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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Complementarian Agenda in TNIV?

Yes, you read this title correctly! While many have complained that TNIV has an egalitarian agenda and a feminist bias, I have found evidence in it of a complementarian agenda against women's leadership in the church! Read on...

The New International Version (NIV) is notorious for using the word "man" in its translation when the original Greek or Hebrew has no noun, only an adjective or an indefinite pronoun. For example, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV reads "If a man will not work, he shall not eat", where the only Greek word translated as "man" is the indefinite (and entirely gender generic) pronoun tis "anyone". Now I don't think the NIV translators intended that this should be understood as referring to men rather than women, an exegesis which cannot be defended from the Greek text, for they commonly use "man" and "he" in a gender generic sense. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that many readers have misunderstood this as applying only to men and not to women.

A major aim of the changes made in Today's New International Version (TNIV) was to avoid the danger of such misunderstandings. I don't think anyone can complain about TNIV's rendering of 2 Thessalonians 3:10: "Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat." This is after all closer to KJV's "if any would not work, neither should he eat", and it avoids any possible misunderstanding that this applies only to males.

However, TNIV does not always make such changes. For example, in Titus 1:6 TNIV has "a man whose children believe", in this phrase identical to NIV. But there is no word here to be translated "man"; the Greek is tekna ekhōn pista, literally "having believing children", or perhaps the KJV rendering "having faithful children".

How do the TNIV translators justify their version? They cannot do so on the basis that the NIV translators might have done, that "man" is to be understood in its gender generic sense. It seems clear that the TNIV translators are trying to insert into the text here a teaching that elders must be male, at a point where this cannot in any way be justified by the Greek. (I assume that they have not simply kept the NIV rendering by an oversight!)

So how can they justify this? Well, it is true that the word anēr "man, husband" appears in the immediately preceding phrase, translated "the husband of but one wife" in NIV and "faithful to his wife" in TNIV, but in this context the meaning clearly more like "husband" than "man". It is clear that the TNIV translators disagree with my exegesis of this phrase as not intended to restrict eldership to males. Apparently they judge that Paul was assuming that the elders that Titus would appoint were male. Maybe he was. But the point he was making here was surely not that elders must be male, rather that they must be faithful in marriage. The TNIV translators have no business changing what may have been Paul's culturally based assumption into an apparently explicit teaching that the elder must be a man, male.

So here we have the TNIV, which has been called "the feminist edition" by JI Packer and according to Peter Jones "represents an 'ideologically egalitarian' agenda" (both as reported by Michael Marlowe), specifically teaching the complementarian position on women elders in a place where this is not justified by the Greek text. If there is any agenda here, it is not feminist or egalitarian, but towards complementarianism.


At Wed Jul 26, 10:06:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I wonder how much you mean this to be tongue-in-cheek, Peter. But alas, such things are difficult to determine on the internet.

The use of "man" in either the NIV or TNIV is odd simply because the word is not in the Greek. Not even conservative translations such as the ESV, HCSB, or NASB do this. I don't have my Readers Greek NT from Zondervan with me, which reproduces the Greek text that the NIV is based on so I can't check there. However, I do have my NA 27 and I see no such textual variant.

However, I can't imagine that it's a complementarian agenda. The context of the verse is clearly referring to a man without the necessity of inserting the word. Perhaps it's just the moderate use of dynamic equivalence that characterizes the NIV/TNIV tradition.

At Wed Jul 26, 10:53:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


This post of Peter's is best read along with his series on his own blog which he links to in the reference 'my exegesis of this phrase' in the second last paragraph. I don't think he is being 'tongue-in-cheek' but with Peter is is hard to tell sometimes!

I think Peter raises a valid point, because there certainly were complementarians on the TNIV translation team. In fact, I have listened to a recording on 'women in the church' where 4 speakers present their views. Packer and Waltke are against women leaders, and Peterson and Fee are for women leaders.

Their positions are defended like this, (it was a 'no exegesis allowed' forum)

Waltke - IMO women should not be elders but we will all know the answer to this question in heaven

Packer - I am a 'vive la difference' man myself

Fee - in my tradition when I was a kid the best preachers were women

Peterson - my mother was a preacher

Waltke is a translator of the TNIV and a defender of the complementarian position, but he is best known for his Hebrew scholarship. I hope to do a workshop with him this fall.

The TNIV translators were chosen specifically for their contribution to Bible languages scholarship, not for their theological beliefs. It is entirely possible that something like this could have slipped by.

At Wed Jul 26, 11:07:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

It is entirely possible that something like this could have slipped by.

Yes, I would mark it up as a quirk of the NIV/TNIV. "Agenda" seems to be too strong of a word.

At Wed Jul 26, 12:12:00 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Wed Jul 26, 12:59:00 PM, Blogger Gary said...

I can understand and even excuse the use of the masculine pronouns in the NIV where the originals didn't have it. That was simply considered "proper" English at that time, and I'm sure it was considered proper to translate that way. That's the way many of us still speak and write.

But the fact that the practice was continued in the TNIV confuses me.

Not only does it not fit in with the so-called agenda of the TNIV translators, but it also makes me wonder how on earth I'm supposed to talk! How do you know when masculine pronouns are proper and when singular they is proper???

Gary ;-)

At Wed Jul 26, 02:22:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I don't think it's that big of a deal. The context of the verse is clearly referring to a male. It's within the bounds of dynamic equivalent method to include the word man here.

It's not a translational choice that I would make because I don't feel it's necessary (and evidently neither do other translation committees), but I don't think it's out of bounds at all.

At Wed Jul 26, 02:33:00 PM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

I am not being ironic or tongue in cheek but very serious. I can agree that "agenda" is perhaps too strong a word for what I found. But my main point is to refute those who claim that TNIV has an egalitarian or feminist agenda.

But I disagree with Rick that "The context of the verse is clearly referring to a male." If this were unambiguous, then I would accept "man". But see the arguments on my own blog that this is far from unambiguous. It is unfortunate when something ambiguous in the original becomes unambiguous in a translation. Sometimes it is impossible to avoid doing this. This is not such a case.

At Wed Jul 26, 07:04:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Peter, FWIW, I don't think the CBT that translated the TNIV has any agenda in the debates between complementarians and egalitarians. I think they have just tried to translate as accurately as they can with regard to gender reference. As with any translation, something might sometimes slip through the checking process. The CBT continues to work at revision. We are welcome to submit revision suggestions to them which are based on sound scholarly exegesis.

At Wed Jul 26, 08:09:00 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Peter, I read your blog. I would prefer to distinguish the issue you have stated in this entry from your argument about whether or not women can be elders. Regardless of whether or not women can be elders, I don't see--even after reading your blog--that the plain sense of Titus 1:6, especially with "μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ," can be referring to anything but men. I really don't have a horse in this race. I'm not trying to defend one position regarding gender issues over another. As I stated, I don't personally think it was necessary for the NIV/TNIV translators to include the word "man," but I don't think it is completely unwarranted for a dynamic equivalent translation.

By the way, I said earlier that the NASB was a translation that did not add "man," but it does.

Also, I checked my copy of A Reader's Greek New Testament and as I assumed, there is no difference in the Greek text underlying the NIV from the NA 27.

At Thu Jul 27, 04:02:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Rick, I agree with you that the exegetical issue of what Titus 1:6 means should be separated from the application issue of whether women should be appointed as elders in the church today. But of course decisions on the latter point are made by people who read and apply the Bible, sometimes very naively. So it is important that Bible translations are accurate. Accusations have been made that in certain translations choices have been made with the deliberate intention or agenda of promoting certain controversial kinds of application. While I don't seriously suggest that this choice in Titus 1:6 TNIV has been made with the deliberate intention of promoting male-only eldership, that is likely to be a consequence if decisions are made on the basis of a rather naive reading of TNIV.

In my blog I referred to an apparent claim by Lucien Deiss that μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἀνήρ is used in a gender generic way in certain inscriptions. I have not seen these inscriptions, but I have no reason to doubt this scholar. But even if this is untrue, I see no reason to assume that this phrase could not have been used in a gender generic way. See the second comment on part 4 of my series. On this point I have to suggest that your appeal to "the plain sense of Titus 1:6", without accepting that you intuition may have to be corrected by the scholarly evidence, is an example of what I have called the fundamentalist approach to the Bible. In comments on another blog I have just been accused, with good reason, of using "fundamentalist" as a smear word, but I certainly don't intend that here. Nevertheless, I think you are using a rather naive hermeneutical method here.

At Thu Jul 27, 06:58:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Gee, Peter, I haven't been called a fundamentalist in a while. Maybe that will provide balance to those who think I'm a closet liberal.

Regardless, I'm not trying to read Titus 1:6 naively, and I'm ALWAYS open to being corrected by scholarly evidence. But I've very doubtful of external evidence contrary to the "plain sense" in the context of this particular verse. Some of that is hunch, some of it has to do with what we know of the letter and writer. I'd always be open to other evidence, but the initial starting point of any hermeneutic is the plain sense of the text, and for this text, I believe the plain sense is going to hold a lot of weight. Part of a good hermeneutic also involves not overreading into the text.

Again, I'm not trying to defend any particular gender position. Heck, I'm not even trying to defend the NIV and TNIV because I said that I wouldn't translate it as they did. But I am skeptical that Paul had any other intention (which is the core issue) other than to refer to men in this verse.

At Thu Jul 27, 09:33:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Fair enough, Rick. I can accept that very likely Paul was presupposing that these elders would be men. But I don't think he was specifying it. And the problem with the TNIV rendering is that it can be understood as Paul specifying that the elders should be men.

Suppose you read an article in the newspaper of a denomination, like mine, which accepts women as pastors or priests. In it you read something like "Pastors/priests should be faithful to their wives, and their children should be believe". Consider this as a general piece of writing, not as an exposition of or allusion to Titus 1:6. I think you might accuse this author of gender stereotyping with the reference to wives, but not of teaching against women pastors/priests. But then suppose the article had said "Pastors/priests should be faithful to their wives, and men whose children believe". I think you might get a rather different idea, that this author was actually arguing against women pastors/priests. That is the difference which TNIV's added "man" makes, in my opinion. And I consider that the version without "man" is better because, while it may make Paul a gender stereotyper, it doesn't make him specify that elders must be male.

At Sat Sep 02, 08:00:00 AM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce said...

I fail to see how a verse that indicates that a husband is a he has a complementarian agenda. Even if it's using a pronoun 'he' when the Greek has no such pronoun, isn't that what dynamic translation is supposed to do, as the TNIV regularly does elsewhere? If egalitarianism implies that husbands can be female, then it's going to be a lot easier for complementarians to argue against it.

At Sat Apr 21, 10:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, that's a good post. Regarding why the TNIV doesn't simply say "adoption" as in the NET or HCSB, I updated my original post with a few more thoughts.


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