21 June 2011

fury around the the N-I-V-L-E

The Southern Baptists are raising fury around the 2011 update to the NIV. Evidently, boycotting restaurant chains is out of season. Their concern echoes much of what was said about the TNIV, although this time they are with even less of a case than they had before. Their problem? "Gender-inclusive language." (They are arm-in-arm here with the Committee for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.)

Their charge against the NIV is, "This translation alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language." The notion that one single translation has flaws is nothing new, nor is any translation above critique. However, their claim is that these flaws are to the specific end . . . "Our main concern is that in hundreds of places, meaning in the Bible is eroded because of the translators’ decisions to remove words like he, him, his, father, brother, son, and man. God’s Word is the product of his infinite wisdom and all the details of meaning are there for a purpose."

Simply, this is a charge against the Committee on Bible Translation for placing political views above the written Word of God. True to form, the statements made by the Southern Baptists are intended to gain attention and provoke a response, but unfortunately cross the line and make unfounded charges against some of the leading biblical scholars in the world. Poor performance indeed.

On the one hand, we can be somewhat thankful that the King-James-Only crowds have faded back a little bit. On the other hand, now we have to deal with those who are now overly attached to the N-I-V-L-E. At no point in these assaults on new translations is there a display of humility in two areas: 1) English is not Scripture's primary language; 2) God's Word is bigger than any one modern communication sphere. We need to constantly learn, grow and adapt if we are to understand God in our context . . . not because his truth changes, but our fallenness changes.

The Committee on Bible Translation has a number of notable scholars in the field of biblical studies and linguistics. Above this each one has a strong reputation for being "above reproach" in matters of Christian character. I do not agree with everything each one of them has published; some profess theology I disagree with the majority of the time. But this is a group of scholars which have shown consistently that human systematization of theology is secondary to the proper communication of the text. In other words, this committee is comprised of members who make every attempt to get out of the way and allow the text to remain pure.

Is the translation perfect? No. But that should not give us context to act as though the previous NIV is a modern textus receptus. It is as though the Bible was clarified in 1984 and therefore can remain unchanged . . . (yet, how many are still aware of the fury around that version?) This is fickle and fallen discussion. And it unfairly attacks what is undoubtedly a solid and faithful translation of God's Word.

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