In Defense of the NIV 2011

Darrell L. Bock's picture

I regard the recent response to the NIV 2011 by some as unfortunate.

The SBC resolution came from the floor and not from the committee that studied the question. I suspect the CBMW has invested too much in the gender issue to look at these texts in a balanced manner. Their theory of translation was questioned in the original dispute by many top evangelical scholars and the credentials of those working on the NIV are impeccable.

One of my mentors, Ken Barker, worked on the original translation and chaired the committee for years. He was and is well qualified to work on this translation and has been comfortable with the result. Doug Moo is among the finest of evangelical NT scholars today and has taken conservative positions on gender issues for years. This means that the idea or charge of a gender neutering in the NIV 2011 is extremely misdirected. It is a shame this controversy has emerged again (though fortunately with less intensity than the earlier discussion). We all know translations are not perfect, but the NIV has served the church well for decades and will continue to do so. It belongs with the many fine English translations English speaking people have access to today. It can serve as a solid base from which to discuss God's Word. Those who complain about a rendering here and there need to recall that experts do that with every translation because some translation choices are close calls in terms of meaning and context. It sends very much the wrong signal to the church to overreact to a translation of this excellent quality. My hope would be that scholars and pastors can feel comfortable using the NIV 2011. Discuss its renderings here and there. That is normal and healthy as we all wrestle with what God's Word means precisely, but overreaction or acting as if this translation is seriously flawed is a response that teaches the church far less than a healthy engagement with its well rendered text.

I make this note as one who has worked on several translation, knowing how hard such work is. (I have had no role in working on the NIV, so I am merely an observer on this issue.) I also want to assure those who use the NIV that it remains a useful translation, one among many of the best we have.

Comments

As a Southern Baptist, I wish a perspective like this had been offered at the convention before the vote. No one spoke against the resolution. It was clear from those who spoke for the resolution there was a lot of confusion. (Accusations of gender-neutral language for God, followed by audible applause was the most egregious.) 

I've been comparing the new NIV to the 1984 version and many other translations as I've been preaching through Romans 7-8. I've found the changes made to be right on the mark and actually think the 2011 NIV gets those passages better than any other available English translation. 

This is an issue that's easy to obscure and oversimplify, and I'm afraid that's a lot of what we're seeing. No doubt any translation will have areas people are going to disagree over. But to condemn the whole translation is, in my opinion, to blow those issues way out of proportion.

I find the above interesting.  I believe a great weakness in argument is shown when "trust the experts" is the foundation.  Don't trust the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood's experts is the second argument.  The root question is this: Is every word of the Bible inspired?  If yes, then pronouns with their original gender need to be translated accurately. 

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Tim:

When we are in a context where we say anyone and then translate either him or them, we are saying the same thing linguistically. So the issue is not the pronouns have been mistranslated. They have been rendered in terms of what they ultimately mean and how wide the intended reference is.

As for trusting the experts, i suspect you want translators who are competent in the language to do the work. Who should do translation but those expert int e language? What I find amazing is that a vast majority of those on the NIV team are conservative when it comes to women's issues, yet they are accused of having an agenda. Something their actual work on the topic has not indicated. All of this tells me the criticism is exaggerated and misdirected. That is the basis for questioning the CBMW response. I argued they were misguided in their initial criticism for the most part (Some texts in the TNIV did deserve critique and I said so in public pieces I wrote on the issue), but it is by far less the case now.

@Tim276, so I assume you're in favor of translating pronoun references to the Holy Spirit as "she" in the OT and "it" in the NT? Because that's what would happen if translators took your advice and translated "pronouns with their original [read: grammatical] gender."

It is helpful in this discussion to note that neuter pronouns are used in ref. to the Holy Spirit at times. Would Tim prefer the translation "It" in those cases?

It is fashionable for special interest groups to take biased positions; otherwise, their financial supporters bail out. So, CBMW's position was sadly predictable.

So far I find the gender decisions in NIV 2011 to be quite reasonable with no evidence of "gender neutering." I also find that the NIV 2011 is a considerable improvement over NIV 1984 because it is considerably more restrained in introducing interpretation into the translation. For example NIV 2011 has abandoned the idea of translating the Greek sarx with the phrase "sinful nature," one of the worst ideas NIV 1984 expressed.

For the moment, I consider NIV 2011 to be neck and neck with ESV in the tradeoff between clarity and fidelity to the original text. The NET Bible is also good. Pastors and scholars should continue to evaluate NIV 2011 and spurn the efforts of special interests like CBMW. I think NIV 2011 will easily stand up to the scrutiny if given a fair chance.

-Barry

Thanks for your support for the new NIV.

My initial reaction when reading the principles of the CBT re the NIV2011 was that I expected something good. It then occurred to me that whatever needs to be said to curry favour with whoever will probably be said and so I didn't hold out hopes too much.

Having looked at a few passages and compared English translations and my elementary knowledge of Greek I have appreciated the translation and its philosophy. The problem is that the layperson doesn't actually know what goes into translating. I one of my first Greek lectures in which the lecturer gave us the Italian quote, "Tradutorre Traditore" i.e. "The translator is a traitor" (I probably remember that because I enjoyed the irony).

As has been said, it's not as simple as saying, "Oh, it's masculine. Therefore, it's talking about males". "Brothers" is clearly not used by Paul to address the men in the congregation alone in every instance (though perhaps this is true of some) unless you want to try to argue for something like women being saved through child bearing? Maybe that's not the best route to take for conservatives though.

I read CBMW's article and didn't think too highly of it anyway. What seems to be lacking in the whole debate is scholarly debate that the layman can grasp. I'm still not as critical of CBMW as some have been and although I'm not perfectly happy with the NIV2011 I'm not going to relegate it as willingly as others have but I have the advantage of enough Greek to make informed comments on translation decisions.

Thanks for the balanced article. I had thought perhaps I was alone in my liberal-conservative opinions.

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