Bible Translation: TNIV Critics Blast Scripture 'Distortions'
In late January, news broadcaster Paula Zahn's producer called professor Wayne Grudem of Phoenix Seminary to invite a critique of the new "gender accurate" New Testament, Today's New International Version. Cable News Network, best known for its war coverage, had found another firefight.
With more than 30 percent of the Bible market, the NIV has a large and loyal following. When translators in 1997 introduced an inclusive language update of the NIV in the British market, American critics sounded the alarm. The International Bible Society, the NIV's copyright holder, said at the time that it had "abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version."
Within days of the IBS announcement of the TNIV New Testament, conservative journalists and others took aim again (CT, Feb. 4, p. 19). WorldNetDaily called the translation "Today's New International Perversion." World magazine's headline called it "The NIV's Twisted Sister" (see "Why the TNIV Draws Ire," p. 36).
IBS and publisher Zondervan laid out a comprehensive media strategy to build public support. Sample copies were mailed to pastors, educators, and ministry leaders. IBS created a Web site that offered the entire New Testament, downloadable in Adobe PDF. IBS also held a public forum in Colorado Springs in late February to answer consumers' questions. John Ortberg, teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, said on the Web site, "The TNIV combines a careful scholarly treatment of the text with great clarity for the contemporary reader."
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has been a leading critic of gender-focused changes in new English translations of the Bible. The group rallied 35 Ph.D.s, mostly seminary professors and pastors, to sign a joint statement saying the TNIV "distorts Scripture" by introducing many "troubling translation inaccuracies." They say the TNIV inappropriately:
- Changes singular pronouns to plural.
- Removes male-specific meaning in the original Greek texts.
- Changes singular brother to brother and sister, someone, or person.
- Eliminates son/sons, using children or people.
- Changes Jews to Jewish leaders.
- Changes forefathers to ancestors and father to parent.
"It's gender inaccurate," Grudem told CT. "Let readers judge for themselves. Look at the changes that have been made. The basic issue is over five masculine words: father, brother, son, man, and he/him/his."
Grudem cites many examples, including what he says is a mistranslation of Revelation 3:20, in which the Greek masculine singular pronoun autos is rendered as them. In that instance, he says, the TNIV translation loses the meaning of an individual's relationship with God.
Other scholars criticize the TNIV, but for reasons other than its gender translation. Raymond Van Leeuwen, a professor at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, says TNIV translators seem to confuse meaning and referent. Words, he says, have a defined meaning, but may also refer to something else. He cites the phrase "The Lord is my rock" as an easy example.
"The church needs biblical scholars [and] pastors who can read Greek and Hebrew to constantly interpret and clarify Scriptures for the people of God," he says. "Translation is never enough. It always distorts. It simplifies when there are multiple possibilities of meaning."
Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, is a prominent supporter of the TNIV. "Updating language is critical," Haddad told CT. "There was a time in the '50s and '60s when. … men was an appropriate term to use, but it is no longer appropriate."