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“Farewell NIV”?

September 12, 2013

Not long ago a friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article at The Cripplegate called “Farewell NIV.  My friend expressed her regret that the NIV (New International Version) of the Bible was gone and said she would miss it. I was surprised.  The NIV was out in an updated version, I knew, but it hadn’t gone anywhere.

Jesse Johnson, author of the Cripplegate article, puts it this way:

A brief history of the NIV: Translated in 1984, it quickly became one of the most popular versions, especially in schools. Then in 2002 Zondervan released an update (TNIV), which went over as well as New Coke, and the beloved NIV was resurrected. This time Zondervan learned from their errors, and released an update that they called the NIV2011, and for one year they sold both it and the NIV. But with a name like NIV2011, shelf-life was obviously not in view, and last year they simply dropped the old and beloved NIV, and then shrewdly dropped the “2011” from the updated one. In short, they pulled a switcheroo. What you see on shelves today is the new version which is sold and marketed as the NIV.

Although I know there was some discussion in the past here at BLT on the way Zondervan was handling the different versions of the NIV,  it seems to me that there’s something disingenuous about claiming Zondervan has pulled some kind of a switch. Isn’t it a normal Bible-publishing thing to do, to release a new version which is then called by the same name as the earlier version, and to then discontinue the older one?  After all, unlike the TNIV, the NIV 2011 was never given a different name than the 1984 NIV; the publishing dates were only used to distinguish the two.  As far as I can see, it was reasonable of Zondervan to replace the 1984 NIV with an updated version.  There are folks who claim the only true Bible is the 1611 King James Version, but that doesn’t mean the publishers of the KJV were pulling a switch when they released versions after 1611 and still called them the King James Version.

Why would someone (instead of simply saying they have decided to switch from the NIV to another version) say, as Johnson says in his opening sentence, “The NIV Bible is no more”?

Johnson gives two main reasons why he will not use the new version of the NIV.  The first is “the gender issues.”  He says it’s fine with him if the NIV uses plural pronouns and other ways of rendering some of the language gender-neutral, but

many passages have masculine pronouns that possibly have messianic implications. For example Psalm 1:1 in the classic NIV vs. the New NIV: “blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” vs. “blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked.” Is there possibly an allusion to the Messiah that has been obscured with the gender neutral pronoun?

The other reason Johnson gives is theological:

that they allow their understanding of “overall theology” to affect how they render verses. When I got my first copy of the new NIV, I sat down and spent almost the whole day reading it (one of the reasons I love being a pastor). I saw things I liked and didn’t like, but then I got to 2 Cor 5:17. The new NIV says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” I am not as troubled by the way they rendered that verse as I am by the reasoning they gave for how they did it. . .  It sounds like they are saying that their understanding of Paul’s “overall theology” (which in their view reads like some sort of post-millenialism) justifies moving away from a verse that is often memorized and turned to as a clear declaration of the radical nature of an individual’s salvation.  In other words, they take a verse about how cool it is to get saved, and change it to what reads like post-mil who-ha.

If Johnson wants to see a possible reference to the Messiah in Psalm 1:1, that’s his preference, but I don’t think it’s actually there in that particular text, and I’m not sure why he should expect the translators to support his interpretive preference.  In any event, there really isn’t any reason why “the one” cannot be a Messianic reference simply because it isn’t specifically masculine.  What was most important about Jesus, His humanity or His maleness?  If it was His maleness, then all of us who are female are partially disenfranchised from Christ.  We may be saved by our male Savior, but we can’t identify with Him or be His representatives to the world.  This is essentially a Roman Catholic viewpoint, and I’m not sure why as a Protestant, Johnson wants to adopt it.

As for “he is a new creation” being turned into “the new creation has come” in 2 Cor. 5:17, the fact is that in the original Greek there is no “he is”– as this online interlinear  of 2 Corinthians 5 shows.  The passage does appear to read, when looked at in the interlinear, as though the person who is “in Christ” is an example of the new creation– not that the person, individually, is a new creation.  In other words, I don’t think this passage is about individual salvation alone; it’s about all the “old things” passing away and the new coming.  Why that concept should be interpreted specifically as post-millennialism, I am really unsure.  Surely the new creation can be both coming and have begun to come– “already but not yet,” I’ve heard it said– without  necessarily meaning we are in the millennial age spoken of in the book of Revelation?

I just don’t think this 2011 NIV is doing the things Johnson says it’s doing to cancel out his favorite doctrines.  So I disagree with his beefs as he presents them.  Further, I simply cannot see that any of these are justifications to tell everyone that the NIV as a translation has ceased to exist.

I actually like the NIV in its current update, and since there are two old versions and two new versions in my house, I’m certain the NIV is still here.  I am also quite aware that the real reason many evangelicals are against the new NIV is not because of missed Messianic references or new-creation language choices.  The real reason is set forth in the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 2011 Resolution:

 Southern Baptists repeatedly have .  . . urged every Bible publisher and translation group to resist “gender-neutral” translation of Scripture.

My understanding of “gender-neutral ” is that wherever the translators believed a word in the original text could refer to either or both sexes, the new NIV uses English that can refer to either or both sexes.  The reason for this is that though in the English of past generations, masculine words and pronouns were often read as including both genders, this is no longer the case with today’s English.  As our own Suzanne said her blog Suzanne’s Bookshelf  back in June of 2011:

However, today, readers are no longer able to understand that the English pronoun “he” is generic and often occurs in English where there is no pronoun at all in Greek.

She cited how 1 Timothy 5:8 is often read nowadays as an admonishment to men to provide for their families, even though the context of this verse includes women taking care of their widowed mothers– but because the word “man” is used in the translation, even Bible scholars apparently tend to read it as referring to men only.

The really interesting thing is that, based on a detailed study I was invited to do by J.K. Gayle of this blog, back when he was blogging at Aristotle’s Feminist Subject, the SBC’s own favored Bible versions actually use gender-neutral language in multiple places where the NIV 1984 used male-gendered language.  As we looked at the translation changes together, it became clear to both of us that the SBC doesn’t truly object in general to changes from male-gendered language to gender-neutral language– because its official version, the HCSB, and its highly recommended version, the ESV, both frequently use gender-neutral language where the 1984 NIV did not.  The only place where the SBC consistently objects to the NIV 2011’s use of gender-neutral terms is when the translation might have a bearing on women in leadership.

Here’s what I think is really going on:

As I said, English usage has changed in recent years such that masculine constructions are no longer considered gender-inclusive. This change largely came about to address women’s concerns about the way English held up maleness as the norm or default, while the language treated femaleness as an exception or deviation from that norm.  But the result of changing the way we speak to include women specifically, is (as Suzanne pointed out) that the masculine forms are now largely understood as referring only to men.  

Thus, holding onto masculine construction in the Bible wherever a passage might impact male-female relations, is a way to control the way people read the Bible. Who gets to decide when a particular usage of “man,” “he” or “brothers” is gender-inclusive and when it means men only? The church leaders do.  

Thus, these leaders can take advantage of the modern usage change whenever it suits them. Most people– especially younger people– don’t automatically understand “humans” where a passage says “men” anymore, or “Christians” when a passage says “brothers”– so when the Bible says “men” or “brothers,” readers are going to read it as male-only, unless the leaders tell them it’s gender-inclusive in a particular instance.  And passages that say “brothers” are often only read as gender-inclusive when the passage is talking about salvation. Everything else is to be read as meaning “only male Christians.”  I came up against this a while back in a discussion where I was told that in 1 Corinthians 14:26, it was only male “brothers” who could come to a church assembly with “a psalm, a teaching, a revelation,” etc.– while a few verses later in 1 Corinthians 15:1, Paul was now speaking to both men and women when he said, “Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel.”

It is interesting in light of this to note that in my observation, it’s often older church members– people over 55 or so– who are more tolerant of women having more freedom and equality in the church. I think they’re used to reading the masculine forms gender-inclusively– they’ve been doing it all their lives– and therefore are more resistant to insistence that “‘brothers’ means ‘men only’ unless we leaders tell you otherwise.”

Anyway, this may have something to do with why Jesse Johnson over at The Cripplegate has not just personally decided to switch Bible versions, but is writing to persuade the blog’s readership not to move from the 1984 NIV to the NIV 2011, by publicly bidding “farewell” to the NIV and claiming that it “is no more.”  This is especially likely because at least one article over at The Cripplegate establishes it as firmly in the male-only leadership camp.

I may be wrong, and this may just be about Messianic references and eschatology– but it’s really hard for me to imagine that those alone, as presented, would be reasons to not just stop reading the NIV, but to sign its death certificate and attempt to bury it.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2013 11:42 am

    We may be saved by our male Savior, but we can’t identify with Him or be His representatives to the world. This is essentially a Roman Catholic viewpoint

    Er, not so much: the Roman Catholic issue is narrowly focused on the sacramentally ordained priesthood, and the arguments are focused primarily on the absence of women among the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus (“Jesus didn’t choose women, therefore we can’t”) and often secondarily on the priest’s role in re-presenting Jesus at the Last Supper during the celebration of the eucharist. For church traditions in which ordination is not a sacrament intrinsically linked with the apostolic succession, the situation is different.

    The Roman Catholic laity, both women and men, certainly are taught to identify with Jesus and to be his representatives to the world.

    With regard to Psalm 1:1,

    In any event, there really isn’t any reason why “the one” cannot be a Messianic reference simply because it isn’t specifically masculine. What was most important about Jesus, His humanity or His maleness?

    Indeed, the Council of Nicaea could have composed the Christological article of the Creed as “and became man (et vir factus est)”, but did not: the Creed reads “and became human” (et homo factus est).

    (I eventually realized this because I’d sung Latin Mass settings in a secular choir, and I knew enough Latin for vir and homo, not because of any church teaching or preaching. How sad is that?)

    Interestingly (and sadly), it looks like the Roman Catholic NAB translation went the opposite direction of the NIV. My first response to your post was to pull my NAB off the shelf, where I read this:

    Happy those* who do not follow
    the counsel of the wicked

    *Those: literally, “the man.” That word is used here and in many of the Psalms as typical, and therefore is translated “they.”

    Then I figured it would be easier to cut&paste from the online version, so I went to the bible translation at the US Council of Catholic Bishops site, which is the 2011 NABre (revised edition), which says this:

    Blessed is the man who does not walk
    in the counsel of the wicked,

    with no corresponding footnote.

    Out of curiosity, I peeked at the Vulgate, which says vir.

  2. krwordgazer permalink
    September 15, 2013 2:57 pm

    Victoria, I appreciate your comments! And that is very interesting about the word “human” in the Nicene Creed, and how different Roman Catholic translations have dealt differently with the word in Psalm 1.

    But I do think there’s an inherent contradiction in saying only men can be priests because only a man can represent Christ at the Last Supper, but that all Catholics can represent Christ to the world. The point I was making is that Catholicism teaches that somehow Christ’s maleness is more important than His simple humanity when it comes to the priesthood. But why would His maleness be more important than His simple humanity in that central aspect of the mass, and not in any other area?

    In any event, I see a continuity between the belief that maleness in a priest can better direct a participant towards Christ, and the belief that male-genderedness in a word can better direct a reader towards Christ. These are in essence the same thing.


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