Changing God's words
In trying to make the Bible more accessible to today's young readers, the TNIV toys with Scripture's meaning and accuracy
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Purportedly "sexist" language has become taboo in some circles today. "Mankind" must be changed to "humankind," "he" must be changed to "he or she," and words like "businessmen" or "mailman" are taboo.
Bible translations such as the New Revised Standard, the Good News Bible, and the New Living Translation have also adopted regendered language, and now the most widely used contemporary translation, the New International Version (NIV), is imitating them with Today's New International Version (TNIV).
Some Bible scholars think that's great. Craig Blomberg, a Bible scholar at Denver Seminary, tells of young people and new Christians asking "Why are the Proverbs written only to men?" because of all the language of "fathers," "sons," and that generic "he." Mr. Blomberg says, "It is still hard for them to get it out of their heads that the Bible isn't outdated or biased against women in ways that it never intended to be."
But other Bible scholars, and many evangelicals generally, have three questions about editing the Bible to respond to that concern. The first arises from the basic Christian understanding that all Scripture is inspired by God. Sometimes God's writers used words like "anthropoi" that refer to no specific gender, so they can legitimately be translated "people" rather than "men." But when the inspired words clearly specify one gender or one person, should translators change "fathers" to "parents" and "he" to "they"? Does this imply that God really didn't know what He was doing?
If this first question emphasizes God's glory, the second concerns church teaching. The NIV, unlike some already-regendered versions, has become the standard pew Bible in thousands of churches, and its images stick in our heads. For example, think of this NIV picture of the wicked man in chapter 15 of the book of Job: "he shakes his fist at God and vaunts himself against the Almighty."
Compare that with the image produced by TNIV translators: "they shake their fists at God and vaunt themselves against the Almighty." An author who wrote about a lonely individual, only to find that his editor had turned his passage into a story about a mob in rebellion, would be rightfully angry.
A third question about the TNIV involves honoring agreements. In 1997, following WORLD's exposure of the plan to change the NIV, James Dobson brought together evangelical leaders and the presidents of the International Bible Society, which holds the NIV copyright, and NIV publisher Zondervan. IBS, which had been roundly criticized by many evangelicals, quieted the furor by announcing that there would be no "gender-related language revisions in any NIV Bible licensed by IBS." Yet, the introduction to the new Bible begins, "Today's New International Version (TNIV) is a revision of the New International Version (NIV)" (p. A14)-and that's what the agreement did not allow.
God's glory, church teaching, honesty-but does any of this really matter in comparison with the opportunity to de-genderize biblical language? Bible scholar Wayne Grudem, in the review of the TNIV that follows, argues that it does.
Eight years ago I compared 15 Bible passages in the New International Version (NIV) and the NIV-Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI), which had already been published in England ("Comparing the two NIVs," WORLD, April 19, 1997). Zondervan and the International Bible Society were quietly making plans to publish a similar gender-neutral NIVI in the United States, but when the Christian public saw the actual changes that had been made to the NIVI in the interests of "inclusive language," many decided they could not trust such a translation.
Now in 2005 Zondervan and the IBS have published another revision of the NIV called Today's New International Version (TNIV). Has it corrected the gender-neutral translation policies that were found in the NIVI? Yes, in one of the 15 passages (Proverbs 29:13). But in the other 14 passages it is disappointing to see that nothing has changed (in 11 passages) or that partial corrections were made that did not really solve the problem (in three passages). In spite of a handful of helpful changes, the gender-neutral translation philosophy of the 2005 TNIV is essentially the same as that of the NIVI that caused the controversy of 1997 in the first place. It is the same committee giving us essentially the same Bible.
Current NIV: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image. . . ." So God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them.
TNIV (2005): Then God said, "Let us make human beings in our image. . . ." So God created human beings in his own image . . . male and female he created them. [identical to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: The change from singular "man" to plural "human beings" obscures the unity of the race as "man" (indicated by the singular Hebrew noun 'adam). The word "man" in English can mean either "a male human being" or "the human race," and thus it is the best translation for Hebrew 'adam, which can also refer either to man in distinction from woman (Genesis 2:22, 25) or to the human race as a whole (as here). The TNIV thus fails to convey as much of the meaning of 'adam as it could in English today. Why is the male-oriented aspect of the meaning of the Hebrew word removed?
Current NIV: He created them male and female. . . . And when they were created, he called them "man."
TNIV (2005): He created them male and female. . . . And when they were created, he called them "human beings." [identical to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: God's activity of naming is important in the Bible. Here the TNIV has renamed the human race, refusing to use the male-oriented name "man." But in the previous four chapters this same singular Hebrew word 'adam has been used eight times to refer to man in distinction from woman (as in "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame," Genesis 2:25), and also five times as the proper name "Adam." So Hebrew readers would hear clear male nuances when God named the human race 'adam in Genesis 5:2, and "man" is the best English translation. The TNIV incorrectly removes the male-oriented aspect of the name God gave the human race.
TNIV supporters say the change was necessary because the English language has changed. But people today still understand that "man" can mean the human race, as in the Wall Street Journal headline about the recent tsunami, "Man, Nature, and Disaster" (Dec. 28, 2004, p. A10).
Current NIV: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
NIVI (1996): Blessed are those who do not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
TNIV (2005): Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers. [identical in gender language to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: Here the word "man" means "a male human being," and it is the correct translation of the singular Hebrew word 'ish, which (except in special idioms) means "man" in distinction from woman, and surely is singular, not plural. The Hebrew text holds up an individual righteous man as an example that all Israel should imitate. The next verse says more about this man: "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night" (vs. 2). But the TNIV changes "the man" to "those," removing the concrete example of an individual man. It changes the Bible's singulars to plurals in hundreds of such cases, in each case removing one of the primary teaching methods of the Bible: holding up an individual man as an example for all believers to imitate.
The result is (1) an incorrect translation of the singular noun 'ish, (2) a loss of the picture of the moral courage of a solitary righteous man standing against plural sinners, (3) a shift away from the Bible's emphasis on the relationship between God and individual persons to a greater emphasis on groups, (4) a loss of any possibility of seeing this "blessed man" in the Psalms as a foreshadowing of Christ, the truly righteous Man, and (5) a loss of historical accuracy, because the original writer of Psalm 1 did not speak of "those" but of "a man."
The change to plural also produces a comical picture in verse 3: "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season" (NIV) becomes "they are like a tree. . ." (TNIV). All God's people around the world are like one tree? Another amusing example is a whole group of sluggards now reaching into one dish: "Sluggards bury their hands in the dish and are too lazy to bring them back to their mouths" (Proverbs 26:15).
Current NIV: What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
TNIV (2005): What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? [identical to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: The singular "man" meaning "the human race" is changed to plural "mere mortals," wrongly removing the sense of unity of the human race (the Hebrew is singular). The Hebrew singular ben which means "son" and the singular 'adam which means "man" are incorrectly translated with the plural "human beings," removing masculine meaning, and thus removing the title "son of man," which Jesus often used of Himself. (The TNIV also incorrectly removes "son of man" when this verse is quoted in Hebrews 2:6.)
Current NIV: He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
TNIV (2005): He protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken. [identical to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: The third-person masculine singular "his" rightly represents the third-person masculine singular pronoun suffix in Hebrew, and the TNIV incorrectly pluralizes this to "their bones." This obscures the fulfillment of this verse in Christ's crucifixion in John 19:36. This part of Psalm 34 speaks of God's protection of an individual righteous man: God protects "his bones." Why does the TNIV refuse to translate hundreds of third-person masculine singular pronouns in the original languages as third-person masculine singular pronouns in English? What is the objection to male-oriented language when it accurately reflects the original Hebrew or Greek text?
Current NIV: For a man's ways are in full view of the Lord.
TNIV (2005): For your ways are in full view of the Lord. [identical to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: The Hebrew male-specific noun 'ish means "a man," as the NIV correctly translated it. The TNIV incorrectly changes this to "your," and thus restricts the statement to the "you," which in this context is the son being warned by his father in the previous verse. The text no longer affirms God's observation of the ways of every person (represented by the concrete example of "a man").
These last two verses (Psalm 34:20; Proverbs 5:21) also demonstrate another serious result of systematically changing singulars to plurals in hundreds of cases: The TNIV will ultimately lead to a loss of confidence in tens of thousands of plural pronouns in the Bible. A preacher cannot rightly use the TNIV to make a point based on the plurals "they/them/ their/those" or the second-person pronouns "you/your/yours" because he can no longer have confidence that those represent accurately the meaning of the original. Maybe the original was plural ("their"), but then again maybe "their" is a gender-neutral substitute for a singular ("his"). Maybe the original was second person ("you"), but then again maybe "you" is a gender-neutral substitute for a third-person singular pronoun ("he") or a singular noun ("a man"). How can any ordinary English reader know? He can't. So no weight can be put on those pronouns. "He" in the NIV has become "we" or "you" or "they" in the TNIV hundreds and perhaps even thousands of times.
How many pronouns are thrown into doubt? The forms of "we/us/our/ourselves" occur 4,636 times, of "you/your/ yours/yourselves" 21,205 times, and the forms of "they/them/their/ themselves/those" 19,372 times, for a total of 45,213 pronouns. How can we know which of these 45,213 are trustworthy, and which are the TNIV's gender-neutral substitutes for the correct translation "he/him/his"? The only way is to check the Hebrew and Greek text in each case, and who is going to do that? Can you really study, or memorize, or teach or preach from such a Bible where you can't trust this many pronouns?
Another measure of the extent of the changes comes from seeing that the TNIV has 1,826 more instances of second-person pronouns such as "you/your/yours/yourself" than were in the NIV. Did 1,826 new examples of second-person verbs and pronouns suddenly appear in the original Hebrew and Greek texts? No, most of these are gender-neutral substitutes for the objectionable words "he/him/his," which were translated correctly in the NIV. And the TNIV has 2,321 more examples of forms of "they/them/their/those/themselves" than the NIV. Did 2,321 new examples of third-person plural verbs and pronouns suddenly appear in the original Hebrew and Greek texts? No, most of these again are gender-neutral substitutes for "he/ him/his," which were translated correctly in the NIV. You can't trust the pronouns in the TNIV. This is a deficiency so great as to render the TNIV unsuitable for widespread use in the church.
Current NIV: A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth.
NIVI (1996): Those who love wisdom bring joy to their parents, but companions of prostitutes squander their wealth.
TNIV (2005): A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth. [a helpful correction, restoring the NIV wording]
Change in meaning: None. The TNIV returns to the original NIV in this verse.
Current NIV: If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
NIVI (1996): Rebuke a brother or sister who sins, and if they repent, forgive them.
TNIV (2005): If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. [changed but no improvement over the NIVI; the words "against you" are added but they are not there in the Greek text]
Change in meaning: The words "or sister" are inserted into the Bible but Jesus did not say them and they have no basis in the Greek text. (The Bible can say "brother or sister" when it wants to, as in James 2:15.) The words "against you" are inserted into the Bible but they have no basis in the Greek text. The words "them" and "they" hinder clear communication because they will be taken as plural by some people, as singular by others, and as bad grammar by many. A common reaction will be some uncertainty as to whether the original Greek was singular or plural. The TNIV is going through linguistic gymnastics simply to avoid the offensive word "him," but "him" is the most accurate translation of the masculine singular Greek pronoun autos.
I agree, of course, that "If your brother sins against you" also applies to sisters who sin, just as the parable of the Prodigal Son also applies to prodigal daughters, and just as "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife" (Exodus 20:17) also applies to not coveting your neighbor's husband! (And the TNIV did not change those passages.) But people have easily understood this for centuries: When the Bible uses an example of an individual man or woman to teach a general principle, the principle also applies to people of the opposite sex. We do not have to add the words "or sister" to understand this. We should not add to Jesus' words things that have no basis in the Greek text.
Current NIV: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.
TNIV (2005): No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. [identical to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: There is a loss of clear emphasis on the Father drawing an individual person. "Them" seems to be plural here, referring to a group. It is an incorrect translation of the third-person singular Greek pronoun autos in both places.
Current NIV: Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. . . ."
NIVI (1996): Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die. . . ."
TNIV (2005): Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die . . . ." [a partial correction changing plural "those" to singular "anyone," but still using the incorrect plural "they"]
Change in meaning: I agree with the change from "He who believes in me" to "Anyone who believes in me," because there is no masculine pronoun in the Greek text. ("Anyone who" is consistent with the Colorado Springs Guidelines for this kind of Greek construction, and it retains the singular meaning.) But the TNIV still adds an element of confusion because of the plural expression "they die" (with the plural verb "die") instead of the more accurate NIV rendering, "he dies" (correctly rendering the third-person singular Greek verb).
Current NIV: If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
NIVI (1996): Those who love me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
TNIV (2005): Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. [a partial correction, changing plural "those" to singular "anyone," but keeping "them" instead of "him"]
Change in meaning: Again the change back to the NIV's "anyone" is helpful. But the "If" that Jesus said (Greek ean) is omitted, and three masculine singular pronouns (Greek autos) are incorrectly translated with "them," removing the amazing emphasis on the Father and Son dwelling with an individual person. In the TNIV, maybe "them" refers to the whole group of those who obey. How can we know?
Current NIV: Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
TNIV (2005): Even from your own number some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. [identical to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: The TNIV removes the word "men" used to refer to the elders of the church at Ephesus. The Greek word is not anthropos, which can mean "man" or "person," but aner, which means "man" in distinction from woman. The Greek expression for "from your own number" is emphatic, referring specifically to the elders and not to the Ephesian church. Why not call elders "men"?
1 Corinthians 14:28
Current NIV: If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
NIVI (1996): If there is no interpreter, the speakers should keep quiet in the church and speak to themselves and God.
TNIV (2005): If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church; let them speak to themselves and to God. [singular "speaker" is rightly restored but the incorrect plural "themselves" is retained]
Change in meaning: In attempting to avoid "himself" (which was the NIV's correct translation of the masculine singular pronoun eautou), the TNIV inserts "them" followed by "themselves," which many readers will take as plurals. The verse will easily be misunderstood to encourage groups of tongue-speakers to go off together and speak in tongues "to themselves." But that is not what Paul wrote.
Current NIV: Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life. . . .
TNIV (2005): Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life . . . . [identical to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: TNIV removes the example of a single "blessed man" who perseveres under trial and changes it to a group: "those" and "they." The focus on God's blessing on an individual believer is removed. The TNIV pictures a group under trial and suggests that reward waits until "they" all have stood the test. "Those" is an incorrect translation of the singular Greek word aner, which means "man," not "person," and certainly not "those."
Current NIV: I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
TNIV (2005): I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. [identical to NIVI (1996)]
Change in meaning: The idea of Christ coming into an individual person's life is lost; Christ no longer eats with "him" but with "them." Many readers will understand "them" to refer to the plural group "those whom I love" in the previous verse, so the TNIV now pictures Christ coming into a church and eating among a group of people.
In addition to these 15 verses, the TNIV has other types of unacceptable translations, which I can mention briefly:
Changing "son" to "child" and "father" to "parent" when the original meant "son" and "father"NIV Proverbs 13:1: A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.
TNIV Proverbs 13:1: A wise child heeds a parent's instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.
Removing "brother" when the original meant "brother" (singular)
NIV Matthew 7:3: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye. . . ?"
TNIV Matthew 7:3: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else's eye. . . ?"
De-emphasizing the manhood of Christ
NIV 1 Corinthians 15:21: For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
TNIV 1 Corinthian 15:21: For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being.
Comment: Here the Greek word is anthropos, which can mean either "man" or "person," depending on context. But in this context it refers to Adam and Christ and the meaning "man" is appropriate. What is the objection to calling them "men"?
NIV Hebrews 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
TNIV Hebrews 2:17: For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.
Comment: Did Jesus have to become like his sisters "in every way" in order to become a "high priest in service to God"? All the Old Testament priests were men, and surely the high priest was only a man. This text does not quite proclaim an androgynous Jesus (who was both male and female), but it surely leaves open a wide door for misunderstanding, and almost invites misunderstanding. Meditate on that phrase "in every way" and see if you can trust the TNIV.
Removing whole phrases from the bible
NIV Matthew 7:4: How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
TNIV Matthew 7:4: How can you say ___________, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
NIV Matthew 15:5 . . . if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,'
TNIV Matthew 15:5: . . . if anyone declares _______________ that what ____ might have been used _______ to help their father or mother is 'devoted to God,'
Expanding the penalty for adding to the words of Scripture
NIV Revelation 22:18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.
TNIV Revelation 22:18: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If any one of you adds anything to them, God will add to you the plagues described in this scroll.
Comment: The first "you" added by the TNIV is plural, referring to the whole group of hearers. Therefore the second "you" is also plural, and if anyone in the group adds to the words of prophecy the penalty is now expanded to the whole group.
Objections by TNIV defenders
The defenders of the TNIV respond, "But all translations make these kinds of translation decisions." No, they do not. They do not systematically remove hundreds of male-specific terms when there is a male-oriented term in the original, nor do they change hundreds of singular verses to plural just to avoid using the word "he."
Defenders of the TNIV fail to mention that in the major "essentially literal" translations (such as the ESV, NASB, HCSB, and NKJV) translating singulars as plurals is rare, done only in unusual cases like collective nouns that have a singular form in Greek but require a plural for the same plural sense in English, or neuter plural subjects that take a singular verb because of a particular feature of Greek grammar that does not match what English does. In addition, there are some difficult Old Testament poetic verses where the Hebrew pronouns shift frequently in ways difficult for anyone to understand. But these are unusual exceptions.
To say that "the TNIV is just doing what all translations do" is not coming clean with the Christian public regarding the extent of the changes. It is like saying that a student who misspelled 100 words in a term paper "is just doing what the teacher does" because she misspelled one difficult word in class five months ago. It is not the same.
Another question is, "Why are you only attacking the TNIV?" First, Vern Poythress and I systematically critiqued several gender-neutral translations in our book, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy. Second, the NIV is the most widely used translation in the English language, so its policies have great influence. Third, other translations that use much gender-neutral language (such as The Message or the New Living Translation) have been "dynamic equivalent" translations that are read more as commentaries and interpretations of what the Bible says rather than as "word for word" or "essentially literal" translations. But the NIV is different, because many people use it as their main Bible for study, teaching, preaching, and memorizing, and they depend on it much more for accuracy in the very words. I believe the TNIV is no longer sufficiently trustworthy to be used for these purposes.
The most frequent reason given for the TNIV is that updates in language are needed to reach younger readers today, especially those 18-34. But the words that are systematically removed are not archaic words. What reader 18-34 cannot understand the words "father," "son," "brother," "man," and "he/him/his"? Yet these male-oriented words have been removed many hundreds of times where they correctly represented the original Hebrew or Greek in the current NIV. The best term to describe this Bible is not "gender-accurate" but "gender-neutral."
I agree with removing male-oriented words when there is no male-oriented meaning in the original Greek or Hebrew text. But when there is a male meaning, we dare not under-translate and conceal that meaning just because that emphasis is unpopular today.
If we believe that "all Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16), and that "every word of God is flawless" (Proverbs 30:5), then we must believe that every word of Scripture as originally written is the very word God intended to be written. To put it another way, our doctrine of the "verbal inspiration" of Scripture is that the very words of Scripture-not just the general ideas-are "God-breathed" and are therefore the very words of God. Jesus and the New Testament authors sometimes base arguments on a single word of Old Testament Scripture (Matthew 4:10; John 10:34; Galatians 3:10, 16; Hebrews 3:13; 4:7) and sometimes a single letter of a word (Matthew 22:44). Anyone who does expository preaching knows how often good preaching makes use of the sense of individual words. These words are not ours to tamper with as we wish; they are the words of God.
If the TNIV should gain wide acceptance, the precedent will be established for other Bible translations to mute unpopular nuances and details of meaning for the sake of "political correctness." The loss of many other doctrines unpopular in the culture will soon follow. And at every case Bible readers will never know if what they are reading is really the Word of God or the translators' ideas of something that would be a little less offensive than what God actually said.
In many hundreds of places, then, the new words in the TNIV do not accurately reflect the meaning of the words God originally caused to be written, and thus they are not the words of God. They are human words that men have substituted for the words of God, and they have no place in the Bible. "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it" (Deuteronomy 4:2).
-Wayne Grudem is research professor of Bible and Theology at Phoenix Seminary in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He holds his B.A. from Harvard, M.Div. from Westminster Seminary, and Ph.D. in New Testament from Cambridge University.
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