Thinking Out Loud

June 17, 2011

Southern Baptists Reject New NIV Translation

SBC shindig in Phoenix, four days ago

“We’ll get Mikey to try it, he hates everything”
classic Life cereal commercial line

At their annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona, “messengers” of the Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly “not to commend” the newly revised edition of the New International Version translation of the Bible, aka NIV 2011.

Their unstated reason is simple: They don’t like it.

Specifically, they don’t like it when passages that traditionally referred to males — using words like he, him, his, man, men, etc. — get changed to gender neutral pronouns.

But gender neutral is usually how the original texts read.  In the book, How To Choose A Bible Translation for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss, the latter talks about working on the translation committee for the TNIV.  He notes that the Greek “anthropos” — from which we no doubt get the word anthropology, the study of human civilization — refers to  ‘person’ or ‘persons.’  You could say, tongue in cheek, that “in anthropos there is neither male nor female.” 

But he goes on to explain that forms like “Son of Man” cannot be jettisoned so easily, since they are both a poetic form and a doctrinal statement.  In other words, God is not a ‘she’ in either the TNIV or the NIV-2011, though this is how some hot-headed people would have you believe it reads.   It’s the end of doctrinal purity as we know it.

Consider this verse which we’ve been discussing here on this blog and at Christianity 201 recently:

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

What possible major doctrinal violation takes place when I paraphrase that as:

If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

[The so-called "singular to plural" crisis is, in this case, solved by the antecedent use of "one."]

The answer is: Nothing.  It’s a much closer rendering of what Jesus is saying here, unless, of course, he is extending the invitation of discipleship entirely to males.

The Southern Baptists simply don’t like the change.  And they don’t like it with the same venom that characterizes King James Version Only people.  (And yes, I said King James Version only, which KJ-Onlyites hate because it concedes there are in fact other versions.) 

You can read the wording of their resolution here.

Furthermore, when you read it, you’ll note this interesting clause:

RESOLVED, That we respectfully request that LifeWay not make this inaccurate translation available for sale in their bookstores;

Ah yes, the power of an economic boycott.  The SBC controls the LifeWay chain of bookstores and websites; an organism about which I’ve already expressed a certain degree of contempt here.  This is the group that believes women should not teach men, but rakes in huge piles of cash daily from the sales of books by Beth Moore.  This is the same mentality that caused a group of 800 male pastors to turn their chairs so that their backs were to the podium during an address being given by Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz; a story referred to in a chapter of J. Lee Grady’s book Ten Lies The Church Tells Men, that was referred to here a few days ago.

What is Zondervan to do about all this?  The remaining editions of the NIV-1984 version in the Thinline and Church Bible (formerly Pew Bible) style — the two most popular formats — have already been discontinued and remaining copies donated to mission agencies.  The devotional, teen and study Bibles are not in reprint awaiting the fall release of the rest of the NIV-2011 product line.

Zondervan made an “all-in” commitment to the new translation, and is now met with this slap in the face from North America’s largest Protestant denomination.

But largest for how long?  As we reported here on Wednesday, USAToday’s religion page states that baptism statistics for the SBC are at a virtual all-time low for the past two generations, dropping to 1950s levels.  The denomination is going the way of many mainline Protestant ones; losing relevancy and losing younger families.

As for the translation issue:  C’mon guys (which implies both male and female here).  Look at the example above from Luke 9 and tell me that some element of the Christian faith is being compromised by the paraphrase I offered. 

If not, then suck it up. 

Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.  Our faith is based on unchanging truth.

But the English language is changing, and male-dominated, patriarchal language simply doesn’t mean what you think it means anymore; it isn’t heard that way, and simply doesn’t cut it.

~Paul Wilkinson

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9 Comments »

  1. Here’s an example of the extreme emotion associated with this subject; the following is completely false in light of the above; it’s a comment that was left at the blog Treading Grain (see blogroll at right):

    Actually, ‘Gender’ Neutrality language alters core doctrine – marriage, human identity, marriage, the Church, male and female, two sexes in God’s design and others.

    GN language also bends to the purposes and arguments of the pansexual (LBGTQ, etc.) agenda.

    The Baptists know what they are doing here and why they are doing it. They are defending the Faith.

    Did you catch that last line? “They are defending the faith.” You might as well start waving the American flag as well. This is a classic case of “guilty by association.” Someone heard the word “gender” and it set off dozens of alarms. To draw the LBGT agenda into this is to make a tabloid-style, sensational argument.

    Re-read the Luke passage above and tell me how that panders to any “pansexual” agenda, or alters any core doctrine.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 17, 2011 @ 9:30 am

  2. Actual new NIV on the passage I paraphrased is:

    Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me…”

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 17, 2011 @ 9:58 am

  3. Thank you, Paul. I especially like your last two paragraphs. You really cut to the chase there.

    I have a book signing at a LifeWay store next week so I feel a little strange about posting this, but I do agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Comment by Meg Moseley — June 17, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

  4. [...] Is the genderless language in the 2011 NIV a bad translation, or is it the correct translation?  Read more at Thinking Out Loud. Leave a Comment LikeBe the first to like this [...]

    Pingback by Dream Dashed or Dream Deferred? « Christianity 201 — June 17, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

  5. Thank you for your comments. I agree with your assessment wholeheartedly!

    Historically even some of the groups most vehement in their denunciation of women in teaching/preaching positions have sent women as missionaries. These women could teach men in other countries and cultures, just not their own. The double standards are not new (which I’m sure you know). I wish I could say I was surprised by the actions the SBC took. Their view of women is increasingly irrelevant and (at least as I understand scripture) not what God intends for His daughters.

    As to the comment you quoted from Treading Grain, I find it interesting when anyone puts themselves in the position of “defending the faith.” I can’t find anything in Christ’s teachings that says we are called to “defend” the faith. Rather He gave us the example of loving sacrificially and serving others. God seems to be capable of defending Himself.

    Comment by Chrystal Westbrook Southwell — June 17, 2011 @ 9:44 pm

  6. The problem with translation of the bible, is that everyone seems to have their own take on what the chapters within the bible mean, so whereby one chapter may mean one thing in one religion and another group may have a completely different take on what it means.

    Comment by English — August 30, 2011 @ 6:16 am

    • Actually, it’s just the opposite. Translation teams are selected from a variety of theological backgrounds and their focus is on what the words MEAN, and how we would express that in 21st century language. They go out of their way to try to keep doctrinal bias out of the finished product.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — August 30, 2011 @ 8:41 am

  7. I disagree that the word man doesn’t mean the same as it use to to our society. I am in education and in teaching history we can’t change every document that says man to everyone. What about “all men are created equal?” Does that mean a women isn’t created equal? I think we are smarter than that. This is Satan trying to stir up strife amongst the believers and a Bible translator trying to walk the line to please the world and also condemn Christians who have a problem with it. There was nothing wrong with the way it was written before and now Zondervan has bought into this crazy mess and I hope Lifeway does boycot it. I am not Southern Baptist but I am boycotting it because I am tired of NIV switching versions all the time. I just inversted thousands of dollars over the last 3 years buying Bibles in Children’s ministry to give away to inner city children. I bought the NIV Adventure Bible. I have bought literally thousands of dollars worth to give away at our public schools and kids on the street as I teach them about God. We have written verse songs and created visuals to match the NIV Translations. I am not going to go with NIV any longer. I am going to go with a version that stands still and firm in their translation. One that I can trust and buy knowing I can teach a child a verse and memorize it knowing I can read it years later and still have that verse the same. This is crazy what NIV is doing and the fact they are wondering why so many don’t want to buy into it is even more crazy. I am sorry to see this happening. I just placed an order for 500 NIV Adventure Bibles 2 days ago, I am cancelling that order and choosing a different translation so that the children can learn their verses and know they won’t change.

    Comment by Linda McIntyre — February 15, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    • Sorry to hear of your frustration, but all the translations do update periodically.

      The NLT Bibles currently sold are actually NLTSE (second edition). Even the popular Catholic Bible, the NAB is now technically the NABRE (revised edition). In fact, the KJV endured many revisions, we tend to think only in terms of the years 1611 and 1789, but there were many others.

      Some day circumstances will necessitate ESV and HCSB updates…

      If it were me, I would go with the consistency that the Adventure Bible provides in terms of the features. I’d give leaders a copy of memory verses in both texts and tell them to accept both readings as correct. And what a better time to teach the kids that it’s not the words that we’re learning but the truth behind the words.

      As for, “a Bible translator trying to walk the line to please the world;” that so far beyond the pale that I just can’t even begin to comment on it. I encourage you to read, How To Choose a Bible Translation for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss, or The King James Only Controversy by James White to see closeup the issues that translators wrestle with. It’s one of the extreme sports of Christian ministry.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — February 15, 2012 @ 11:10 am


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