Monday, March 21, 2011

It's about accuracy

Well, it's happening again. The International Bible Society (IBS), which holds the copyright on the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, has released a revision and some groups and individuals are complaining about it. Why are they complaining? The NIV of 2011 uses more gender inclusive language than the NIV of 1984, the previous revision. There was a time in English language usage when the noun "man" and the pronouns "he" and "him" were used in the generic sense to refer to males and females. For decades now English teachers have been instructing writers to avoid generic usages of male nouns and pronouns. When I was in college more than 20 years ago, I was taught to use gender inclusive expressions and if I lapsed into generic usages of "he," "him," or "man," then the professor marked my writing as incorrect. Gender inclusive Bible translation is about taking into account this change in English usage. Here is one example related to the current controversy connected with the new NIV:

  • Mark 8:36, NIV 1984:"What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?"

  • Mark 8:36, NIV 2011: "What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?"
According to the article linked above, some are complaining that the gender inclusive language in the new NIV distorts the Bible in various ways. I disagree. It seems clear that failing to use gender inclusive translation is likely to result in misunderstandings of the biblical message. The NIV is a thought-for-thought translation. It seeks to convey the thought of the original language in the clearest possible terms according to current English usage. It is a simple fact that writers of our culture have been taught for a long time that they should not employ generic male nouns or pronouns to refer to both males and females. My children, who are all adults, were never instructed to use "he" or "man" in the generic sense. From the beginning they were taught to use gender inclusive language in their writing. English translations of the Bible that do not use gender inclusive language are just not as accurate according to English usage of today, plain and simple. Those who scream "scripture distortion" due to the gender language in the new NIV are guilty of their own brand of distortion by failing to recognize that the English language has changed in this area and that change has been in place for a long time. Gender inclusive translation, generally speaking, results in greater precision in conveying the thought of the original language of the text. Having said all that, I have concerns about the NIV 2011. Back in 2005, the IBS released the Today's New International Version (TNIV), a separate translation very similar to the NIV 1984. However, the TNIV utilized gender inclusive language. I have not read very much of the NIV 2011, but it appears that it is less gender inclusive than the TNIV. For example, it appears the NIV 2011 does not shy away from the term "mankind." The TNIV does not use "mankind." Here is one example:

  • 1 Tim. 2:5, NIV 2011: "For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus ..."

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

I was taught to use other gender inclusive phrases rather including the term "mankind" in my writing. In at least this respect, the NIV 2011 seems to take a step backward in gender inclusive translation. Making matters worse, the article linked above indicates that the IBS is replacing both the TNIV and the NIV 1984 with the new NIV 2011. So it appears that a scenario has been established in which some may reject the NIV 2011 because it goes too far with gender inclusive translation and others may reject it because it does not go far enough in this regard.

I like the TNIV. It is the version of the Pew Bibles that we use here. I'm sorry to see it go.

This is the third time that the IBS has been at the center of an inclusive language controversy. In 1996 a gender inclusive version of the NIV was released in the United Kingdom, which caused a stir here in the United States. When the TNIV was released in 2005 some complained about its gender inclusive language. And now the NIV 2011 is creating the same sort of debate once again.

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