TNIV and blogging protocol

I appreciated the following comment and thought it worth a posted reply:

Hi Mark! It looks like you have a great blog here. I wanted to make a couple of comments about your remarks toward the TNIV, and my intent is to do so in the spirit of discussion and not antagonism.

First, you noted in your previous post,

“No, I’m not a fan of gender-neutral Bible versions. See Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress’ work for that. Neither am I a fan of the T/NIV translation philosophy, which I think includes too much interpretation. But I read Greek and Hebrew, so I don’t have to take their word for it. I’m not going to let my objections stop me from the profit of reading through the Bible in a new way this year.”

Well, I teach from the TNIV weekly and occasionally have opportunity to teach from it, but I would agree with you that I’m not a fan of “gender-neutral” Bibles either. Is that a contradiction? Well, no–and you may think I’m splitting hairs here–but the TNIV translation is not intended to be gender neutral as neutral would imply “it.” Rather, the translators prefer to call their approach to gender as gender accurate; that is, they prefer to have the translation communicate the genders intended by the original writer(s).

So if I can give an example from something you said above, I know you were kidding when you said, “fallible men (TNIV: ‘people’)”, but that is exactly not the kind of rendering the TNIV translators would make. Why? Because it’s fairly well known that those who divided up the Bible into chapters and verses WERE men. The TNIV reflects those kinds of renderings as such. But in a context such as Romans 15:30 in which Paul writes “I urge you, ἀδελφοί…” Traditionally, this has been translated as “brothers” or “brethren,” but the context of Romans 16 clearly shows that Paul is writing to a mixed audience. Even the ESV acknowledges this by giving the alternative translation in the footnotes, “Or brothers and sisters.” The TNIV simply uses that translation “brothers and sisters” because it more accurately reflects the use of ἀδελφοί in this verse. In Greek literature, the meaning of this term is always dependent upon the context.

For what it’s worth, the characterization gender neutral is actually a pejorative term used by detractors of the TNIV.

Second, you mention that you wouldn’t want to preach from the TNIV, but I can attest to you that it makes a very good translation to teach or preach from. Most of the people in the Sunday School class I teach are reading from the TNIV. They can easily follow along with the TNIV because there’s only a 7% difference between the two, but even gender issues aside, the TNIV is a much more accurate translation than its predecessor. I use it probably 90% of the time, although I occasionally use the HCSB or if the audience is right, even the NLT.

You mentioned Grudem in the other post, and I respect him greatly, but disagree with him on this issue. And I would also point to individuals like D. A. Carson and Timothy George who have endorsed the TNIV as well as the great evangelical translators who worked on the committee such as Douglas Moo and Gordon Fee.

My reply:

Hey, Rick, I think yours was an ideal comment—a good spirit and good substance. This is just what I wanted from a blog, a chance to be sharpened by the writing-and-response process.

You’re right that the TNIV is not exactly “gender-neutral,” as if it includes no references to maleness or femaleness. I do want to avoid incendiary rhetoric! But isn’t “gender accurate” just a bit slanted itself? Maybe begging the question? What alternative do other translations have but to be “gender inaccurate”?

Yes, I’m aware that men I respect, especially Carson (but also Bock, Blomberg), endorse the TNIV. And, indeed, I am in favor of using a more readable translation than the NASB with the low-income kids I work with (in fact, I used my TNIV there last night!). But here are my main objections to its use as a Bible for regular study and preaching for mature Christians:

  1. I’m uncomfortable with changing singular to plural and third-person to second-person. Admittedly, “man” is a collective singular, so as for intrinsic meaning I can’t object to “People do not live on bread alone” (Mt 4:4). But “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Mt 11:15)? Is that singular or plural? Does it matter? I’m wary of assuming that the perfectly acceptable singular can be replaced with a plural without any loss or change of sense. And if a generic “she” is acceptable in today’s writing (I see it frequently), then a generic “he” is still understandable—and when English grammar matches Greek, isn’t it best to take advantage of that?
  2. As for that “perfectly acceptable singular,” I’m aware that not all find it such. But I simply have to see this 7% gender change as sourced ultimately in an agenda I believe to be opposed to Scripture. Is language as a whole really pushing out the generic “man” and generic “he”? If so, should Christians use the Bible to get on the forefront of that change—especially when we have reason to believe it is ideologically motivated? Maybe someday soon “they” and “them” will be accepted in formal writing as singulars. I actually do think that day is coming. But I would rather be conservative with the Bible.
  3. I think the NIV—and now the TNIV—are wonderful translations to have around. They provide conservative evangelical interpretations of difficult passages. As I was reading along in Proverbs, say, when I first got my trusty parallel Bible, I would come across a verse in the NAS which just didn’t make sense to me. So I would read the NIV and find a helpfully smooth rendering. My firm inductive conclusion is, however, that the NIV is sacrificing some ambiguity that God inspired. For careful study, I’d rather my congregation (if I had one!) be first confronted with the ambiguity/difficulty and then go to more interpretive translations for a possible explanation.

    An example from the TNIV: 2 Tim 3:17 “…so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    The TNIV presupposes one interpretation, that “the man [ανθρωπος] of God” is just a general reference to any Christian. “Man of God” in its many uses in the OT seems to refer to a prophet, a special messenger of God. Granted, “man of God” is used to refer to a pastor just one other time in the NT—but that’s to Timothy in 1 Tim 6:11. Granted, too, this verse certainly has to apply to all Christians. But I’d rather preserve someone’s opportunity to make that judgment—wouldn’t I?

Thanks again, Rick, for the interaction.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

3 thoughts on “TNIV and blogging protocol”

  1. Mark, my apologies for being so tardy in my promised reply. Besides the fact that it’s been a busy week, I also began a response, got distracted after writing a few paragraphs, and accidentally closed my web browser without thinking, losing everything I had written so far. I don’t know why, but it’s always more difficult to write something a second time than the first!

    Regardless, yours was a good response, and you’re certain right that this kind of interaction is the kind of thing that blogging seems to serve up best.

    I’ll see if I can continue the conversation a bit further.

    Regarding the use of “gender accurate,” I certainly see your point, and I doubt the term would be appreciated by those in disagreement with the translation principle.
    S0 far, I’ve seen two translations use the phrase “gender accurate”: TNIV and the NET Bible in describing their translation principle in regard to gender. Although those in disagreement with the translation philosophy may understandably object to the term, I do believe there’s more to it than it merely being a marketing phrase or a cheap shot at other translations. I believe there’s obviously problems with “gender neutral” which I referenced earlier. Although “gender inclusive” is better, it does not completely state what is being done in a translation like the TNIV either. Obviously, the TNIV does not make ALlL references to gender inclusive. Rather, the translators try to be accurate in their rendering of gender terms.

    For instance, using the phrase “man of God” that you reference in your post (I’ll look at the 2 Tim 3:17 in a moment, but for now just the phrase). The TNIV is not going to translate the phrase as “person of God” throughout the Scriptures. In fact, “man of God” still appears 82 times in the TNIV, compared with only 78 times in the NASB and ESV both! So much for the claims that the TNIV removes masculinity! [And incidentally, the NRSV has 80 occurrences of the phrase, not including the apocryphal books.]

    The real point here, though is that the TNIV (and similar Bibles) are not simply trying to create inclusive renderings, but rather apply a rendering accurately based upon context.

    Regarding the changing of singular to plural and the changing of third person to second person, and the like, almost all translations do this at certain points.

    In Psalm 12:7, the KJV uses “them” in the parallel line to remain consistent with the first line, when it should actually be “him.” I personally believe this was done for literary reasons, but has led to KJV-onlyests using this verse to speak of a preservation of God’s words found in the KJV, when actually the pronoun is referring to the oppressed individuals in v. 5. The NIV changed the pronouns to “us” to try to make the reference clear.

    I can also think of Hosea 2:6 in which the ESV and NASB change a 2nd person singular to a third person, and in Hos 4:19, where in the ESV, a 3rd person singular is changed to a plural. If it’s wrong in Rev 3:20 (in the TNIV for instance), wouldn’t it be wrong in Hosea, too? Is it okay a few times, but not quite a few times? Personally, I find it just to be a legitimate translator’s choice, and it doesn’t bother me. To me the key is whether the central meaning is communicated. Meaning trumps original tense or person in this regard as part of the translators’ task in bridging the ancient context with a modern one.

    You also raise the point about generic masculines (he/him/his and man/mankind, etc.). I agree that many—if not most—people read these just fine, but it’s been my experience that not everyone does. Forgive me for pasting from a different post, but this issue became very real to me a few years back, and completely changed my thinking about what I embraced as the appropriate use of inclusive language.

    I do have one main reason for finding value in the use of a “gender-accurate” translation and it came from my five years experience teaching high school students. From 2000 to 2005 I served as chaplain and Bible teacher at a private Christian prep school, Whitefield Academy (formerly Highview Baptist School). Three, maybe four years ago, I was teaching a sophomore class (15-year-olds) an Old Testament survey. While studying creation, one day we read Genesis 1:27, probably in the NIV: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

    A female student in the back of the class raised her hand and made the comment, “Mr. Mansfield, I didn’t know women were made in God’s image!” I stared at her incredulously.

    “What?” I asked.

    “I didn’t know that women were made in God’s image until I saw the second half of this verse. All I’ve ever heard is that ‘MAN is made in God’s image.'”

    I still couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was she kidding or serious? Was she just not the sharpest tack in the box? So I asked the rest of the class, “How many of you thought only men were made in God’s image?” At least a third of the class (of probably around 24 or so students) raised their hands, and most of them were young ladies, but a few of the young men thought the same thing.

    You should also know regarding this school that in general, these were very smart kids. They always ranked in the top five schools of the county in regard to their test scores, including the public schools. I was amazed that these sharp kids wouldn’t realize that when they heard “Man is made in God’s image” that it referred to both males and females. Unfortunately, our language has changed. We can’t take for granted anymore that everyone–especially those in younger generations–understands masculine universals. Can you imagine what it did to these young ladies’ concept of self to think that their male peers were made in God’s image, but they were not? Such misunderstandings are extremely disturbing to me.

    And that’s the issue–this is a misunderstanding based on language. We already have the task of bridging God’s Word across language and culture. My greatest concern is that we can communicate the Bible clearly and effectively. It doesn’t matter if personally I would tend to be a bit conservative in my use of language. It doesn’t matter if my preference in Bibles is a formal equivalent version. What’s important is that my audience with whom I’m trying to teach God’s Word doesn’t have any extra impediment to their hearing the Gospel message. They need to hear it clearly and effectively in language, words, and terms that they understand.

    So, yes, many, if not most will understand masculine generics. However, some won’t. And if I’m choosing to use a translation in public between one that most will understand vs. one that all will understand, why would I not want to go with the latter?

    Now, in regard specifically to 2 Tim 3:17, again it should be noted that the TNIV often retains the familiar phrasing “man of God” in other passages, including 1 Tim 6:11 as you point out. The key question to ask in this passage is how ἄνθρωπος should be translated. The BDAG lexicon lists the primary definition of this word as 1. a person of either sex, w. focus on participation in the human race, a human being. One won’t find a gloss pertaining strictly to maleness until the third definition.

    It would seem to me that since maleness isn’t a primary definition for ἄνθρωπος, and since Paul didn’t add σύ (you) as he did in 1 Tim 6:11, thus broadening the reference to anyone belonging to God, the TNIV’s translation is quite appropriate. In fact, to translate ἄνθρωπος as man in this context because “man of God” has a particular OT referent is the greater instance of presupposing an interpretation than what you suggested that the TNIV is doing.

    Sorry, to be so long-winded, Mark, but thanks for the opportunity.

  2. As for that “perfectly acceptable singular,” I’m aware that not all find it such.

    But many good speakers and authors since 1200 A.D. have found it such, including Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, and Focus On the Family radio host Dr. James Dobson.

  3. Wleman,

    Oops… I think you misread… Or I wasn’t clear enough! The “perfectly acceptable singular” would be “he.” I’m sure Shakespeare, Lewis, and Dobson have used it plenty of times!

    I think you meant that those writers used “they” when you might have expected a “he.” Fine. I grant that in my post!

    Now as for answering Rick, that’s going to take a bit more time…

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