The TNIV War--Part 2

Translating the Bible has always been risky business.

In 1428, John Wycliffe was declared a heretic for translating the Bible into English. His sentence? His body was to be burned, and his ashes scattered on the waters, far away from the consecrated ground of a church cemetery.

Lucky for him, he was dead - Wycliffe died of a stroke in 1384.

William Tyndale was less fortunate--he was still alive when he was burned at the stake in 1536 for the crime of spreading "pestiferous and most pernicious poison"--as Cuthbert Tunstall, the bishop of London put it--with his English, instead of Latin version of the Bible.

In 1952, when the Revised Standard Version (RSV) was introduced, only the Bibles were burned. Translators were, however, accused of being communists and investigated by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee. The Air Force banned the RSV.

No books, or people, will be burned when the fight over the TNIV (Today's New International Version) heats up, but it's still going to nasty; pitting some of the biggest names in the Evangelical world--James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Charles R. Swindoll, Bruce Wilkinson (Prayer of Jabez), R. Albert Mohler, Jr--against Zondervan, publishers of the widely popular New International Version (more than 150 million copies in print).

Zondervan has a impressive list of endorsers, including John Stott and Philip Yancey.

One reason for the conflict is the volatile nature of the Biblical text, as USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman points out, noting that many Christians sees the words of Scripture as God 's words.

Because each verb, noun and pronoun shapes a vision of God and humanity, errors are like miscalculating the path of a rocket: One tiny navigational shift can send everything spiraling in the wrong direction
"How would you like to read a Bible where you don't know what words you can trust? People memorize the Bible. They pray on it. They want to trust every word," says Grudem.

I did a'> long piece on the TNIV back in 2002 and shorter version here. One of the things I found was that this debate is over two divergent approaches to translating the Bible.

The first, used in the King James Version, the Revised Standard Version, and the New American Standard Version is called "formal equivalence" or "word for word." In this case, the translators look at the orginal language and try and find the English word that matches each word. Since Greek, for example, uses "man" and "mankind" when talking about human beings, that's what these translations do.

The NIV, TNIV, NRSV, and New Living Translation (NLT) use an approach called dynamic equivalence or “meaning for meaning”--looking at the original language and finding the right word for that meaning. When the NIV was first completed, the translators used "mankind" as the equivalent on the word "anthropos" in Greek. Since humankind has replaced mankind in recent years, the TNIV, NRSV, and NLT--all newer translations--usess humankind. Same meaning, different word.

That was okay with the NRSV, and NLT, because those aren't very popular. Messing with the NIV is a problem, however, as I found out in 2002.

That’s because groups like CBMW (the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) and Focus on the Family don’t see those translations as “their Bible,” says Linda Belleville, professor of biblical literature at North Park Theological Seminary. (The NIV, which makes up 40 percent of Bibles sold, has become the standard Bible in most evangelical hurches.)

“The issue is not translation accuracy,” says Belleville. “What is driving this is a cultural agenda. That very conservative constituency within the evangelical community views the NIV as
their Bible. The reason the NLT did not get any flack is because they don’t see it as their Bible that supports their agenda.

Belleville, who worked on the NLT and in an advisory capacity with the TNIV, says she is concerned that any one translation is seen as “the Bible.” “That is very dangerous,” she says.
“That invests human translators like me with infallibility—that’s not the way God works in terms of inspiration. We are not inspired and we don’t claim t be inspired.”

The editors of Touchstone see the TNIV controversy as something more than a squabble over translation preferences. They see the subsitution of "human" for "man" as heretical. In "Heretical Bibles" , SM Hutchens writes:

"'Blessed is the man,' ('ashrei ha'ish) of the First Psalm, for example, points not only to incorporation of the woman in the man as her head, but does so precisely because it is a Christological adumbration of the blessed Man whose sex as the Son of God and Paschal Lamb is by no means insignificant, and into whose decisively male incarnation and headship all who are saved must enter.

He follows up, in a "Unmanning the Bible" (in response to a letter from Alan A Padgett) essay by saying:

Padgett’s Christ, the Christ of a rather large and influential new crop of Evangelical egalitarians, assumed a generic humanity that is equally a quality of men and women. This is found neither in Scripture nor in nature nor in Creed, but is the product of egalitarian re-imagination, read back into all three. Padgett is right to point to the word anthropos as the token of the controversy, but very wrong in his Greek.

The word as used in Scripture means "man" as English apart from egalitarian adjustment means man, as the Church has known man from its beginning, man as the proper title of the male as primary, comprehensive, and representative of the human race, something that can be seen even by readers of Bibles that have undergone egalitarian adjustment, whether or not they know the original languages. It pervades the narrative.

One cannot rid the Bible of it by grammatical tinkering. It inheres as a fundamental structural element of the whole, there for rediscovery even if the egalitarians were wholly successful in their attempt to neuter biblical grammar. As we have observed many times, this is a commonplace of feminist theology, which, with unassailable reason, finds it necessary either to radically revise or to reject both Judaism and Christianity as hopelessly sexist from the creation narratives forward..'"

This one line bears repeating. "Man" - not "human" --is "the proper title of the male as primary, comprehensive, and representative of the human race." This is theological assertion behind most of the TNIV opponents as well. Using "human" as a generic term for all mankind becomes an act of blasphemy, at least in Mr. Hutchen's eyes.

How does the claim that the TNIV as heretical compare to Bishop Tunstall's claim that translating the Bible into English was "pestiferous and most pernicious poison"--that's a question somebody ought to ask.

One thing is worth noting. I recently asked a staff person at Wycliffe Bible translators, if they impose as "male as universal" standard on their translations, even into languages where the male is not used as universal. That would seem an obvious step, if using "man" was theologically correct.

The answer was no.


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