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Critic Casts Doubts on Zondervan's 'Gender-Accurate' Bible

  • Allie Martin and Jenni Parker Authors
  • Published Mar 29, 2005
Critic Casts Doubts on Zondervan's 'Gender-Accurate' Bible

The debate continues over the release of the latest modern English translation of the Bible. Today's New International Version (TNIV) Bible from Zondervan Publishing is the result of 10 years of research by Bible scholars and theologians, but its recent release has been met with controversy nonetheless.

Paul Caminiti is vice president and publisher for Bibles with Zondervan. He says the TNIV is needed to reflect changes in the English language over time, especially as the changes relate to expressions of gender. "When I was being educated, the generic 'he' was representative of all humanity," he explains. "But back in 1973, for example, [book publisher] McGraw-Hill began changing the way the masculine 'he' was used – and it was no longer representative of all humankind."

The Zondervan spokesman says it was with such changes in mind that the TNIV translators worked to develop a version of scripture that reflected the intent of the biblical writers while making use of contemporary English. For instance, he says, "There are passages of scripture that say God wants 'all men' to be saved. It's very clear from both the Greek language and also the intent and the context of the writer that God's intention was not simply that all males be saved, but that He wants all people to be saved."

In such situations, Caminiti explains, the translators felt the biblical writers' obvious intent dictated the use of more generic terms rather than the archaic "universal" ones. "So in some places in the TNIV it's rendered to be more inclusive than exclusive – which frankly is necessary if this next generation is going to understand the gospel," he says.

However, the TNIV has its share of critics. Among them is Dr. Wayne Grudem, a professor at Phoenix Seminary and a biblical scholar who feels many of the revisions in the TNIV go beyond addressing gender and actually change the meaning of God's Word.

"One example is Psalm 34:20," Grudem asserts. "The NIV says, correctly, 'He protects all His bones – not one of them will be broken.' And that's fulfilled in the crucifixion of Jesus in John 19:36. But the TNIV obscures that prediction; it changes it to plural: 'He protects all their bones – not one of them will be broken.' And you don't any longer see a picture of a righteous man who is protected by the heavenly Father."

In the King James Version, Psalm 34 reads, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all. He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken." Notably in the KJV, the NIV, and other popular translations, every other reference to "the righteous" throughout the psalm is understood by the translators to be plural. Only in verse 20 of the psalm is the phrase "the righteous" followed by the pronouns "him" and "his," relating the antecedent specifically to a singular male (and by inference, prophetically to Christ), rather than more generally to all those the psalmist collectively calls "the righteous." The TNIV translators appear to have taken cues from verses 15 and 17 of Psalm 34 and decided that verse 20 should be plural also, for consistency.

TNIV: Relevant Revision or Unnecessary Update?

The TNIV was translated by the Committee on Bible Translation, the same body that translated the New International Version (NIV). The committee translators claim not only that the latter version is more gender accurate and more precise in its rendering of the intended meaning of the original Greek and Hebrew texts, but also that its changes reflect advances in biblical scholarship.

Zondervan officials tout the TNIV as fresher and more accessible than other versions, and they claim the changes that make its language more contemporary also make it more readable, relevant, and understandable to modern readers. Caminiti says the new translation is designed specifically to target 18- to 34-year-olds.

However, Grudem says there are several modern English translations of the Bible that manage to be fresh and accessible without changing the meaning of scripture as he feels the TNIV does. He believes many of the changes that the TNIV's translators claim make the text more understandable were unnecessary.

"Who can't understand 'He keeps all His bones – not one of them is broken'?" the Phoenix Seminary professor asks. "That's English. What's the need to change that? Who can't understand 'What is man that You are mindful of him, the Son of Man that You care for Him?' Those are first-grade words – those haven't changed."

According to Grudem, time and culture have not altered English usage or the understanding of the scriptures to the extent that some translators would suggest. "The meanings of the words 'father,' 'son,' 'brother,' 'man,' and 'he,' 'him,' and 'his' haven't changed, and the meanings of the original Greek and Hebrew words haven't changed," he says. Rather, it is the Committee on Bible Translation that has changed, the professor contends, and he believes he knows why.

"I think they've changed because there's been cultural pressure in our society to avoid the use of male-oriented examples when teaching a general truth," Dr. Grudem says. And that is why, he maintains, the TNIV is a serious threat to the accuracy of God's Word.

© 2005 AgapePress.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.