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Much of the negative press concerning Today's New International Version comes from a misunderstanding of Bible translation and a misrepresentation of the TNIV. Here are seven facts you should know.

  1. The goal of the TNIV is the same as that of the NIV (and other versions): to render the meaning of the original text accurately into contemporary English.

    Since no word or phrase in one language corresponds exactly to any word or phrase in another, a strict literal or word-for-word translation is impossible. Anyone learning a foreign language soon recognizes this. Translated literally, the Spanish phrase ¿Cómo se llama? comes out something like "How do you call yourself?" But in good idiomatic English it means "What is your name?" The words must be changed to capture the meaning in English. The daunting task for Bible translators is to find English words, phrases, and clauses that correspond as closely as possible to the meaning of the original text.

    Though this controversy has focused on gender, about 70 percent of the TNIV revisions are not related to gender but result from advances in biblical scholarship and the goal of greater clarity and precision. A word-for-word translation of Matthew 1:18 would read "she [Mary] was found having in womb from holy spirit." This literal rendering is impossible English, so the original NIV translated "she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit." The TNIV improves this by translating "she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit." Since no English speaker today would use the archaic "with child," the TNIV more accurately reflects the meaning of the original.

  2. In line with this goal of accuracy, the TNIV is intentionally gender accurate. When biblical authors refer to both men and women, the TNIV makes this clear.

    For example, the Greek word anthropos can mean "person" (its primary meaning) or "man" (a secondary sense), depending on the context. While the NIV translated Romans 3:28, "For we maintain that a man (anthropos) is justified by faith," the TNIV more accurately renders, "For we maintain that a person is justified by faith." Virtually everyone agrees that anthropos here means "person," so the TNIV translates it that way.

    The TNIV does not eliminate gender distinctions (as some critics claim) but rather clarifies them. References to females remain feminine. References to males remain masculine. But when the inspired authors are referring to both men and women, an inclusive term like person is used. This is just good translation policy—the kind of meaning-based translation practiced by Bible translators around the world.

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In the Magazine

October 7, 2002

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