Recently announced plans to update the popular NIV Bible were received by evangelical leaders and critics of the highly controversial TNIV translation with cautious optimism.
On Monday, NIV publisher Zondervan, NIV translation overseer CBT (Committee on Bible Translation), and NIV copyright owner Biblica (formerly the International Bible Society) announced their intention to revise the NIV Bible for the first time in 25 years and to discontinue sales of the TNIV translation, which drew fire from conservative camps seven years ago over a number of issues, including its use of gender-neutral language.
"We believe that a flawed translation philosophy resulted in the TNIV presenting English readers with an unjustified rendering of the gender language of the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible," commented J. Ligon Duncan III, board chairman for the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW). "It is our sincere hope that this new revision of the NIV will do better."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, meanwhile, pointed out that the recent joint announcement by the NIV partners indicates that this new translation will be known as the NIV, even though it will be based on the TNIV, as it has been edited even since publication.
"This is a significant departure from the earlier promise to 'freeze' the NIV translation in order to protect it from controversy," noted the prominent evangelical leader.
Still, Mohler applauded the NIV partners for having acted "openly and honestly" to announce their intention and for their promise to consider all concerned raised during the process – from scholars to the general public.
"Their straightforwardness on this is commendable, even where we may find ourselves in disagreement over these decisions and the underlying translation philosophy," he stated.
When the TNIV (Today's New International Version) was published in 2002, evangelical scholars sounded off against the more than 3,000 changes that were made – changes that "flattened gender language," as some put it, eliminating many references such as "son," "he," "him," "his," "father," and "brother," references that diverged from the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic.
"As many of us made clear at the time of the TNIV's announcement and release, the issues with this translation had to do with translation decisions that we were convinced did not produce 'gender accuracy,' but lamentable inaccuracy," explained Mohler. "The rigorous application of these decisions produced a translation that was not only problematic in terms of direct and indirect gender references, but also in its confusion of crucial texts with messianic significance."
Though the issues of primary concern with the release of the TNIV remain, Mohler urged against "reckless talk" and stressed that those who have had significant concerns with the TNIV should communicate these concerns respectfully, candidly, and directly to the Committee on Bible Translation, to Zondervan, and to Biblica.
"We must take the members of the Committee on Bible Translation at their word that they will consider these concerns," Mohler stated. "To fail to pray and to act in this way will be to fail at a basic Christian commitment.
"The issue is not only the integrity of a Bible translation, but our integrity as Christians," he concluded.
CBMW President Randy Stinson, meanwhile, said his organization plans to reserve judgment and to watch "closely with hope … giving the benefit of the doubt to the people revising the NIV."
"We are grateful for the godly approach to try to reconcile this. We are hopeful for the new product," he stated.
First published in 1978 and revised in 1984, the NIV Bible was created out of a desire to provide a faithful translation of the Scriptures that spoke the language of 20th century English.
Since then, the NIV has become the most popular of all modern translations, with more than 300 million copies of it having been sold to people worldwide.
The CBT is scheduled to finish its revision of the NIV late next year. The updated NIV will be published in 2011, the year which marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version.