Touchstone Magazine Home
From the Summer, 1997 issue of Touchstone

 

Is <title>Bible Translation as Battleground by John Piper

Bible Translation as Battleground

Problems in Gender Changes from the New International Version to the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition

by John Piper

For two months [April and May] a serious debate has been going on among evangelical leaders concerning the use of gender-inclusive language in English Bible translation. The controversy was unleashed by an article in World magazine alerting the public to apparent plans on the part of the International Bible Society (IBS) and Zondervan Publishing House to revise the NIV with inclusive language. A glimpse of what this would look like was possible because the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI) was already issued in Britain.

The NIVI is not published or sold in America. Nevertheless the Committee on Bible Translation for the NIV in America is ultimately responsible for its revisions of the NIV through a five-person British committee who did the actual rewording of the NIV for the British NIV Inclusive Language Edition. Until the IBS, who own the copyright of the NIV, announced on May 27,1997, that they were not moving ahead with an inclusive language NIV for North America, plans were being made to consider a similar inclusive language revision of the NIV for North America. Owing to public opposition, this trajectory was altered.

Nevertheless, Zondervan and IBS had already published in North America a simplified edition of the NIV called the New International Readers Version (NIrV), which is basically an inclusive language edition rendered for those with a third-grade reading level. The NIrV is not identical to the NIVI in its gender-neutral renderings, but clearly shows the direction that Zondervan and the IBS were moving until public resistance led to the May 27 decision. The news release of IBS (May 27, 1997) also pledges to “begin immediately to revise the NIrV in a way that reflects the treatment of gender in the [present] NIV.”

Following are some examples of the kinds of changes that are typically made in the NIVI and the problems they create.

The loss of crucial collective singulars (e.g. adam):

NIV Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea . . . 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

NIVI Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea . . . 27 So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Some uses of the “son of man” are not preserved:

NIV Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.

NIVI Numbers 23:19 God is not a human, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should change his mind.

New Testament messianic use of the Psalms is problematic:

NIV Psalm 34:20 . . . he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

NIVI Psalm 34:20 . . . he protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken.

Gratuitous changes which mute obvious masculinity of persons:

NIV Numbers 8:17 Every firstborn male in Israel, whether man or animal, is mine.

NIVI Numbers 8:17 Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine.

NIV John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.

NIVI John 3:1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.

The masculinity of Jesus downplayed:

Note: On Zondervan’s Web Site the press renounced any “revisions to the NIV that affect the masculine words used to refer to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.” It will, they say, “Absolutely not,” consider such revisions. “References to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit will remain in the masculine gender, in faithfulness to the original biblical texts.” But the following examples call this commitment into question.

NIV John 11:50 . . . it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.

NIVI John 11:50 . . . it is better for you that one person die for the people than that the whole nation perish.

NIV 1 Cor. 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

NIVI 1 Cor. 15:21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being.

NIV Phil. 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death. . . .

NIVI Phil 2:8 And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself and became obedient to death. . . .

NIV 1 Tim. 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

NIVI 1 Tim. 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human.

Dr. James Dobson called a meeting of concerned individuals on May 27, 1997 in Colorado Springs to discuss the matter, and to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit. Those who participated in this meeting offered the following statement with the prayer that it will be of use to the Church for the glory of God.

“All participants agree that our overarching concern in Bible translating is to preserve the sanctity of the truth of sacred Scripture by rendering the most accurate translation possible. In the interests of such accuracy, we all agree that modern language is fluid and undergoes changes in nuance that require periodic updates and revisions. We agree that Bible translations should not be influenced by illegitimate intrusions of secular culture or by political or ideological agenda. Specifically, we agree that it is inappropriate to use gender-neutral language when it diminishes accuracy in the translation of the Bible, and we agree to the attached guidelines for translation of gender-related language in Scripture.

“We agree there are limited times when the use of gender-neutral language enhances the accuracy of translation, but that the trend in usage of gender-inclusive language can easily become—and because of overuse, in too many cases, already has become—an instrument of distortion of the Biblical text.”

Guidelines for Translation of Gender-Related Language in Scripture

Adopted in Colorado Springs on May 27, 1997

Signed by Bruce Ryskamp (President of Zondervan), Lars Dunberg (President of IBS), Ken Barker and Ron Youngblood (two of the principal translators of the NIV), Wayne Grudem (President of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—CBMW), Tim Bayly and John Piper (of CBMW), Vern Poythress (professor of New Testament, Westminster Theological Seminary), R.C. Sproul (Chairman of Ligonier Ministries), Joel Belz (publisher of World), Charlie Jarvis and James Dobson (of Focus on the Family).

A. Gender-related renderings of Biblical language which we affirm:

1. The generic use of “he, him, his, himself” should be employed to translate generic third person masculine singular pronouns in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. However, substantival participles such as ho pisteuon can often be rendered in inclusive ways, such as “the one who believes” rather than “he who believes.”

2. Person and number should be retained in translation so that singulars are not changed to plurals and third-person statements are not changed to second-person or first-person statements, with only rare exceptions required in unusual cases.

3. “Man” should ordinarily be used to designate the human race or human beings in general, for example in Genesis 1:26–27; 5:2; Ezekiel 29:11; and John 2:25.

4. Hebrew ’ish should ordinarily be translated “man” and “men” and Greek aner should almost always be so translated.

5. In many cases, anthropoi refers to people in general, and can be translated “people” rather than “men.” The singular anthropos should ordinarily be translated “man” when it refers to a male human being.

6. Indefinite pronouns such as tis can be translated “anyone” rather than “any man.”

7. In many cases, pronouns such as oudeis can be translated “no one” rather than “no man.”

8. When pas is used as a substantive, it can be translated with terms such as “all people” or “everyone.”

9. The phrase “son of man” should ordinarily be preserved to retain intracanonical connections.

10. Masculine references to God should be retained.

B. Gender-related renderings which we will generally avoid, though there may be unusual exceptions in certain contexts:

1. “Brother” (adelphos) and “brothers” (adelphoi) should not be changed to “brother(s) and sister(s).”

2. “Son” (huios, ben) should not be changed to “child,” or “sons” (huioi) to “children” or “sons and daughters.” (However, Hebrew banim often means “children.”)

3. “Father” (pater, ‘ab) should not be changed to “parent,” or “fathers” to “parents,” or “ancestors.”

C. We understand these guidelines to be representative and not exhaustive.

John Piper is Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and first published this article for his weekly newsletter. He attended the meeting described at the end of this report and is a member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Letters Welcome: One of the reasons Touchstone exists is to encourage conversation among Christians, so we welcome letters responding to articles or raising matters of interest to our readers. However, because the space is limited, please keep your letters under 400 words. All letters may be edited for space and clarity when necessary. letters@touchstonemag.com

 

Subscribe to Touchstone today!

“Bible Translation as Battleground” first appeared in the Summer 1997 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.

An introductory subscription (six copies for one year) is only $29.95. This issue, as well as other issues, can be purchased at our online store. Read issues in digital format at the Touchstone digital archives! You can also subscribe to Touchstone at amazon.com to read on your Kindle.

Browse Back Issues