As noted in this well-written open letter by Rev. Robert Koester, one of the biggest problems with the NIV 2011 is its use of gender neutral language. This problem manifests itself in several different ways:
- “Brother” becomes…
- “brother or sister” - “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matt. 18:15)
- “brothers and sisters” - “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.” (Acts 1:16)
or “friends” - “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:38)
or “own people” - “This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’” (Acts 7:37)
or “believers” - In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) (Acts 1:15)
or “fellow Israelites” - The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. (Deut. 18:15)
- “mankind” - He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created. (Gen. 5:2)
or “human beings” - Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29)
or “people” - “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Matt. 4:19)
or “person” - How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! (Matt. 12:12)
- “ancestors” - to show mercy to our ancestors and to remember his holy covenant, (Luke 1:72)
“He who...” becomes…
- “The one who…they” - Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;” (John 11:25)
- So far as its use of inclusive language is concerned, no participant in the study or member of the committee would quarrel with a judicious use of it where it clarifies the intention of the biblical writer for a contemporary reader. An obvious example would be 1 Timothy 2:4, where the new NIV replaces “men” with “people” in the sentence, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” More troubling are those places where a standardized use of it (i.e. wherever the original has a vocative αδελφοι the NIV routinely translates “brothers and sisters”) seems to go contrary to what Paul meant to say. In 1 Corinthians 7:29, for example, the explicit inclusion of “sisters” seems odd since Paul immediately goes on to speak of “those who have wives.”
A larger issue, but a more difficult one to get a handle on, is the matter of introducing, by means of a routine use of inclusive language, a subtle cultural distortion into the text. We certainly have a right to expect that a translation will accurately reflect the culture and worldview of the original (see criterion # 3 above). It’s fair to say that in the ancient near east, men were seen as representatives for their entire family, their entire tribe, and their entire people (e.g. “the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”—see Exodus 3:6). The language the Bible uses reflects that point of view. When many of these references are absorbed into a more inclusive manner of phrasing, will the reader come to the incorrect conclusion that the ancient near east was culturally very similar in this respect to 21st century America? (Lines 183-199)
- In evaluating this concern, the committee would like everyone to bear in mind that a certain amount of cultural distortion is part and parcel of any translation. After all, neither Moses nor Paul spoke English! Furthermore, a translator as we have already said has to make decisions about what features of the original he will preserve and which he must regretfully let go, since no one translation can do it all. We may disagree with the translator’s choices in this context or in that one. But we do understand that such choices have to be made. Readers also have to consider the importance of this issue relative to all the other matters that need to be weighed in evaluating a translation. So far as the committee is concerned, we remain of the opinion that the respective callings of men and women are clearly and fully taught in the new NIV in those Biblical passages that deal with the doctrine directly. (Lines 200-208)
When the language of those thousands of verses is distorted to remove the male-oriented character of the Scriptures, then we are left with a handful of passages that make a direct distinction between the roles of men and women (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:11-15 NIV, 1 Cor. 11:3-12 NIV, 1 Cor. 14:34-35 NIV). And the result is this: those few passages, although they used to be supported and taught by the whole context of Scripture, now appear to be an anomaly in the Scriptures! With the language of the rest of the Bible neutered, the (mostly Pauline) statements that limit the authority of women seem incoherent and arbitrarily restrictive.
How strange that Jesus would allow only men to be his apostles, when, in the language of NIV 2011, God has been addressing men and women equally all along! How out of place that Peter should in one place call upon both men and women to choose the replacement apostle for Judas (Acts 1:16-26 NIV), but then Paul, in another place, forbids women to "assume authority" over men (1 Tim. 2:12 NIV)! How odd that Paul calls on the "brothers and sisters" to be eager to prophesy in the church (1 Cor. 14:39 NIV) immediately after the same Paul just got done commanding women to remain silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34 NIV)!
Doctrine = teaching. And the teaching behind the NIV 2011 can be summarized as follows: In the past 30 years, American society has evolved beyond the male-oriented character of former societies, including those in which the Scriptures were written. Language, too, has evolved to reflect this societal evolution. Therefore, Christians must learn to embrace these societal changes as well as the language that accompanies them, or else Christianity will quickly become incomprehensible and irrelevant.
It saddens me that some of the brightest men in our synod seem to agree with this philosophy. Changes in language may occur over time, many of which are neutral in nature. "Withers" has replaced "withereth" in common speech, and the word "conversation" no longer resembles its former meaning (cf. Eph. 4:22 KJV). But when the changes in language arise out of a pagan, egalitarian worldview, we should not accommodate our Bibles to match it, or gut the male-oriented character out of the language of the Bible because some will be offended by it.
- “All flesh (er, "people") is as grass, and all the glory of man (er, "their glory") as the flower of grass. The grass withers and its flower falls away. But the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Pet. 1:24-25 NKJV)