public resistance led to the May 27 decision. The news release of IBS (May 27, 1997) also pledges to “begin immediately to revise the NIrV in a way that reflects the treatment of gender in the [present] NIV.”
Following are some examples of the kinds of changes that are typically made in the NIVI and the problems they create.
The loss of crucial collective singulars (e.g. adam):
Some uses of the “son of man” are not preserved:
New Testament messianic use of the Psalms is problematic:
Gratuitous changes which mute obvious masculinity of persons:
The masculinity of Jesus downplayed:
Note: On Zondervan’s Web Site the press renounced any “revisions to the NIV that affect the masculine words used to refer to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.” It will, they say, “Absolutely not,” consider such revisions. “References to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit will remain in the masculine gender, in faithfulness to the original biblical texts.” But the following examples call this commitment into question.
Dr. James Dobson called a meeting of concerned individuals on May 27, 1997 in Colorado Springs to discuss the matter, and to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit. Those who participated in this meeting offered the following statement with the prayer that it will be of use to the Church for the glory of God.
“All participants agree that our overarching concern in Bible translating is to preserve the sanctity of the truth of sacred Scripture by rendering the most accurate translation possible. In the interests of such accuracy, we all agree that modern language is fluid and undergoes changes in nuance that require periodic updates and revisions. We agree that Bible translations should not be influenced by illegitimate intrusions of secular culture or by political or ideological agenda. 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 to the attached guidelines for translation of gender-related language in Scripture.
“We agree there are limited times when the use of gender-neutral language enhances the accuracy of translation, but that the trend in usage of gender-inclusive language can easily become—and because of overuse, in too many cases, already has become—an instrument of distortion of the Biblical text.”
John Piper is Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and first published this article for his weekly newsletter. He attended the meeting described at the end of this report and is a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
Letters Welcome: One of the reasons Touchstone exists is to encourage conversation among Christians, so we welcome letters responding to articles or raising matters of interest to our readers. However, because the space is limited, please keep your letters under 400 words. All letters may be edited for space and clarity when necessary. firstname.lastname@example.org
“Bible Translation as Battleground” first appeared in the Summer 1997 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
An introductory subscription (six copies for one year) is only $29.95. This issue, as well as other issues, can be purchased at our online store. Read issues in digital format at the Touchstone digital archives! You can also subscribe to Touchstone at amazon.com to read on your Kindle.