PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill (ABP) — The New International Version of the Bible is getting its first update since controversy over gender-inclusive texts derailed future revisions more than 20 years ago.
Biblica, the new name for a company created when the International Bible Society and Send the Light publishers merged in 2007, announced the first complete update of the NIV since 1984 in a live webcast Sept. 1. The translation, to be done by an independent 15-member Committee on Bible Translation and published by Zondervan, is due for release in 2011.
In 1987 the IBS announced plans to forego all plans to publish an updated NIV, following criticism of an edition released in the United Kingdom that substituted gender-neutral language for masculine pronouns in many texts. The NIV is the most popular modern translation among evangelicals, and has sold approximately 300 million copies.
In 2002 Zondervan marketed the gender-neutral translation under a different name, Today's New International Version Bible. Traditionalists panned the TNIV as catering to a feminist agenda and promoting the "egalitarian" view that men and women are equipped for identical roles in the church and home.
Last fall Crossway Books released the ESV Study Bible, reviewed by the conservative Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood as "unapologetically complementarian." Complementarians believe men and women are created equal, but for different — or complementary — roles in both church and home. Generally, complementarians believe in wifely sumission and oppose women serving as pastors or in other important positions of church leadership and governance.
The ESV Bible went on to become the first Bible ever named the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association "Christian Book of the Year."
Keith Danby, global president and CEO of Biblica, said some of the criticism of the last NIV revision was justified, "and we need to be brutally honest about the mistakes that were made."
"We fell short of the trust that was placed in us," Danby said. "We failed to make a case for the revisions, and we made some important errors in the way we brought the translation to publication. We also underestimated the scale of public affection for the NIV and failed to communicate the rationale for change in a manner that reflected that affection."
But Danby said "freezing the NIV" was also a mistake. By not publishing revisions, he said the IBS "fundamentally undermined the obligations of the original NIV charter" and "shackled the NIV to a language and scholarship of a quarter a century ago."
Wheaton College Professor Douglas Moo, chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation, said translators would conduct a year-long review of every gender reference changed since publication of the 1984 edition of the NIV.
Moo said translators would consider input not only from scholars, but from ordinary readers as well.
"We have to be as careful as we can, while recognizing those influences, to do our work in a sincere and open way so that we honestly reflect what we think God's unchanging Word is saying to the English-speaking world in our day," Moo said.
In response to a question, Moo declined to label any of the committee members as "complementarians," because he said some members would be uncomfortable with any label.
"I think it is fair to say that at this point the committee represents a very fair balance on this matter of gender and women's issues that is representative of the evangelical community as a whole," he said. "All of those voices are heard and heard strongly — not just from outside scholars, but on the committee itself."
Another questioner suggested that since most Bible translators are men, translations tend to be biased against women. Moo said only one member of the current committee is female, but he disputed the notion that because a person is male he cannot fairly represent female interests.
"I think that the male members of the committee, as well as the female members of the committee, are all very conscious of avoiding bias in any direction," Moo said.
Moo also declined to offer an example of a gender-specific reference that might be changed, saying that would create the false impression that some of those passages would be reviewed more carefully than all the others.
"You should expect those changes that we think were appropriately made in the TNIV to be made," Moo said.
"We felt certainly at the time, or we would not have done what we did, that it was the right thing to do, that the language was indeed moving in that direction and that because we wanted to produce a translation that would speak naturally to the English people were actually using, we needed to do that," Moo said.
Moo said all those changes are "back on the table" as the committee re-evaluates the text during the next year.
"This has been a time, over the last 15 to 20 years, in the way the issue of how to handle gender in English has been very much in flux and process and development," he said. "Things are changing quickly, and so we are going to look at all of that again as we produce the 2011 NIV."
Zondervan President Moe Girkins said after launch of the new NIV in 2011 there would be no future TNIV products.
"Whatever its strengths were, the TNIV divided the evangelical Christian community," she said.
"Our goal with this edition is for the NIV Bible to be back to being a unifying translation," Girkens said. "Although we don't know what the translation is at this moment, we believe that we are correcting some of the mistakes we made in the past."
The 2011 releae date coincides with the 400th anniversary of the King James Version, also called the Authorized Version, first translated in 1611 by the Church of England.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.