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The NIV compared to the TNIV

2005-02-22
by Wayne Grudem
Originally Posted on CBMW.org

 

VERSE: Genesis 5:2

NIV: He created them male and female.... And when they were created, he called them "man."

TNIV (2005): He created them male and female.... And when they were created, he called them "human beings."

CHANGE IN MEANING: God's activity of naming is important in the Bible. Here the TNIV has renamed the human race, refusing to use the male-oriented name "man." But in the previous four chapters this same singular Hebrew word ’adam has been used eight times to refer to man in distinction from woman (as in "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame," Gen. 2:25), and also five times as the proper name "Adam." So Hebrew readers would hear clear male nuances when God named the human race ’adam in Genesis 5:2, and "man" is the best English translation. The TNIV incorrectly removes the male-oriented aspect of the name God gave the human race.

TNIV supporters say the change was necessary because the English language has changed. But people today still understand that "man" can mean the human race, as in the Wall Street Journal headline about the recent tsunami, "Man, Nature, and Disaster" (Dec. 28, 2004, p. A10).

 

VERSE: Psalm 1:1

NIV: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers.

TNIV (2005): Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers ...

CHANGE IN MEANING: Here the word "man" means "a male human being," and it is the correct translation of the singular Hebrew word ’ish, which (except in special idioms) means "man" in distinction from woman, and surely is singular, not plural. The Hebrew text holds up an individual righteous man as an example that all Israel should imitate. The next verse says more about this man: "His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night" (vs. 2). But the TNIV changes "the man" to "those," removing the concrete example of an individual man.

The TNIV changes the Bible’s singulars to plurals in hundreds of such cases, in each case removing one of the primary teaching methods of the Bible: holding up an individual man as an example for all believers to imitate.

The result is (1) an incorrect translation of the singular noun ’ish, (2) a loss of the picture of the moral courage of a solitary righteous man standing against plural sinners, (3) a loss of any possibility of seeing this "blessed man" in the Psalms as a foreshadowing of Christ, the truly righteous Man, (4) a loss of historical accuracy, because the original writer of Psalm 1 did not speak of "those" but of "a man," and (5) a shift in hundreds of verses away from the Bible’s emphasis on the relationship between God and individual persons to a greater emphasis on groups.

The change to plural also produces a comical picture in verse 3: "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season" (NIV) becomes "they are like a tree ..." (TNIV). All God’s people around the world are like one tree? Another amusing example is a whole group of sluggards now reaching into one dish: "Sluggards bury their hands in the dish and are too lazy to bring them back to their mouths" (Proverbs 26:15).

 

VERSE: Psalm 8:4

NIV: What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

TNIV (2005): What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

CHANGE IN MEANING: The singular "man" meaning "the human race" is changed to plural "mere mortals," wrongly removing the sense of unity of the human race (the Hebrew is singular). The Hebrew singular ben which means "son" and the singular ’adam which means "man" are incorrectly translated with the plural "human beings," removing masculine meaning, and thus removing the title "son of man," which Jesus often used of himself. (The TNIV also incorrectly removes "son of man" when this verse is quoted in Hebrew 2:6.)

 

VERSE: Psalm 34:20

NIV: He protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.

TNIV (2005): He protects all their bones, not one of them will be broken.

CHANGE IN MEANING: The 3rd person masculine singular "his" rightly represents the 3rd person masculine singular pronoun suffix in Hebrew, and the TNIV incorrectly pluralizes this to "their bones." This obscures the fulfillment of this verse in Christ’s crucifixion in John 19:36. This part of Psalm 34 speaks of God’s protection of an individual righteous man: God protects "his bones." Why does the TNIV refuse to translate hundreds of 3rd person masculine singular pronouns in the original languages as 3rd person masculine singular pronouns in English? What is the objection to male-oriented language when it accurately reflects the original Hebrew or Greek text?

 

VERSE: Proverbs 5:21

NIV: For a man's ways are in full view of the Lord.

TNIV (2005) For your ways are in full view of the Lord.

CHANGE IN MEANING: The Hebrew male-specific noun ’ish means "a man," as the NIV correctly translated it. The TNIV incorrectly changes this to "your," and thus restricts the statement to the "you," which in this context is the son being warned by his father in the previous verse. The text no longer affirms God's observation of the ways of every person (represented by the concrete example of "a man.")

These last two verses (Ps. 34:20; Prov. 5:21) also demonstrate another serious result of systematically changing singulars to plurals in hundreds of cases: The TNIV will ultimately lead to a loss of confidence in tens of thousands of plural pronouns in the Bible. A preacher cannot rightly use the TNIV to make a point based on the plurals "they/them/their/those" or the second person pronouns "you/your/yours" because he can no longer have confidence that those represent accurately the meaning of the original. Maybe the original was plural ("their") but then again maybe "their" is a gender-neutral substitute for a singular ("his"). Maybe the original was 2nd person ("you") but then again maybe "you" is a gender-neutral substitute for a 3rd person singular pronoun ("he") or a singular noun ("a man"). How can any ordinary English reader know? He can’t. So no weight can be put on those pronouns. "He" in the NIV has become "we" or "you" or "they" in the TNIV hundreds and perhaps even thousands of times.

How many pronouns are thrown into doubt? The forms of "we/us/our/ourselves" occur 4636 times, of "you/your/yours/yourselves" 21,205 times, and the forms of "they/them/their/themselves/those" 19,372 times, for a total of 45,213 pronouns. How can we know which of these 45,213 are trustworthy, and which are the TNIV’s gender-neutral substitutes for the correct translation "he/him/his"? The only way is to check the Hebrew and Greek text in each case, and how many people are going to do that? Can you really study, or memorize, or teach or preach from such a Bible where you can’t trust this many pronouns?

Another measure of the extent of the changes comes from seeing that the TNIV has 1826 more instances of 2nd person pronoun such as "you/your/yours/yourself" than were in the NIV. Did 1826 new examples of 2nd person verbs and pronouns suddenly appear in the original Hebrew and Greek texts? No, most of these are gender-neutral substitutes for the objectionable words "he/him/his," which were translated correctly in the NIV. And the TNIV has 2321 more examples of forms of "they/them/their/those/themselves" than the NIV. Did 2321 new examples of third person plural verbs and pronouns suddenly appear in the original Hebrew and Greek texts? No, most of these again are gender-neutral substitutes for "he/him/his," which were translated correctly in the NIV. You can’t trust the pronouns in the TNIV. This is a deficiency so great as to render the TNIV unsuitable for widespread use in the church.

 

VERSE: Proverbs 13:1

NIV A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.

TNIV A wise child heeds a parent's instruction, but a mocker does not respond to rebukes.

CHANGE IN MEANING: Hebrew ben (singular) means "son," not "child." Hebrew ’ab (singular) means "father," not "parent." The TNIV here is not using the best English equivalent to the Hebrew words, but is avoiding using the best English equivalent, and such translation choices happen hundreds of times in the TNIV with respect to the simple English words "father," "son," "brother," "man," and "he/him/his."

In verses like this the Bible is using individual male examples to teach a general truth, but the TNIV removes the maleness of the text. Of course it is also true that a wise daughter heeds her mother’s instruction as well as her father’s, but that is application, that is not translation, and that is not what this verse says. Why does the TNIV object to the Bible talking about the relationship between a father and a son in this verse?

 

VERSE: Matthew 7:3

NIV "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye ..."

TNIV "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else's eye ..."

CHANGE IN MEANING: Greek adelphos (singular) means "brother," not "someone else." Jesus uses an example of an individual male to teach a general truth. The TNIV will not let Jesus do this, but thinks it has a better idea of how Jesus should teach. The idea of close relationship found in "brother" is lost.

 

VERSE: Matthew 7:4

NIV Matthew 7:4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

TNIV Matthew 7:4 How can you say ___________ , 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

CHANGE IN MEANING: The entire phrase "to your brother" is left out. But Jesus said these words (Greek to adelpho sou). Are we free to just take masculine words out of the Bible?

Verse: Luke 17:3

NIV: If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.

TNIV (2005): If a brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

CHANGE IN MEANING: The words "or sister" are inserted into the Bible but Jesus did not say them and they have no basis in the Greek text. (The Bible can say "brother or sister" when it wants to, as in James 2:15.) The words "against you" are inserted into the Bible but they have no basis in the Greek text. The words "them" and "they" hinder clear communication because they will be taken as plural by some people, as singular by others, and as bad grammar by many. A common reaction will be some uncertainty as to whether the original Greek was singular or plural. The TNIV is going through linguistic gymnastics simply to avoid the offensive word "him," but "him" is the most accurate translation of the masculine singular Greek pronoun autos.

I agree, of course, that "If your brother sins against you" also applies to sisters who sin, just as the parable of the Prodigal Son also applies to prodigal daughters, and just as "You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife" (Exod. 20:17) also applies to not coveting your neighbor’s husband! (And the TNIV did not change those passages.) But people have easily understood this for centuries: When the Bible uses an example of an individual man or woman to teach a general principle, the principle also applies to people of the opposite sex. We do not have to add the words "or sister" to understand this. We should not add to Jesus’ words things that have no basis in the Greek text.

In these kinds of changes, the TNIV is not just translating. It is changing the details of meaning in a historical document (the Bible).

People easily understand the use of a male example used to teach a general truth. To take an example from the general culture, think of Bob Dylan’s folk song from the 60’s, "How many roads must a man walk down/ before you call him a man? .… How many ears must one man have/ before he can hear people cry?" What would we say if an author today was writing about the history of the 60’s and decided he didn’t like the words "man" and "he," and didn’t like Bob Dylan using this example of an individual man to teach a general truth? What if this author then wrote an article and told us that in the 1960’s Bob Dylan sang these words: "How many roads must a human being walk down/ before you call them a person?" We would object that the author is misquoting Bob Dylan and incorrectly rewriting history &emdash; no longer is he allowing us to know that Bob Dylan used an example of an individual man to teach a general truth. But that kind of rewriting is what the TNIV has done to the Bible.

 

VERSE: John 14:23

NIV: If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

TNIV (2005): Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

CHANGE IN MEANING: The "If" that Jesus said (Greek ean) is omitted, and three masculine singular pronouns (Greek autos) are incorrectly translated with "them," removing the amazing emphasis on the Father and Son dwelling with an individual person. In the TNIV, maybe "them" refers the whole group of those who obey. How can we know?

Perhaps the TNIV committee thinks "they" is singular in this kind of construction, for in "A Word to the Reader" they refer to "the so-called singular ‘they/their/them.’" But in 1996 this same committee had said that this type of "they" was "plural," for in their "Preface to Inclusive Language NIV" they said, "inclusive singular subjects such as ‘everyone’ or ‘whoever’ would only occasionally be followed by plural pronouns such as ‘they’ or ‘their’" (p. vii, italics added). Has one of the most common words in the English language changed from plural to singular in nine years? At best it is ambiguous, and the individual sense is blurred.

 

VERSE: Acts 20:30

NIV: Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

TNIV (2005): Even from your own number some will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

CHANGE IN MEANING: The TNIV removes the word "men" used to refer to the elders of the church at Ephesus. The Greek word is not anthropos, which can mean "man" or "person," but aner, which means "man" in distinction from woman. The Greek expression for "from your own number" is emphatic, referring specifically to the elders and not to the Ephesian church. Why not call elders "men"?

 

VERSE: 1 Corinthians 14:28

NIV: If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.

TNIV (2005): If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church; let them speak to themselves and to God.

CHANGE IN MEANING: In attempting to avoid "himself" (which was the NIV’s correct translation of the masculine singular pronoun eautou ) the TNIV inserts "them" followed by "themselves," which many readers will take as plurals. The verse could easily be misunderstood to encourage groups of tongue-speakers to go off together and speak in tongues "to themselves." But that is not what Paul wrote.

 

VERSE: 1 Corinthians 15:21

NIV For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

TNIV For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being

CHANGE IN MEANING: Here the Greek word is anthropos, which can mean either "man" or "person," depending on context. But in this context it refers to Adam and Christ and the meaning "man" is appropriate. What is the objection to calling them "men"?

 

VERSE: 1 Timothy 2:12

NIV: I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

TNIV: I do not permit a woman [margin: or: wife] to teach or to assume authority over a man [margin: or: over her husband] [margin: or: teach a man in a domineering way; or: teach or to exercise (or have) authority over a man]; she must be quiet.

CHANGE IN MEANING: Five different ways of translating the verse are presented, most of which are highly unlikely and have not gained any widespread scholarly support outside of egalitarian circles. With all these variations, the most common conclusion of readers will be that nobody knows what this verse says, and therefore this verse will be effectively silenced in the debate over women’s roles in the church. Egalitarians do not need to establish any one reading as correct. All they have to do is point to the different translation options and say, "Since the translators don’t even know for certain what the verse means, it’s better to err on the side of love and affirming women’s gifts." So the TNIV at this verse gives egalitarians everything they have wanted for years regarding women’s roles in the church.

The main translation in the TNIV text is, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man." If this translation is accepted, the long debate over women’s roles in the church will be over, because women pastors and elders can just say, "I’m not assuming authority on my own initiative; it was given to me by the other pastors and elders." Therefore any woman recognized by her church could be a pastor or elder so long as she does not take it upon herself to "assume authority."

This is not the correct meaning of Greek authentein, which simply means "to exercise authority" or "to have authority." In the vast number of scholarly articles and commentaries on this word, a meaning such as "assume authority on your own initiative" (or, essentially, "usurp authority that has not been given to you," which is how many will understand this) is hardly represented at all. It is at best a small minority position. It is not even a common view among egalitarians, and surely has not gained widespread academic support among evangelicals in general. Most major modern translations correctly translate this simply as "exercise authority" (ESV, NASB, NET Bible) or "have authority" (NIV, HCSB, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NCV, NLT). I know of no previous English translation that has "assume authority" at this verse. But here we find it as the main reading of the TNIV, which is seeking to replace the NIV as the main English Bible in the world today.

Two other marginal readings are also highly unlikely but support an egalitarian position. "Teach a man in a domineering way" would also endorse an egalitarian position (a woman pastor could just agree not to teach in a domineering way). And so would the marginal reading, "I do not permit a wife to teach or to assume authority over her husband" (because she could just decide to be an elder but not to give directions to her husband in the church).

TNIV supporters have claimed that this dispute over gender language in Bible translation has nothing to do with differences over men’s and women’s roles in marriage and the church. But at the single most important verse in the Bible regarding women’s roles in the church, the TNIV gives the egalitarian side everything they have wanted in a Bible translation.

 

VERSE: Hebrews 2:17

NIV Hebrews 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

TNIV Hebrews 2:17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

CHANGE IN MEANING: Did Jesus have to become like his sisters "in every way" in order to become a "high priest in service to God"? All the OT priests were men, and surely the high priest was only a man. This text does not quite proclaim an androgynous Jesus (who was both male and female), but it surely leaves open a wide door for misunderstanding, and almost invites misunderstanding. Meditate on that phrase "in every way" and see if you can trust the TNIV.

 

VERSE: James 1:12

NIV: Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life....

TNIV (2005): Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life....

CHANGE IN MEANING: Consistent with its policies in hundreds of other verses, the TNIV here removes the example of a single "blessed man" who perseveres under trial and changes it to a group: "those" and "they." The focus on God’s blessing on an individual believer is removed. The TNIV pictures a group under trial and suggests that reward waits until "they" all have stood the test. "Those" is an incorrect translation of the singular Greek word aner, which means "man," not "person," and certainly not "those."

 

VERSE: Revelation 3:20

NIV: I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

TNIV (2005): I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.

CHANGE IN MEANING: The idea of Christ coming into an individual person's life is lost; Christ no longer eats with "him" but with "them." Readers may well understand "them" to refer to the plural group "those whom I love" in the previous verse, so the TNIV now pictures Christ coming into a church and eating among a group of people. The clear teaching on individual fellowship with Christ is blurred.

 

VERSE: Revelation 22:18

NIV Revelation 22:18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.

TNIV Revelation 22:18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If any one of you adds anything to them, God will add to you the plagues described in this scroll.

CHANGE IN MEANING: The first "you" added by the TNIV is plural, referring to the whole group of hearers. Therefore the second "you" is also plural, and if anyone in the group adds to the words of prophecy the penalty is now expanded from the one person ("him") to the whole group. This is a change in meaning in the very verse that warns against changing the words of this prophecy!

 

OBJECTIONS BY TNIV DEFENDERS

The defenders of the TNIV respond, "But all translations make these kinds of translation decisions." No, they do not. They do not systematically remove hundreds of male-specific terms when there is a male-oriented term in the original, nor do they change hundreds of singular verses to plural just to avoid using the word "he."

Defenders of the TNIV fail to mention that in the major "essentially literal" translations (such as the ESV, NASB, HCSB, and NKJV) translating singulars as plurals is rare, done only in unusual cases like collective nouns that have a singular form in Greek but require a plural for the same plural sense in English, or neuter plural subjects that take a singular verb because of a particular feature of Greek grammar that does not match what English does. In addition, there are some difficult Old Testament poetic verses where the Hebrew pronouns shift frequently in ways difficult for anyone to understand. But these are unusual exceptions.

To say that "the TNIV is just doing what all translations do" is not coming clean with the Christian public regarding the extent of the changes. It would be like a student who misspelled 100 words in a term paper and then said he "is just doing what the teacher does" because she misspelled one difficult word in class five months ago. It is not the same.

Another question is, "Why are you only attacking the TNIV?" First, Vern Poythress and I systematically critiqued several gender-neutral translations in our book, The TNIV and the Gender-Neutral Bible Controversy. We are definitely concerned with the problems in other gender-neutral translations. Second, the NIV is the most widely used translation in the English language, so its policies have great influence. Third, other translations that use much gender-neutral language (such at The Message or the New Living Translation) have been "dynamic equivalent" translations that are read more as commentaries and interpretations of what the Bible says rather than as "word for word" or "essentially literal" translations. But the NIV is different, because many people use it as their main Bible for study, teaching, preaching, and memorizing, and they depend on it much more for accuracy in the very words. I believe the TNIV is no longer sufficiently trustworthy to be used for these purposes.

The most frequent reason given for the TNIV is that updates in language are needed to reach younger readers today, especially those 18-34. But the words that are systematically removed are not archaic words. What reader 18-34 cannot understand the five disputed words "father," "son," "brother," "man," and "he/him/his"? What reader cannot understand, "If your brother sins, rebuke him"?

Yet these male-oriented words have been removed many hundreds of times where they correctly represented the original Hebrew or Greek in the current NIV. The best term to describe this Bible is not "gender-accurate" but "gender-neutral."

I agree with removing male-oriented words when there is no male-oriented meaning in the original Greek or Hebrew text. But when there is a male meaning, we dare not under-translate and conceal that meaning just because that emphasis is unpopular today.

If we believe that "all Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16), and that "every word of God is flawless" (Proverbs 30:5), then we must believe that every word of Scripture as originally written is the very word God intended to be written. To put it another way, our doctrine of the "verbal inspiration" of Scripture is that the very words of Scripture &emdash; not just the general ideas &emdash; are "God-breathed" and are therefore the very words of God. Jesus and the New Testament authors sometimes base arguments on a single word of Old Testament Scripture (Matthew 4:10; John 10:34; Galatians 3:10, 16; Hebrews 3:13; 4:7) and sometimes a single letter of a word (Matthew 22:44). Anyone who does expository preaching knows how often good preaching makes use of the sense of individual words. These words are not ours to tamper with as we wish; they are the words of God.