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Going with the flow

Religion

Going with the flow

Bible Study Fellowship joins controversy by adopting the 2011 NIV Bible

When Kitty Oman heard that Bible Study Fellowship had decided to switch to the 2011 redo of the New International Version in its teaching materials, she was concerned. She had heard of the controversy surrounding that translation, so she did some research about the issue on her own.

What she found out eventually led her to write a letter of resignation from her position as a BSF small group leader. In it she said, “BSF has been an amazing tool in my life to grow in Christ and be blessed with godly relationships that are precious to me,” but added “with sadness” that she thinks the decision to use the new NIV has “opened the door” for distortions of truth in the ministry. Others are also leaving BSF over this issue.

For readers who may not be aware of the controversy surrounding the 2011 NIV, it began in 1996 with publication of the NIV Inclusive Language Edition (now discontinued) and continued in the early 2000s with release of Today’s New International Version (TNIV). Critics such as Wayne Grudem decried many of the changes made to the widely used 1984 NIV, particularly the use of “gender neutral” language that led to plural pronouns such as “they” replacing single masculine ones like “he.” 

Critics also disputed the translation of some important verses about gender issues. For example, 1 Timothy 2:12 changed from saying women should not “have authority” over men, to women should not “assume authority”: That understanding could allow women to be pastors and elders as long as their church duly appoints them.

It’s one thing to translate God’s Word in terms the culture will understand; it’s another to do so in terms the culture will accept.’ —Harry Reeder

The Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), which is responsible for the NIV, took the criticisms into account when it produced the 2011 update, but the changes it made were not sufficient for most of the critics, since many of the plural pronouns and the 1 Timothy 2:12 wording remained. The critics are complementarians—they say men and women have some roles that are different but complementary—but the CBT includes egalitarians who downplay differences.

Critics worry that the CBT is compromising the integrity of Scripture. For example, Birmingham pastor Harry Reeder says the 2011 NIV is “more committed to being affirmed by the culture than communicating God’s Word to the culture. It’s one thing to translate God’s Word in terms the culture will understand; it’s another to do so in terms the culture will accept.”

But CBT member Craig Blomberg, a Denver Seminary professor who describes himself as a “mild complementarian,” says the CBT sought to apply research findings on English language usage and to produce what he calls an “optimally equivalent” translation. Regarding the specific example of 1 Timothy 2:12, Blomberg says “assume authority” is a neutral translation that the CBT thought did not tilt the exegesis one way or the other. 

BSF Executive Director Susan Rowan told me BSF “believes and teaches the full inerrancy of the original text of Scripture,” and “the BSF leadership conducted thorough research and consulted with several scholars to assure that the NIV 2011 continued its tradition of accuracy to the original manuscripts.”

Comments

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  • luteydog
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:25 pm

    @jclark53--what BSF asks is that each class member complete their current lesson by using nothing other than their own Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is for obvious reasons--that the class member will learn to rely on the Holy Spirit rather than the thoughts and opinions of commentaries and theologians, as astute as these opinions may be. However, BSF highly encourages its class members to continue their study of that particular passage by using commentaries, BSF-provided study notes, etc. once the lesson has been completed. In other words--study only the Bible until you learn the passage. THEN go find out what God has also taught others and what they have shared--including the study notes that BSF so graciously provides. 

  • Dean from Ohio
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:25 pm

    In reply to veritas,A few years back, Zondervan put out a series of ads saying that the NIV (not the Bible, but the translation itself) had positive effects on spiritual growth and service. I had the same thought as you, and to my recollection told them so. It does illustrate their mindset of marketing and sales, though.

  • veritas's picture
    veritas
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:25 pm

    Has the English language really changed significantly since 1984 to merit yet another version of the NIV? It's hard to place confidence in transaltors who feel the need to redo their work every few years. Their time would be better spent translating God's word into the hundreds of languages of people groups still waiting for their FIRST Bible translation in their own language. . . 

  • jclark53
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:25 pm

    Too many groups are watering down the Word to make it acceptable in today's world. However, God's word is timeless and does not need to be watered down. Revelations makes it clear we are not to take away from the scriptures. BSF has concerned me since the beginning, though. Sent home with their approved study notes and told to read the Bible and consult no other authorities or even a Bible dictionary or commentary. It is clear they want you to focus on the scriptures with only their opinions as references. I did not go back.

  • Dean from Ohio
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:25 pm

    In reply to Amy,Where to start? I have no problem with translating gender-neutral words into English as gender neutral, such as translating the Greek word "anthropos" as "human" instead of "man." But that's not the problem with the NIV. It's all of the gendered words that they indiscriminately neuter. As a case in point, consider James 1:22 - 24.First in the NIV 2011: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like."Now in the NASB: "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was."The word here for "man" is not anthropos, but andros (here, andri), which means male. All the pronouns are likewise male ("he"). Now tell the truth, do more males or females tend to ignore what they look like in the mirror? Isn't it possible that James is making this verse turn on a natural difference between the sexes by using the word "male?"  The NIV 1984 translators certainly allowed the writer to speak for himself: "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." Of course, we can't find this online except in the Kindle version of the Archaeological Bible since Zondervan and Biblica have withdrawn it worldwide from electronic use, unlike every other major previous translation (e.g., the 1977 NAS is still available online, with thees and thous, next to the current 1995 version).Why doesn't the NIV 2011 translate this verse using "man" when it plainly should be? Certainly nothing in the text suggests such a change. The problem is that when you start cutting out the parts of the Bible you don't like, you never know when to stop. Are the NIV 2011's translators and publishers are ashamed of the genuine, God-given differences that scripture recognizes between the sexes, and are they afraid that they will lose market share? Unfortunately, it seems that way to me. I do not, and cannot, trust either Biblica or Zondervan when such blatant bias is apparent in their work.Here's what the Lockman Foundation says about its NASB translation: "At NO point did the translators attempt to interpret Scripture through translation. Instead, the NASB translation team adhered to the principles of literal translation. This is the most exacting and demanding method of translation, requiring a word-for-word translation that is both accurate and readable. This method follows the word and sentence patterns of the original authors in order to enable the reader to study Scripture in its most literal format and to experience the individual personalities of those who penned the original manuscripts. For example, one can directly compare and contrast the simple eloquent style of John with the deep complexity of Paul. Instead of telling the reader what to think, the updated NASB provides the most precise translation with which to conduct a personal journey through the Word of God." - http://www.lockman.org/nasb/ Do you want to hear crickets chirp? Write to Biblica or Zondervan about concerns like these, and see what you get in reply.

  • Amy from Cody
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:25 pm

    I am a BSF children's leader and I believe it is an excellent decision to use the 2011 NIV. I must say it is hard to have the children memorize a verse that is different from the Bible their parents read to them at home. Why be afraid of translating a gender neutral word, to be gender neutral? Why simply assume it is masculine? We are all made in the image of God, "male and female he created them" Genesis 1:27. God's own image is most completely reflected in both his creative expression of male and female. Why continue an unbiblical hierarchy? Does this reflect God's intention or man's pride?

  • Dean from Ohio
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:25 pm

    The prefaces from the 1984 and 2011 NIV editions clearly show the major difference between the two:1984: [T]he translators were united in their commitment to the authority and infallibility of the Bible as God's Word in written form. They believe that it contains the divine answer to the deepest needs of humanity, that it sheds unique light on our path in a dark world, and that it sets forth the way to our eternal well-being. The first concern of the translators has been the accuracy of the translation and its fidelity to the thought of the Biblical writers. - http://www.bible-researcher.com/niv-preface.html 2011: The committee mirrors the original group of translators in its diverse international and denominational makeup and in its unifying commitment to the Bible as God's inspired Word. In obedience to its mandate, the committee has issued periodic updates to the NIV. An initial revision was released in 1984. A more thorough revision process was completed in 2005, resulting in the separately published TNIV. The updated NIV you now have in your hands builds on both the original NIV and the TNIV and represents the latest effort of the committee to articulate God's unchanging Word in the way the original authors might have said it had they been speaking in English to the global English-speaking audience today. The first concern of the translators has continued to be the accuracy of the translation and its faithfulness to the intended meaning of the biblical writers. - http://www.bible-researcher.com/niv2011-preface.htmlAs any Bible scholar knows, the word "inspired," which is the strongest of the watered-down phrasing of the 2011 preface, is plastic enough to be molded to fit pretty much any idea. The 2011 NIV is a wolf in sheep's clothing, a means of pursuing an agenda originating from outside the pages of scripture.

  • Meg I
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 03:25 pm

    No Christian organization is immune to this push to be more "user friendly" to the culture.  What did Francis Schaeffer say years ago about the danger of using the culture as our standard versus the never changing Word of God?  Something along the lines of the thinking that if we just "live a bit better than the culture around us, we are pleasing God." I heard him say this in the early 80's and as usual, he was prophetic.  So do we call this movement, "neo-evangelical" or "neo-liberalism?"