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Published Date: January 31, 2011

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Book Review: The 2011 NIV Bible

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As I write this review, a worn Bible rests on my desk: the NIV (New International Version) that I owned as a teenager in the 1990s. The sixteenth chapter of Romans bears a number of excited markings put there by my teenage self. “Junias” in verse 7 is circled with the “s” blotted out. Elsewhere, I have scribbled the words “Female Apostle!!!,” and “Junia” is written again in big letters with a silver glittery pen-the “i” in “Junia” is dotted with a heart, of course. Verses 1-2 are marked, and the footnote indicating that Phoebe may have been a “deaconess” instead of a “servant” is highlighted. Why did I feel the need to amend this version of the Bible?                                          

When I was sixteen years old, I first conducted an examination of what the Bible says about women. A skeptical friend had pointed me to passages such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15, and I was reeling. I had never read the Bible all the way through, nor had these issues been discussed in the churches I attended, so I had never really considered the allegations of misogyny in the Bible. I had a difficult time reconciling my belief in a God who loved his redeemed daughters every bit as much as his redeemed sons with the idea that women were, by divine design, subordinate (to me “inferior”) to men.

For a teenager, my study was intense. My trusty NIV Study Bible (1995) was soon marked up with lists of what the Bible said about women among the people of lsrael and the New Testament church. The next source I turned to was the Internet, where I read everything I could find, including hierarchist Web sites. Eventually, I discovered an egalitarian site that pointed out how Paul had called Phoebe a “deacon” and a “patron” and Junia an “apostle,” but that many translations had obscured this by making Phoebe a “servant” and “helper” and turning Junia into the male “Junias.”

I rechecked my NIV Study Bible and-sure enough-Phoebe was a “servant” and “a great help to many,” while Junia was “Junias.” The footnotes did acknowledge that Phoebe might be a “deaconess,” and some of the study Bible notes did a better job touching on the controversies surrounding these passages, but I still felt betrayed. Why did I have to learn about these things from egalitarian Web sites and study Bible notes instead of just reading about them in God’s word as the Holy Spirit intended?


The NIV-2011 and the TNIV

When I became an adult and a mother myself, I also became a fan of the TNIV (Today’s New International Version). Its New Testament was initially published in 2002 and later updated and republished along with its Old Testament in 2005. It remedied many of the concerns I had with the old NIV’s treatment of gender in a translation that was both modern and articulate, and it was this translation I chose to read to my own daughter every night before she went to bed. My heart broke when I learned that a number of evangelical scholars, pastors, and leaders had participated in a questionable campaign against the TNIV,1 and it broke even more when the Committee on Bible Translation announced that it was retiring the TNIV along with the 1984 NIV in favor of revising and rereleasing the NIV for 2011.2

Now that the 2011 NIV has been released online and is set for full publication in March, fans of the TNIV may be curious how they compare. What follows is an analysis of the updated NIV’s treatment of key passages involving women as well as its use of gender-inclusive language. TNIV fans will be grateful that a number of the things they loved live on in the NIV-11, and, in some places, the new NIV has even found room for improvement. However, they may be disappointed that the NIV-11 is not always consistent in its treatment of gender. At times, it utilizes gender­ exclusive words when inclusive ones would have worked just as well.


Psalm 68:11

As with many other languages (including Greek), Hebrew masculine plural verbs can have subjects that are exclusively male, or they may be male and female; typically, only context can tell. However, when a feminine plural is used, women are exclusively in view. Sadly, the feminine plural participle mebasarot (“to proclaim good news”) in Psalm 68:11 has often been translated in a way that obscures the gender of the ones proclaiming (underlines mine):

King James Version: The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.

New Revised Standard Version: The Lord gives the command; great is the company* of those who bore the tidings (fn: *Or [company of the women]).

Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB): The Lord gave the command; a great company of women brought the good news.

English Standard Version (ESV): The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host.

NIV-84/TNIV: The Lord announced the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it.

NIV-11: The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng.

In spite of its alleged feminist agenda, the TNIV trailed behind several translations heavily favored by hierarchists (ESV, HCSB) in correcting Psalm 68:11. Happily, with the NIV-11, NIV readers will finally have an accurate rendering of this lovely, poetic verse.


Romans 16:1-2

As noted in my introduction, the NIV-84 was one of many translations to designate diakonon Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2 as a “servant,” with “deaconess” relegated to a footnote. Interestingly, when the term diakonos is applied to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6, this same NIV-84 translates it “minister.” The exact same Greek word, which for Phoebe was rendered “servant,” for Timothy was translated “minister.” However, Helen Barrett Montgomery in her 1924 translation (New Testament in Modern English)3 and the Revised English Bible (1992) have had the consistency to translate it “minister” for both Phoebe and Timothy. The NIV-84 also diminished the force of prostatis to “a great help” instead of “patron” or “benefactor”:

NIV-84: I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant* of the church in Cenchrea…. [S]he has been a great help to many people, including me (fn: *Or deaconess).

TNIV: I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon* of the church in Cenchreae…. [S]he has been the benefactor of many people, including me (fn: *Or servant).

The NIV-11 maintains the TNIV’s changes, moving “deacon” to the main text and “servant” to a footnote. In doing so, the translators have brought the NIV in agreement with the witness of Origen4 and arguably the context of the passage itself.5 Likewise, Phoebe continues to be a proper “benefactor” instead of a “great help.” The only change is the addition of a lengthy contextual footnote on the nature of the leadership position held by the diakonoi. (Montgomery, I might add, translates prostatis as “overseer.”)


Romans 16:7

Recent decades have witnessed the rise of significant debate over Paul’s provocative designation of a woman named Junia as “distinguished among the apostles.” Initially, the controversy centered around whether Junia was a woman at all, with mid-twentieth-century English translations (including the NIV) confusing the matter by rendering Iounian as the masculine “Junias”:6

NIV-84: Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles….

TNIV: Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles….

NIV-11: Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among* the apostles… (fn: *Or are esteemed by).

Changes to the main text in the TNIV and NIV-11 reflect the most contemporary scholarship, which has demonstrated that evidence for Iounias as a first-century man’s name is nonexistent.7

Alternatively, the new note on this passage reflects a fairly recent development in the debate. A number of hierarchists concede that Junia was a woman, but focus on the episemois en tois apostolois portion of the passage instead, arguing that this could mean Junia and Andronicus were highly regarded by the apostles instead of being numbered among them.8 The NIV-11 footnote may have been intended as a conciliatory gesture to hierarchists who take this position. However, it strikes me as unnecessary, since early commentators understood this phrase as referring to Junia as an apostle herself.9


1 Corinthians 11:2-12

The TNIV changed little about this passage from the NIV-84, and the NIV-11 has not altered the TNIV’s changes to the text itself. The only significant change occurs in verse 10:

NIV-84: For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.

TNIV/NIV-11: It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own* head, because of the angels (fn: *Or have a sign of authority on her).

The words “a sign of’ do not appear in the Greek at all, so this newer translation is a more literal one. In his defense of the TNIV, hierarchist Craig Blomberg argued that this change was “less ‘feminist”‘ and advocated that it “implies proper submission to authority.”10 Egalitarians have generally favored this translation as well, since it leaves room for the interpretation that it refers to a woman’s authority to cover or not cover her own head.11 Translators should not be driven by a desire to please different agendas, but, in this case, a potential to please everyone seems to be the beneficial side effect of a translation that is more accurate.


1 Timothy 2:11-12

NIV-84: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

TNIV: A woman* should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; †‡ she must be quiet (fn: *Or wife; also in verse 12

†Or teach a man in a domineering way; or teach or to exercise (or have) authority over a man ‡Or over her husband).

NIV-11: A woman* should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;† she must be quiet (fn: *Or wife; also in verse 12 †Or over her husband).

Egalitarians have long argued that authentein contains a negative connotation and ought to be rendered as a proscription against domination or usurpation of authority, as the King James Version rendered it in 1611 and as many early translations rendered it.12 Hierarchists maintain that it speaks of a positive or neutral authority-holding, so that any example of women exercising ecclesiastical authority over men is under censure. The TNIV opted for “assume authority,” which can be interpreted either way.

The decision to translate authentein as “assume authority” became one of the most controversial changes in the TNIV. One hierarchist scholar derided this change as “a highly suspect and novel translation that gives the egalitarian side everything they have wanted for years in a Bible translation,” then went on to complain that the TNIV’s footnotes presented “so many alternative translations that the verse will just seem confusing and impossible to understand.”13 The NIV-11 is sure to come under similar fire for maintaining this change. However, to translate authentein as “assume authority” is neither “novel” nor “highly suspect.” In his 1556 commentary on 1 Timothy, John Calvin rendered this Greek word into Latin as sumere auctoritatemcognate with our English “assume authority.”14 Calvin himself did not produce an English translation of the Bible, but the 1855 English translation of his Latin notes, known as the Calvin Bible, used “assume authority.”15 The NIV-ll’s translation of authentein did not originate in 2005 with the TNIV.16 The only change from the TNIV to the NIV-11 is the excision of the TNIV’s lengthy footnote listing all the different ways authentein can be understood. Apparently, the translation committee has decided to take confidence and allow “assume authority” to stand on its own.


1 Timothy 3:11

NIV-84: In the same way, their wives* are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything (fn: *Or way, deaconesses).

TNIV: In the same way, the women* are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything (fn: *Probably women who are deacons, or possibly deacons’ wives).

NIV-11: In the same way, the women* are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything (fn: *Possibly deacons’ wives or women who are deacons).

The Greek here simply says gunaikas, “women,” without even a definite article to go with it. Grammatically, without a possessive pronoun, (“their women”), female deacons is preferable over wives of male deacons. The identity of these “women” was debated even in antiquity, though several ancient commentators came down on the side of female deacons.17

The TNIV changed “wives” to the ambiguous “women” and stated in a footnote that these women were “probably” female deacons but, could be wives of deacons as well. The NIV-11 has slightly softened the case for female deacons, listing both in the footnote with preference for neither.


Changes involving inclusive language

Greek dictionaries have long noted that the words anthropos and aner could mean “human being” as well as “man.” The Greek adelphos, in the masculine plural, could mean “brothers and sisters” as well as just “brothers.” The NIV-84 usually translated these words as exclusively masculine, while the TNIV translated them as gender-neutral or inclusive unless specific male referents were in view. The NIV-11 seems to take a middle position, with inconsistent results. For example, Matthew 7:3-5 has adelphos as “brother,” while 18:15 has it as “brother or sister.” First Corinthians 13:1 has retained the NIV-84’s “tongues of men” for anthropos even though 11:28 and 14:2 utilize gender-inclusive renderings of the same word.

Perhaps most regrettably, “mankind” and “man” have returned as occasional descriptors for the human race, though “humanity,” “human beings,” and “people” are used as well. Galatians 1 swings wildly from “man” and “mankind” in verse 1 to “people” and “human beings” in verse 10, and I was disappointed to see the TNIV translation of 1 Timothy 2:5, “one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human,” traded in for “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Jesus Christ.”

The text does better with “forefathers” and “ancestors,” only utilizing the former when a distinctly male party seems to be in view for a total of thirteen uses. As with the TNIV, passages referring to salvation are typically gender-inclusive, and egalitarians might count it as a small bonus that female leaders and officeholders receive gender-neutral titles. Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Anna are “prophets” now instead of “prophetesses,” and Phoebe is a “deacon” rather than a “deaconess.”



In most cases, I am adequately, if not deeply, satisfied with the NIV-2011’s treatment of gender. I commend the translators for retaining so much of what I loved about the TNIV, for correcting errors in translation made several decades ago, and for doing so in the face of controversy and criticism that they surely do not deserve. I am positive that my teenage self would have lovingly peppered this NIV with silver hearts from her glitter pen.

At the same time, I cannot help but wonder if the translators did not sometimes act out of a desire to please hierarchists and egalitarians alike. While bridge building and reconciliation are admirable goals, they do not always make for consistent and accurate translation. I worry that the NIV-11’s inconsistent use of gender-inclusive language was born out of a misplaced desire to please everyone.

Unrelated to gender issues, the NIV-2011 has also retained a number of the TNIV’s good changes and improved upon them. The TNIV’s practice of translating Ioudaioi as “Jewish leaders” in key passages has been retained. Sarx is now “flesh” instead of “sinful nature,” and several dozen cases of Christos are now “Messiah” instead of “Christ.” “Spirit” is also capitalized on a more regular basis to denote the Holy Spirit.

These positive changes may be enough to warrant my switch to the NIV-11 in spite of my disappointments elsewhere. Other egalitarians will weigh the evidence and decide for themselves.



1. For an account of the controversy surrounding the release of the TNIV, the campaign against it, and a response to the criticism, see Craig L. Blomberg, “Today’s New International Version: The Untold Story of a Good Translation,” ?q=content/tniv-untold-story-good-translation.

2. Ted Olsen, “Correcting the ‘Mistakes’ of TNIV and Inclusive NIV, Translators Will Revise NIV in 2011,” Christianity Today, 1 Sept. 2009,

3. Helen Barrett Montgomery, The New Testament in Modern English (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1924).

4. Origen, Commentary on Romans 10.17.

5. Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2007), 942-48.

6. For other translations that made Junia into a man, see Linda Belleville, “Iounian … episemoi en tois apostolois: A Re-examination of Romans 16.7 in Light of Primary Source Materials,” New Testament Studies 51 (2005): 236-37.

7. Jewett, Romans, 961-62; Belleville, “Iounian,” 242.

8. Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle?: A Re-examination of Rom 16.7,” New Testament Studies 47 (2001): 76-91

9. See Belleville, “Iounian,” 242-49.

10. Blomberg, “Untold Story.”

11. Gordon D. Fee, Listening to the Spirit in the Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000),63.

12. See “domineer” in Aída Besançon Spencer, Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1985), 86-88. Catherine Kroeger has translated the term as “represent herself as originator of man,” in Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger, I Suffer Not a Woman (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1992), 103. See also Linda Belleville, “Teaching and Usurping Authority: 1 Timothy 2:11-15,” in Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, and Gordon D. Fee (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2005): 209-10.

13. Wayne Grudem, interview by Adrian Warnock,, 11 Dec. 2006,­ silent-in-church/.

14. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, trans. William Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1856), 67.

15. Calvin Translation Society, Calvin Bible (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1855), See also Belleville, “Iounian,” 234-36.

16. I am indebted to Suzanne McCarthy for this observation.

17. John Chrysostom, Homily 11 on 1 Timothy 3:11; Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:11; Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:11.