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Mark D. Roberts on the TNIV

Mark Roberts, pastor, author and blogger, is in the midst of a series about Today’s New International Version of the Bible. If you are not aware of the TNIV, allow me to explain. “This translation, though closely related to its predecessor, the NIV, is a new translation based upon the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic texts from which we get our English Bible. According to Zondervan, 93% of the TNIV mirrors the NIV, while 7% is a fresh translation. The new material ‘clarifies and updates passages and words to provide a more timely, contemporary English rendition for a new generation of Bible readers.’ Yet the TNIV is not meant to replace the beloved NIV, but to complement it. Nevertheless, Zondervan claims that the TNIV is ‘uncompromisingly accurate Bible translation in today’s language from the translators of the most trusted modern English translation, the NIV.’ This claim to accuracy is central to the TNIV’s purpose.”

This translation received a lot of publicity when Rolling Stone refused to carry an advertisement for it based on religious grounds. After much outcry, the magazine eventually relented. The Rolling Stone advertisement was an important aspect of Zondervan’s marketing plan, because the TNIV is a translation that is meant to bridge the gap between 2005 the thirty years since the NIV was published.

Allow me to interrupt here with a personal note. I find it inconceivable that people can have such difficulty reading a book that was written only thirty years ago. I, and so many other Christians, continue to read and learn from books written even hundreds of years ago. Sure some words have changed, but if one is truly interested in learning, a gap of even a few hundred years is easy enough to overcome.

The TNIV is supported by a long list of popular Evangelicals, a couple of whom are considered quite conservative. However, there is also a group of well-known Evangelicals who have come out in opposition of this new translation. The issue they object to is gender neutrality. The TNIV is one of the first translations, and certainly the first that is likely to garner a large readership, that is almost entirely gender neutral.

There are gender changes throughout the text. For example, where the original reads “brothers,” the TNIV replaces that with “brothers and sisters.” Because English does not have an easy way of indicating both genders in the form of pronouns, “He,” “him,” “his” and “man” are generally replaced by the plural “they.” A noun like “someone” may be followed by a plural pronoun such as “they.” This represents either very poor or rashly feminist grammar usage (some feminists are trying to legitimize these number disagreements for the sake of gender neutrality). Matthew 18:15-20 provides a clear example:

If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you alone. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they refuse to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Note the change in number. If a (singular) brother or sister sins…if they (plural) listen to you, you have won them over. It also bears mention that they original text says merely “brother” and not “brother and sister.”

It is these alterations in gender that have fueled the controversy over the TNIV. Mark Roberts has dedicated five articles to the background of this controversy. He is an able scholar and one who is familiar with the principles and difficulties of translation. In the coming week he intends to write further about his disagreements with the TNIV, and I look forward to his thoughts on the matter. For now, here is a link to the first five articles.


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