The NIV Bible translation is the most widely used English translation of the Word of God. I know many people who read, memorize, and love their NIV Bibles. Unfortunately a revision to this particular translation that has been in the works now for years will make it one of the more inaccurate and confusing translations available. This is perhaps why the Sothern Baptist Convention passed a resolution opposing it.
The most important difference that NIV users will see will be the acceptance of gender neutral language in many instances. There is a shift from terms like “he/him/his/himself” to more neutral (and less accurate) terms like “anyone” or “whoever.” There are also instances where terms like “son” or “father” have been exchanged with “child” and “parent.” NIV users will notice many similarities to the TNIV gender neutral language that was rejected by so many upon its publication (The TNIV will no longer be distributed).
This language and more liberal interpretation continues into some of the key passages that define a woman’s role in the church, giving feminist theologians more clout as they argue to be leaders and teachers within the church:
We expect that evangelical feminists who claim that women can be pastors and elders will eagerly adopt this 2011 NIV because it tilts the scales in favor of their view at several key verses. This is especially true because the new NIV changes the primary verse in the debate over women’s roles in the church.
1984 NIV: 1 Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.
2011 NIV: 1 Timothy 2:12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (same as TNIV, but with modified footnotes)
Evangelical feminists will love this translation because in one stroke it removes the Bible’s barrier to women pastors and elders. As soon as a church adopts the 2011 NIV, the debate over women’s roles in the church will be over, because women pastors and elders can just say, “I’m not assuming authority on my own initiative; it was given to me by the other pastors and elders.” Therefore any woman could be a pastor or elder so long as she does not take it upon herself to “assume authority.”
The NIV’s translation committee says that the translation “assume authority” is “a particularly nice English rendering because it leaves the question open.” In other words, “assume authority” could be understood in two different ways: a negative way (meaning “wrongly assume authority on one’s own initiative:) or a positive way (meaning “begin to use authority in a rightful way”). But in saying this the NIV translators fail to understand the full force of what they have done: They have given legitimacy to a feminist interpretation that did not have legitimacy from any other modern English translation (except the discontinued TNIV).
Whether the verb is understood in a negative or positive way, the focus of the verse is now on prohibiting a self-initiated action, taking it on oneself to “assume authority” over men. And so feminists will now quickly say that they are not assuming authority on their own initiative -they are just “accepting” it because others entrusted it to them. In any local church that uses this new NIV, no one will be able to answer their argument from this Bible.
This verse alone in the 2011 NIV gives evangelical feminists the most important advance for their cause in the last thirty years. But the translation is simply incorrect, as many writers have demonstrated in extensive scholarly discussion elsewhere, 13 and as all other modern English translations agree: Even the gender-neutral NRSV translates authenteo “have authority” here along with the NIV, NLT, RSV, Holman CSB, and NKJV, while the NASB, NET Bible, and ESV similarly translate it as “exercise authority.” Thus the NIV is out on a limb here over against the other main modern English translations. And it is out on a limb precisely because of its attempt to be “neutral” on a passage that even the liberal translators of the NRSV have not attempted to make more amenable to an egalitarian interpretation. The verb authente0 here means “exercise authority” or “have authority,” not “assume authority.”
This mistaken NIV translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 we find to be particularly unfortunate, because it might well constitute the single reason why churches decide no longer to use the NIV Bible, since apparently it will now be available only in this new 2011 edition and the 1984 NIV will be discontinued. -An Evaluation of Gender Language in the 2011 Edition of the NIV Bible
Why are these changes important to note? Because the Word of God must above all be interpreted accurately! We desire to know what it is that the Lord intended for us to read, what his words actually were to the original men who recorded it. Abandoning gender specific language in favor of less offensive gender neutral language is not only a rebuke on the wisdom of God, but leaves the church at a serious disadvantage when trying to correctly discern how she should respond to the Word of God.
By nature, every translation is subject to error, as they are all interpreted by flawed human beings. It is the original words, first spoken out in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic that were perfect and without error. For this reason it is important that we continually seek out the best and most accurate translations available. By God’s grace and care for the church we have many beautiful and trustworthy translations available to us in our language, but unfortunately the new NIV will not be able to be counted among them with these new revisions.
This is unfortunate news considering the vast majority of people who rely on it as I referred to earlier in this post. It is also worth noting that NIV’s are commonly given to new believers as first Bibles due to their readability. When these NIV’s hit bookstore shelves many people will be unaware of the changes that have taken place and many will be left interpreting the Word of God through a gender neutral lens. As women, it is crucial that we be aware of these changes-changes that affect the very nature of how we obey the Lord within the church.
Not only is it important to understand the implications of this translation on our own lives, but to understand the implication it will have on how we interact with future NIV readers. Care will have to be taken in going back to the original Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic text in order to argue for a correct interpretation of the controversial issue of gender roles.
So where should you go if you are an NIV reader and are looking to get a new Bible in the future? Above any other translation I recommend the ESV (English Standard Version) to Desiring Virtue’s readers. It is an extremely accurate and readable text that is becoming increasingly popular within the Evangelical church. Other great versions are the NASB (New American Standard Bible) which is known for its intensely literal translation and the NKJV (New King James Version) which has been trusted for many years.
Obviously there is much more to be said about the new NIV translation and if this is the Bible you read I would encourage you to take the time to read through the following resources to get a bigger picture of the changes made (This list was put together by Patrick Schreiner at Ad Fontes):
- An Evaluation of Gender Language in the 2011 Edition of the NIV Bible” CBMW (2011) | Denny Burk
- Gender Neutral Issues in the New International Version 2011 | Vern Poythress
- Form, Function, and the “Literal Meaning” Fallacy | Mark Strauss
- Michael Foust on a report on the new NIV that includes interviews with Doug Moo.
Here is a resource on Bible translation in general and the ESV: Translation Philosophy and the English Standard Version New Testament | Rodney Decker
Photo Credit: This Day Belongs to You , Lord