At CBE, we began the New Year by celebrating the release of Today’s New International Version (TNIV) of the Bible, now available through CBE and in bookstores around the country. The press did an excellent job of obtaining opinions from church leaders and scholars alike, and within a short time many seemed ready to consider the strengths of the TNIV. A glance at the history of Bible translation offers some insights as to why some are reticent to embrace the TNIV.
As far back as Jerome’s translation of Scripture from Greek to Latin in the second century, new translations are often viewed with suspicion. Church officials persecuted John Wycliffe in the late 1300s and William Tyndale in the early 1500s for translating Jerome’s Bible from Latin into English. In 1603, England’s King James commissioned a new translation that became the beloved King James Bible, but Puritans and pilgrims in America boycotted this translation.
Almost every translation has been condemned as heretical. What is the fundamental complaint in each situation? Simply that new translations are different.
C.H. Dodd, chair of the New English Bible translation team in 1961, said that the task of Bible translators is twofold: first understand the ancient authors and texts, then restate their thoughts in the native idiom. We constantly need new Bible translations because the native idiom is always in a state of flux. Newer words are added, the meanings of others have changed, and some words are no longer in use.
Most objections to the TNIV are a reaction to novelty, even though the TNIV retains 93 percent of the text of the NIV. In fact, most changes in the new version deal with words unrelated to gender. The first priority of the translation team was to update language for clarity. For example, rather than using “during the fourth watch of the night” in Matthew 14:25, the TNIV reads “just before dawn.” Such changes make the Word of God easier for modern readers to understand.
A second priority of the translators was gender accuracy. The TNIV makes it clear when the biblical author is referring to both men and women. For example, in Titus 2:11 the TNIV proclaims, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people,” rather than “… to all men.” The Greek word in question is anthropos, which usually means “people.” Using the proper word choices in the TNIV allows people to see that God, through Christ, offers both women and men redemption through Christ. This is the good news of the gospel, available to all people.
In today’s culture, male pronouns are no longer used for both men and women. Exclusively male language excludes women. Yet, it is inspiring to know that the biblical language embraces women in texts such as Romans 3:8: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.” When translators do their job properly, women become more visible in the Bible. This does not distort Scripture! The gospel fails to be good news when women cannot identify with such texts, despite the intention of the biblical author.
Modern language does not include women in words like “men,” “he” or “his.” Fifty years ago it was acceptable to refer to women in this way, but language has changed rapidly in the last several decades. This is one reason I like to promote the TNIV. Children and most adults more easily understand it.
For example, a friend read the King James Version of Titus 2:11 to a 4th grade girl. “For the grace of God … brings salvation to all men.” She then asked the young girl: “Does that apply to you?” “No,” she answered. Then she read it again from the gender-accurate translation: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all people.” “Does that include you now?” “Yes,” she said.” We can agree that the change is important!
Some people reject the TNIV because they believe the translators worked under a feminist agenda. This is false for three reasons. First, the passages updated by the TNIV are those upon which all Christians agree: regardless of gender all people have access to God through Christ. Second, the texts that Christians debate when considering the leadership of women (1 Timothy 2:11ff, Ephesians 5:21ff, 1 Corinthians 14:34ff) are matters of interpretation, not translation. The TNIV makes no changes in these texts. Third, the TNIV translation team is comprised of consummate scholars and faithful Christians who do not agree on the interpretation of the difficult passages on gender. They do agree upon the principle of accuracy in Bible translation, and gender is one of many concerns facing Bible translators. Their goal is to ensure that the intention of the original authors is maintained, something the TNIV sought to do.
While the TNIV is a late bloomer in updating language as it relates to gender, it is not different from what most translations have done in the past 20 years. To modern ears, the TNIV is good news. Visit the TNIV Web site (www.tniv.info) for more information, and consider offering International Bible Society and Zondervan your support and prayers.
How can you practically forward the TNIV? Buy copies for family and friends. Suggest the use of this translation when reading Scripture in church, or ask your church leadership to purchase the TNIV as pew Bibles. Celebrate with CBE a truly exceptional translation.