Saturday, November 19, 2011

When Bible translations go too far

This summer, the Southern Baptist Convention wisely rejected the updated New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible at its annual convention in Phoenix.

The new translation uses gender-neutral language. Published by Biblica and Zondervan Publishing House, the 2011 edition is meant to replace the 1984 NIV, which has been widely accepted and revered by evangelicals.

The Southern Baptist Convention notes that the gender-neutral NIV “alters the meaning of hundreds of verses, most significantly by erasing gender-specific details which appear in the original language.”

The Bible was written by about 40 authors over 1,600 years. Christians believe that these men were led by God. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Therefore, evangelicals affirm that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. The Scriptures teach that God never changes. The Bible, therefore, is just as authoritative and inspired today. A translation should not manipulate the message even if it is perceived to be politically incorrect.

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic and the New Testament in Greek. The first English translation of the Bible is believed to have been completed in 1384 and is attributed to John Wycliffe. The King James Version (KJV) was published in 1611 and for more than 300 years it was the most prominent translation. However, as the English language evolved, translations emerged for modern readers.

The 20th century produced many contemporary renderings of the Bible, including the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the New King James Version (NKJV), which modernized the King James while attempting to retain its traditional phrasing.

Some translations, such as the New American Standard Bible, attempt literal word-for-word renditions. Others, including the New International Version, are less rigid and more idiomatic. Nonetheless, evangelical scholars generally agree that the variations among the widely accepted translations are relatively insignificant. While various translations may use distinctive words and phrases, they preserve the message.

But the 2011 New International Version goes beyond acceptable translation practices and changes the original meaning of the text to accommodate current social norms. The convention is justified in rejecting it.

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