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Bible cola

How should we react to IBS's niche translation trial balloon?

If it weren't God's Word in question here, it would be funny. A while back, Coca-Cola made one of the big blunders in corporate history when it tried to alter its bestselling product. Faced with consumer hostility, the company announced it would sell the traditional variety as Classic Coke alongside New Coke. That's not a contradiction, because neither Classic nor New is ethically superior; with Coke flavors, it's a matter of taste.

Two years ago, the International Bible Society and Zondervan made one of the big blunders in evangelical history when they quietly tried to regender (dropping words like "man" and "he") their bestselling Bible translation, the New International Version. When WORLD blew the whistle on the "Stealth Bible" plan, the organizations in late May 1997 tried to recover by disavowing their plans and stating renewed commitment to the current NIV.

But that has not worked, since those who think the church must adapt to feminist social trends believe fervently that the NIV should be regendered. Our cover story shows how the IBS board, staring at both its 1997 commitment and renewed ideological desires, is floating a trial balloon by announcing that it will "explore its options" to put out both Classic NIV and New Bible.

God's Word, however, is not Coca-Cola: A publishing society that depends on evangelical support should not be allowed to have it both ways. For example, the verses in Genesis that show how "God created man in his own image ... male and female he created them," emphasize both the unity and the diversity of the human race, created in the image of God who also has unity and diversity. A Bible translation that instead has God creating a bunch of human beings shows no respect for the inspired text.

And look at James 1:12, which carries Psalm 1 a step further by noting, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life." The Committee on Bible Translation two years ago changed it to, "Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life."

A small change perhaps-one of hundreds of small changes- but notice the deflection from individual responsibility and the moral courage of a solitary righteous man. How significant is our evangelical talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus if it seems that the whole collective gets to heaven? If we truly believe that God's Word is holy and inspired, we should place accuracy above ideology. Ministers and commentators are free to exegete Scripture, but no Christian organization is ethically free to alter it purposefully.

Furthermore, as Vern Poythress of Westminster Theological Seminary has pointed out, gender-focused translators are undercutting a crucial theological truth. Twice in history the actions of one man represented all of us: In Adam's fall we sinned all, and through Christ's perfect obedience we gained the hope of salvation. Some folks wish that a woman had been one of the representatives, but God knows best.

We at WORLD state that IBS should not adopt a Classic NIV/New Bible play-it-both-ways, niche translation approach. Maybe we shouldn't say such things. When we blew the whistle on Stealth Bible plans two years ago, Zondervan filed an ethics charge against WORLD with the Evangelical Press Association, charging that "WORLD seems to be unconscious of its duty to protect the good names and reputations of Zondervan" and the IBS.

We're still not conscious of that. For IBS's work in publishing accurate translations of the Bible in many languages, we have nothing but praise. But our deeper commitment is to the Scriptures and to translations that seek to preserve, as closely as possible, the original meaning, style, and nuance.

Even though the spurious ethics accusation was eventually dismissed by the Evangelical Press Association late in 1997, its legacy remains. Those who read WORLD know that we correct even small inaccuracies and freely run critical letters, but our reporters and marketing representatives still run into folks who have some vague recollection of some gossip they heard: "Your magazine ... didn't it do something unethical?"

No, in that situation, thanks be to God, we did something right-and now we'll stay the course again. We do not see misquoting God, or publishing one translation that tries to get it right and another that deliberately bows to ideological prejudices, as a responsible position for Christians. It's possible to admire Coca-Cola's slick recovery. It's necessary to condemn IBS's double-minded attempt.