It only takes a spark

30423808-002_largeSometimes we seems like a society that has a desire to major in the minors. Why spend more than five minutes (OK, 10) discussing whether it was appropriately presidential (in fairness, he thought his words were off the record) for President Barack Obama to call rapper Kanye West a “jackass”? Why focus on some nondenominational pastor’s sexual misbehavior when so many other churches are grappling with issues around mission, doctrine or social justice?

Although I’m as enthralled by scandal as many journalist, I am also, as I’ve said here a lot, a big fan of the bread-and-butter stories about the less spectacular decisions most of us need to make — assuming most of us aren’t Taylor Swift. That’s why I am a little puzzled as to why the announcement of a new NIV translation hasn’t gotten more mainstream attention. Fair to say that the new Bible translation isn’t coming out until 2011. But the storm clouds may gather a lot sooner as church leaders and parishoners remember the last time the NIV, the world’s most popular translation, was revised in a translation that substituted gender-neutral language for many male pronouns. Although the NIVi was only released in the U.K. (the later TNIV was released by publishing house Zondervan) outrage ensued among some conservative Christians.

Kudos to USA Today’s Cathy Lynn Grossman for picking up on the story and for providing some links to previous stories and Faith & Reason blogposts.

The scholars and publishers behind the world’s leading English language evangelical Bible announced Tuesday that they would publish a updated translation in 2011.

“And we’ll make sure we get it right this time,” says Keith Danby, president and chief executive officer of Biblica, once known as the International Bible Society.

Biblica, the Committee on Bible Translation and evangelical publisher Zondervan jointly announced the newest New International Version Bible — and acknowledged they were still singed by the fire and brimstone cast down on earlier update efforts.

One question that I wish had been addressed in both Grossman’s and Associated Baptist Press Bob Allen’s article on the topic is: which pronouns? As far as I know, the NIV Committee is examning male pronouns for human beings, not for God. So then the question becomes what does it mean to “get it right”? It seems as though it doesn’t mean leaving the NIV untouched — and that there may be some gender-neutral changes.

There are some really complex issues here with which reporters must struggle. Obviously, the NIV Committee can’t say what they will do before they do it, no matter how much we might like for them to do that. The Danby quotes suggest that he sees the problem as strategic (the TNIV wasn’t well marketed and defended) as well as cultural and doctrinal. Of course, the whole issue of gender-neutral language is also intensely complex, linked as it is to questions about the role of women in conservative churches — as Allen points out. Changes in language are iconic –symbols of social, political and theological forces impinging on liberal and conservative churches.

Last fall Crossway Books released the ESV Study Bible, reviewed by the conservative Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood as “unapologetically complementarian.” Complementarians believe men and women are created equal, but for different — or complementary — roles in both church and home. Generally, complementarians believe in wifely submission and oppose women serving as pastors or in other important positions of church leadership and governanc.e

Allen clearly reflects the conservative perspective, which sees a wider message in gender-neutral pronouns. Yet as Grossman points out in one of her linked stories, Gallup polls revealed in 2008 that fewer than one in three Americans believe that the Bible is word-for-word God’s word, and one in five believe it’s a collection good advice or a fable. So I’d hope that future stories also reflect the perspective of middle-of-the-road evangelicals and progressives who use the NIV because it is so readable.

The best article/post on this topic that I’ve seen is written by Ted Olsen, and posted on the ChristianityToday.com website. Olsen includes extensive quotes from Douglas Moo, head of the committee that will do most of the work. Olsen’s got some revealing quotes that indicate the gender-neutral issue isn’t black and white — as is the broader one of societal usage in general.

We felt certainly at the time it was the right thing to do, that the language was moving in that direction,” Moo said. “All that is back on the table as we reevaluate things this year. This has been a time over the last 15 to 20 years in which the issue of the way to handle gender in English has been very much in flux, in process, in development. And things are changing quickly and so we are going to look at all of that again as we produce the 2011 NIV.”

I don’t think any member [of CBT] would stand by the NIVi today,” Moo said. “But we feel much more comfortable about the TNIV.” He expects many of the TNIV’s changes to appear in the updated NIV.

That’s almost a guarantee of controversy ahead. Whenever mainstream writers start to focus on this story, let’s hope they interview not solely scholars but a spectrum of those in the pews who have strong opinions and pastors who will preach from the new version. Bread-and-butter — but much more important than who is up or down in, say, a little denomination called the Episcopal Church.

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  • http://goodintentionsbook.com Bob Smietana

    The big story isn’t until 2011–when we get a look at the new Bible

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    Maybe because serious people don’t think of the NIV as a serious translation. I mean, if they can’t even be bothered to translate the second half of monogenes in John 3:16 then why should I care how many revisions they publish? I won’t buy it. Now, if they fixed their translation errors that would be news worth reading.

  • Jerry

    I think this is an important issue. Having read various renderings of poets such as Rumi, versions of the Quran translated by different people and some expositions of differences in the Bible, the meanings of passages can subtly shift and sometimes not so subtly shift. For example look at the differences presented at http://www.solagroup.org/articles/historyofthebible/hotb_0003.html The NLT talks of God’s anger while the others do not. There are no doubt many other such examples.

  • http://orrologion.blogspot.com Christopher Orr

    Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives by SVOTS professor Peter C. Bouteneff (Baker Academic, 2008) details nicely the inconsistency in the use of ‘male’ (andro) and ‘human’ (anthropos), with the their related pronouns, in the earliest translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek: the Septuagint, completed (mainly) before Christ. So, this is a problem that has been around for awhile.

  • Trierr

    What may actually be interesting is if people actually connect the change in gender language with the titanic upheavals happening in that little denomination (if it is appropriate to refer to the Anglican communion as a denomination). Conservatives may well draw a link between the linguistic changes in the TNIV — and NRSV, NLT and NET translations, just to name some others that have gone to gender-inclusive language — with the perceived falling away from scriptural authority in many churches.


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