Worth Fighting For
Earlier Revision Only Partial
Bible Truth Denied
They say they are evangelicals.
They claim they are defending the Bible.
But in the end, they make the Word of God into a lie!
The integrity of the Bible is an issue worth fighting over. And they have been fighting, in the USA, since March (this article was written in 1997). The news only reached NZ with the June issue of Christianity Today. An article on p.52 says that the International Bible Society (IBS) has bowed to vocal pressure groups and, in the USA at least, "cancelled plans for all revisions of the NIV".
This attack on the NIV is strange. The committee charged with revising the 20 year old Bible (the Committee on Bible Translation, CBT) is not a bunch of liberals. According to their secretary, Kenneth Barker, all the scholars
"are totally committed to all the great evangelical doctrines of the historic faith-including the Bible as the authoritative, infallible, inspired, and completely truthful Word of God."
So what are the challengers objections to their careful revisions? The eye of the storm is "sexist language". IBS have been accused (in World magazine) of wanting revisions which "cloud the uniqueness of men and women." In fact all the translation team were doing was to try to reflect accurately in contemporary English what the Bible says in the original Greek and Hebrew.
What provoked the fuss is two recent projects that suggest the NIV team is moving away from the use of "man" as a generic term for human beings of both sexes. Both a simplified NIV for children and new readers, the New International Readers Version (NIrV), and a British Edition of the NIV have sought to avoid "man" where the Bible uses generic words.
In everyday speech, we recognise that "man" may suggest that women are excluded. Writing about the UK revision, John Stott claims:
"When man means human being, without any intention to exclude women, and when the use of brothers was never intended to exclude sisters, then to retain such gender-specific words would be offensive."
"Even worse, it would actually misrepresent the meaning of the biblical text.
The revisers have done their work with skill and sensitivity, and without in the process developing a clumsy, ponderous, or repetitive style."
Yet opponents of the revisions in the USA are said to include a man who drilled holes in copies of the NIV. Clearly he doubts this Bibles integrity! IBS is said to have received 500 other complaints about the proposed changes, and well respected evangelicals, including psychologist James Dobson, have lined up to support the "dont update the NIV" cause.
It is not the first time that NIV has been revised to correct what is now seen as sexist bias. Both Greek and Hebrew (the original languages of the Bible) have gender neutral words (adam and anthropos) as well as words to distinguish women and men (ish/ishah and aner/gyne). Apparently in the 1983 revision, without fanfare or battle, a number of places where "man" or "men" had rendered the gender neutral Hebrew and Greek words (adam and anthropos) were corrected.
Yet, still, despite this earlier revision NIV consistently renders anthropos by "man" in the New Testament. As Stott notes when read by modern English speakers such usage can seem to exclude women. Take Matthew 12:36, when Jesus speaks of Gods judgement on those who speak thoughtlessly, the Greek uses anthropos meaning "human being" and so does not suggest that Jesus is speaking of a special judgment on "men" which women are spared! However the NIVs "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken" might suggest this understanding to readers today.
In passages like this, the uncorrected NIV risks falsifying the Word of God for the sake of pleasing human conservatism.
"To retain such gender-specific words would be offensive,"
John Stott recognises and claims that
"Even worse, it would actually misrepresent the meaning of the biblical text."
It does, for in Greek Jesus words do not use the gender specific aner "man"!
The battle-lines are drawn. On one side, those who are determined to retain the flavour of the old Bibles they love, and fear that change will dilute the biblical message.
(Since writing this I've been told about material pointing to legitimate concern in some areas, I plan to add a link soon.)
On the other side, godly evangelical scholars determined that the Word of God be allowed to speak clearly and truly to young men and women of today, in the language they understand. It is rather like the battle fought by Catholic prelates against Wycliffe, Tyndale and other early Bible translators. Then truth won and our modern English translations are the result of their battles. In the USA today conservatism has won and the truth of the Bible is denied.
The issue is no less than salvation. For apparently this harsh Conservative God does not want women to be saved:
"This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim 2:3-4)
Again the Greek is anthropos and, thank God, salvation (like judgment) is for all and the saying really does apply to men and women alike!
The issue here is not like that of "inclusive language" prayers or songs. Still less is it like feminist attempts to "neutralise" the Bible. In this case the issue is simple. Pious men and women who fear changes to their Bible, but are ignorant of the languages in which it was written oppose equally pious, and similarly evangelical, scholars and block their concern that Gods Word speak with clarity and precision.
This article is part of the "Electric Angels" collection
It is the eighth of a series about Men & Women, Sex & God
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2002
All material on these pages is protected by international copyright, however I am very willing to consider requests to use all or part of any piece. The use of small quotations is (of course) fine, just give as reference (at least) my name and the URL (e.g. Tim Bulkeley http://eBibleTools.com/angels/).
The other site Tim runs Postmodern Bible - a hypermedia (hypertext and multimedia) Bible commentary project