Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A New NIV Translation

Long ago, back when I was in seminary, I worked in a Christian bookstore -- back when they still sold books and not just Jesus Junk -- and we, of course, sold Bibles. Now, they didn't have all the versions then that they have now, or maybe I should say niched editions.

At that time I was still a fan of the New American Standard, but my friend, a Bible College student, liked the New International Version, which meant that we competed in our recommendations. I finally gave in, though, and got a NIV of my own. I used it until the New Revised Standard Version came out. By then I had become increasingly sensitized to the issue of genderized language (or inclusive language to put it another way). Even as the NRSV came out with an edition that was fairly moderate in its aims -- it uses gender inclusive language where the text and context suggest it. Other translations came out, including the New Living Bible, which also used inclusive language (though not for God). The translators of the NIV decided to follow suite, but Zondervan pulled the edition due to pressure from conservative groups led by James Dobson, who cried foul.

I read today that the NIV translation committee has taken another stab at it, and has created a translation that reflects to some degree gender inclusive language (as well as updating other language that better reflects current usage).

I must say that I was a bit amused by all the fuss in the late 1990s. I mean the NIV is by definition a dynamic equivalent translation -- focused more on getting intent right than original wording. The debate also highlighted the nature of bible translation, which reflects all kinds of theological and even political elements. Translation is, by definition, an act of interpretation. This is why Muslims consider translations of the Qu'ran to be interpretations or commentaries and not the actual Qu'ran.

Most of us, however, don't read Greek or Hebrew, the language of the original. And even if we did, we would likely differ in how we understood the meaning of the texts before us. On this issue, of gender inclusive language, the ferocity of the opposition to the changes in the NIV stemmed from a backlash against gains made by women in church and society. It was believed that using inclusive language would undermine male dominance. Remember that as this debate was happening the Southern Baptist Convention was passing resolutions calling for women to submit to their husbands and kicking out churches that ordained women.

That translation effort didn't go totally for naught, of course. Zondervan published it, just with a slightly different name -- Today's New International Version. Unfortunately, the damage had been done and the original 1984 edition continued to be produced.

Now, a new attempt at revision has been undertaken. The translators will use inclusive language where they deem it appropriate. I figure they've made some kind of deal with their detractors. And so this new edition will emerge, allowing God to create human beings, and not just men.

I hope for good sales of the new edition, though I think I'll stick with the NRSV.

2 comments:

Gary said...

The NIV: the Not Inspired Version.

jeffkramerak said...

No matter what the translation, we must be careful that the true MEANING is not tainted, or changed…we cannot add or take away words, lets not forget what it says in the last book of Revelations.