J I Packer and the singular "they"
The following is written in the statement of concern that Dr. Packer signed.
- The TNIV translation often changes masculine, third person, singular pronouns (he, his and him) to plural gender-neutral pronouns. For example, in Revelation 3:20, the words of Jesus have been changed from "I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" to "I will come in and eat with them, and they with me." Jesus could have used plural pronouns when He spoke these words, but He chose not to. (The original Greek pronouns are singular.) In hundreds of such changes, the TNIV obscures any possible significance the inspired singular may have, such as individual responsibility or an individual relationship with Christ.
Dr. Packer: Now feel free to ask me about anything else, but you see the problem - there is the ESV ideal of translation and the NIV ideal of translation.
Suzanne: One thing that comes up is “they” with a singular antecedent and I know it is used in Shakespeare, it is used in Chaucer, it is used in the 1400’s in Parliament. Here is an example from Shakespeare,
- There is not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend.
- In lowliness of mind let each esteem other as better than themselves.
Dr. Packer: My memory is that that English form of words, which I agree with you is perfectly standard, in the TNIV, was used in order to avoid some of the masculines, generic masculines which are there in the original .
Suzanne: I don’t find autos masculine anymore than pas and oudeis. Those have been changed to everyone and anyone.
Dr. Packer: You are not quite getting my point. I haven’t got this at my fingertips, nonetheless my memory is, that instances were produced where that way, that particular English idiom was introduced in order to avoid generic masculines which the TNIV is concerned to do every time it can. I think that some of those cases are of that sort, a sort of substituting.
I did not feel that it was worth pressing that point. It was clear to me that Dr. Packer had not drafted this document and was not prepared to discuss it in detail.
I do not wish to discuss Dr. Packer's motivation for signing this document. However, my own motivation in interviewing Dr. Packer includes the fact that I count many scholars associated with the TNIV and dynamic equivalence translations in high regard as teachers and authors who have influenced me. Eugene Nida, Ellis Deibler, Richard Longnecker, Bruce Waltke and Gordon Fee are all men whom I respect. Some of you may be familiar with what has been written. It is a great grief to me that there is this discord. I want it known that there is no bad scholarship in the TNIV and that Dr. Packer does not make the claim that there is.
On 2 Timothy 2:2 in the ESV, I think it is best to consider that, as Dr. Packer said, all translations have their weak points. We must accept this without being too harsh.