Gender and the Bible. (Evangelicals Wrangle over New Translations)

By Dart, John | The Christian Century, July 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

Gender and the Bible. (Evangelicals Wrangle over New Translations)


Dart, John, The Christian Century


A NEW TRANSLATION of the Bible has created a tug of words between camps in the evangelical world. Moderates and conservatives are fighting with ultraconservatives over a gender-inclusive New Testament, part of Today's New International Version Bible, which is based on the best-selling New International Version (NIV). The harshest critics of the TNIV, who say they handle God's Word more faithfully and without secular influences, have in turn been accused of a conflict of interest.

The TNIV adopts generic terms like "person," "people," "anyone" and "brothers and sisters" when the biblical text does not require specific male references. Hardly an avant-garde translation. Indeed, two other new Bibles favored by ultraconservatives also make numerous--though not as many--gender-inclusive changes, a point little-mentioned by the TNIV's critics.

Southern Baptists all but declared the TNIV to be anathema during their June meeting. Delegates expressed "profound disappointment" in the International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishers "for this inaccurate translation" and said they "cannot commend" it to fellow Baptists or "the larger Christian community." The SBC's 109 LifeWay bookstores will not sell the book.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, whose current president is Southern Baptist seminary professor Bruce Ware, was delighted. "This action taken by the SBC only further demonstrates the growing evangelical wave of opposition to the TNIV," said Randy Stinson, the council's executive director.

On the other hand, Mimi Haddad, who heads Christians for Biblical Equality, said the launching of the TNIV "is raising the consciousness of moderates and conservatives, and maybe fundamentalists, about what our assumptions are on Bible translations." Officials of the International Bible Society claimed in a news release that "criticism of the TNIV does not reflect the opinion of most evangelical Christians."

The divisions go back to 1997 when it was learned that the IBS had published in England an inclusive-language New Testament. A howl of protest erupted, and plans were scrapped for an updated, North American version of the NIV. When IBS and Zondervan revived the project and unveiled the TNIV, critics raised objections again.

Ardent conservatives are promising a fight, mainly through the Louisville-based Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, using its Web site www.cbmw.org to argue the case in detail. It is backed by James Dobson's Focus on the Family ministry and the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention. With the TNIV's Old Testament not due until 2005, the struggle is likely to last a while.

Early this year, Zondervan and IBS lined up endorsements and supplied examples of new translations on their joint Web site at www.tniv.info. On June 11, as Southern Baptists opened their meeting in St. Louis, TNIV sponsors countered the charges of inaccuracy by announcing that their translation guidelines met the standards of the 18-member Forum of Bible Agencies. The FBA, which does some 90 percent of all translation work, includes Wycliffe Bible Translators, the Jesus Film Project and Lutheran Bible Translators. "It is the consensus of the FBA that the TNIV falls within translation principles and procedures," said the brief statement.

The next arena for debate may be more to TNIV'S liking. That's the big CBA convention, a showcase for evangelical store retailers and suppliers July 13-18 in Anaheim, California. The only seminar on Bibles, titled "Which translation? Helping the customers find the right Bible," will be led by TNIV proponent John Kohlenberger. Author of numerous concordances and reference works, the Oregon resident with a master's degree from Conservative Baptist-related Western Seminary has led a Bible reference seminar at the CBA convention annually since 1997.

"I intend to promote all English Bibles, not to censure or belittle any," he said in an e-mail. …

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