This October I began my search for a children's Bible for my children. Not a big deal, I thought. Pick a translation (husband's favorite NIV or my favorite ESV?), pick the features appropriate for their ages, and bingo... an easy Birthday or Christmas present.
Not so easy, after all! Shortly into my search, the reviews of the NIV revealed that this would not be the same translation that my husband uses, from which our pastor preaches, and that we all grew up reading & listening to from the pulpit. No, the only NIV being sold these days is the 2011 version - very different from our 1984 versions. Since the NIV's original charter included the goal to have continual updates to "modernize" it to match modern English usage, Zondervan is no longer publishing the older version - so I can't purchase this for my children. The 1984 version is simply not an option (unless, of course, I decide to find a used copy, which honestly would only be a temporary fix, since in time churches will switch over from the 1984 NIV to some other translation, since their members won't be able to purchase it for personal study).
I found to my dismay that the 2011NIV translation has inspired a HUGE debate over translation philosophy, gender-neutral language in Bible translation, and evangelical egalitarian interpretations of several small but key passages in the theological debate over women's roles in the church (as opposed to the traditional complementarian translations). Further dismay: the Christian dis-unity caused by the debate.
Who drew lines in the sand? The first line was drawn by Zondervan, when they decided to discontinue publication of the 1984 NIV, thus forcing churches to take a side and either use or disown the 2011 NIV (which they knew might continue to be controversial, after their releases of several earlier versions which included gender-neutral language and were not well received). The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood followed when they issued a report (which I honestly cannot condemn, as it voices their heartfelt concerns about the NIV2011) concluding: "We regret, therefore, that we cannot recommend the 2011 NIV as a sufficiently reliable English translation. And unless Zondervan changes its mind and keeps the current edition of the 1984 NIV in print, the 2011 NIV will soon be the only edition of the NIV that is available. Therefore, unless Zondervan changes its mind, we cannot recommend the NIV itself."(1) Some denominations followed their lead and switched away from NIV2011 to other versions, such as the Southern Baptists and many churches within the Presbyterian Church in America, some condemning the translation in the process. And finally, in response, there has been backlash against the CBMW article.
Who to believe & which concerns to agree with? Should Christians seek for a Bible translation that will be palpable to the unchurched masses and an easy read, but possibly have some theological issues (for traditional conservative evangelicals)? Or should they seek for one which is beautifully written & allows in-depth word study, but which might be a little more difficult for the average person to decipher at a glance?
This is definitely an issue each person should decide for himself. Here are the articles (they'll take quite a bit of reading - give yourself a few days or weeks):
The Committee on Bible Translation's Website (CBT), with many links to any questions you have about their translation of the NIV2011: http://www.niv-cbt.org/
The Report by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW):
Additional CBMW article: https://www.cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/jbmw_pdf/16_1/burk.pdf
The response by the CBT: http://www.niv-cbt.org/wp-content/uploads/cbt-response-to-cbmw-review.pdf
CBMW response: https://www.cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/jbmw_pdf/16_2/02%20editorial.pdf
Counter to CBMW report by Dr. Rod Decker, a professor at Baptist Bible Seminary in Clark's Summit, PA: http://ntresources.com/blog/?p=1232
I personally lean more to the conservative side, and will probably never
love the 2011NIV, according to the concerns listed in the CBMW report. However, I think it's important
to understand the "other side" of the issue and as Christians, try to
have unity & overlook disagreements wherever possible. Not agreeing with
the 2011NIV translation is probably not a platform I would "die on" so to speak, and, who knows - maybe I would use select verses from it in some evangelism situations (which is the best use I can see for the translation). Whether a church will use it is certainly a decision that should at least elicit research from their governing boards.
Moving on from the strictly theological aspect of the debate, I would like to look at the NIV 2011 from an educational standpoint. Is it a translation which should be used to bring up the next generation within the church? Is it a translation which should be used in a Christian school or home school setting?
First let's look at the Christian school or home school setting. I would like to offer a passage written by Charlotte Mason, a Christian educational philosopher whom I highly respect, written about the King James Version of the Bible roughly 80 years ago:
"We are apt to believe that
children cannot be interested in the Bible unless its pages be watered down––turned into the slipshod
English we prefer to offer them. Here is a suggestive anecdote of the
childhood of Mrs Harrison, one of the pair of little Quaker maidens
introduced to us in the Autobiography of Mary Howitt, the
better known of the sisters. "One day she found her way into a lumber
room. There she caught sight of an old Bible and turning over its
yellow leaves she came upon words that she had not heard at the usual
morning readings, the opening chapters of St Luke––which her father
objected to read aloud––and the closing chapter of Revelation. The
exquisite picture of the Great Child's birth in the one chapter and the
beauty of the description of the New Jerusalem in the other, were
upon by the eager little girl of six years old with a rapture which,
she used to say, no novel in after years ever produced."...
"It is a mistake to use paraphrases
of the text; the fine roll of Bible English appeals to children with a
compelling music, and they will probably retain through life their
first conception of the Bible scenes, and, also, the very words in
which these scenes are portrayed. This is a great possession...
"But let the imaginations of children be stored with the pictures,
their minds nourished upon the words, of the gradually unfolding story
of the Scriptures, and they will come to look out upon a wide horizon
within which persons and events take shape in their due place and due
proportion. By degrees, they will see that the world is a stage whereon
the goodness of God is continually striving with the wilfulness of man;
that some heroic men take sides with God; and that others, foolish and
headstrong, oppose themselves to Him. The fire of enthusiasm will
kindle in their breast, and the children, too, will take their side,
without much exhortation, or any thought or talk of spiritual
Charlotte Mason believed that children are people made in the image of God - fully capable of understanding and enjoying high quality literature, and bored with the same things adults would be bored with (such as dumbed-down books). I agree with her!
Where there are a wealth of excellent, complex English translations of the Bible, I believe it is a mistake to use an easy-read too-modernized version (yes, that's my personal description of the NIV2011) as the primary text for teaching our children as they are growing up. Why not use the Bible - hopefully the book that your child will read and re-read the most - as a teaching tool? Why not choose a version that has some (or even many) complex, even archaic phrases; which requires the understanding of male pronouns and phrases as standing for male & female; which trains the eye and ear in the cadence of beautiful literary form? Hopefully the parent will be the child's primary teacher here, and have many opportunities to explain "why" when the child has a question. And the benefits of learning the complexities of the English language are great.
Choosing a complex translation means that a child will grow up understanding a high level of English. He will be able to read other, easier translations with no problem. This may not be the case if the child grows up reading an extreme modern-English translation, like the NIV2011. What if the child is used to the "gender neutral" language of the NIV2011? Will he understand if he tries to delve deeper into in-depth study with a different translation that does not use gender-neutral translation philosophy?
From another angle: The Bible is the very definition of A Classic. Does it not seem incongruous to anyone that it should be written in gender-neutral cutting-edge modern English? That makes no sense. Do people try to rewrite Shakespeare using gender neutrals? Milton? Bunyan? Austen?
Further. Hopefully, the education you are giving your child includes classics and other books that are more than 20 years old. If you are, then your child should be able to understand the non-gender-neutral use of pronouns such as "he" and "his" and thus be able to understand a traditional translation of the Bible.
Let's be clear about this: The stated main reason the translators used gender-neutral English in the 2011NIV was because they believed people didn't understand that when the Bible makes generic statements using male pronouns, many of the statements apply to all of humankind or can be applied as general wisdom. If you are around to explain this concept to your child, it's not an issue for you! Your child will get it! There is absolutely no need for you to use the 2011NIV and deal with the confusing grammar when "they" is used as a singular pronoun, or the possible confusing theological implications of using plural gender-neutral pronouns when the original singular versions implied personal application (see the CBMW report for details of these). As I am home educating my children, the English teacher in me says... no NIV 2011 until they've learned all their grammar rules! (Probably late high-school or college age!) I prefer my children not to have poor grammatical examples while they are growing up and learning about how to write - it may hinder their writing style. If you are sending your child to school - do you think their English teacher will listen to him when he says, "but my Bible is written this way!" She might still mark his English paper down for mixing singular and plural pronouns!
Children's minds have great capacity. And their best window for learning language is when they are young. They benefit greatly by being given literature that is "above their level." It helps their minds to grow and expand. It enlarges their vocabulary. Just because a piece of literature has words in it the child doesn't know, doesn't mean he shouldn't read it - just the opposite. Children learn what words mean primarily through reading! There are thousands of English words which are not used in speech or from TV or radio. They learn those only in books, from the context of what they read. Giving your child a Bible with a wide range of even archaic vocabulary will be a helpful, not hindering experience for him.
"But will my child understand the Bible I give him?" you may ask. Yes. A child can understand even the King James Version at a young age if the parent answers his questions about it and reads it in short enough sections, or reads it in parallel with another version. There are more modern translations, such as the English Standard Version, which still use many of the cadences of the KJV but do update the English. I personally have used the KJV, the NIV (1984), and the ESV with my own children - and they have understood all three. When it comes time for a child to read the Bible for himself, it's true that the KJV may be a bit too hard, unless your child has been given the best of educations. Fortunately, there are many modern versions that are easier to understand, such as the ESV (or RSV or many other translations - that's a topic for another article) and that do not have the issues of the NIV2011.
Memorization is another reason I do not want to use the NIV2011 with my children. Already, the NIV2011 is different from the version of the NIV I memorized growing up. What changes will future versions of the NIV bring? I prefer to choose a translation that is not going to change so drastically every 30 years, so that my children are not attempting to memorize a moving target. I could go with KJV for memorization, as that will always be around. Or, I can choose a different modern translation. (In my case, it would probably be ESV).
I hope I have convinced you that it is a good choice to use a different translation of the Bible for educational purposes than the NIV 2011.
What about using the NIV2011 for child and youth education in churches? Well, obviously most churches will use whatever translation they are using for the adults. But I hope that churches will consider the possible implications of using the NIV2011.
Churches who hold to a complementarian view of scripture need to seriously evaluate their use of the NIV2011 as a primary text for church members. Why? Because several of the passages which have traditionally been the center of debate over whether or not women should teach and hold authority over men in churches are translated in favor of the egalitarian viewpoint in the NIV2011, or at least in a manner that leaves the topic open to debate.(3) Several of these verses even omit any footnote about the traditional, complementarian translation.(3) Thus, the next generation of children raised on the NIV2011 are likely to come to an egalitarian understanding of the role of women in the church.
Many may counter, "no, not if they are taught correctly and the various interpretations of the verses are explained to them." But I would ask you - when is the last time you heard a sermon on women's roles in the church? It is a topic most pastors stay away from because it is so controversial. It's easy to alienate people in your church if you preach on this topic. Better to stay away from it all together. I honestly can't remember the last time I heard a sermon on this topic.
Thus it is that the only way most Christians come to their understanding of women's roles in the church is from reading their Bible, and reading their Bible alone. If all of the scripture passages have been translated in favor of the egalitarian viewpoint, it makes sense that the next generation will come to agree with that.
On the other hand, egalitarian churches will have no problem with this translation. And in fact, I would expect most of them to adopt it.
I find it sad that this new NIV translation is another issue for the Christian community to divide over. In all likelihood, many traditional conservative churches will disavow the NIV as a result of this most recent translation, while middle and liberal evangelical churches will continue to use the NIV. Over time, the two will grow further and further apart.
Well, this is all just some food for thought. I know many people will disagree with my opinions on education - and that's OK! I've just been thinking about this so much, I had to get it out somewhere. And for those of you who had no idea that the NIV had changed, maybe it has inspired you to look into it for yourself. I hope someone somewhere finds my thoughts helpful, and if not - consider them dross, and just leave them.
Ephesians 4:2-3 (NIV 1984): 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Lord, I pray that Christians' discussions about this topic will be in the spirit of peace so that Your Kingdom may be furthered on this earth! Amen.
Evaluation of Gender Language in the 2011 Edition of the NIV Bible,” A
report from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (2011). page 23
(2) Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series Volume 1 pages 248-249.
Burk, et al., “The Translation of Gender Terminology in the NIV 2011″
Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 16.1 (2011): 17-33.