Because so many church groups have embraced the 1984 edition of the NIV, many denominations are now evaluating the 2011 version for possible adoption. But the controversy over gender language has also led some groups to censure the new edition, recommending that it not be used or banning it outright. As our GARBC churches consider the issue, it is helpful to study how other groups have addressed the new translation.
The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution proposed from the floor at its annual conference, expressing “profound disappointment . . . for this inaccurate translation.” This statement may have been based on misunderstanding of the nature of gender-related language in the NIV—sounding somewhat disconnected from any significant study of the issues by qualified scholars.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a group that advocates traditional (complementarian) gender roles, has taken a narrow view of what it considers acceptable language. The group also teaches that only formal equivalent translations are acceptable. As a result of these positions, the CBMW had no alternative than to speak against the NIV11, concluding that “we cannot recommend the 2011 NIV as a sufficiently reliable English translation.” The report specifically criticized the NIV11 for incorporating more elements of functional equivalence, crossing their narrow limits of generic reference. Whether their two criteria are reliable or well advised is still being debated by conservative scholars.
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, a conservative Lutheran denomination, has also been considering a response to the NIV11. For the past year, the synod has had a study group working on the issues involved. The committee is composed of representative scholars from WELS seminaries. Several detailed reports were issued prior to their annual conference in July, when the matter was discussed. The tone was evenhanded and charitable, though also thorough, as they have grappled with the implications of a possible change in translations used by their denominational publishing house. Their materials, accessible at www.wels.net, are a model for how such matters should be considered by a group of churches.
Emotion and hasty judgment can lead to poor decisions on controversial issues. It is easy to allow our high commitment to certain positions to cloud our judgment when assessing the work of scholars with whom we disagree. Though we should not compromise Biblical absolutes, we are also responsible to treat our brothers and sisters charitably and fairly.
Individual churches in fellowship with the GARBC adopt (or exclude) Bible translations without interference from any other ecclesiastical authority. The GARBC is not a denomination, so it does not formally approve or disapprove any action of its churches (including their translation choices). We are united by our core ideas, in that our churches collectively affirm the GARBC Articles of Faith, which describes the Bible as “verbally and plenarily inspired and is the product of Spirit-controlled men, and therefore is infallible and inerrant in all matters of which it speaks.” This doctrinal idea strongly influences our translation choices, but leaves room for a range of answers. More study is needed, including a careful analysis of the NIV Old Testament translation. (Rod Decker’s article primarily addresses the New Testament.)
The GARBC Council of Eighteen has approved several Bibles for quoting in Regular Baptist Press products, including the following translations: American Standard Version (1901), English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Bible, New American Standard Bible, New International Version (1984), New Scofield Reference Bible, and the Amplified Bible. But the Council’s approval of translations applies only to the GARBC’s publishing division—and should not be mistaken as a mandate to individual churches. Having approved the 1984 edition of the NIV, the Council will now begin to address the advisability of approving the 2011 version.
Regular Baptist Press editors continue to study contemporary English usage, making regular changes to our house style book (based on Chicago Manual of Style) when necessary. For instance, if the Bible translations we quote begin to use the “singular they,” it makes sense for our editors to adopt this usage as well. So far, we have not made this change.
Kevin Mungons is the managing editor of the Baptist Bulletin