My Thoughts on the SBC's NIV Resolution

So in what may be the only action the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention took that I disagreed with, a resolution against the 2011 NIV was passed overwhelmingly. It came from the floor, rather than the committee, which is highly unusual. The committee had read the resolution and declined to offer it for consideration.

The committee was exactly right. The resolution should have never seen the light of day. Such an important issue should have never been voted on by people so ill-informed about as complicated an issue as Bible translation. As much as some want to paint the issue as black and white, good vs. evil, it is not as simple as that.

As the discussion displayed - many of the people didn't even know how to evaluate the new NIV. One well-meaning gentleman stood up and said that we shouldn't condone translations that use gender-neutral language for God. I agree! But the NIV doesn't do that. The applause his comment received made it clear to me that this was an exercise in misunderstanding and misinformation.

If you leave aside the gender-related issues for the sake of argument, everyone should agree the NIV 2011 is an excellent translation—one of the best available in English, which has many solid translations. The improvements made to an already great translation will only better serve the church.

I'm currently preaching through Romans 8. This is one of very few passages (esp. 8:1-17) where the 1984 NIV really frustrates me. ('sinful nature' instead of 'flesh', 'spirit' instead of 'Spirit' in v.10, lack of consistency throughout, others) The 2011 translation is head and shoulders better than 1984's, and I would argue, surpasses any other English translation I've looked at.

In what ways is the 2011 NIV neutral with regard to gender?
All but a select few examples of "gender-neutrality" in the new NIV are made because the translators believe the generic masculine is dropping out of usage in modern English. They are right. Even the most conservative, complementarian writers avoid the generic masculine in their own writings when possible. Regardless of theological perspective, we should have no problem with these changes. A few examples:

Acts 25:16

But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. (1984)

But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. (2011)

1 Cor 14:5

He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. (1984)

The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified. (2011)

A few people might have problems with "they/their" for "his", but this is actually how many (most?) people talk and write today. Does it obscure the meaning? Only if you're working from a traditional paradigm that says "they" cannot be used as a singular pronoun.

Eccl. 5:19

Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. (1984)

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. (2011)

In all of these instances, we must remind ourselves that a translation should reflect the way a language actually is, not the way we think it should be. I prefer English with a generic masculine. I think it adds clarity and is helpful. But translators are not here to tell us how we should talk. They do their job best when they reflect actual common usage of a language.

Actual Problems?

Now there are a few (and I mean
few) verses that people have voiced substantial complaints with. 2 Timothy 2:2 ('men' 1984 vs. 'people' 2011), 1 Tim 2:12 ('have' 1984 vs. 'assume' 2011), Psalm 2:7 ('Son' 1984 vs. 'son' 2011), to name the verses I've heard the most discussion over.

The problem with all of these are that there are good points to be made on both sides, even by people equally conservative and equally committed to a complementarian view of gender. You may think the translation committee should have chosen differently than they did in these instances, but at least admit that people can disagree without coming to the text with any kind of feminist agenda.

If subjected to the same kind of scrutiny, what translation would not have some notable problems? (If you say the ESV, then see
here.) Maybe not with the same issues or same verses, but there is no perfect translation. We have several excellent translations in English and the 2011 NIV is another to add to that list.

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