God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

More About the Revisions to the (T)NIV

Thanks to A.Admin on Aberration blog for pointing out the recently posted FAQ about the revisions to the (T)NIV.


Of the 31 questions in the FAQ, 7 are specifically about gender, and another few are about “flashpoints” (their word and their scare quotes) — presumably gender and the word sarx — in the translation.

Yet I don’t see any clear division in their answers between “gender inclusivity” and “gender accuracy” (I wrote about the important difference here.) They do say (Answer 5), that “It is not possible at this stage, therefore, to give a definitive answer to the question about the use of gender inclusive language in the new NIV.” But they are also committed (Answer 23), “to accurately translate God’s unchanging word into contemporary English.” It seems to me that that philosophy demands gender accuracy.

Regarding the generic “man” for “people” — and specifically regarding the potential claim (Question 24) on the part of readers that “Christians are intelligent people. We understand that ‘man’ means woman and man.” — the response is that, “As with the NIV founders, we still feel deeply conscious of the need that exists for a Bible that offers the whole church — from experienced Bible-handlers to interested newcomers — access to God’s unchanging word in language that all can understand.” I read this as them saying that experienced Bible-handlers are okay with “man” while newcomers are not. Q/A 25 offers roughly the same answer to the same question asked from the other side of the debate

To me this seems like the wrong way of framing the gender issue (though it might be more helpful regarding technical words like sarx).

According to the FAQ, “Instead of answering [some questions] individually, we have stated the theme of the question and have included the answer. Other questions are as they appeared when sent to the site, altered in some cases to correct spelling and grammatical errors.”

This approach is potentially important for understanding Question 16: “I am saddened to hear that the TNIV will no longer be in print. […] I certainly hope that the new NIV2011 Bible will lack the divisiveness of its predecessor, but please prayerfully consider the importance of gender-inclusive language, especially in cases where it is actually more faithful to the original text. God used the TNIV to bring me (and I suspect many other thoughtful women) even closer to Himself as I felt him speaking more directly to me as his daughter” (my italics).

I know there are people who think that gendered language should be used for God in English; others vehemently disagree. I wonder if the inclusion of a question phrased like 16 gives us a clue about the direction of the next (T)NIV. (To me, it sounds like the authors of the FAQ wrote both the answer and the question in this case, paying careful attention to the words.)

General Philosophy

Q/A 22 restates what we already know. The new translation will not attempt to be a word-for-word translation. The question is, “Who are you to change the language of the Bible? (This is a general question many have asked in polite and not-so-polite ways.) and the answer is “Translators of the Bible are sometimes accused of ‘changing the words of God.’ Guilty: Anyone who translates the Bible changes every one of ‘God’s words’ — because ‘God’s words’ have come to us in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. […] The real question, then, is how best to translate the original words of God into English words.” The answer then explains that the word-for-word approach doesn’t work.

Answer 29 gives a little more detail: “The committee simply considers how best to communicate the original authors’ ideas and the cadence of their language in the way they would have spoken themselves had they been speaking in English to the global English-speaking audience today.”

It’s a tall order.


September 21, 2009 - Posted by | Bible versions, translation theory | , , , , ,


  1. […] released a set of FAQ answers, at least based on questions submitted at their website. Thanks to Joel and Suzanne for the […]

    Pingback by Gentle Wisdom» Blog Archive » Answers about the NIV update | September 21, 2009

  2. “The author’s ideas” would then mean rendering in the context of the author’s culture and not our own. If they stick to that goal, it would seem to me that they’d be less than politically correct.

    Comment by Gary Simmons | November 15, 2009

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