More Detail on the NIV 2011 Issue and the CBMW Statement
Since some have asked for content details on my earlier post, I am going to look at a few texts discussed in the CBMW statement on the NIV 2011. Let me begin by saying I have no complaint with someone wishing to take a close look at how a translation handles the text. We need to handle God’s Word with care.
Nor do I question the motives of anyone who accepts the statement. I simply am raising the question whether the statement adequately addresses the issue of the quality of the translation of the NIV as a whole. One point I will consistently make is whether the rendering really undercuts the text in a way that distorts its authority, meaning and application. There will be some texts where I will agree with the CBMW statement that the rendering is less than what it should be. In other places I will argue the complaint is overdrawn.
1 Timothy 2:12
This is a key example where the CBMW is correct. It may well be that this is the text that matters most to the CBMW. It is 1 Timothy 2:12. The NIV has “assume authority” “have authority” or “exercise authority” in its rendering of this verse. I think the statement’s complaint here is right and fair. There is no alternative in the margin, either. That is yet another unfortunate feature of the rendering. I suspect this rendering bothered the statement writers more than any other in their list.
So how to handle it? This is an example where I would continue to appeal for a revision on the principle that any translation has places where one can improve it. Of all the examples I will treat, this is the one that merits more reconsideration by the NIV committee than any other text.
Here I find the statement fair in discussing the options of the verse, but opting for a choice that is less than likely. They get there by two means: (1) arguing Junia is likely male and (2) suggesting rendering apostle as messenger. This covers their bases twice. The problem is that IF Junia is male, there is no reason to soften the rendering of apostle. One senses both moves are being made to protect the passage for a desired result.
And let us be clear about the charge of being “feminist.” If the text reads in the way the NIV renders it and is intended with that meaning it is NOT a feminist reading, since feminism came 20 centuries after the writing of this text. This kind of characterization of the debate over what the text means is a problem in the statement in my view. It imposes emotion about a current cultural political debate onto the discussion about what the text means. The statement is aware the reading the NIV gives is a common one for the verse and that its rendering is disputed. There is irony here. The complaint against the NIV is that these changes and sensitivity concerning gender rendering would never have been made without our changing cultural climate. It actually is an observation I think is true. However, the same thing in reverse is taking place in this response to this verse by labeling the reading anachronistically feminist. So both sides are reacting with current cultural concerns in play rather than simply examining the text.
1 Corinthians 13:33-34
This is a case of the statement making too much of a clausal move. The claim is that moving the remark to what happens with order and disorder separates it from the remark about silence for women in all the churches. I think this judgment is simply wrong. If the principle of God being a God of order and peace is true in the churches with the example about women’s silence being the example, then the point applies to both the principle in general AND the example it reflects. Many of my complaints about the statement reflect such a over-reading of the text that isolates the linguistic discussion too much.
This complaint is odd to me in a document that is saying be as literal and precise as possible. The complaint is that the rendering “deacon” will mislead churches where deacons have a governing role in the church (because we have a woman tied to the title deacon or servant). Nowhere does the complaint reflect on the fact that the biblical term for this highest oversight slot is elder or overseer. In other words, the request is to render with a sensitivity to the current terminology and scope of a text, something the statement complains about elsewhere when the NIV does it as it relates to gender (not office). This concern is a Baptist one. So by raising it, the standard applied to the complaint in other texts is ignored here. Is it because the concern fits a category acceptable to the writers versus the other texts that run counter to such a concern? What is good for the goose ought to be good for the gander.
What I say about 1 Timothy 2:12 about the NIV applies here to the statement. Reconsider this complaint about this verse.
Changes of Father to Parent in Proverbs or son to child
This is a class change complaint of the same type with two kinds of changes. It is correct that the more precise rendering is father or son. An additional linguistic question is this. Does the rendering violate the application of the text? One might prefer a rendering of father or son here, but by speaking of the parent and child submission has one really altered the meaning of the text in a significant way? I think most of us would recognize that the point of the text is about parent-child relationships and not just father-son ones. We would not say in teaching this text that it has no point of contact with mothers and sons or mothers and daughters or single parent homes. Proverbs 1:8 makes it clear that mothers are in view as well as fathers, so the main issue is parent-child relationships. My point here is that either rendering works. We potentially gain and lose with each choice. But all would inherently understand the scope of the example and thus what its ultimate force is. In sum, too much is being made of what is lost here, given it makes the ultimate force of the example clear. (I put the later complaint about the change from mighty men to mighty warriors in the same kind of camp [2 Sam 23:8]. Had the rendering been “mighty Amazons,” then the complaint would have had merit. For my ear, when I hear warrior, I think of a male.).
Changes of He or Him to Them or They
A large number of changes the statement challenges fall into this class if I am reading the early charts correctly. John 14:23 is a good example to consider. The passage speaks of a class of people to start when it speaks of anyone loving me. It is clear we have more than a single person in view and this linguistically frames what follows. The following plural (The Father will love them) keeps this class in view. It reflects the force of the text as a whole and its scope in a way the singular in English may miss. Again, my point is not that to render this in the singular is wrong. No, the point is that a plural does not violate the class force of the text when it is considered as a whole. So again either rendering can and does work. There is NO removal of the Father and Son dwelling with the individual since that is included in the reference to the class. The Father and Son indwell all who are referred to, both as individuals and as a class. So that point is misdirected in my view.
I have simply noted a few examples in my survey. I could go on, but my point is simply to have us pause and reflect on whether the scope of complaint against the NIV as a good translation is met by the kinds of things the CBMW statement raises. In most cases, I think the statement’s complaint does not show the translation is flawed in a way that distorts the meaning and application of the sacred text we all respect. I am keeping the focus on the issue of translation quality here. That is the issue that matters to all of us who regard the Bible as God’s Word. We should be careful about how the text is rendered. Everyone on all sides is right to care about this which is why it generates so much response. All, I think, are well motivated to try and be faithful to the text. We are making different judgments about which renderings do that the best. In sum, I think the CBMW statement overreaches in its complaint in many of its categories, which is why my initial blog on this topic called the complaint unfortunate. The statement is right to complain about 1 Timothy 2:12 in my view. What this discussion needs is some balance. That is what I hope this survey helps to provide.