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Monday, February 20, 2006

About the TNIV

In a comment to Suzanne's preceding post, Nathan said:
I would be interested in knowing what you think of the TNIV as a whole. You have spoken much about one issue - but what of the rest? How would you personally rate the TNIV, and why?
I started to respond to Nathan in that comment section but my response became long enough, and, I hope, substantive enough, that I feel it best to turn it into a post.

Nathan's question is most appropriate, especially since it is asked in a climate where the Christian community is so polarized over the TNIV. An answer to his question deserves an answer with much more detail than I can afford to give it right now when I must return to my priority Bible translation consulting work (checking a translation of 2 Cor. right now). More detailed analysis of the TNIV, from both its proponents and oppoents, can be found at the TNIV links webpage:

Also visit the TNIV section of this blog. I and others have included a number of comments on passages in the TNIV where we believe it could be better translated. I also happen to be working privately with the TNIV team to help them improve the translation. But let us not think in polar terms about this. Just because any Bible version can be improved (and this is true of every one ever published) does not mean that it is not a good translation.

The TNIV is a good translation. It is more accurate than the NIV, as noted in reviews by some biblical scholars. Its language has been updated from the NIV in minor ways to be more current English. There is serious biblical scholarship behind it.

For myself, I have never used the NIV nor the TNIV as a personal Bible. That may be more accidental than anything else. I happened to attend a Bible school in the 1960s where we used the ASV at first, then later, its revision, the NASB, as a Bible version for detailed study. Later my wife and I also attended a church where the pulpit Bible was the NASB.

For Bibles written in more standard English, I bought the TEV (Good News Bible) as soon as it was published in the mid-1960s and liked it a great deal. I still do. I found that it was written in my language. It is the pulpit Bible of the church where we worshiped for the last 30 years. Our children grew up on it. Today my wife and I like the CEV even more than the TEV. Both versions are written in standard English, the kind of language parallel to the Koine Greek in which the New Testament was written.

For me, both the NIV and TNIV are a bit stilted (but far less so than the NASB and moderately less so than the NRSV and ESV). But that kind of English results from the good intentions of the CBT which translated both the NIV and TNIV, their desire to have a Bible version that sounds "dignified." I respect that desire and the fact that many churches want a Bible that sounds dignified for use in their worship services.

I consider much of the opposition to the TNIV against its gender-inclusive language to be misinformed and misleading. There are long lists of purported "inaccuracies" in the TNIV. But when they are studied carefully, nearly every one does not qualify to be called an "inaccuracy". That label is a misuse of an important English word. Instead, those long lists represent verses where those who made the lists have a different understanding about how the translated texts should be worded.

For instance, many English versions, including the KJV, translate Greek huioi theou of the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:9) as "children of God." I happen to believe that this is the best, most accurate translation of the Greek in this context. But Matt. 5:9 is included in the lists of TNIV translation inaccuracies for its translation as "children of God." Those who compiled those lists prefer the translation "sons of God." That is one possible translation of huioi theou. But TNIV opponents are mistaken in calling the TNIV translation of Matt. 5:9 a translation "inaccuracy." It would be more accurate for them to label their difference with the TNIV wording as a difference of exegesis or translation philosophy. And it would be appropriate for them to state why they have such a difference of opinion.

I also wonder how many of those who oppose the TNIV have read it widely and carefully. How much of the opposition to the TNIV is a pack mentality? Do TNIV opponents understand the use of the singular "they" in the TNIV? Do they understand the difference between what a biblical language word means in one passage as opposed to what it may mean in a different passage? Have they field tested their understanding of generic pronouns and nouns against the understanding of those who they hope to use Bible translations?

Having said all this, will I ever use the TNIV as my main Bible version? I doubt it. I continue to prefer my main Bible to be written in more standard English, as our language is actually spoken and written by good native English speakers. But for those who prefer a more literal translation, even if it does not have such natural English, would I be glad if they choose to use the TNIV as their main Bible? Absolutely. It is one of the best Bibles available today for those who prefer a more "Bible sounding" Bible version.

Some day I hope to have the time to work through the lists of purported "inaccuracies" in the TNIV. I would like to demonstrate that most, if not all, of them are not inaccuracies at all, but, rather reflect differences of exegesis and translation philosophies. We have lived with such differences for many decades now since the time when the KJV was no longer the main Bible version used by many Bible readers.

But the TNIV has resulted in strong debates and even "Bible rage" among many conservatives for several reasons, not the least of which is that the Evangelical community has felt a sense of ownership of the NIV. It is their Bible. When we own things, it is normal that we don't want anyone changing what we own.

There are other secondary issues that trigger opposition to the TNIV is oppposed, such as the fact that there was an agreement signed by a couple of members of the CBT (Committee on Bible Translation, the group that has translated the NIV and TNIV) stating that they would follow the Colorado Springs Guidelines (the TNIV subsequently produced does not follow them). And there was some kind of organizational statement made that the NIV would not be revised. Later there was an organizational change of mind. Some conservatives felt betrayed by this decision to go ahead and produce the TNIV when the organization has previously stated it would not produce a revision of the NIV.

Finally, there is, in some circles, great oppposition to the degree of gender inclusive language found in the TNIV. It is believed, by some, that the gender inclusive language of the TNIV represents capitulation, whether consciously or not, to feminist influences in our society. Some TNIV opponents believe that Bibles must, on theological grounds, reflect some kind of masculine primacy. This is even propounded in a new theological theory called male representation, developed by Vern Poythress and Wayne Grudem and described in their book The Gender Neutral Bible Controversy and its revision, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy.

Is the TNIV a trustworthy, reliable, accurate Bible version? Yes. Is it an improvement upon the NIV? Yes. Will it be widely accepted by conservative Christians and the evangelical community? I don't know. There has been so much criticism of the TNIV, without as widespread scholarly responses to the claims against the TNIV, that many are hesitant to purchase and use the TNIV. Many Christian bookstores refuse to sell the TNIV, even though it is no more gender inclusive than some other Bible versions that those bookstores sell.

Could the TNIV be improved? Absolutely. And I am hoping that this blog, which is dedicated to improving every English version, can help do that.

Do I endorse the TNIV? No, I do not. I do not endorse any English Bible version. Do I enjoy reading the TNIV? Not really (but I'm glad that others do, and the TNIV is more enjoyable to read than some other recent versions which have quite a lot of strange, convoluted English). But the TNIV is among the set of English versions which I would recommend to others to use, depending on what their needs are for personal Bible study, desire for degree of conformity to standard English dialects usage, their church's views on what kind of Bible is best for corporate and personal use, etc.

My personal desire for standard usage of English in Bible versions lead me to prefer the CEV, TEV, GW, ISV, NCV, NLT, and The Message for my Bible reading. Which versions do I consider accurate? There are many, including these more recent English versions: NET, NASB, NRSV, ESV, ISV, GW, NLT, NIV, TNIV. If we consider accuracy at higher levels of language than just the word or phrase, I also consider these versions to be accurate, with reservations about some passages: CEV, TEV, NCV.



At Mon Feb 20, 11:42:00 AM, Blogger Ted Gossard said...

Wayne. Good post.

The TNIV strictly speaking is supposed to be on its own and apart from the NIV which Zondervan/IBS has pledged will never be changed. So one will never buy a Bible marked NIV that will have different wording from the 1984 revised copies of the NIV. That's my understanding of it.

At Mon Feb 20, 02:58:00 PM, Blogger peter hamm said...

Here's my problem with the TNIV, and with the original NLT, although in the latter the second edition has cleaned this up some...

When you translate the word "he" into the generic plural "they" you lose the original individual force of the passage. The TNIV does this a lot. That's why I won't use it.

At Mon Feb 20, 03:25:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter Hamm said:

When you translate the word "he" into the generic plural "they" you lose the original individual force of the passage. The TNIV does this a lot. That's why I won't use it.

Peter, are you referring to the syntactic plural of the English word "they" or its meaning as in commonly used English sentences such as:

"If every pilot knew the exact length of each runway on which they land, there would be fewer airplane overruns."

Does the word "they" in this sentence sound singular or plural to you?

How about this sentence:

"Whoever believes in Christ will receiver their promised reward of eternal salvation."

Does "their" sound like it is referring to "whoever believes in Christ"? If so, does whoever sound like it is plural or singular? Do you think "their" is referring to any single person or to a group of more than one person all of whom are believing in Christ?

Have you ever heard of the English pronoun usage called singular "they" which has been used for a long time, including in the King James Version, as in Numbers 2:17, 2:34, 15:12; 2 Kings 14:12; Matthew 18:35, Philippians 2:3? If this singular "they" usage was considered good English in 1611 A.D., why should not its continued usage in 2006 also be good English?

At Tue Feb 21, 03:55:00 AM, Blogger peter hamm said...


I agree with you, as far as your statement goes, but I still become concerned about some of the passages that have been put forth as problematic, such as Matthew 16:24-25, which I feel loses something very important when that "individual" aspect is removed.

I am not a proponent that the generic "he" must always be used when translating, yet I remain concerned that political correctness set the agenda for some of these decisions.

I do like the NRSV and NLT, as I mentioned. I don't mean to say I'm an expert on this issue with the TNIV (I know enough greek to little more than putter around, I admit) but I harbor enough concerns not to use it. I also harbor enough concerns against the people who criticize it that I won't go overboard. (I mean... really... too many of those who speak against it don't have the kind of language training to speak authoritatively... but the same is so true of so many of those who endorse it.)

At Tue Feb 21, 05:12:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Peter, I understand your concern about replacing singular "he" with apparently plural "they". Do you have similar concerns that singular "thou" in KJV was replaced in modern translations with originall plural "you"? See Wayne's posting on You and yous in English Bibles. Both "they" and "you" are now ambiguous between singular and plural. As a result there are both second person and third person passages which "lose[] something very important when that "individual" aspect is removed". This is perhaps not an ideal situation for Bible translation, but it is a fact of the English language. Because of this fact it is not possible to communicate every nuance of the original clearly in English, at least without long explanations or artificial devices. Every language has such peculiarities which complicate translation. Those who really want to research these nuances need to look at the original language text, or at commentaries based on it.

At Tue Feb 21, 01:02:00 PM, Blogger peter hamm said...


(great name by the way!) I actually do NOT agree with the reactionary knee-jerk comments made by many in the anti-TNIV camp, and do not agree with those who state that it is dangerous in any way. I do grow concerned about passages like the one I cited, which others have brought up, but the whole you/yous thing is unfortunate. I'm hoping that y'all becomes a main staple of the english language in the next 50 years so that we can properly translate those passages! ;-)

My Bible of choice, btw, is the NIV or NLT for reading and the NET (complete with it's RIDICULOUSLY cool overabundance of footnotes) and NA27 for study. (I know no Hebrew, so I have to trust the translators more on the Old Testament, but I understand enough Koine to at least be able to process what commentators are talking about.)

Your statement beginning with "Because of this fact it is not possible to communicate every nuance of the original clearly in English..." is exactly why I have been working my way through the Mounce Grammar (I'm about 3/4 of the way through). More should do it. If you're gonna argue against a translation like the TNIV or NRSV or whatever, don't just listen to someone who might not even know how to read the original Greek or Hebrew. Learn enough to at least engage the debate semi-intelligently.

At Wed Feb 22, 10:27:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

Peter H: The NLT is as thoroughly inclusive as the TNIV, and I believe it has singular 'they'. I may be wrong about that. If your only problem is that one thing, and the NLT doesn't do it, then I have nothing to say here, but I'd be surprised if they don't use it, and I'd be surprised if that's your only problem. Going from 'adelphoi' to "brothers and sisters" is as big a change in form, particularly in contexts where it's arguably addressing only male brothers (as some claim in James, since they take it to be a letter written to male elders). Going from 'adelphoi' to "friends" or "dear friends", as is common in the NLT, seems to change the sense entirely, and I just can't see how preserving the gender connotation is worth losing the very meaning of the word. I've been very disappointed with how the NLT handles gender translation.

Wayne: I would argue that there is an issue of accuracy with the TNIV, but it's just as much an issue with the non-inclusive translations. I think something is lost whichever way you go, at least in some passages. Carson's book is good at pointing this out with some of the passages he considers. What you retain in the TNIV but lose in the NASB is the gender-inclusive sense of 'uioi' when it would be applied to a mixed group. What you retain in the NASB but lose in the TNIV is the sense that sonhood and not childhood is being granted, and that involves all sorts of connotations regarding inheritance that childhood doesn't convey, at least to those who know anything about the ancient world. The question is which element is more important to preserve, and people can disagree on that, but I would say that both translations lose something. That does amount to some level of inaccuracy, though not one that should lead to telling people it's an inaccurate translation on the whole. No translation could pass that sort of test, because these sorts of loss will happen all over the place even apart from the gender issue.

At Wed Feb 22, 03:29:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Jeremy, you wrote "What you retain in the NASB but lose in the TNIV is the sense that sonhood and not childhood is being granted". Well, I am not sure what distinction you are trying to make between "sonhood" and "childhood". But which specific verses in TNIV are you referring to in this instance? One of my quarrels with TNIV is that it does not go far enough in the inclusive language direction at Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:5 where it mentions "adoption to sonship", with a footnote "The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture." In Galatians 4:6 TNIV continues "Because you are sons,...", a reading which I object to because here TNIV as well as NASB has lost "the gender-inclusive sense of 'uioi' when it would be applied to a mixed group". I wonder here if you have actually read the TNIV renderings of these verses, or have simply made incorrect guesses about what they might be? I consider that NLT has done much better with these verses: Galatians 4:5-6 reads " that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because you Gentiles have become his children,..." - although I accept that no translation will ever perfectly convey all of the nuances of the original.

At Wed Feb 22, 07:34:00 PM, Blogger Sungkhum said...

Thanks Wayne for writing this. It has been very informative. To be honest I just haven't had time to research about the TNIV, so thanks for your work on that.

I hope to spend some time myself in looking into it some more - but contrary to my first impression, it now seems that there are other versions out there that are much more "gender inclusive" than the TNIV, which actually to me is very interesting because of all the things I have heard about the TNIV.

Thanks again for your response to my question - is it greatly appreciated.

Have a good day,


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