Few people mourned its passing. Few even knew that Today’s New International Version existed. Most Christians who did hear of the TNIV during its short but tempestuous life fled from it in fear.
I’m a little late in stepping up to speak. Still, I want to thank God and the Committee on Bible Translation (CBT) for the Bible version the Lord put in my path during the years he was transforming my understanding of women, his kingdom and his Word.
Succumbing to the firestorm
In 2002, the same folks who had produced the wildly popular New International Version introduced a translation of the New Testament targeted for young adults. They called it, Today’s New International Version. Instantly, the TNIV became controversial. Influential leaders derided and castigated the newest member of the NIV family, for this one reason: Translators had taken the huge step of seeking to reflect the gender inclusivity of the Bible’s original languages.
Curiously, other recent translations have taken a similar step without drawing the attention or the wrath that the TNIV sparked.
In 2005, the TNIV translation of the entire Bible was introduced. Due to continuing negative publicity, it never sold well. Meanwhile, the 1984 NIV continued to dominate the Bible translation market.
In 2009, the TNIV was laid to rest and plans were announced for an updated NIV. The new NIV, released in 2011, has also been criticized – though not as widely or loudly as the TNIV. Again, the issue is its gender-inclusive language.
Do any translations perfectly capture what the original Scriptures say? No. If we expect them to do so, it’s because we have a flawed understanding of language, of translation and of the Bible texts available to us. Do we need to challenge translation bias and translation error when we find it? Yes, we do.
I’m appalled, however, at the tone and the content of the charges made against TNIV, the new NIV and the translators who produced both. The rhetoric reflects a pattern that we in the conservative US church culture have adopted and excused since the waning days of the Second Great Awakening.
In the first three decades of the 1800s, people across our young nation met with God and experienced a mighty, sweeping move of the Spirit. Christians, many of them newborn, sang together, prayed together, preached together and took communion together under the big revival tents. But then, they returned to their homes and churches to do some things that deeply grieved and quenched the Spirit. For one thing, denominations that agreed on the foundational truths of the faith began to attack one another savagely over differences in doctrine.
When the Spirit of God packed up and left, the church didn’t get the message. Still today, instead of practicing godly encouragement, exhortation and rebuke, we continue to bite and devour one another. How devastating for us all!
The translator you must seek
The TNIV came along just when God was dealing with me on the very subject of gender and his Word. Distressed by the false accusations then being made against the TNIV, I purchased a copy, read it, studied it and began quoting from it.
I’ve also continued to read, study and quote from other versions, including those whose gender terminology hides the Bible’s inclusiveness. I urge you: Don’t be afraid of any legitimate Bible translation. Certainly, it’s good to recognize a translation’s leanings. Most important, remember: You cannot understand the Word apart from the Spirit. He is the translator you must seek.
Do not think that you need a seminary degree or a certain Bible version to hear God accurately. You need humility and faith in the Lord Jesus. You need a seeking heart and a willingness to obey what he says. In short, you need unhindered Spirit-to-spirit communion with the God who honors his word and his name above everything else.
You also need connection with others of like heart – not people who have all the same views as you, but rather people who are pressing in wholeheartedly to know the truth. They may understand some things differently from you. That’s okay. In fact, it’s good. Iron sharpens iron. We need each other to affirm what the Spirit is saying, to wrestle toward the fullness of it, to bring into the light what the enemy is determined to hide.
I honor the TNIV translators for their courage in breaking with centuries of tradition in order represent God’s Word more accurately in modern English. I honor the Committee on Bible Translation for including evangelical Bible scholars with different views on gender. I honor the scholars for working together with integrity and holding each other accountable as they sought, to the best of their ability, to render the Word accurately. I honor them for their decision not to abandon gender inclusivity when leaders in the conservative church culture tried to force them off the road. I honor the other Bible translation teams who have followed God into this same difficult terrain.
I honor the TNIV, short-lived as it was, for its fresh, important – and sometimes awkward – expression of God’s truth. Pioneering always has a rawness about it that calls for polishing and refining. But the rawness and the risk bespeak a willingness in the hearts of people to go with God.
From chapter 4, What About Women? A Spirit-to-spirit Exposé. © 2013 by Deborah P. Brunt. All rights reserved.