Monday, November 9, 2015

does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? - part 7

In a time where questions of gender, identity, and sexual orientation are at the forefront of public policy and public discourse, it's understandable that gendered language would be a sore spot for Evangelicals. In this last post of the series, I'd like to share the two reasons why I applaud the NIV translation committee for their decision about gender inclusive language. Both are a matter of mission.
(1) One principle that guided the CBT (for the NIV) in their revisions is the international nature of the English language. It is no longer adequate to consider only patterns of English language usage here in the United States when deciding what best communicates the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek. People all over the world are speaking English and will be using our best-selling translation. Therefore it is imperative that we consider international patterns of English use when translating the Word of God. Some of the changes in the new NIV were made in this spirit.  
While the average American over the age of 40 might be comfortable with masculine pronouns in gender neutral situations, this is not the case worldwide, as people’s first languages exhibit a variety of grammatical norms. We dare not put stumbling blocks in the way of those around the world who are encountering Christianity for the first time. If a passage is directed to everybody, not just men, then it is increasingly important that we make that clear in our translation using gender neutral pronouns.
(2) The second factor to consider is (for me) closer to home. I am raising three children in a country where it has become bad taste to use masculine pronouns to address mixed groups. In most academic institutions, Wheaton College included, the use of masculine pronouns in written assignments to refer to humankind or a person in general is actually against school policy. People are certainly entitled to their own opinions about whether this is a good thing. Every generation brings changes to the English language that grammatical sticklers will not appreciate. But the point is that this is the reality in which we live. Our children are being educated in a context where they are not hearing masculine pronouns used generically. As a result, it does not sound natural to them—instead the Bible sounds archaic or misleading. Do we want to persist in using Bible translations that are confusing to them? We are losing young people in droves because they perceive that the church is out of touch. This is one simple adjustment we can make for the sake of mission.
If I thought that the Committee on Bible Translation had sold the farm, I would not embrace the new NIV. If I thought that they had capitulated to a liberal agenda, I would not encourage individuals and churches to "upgrade" their pew Bibles. That is not the case here.

Several years ago Wheaton College created a policy on gender inclusive language. It reads,
"For academic discourse, spoken and written, the faculty expects students to use gender inclusive language for human beings."
School administrators go on to explain the missional motivation for this policy:
"The college seeks to equip students for service in the world for Christ. Students need to be ready to communicate in that world. We want our students to succeed in graduate school, in the corporate world, and in public communication, all settings in which gender inclusive language for human beings is expected and where the inability to use such language may well be harmful to the Christian witness."
For me that's the bottom line. A good English translation of the Bible must be based on solid biblical scholarship and able to communicate that biblical truth effectively to the wider culture. In my opinion, the new NIV fits the bill.


  1. I'm a little late to the party here...but your closing paragraph is the bottom line for me as well. I am just sorry it took me so long to get to your very well-written thoughts on NIV 2011. I am filled with gratitude that you have poured yourself into this process on behalf of wondering evangelicals everywhere, as well as on behalf of our own church body. I am so grateful God brought your family to our church.

    1. Thanks, Courtney! I'm thrilled to be part of our church family with you. Thanks for your ministry!