God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

Gender in the Updated NIV

According to the translators’ notes for the updated (“2011”) NIV, “every single change introduced into the committee’s last major revision (the TNIV) relating to inclusive language for humanity was reconsidered.” This is in keeping with an announcement the translators made in 2009.

Some people were concerned about this, because they were afraid the translation committee might reverse some of the progress the TNIV made in preserving gender accuracy.

From the quick look I took today, it seems that the gender-neutral translations for humanity have largely been preserved.

OT Examples

For example, the phrase ashrei adam appears six times. In all six places, the TNIV had “those” for adam, an update from the 1984 “man” in five out of six of the instances.

In half of those cases (Psalm 32:2, Psalm 84:16, and Proverbs 28:14), the NIV2011 changes “those” to “the one,” while in the other half (Psalm 84:6(5), Proverbs 3:13(12), and Proverbs 8:34) the newer version retains “those.” I think it’s unfortunate that ashrei adam now enjoys two translations in English, but I think the more important point is that the gender neutrality was preserved in the new NIV.

Likewise, Psalm 1:1 with its similar asrei ha-ish is now “one.” It was “those” in the TNIV, and “man” in the older NIV84.

In Psalm 147:10, surprisingly, the NIV translators chose “warrior” for ha-ish. I think it’s a mistake, but it still demonstrates a commitment to gender accuracy in translation.

NT Examples

On the other hand, for Matthew 4:4 (ouk ep’ arto zisetai o anthropos), the NIV2011 reverses a decision made by the TNIV, reverting to “man” (which is what NIV84 had) for anthropos: “Man shall not live on bread alone.”

This is confusing. Unless the translators think that “man” is gender inclusive, the translation is wrong. But if they do think that “man” is inclusive, it’s not clear why they didn’t use it elsewhere.
Continue reading


November 1, 2010 Posted by | Bible versions, translation practice, translation theory | , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

On “Hearing the Word the Way it Was Written”

The updated NIV has been released on-line. According both to an interview with Douglas Moo and to the translators’ notes (available in PDF format), one goal of the NIV is “hearing the Word the way it was written,” which, Dr. Moo explains, means “trying to reflect in English something of the form of the original text.”

I’ve already explained why I think mimicking the form of the original is a bad idea.

I’m not sure what “reflect” means when Dr. Moo says he wants to “reflect … the form of the original.” It sounds like he means “mimic.”

But to properly translate Hebrew or Greek into English, the Hebrew and Greek forms have to be translated into appropirate English ones, not merely mimicked, just as vocubulary has to be translated.

For example, the Greek word isuchia has a variety of possible English translations: “Silence,” “quiet,” “quietude,” “quietness,” etc. are all reasonable choices. But the way to decide among these possibilites is not to ask which has the most sounds in common with the Greek isuchia, or which has the same number of syllables, or to look at any other formal quality of the word. For instance, it’s usually a bad idea to rule out “silence” as a translation because it has only half the number of syllables as the Greek, or because it has two sibilant sounds (“s”) where the Greek has only one.

It is the same kind of mistake to think that the English translation for en isuchia must have two words, and that one of them must be “in,” to match the Greek en. Yet in I Timothy 2:11 that’s exactly what we find in the (old and new) NIV: “A women should learn in quietness.” This translation is all the more astonishing because just one verse later, the same Greek phrase is correctly translated as “[she must be] quiet,” not “[she must be] in quietness.”

I chose these verses because — as David Ker points out (in a PDF as part of a post) — NIV11 changed some of the wording here. So we know that the translation committee took note of this passage.

My point is not to highlight a mistake — I know as well as anyone that publishing a translation means publishing at least one mistake. Rather, I wonder about the approach that led to “in quietness” even being considered, let alone accepted.

It seems like a case of “hearing the Word the way it was written,” and, I think, it highlights the drawbacks of that approach.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | translation practice, translation theory | , , , | 1 Comment

The Updated NIV is Online as of Today

As expected, the much-anticipated updated NIV went on-line today at Bible Gateway.

The new translation doesn’t seem to have a name that distinguishes it from older translations of the same name. It’s just called the “NIV.”

Unfortunately, the previous two NIV translations — the TNIV and what I guess we’ll have to call the “old NIV” — have been removed from the site. [Update: The older translations can still be found on Bible Gateway’s beta site.]

Notes from the translation committee are available in PDF format here.

More soon.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | announcements | , , , , | 3 Comments