Wednesday, November 4, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 6

Are you with me so far? I've attempted to answer a number of objections to the new edition of the NIV by explaining why scholars felt the translation needed updating. I've given some examples of how these principles have worked out in practice. I hope that it has been helpful.

Now we have come to the real rub: pronouns. In reality most of the other concerns raised about the NIV would apply equally to the 1984 version as to the 2011 version. The greatest controversy with the new NIV has revolved around gender-inclusive language. The outcry is actually a holdover from the Committee on Bible Translation's 2005 release, known as "Today's New International Version," which met with so much opposition it was pulled from the shelves. For the new NIV, the committee thoroughly reevaluated every verse affected by questions of gendered language, taking a more moderate approach.

I need to make one thing clear from the get-go: the NIV has not changed pronouns referring to God. As the Committee on Bible Translation explains,
"Nowhere in the updated NIV (nor in the TNIV, nor in any of the committee discussions leading up to either version) is there even the remotest hint of any inclusive language for God. The revisions solely surround inclusive language for mankind." (from "Updating the New International Version of the Bible: Notes from the Committee on Bible Translation," page 4, emphasis theirs)
However, in many places they have changed pronouns (and even nouns) that refer to people. "Forefathers" has usually been replaced by "ancestors." "Brothers and sisters" often appears where the text used to read only "brothers." The committee based their decision to do this on twin considerations:

  1. Concern for Accuracy. The translators wanted to be sure that when the original languages were intended to refer to anyone, regardless of gender, that sense was clearly conveyed in English.
  2. Concern for Communication. The committee asked Collins Dictionaries to undertake an extensive, independent study of recent publications (including sermons) in English in order to track patterns of language use over a 20-year span. They wanted to ensure that the finished translation would clearly communicate using current English idiom to avoid misunderstanding.

Here’s a simple example:
“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; KJV).
Is Jesus speaking only to men? Is following Jesus something that only men are qualified to do by virtue of their gender? The KJV gives this impression to those who are not accustomed to generic use of masculine pronouns. As a result it miscommunicates the meaning of Scripture. The Greek does not use the word “man.” It simply has a generic pronoun (τις) that happens to be masculine in gender because first-century Greek was a gendered language where masculine pronouns were used in mixed gender situations.

The previous edition of the NIV recognized that this was misleading, and translated it according to the conventions of the English language in 1984:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (NIV 1984)
The new NIV, based on the Collins' research project, uses gender-neutral plural pronouns with a generic, singular subject. Grammatical constructions such as this one occur three times more often in current English discourse then the masculine singular forms once advocated by our middle school English teachers. Here's how it sounds in Matthew 16:24:
"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (NIV 2011)
Is this changing the Word of God? Is this twisting the Scriptures? Or is it ensuring that the current generation will be able to understand the Word as it was intended? I vote for the latter option.

I've tried to give you a sense for the considerations that motivated the translation committee. In my last post of this series, I'll tell you why I think this is critically important. Stay tuned!


  1. Carmen, great job! I appreciate that you have used clear examples to illustrate each concept you have covered. These are very, very helpful!

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  3. Tom, I'm so glad you have found this helpful! Thanks for reading and commenting.