January 21, 2005

TNIV: The Neutered International Version

World Magazine's Blog and Wesley Blog are reporting on the impending release by Zondervan of the TNIV ("Today's New International Version"), a "gender-neutral" update of the NIV. Discussion about such an edition has been floating around for years, to a wide variety of responses. WorldMag's reader comments are positively virulent. Shane Raynor (author of WesleyBlog) sounds less than enthused, but thinks that the way today's young people have learned to speak English may actually have necessitated this sort of translation. I'm overall inclined to agree with Shane, but I'm none too happy about it, and am concerned that it could add fuel to the fire of this "Christian feminism" crap that's been floating around (I think feminism is demeaning to women. More on that some other time). Furthermore, the number of ambiguities necessitated by translation from Greek to English and the mismatch between the two languages (for instance, the English verb system is very simple and primarily concerned with time - when the action took place - whereas the Greek verb system is extremely complex and primarily concerned with "aspect" - whether the action occurred just once, or repeatedly, and whether it has been completed or is still continuing) is already bad enough, and this sort of attempt at "gender neutrality" exacerbates the issue. For example:

Revelation 3:20, NKJV: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me"
TNIV: "I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me."
Kenny's Excruciatingly Literal Amateur Translation Attempt (KELATA)*: "You see, I stand [lit. stood - aorist to emphasize simple aspect] at the door and I strike [the door]. If anyone should hear My sound and open the door, I will even ["even" lacking from many manuscripts, incl. Textus Receptus] enter in for Myself ["for Myself" translates middle voice of verb. Significance of the middle voice is uncertain in this case] and I will dine with him, and he with Me."

The problem here is that the text of the verse is emphatically singular and pluralizing the pronouns, in addition to not conforming to the rules of standard English grammar, changes the sense of the passage! Of the verses available at tniv.info, this is the only place where the meaning has been unnacceptably confused, but because this pattern is followed throughout the translation I have no doubt that other problems of this nature exist. "Feminist revisionist grammar" (the use of feminine pronouns as gender indefinite) is a pet peeve of mine, because according to the rules of standard English it changes the meanings of sentences to imply that all of those the sentence describes are female (e.g. in standard English the sentence "When a driver comes to a stop sign, she must stop before entering the intersection." implies, even takes for granted, that all drivers are female). However, in this particular case even THAT would be better than what has been done. The point of this verse is that, even in a church full of people who are not following God, if even ONE believer invites Christ in, he will have fellowship with Him. This meaning is destroyed by the introduction of plural pronouns.

That said, the TNIV does correct some problems. The Greek word for man as opposed to woman is "aner". The Greek word "anthropos" is the word for man as opposed to an animal or God, and traditionally Bible translators have also rendered this as "man," but in contemporary English "human" is a more accurate (if less smooth) translation. Likewise, contemporary English does not retain the custom of using the name of an entire people group when referencing only the leaders of that group. This was common in the ancient world, and continued until at least as recently as Shakespeare who constantly used the names of countries to refer to their kings (e.g. "Norway" is a name used to refer to Fortinbras in Hamlet). Because we no longer speak in this way, and the authors and original audiences of the New Testament did, there may be cases, such as John 9:22, in which the term "hos Ioudaios", literally "the Jews", refers specifically to the political leaders of the Jewish nation (who just coincidentally happen to also be the religious leaders in this case). A literal translation would be better off to footnote this, as it is an interprettive issue and it is often difficult to tell whether a specific verse is refering to the Jews in general or only their political leaders, but a translation intended for people who have not studied the Bible before may be better off to go ahead and make the interprettive call.

In conclusion, I never liked the NIV much to begin with. It slips back and forth between literally translating the text and paraphrasing, and the lack of sufficient footnotes makes it impossible to tell which it is doing in any particular place without consulting a text or another translation. When I want a paraphrase, I'll get a real one like The Message or the NLT (which upset me by calling itself a "translation" right there in the name - it is based on "The Living Bible" (TLB) which used to say "paraphrase" in rather large letters right on the cover). When I want a translation I'll pull out my trusty NKJV, or perhaps NASB. If I really want to know what's going on, I'll learn the original language (I'm working on Greek right now, Hebrew and Aramaic to follow eventually). However, the NIV has proven useful and edifying to a wide variety of believers, and it doesn't lead to any substantial doctrinal problems, provided it is interpreted in community with people who use a wide variety of other translations. My biggest aversion to the TNIV is that it encourages bad grammar, creating further ambiguities in the English language, a language which is my primary form of communication. This, however, is a small matter next to the question of adequately communicating the Word of God to the widest possible variety of people. The TNIV clears up some common misconceptions about Christianity and Judaism and Christianity and gender. At the same time, it creates some new confusion, and paraphrases more often than the original NIV. All translations have both pros and cons, and as such I think that the TNIV does have something to contribute to the world of Bible translations. Therefore, you will not find me protesting it; but neither will you find me using it.

* Translated from The Greek New Testament According to the Majority Text, ed. Hodges and Farstad

Posted by Kenny at January 21, 2005 3:25 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry: http://blog.kennypearce.net/admin/mt-tb.cgi/71
"Feminism is Demeaning to Women:" Some Remarks on Christianity, Feminism, and Gender Roles
Excerpt: I recently asserted parenthetically, without any real explanation, that "I think feminism is demeaning to women." I also referred to "this 'Christian feminism' crap." Well, I finally succeeded in generating some contentious dialog, which has motivated ...
Weblog: blog.kennypearce.net
Tracked: January 26, 2005 11:24 PM


Well I don’t' think you would find it surprising that I agree with you on all of this for the most part. And feminism is crap in general, not simply "Christian feminism". We aren't equal. If we were we would have been created at the same time, from the same substance and for the same purpose. And the Bible clearly shows that that isn't true.

So all I have to say is you are such a NERD! KELATA??? WOW. LOL

Posted by: Cece at January 25, 2005 3:37 AM

No, you're misreading me. We (men and women) ARE equal. We are emphatically NOT the same.

Posted by: Kenny Pearce at January 25, 2005 9:31 AM

we aren't equal because we weren't created a the same time? Uh....

kenny is right. denial of the difference between men and women is the problem, not insistence that we are equal.

Parts of the feminist agenda are crap...and quite sexist, actually. BUT there is something to be said for a feminism that actually addresses inequalities.

I went a christian college and I met soooo many men who would flat tell you that women were not made in the image of God. Really.

I also really hate calling Jesus's mother "just the vessel or conduit that God only used because he had to" as if having a chid is simply being a container for said child and as if being born were an inconvenience. Check out your Christmas carols "Lo, he abhors not the virgin's womb." So why do you?

I think these things are sexist. there is a place for a christian feminism that addresses crap like that.

The inclusive language issue is something else. I think it has to do with changes in the english language, not a change in theology. It is a matter of you just don't say it like that in English (anymore).

Your blog looks like a computer game we had on the apple IIe when I was a kid!

Posted by: Anastasia at January 26, 2005 10:23 AM

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