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Monday, 10 April 2006

The TNIV in Acts 1-2

I was recently invited to attend a "Bible Translation Symposium" in Winona Lake, IN. A look at the syllabus told me that this was clearly going to be a sell job for the TNIV, so I didn't bother going. But someone who did passed on the curriculum to me, and it is my intention to spend some time critiquing a key point in the TNIV's defense of its gender-sensitive translation policy.

First of all, some praise for the CBT, the producers of the NIV/RNIV/NIrV/TNIV. Bless their hearts, they really put out the effort to produce a translation that met the goals they set out for themselves. They really weren't prepared, I'm sure, for the backlash of opposition their work received, nor was it exactly fairly given when all major translations since 1983 have been guilty of some level of gender inclusivity. Here the detractors can point to the Colorado Springs Guidelines, in which the publishers of the NIV promised not to revise it in the direction of gender inclusivity. But in their defense, the CBT have always claimed that the Guidelines did not apply to the TNIV, which was then already in the works. And like they said, their translation isn't for everybody. It certainly isn't for my three teenagers, all of whom prefer an edition of the English Bible from several centuries earlier than the TNIV, and none of whom had any problem figuring out what the "gay clothing" in James chapter 2 refers to.

What bothers me about the CBT was not so much the way they went about accomplishing their goal (though I do believe that they did a rather poor job of it), but the goal they had in the first place. They attempted to make the Bible inoffensive, and in do doing they only set themselves up for failure. This was the original goal of the NIV: to remove the offense of archaic language from the Scriptures. Only a decade into the use of the NIV, it was found to still be just as offensive as ever, thus the solution: to remove gender-specific language. Alas, this is nothing but paying the dane-geld. "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (KJV)--or, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing." (TNIV) Putting that in the language of a 21st-century teenager doesn't change a thing!

Now to the specific critique of a claim made at this Symposium: that the use of gender-sensitive language doesn't change any of the Bible's teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood, or the role of women in the church. I'll grant the CBT the benefit of the doubt and agree that they didn't have to change their own views any as a result of doing this translation; but I must needs remind them that the 21st-century views on this topic are a recent innovation, and insofar as the TNIV reflects the translators' views on gender, it does represent a change to the historic orthodox position.

For this study, we turn to the opening chapters of the book of Acts. In the KJV, the word 'men' is found in Acts 1 & 2 thirteen times: nine as a translation of 'andr-' and twice in translating other words that can refer to adult males. The other two times it is used as a supplied human specifier. In the TNIV for the same passage, 'men' is found only three times translating 'andr-': twice translating the same way the KJV did, twice as a supplied gender specifier, and twice to depict a word that the KJV translated as something else! Let's break this down by chapter and verse to see how inconsistent the TNIV is in carrying out its agenda of gender sensitivity.

Acts 1: KJV and TNIV both translate three of four occurrences of 'andr-' as 'men'; TNIV replaces the other with 'sisters'! Each supplies 'men' once: KJV as gender-inclusive usage, and TNIV as a word implied by immediate context.
v. 10 Both have 'men' (referring to non-gender-specific angels!)
v. 11 Both have 'men' (although the context would seem to demand the presence of women!)
v. 16 KJV has 'men'; TNIV has 'sisters'! (if 'men and brothers' didn't exclude the women present, what could Peter have possibly said that would have?)
v. 21 KJV and TNIV have 'men' (reinforcing the exclusive role of men in church leadership, contrary to the implications of TNIV in Rom. 16:7!)
v. 23 KJV has '(two)'; TNIV inserts '(two) men' (whose masculine names are supplied in context).
v. 24 KJV inserts '(all) men'; TNIV has 'everyone' (as did the NIV, so what's the improvement?)

An important question in Acts 1 is whether the women who were named as present participated in:

1) The 10-day prayer session in the upper room where they were present;
2) Deliberation on the choosing of Judas' successor;
3) Nominations to the lot which appointed Judas' successor.

In the first part of this question, both the KJV and TNIV strongly imply that the women were involved, but the TNIV more blatantly so by adding the word 'along' (but then so did the NIV, so what's the improvement?).

In the second part, the KJV shows that although women were present, Peter was specifically addressing the men in setting up the deliberation. But the TNIV specifically inserts the women into Peter's audience, and thus by implication into the deliberation. This is a definite change from all English versions prior to 1983, and brings women into church leadership at the first point it was exercised.

In the third part, the TNIV oddly is just as male-oriented as the NIV and KJV, but this limitation of the apostleship to males is in stark contrast with the TNIV's decisive move to a textual reading (the NIV marginal note has been excised) identifying a female apostle in Romans 16:7! Ironically, the NIV had rejected the KJV's reading of "Junia;" in the case of the TNIV it was clearly a deliberate gender-sensitivity inspired reversion.

Conclusion: The TNIV presents a rather confusing picture of gender roles in the early church through its inconsistent use of gender-inclusive language in Acts 1.

Acts 2: Of the five occurrences of 'andr-', the TNIV does not translate any as 'men'; in two places it needlessly parrots the KJV's 'offensive' male-specific usage, and in two different places it translates as 'men' a word that the KJV doesn't!

v. 5: KJV has 'men'; TNIV deletes 'men' but inserts 'God' (now who's scoffing at the KJV's 'God forbid'?)!
v. 13: KJV supplies 'men', TNIV justifiably doesn't, but it loses all that it gains by deleting 'sweet' (which at least the NIV had in a marginal note)! [on this verse, see my blog of 2/20/06]
v. 14: KJV has 'men (of Judea)'; TNIV naturally has 'fellow (Jews)'--having already mixed the company of v. 5!
v. 17: KJV and TNIV both translate 'neaniskoi' as '(young) men', although daughters are specified in the context!
v. 17: KJV and TNIV both translate 'presbuteroi' as '(old) men', although the entire immediate context is specifically mixed-gender!
v. 18: KJV has '(servants and handmaidens)'; TNIV has '(servants both) men (and women)', which, I grant, better represents the parallelism of 'doulous' and 'doulas'; but one would think that for consistency's sake alone they would have translated v. 17 as 'youth' and 'elders', thus keeping up the mixed-gender parallelism.
v. 22 KJV has 'men'; TNIV has 'people'--an acceptable inclusion, especially in light of v. 36.
v. 23 KJV has '(by wicked) hands'; TNIV has '(with the help of wicked) men'--somewhat inconsistent with the inclusive language in which Peter's harangue has otherwise been couched.
v. 29 KJV has 'men'; TNIV has 'sisters'!
v. 37 KJV has 'men'; TNIV must needs delete it, even though the referent is explicitly male! Otherwise they would, of course, have 'sisters'!
v. 45 KJV supplies '(all) men'; TNIV has 'anybody', which, I grant once again, is the clearer translation (but then so did the NIV, so what's the improvement?).

The question here is the gender makeup of Peter's audience. In the KJV, they are identified as men who colluded in the death of Jesus many weeks earlier. In the TNIV, they are men and women who colluded with the men who caused the death of Jesus--thus removing the entire audience from the immediate guilt of the crucifixion, all in the name of gender sensitivity.

Conclusion: The TNIV makes a change to the history of the Passion narrative while going in opposite directions with changes to the gender makeup of Peter's audience in Acts 2.

It is this sort of gender-bending translation in the TNIV which rightly brings approbation upon the heads of the CBT members. If this is the best of which they are able, may God deliver us from it.

Acts 1-2 is a unique passage, in that the gender makeup of the cast of characters is mixed, yet explicit single-gender usage alternates with explicit dual-gender usage. Women are (at least implicitly) depicted as openly praying and proclaiming in mixed company, but as silent observers while the men are voting for and being appointed to church leadership.

Although in a few spots it clarifies the mixed nature of the people in question, the TNIV--despite using male-specific language where it is unwarranted in the original--muddles the biblical distinction of gender-based roles by using dual-gender language when the maleness of the subject is actually being emphasized in the original. Thus the TNIV cannot be rightly said to "[give no] assistance [to those who] want to ordain women into pastoral leadership," as John Kohlenberger asserts. At best, it presents a mixed message, which can only play into the hands of those who despise the patriarchy of scripture.

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