Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Linguistic and Hermeneutical Fallacies in the Guidelines Established at the "Conference on Gender-Related Language in Scripture"

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Linguistic and Hermeneutical Fallacies in the Guidelines Established at the "Conference on Gender-Related Language in Scripture"

Article excerpt

MARK STRAUSS*

I. PROVIDING CONTEXT TO THE GUIDELINES: THE NIVI CONTROVERSY

"The Stealth Bible: The Popular New International Version Bible Is Quietly Going `Gender-Neutral."' So trumpeted the March 29,1997, cover of World magazine. The feature article, written by assistant editor Susan Olasky, claimed that by the year 2000 or 2001 the NIV's Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) planned to substitute a gender-neutral version for the present one. "Say goodbye to the generic he, man, brothers, or mankind," Olasky wrote. "Make way for people, person, brother and sister, and humankind." She pointed out that an NIV inclusive-language edition (NIVI) had already been published in 1995 in Great Britain and would soon be introduced into the North American market.

Olasky's description of the NIVI as the "stealth" Bible, together with her claim that the translators were "quietly going `gender neutral,"' gave the World article an air of intrigue and scandal. The article's repeated use of the explosive term "unisex" to describe the translation, together with its link to creeping feminism in the Church, provided all the ingredients for controversy. The article created a sensation. Complaints began to pour in at the International Bible Society (IBS), which holds the NIV copyright, and Zondervan Publishing House, the NIV publisher. One man even drilled holes through several NIVs and sent them to the IBS. 1 Zondervan and the IBS moved rapidly for damage control, releasing press statements explaining the reason for the revisions. This was not an issue of a radical feminist agenda, they argued, but about keeping the NIV both accurate and contemporary. Genderinclusive language was being introduced only when changes in the English language warranted it. Since the generic term "man" no longer meant "men and women" for many readers, more inclusive terms like "person" were being used.

These explanations did little to reassure critics. Public opposition grew as influential voices and organizations entered the fray. When the familyadvocacy organization Focus on the Family learned that its own Odyssey Bible (which uses the text of the International Children's Bible) contained gender-inclusive language, they pulled it from the market. Cook Communications Ministries similarly announced it would delete quotations from the New International Reader's Version (NIrV) from its Bible-in-Life curriculum. 2 The straw that broke the camel's back came when the nation's largest denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, considered dropping the NIV from its Sunday-school curriculum. In the face of impending catastrophe, the executive committee of the IBS board of directors met to discuss the matter thoroughly. On May 23, 1997, the committee approved a statement abandoning "all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version (NIV)." They also pledged to continue publishing the present (1984) NIV, to begin immediately revising the gender-inclusive NIrV, and to enter into negotiations with Hodder and Stoughton, the British publisher of the NIV, on the matter of ceasing publication of the NIVI.

The surprise announcement by the IBS actually came shortly before another scheduled meeting arranged by James Dobson of Focus on the Family. In a move toward resolution, Dobson had invited individuals from the IBS, the CBT, Zondervan, World magazine, and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) to Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs on May 27. At this meeting, later called the "Conference on GenderRelated Language in Scripture," the participants affirmed the IBS decision and drafted a series of guidelines on gender-related language in Bible translation.

This paper is an examination and critique of these guidelines. Though I am a complementarian-one who believes that the Bible affirms distinct roles for men and women in the Church and the home-it seems to me that these guidelines are linguistically and hermeneutically incomplete and misleading. …

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