Monday, September 07, 2009

Reflections on the Death of the TNIV

I was more than a little dismayed when I learned last week that the TNIV--my favored translation for some time now--was being discontinued.  I've commented on a few of the other blogs that have discussed this issue already, but consciously wanted to wait a little bit before weighing in on the matter here.

On one hand, I'm a bit angry.  Even if this decision isn't being made explicitly out of deference to the anti-gender-equality crowd (and, let's be honest, even though gender-oriented language only represents a small fraction of the actual changes in the TNIV when compared to the NIV--less than 30%--this is where most of the controversy has been centered), such a move cannot help but be seen as a victory by these people, and I really don't want to give them the satisfaction.

I also have an even more selfish reason for being upset.   The timing.  The announcement about the discontinuation of the TNIV came on September 1st (note: it's in the video at about 15:20), the day after I publicly announced my e-book offering a "modern English" version of the 1666 work "Women's Speaking Justified," which uses the TNIV for its Scripture references, a choice I made specifically because (as I state in the introduction) "I find that it speaks most clearly to the modern reader without introducing too many interpretive elements that might serve to draw the reader’s attention away from what the Scripture text itself says."  Articles like the one done at the Christianity Today blog calling the handling of the release of the TNIV a "mistake" (especially the earlier version of the post which was less specific) undermine that assertion (which I still stand by).

But whether or not a Bible translation is "good" really shouldn't depend on whether the end result (that is, what we read in English) reflects modern attitudes on gender-inclusive language.  Rather, the question should be "does this translation accurately convey the original text to the modern reader?"  If a text really was intended to refer only to males, using language in the translation that makes it appear that the text also referred to females is inaccurate, and thus inappropriate.  On this, there's room for plenty of healthy debate.  A Greek or Hebrew word may well have been male-specific in its original instance, but if the context indicates that it may have been used to refer not just to males specifically, some folks would argue that one should nonetheless retain the "maleness" of the original so as not to make an extra interpretive leap that the English-only readers don't have the resources to know has been made on their behalf.  Others (myself included) would argue for being more inclusive, so as not to send the signal that the original text was "exclusive" when it may not have actually been so.  Anti-gender-inclusive translation scholar Wayne Grudem himself concedes, for example, that "accuracy is improved" by translating the Greek word αδελφοι as "brothers and sisters" (instead of the more literal "brothers") in some instances.1  But I confess that I'm definitely a bit mistrustful when I hear people like Douglas Moo, chairman of the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), promise to make "a complete review of every gender-related change that we have made since the publication of the 1984 edition."  Why single that point out, and only that point, if not to signal that the CBT is backpedaling on the gender-inclusive language specifically?  How is this not a signal that the right wing of this debate is controlling the outcome?  But, again, if the original text really doesn't allow for the inclusive interpretation....

What I'm really against isn't the potential loss of some "gender-inclusive" language (especially if the text doesn't actually warrant it), but against the notion that a translation philosophy that pays attention to the fact that modern language has changed on this matter is somehow invalid.  Many modern English-speakers simply do not read "man" as including both males and females anymore.  A translation that recognizes this fact should not be condemned simply for doing so.

But, at the end of the day, one item should be made more clear than, perhaps, has been thus far.  Although the designation "Today's New International Version" (TNIV) is no longer going to be used, the work of the translation is not being abandoned altogether.  Rather, the CBT is simply reversing its decision to leave the NIV (not updated since 1984) and the TNIV as separate branches, and are bringing those lines back together into a "new" NIV (currently referred to as NIV 2011). It's worth noting that most translations, including the NIV and TNIV, have been updated since their original release.  This can be quickly demonstrated even without pointing to each individual change simply by observing copyright notices.  The NIV, for example, lists "1973, 1978, 1984" noting that incremental changes were made each of those years.  These did not necesitate a new "other than NIV" designation.  Also, indications are that the NIV 2011 itself will actually be referred to simply as "NIV" when it is actually published.  Perhaps this will ultimately be a way to introduce "gender-accurate" language (where it is warranted!) without the controversy that the TNIV had.  If so, this will actually be a good thing.

1Wayne Grudem, What's Wrong with Gender-Neutral Bible Translations? Copyright 1997 by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. p. 18.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! Thanks Mark! You were much more eloquent than I ever was at explaining the issues :)

    ReplyDelete

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