The John Wesley Fellowship began in 1977, with Steve Harper and yours truly being two of the first John Wesley Fellows chosen. I have told the story of Ed Robb and AFTE this past Fall on the blog so I will not repeat it. Here are some of the senior fellows attending the meeting. […]
There are many such issues to deal with when you update the best-selling Evangelical translation of the Bible in modern times—- the NIV. In my view the NIV has many rivals, but no peers or superiors and for several reasons: 1) it does not fudge on the text critical issues; 2) it tries to keep abreast of the growth and development of the English language; 3) it corrects previous mistakes found in the RSV, KJV, and older versions of the NIV etc.; 4) it uses good idiomatic English where warranted precisely because a woodenly literature translation is often more of an obstacle to understanding than an aide to it, especially in a Biblically illiterate age, and 5) on the whole it deals fairly with the issue of inclusive language, and does not make decisions based primarily on theological rationale, but rather on the basis of common English usage. In other words, the theological debate is not decided by the translator, nor is a particular gender viewpoint read into the text as an agenda, unlike some other translations.
Stan Gundry has very kindly sent me an advance copy of the NIV to be released in March 2011, and I like what I see, by and large. indeed I like it much better for the above reasons than either the NKJV or the ESV, and also better than the new CEB, though that translation has promise to replace the TEV in terms of the use of very simple language. Here below is the rationale portion of the introduction to the new NIV in so far as it comments on the use of inclusive language. See what you think.
What Was Decided About Inclusive Language?
Nowhere in the updated NIV (nor in the TNIV, nor in any of the committee discussions leading up to either version) is there even the remotest hint of any inclusive language for God. The revisions solely surround inclusive language for mankind.
All previous Bible translation efforts have been hampered by the lack of accurate, statistically significant data on the state of spoken and written English at a given time in its history. Beyond appealing to traditional style guides, all that translators and stylists have been able to do is rely on their own experiences and others’ anecdotal evidence,
resulting in arguments such as, ?I never see anybody writing such-and-such,” or ?I always hear such-andsuch,” or ?Sometimes I read one thing but other times something else.”
As part of the review of gender language promised at the September 2009 update announcement, the committee sought to remove some of this subjectivity by enlisting the help of experts. The committee initiated a relationship with Collins Dictionaries to use the Collins Bank of English, one of the world’s foremost English language
research tools, to conduct a major new study of changes in gender language. The Bank of English is a database of more than 4.4 billion words drawn from text publications and spoken word recordings from all over the world.
Working with some of the world’s leading experts in computational linguistics and using cutting-edge techniques developed specifically for this project, the committee gained an authoritative, and hitherto unavailable, perspective on the contemporary use of gender language — including terms for the human race and subgroups of the
human race, pronoun selections following various words and phrases, the use of ?man” as a singular generic and the use of ?father(s)” and ?forefather(s)” as compared to ancestor(s). The project tracked usage and acceptability
for each word and phrase over a twenty-year period and also analyzed similarities and differences across different forms of English: for example, UK English, US English, written English, spoken English, and even the English used in a wide variety of evangelical books, sermons and internet sites.
Research of this type is just one tool in the hands of translators, and, of course, it has no bearing on the challenge of preserving transparency to the original text. But hearing God’s Word the way it was written is only one part of the NIV’s overall mission. If readers are to understand it in the way it was meant, translators need to express the unchanging truths of the Bible in forms of language that modern English speakers find natural and easy to
comprehend. And this is where a tool like the Bank of English comes into its own.
The most significant findings that influenced decision making for the updated NIV were:
• The gender-neutral pronoun ?they” (?them”/?their”) is by far the most common way
that English-language speakers and writers today refer back to singular antecedents
such as ?whoever,” ?anyone,” ?somebody,” ?a person,” ?no one,” and the like. Even
in Evangelical sermons and books, where the generic ?he,” ?him” and ?his” are preserved more frequently than in other forms of communication, instances of what grammarians are increasingly calling the ?singular they” (?them” or ?their”) appear three times more frequently than generic masculine forms. In other words, most English speakers today express themselves in sentences like these: ?No one who rooted for the Chicago Cubs to be in a World Series in the last sixty years got their wish. They were disappointed time and time again,” or ?The person who eats too many hot dogs in too short a period of time is likely to become sick to their stomach.” It is interesting to observe that this development is a throwback to a usage of English that existed prior to the solidification of the generic ?he” as the only ?proper” usage during the nineteenth century in Victorian England. Even the KJV occasionally used expressions like ? . . . let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). For that matter, so did the Greek New Testament! In James
2:15-16, the Greek for ?a brother or sister” (adelphos ? adelph?) is followed by plural verbs
and predicate adjectives and referred back to with autois (?them”).
• English speakers around the world are using a variety of terms to refer to men and
women together and for the human race collectively. Plural words such as ?people,”
?human beings,” and ?humans” are very widely used. When it comes to terms that focus on humans in a collective sense, ?man,” ?mankind,” ?humanity,” and ?the human race” are all being used.
• ?Forefather” has all but disappeared from the English language as a generic term,
being replaced by ?ancestor.” Even in Evangelical sermons and writings, ?ancestor” is
more than twice as common as ?forefather.” In the light of these and other findings, the committee adopted a set of guidelines to be applied during the NIV
update process in cases where the original Greek and Hebrew texts clearly indicate an intended application to mixed groups of men and women and not just to individual men (or women) or groups of men (or women). None of these principles was applied inflexibly. How a specific usage sounded in a given context or how that context made it likely to be read was always taken into consideration. But, in general, much more often than not:
plurals instead of singulars to deal with generic forms was avoided. Except
for some instances where all alternatives proved awkward or potentially misleading, singular
nouns or substantive participles in the biblical languages were translated with singular
nouns or noun equivalents in English (?The one who. . . ,” ?the person who. . . ,”
?whoever. . . ,” and the like).
• Using second person forms instead of third person forms to deal with generics
was avoided. In other words, the translation does not read, ?You who have this-or-that
should do such-and-such,” to avoid saying ?He who has this-or-that should do such-and such.” The exception to this rule was when a second person form was already present in the immediate context and it would be poor English style not to preserve it throughout.
For example, addressing a mixed-gender audience, we would say, ?If any of you has your car on campus, may I get a ride home?” rather than ?If any of you has his (or their) car on campus, may I get a ride home?”
• Singular ?they,” ?them” and ?their” forms were widely used to communicate the generic
significance of pronouns and their equivalents when a singular form had already
been used for the antecedent. For example, ?Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Mark 4:25); ?How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them. . . ?” (Hebrews 10:29); or ?Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check” (James 3:2b). At the same time, recognizing the diversity in modern English, a generic ?he” was occasionally retained: ?If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him . . .” (Job 31:29).
• ?People” and ?humans” (and ?human beings”) were widely used for Greek and Hebrew masculine forms referring to both men and women. A variety of words — ?humanity,”
?human race,” ?man,” ?mankind” — were used to refer to human beings
collectively. As we noted above, modern English uses a variety of terms to refer to human
beings collectively; and the committee decided to imitate that diversity in the translation,
determining which expression fit best in each specific context. In making the decision
whether to use ?man” or ?mankind,” the committee often preferred the latter for the sake of clarity. ?Man” can mean either ?the human race” or ?an individual (male) human being,” and when a follow-up pronoun is required, the pronoun must be ?he,” creating the potential for misunderstanding. ?Mankind,” on the other hand, can only mean humanity as a whole, and the follow-up pronoun can be an inclusive ?they.”
Nevertheless, the updated NIV often uses ?man,” particularly in memorable and/or proverbial phrases: for example, ?The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Examples of texts that now have
?mankind” where they didn’t before include: ?Let us make mankind in our image” (Genesis 1:26a); ?Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); and ?For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
• ?Ancestors” was regularly preferred to ?forefathers” unless a specific, limited reference to the patriarchs or to another all-male group is intended.
• ?Brothers and sisters” was frequently used to translate adelphoi in the New Testament, especially in the vocative, when it was clear that both genders were in
view. This decision reflects the consensus view among scholars (and with basis in the
dictionaries) that plural adelphoi refers to both men and women equally. Footnotes now
often appear, explaining that ?the Greek word for ‘brothers and sisters’ (adelphoi) refers to
believers, both men and women, as part of God’s family.”
While some uses of ?believers” were retained from the TNIV where ?brothers and sisters” became too awkward, many were replaced by ?brothers and sisters” to retain the familial
connotations of adelphoi.
• While the Greek word an?r (?man” or ?person”) was frequently translated with masculine forms in English, it is clear in several contexts that the word refers to men
and women equally (an option endorsed by major dictionaries of the Greek NT). The
parallelism between James 1:7 and 8 suggests that anthr?pos and an?r are synonyms;
hence, ?That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” In Acts, expressions addressing mixed-gender audiences such as ?Fellow Israelites” (for andres Isra?litai) accurately capture the sense of the Greek. In Acts 17:22 andres Ath?naioi cannot be rendered, ?Fellow Athenians,” because Paul was not from Athens. But ?people of Athens” works well, especially since verse 34 shows that at least one woman, Damaris, was among those explicitly addressed.
As we have said, none of these principles was implemented rigidly without sensitivity to the context and cadence of individual verses. How clusters of words sounded when read aloud, what meaning the immediate context of any given passage contributed to a translational debate and what would communicate the original author’s intentions
most clearly were always taken into account.
What Happened to Some of the Most Famous Texts on Gender Roles?
Almost nothing has changed in the translation of the majority of these texts from the 1984 NIV to the updated NIV. But the careful reader will notice a few differences. Most notable perhaps are:
• Romans 16:1-2 now reads, ?I commend to you our sister, Phoebe, a deacon [diakonos] of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor [prostatis] of many people, including me.” Complementarian and egalitarian scholars alike
are increasingly agreeing that diakonos here means ?deacon” (not just ?servant,” though?servant” is provided as an alternative in the footnote; see also the New Living Translation [NLT] and the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV]) and that prostatis means a patron or benefactor (as in the English Standard Version [ESV] and the Holman Christian Standard Bible [HCSB]), not just someone who was a ?great help” in some unspecified way. But, because different churches use labels for offices or leadership roles in so many, sometimes conflicting, senses, a footnote now explains that ?deacon refers to a Christiandesignated to serve with the overseers/elders of the church in a variety of ways.”
• 1 Corinthians 11:10 now reads, ?It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head.” The expression ?a sign of” before ?authority” in the 1984 NIV did not correspond to anything explicitly in the Greek and is increasingly recognized as an inadequate rendition of this verse. Whether Paul wanted the women in Corinth to wear
an external head covering while praying or prophesying, or simply to have long hair, or
maybe even to wear a partial face veil, the point is they should be able to control what they
do or do not have on their heads.
• 1 Timothy 2:12 now reads, ?I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man.” Much debate has surrounded the rare Greek word authentein, translated in the
1984 NIV as ?exercise authority.” The KJV reflected what some have argued was in some contexts a more negative sense for the word: ?usurp authority.” ?Assume authority” is a particularly nice English rendering because it leaves the question open, as it must be unless we discover new,
more conclusive evidence. The exercise of authority that Paul was forbidding was one that women inappropriately assumed, but whether that referred to all forms of authority over men in church or only certain forms in certain contexts is up to the individual interpreter to decide. Footnotes to verses 11 and 12 also inform the reader that an?r and gun? here could mean ?husband” and ?wife” rather than ?man” and ?woman.”
• 1 Timothy 3:11 now reads, ?In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” A footnote adds, ?Possibly deacons’ wives or women who are deacons.” The Greek root word is gun?, which most commonly means simply a ?woman.” From the context, it is possible that these women were either deacons’ wives or women deacons, but neither can be demonstrated from the word alone. The old American Standard Version (ASV), the New American Standard Bibl(NASB), the New American Bible (NAB) and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) all adopt this translation as well.