The Tragedy of the TNIV

The Tragedy of the TNIV June 14, 2010

To celebrate the end of school, I’m spending the week in the northwoods with the kids.  On the way up yesterday, we listened to the book of Luke in the car.  And, when playing the Bible for the kids in the car, I like to use The Bible Experience, since it’s a lot more engaging to listen to than a straight-reading (there’s lots of voice actors, background noise, music, etc.).  And it got me to thinking of how sad it is that the version of the Bible used in The Bible Experience is going away.

If you don’t know, the TNIV (Today’s New International Version) arrived with much fanfare on the scene in 2002.  Full page ads in Christianity Today with Bill Hybels and other celebrity evangelicals ballyhooed its release.

But rather quickly, the rightward flank of evangelicalism responded.  Some evangelicals decried it, and a couple denominations even released statements opposing its use.

Some background: what sets the NIV apart from the RSV and the NRSV — the favored translations of my people, the mainliners — is that it is both accurate and readable.  The NRSV is too often stilted in its English, reflecting, I think, the educated, white mainline denominations in which it is used.  For example, the NRSV is often advertised as the translation best for reading in public worship — but, by that is meant public worship of the UCC, PC(USA), Episcopal variety.

The NIV, on the other hand, skews more toward personal, devotional reading, of which evangelicals are fond.  And the TNIV was an overdue updating of the scholarship behind the NIV, making several changes in the way that some idioms were written.  For example, “the heavens” was changed to “the sky.”  I like the NIV for its readability.  And I like the TNIV even better.

But those changes are not why conservatives turned on the TNIV.  No, they did so because it uses “gender-inclusive language.”  Not for God, mind you, but for human beings.  Thus, what was translated “Dear brothers” in the NIV reads “Dear brothers and sisters” in the TNIV.  In lieu of “blessed is the man who…”, the TNIV has, “blessed is the one who…”

This was a bridge too far for conservative evangelicals, and they mounted a campaign against the translation.  And they’ve won.  Zondervan, who does not own the NIV translation but instead holds a multi-year lease on its publication, has, with its tail between its legs, announced that that TNIV will go away when a new version of the NIV is released next year.

The official party line is that all aspects of the NIV are “back on the table,” including the androcentric language.  But I think we all know that the new NIV will come out with man on top.  Again.

What most irks me about this chain of events is that conservative evangelicals continue to decry that the unChristian masses consider followers of Jesus to be homophobic, misogynistic assholes.  And yet, I strongly doubt that anyone at Catalyst next year will publicly lobby from the mainstage for the new NIV to be gender-inclusive.  Does no one else notice this contradiction?


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  • David Blackwell

    What is interesting is that the NLT has not received much criticism from evangelicals, and in fact is even promoted by evangelical churches, even though it also is gender neutral, much like the TNIV.

  • I’m not so sure you should be so sure about what NIV 2011 is going to look like. I, too, am a huge TNIV fan. Even in my post-IBS days, it is my favorite translation. I do not expect it to back away from gender-inclusive language.

  • David,

    It certainly isn’t the whole reason, but Tyndale publishes both the NLT and James Dobson (as well as Ryan and Shirley). Given that Dobson was one of the loudest anti-TNIV voices, I think it’s safe to say his relationship with Tyndale shielded the NLT from a lot of the controversy.

  • Just ugh. I am a pretty die-hard NASB fan – I feel its very accurate in translation and while the language isn’t conversational I feel it’s beautiful. But the gender thing in all translations has always bothered me, and so the TNIV was a welcome change. I might not read it much myself but I would definitely recommend highly. And I could not believe how much conservatives freaked out about it. Not only does it show the paranoia and sexism in much of the church, but the ignorance. Do we not understand that the original text is meant to be inclusive despite the direct translation to the male pronoun? Language does not work that way!

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  • What is interesting about the fuss about the NIV’s brush with inclusiveness is that it is supposed to be a “dynamic equivalence” bible, hence its readability. It’s not supposed to be word for word equivalence, but rather meaning to meaning. As with any translation there is “interpretation” involved, and thus the translators must decide whether women are included in the intent. If so, well why not include.

    Thus the argument over the NIV is not whether it is being faithful to the meaning of the text, but whether it is faithful to the conservative theology of the critics of the new version.

  • Jim

    Don’t be too quick to judge, Orual. Opposition to the TNIV is not always ignorance about language, the inclusive nature of the masculine pronoun is well recognized. The fact that it works the same way in English is one of the reasons for keeping the Greek (or Hebrew) reading. English naturally works the same way that Greek does here, and everyone understands it, so what reason is there, except for a specific gender politics, for changing it?

  • Jim,

    While that is technically correct, it does not reflect the way our culture uses pronouns now. Publications today do not use “he” when they mean “he or she” precisely because that is read as only pertaining to the male, thus exclusive of the female. Language is fluid – if it weren’t we wouldn’t need new translations of the Bible every so often to make sure the way it is being read is consistent with the way we use language now.

  • You would think that with all the advances in web based hermeneutic tools, specifically for Greek and Hebrew, that we would be beyond all this. The average student of the Bible can easily dig pretty deep into the original languages…making translation choice a moot point. Go with what you like to read.

  • Paul Clifford

    When I was in seminary, I was told that gender inclusive language was necessary when speaking to people outside of the church. I believed it until I was having an evangelistic conversation with a 20-something left-leaning, environmentally minded, female (she wouldn’t want to be called a girl). She kept talking about how “man” had messed up our conception of God, but she didn’t mean men. She meant humanity.

    The Church is going out of it’s way to be not offensive in places where it doesn’t matter (people are smart enough to know when a word means humanity vs. males) . We then fight about the choice made by translators.

    Does it matter that the TNIV uses or doesn’t use gender inclusive language? No. I wish there was no controversy. An understandable translation is a valuable tool.

    Jesus will not deny or allow someone into heaven b/c of how they refer to a group of people (or men). Evangelism is all that matters.


  • Jim, I have to agree with Orual here. The language is changing and not everyone understands the masculine pronoun or the word man in inclusive manner. The reality is that even when the masculine pronoun is used “inclusively,” there is a prejudice toward males.

    For instance, if I use the word mailman it’s likely that your first thought will be to a male. If I use the phrase mail carrier, that may or may not be true.

    The reason why Dobson and friends argued against the change was that it undermined their understanding of male headship! Maleness defines true humanness.

  • Paul,

    She may have been using man inclusively, but I can guarantee you she’s thinking male as well! After all, the heads of most nations and most corporations, especially the ones that do the most polluting are male!

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  • Damn. I love the TNIV. It has been my number one choice for reading the text over the past few years. Especially for public readings in church gatherings. It is a brilliant mix of interpretation and readability.

  • As one who would regularly read scripture out loud as part of a sermon, I welcomed the readability and clarity of the TNIV, the gender inclusiveness was simply a bonus for me. I would take quiet glee when those who were die hard NASB or ESV fans, had an opportunity to preach and would trip and stumble over the clunky phraseology of their versions and then have to spend 5 minutes explaining what the sentence really meant. One could think that some Bibles just weren’t meant to be read out-loud.

    And the truth is that most teachers and preachers, when confronted with an inclusive meaning male pronoun, stop and clarify to their audience that the writer of the text is talking to everyone. Back in the day, when the King James reigned, preachers spent most of their sermon time deciphering and translating the archaic language (often poorly) so the simple sheep could understand what our Shakespearean God was saying. I think untangling Bible sentence structure makes preachers FEEL smart. With the advent of the new translations the pulpiteer is forced to spend more time grappling with the Bible’s implication and it’s relation to practical humanity than with the mechanics of language – the former often being more difficult than the latter.

    I agree with Vince, that even the most luddite AOL using believer has a stunning sea of language resources available to them. A 5 minute perusal of the horde of translations and paraphrases offered on ‘Biblegateway’ is enough to clear-up most questions the common man has about the wording of a passage. So this argument isn’t really about accuracy. The TNIV translators took pains to ensure that where the Bible is specifically talking to penis bearing humans, that male pronouns are used.

    What also cannot be ignored is that the middle man in this debate are the publishers who’s business it is to copyright and sell Bibles. They translate the call and cry for a sexy new translation every few years with only one word – Cha-ching!

  • Calvin Chen

    Actually Bill Mounce — one of the translators of the NIV 2011 and also a translator of the much-more-conservative ESV, stated online that he’s fairly sure “brothers and sisters” will carry over to the NIV 2011.

  • Jim

    Some have responded to my above post by saying that “he” no longer means “he or she” and “men” no longer means “people.” I disagree, I think the meaning of “If someone is sure he’s right, he probably isn’t,” would be interpreted by all nearly English speaking people as applying to women as well.

    I do agree that there is certainly a movement away from the inclusive masculine. The question is whether this is natural and popular, whether people just don’t use or understand the inclusive masculine anymore. On the contrary, the change seems prescriptive rather than descriptive, a politically motivated language change rather than a natural change. Why should translator’s feel obligated to hop on that particular political bandwagon? Why should any of us? Prescriptive language regulation hardly ever works, anyway.

  • The gender language wasn’t the only thing the TNIV had going for it. It also translated hai Ioudaioi as “Jewish leaders,” rather than using the broad-sweeping term “Jews,” which I think is an accurate and helpful way to steer people away from anti-Semitic [mis]readings of Scripture.

    Also, it translates hagios as a reference to all Christ-followers in instance in which that seems to be the authorial intent.

    Maybe the answer isn’t to expect Zondervan — or any other publishing company that has theological conservatives’ buying power in mind, for that matter — to get it right, but to either break ground on a healthy translation, or make a more concerted effort to endorse the most faithful one we can find out there.

  • David Blackwell


    Curious if you have had a chance to look at the NLT and if so what your thoughts are on it.

  • David Blackwell


    Sorry, hit enter too quick. I meant to finish: It appears that the NLT uses Jewish Leaders instead of Jews as well.


  • I never heard of the TNIV until this post.

    Easy come, easy go.

    I’ll stick with my UBS4 and Stuttgartensia. *smug chuckle*

  • Hmm. I wonder if they are going to change Junia (the female apostle in the TNIV, NRSV and others) back to Junias (a male name used in the NIV). After all, a woman can’t be an apostle, can she? And the Catholic Church never had a female Episcopa Theodora either, right?

  • David Blackwell

    This post really has me looking at the NLT. I have never read this translation, but have looked at a few passages here or there. I do see that they also use Junia. Has anyone looked closely at the NLT. The NRSV does appear a bit wooden, while the NLT seems to read nicely (at least the parts I have read). I would be curious to hear from some people familiar with translation issues. Is the NLT comparable to the TNIV and NRSV in terms of translation. Thank you

  • David,

    Me, too. I’ve got a couple NLTs at home, but I’ve never really read them. Unfortunately, I’m more of an audiobook guy nowadays when it comes to the Bible. I’m glad I got a couple audio versions of the TNIV when I could!

  • I love the NLT.
    I used to have the NLT on tape, but the reader had an “s” that whistled!

  • carla jo


    For some of us, the gender inclusion issue is not about gender politics or whether we know that “man” most likely refers to all humanity. It’s about finding ourselves in the story of God. It’s not a translation issue or a wording choice or a matter of expediency. It’s our faith, our experience. We are your sisters in Christ and we are part of the story. When the language is solely male, we are left out. Yes, we can do the mental gymnastics–we have for a very long time–but why should we have to? Why shouldn’t the Bible be as inclusive and clear as possible so that there is never a question as to who belongs in this story?

  • Jim

    Carla, not to be insensitive, but isn’t that something to take up with the original authors? They were the ones who actually put the masculine pronouns in the text. It’s not the translators who are leaving you out (if they are, which I don’t believe), it’s the (inspired?, which I do believe) authors.

  • Jim,

    I will stand with Carla on this. As for the original authors and our translation, in many cases the Greek allows for more leeway than our translations would suggest. It’s not just the pronouns, it’s the use of the word man. The Greek anthropos means humanity or humankind. Aner is the word for male. Then there is the word brothers. Now, as Carla notes, women can do the mental gymnastics and include themselves, but it is much easier to use brothers and sisters.

    I’m going to add something to the discussion here. There are some liberals who would prefer to leave the language as it is/was so that the masculine focus of the text can be revealed.

    I want to go back though to the purpose of a translation. It is intended to convey meaning. If the text can be translated in a way that conveys to the modern reader a sense of inclusion, why is that a problem? As I noted earlier, the reason why Dobson, et al, didn’t like the change to inclusive language wasn’t a concern about whether there was a proper word for word correspondence, but because it undermined their patriarchal theology.

  • Matt

    The TNIV calls itself a “translation” not an interpretation, nor a a paraphrase. So then when the Greek text states “adelphos” it translates as brothers, not as brothers and sisters. That isn’t to say that it’ s not addressing both, but just to say that is how it translates. If you want the TNIV to be a paraphrase or interpretation, that is fine, but as long as it calls itself a translation it has to be true to the Greek.

    note: I do realize that there is always interpretation in translation, however one must be true to the possible meanings of the words and not add words for the cause of inclusion

  • Matt,

    I don’t use the TNIV, but if it, like it’s sibling, is a dynamic equivalent translation, it is designed to communicate meaning not formal equivalency. The fact is, every translation requires significant interpretation.

    And note that in every case that the NRSV at least translates something inclusively it provides a footnote signaling what it has done. I still want to harp on the dynamic equivalency element, which no one seems to be picking up on.

  • Jim

    Hmm, I guess I’m coming from a similar place as Matt in that I see dynamic equivalence as simply inferior to formal equivalence. I probably picked this up from my old Greek professor who, when asked what he thought about the NIV (not the TNIV), answered “It’s kind of like the Message: rather unnecessary.” The idea being that bible teaching is better than bible paraphrase, to teach, “It literally says ‘brothers’ but that word certainly includes sisters” gives more information, better understanding, and is generally superior to fudging, “It says ‘brothers and sisters'” (especially without a note as to the real text, as you note the NRSV does include, Bob).
    I guess it almost boils down to pedagogy, doesn’t it? Where should the interpretation take place? In Zondervan offices? In individual churches? In homes? In closets? The more dynamic the equivalence, the less “democratic” the interpretive process and the more interpretive power is in the hands of the few (to get a touch rhetorical).

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  • With our free and instant access to the original language of the Bible, Strong’s Concordance, the Blue-Letter Bible and other tools, even those of us without a bunch of letters after our names can study the Word at a depth never before feasible. For me, the translation or paraphrase is just a door which draws me into the deeper meanings. For example, in the “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” passage, there is a rich and meaning-filled interplay between ἀγαπάω (agape-love) and φιλέω (phileo-love) which is totally lost in the English translations – and I am not sure how you could ever be “true” to the Greek in English. The only place you will find this interplay brought out is in commentaries and sermon texts. That being said, I still want my Junia in any translation I start from.

  • David Blackwell

    I love this thread, as it has me looking at multiple translations for more than just my sermon prep. For fun, I did a comparison or Junia/Junias across translations. I had never even thought about this question before. So here is what I found (I was surprised by a couple of them just based on my pre-existing assumptions of various translations/paraphrases):


    NIV, NASB, CEV, The Message

  • David – When The Message first came out I flipped to the end of Romans and was both surprised and disappointed to see dear Junia changed into a man. I still use it, though, to get Peterson’s take on a passage in order to compare it with other translations or commentaries.

    In all of this, I realize that what we see in NT English is already at least two layers of interpretation away from actual events. In the passage I mentioned above, John was interpreting what he remembered Jesus saying in Aramaic and working with his scribe to come up with a translation to Greek close to what Jesus actually meant. It is never perfect, which is why we need the HS to guide us deeper into the “living” part of this Holy Book.

  • carla jo

    If it says “brothers” then how do you know it really means “brothers and sisters?” Who decided that?

  • Matt

    Carla jo,

    As I stated before I don’t agree with the addition of “sisters” into the text because I don’t believe it is a proper method of translation, I do believe sisters could be understood perhaps in the same way as a boss or teacher who says to a group of employees/ students “Guys listen up”

    “Guys” technically is a male pronoun but it is understood in those instances to be inclusive to the female workers/ students in those instances. I think that “Brothers” (ἀδελφός ) functions similarly in such instances.

  • carla jo

    Then why can’t “sisters” be added to the text? If it’s understood, then how does it change the text to add it?

    If I address a group of people as “guys”–which I do often by the way because I’m from Minnesota and it’s how we talk up here–and the women tell me, “We gals (also Minnesotan) aren’t sure if you’re talking to us or not so could you please use a more inclusive word when you address us?” it seems like it would be ridiculous of me to ignore that request, especially if those women make up half of my audience. Sure, I can claim that they should know they are included and stick to my guns, but if they don’t know–and if it matter that they know–shouldn’t I use a better, more inclusive word?

    If the notes from a meeting say “Carla said all staff are to report at 1:00 p.m.” when I really said “You guys need to report at 1:00 p.m. I could object to this as being an improper method of translation. But really, if it gets the point across, it seems silly for me to object to that.

    I get that it’s a matter of translation. But my point is, that when it comes to the story of our faith, it seems that making sure women know they are included in the story is more important than making sure the wording is historically accurate. I mean, that’s why there are translations to begin with.

  • Matt

    It would be sad that if the only means of women feeling inclusion would be through false translation of the text. I think that inclusion should shine through in practice and interpretation to an extent that their is no question when reading the text that whereas there is a gender bias in the language of the text, that certainly wasn’t the intended sentiment of the author. It isn’t our place to rewrite history or judge the authors for not being more considerate of the feminist movement. I agree with the call for more inclusion nowadays but going back and adding words to Paul seems unnecessary and perhaps is a dangerous methodology of translation.

  • carla jo


    I appreciate what you’re getting at, but this is where I’m getting stuck. You and others seem to agree that we should understand these passages as being inclusive even when their original language is not. That’s great. But what I don’t get is that you and others refer to it as false translation to state this understanding overtly in the translated text. So my question remains, why is it considered false translation to have the text say outright what we assume it implies?

  • Jim

    I think it’s like I said above, on what level does that interpretation take place? If you want the translator’s to change it, then a few men sitting in a room somewhere get to decide what the bible means. But if they limit their interpretation as much as possible, and reproduce with as strict accuracy as possible, it leaves more interpretation in the hands of readers. You and I and out pastors can all decide (with wisdom and education, hopefully) that “brothers” includes “sisters” as well. We abandon that interpretive power to translators if we let them call all the shots.

  • David Blackwell

    There seems to be agreement among some in this thread that to quote Carla Jo “we should understand these passages as being inclusive even when their original language is not.” What I wrestle with is what if Paul had no intention of being inclusive. I believe women should have an equal role in the church with men, and at our church we put this in practice. However my friends from Reformed and Calvary Chapel circles believe that women should not have these roles. They base this on the writings of Paul, taken as written.

    If I accept the letters of Paul as written, in other words with the intent on his part to subordinate women in ministry, or to promote a complementarian view as some refer to it, I see two choices for me. The first is to follow it as written and exclude women from becoming an elder/pastor etc., the second choice, and the one I have adopted, is to see Paul’s letter in light of his philosophy and culture and reject it as not being relevant for today. I take that one step further and believe that if it is not the correct view to have now it was not at the time either. A change in the culture should not affect the validity of a philosophical/theological position, although cultural conditions will effect how it is put into practice.

  • Jim

    Well, David, it seems like there are certain passages that are pretty certainly inclusive. I’ve never heard anyone argue that “For all men have sinned” doesn’t apply to women. But then there are trickier instances, like “Blessed is the man who…” in Psalm 1. It might just mean “Blessed is anyone,” but it also might be specifically Christological, “Blessed is the man (Jesus) who…” I’d rather leave the text as is (translate: “brothers,” and “man”) and let readers sort out what is inclusive and what isn’t. That’s all I’m saying. Power in the hands of readers, not translators.

  • David Blackwell


    I agree with you. However I am just talking about the letters attributed to Paul and how to interact with them in terms of the role of women. So using “Brothers” is not really the issue I am addressing. My thoughts are related to the possibility that we don’t assume them to be inclusive as Carla stated. How do we view the role of women in the church in light of Paul’s letters being written without an intention of inclusiveness. Again I believe in equality of women in the church and my question is about how I choose to take this position in light of Paul’s letters. This is somewhat off topic of “Brother” or “Brothers and Sisters,” however it does speak to our interaction with the original intent of the author.

  • Jim

    Ah, I see. So your general position (stated in a bit of an extreme way) is that one must either accept a hierarchical or complementarian view of gender relations in the church or else abandon biblical inerrancy? I hope I’m not misunderstanding you. I think I disagree. Though the way you and your Reformed friends read Paul seems the best reading to me, I think an intellectually honest Christian can come to the conclusion that Paul is not advocating universal male leadership in the church. I happen to think Paul is, but I don’t think that’s the only conclusion an honest person who accepts inerrancy (of the particular epistles in question) could come to. I guess its not really a translation issue, unless you desire translators to heighten (or at least not disguise) the non-inclusiveness to emphasize the errancy.

  • David Blackwell

    Hello Jim,

    Actually my position is more of a question. My reformed friends (Mark Driscoll, John Piper et. Al. in a facebook way) and my Calvary Chapel friends (in a real live in-person over lunch way) are complementarian and have no women elders/pastors. Both would also agree, I believe, with the statement “one must either accept a hierarchical or complementarian view of gender relations in the church or else abandon biblical inerrancy.”

    You state that “I think an intellectually honest Christian can come to the conclusion that Paul is not advocating universal male leadership in the church. I happen to think Paul is, but I don’t think that’s the only conclusion an honest person who accepts inerrancy (of the particular epistles in question) could come to”

    This is something I have been trying to think through so it would be very helpful to me if you or anyone else reading these posts, could unpack that statement and/or point me to someone who does, in regards to maintaining inerrancy while not advocating universal male leadership. Thank you


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  • Jim

    Well, I know “Christians for Biblical Equality” has a good number of resources. If you google them they’re website is easy to find. They review books and such, so it might direct to other resources. I’ve found their stuff to be pretty interesting, and though I don’t tend to agree with their interpretation, they certainly don’t reject inerrancy.

  • David Blackwell


    I found the site. This looks like a great resource that will be very helpful. Thank you