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Lost in the translation

Gender-guideline signers backing away, undermining accord

Ever since the meeting on gender-related language in Bible translation held at Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs last May, some of the participants and their colleagues have been trying to distance themselves from or undermine the agreement they signed.

That agreement, which has undergone some technical revisions, set down principles its signers hoped would guide evangelicals involved in Bible translation. The accord was met with great expectations since the signers represented critics of gender-neutral language, including R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and Vern Poythress, as well as proponents, including Ken Barker, Lars Dunberg (president of the Internation Bible Society), and Bruce Ryskamp (president of Zondervan Publishing House).

Since May, however, the agreement has come under attack from proponents of "inclusive language." Committee on Bible Translation president John Stek told WORLD, "We do not hold ourselves at all responsible for the statement put out by Focus. It was not our statement, and those who were members of CBT who were present there were not speaking for CBT."

CBT members at the meeting in Colorado Springs "were not there as designated members of the committee," Mr. Stek insisted. "I don't know who invited them, but they were not there as designated representatives of CBT.... The committee has not held itself in any way responsible for that action or obligated by it or bound by it."

Ken Barker, one of two CBT members at the meeting, agrees. "We were representing only ourselves and not CBT," the long-time CBT secretary said.

On May 27, the International Bible Society had seemed to pull the rug out from under the CBT by announcing that "IBS has abandoned all plans for gender-related changes in future editions of the New International Version (NIV).... There are no plans for a futher revised edition." But that announcement did not seem to hinder CBT as it met for its annual three-week meeting, held this year in Grand Rapids in July and August.

"There was not 100 percent unanimity on how far to go with inclusive language," Mr. Barker said. He left open the possibility of an inclusive-language New International Version in the future: "CBT is in the process of reviewing its own guidelines in respect to inclusive language and that is a work still in progress. I don't know exactly-no one would-how that will turn out."

It isn't just CBT that has distanced itself from the Bible-translation accord signed in Colorado Springs. Opponents of the guidelines have scheduled a series of academic assaults on it. The Christian Booksellers Association sponsored a lecture at its July convention in Atlanta by John Kohlenberger, a Hebrew scholar and author of a widely used Hebrew interlinear Old Testament. He soothed worried bookstore owners by assuring them that there was nothing radical about the inclusive-language NIV or NIVI. He told them that all translations, including the King James version, had used inclusive language. He attributed the furor to ignorance about the tranlating process. Mr. Kohlenberger's address warranted a front-page story in the CBA newspaper.

The International Bible Society and Zondervan Publishing House, along with other groups, are focusing on a February 1998 conference on "Gender-related Issues in Bible Translation" to be held at Wheaton College as their vehicle for opposing the translating principles agreed to at the Focus meeting.

The upcoming conference is the result of a June 6 meeting at Tyndale House Publishers of the Forum of Bible Agencies (a group composed of major Bible publishers along with missions translation agencies and the two main Bible societies). The conference will be sponsored by Wycliffe Bible Translators, the United Bible Societies, and the International Bible Society.

Participants at the June meeting at Tyndale House acknowledged that the upcoming conference is the product of dissatisfaction with the Focus accords.

When asked whether Zondervan's involvement with the upcoming conference signaled a retreat from its commitment to the Colorado Springs accord, Mr. Ryskamp refused comment. IBS president Lars Dunberg could not be reached for comment. Both men, however, asked to have their names removed from ads to be published later this month publicizing the Colorado Springs agreement and listing its signers and supporters.