Friday, 4 September 2009

The NIV2011, the Gospel and Controversy

What hope does the NIV2011 have when we have evangelical leaders making the following statements:
The issues of concern related to the TNIV remain. For the sake of the Gospel, we must hope and pray that we do not confront these same issues in the updated NIV. At the same time, we must avoid reckless talk. Even where we must disagree, we must recognize that everyone involved in this discussion will face the judgment of God for how this disagreement is conducted. (HT: TC Robinson)
That was the normally incomparable Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

I must object to Dr. Mohler's sentiment in the strongest possible terms. In fact, I would go so far as to say that his objection, along with those aired by other misguided linguistic conservatives, is damaging the Gospel. Why? First, they are opposing God's word being translated in the language of the common people. The English language has changed, end of story. Whether or not it was a feminist agenda that changed the way we speak is irrelevant. We are stuck with a gender-neutered pronoun laden English tongue like it or not. These men are betraying their Reformational and Protestant heritage with such opposition. They promote an elitist translation (the ESV) replete with archaisms and with a strong literary feel. The ESV is fine for your average theological geek, but I've found that the average Christian finds it a difficult read.

Second, their wrong-headed certitude in this matter compromises them when they express certainty over issues that DO matter. For instance, I just heard Dr. Mohler rightly putting N.T. Wright under the spotlight over his doctrine of justification. Do you think sympathisers with NTW's erroneous articulation of the doctrine will take Dr. Mohler's concerns seriously given his muddle-headed rhetoric over the TNIV? Or how about Piper the next time he defends penal substitution? Is the temptation not for some to think, "well he thinks just as strongly about translating Scripture into the language of the people and he's way off on that. Is not this attachment to penal substitution just another example of mis-guided zealotry?" Piper and Mohler and stalwarts and true defenders of the faith; I love them dearly. I just wish they'd back out of this needless fight.

Dr. Mohler is correct, we will all be judged by God for how this disagreement is conducted and also how it impacts on the gospel. I just pray that he, and the other leaders who created such controversy when the TNIV was released will see the error of their ways before publication of the gender accurate NIV2011.


Anonymous said...


I may not be getting the Rhetoric on this side of the pond, but there is a real issue with translations that put 'expiation' in instead of 'propitiation' and the like. It is an issue of translating something into what it is not.

I do not think this is pure biblicism to say that we need a literal translation that does justice to the original text. The NIV has some serious problems (not to say other translations do not) but the philosophy of 'thought for thought' over 'word for word' is inherently demeaning to the original text.

Granted, there is a balance between language and context which helps define words, but the idea that we do not have to be exact is pretty detrimental to the average lay person who doesn't know the text.

There is a balance of contextualization but usually this turns into the liberal idea of denying the particulars of faith for the general ideas and concepts in order to make it more palatable to the average Joe on the street. Who gets to judge what is and what is not in that sense apart of the faith? Who gets to say what is just for its original readers and not for us? These board committees certainly aren't worried about Confessions and Creeds when they take such a principle.

And the average Christian I have seen use the ESV is not usually a personification of Geekdom in all its glory; but someone who is truly glad for a text that is faithful to the original translation and yet does not stoop so low as to accept 'language' that is more confusing than clarifying.

The Gender issue for those discussing this is not one of merely wanting to keep an archaic Latin translation, chained to the Altar, or bringing this to the common tongue of people which they are for; but this is an issue of an unbiblical view of Gender Roles influencing this translation committee.

- Timothy M.

John said...

Have you visited the 53 English speaking countries to confirm that "The English language has changed, end of story" ? If so, can please produce the academic papers that document this? Thanks.

Nick Mackison said...

John, you sound like a man who wants scientific proof that it gets dark at night.

Nick Mackison said...

John, this was taken from a comment over at Denny Burk's website, which is an extract from an academic paper stating the obvious:

Baranowski, M. “Current usage of the epicene pronoun in written English.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 6, no. 3 (August 2002): 378-397.

Here’s the Abstract:

The article focuses on the social aspects of the epicene pronominal usage in written English. As this study has shown, “he” is no longer the preferred singular epicene pronoun in English. The English epicene pronoun has come full circle and returned to where it was a few centuries ago, when three forms existed alongside each other. However, as this study shows, the change has gone even further. It can be seen that singular “they” is now the predominant form. He is being used less and less, and is now probably demoted to very formal contexts. As far as the type of antecedent is concerned, singular they is by far the most likely pronoun to be used when the antecedent is specified by a quantifier. The proportion of they is slightly lower with indefinite and definite antecedents, but it is nevertheless the most likely choice. This study provides support for the hypothesis that American writers are more conservative than British ones in that they are less likely to use singular they. Both groups rarely use the traditionally prescribed form, “he,” the main difference being in the use of non-androcentric, unbiased forms which have supplanted the masculine generic: a higher rate of “they” for British writers and a higher frequency of “he” or “she” for Americans.

Alexander Smith said...

I would ask those complaining about Mohler et. al.'s position why it is so important that they (Mohler et. al.) approve of the new translation? Will their disapproval stop you buying it and using it as your standard translation? If not, why get so riled up about it?

Why is it so important that Mohler and Piper accept the new translation? Yes, they're famous teachers with a wide audience who influence Christians' minds, but only because Christians keep listening to them, reading their books and attributing importance to everything they say. If these guys are worth listening to, then they're worth listening to regardless of what they say and whether we agree or not. It seems that when they say something one agrees with, they're great teachers standing for truth; when they say something one doesn't agree with, one loves them, thinks they're great, but they need to back off. Not a tenable position.

I also don't see why spectators will take the view that because these guys are making a big deal out of gender-neutral language then their defence of penal substitution will be dismissed. Maybe people who read these guys will also side with them on gender-neutral translations. If they take the view that they can't be trusted on matters of doctrine, then it seems such people only read these guys because they agree with their positions, not out of any desire to learn something. Lots of people make the case for orthodox doctrine. The Bible doesn't stand on Mohler and Piper. Some perspective is required I think.

As to the issue at hand. There is more to this than simply gender-neutral language. It comes down to how we treat Scripture. The Bible isn't just any other book. There are versions written in Scotch, there is the Bloke's Bible, there is The Message. I don't see these translations being advanced on this site. These versions would be even more accessible to certain groups in society, but we draw a line. And before it is said that we're talking about translations, rather than paraphrases, The Message is used in churches today.

The fact is, the masculine pronoun is grammatically correct. It may be out of fashion, but it is correct and it is how it is rendered in the original text. I therefore don't actually see any justification for translating it in a gender-neutral fashion except from a politically motivated perspective.

When we translate a work of fiction into English we do so to be as true to the original text as possible. I don't see why the Bible should be treated any differently. We're talking about translating the Bible into a colloquial version of English. Once we do this there is no end to the extent we can "modernise" the text.

Also, why do we need a new translation? This translation is only going to be a little bit different from the previous one, and if gender-neutral changes are goin to be the main difference, then one really has to question the motivation. Again, if it's goint to be so similar, why do it in the first place? We already have plenty of English translations. The whole endeavour seems a little vain.

John Notestein said...

I have to agree with you. I cannot understand why both Mohler and Piper, both of whom I respect as regards to their teachings, spend so much time and energy going after the NIV translation, one of the most widely read English versions in world. No translation is perfect. No translation is literal (if it were, we could not understand it. More literal is not more accurate. Try translating from any other language into English and it becomes very apparant very quickly. If they disagree with a particular way a word is translated, they can say so in their sermon or teaching. Many intelligent men and women will disagree on specific words, but we don't have to rant and rave about it. I think it detracts from otherwise sound Bibilical teaching.